The Times reports: BBC Trust upholds 2011 complaint against ‘Today’ programme

h/t JS

The March 15th edition of The Times included some interesting news about a two and a half year-old complaint to the BBC in an article titled “Rift grows after BBC watchdog upholds complaint over ‘biased’ report on Israel” (£). 

“The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint which alleged that a five-minute report on Radio 4’s Today programme about the Six-Day War was misleading and biased, The Times has learnt. […]

The latest complaint relates to an item which aired on the Today programme in June 2011. The report, by Kevin Connolly, one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents, examined the legacy of the 1967 conflict between Israel and several neighbouring states.

According to the trust’s findings, which were obtained by The Times, a listener alleged that the Today report wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the war, when it had given 90 per cent of the land captured in 1967 back to Egypt. The programme also, the complainant alleged, gave a misleading impression that Israel was not willing to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.

The trust found that the Today report had been inaccurate on both points and that the complaints should be upheld.”

The broadcast concerned appears to be this one from June 10th 2011.

Kevin Connolly opens that report with the following words:

“They are not borders, but lines of ceasefire – although they didn’t sound like it last weekend at Majdal Shams when Israeli soldiers used live ammunition to stop protesters trying to cross the line of disengagement with Syria.”

Readers may perhaps remember that the day before that report on the ‘Today’ programme, BBC Radio 4 had also broadcast a highly problematic item by Connolly on ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ pertaining to those “protesters” at Majdal Shams.

Interestingly, The Times also reports that: 

“BBC News had strongly defended the report during an internal complaints process that dragged on for two and a half years.”

It goes on to say:

“Both BBC News and Mr Connolly declined to comment yesterday, but the publication of the trust’s findings on March 25 is likely to lead to outrage among the corporation’s journalists.

The controversial findings against Mr Bowen in 2009 still rankle inside the corporation. This month, Mr Bowen told The Independent newspaper that the trust’s ruling, after complaints by Israeli lobbyists, was a “mistake” based on a “flawed” investigation. “One person they took advice from who was held up as independent was later appointed as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States,” Mr Bowen was quoted as saying. “He was hardly impartial.” “

As readers will recall, we discussed that portion of Jeremy Bowen’s recent interview with the Independent here.

Licence fee payers might find it very disturbing that the corporation’s journalists should be considered likely to express “outrage” at the thought of their work being held to account – according to the BBC’s own editorial guidelines and within the framework of its own self-regulating system, of course – by the members of the public who actually fund it. They may also naturally be concerned as to why it has taken two and a half years for this complaint to find its way through that self-regulating system, which was supposedly made more user-friendly not long ago. 

The Times article also suggests that the BBC Trust’s findings “would appear to show the corporation has failed to learn from the 2004 Balen Report”, which of course has not been made public to this day – also at the expense of the funding public. 

 

BBC’s Bowen revives five year-old grudge in Indy interview

Below is a paragraph from an interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which appeared in the Independent on March 9th 2014. 

“He is still smarting from a controversial BBC Trust finding against him in 2009, which outraged journalists both inside and outside the BBC. He maintains that the ruling – relating to the sourcing of part of a story on Israeli settlements, following complaints by two full-time pro-Israeli lobbyists – was a “mistake” based on a “flawed” investigation process that has now been changed. “One person they took advice from who was held up as independent was later appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the United States,” he complains. The BBC Trust continues to defend its findings.”

Readers can view that “controversial” BBC Trust finding for themselves here and they can find out more about those “outraged journalists” here. They can also judge whether or not the claim that the BBC Trust’s ruling related “to the sourcing of part of a story on Israeli settlements” is accurate by reading details here of one of the complaints made (and its timeline) regarding Bowen’s article about the Six Day War titled “How 1967 defined the Middle East”, which is still available on the BBC News website.

If they dig through the BBC Trust’s long report, readers will find that the person Bowen complains was “later appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the United States” is in fact historian Michael Oren; the author of a comprehensive book about the Six Day War – although Bowen and the Independent of course neglect to mention that rather relevant fact. They will also note that in fact the BBC Trust actually “took advice” from two other historians – Sir Martin Gilbert and Avi Shlaim – and that references to Michael Oren’s book are to be found at an earlier stage of the process.

And if readers scroll down to the bottom of the Independent’s article they will find the comment below from one of the two people who made the original complaints – described by Bowen as “full-time pro-Israeli lobbyists” – with the last sentence of that comment capturing all that really needs to be said.

