BBC does damage control after Bowen’s Assad advocacy

In an article titled “Bashar al-Assad is still the problem” which appeared recently in the Telegraph, Shiraz Maher and Nick Kaderbhai observed that:

“The idea that the Assad regime’s violence is somehow morally or strategically different to that of jihadist actors in Syria has become fashionable among some sections of the Western media. Perhaps a symptom of fatigue or sympathies forged during time spent as guests of the regime, mainstream commentators such as Patrick Cockburn and Peter Oborne have been at the forefront of this trahison des clercs.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 95 per cent of all civilian deaths in the conflict have come from the regime. The refugees now fleeing to Europe do so as a direct result of Assad’s policies.”

As readers are already aware, the BBC – and in particular its Middle East editor – also appears to have been afflicted by that particular trend.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

More BBC amplification of the ‘ISIS worse than Assad’ meme

However, it would appear that following Jeremy Bowen’s repeated uncritical promotion of Bashar al Assad’s agenda earlier this month, some damage control was deemed appropriate and that came in the form of an article by Charles Lister which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 28th under the title “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria“.

Mr Lister writes:

“Amid recent geopolitical machinations, one simple reality appears to have been forgotten or purposefully ignored: Assad is not and should never be seen as a better alternative to IS. […]

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011.”

Of course BBC audiences – who only a short time ago were informed that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village” and that “the real threat in Syria is Islamic State, not the country’s leader” – may well find that this latest article only adds to their confusion seeing as it contradicts everything they were told in Jeremy Bowen’s numerous reports.

Rather than helping audiences to form a clear picture of what is happening in Syria and why so many people are fleeing to other countries as its public purpose remit demands, the BBC’s indulgence of Jeremy Bowen’s partisan reporting serves only to muddy audience understanding of this topic.

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

Last week we discussed several reports produced by Jeremy Bowen during the time he recently spent in and around Damascus and took note of the fact that BBC audiences were provided with a very one-sided portrayal of the situation in Syria which exclusively reflected the Assad regime’s interests.

One feature seen in that round of reporting by the BBC’s Middle East editor was unchallenged amplification of a Syrian government deputy minister’s claim that the regime had never targeted its own civilian population. In that and all of his later reports Bowen failed to inform audiences of the fact that there is ample evidence to contradict that claim.Bowen written 14 7 Damascus

After having left Damascus, Bowen produced some further reports. A written article titled “Syria conflict: No sign of Assad regime crumbling” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 14th. At least in that piece (in contrast to the reports produced previously) the man whose job title was created with the aim of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” finally got round to making a brief mention of the support supplied to the Assad regime from Iran and its Lebanese proxy.

“But President Assad has his vital trio of supporters: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah from Lebanon. Russia seems to be increasing its military support for the regime.

Hezbollah men are fighting along the border with Lebanon. Iran provides vital financial and military assistance.”

However, Bowen managed to place the responsibility for the Syria refugee crisis at the door of parties other than Bashar al Assad.

“The war exports trouble, violence and refugees. Half of Syria’s pre-war population has fled from the fighting. Eight million are still in Syria, displaced, refugees in their own country. Four million have left Syria.

Britain and others hoped that helping with a relief effort for refugees would encourage them to stay put.

But hopes among refugees that the war would end relatively quickly disappeared as the killing went on. […]

It was even worse when it sunk in that they might face years more in camps in Jordan and Turkey, or even worse, in informal shanty towns and the slums of Lebanon.

What made matters worse was that the rich countries that funded the relief effort led by the UN agencies have made big cuts to their contributions.”

Bowen also produced two filmed reports for BBC television news – both of which also appeared on the BBC News website. “Syria crisis: Jeremy Bowen on the subterranean battle in Damascus” – September 14th – repeated a theme also seen in Bowen’s above written report.

“They do not look like a beaten army. I think those people who are predicting the fall of the Assad regime once again will once again be guilty – certainly in the foreseeable future – of wishful thinking.”

In a report from the same location dated September 15th – “Syria: On the front line in Damascus” – Bowen once again provided an unchallenged platform for Syrian regime propaganda – this time from an officer in the Syrian Republican Guard.Bowen filmed 15 7 Damascus

Bowen: “The colonel and his men say they are patriots fighting terrorists. He rejects accusations that the Syrian army targets civilians. The claim is that more civilians are killed by the Syrian army than by any other armed force here in Syria.