Jonathan Turner comment Independant

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Adding more second Intifada falsehoods to the BBC’s ‘permanently accessible archive’

On January 12th we noted here that just hours after the death of Ariel Sharon, the BBC News website continued to promote the myth that his September 28th 2000 visit to Temple Mount was the cause of the second Intifada. After that article was written, three additional items appeared on the website promoting the same falsehood.

In an item titled “In quotes: Ariel Sharon” a note was added to one of several Sharon quotes selected by BBC staff for that feature.

Sharon in quotes article

Also appearing on the website on January 12th was a filmed report dedicated to a telephone interview with Mustafa Barghouti in which – with his inaccuracies unchallenged by the BBC – he claimed:

“The worst memory is that he [Sharon] practically undermined and destroyed the peace process – the Oslo process – when he visited the Al Aqsa mosque and launched a campaign against the implementation of the peace process…”

In an article dated January 13th Yolande Knell wrote:

“…his [Sharon's] controversial visit in 2000 to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. The walkabout on the contested site infuriated Palestinians, who launched the second intifada (or uprising).”

To sum up, we see that on January 1st the BBC News website had produced a new profile of Sharon which included the second intifada myth and that in the subsequent ten days no fewer than fourteen links to that profile were promoted in five separate articles. In addition, over the following three days, the same myth appeared in the BBC News website’s obituary, in an “In Pictures” feature, in an article by Kevin Connolly and in another by Yolande Knell, in the above-mentioned “In Quotes” feature, in a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen and in the interview with Barghouti.

In other words, BBC audiences were provided with versions of the same inaccurate and misleading information on at least eight separate occasions on the website alone. With Bowen’s report also having appeared on BBC television news programmes and the interview with Barghouti having been broadcast on BBC radio stations, clearly the extent of the promotion of this falsehood is considerably wider.

But why? Why should the BBC have adopted hook, line and sinker a narrative which has been shown to be incorrect on countless occasions – ironically primarily by Palestinian leaders and personalities? And why does an organization which claims to aspire to be the “standard-setter for international journalism” and is supposedly committed to rigorous standards of accuracy continue to widely and deliberately promote a clear falsehood?

We can of course only guess the answers to those questions, but certainly the embalming of this simplistic myth is the easy option for journalists. The alternative would involve detailing for audiences the long list of terror attacks against Israeli citizens which took place between the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the start of the second Intifada seven years later and in which some 269 Israelis were killed and many hundreds more injured. Significantly, that turbulent period – which remains etched in the memories of Israelis – does not even appear on the BBC News website’s timeline of Israeli history,which jumps straight from the Oslo Accords of Timeline1993 to the second Intifada of 2000 as though nothing of importance happened in between. 

Likewise, any honest appraisal of the factors which brought about the second Intifada would have to include Yasser Arafat’s failure to rein in the terror activities of rejectionist factions and to prepare the Palestinian leadership and people for peace with their neighbours during those seven years, as well as a frank account of his performance at Camp David in July 2000.

“Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him [Arafat] in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.” Suha Arafat speaking to Dubai TV, December 2012.

All that, however, is completely erased from the BBC’s narrative, according to which hitherto peace-loving Palestinians were simply unable to resist being provoked into starting a campaign of violence and terror when the leader of an opposition party in Israel paid a thirty-four minute visit to the most important Jewish holy site during normal visitor opening hours which was pre-coordinated days beforehand with the PA security forces.

Whilst the promotion of that simplistic narrative might save a lot of writing hours, it does nothing for the BBC’s reputation as an organisation committed to accuracy. Neither does it indicate that BBC journalists regard the Palestinian people and their leadership as having any sort of agency or responsibility and such an obvious display of the bigotry of low expectations may well be seen as compromising the BBC’s impartiality.

Unlike most BBC radio or television broadcasts, material published on its website remains in the public domain for many years to come. That website already includes significant amounts of inaccurate and misleading information on the subject of the second Intifada. Now, over a decade on, instead of rectifying that situation the BBC is adding yet more of the same to what it describes as its “permanently accessible archive“.  

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Bowen on Sharon: what did BBC audiences learn?

We previously noted on these pages that, on January 12th in an item concerning the death of Ariel Sharon which was aired on the Bowen filmed 11 1 aBBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen inaccurately represented the findings of the Kahan Commission on Sabra and Shatila and inserted into his report a recording of an interviewee from Lebanon making the false claim that Sharon had both entered the camps and carried out the massacre. 

With Jeremy Bowen’s post having been created in 2005 as one of several BBC responses to criticism of its Middle East coverage which led to the commissioning of the unpublished Balen Report, it is worth taking a look at some of his additional broadcasts throughout the three days in which the BBC covered the death of Ariel Sharon and examining whether or not his role does in fact contribute to more accurate and impartial coverage of a major event and whether it actually provides “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” as the BBC claims

On January 11th – within hours of Sharon’s death – two filmed reports by Bowen – which were also aired on BBC television news programmes – appeared on the BBC News website. In the earlier of those two reports, which Bowen Bowen filmed 11 1 bliberally garnishes with words such as ‘butcher’, ‘villain’, ‘killer’ and ‘criminal’, supposedly whilst reflecting the opinions of others, he again misrepresents the Kahan Commission findings and misleads audiences by inaccurately stating that the second Intifada was the result of Sharon’s September 2000 visit to Temple Mount.

“As he pushed to become leader of the Israeli Right in 2000, he made a highly publicized, heavily guarded visit to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, providing the spark for the second Palestinian uprising.”

In the second report viewers were informed by Bowen that:

“…and of course from the Palestinian perspective he is seen absolutely without any shadow of doubt as a butcher with lakes of blood on his hands…”

That description also found its way to the BBC News website’s live page.

Live page Sharon Bowen comments

On January 12th, as Ariel Sharon lay in state, a further two reports by Jeremy Bowen were aired on BBC television news and appeared on the BBC News website, with the first headlined “Ariel Sharon death: Israelis pay respects at parliament“. Despite that title, it Bowen 12 1 atook just forty-five seconds of the report before Bowen was once again promoting more paraphrased Palestinian opinions of Sharon in his own highly charged and hyperbolic words.

“But Palestinians especially are not shedding tears for Ariel Sharon. They say he spent his life shedding their blood and taking land they want for a state for Jewish settlements.”

Bowen closes that report:

“It’s a sign though of his place in modern Middle Eastern history that there are still so many people here in Israel who venerate him and so many – especially Palestinians – who get very angry about what he did.”

The second report of that day is an interview by Bowen with Ehud Olmert in which he again uses the ‘butcher’ description.

“Now what about those episodes which Sharon’s name is also associated with abroad? Sabra and Shatila, the killings in the camp, the subsequent inquiry, personal responsibility that he took for that – he had to resign – and the other things as well; the raids into Gaza and the West Bank in the 1950s which mean that Palestinians of course looked on him very differently and saw him as a butcher with blood on his hands.” Bowen 12 1 b

His next question is:

“Now what about the fact that those episodes in Mr Sharon’s political career – many people believe – brought Israel into disrepute around the world, were a black mark on its record?”

Viewers are of course not informed who or how many are “many people”, but it is notable that Bowen uses the opportunity to advance the concept of the massacre of Palestinian Arabs by Lebanese Arabs (of course one of many carried out around that time in Lebanon by numerous parties including Palestinians) as a “black mark” on Israel’s record rather than on that of the people who perpetrated it.

On January 13th a fifth filmed report by Bowen appeared on BBC television news programmes and on the BBC News website. Titled “Ariel Sharon funeral: Tributes paid at memorial service“, that report too soon moves from reporting events to political commentary. 

At 1:26 into the two minute and forty second-long report, viewers see footage of the Old City of Jerusalem with Bowen saying:

“Ariel Sharon owned a house in the Old City of Jerusalem where most of the residents are Palestinians. For many years he led the drive to settle Jews in the occupied territories. Jewish settlers who live here in the Muslim Quarter have armed security guards.”

It is difficult to imagine three more context-free sentences. Bowen fails to inform viewers that Jews – some of whom had lived there for generations – were expelled from the Old City by the Jordanians in 1948 and hence he is able to describe those living there nowBowen 13 1 as “settlers”. He also neglects to mention that, despite being situated in the Muslim Quarter, the Wittenberg House in which Sharon indeed bought an apartment in the 1980s (and sold some years later) is named after Moshe Wittenberg who bought what was once a hotel from its former Christian owners roughly one hundred years before that. And of course Bowen provides no explanation as to why Jews living in the Old City might be in need of “armed security guards”, but at least this time he has actually got the name of one of the quarters of Jerusalem right. 