Col. Sultan: “This is all propaganda to slander the reputation of the army. It’s all lies. We were brought up not to harm peaceful civilians. We only kill people we see with our own eyes holding a weapon.”

Bowen made no attempt to challenge that obvious falsehood on camera and neither was any qualifying statement reminding audiences of the numerous incidents which contradict Sultan’s claims added to Bowen’s voice-over in later editing.

Interestingly, the keen interest in alleged breaches of the laws of armed combat displayed by Jeremy Bowen in his reporting from the Gaza Strip in July 2014 appears to have completely evaporated upon his arrival in Damascus.

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC News coverage of what it terms the “Europe migrant crisis” has recently involved sending various members of staff to report from different countries including Libya, Jordan, Hungary and Turkey.

The person chosen to provide BBC audiences with the information which would supposedly help them understand the reasons behind the mass movement of people from Syria to Europe was the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and it is worth taking a look at some of his recent reports from Syria in order to determine whether or not audiences did in fact receive the full range of factual information concerning the situation in the country from which a large proportion of the migrants fled.Bowen tweets Mekdad presser

After having arrived in Damascus on September 2nd, Bowen produced a report from a press conference with the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister in which he failed to present any challenge to Mekdad’s claim that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village”. That and other regime propaganda was further amplified by Bowen on Twitter.

Bowen made two filmed reports for television news programmes, both of which were also promoted on the BBC News website. The September 8th report “Inside a hospital in Syrian leader Assad’s Latakia heartland” was obviously made with the consent and help of the Assad regime and in addition to being allowed to film in a government military hospital, Bowen produced footage from a camp for internally displaced persons in Latakia. At no point in that report were the regime’s attacks on its own population mentioned and viewers received no information concerning the Iranian regime’s patronage of Assad or the participation of Iranian and Hizballah forces in the conflict.Bowen tweet camp Latakia

Another September 8th filmed report by Bowen – “Syria: Snapshot of life inside Assad stronghold” – likewise failed to include any information about the role of Iran and its Lebanese proxy in the Syrian civil war. Bowen did however manage to shoehorn another Middle Eastern country into his report by telling viewers that Yarmouk, near Damascus, “was a Palestinian refugee camp for families who were forced out of Israel in another war” [emphasis added].  Bowen’s presentation of the manner in which Palestinians – the majority from Tsfat (Safed), Haifa and Tiberias – arrived in Syria is of course both simplistic and inaccurate.

In that report too viewers saw sympathetic footage from the displaced persons camp and the military hospital in Latakia. It is of course inconceivable that Bowen visited those sites, the regime held part of Yarmouk or the military funeral in an Alawite town which also features in some of his reporting, without considerable cooperation from the Syrian regime. Stating the obvious, Bowen tells viewers that:

“…the refugee crisis is created and driven by war…”

A subsequent brief statement shows that, despite his failure to challenge Faisal Mekdad’s propaganda several days earlier, Bowen is indeed aware of the reality:

“Syrian army attacks often create more refugees and so do attacks by Jihadists.”

However, the BBC’s Middle East editor failed to expand upon that topic in any of his reports and made no effort to inform audiences of the fact that more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes whilst scrupulously avoiding all mention of topics such as the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs by the regime.Bowen tweet soldiers

Latakia again featured in an audio report by Bowen broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update: Daily Commute’ on September 9th (from 03:06 here). Bowen described idyllic beach scenes before interviewing people who are clearly regime supporters. He then reported again from the same military hospital, and listeners heard more pro-regime comment.

Also on September 9th, a written report by Bowen appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Migrant crisis: How Middle East wars fuel the problem“. Once again Bowen inserted a context-free reference to Israel which is entirely irrelevant to the story he was supposedly telling.

“I walked through the ruins of Yarmouk, one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds in Damascus, only a few miles from the centre of the city.

Yarmouk used to be a Palestinian refugee camp for families who had fled or been driven from their homes when Israel won its independence war in 1948.”

He later added:

“An unknown number of Palestinian civilians, in their thousands, are trapped there [Yarmouk] too.

UNRWA, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, has not been able visit them with relief supplies since March.”  

Bowen neglected to tell readers that Yarmouk was reclassified by the UN in June.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

Yet again Bowen’s tepid and generalised portrayal of the issue of migrants fleeing the war in Syria did nothing to inform BBC audiences of the role played by the Assad regime and its Iranian and Hizballah backers in creating and exacerbating the migrant crisis.