Bowen then interviews Mustafa Barghouti (who also featured widely in other BBC coverage of Sharon’s death with assorted unchallenged defamations and conspiracy theories), describing him as “a prominent Palestinian who believes in non-violent resistance to Israel”. Readers will no doubt however be aware of Barghouti’s participation in the riots in Qalandiya during the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ agitprop of March 2012 and his periodic appearance at the weekly violent riots in Bil’in. Unchallenged by Bowen, Barghouti says:

“He [Sharon] thought he can deal with Palestinians and Arabs and the rest of the world only through force. What Israel needs is a different kind of political generation: people who understand that they themselves will not be free as Israelis from the system of apartheid and occupation unless we the Palestinians are free.”

Bowen ends that report by saying:

“Many Palestinians and some human rights campaigners think he [Sharon] should have been put on trial as a war criminal but he goes to his grave mourned by Israelis who felt safer when he was around.”

So what have BBC audiences gained from watching these five reports by Jeremy Bowen spread over three days? They have been misled with regard to the findings of the Kahan Commission and the cause of the second Intifada. They have been presented with numerous examples of Bowen’s interpretations of what Palestinians think of Sharon, together with the views of selected interviewees, and they have repeatedly been exposed to Bowen’s use of hyperbolic language such as “butcher”, “villain”, “killer”, “criminal”, “war criminal”, “apartheid”, “lakes of blood on his hands” and “shedding their blood”.

Beyond the fact that much of this coverage cannot be said to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines of accuracy and impartiality, its overtly political nature means that, above all, in no way can it be said to meet Bowen’s job description of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. Given that Jeremy Bowen is not just one individual reporter, but the person in charge of setting the overall tone of the BBC’s Middle East reporting, his performance in this instance must raise questions as to the efficacy of the post of Middle East editor in producing accurate and impartial coverage of Israel. 

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Jeremy Bowen promotes Sabra & Shatila lies on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Broadcasting House’

The January 12th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, hosted by Paddy O’Connell and available here, includes (from around 28:00) a contribution by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on the subject of Ariel Sharon who had died the previous day.

Broadcasting House 12 1

O’Connell introduces the item thus:

“The convoy with Ariel Sharon’s coffin has in fact just arrived at the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – where his body is now being moved to a podium. Israelis will be able to pass by to pay their last respects. The funeral of Areil Sharon takes place tomorrow in his family farm close to Gaza as we’ve been hearing in the news. World leaders will attend a ceremony although President Obama is not going; his vice president will represent the USA.”

Before informing listeners of any Israeli reactions to the news of Sharon’s death, O’Connell – in line with much of the rest of the BBC’s coverage of the subject – then finds it necessary to tell them what the Palestinians think of the death of somebody else’s former prime minister. 

“Palestinians see Ariel Sharon as a criminal and have condemned his record. As for Israelis, they will have their chance to pay their respects as his body lies in state in Jerusalem. Well I’ve discussed this with the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen begins:

“Now he hasn’t been a political factor of course in eight years. Israelis are very good at absorbing shocks and they did that in 2006 when he had his stroke and went into a coma. But he’s a very symbolic character as far as Israelis are concerned. He goes right back to their independence war in 1948; he fought in that and was wounded. Shimon Peres the former prime minister, now the president, who was a politician right back in 1948 himself, gave this tribute.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Shimon Peres speaking in English, after which O’Connell says:

“It’s notable when you look at the tributes that have come in – if you compare this to what happened when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, when Yasser Arafat paid tribute and himself went to a commemoration for the assassinated prime minister – this is not the case at all this time round.”

Bowen: “Yeah. Rabin was seen as a tough guy, a military commander who had – from the Palestinians’ point of view – certainly from Arafat’s point of view – who had changed. Ariel Sharon – as far as the Palestinians were concerned – was never going to change. 1982 Sharon as Defence Minister presided over an invasion of Lebanon. During the siege of Beirut there was a terrible massacre of Palestinians in a refugee camp. Hundreds dead – maybe thousands dead. Now they were killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen who were in alliance at the time with the Israelis and there was an official inquiry into all this afterwards in Israel itself. That commission of inquiry found that Sharon was personally responsible and he was forced to resign as Minister of Defence.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s account – and his implication that Sharon was found to be responsible for the massacres themselves – is of course not accurate. The Kahan Commission in fact found that Sharon (and others) bore indirect personal responsibility for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence.