In fact, all the reports produced by Bowen during his recent visit to Syria are little more than amplification of one very specific side of the story and they exclusively reflect the interests of the regime with which he was obviously embedded.  It is therefore difficult to see how the BBC can claim that those reports contributed to providing its funding public with an accurate understanding of why so many Syrian civilians are leaving their country. 

BBC’s Bowen provides a stage for Syrian propaganda

When the Russian state funded media organisation RT promotes outlandish notions of the type below – seen in an article on its website on September 4th – no-one is of course overly surprised.

““Of course, we know that there are different approaches to Syria. By the way, people are running away not from the regime of Bashar Assad, but from Islamic State, which seized large areas in Syria and Iraq, and are committing atrocities there. That is what they are escaping from,” RIA Novosti quoted Vladimir Putin as saying on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.” [emphasis added]

Eyebrows should though be raised when the BBC provides a stage for similar unchallenged propaganda from the mouth of the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister on its website, as was the case on September 3rd. The synopsis to that filmed report – titled “Syria: ‘Terrorist aggression to blame’ for refugee crisis” – reads:Bowen Mekdad report

“Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, has said that the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe is the direct result of terrorist aggression against Syria.

He blamed Islamist militants for forcing thousands from their homes and said the government had helped millions of displaced people.

Speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Mr Mekdad called for Syrians who had left the country to return.”

In the report itself visitors to the BBC News website see Mekdad make the following spurious claim:

The Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village and if you see at least the most recent attacks you will see them initiated by the terrorist factions and when these terrorist groups attack villages and cities you see a very big flood of people leaving those areas.” [emphasis added]

Mekdad later adds:

“When we see some leaders in Western Europe attacking the government of Syria day and night, I would like to assure you that those leaders have played a very big role in supporting terrorism in Syria because they are responsible for dispatching of these terrorist elements from their own countries under whatever pretext into Syria and into Iraq.”

The report as it stands on the BBC News website includes no qualification whatsoever to relieve audiences of the grossly inaccurate notion that the Assad regime has “never, ever” attacked Syrian civilians or of the idea that Western governments are “dispatching” people to join ISIS.

If this report was intended to contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” by means of accurate and impartial reporting, then obviously the crude propaganda of an official of the regime which has killed tens of thousands of its own people should have been clearly signposted as such. After all, Jeremy Bowen’s position was created with the ostensible aim of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

In the absence of any such clarification or even the faintest of challenges to Mekdad’s bogus claims from Jeremy Bowen, the BBC News website gives audiences very little reason to prefer it over Russian or Syrian regime sponsored media sites such as RT or SANA.

Related Articles:

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’



BBC portrayal of the Iran nuclear deal – part one

BBC coverage of the P5+1 deal with Iran which was closed on July 14th has been coming in thick and fast and those familiar with the BBC’s track record on that topic would not have been surprised by the tone and content of the plethora of reports.  It is, however, worth taking a look at specific items of BBC content in order to appreciate how the BBC has chosen to portray the subject.PM 14 7

The edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast on the day the deal was announced included analysis (starting at 14:54 here and available for a limited period of time) from the person ultimately responsible for all the corporation’s Middle East content, Jeremy Bowen. The Middle East editor’s conversation with presenter Carolyn Quinn included some interesting between-the-lines messaging.

1) Downplaying the Iranian regime’s role in the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts and the influence that the deal’s lifting of sanctions and cash influx to Iran is likely to have on regional stability.

Bowen: “…and there are people within Iran – people in the…ehm…the…ehm…Revolutionary Guard Corps – who…ah…do want to cause trouble around the region in the way that [previous interviewee] Frum was talking about it there. But the counter-argument to what he was saying is that the…President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s dubious portrayal of the IRGC as though they were a bunch of naughty schoolboys is telling enough but his presentation of an Iranian regime concerned about and influenced by domestic public opinion obviously ignores the fact that even when economic sanctions were affecting the Iranian people most severely, the regime still found the funds to sponsor assorted terrorist proxies in the region, to intervene in regional conflicts and, of course, to develop its nuclear programme and military industries.

2) Promotion of Israel as the belligerent party and the notion that conflict has been avoided – rather than at most postponed – by means of the agreement.