“On 7 February 1983 the Kahan Commission published its recommendations: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut. The report attributed direct responsibility for the massacre to the Phalangists. However, the commission determined that indirect personal responsibility fell on several Israeli office holders. It stated that: “in our view, everyone who had anything to do with events in Lebanon should have felt apprehension about a massacre in the camps, if armed Phalangist forces were to be moved into them without the IDF exercising concrete and effective supervision and scrutiny of them “.”

Not content with misleading listeners on the findings of the Kahan Commission, Bowen goes on to present a recording which he has clearly selected in order to advance the impression he wishes to create. 

Bowen: “From the Palestinian point of view it made the man [Sharon] absolutely beyond the pale as far as they were concerned. And they are still very angry about what happened there. There are memorials there to the people who died and one of the survivors of the massacre – a man called Mohammed Srour spoke about that and he said that he wished Mr Sharon had been punished for his actions.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Mohammed Srour speaking in Arabic, with a BBC translation overlaid.

Srour: “Sharon has passed away but we didn’t wish him to die in such a way. I am one of the victims whose parents died in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. I was hoping he would be killed by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman because when he entered Sabra and Shatila and carried out the massacre, he killed the children and the women.”

Of course Sharon did not enter Sabra and Shatila and did not carry out the massacre, but  neither Bowen nor O’Connell make any subsequent effort throughout the whole of the rest of the item to correct the misleading impression created by the interviewee Jeremy Bowen deliberately chose to showcase.

Notably, given Bowen’s introduction to the interview with Srour, we can apparently conclude that the latter’s call for the murder of Ariel Sharon “by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman” is what Bowen regards as ‘punishment’. 

The BBC’s coverage of Ariel Sharon’s death has included considerable quantities of misleading, inaccurate and defamatory statements by assorted interviewees. The BBC cannot, however, hide behind the claim that these are not the words of its own employees as all BBC produced content is subject to its editorial guidelines.   

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Breaches of editorial guidelines in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special Sharon broadcast

Just one hour after the official announcement of Ariel Sharon’s death on January 11th, the BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’ programme went on air with an edition titled “Ariel Sharon dies” presented by Lyse Doucet which can be heard here.

Newshour 11 1 14

The programme opens with an item by BBC World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge in which the second Intifada myth is once again promoted.

“It was as Likud leader in opposition in September 2000 that he paid a visit that was to go down in history, like other actions of his. Ariel Sharon simply going to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem – a site also holy to Jews – turned out to be one of the sparks for the second Palestinian uprising or Intifada.”

Wooldridge even includes in his account a recording of former Arafat advisor Ahmad Tibi deliberately misrepresenting geography:

“He [Sharon] came here in order to burn up the area. Al Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic place. Al Aqsa is in the Palestinian territory.”

The editorial decisions behind the presentation of the various interviewees in this programme of course remain a mystery, but the very first person to be interviewed by Doucet is Mustafa Barghouti who is presented as a “prominent Palestinian politician”, with of course no mention of hisanti-Israel activism. Barghouti opens: 

“Well of course there is no gloating in death – nobody should celebrate any death – but unfortunately I have to say that Mr Sharon left no good memories with Palestinians. Eh..he was responsible for the terrible invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He was personally accused even by Israeli courts for responsibility for the massacre in Sabra and Shatila which took the lives of thousands of Palestinians. He himself provoked the Intifada – the second Intifada – when he visited Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, killing practically the Oslo process and then he engaged in a unilateral redeployment in Gaza, refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian side. And the worst thing – the worst memories I have in this period was when they invaded us again in an act of invasion that destroyed our houses, killed hundreds of Palestinians and practically re-established occupation again of the West Bank. And he is accused also of the assassination of President Arafat, so all in all unfortunately he had a path of war and aggression and a great failure in making peace with the Palestinian people.”

If one is expecting Lyse Doucet to jump in at this point and clarify to her millions of listeners that the Lebanon war began in response to Palestinian terrorism and that the Kahan Commission was not a court but a commission of inquiry and that it found that Sharon bore indirect responsibility for the massacre by Lebanese Christian Arabs of Palestinian Arabs, then one will be sorely disappointed.  Likewise, Doucet makes no effort to explain that the second Intifada was pre-planned long before Sharon set foot on Temple Mount , that Operation Defensive Shield was brought about by unprecedented Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians or that two recent reports have shown that Arafat died of natural causes. Instead, Doucet allows Barghouti free rein to continue his tirade of falsehoods by asking him if – had he not been taken ill – Sharon would also have withdrawn from the PA controlled territories in Judea & Samaria. Barghouti replies:

“I doubt that totally because there are big differences between West Bank and Gaza. Actually what he did in Gaza helped destroy the Palestinian internal unity because he really did not withdraw from Gaza. He did not end the occupation of Gaza. All he did is redeployment and establishment of a new form of occupation where Gaza is besieged by air, by land and by sea. And his main goal was to separate the West Bank from Gaza and thus by getting rid of 1.3% of the land he could keep the rest of the land and this way he could get rid of one third of the demographic formula.”