Bowen: “You know I think that this is actually a pretty spectacular diplomatic achievement. Ah…two years ago when Israel was threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear…ah…installations and it seemed as if – even though Netanyahu was sort of reluctant to do it – they were on that course, it looked two years ago as if that was going to happen and now it looks very, very…it’s not going to happen actually. It’s not. The Israelis are not going to do anything like that at this point. Err…and to go in the space of two years from looking at what seemed to be a dead cert Middle East war into a diplomatic achievement, at a time especially when the Middle East is so full of turmoil, is a major diplomatic achievement.”

In 2013 Bowen similarly portrayed Israel as the belligerent in a report promoted on several BBC platforms. Speculations concerning the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities have featured in BBC coverage since at least early 2012 – see examples here, here and here.

3) Promotion of the notion of a ‘moderate’ Iranian Supreme Leader.

Bowen: “The biggest problem the agreement faces right now are hardliners in Washington and in Tehran. In Tehran the Supreme Leader is likely to deal with those hardliners. They wouldn’t have made this deal if the Supreme Leader Khamenei had not been behind it.”

Bowen did not clarify to listeners that the terms of the deal now conform to conditions set by Khamenei back in April and provide sanctions relief for some of those very same “hardliners” who “make trouble in the region”. Neither did he point out that nothing in this deal has brought change to Iran’s long-standing approaches and policies.

Bowen’s messaging – and omissions -provide useful insight into the BBC’s editorial approach to the presentation of this agreement to its audiences.  

The Israel not seen on the BBC

Readers no doubt recall that – despite the BBC’s subsequent protestations – Jeremy Bowen recently told listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme that the Israeli government constitutes a threat to Middle East Christians on a par with that presented by “extreme Islam”. As was noted here at the time:

“Bowen of course provided no fact-based support for his fallacious claim that Palestinian Christian communities are “threatened” by Israel and neither did he inform listeners that the Christian community in Israel is both safe and thriving.”

The caricature portrayal of Israel so often presented to BBC audiences by the BBC’s Middle East editor of course erases from view the realities of what is in fact a much more complex, nuanced and interesting story. A glimpse of that story – and of the real country behind the BBC headlines – can be seen in this recent speech given in London by Christian Arab-Israeli diplomat George Deek.

Related Articles:

Beyond the BBC caricature of Israel


BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

The BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) includes the result of requests for appeals concerning complaints made about a filmed report by Orla Guerin which was broadcast in August 2014 – available from page 84 here.BBC Trust

The requests for appeals were not granted and the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s response concerning one aspect of those requests is particularly worthy of note. Summarising the original complaints, the ESC states:

“A second point of complaint concerned the reporter’s assertion that there was no evidence for Israel’s claim that Palestinian militants were using their own civilians as human shields. Complainants said there was abundant evidence.”

Summarising the appeal stage, the ESC notes that complainants stated that:

“…the report inaccurately stated that “there was no evidence of the use of human shields” by Palestinian militants when there was evidence at the time of broadcast; the reporter would have been aware of it and chose to ignore it.”

Orla Guerin’s report was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on August 12th and appeared on the BBC News website on August 13th – i.e. well over a month after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.Guerin ISM report

The ESC states:

“The [Senior Editorial Complaints] Adviser then considered the second issue raised by the complaint, that the highlighted sentence in the following section of commentary was inaccurate:

REPORTER: While there are growing claims against Israel, it claims that civilians here have been used as human shields – but so far there’s been no evidence of that. During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time – but you can see that just across the road, there are people living in these apartments. These images were filmed by Indian TV just up the road. They appear to show militants firing rockets near their hotel (Captions “Hamas team assembles rocket under tent” and “Hamas rocket fired from residential area”).”

In fact, Guerin said:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” [emphasis in bold added]

The ESC continues:

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response. She noted that the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit] had addressed this point:

“I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ in this context – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context, given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they had done to put civilian lives at risk.”

She also noted and agreed with the ECU’s statement in response to the script line that there was “no evidence” to support claims that Hamas had used human shields:

 “To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.”

The Adviser considered, however, that the issue for her to consider was whether the choice of wording would have misled the audience on a material fact. She noted the broader context in which the sentence appeared. She noted the following extract from the ECU finding to one of the complainants:

“Given the explicit references to rockets fired from civilian areas and the inclusion of this footage I can see no prospect of audiences believing that this was not happening or that the actions of Hamas were not putting civilians at risk – which seems to me to be the central charge against them. I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they could be proven to have done to put civilian lives at risk, I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context.” […]

The Adviser concluded that the audience would have been likely to have understood that there was a case for Hamas to answer in relation to the allegation that it was using civilians as human shields and that taking the section as a whole, the reporter had gone as far as she was able, with the facts that she was able to verify.

The Adviser decided neither point of complaint would have a reasonable prospect of success and the complaint should not proceed to appeal.”

In other words, one the one hand the BBC is claiming that despite Orla Guerin’s categorical statement that there was no evidence of Hamas using human shields, audiences were not misled and would have understood that in fact it was doing just that because she went on to show footage of a residential area from which missiles had been fired. On the other hand the BBC is also claiming that it is not sure that the residents of areas from which missiles were fired were actually human shields because it thinks there is a dispute regarding the definition of human shields. Obviously any reasonable viewer would have interpreted Guerin’s sequence of commentary as supporting that interpretation of the definition of human shields as applying only to people who have been actively and forcibly placed in a certain location.

The ESC then notes that:

“Two of the complainants to the consolidated appeal requested that the Trustees review the Adviser’s decision not to proceed.”

The ESC’s decision was as follows:

“The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ reference to international law. However, Trustees considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields”.

The Committee observed that the complaints, whilst clearly made in good faith, were predicated on testing the content by isolating a single sentence rather than considering the report overall and by a misinterpretation of what the reporter had actually said. It noted, for example, the section of commentary which followed:

“During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time. But you can see that just across the road there are people living in these apartments.”

The Committee agreed that the subsequent sequences offered further clarification and would have accurately informed the audience that, even without actual evidence of civilians being coerced, there was substantial circumstantial evidence that Hamas had a case to answer.

The Committee therefore agreed with the Adviser that the complaint would not have a reasonable prospect of success were it to proceed to appeal.”

As we see, assorted BBC bodies state that the definition of human shields is unclear and appear to adopt a stance according to which if civilians have not been coerced, they are not acting as human shields. Those claims, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

“The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations.[…]

It can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Likewise, as pointed out by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson:

“In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441). […]

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows:

The perpetrator moved or otherwise took advantage of the location of one or more civilians or other persons protected under the international law of armed conflict.

The perpetrator intended to shield a military objective from attack or shield, favour or impede military operations.

In order to fulfil the required actus reus in Element 1 of the crime, it is not necessary to force civilians to relocate close to a military objective. The mere placement of military assets in the vicinity of civilians fulfils this requirement. [emphasis added]

Since the actus reus of this crime is rather broad, it seems that great emphasis is placed on the mens rea. Thus, in order to be considered a crime of using human shields, the actus reus must be performed with the intention to “shield a military objective from attack or shield, favor or impede military operations.” Additionally, this crime does not require any result; rather, it focuses solely on the acts and intention of the belligerent fearing an attack.”

Whilst the ESC notes that it “considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields””, it does not acknowledge that by the time Orla Guerin produced her report, there was in fact ample evidence of that practice [see also related articles below].

“It is widely reported that the acts of Hamas clearly fall within the actus reus of the crime, through the placement of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military assets in civilian homesmosqueshospitals and schools. While this practice has been the focus of widespread condemnation (see here a statement by the US Secretary of State), Hamas has openly and explicitly endorsed this policy. For example, a Hamas spokesperson called on Palestinians in Gaza to “oppose the Israeli occupation with their bodies alone,” explaining that this was an effective way to thwart Israel’s attacks. This was followed by other, similar statements, such as this one by Hamas’s Interior Minister. These are all examples of the ways in which Hamas “took advantage of the location of one or more civilians.” The particular intent behind these acts is also easily established. In these statements, Hamas officials admit openly and explicitly that their intention is to use the civilian population in Gaza in order to shield their rockets and operatives.”

Neither does the ESC examine the relevant question of why the BBC had not only failed to report adequately on the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields throughout the month of conflict which preceded Guerin’s report, but in some cases had broadcast content which even denied the phenomenon – a practice which one BBC editor also continued outside his organization.