No comment is made by Doucet regarding Barghouti’s use of that figure of 1.3%, even though it reveals the true nature of his agenda seeing as the Gaza Strip comprises 1.3% of the land which was under British administration at the time of the Mandate. Neither does the frankly comic notion that Sharon destroyed “Palestinian internal unity” raise any reaction from Doucet and she offers no clarification of the fact that the partial blockade on the Gaza Strip came as a direct response to Palestinian terrorism.  Barghouti goes on:

“The other issue of course which will remain for history to decide, is whether one day he will be judged also in the court of justice for crimes against humanity, especially what happened in terms of the invasions and also in Sabra and Shatila – these were his orders.”

In spite of the fact that Barghouti has just claimed that the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila was carried out upon the “orders” of Sharon, Doucet makes no attempt to inform listeners of the false nature of that claim, instead closing with “thank you for joining us from Ramallah”. To make matters worse, parts of Barghouti’s uninterrupted monologue of lies and defamation are later rebroadcast twice in the programme.

Doucet’s other interviewees include two Israelis (Zalman Shuval and David Horowitz ), three additional BBC correspondents (Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Bowen and Karim Gohary of the BBC Arabic Service), former US negotiator Dennis Ross and Palestinian journalist Ghassan Khatib. 

Karim Gohary is brought in at around 27:37 to inform listeners of the reaction to Sharon’s death in the Arab world. His contribution is seasoned with terms such as “war crimes” and “criminal court” as well as what are clearly his own interpretations of events, which also go unchallenged by Doucet.

“..in addition to what I’ve already spoken about, the starting of the second Intifada – actually going to the Al Aqsa Mosque, unannounced as well – it has a lot of meaning for many Arabs…”

In fact, Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount (he did not enter either of the mosques) was pre-coordinated with Jibril Rajoub of the PA security forces, so it can hardly be described as “unannounced”.  Of course the “meaning” of that event might perhaps be a little different were it reported accurately by the media – including the BBC – both over the past thirteen years and at the present time.

Doucet’s final guest is Ghassan Khatib who, when asked by Doucet for his “thoughts today”, says:

“Well, I thought that we only have negative and bad memories of Sharon. I think the consensus among Palestinians is that Sharon needed to be treated as a war criminal more than anything else. In all his political life he was a leading figure in the Israeli political camp that worked by all possible means, legal and illegal, in order to maintain the illegal control of Israel over the Palestinians and the Palestinian territories in West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He was responsible for massacres. He pulled out of – from – Gaza in order to consolidate the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and he did it in a way that contributed to marginalising the peace camp in Palestine and he did it in a way that played to the hand of the opposition of the peace process in the Palestinian territories. There’s a consensus among Palestinians that he is the worst ever leader in Israel from prospective [the perspective] of Palestinians. Palestinians – I think most Palestinians, all Palestinians, would like to see him and his memory resting in the [unintelligible] history, worst possible place in history.”

Neither Khatib nor Doucet of course bother to inform listeners that Sharon’s successor Ehud Olmert, who became acting prime minister when Sharon was taken ill in January 2006 – less than five months after the Gaza disengagement – and then was elected (having run on a platform of withdrawal from Judea & Samaria) to continue the post in April 2006, offered Mahmoud Abbas a peace plan which demonstrates just how disingenuous claims of ‘consolidation’ of Israel’s presence there – as promoted by Khatib – actually are.  

BBC editorial guidelines do not apply merely to content spoken or written by BBC employees. Hence, an interviewer has the responsibility to ensure that when interviewees make grossly misleading or defamatory statements, they are countered with facts. 