The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s Bowen tries to persuade TV audiences that Hamas does not use human shields

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

The return of the template BBC response to complaints

BBC WS presenter: filmed evidence of Hamas’ misuse of hospitals is ‘rumours on the internet’

Indian TV network shows what the BBC does not

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen


BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Today’ interview

Members of the public who contacted the BBC regarding a claim made by Jeremy Bowen during an interview in the April 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme have informed us of the receipt of the following template response from different members of staff at the BBC Complaints department.BBC brick wall

“Thanks for contacting us.

We have raised your concerns with the production team who have provided the following response;

“Thank you for taking the time to contacting us [sic], I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Jeremy Bowen’s contribution to the programme’s items on persecution of Christians on 14 April.

His interview was an analysis of the situation of Christians in Middle Eastern countries, he talked about the various threats and how Christians in various parts of region feel.

He also set this in an historical context, saying Christians had been leaving the Middle East for many years, and that this is why there are communities in South America.

At the end of the interview, after he mentioned Egypt and Lebanon, he said “Palestinian Christians feel threatened not just from extreme Islam but by what the Israeli government might be doing”. He was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.

Jeremy is the BBC’s Middle East Editor, he has extensive experience of reporting on the ground and his analysis is based on that.”

Rest assured your feedback is very important to us and as such we have placed your concerns on an overnight report. This is a document which is made available to senior staff, programme editors and news teams across the BBC and means your comments can be seen quickly and can be consulted in future broadcasting and policy decisions.

Thanks again for getting in touch.”

Were we to take the ‘Today’ programme production team’s claim that Bowen “was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel” at face value, we would of course have to note that Bowen did not clarify that intention to listeners. Having mentioned the very real threats to Middle East Christians posed by “extreme Islam”, in the same breath he went on to cite “what the Israeli government might be doing” – thus leading listeners towards the mistaken belief that Palestinian Christians do have reason to “feel threatened” by unspecified Israeli government actions just as much as they have cause to fear Islamist extremists.

As readers are no doubt aware, this is the third recent response (see related articles below) from the BBC relating to content produced by its Middle East editor in the last few weeks and it is no more satisfactory than its predecessors.

Related Articles:

BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Khaled Masha’al

BBC responds to complaint about Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Holocaust card’ Tweet

BBC responds to complaint about Jeremy Bowen’s ‘Holocaust card’ Tweet

Readers no doubt recall the Tweet below which was sent by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen whilst he was covering the Israeli prime minister’s speech to the US Congress on March 3rd 2015.

Bowen tweets speech 1

A member of the public who made a complaint on that matter has received a response from the Complaints Director at the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit – Richard Hutt – which includes the following:

“You have said that this was profoundly offensive and served to trivialise the Holocaust. Reviewing the tweet it did not seem to me that Mr Bowen was referring to the Holocaust as a mere political card to be played, but rather suggesting this is what Mr Netanyahu was doing. I would accept that this is a fine distinction, and one which the medium may not be best suited to convey. However, the sense I took from it was that Mr Bowen felt Mr Netanyahu had introduced the Holocaust in reference to Iran as a means of influencing the decisions of America’s policy makers about that country. Earlier in Mr Netanyahu’s speech he had drawn direct parallels between Iran and Nazi Germany and in his acknowledgement of Elie Wiesel he returned to that comparison – referring to “dark and murderous regimes” and saying that:

And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The characterisation of those references and that comparison (between Iran now and Nazi Germany in 1938) as the playing of a card does not itself serve to demean the Holocaust or reduce it to a political tool. In fact, accusing another of doing so might suggest quite the opposite.

Some who complained about the tweet have said that it offers evidence of bias, and that the facts regarding Iran support Mr Netanyahu’s decision to bring the holocaust [sic] into the discussion. I appreciate that it might be argued that the denial of the Holocaust by some in Iran, coupled with their belligerence regarding Israel, makes Mr Netanyahu’s reference appropriate. Conversely, some have pointed to profound differences between Iran now and the Nazi state in 1938. It is not, however, for me to pass judgement on the extent to which this reference was apposite, but only on whether Mr Bowen’s characterisation of it amounted to a breach of the BBC’s standards. I cannot say I think it was. The BBC’s guidelines do not prevent correspondents from using their judgement in characterising events and offering their knowledge and experience to offer informed perspectives on them – and this, it seemed to me, was what happened here.

I would accept that this might have been better worded. However, this was not an in-depth article but a single tweet, one of many published over the course of a live event, and the necessary brevity of that format makes extra background impossible – a limitation which I think audiences understand and a context in which it must be judged. I don’t think anyone would look to the tweet for a full understanding of the nuances of the situation in Iran or the speech as a whole but rather a (live) shorthand summary of one aspect of it, as analysed by Mr Bowen. His analysis reflected his particular interpretation of Mr Netanyahu’s comments but as I say such interpretation is allowed and indeed expected of correspondents, particularly from their own Twitter accounts. I don’t therefore believe this amounted to bias.

The BBC’s guidelines do not promise that content will never offend. They do however require that where it might, some editorial justification exists. In this case, I think the informed analysis I describe above would offer that justification, and as I say I do not think this served to belittle the Holocaust in any way. While I recognise and regret that you found this offensive I do not believe it is in breach of the BBC’s standards.”

As was noted here at the time:

“The accepted definition of the idiom ‘play the card’ is to exploit a specific issue for political advantage. In other words, Bowen is accusing Netanyahu of cynically making use of the memory of six million murdered Jews for his own political gain and his use of the words “once again” indicates that Bowen is of the opinion that this is a regular practice on the part of the Israeli prime minister.”

The BBC, it seems, would have us believe that is an ‘informed perspective’ which has “editorial justification”.

Related Articles:

BBC audiences get Israeli PM’s Congress speech through the Bowen filter – part one

Commentary on BBC ME editor’s ‘Holocaust card’ Tweet widens

BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Khaled Masha’al

Several members of the public who submitted complaints concerning Jeremy Bowen’s recent interview with Hamas leader Khaled Masha’al (see related articles below) have received the following template response.Bowen Hamas filmed

“Thank you for contacting us about BBC News Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. We have received a wide range of feedback about this interview, so we apologise in advance if your specific concerns have not been fully addressed in this response.

Some people contacted us saying this interview showed bias in favour of Hamas, or against Israel. Firstly, we would like to point out that the longer version of the interview shown on the BBC News at Ten on 1 April clearly explained the nature, intentions and ideology of Hamas to viewers. During the introduction to the report we said that Hamas is:

“…designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and other countries and “still calls for the destruction of Israel in its charter”.

The BBC News website’s article, which featured a shorter version of the interview, said: 

“Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and other countries due to its long record of attacks on Israelis and its refusal to renounce violence. Under its charter, the group is committed to the destruction of Israel.”

This interview sought to give a brief insight into Hamas’ position given the current political landscape in the Middle East. We felt it was relevant and important to explore the likely challenges facing Palestinians and their leadership, particularly following the results of the Israeli general election in March, last year’s war with Israel in Gaza and the growing crisis in Syria and Iraq.Bowen Hamas written

Jeremy Bowen challenged Khaled Meshaal on a number of points during the interview. He reflected on comparisons between Hamas and jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda and ‘Islamic State’. When Mr Meshaal described Hamas as “moderate” in response to this comparison, Jeremy remarked that many in the US, Israel and the UK would “laugh” at this description.

During the News at Ten report, Jeremy was shown some of Hamas’ network of tunnels by Colonel Peter Lerner from the Israeli Army. Col Lerner explained how sophisticated the tunnels are and emphasised the threat posed by them to those living in southern Israel. This point was put directly to Khaled Meshaal during the interview. 

Across our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have extensively reported on Hamas’ actions. We have covered their targeting and killing of Israeli soldiers and civilians, on the threat posed by rocket attacks and tunnels, and their hostility towards the state of Israel. This interview was a small part of a much wider range of reports on this complex and ongoing conflict.

Thanks again for contacting us.” 

Obviously, nothing in that generic first stage response addresses the issues raised on these pages and others. As Tom Wilson writing in the Spectator noted with regard to Bowen’s interview:

“When journalists have the much sought after opportunity to interview the heads of states and organisations with appalling human rights records the very least we expect is to see such people given a thorough cross-examining. What we don’t expect is for heads of terrorist organisations to be provided with a platform from which to give the equivalent of a party political broadcast and to get away with it virtually unchallenged. “

Members of the public considering pursuing their complaint further may find the following links helpful.

How to Complain to the BBC

Tips on using the BBC Complaints Procedure

Related Articles:

 BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

More enablement of Hamas propaganda from BBC’s ME editor

Jeremy Bowen exploits Radio 4 news bulletin for Hamas PR promotion