“As it is not possible to guarantee the compliance of live programmes in advance of transmission we should take special care to minimise the risks involved such as inadvertently causing harm or offence, giving undue prominence to products, organisations or services or creating legal problems. This applies to anyone appearing live on air or online including our contributors, our own presenters, journalists and reporters, commentators and analysts, and even the live audience. The risks of live broadcasting may include:

 the inappropriate use of strong language;

the inadvertent inclusion of strong language in song lyrics (both English and foreign language versions), film clips, poetry readings, extracts from literature and so on;

issues of portrayal including racism and national stereotyping;

broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments;

failure to achieve impartiality;

misleading of audiences;

detailed and inappropriate identification of child contributors;

undue prominence of a product, for example, a film, book or sponsors logo;

unexpected and potentially inappropriate coverage of injuries and loss of life in national or international emergencies;

inappropriately graphic or insensitive coverage of sporting fatalities or severe injuries;

failure to alert viewers who may have photosensitive epilepsy to the inclusion of editorially justified flashing images or strobing.

[emphasis added]   [...]

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. “

In this broadcast Doucet and her producers were not even going through the motions of pretending to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood

Between January 1st and January 9th 2014 the BBC News website published five separate articles on the subject of the deteriorating health of Israel’s former prime minister Ariel Sharon. 

January 1st: “Ariel Sharon’s health suffers ‘serious deterioration’“.

January 2nd:  ”Israel ex-PM Ariel Sharon ‘critically ill’

January 3rd: “Israel ex-PM Ariel Sharon ‘deteriorates further’

January 5th:  ”Ariel Sharon: Doctors pessimistic over ex-PM’s survival

January 9th: “Israel ex-PM Ariel Sharon condition ‘worsens’

Each of those articles includes between two and three links (totalling fourteen links in all) to the BBC’s profile of Ariel Sharon which, despite being recently updated on January 1ststill promotes the erroneous claim that his visit to Temple Mount in September 2000 was the cause of the second Intifada. That same myth is also to be found in assorted BBC backgrounders on the subject of the second Intifada.

Ariel Sharon’s death on January 11th prompted BBC coverage of predictably gargantuan proportions, some of which continues to stubbornly perpetuate that same inaccurate and misleading claim.

An “In Pictures” feature which appears on the BBC News website includes a photograph captioned:

“As opposition leader in 2000, Mr Sharon paid a controversial visit to the holy compound in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. Palestinians rioted and the second intifada (uprising) ensued.”

In pictures Sharon Temple Mount 2nd Intifada

In the obituary published on the BBC News website it is stated:

“He swept into power in 2001, six months after the beginning of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, which began when Sharon paid a controversial visit to the the [sic] holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews, and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.”

In an article titled “Israel’s ex-PM Ariel Sharon dies” which also appeared among the coverage on the BBC News website, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly writes:  

“In the year 2000, flanked by hundreds of Israeli riot police, he staged a visit to the area of the Old City in Jerusalem which contains sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims – the Temple Mount or Harem al-Sharif.

Even though the area is in the part of East Jerusalem captured by Israel in the war of 1967, Jewish rights to pray there are limited – and it is a microcosm of the tensions that fuel the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Intense rioting followed his visit there and many people trace the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada to that moment.

Ariel Sharon was characteristically unrepentant.”

In a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen which appears on the BBC News website as well as having been broadcast on BBC television news programmes, Bowen states:

“As he pushed to become leader of the Israeli Right in 2000, he made a highly publicized, heavily guarded visit to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, providing the spark for the second Palestinian uprising.”

Bowen filmed Sharon 2

Clearly, the BBC is extremely keen to keep the notion alive in the minds of its audiences that the second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon paid a thirty-four minute visit to Temple Mount within regular opening hours which was pre-coordinated with the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. The trouble is, of course, that the version of events being energetically propagated by the BBC on multiple platforms is not accurate. The even bigger problem is that the BBC knows that very well, and yet it continues its opportunistic promotion of it anyway. 

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Bowen tweet not helpful to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality

Dr Eyad Sarraj, who recently died at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem where he had been treated for leukemia, was the founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

Despite its scientific and neutral-sounding title, the GCMHP has shown itself repeatedly (see p38 onwards) to be an NGO with political motivations and is involved with the BDS movement. In evidence he gave to the Goldstone Panel in 2009, Sarraj said:

“The Palestinian in the eyes of the Israeli soldier is not an equal human being. Sometimes this Palestinian even becomes a demon in their eyes. Therefore it is a state of demonization. This is unfortunately, uh, what can be seen in the behavior of the Israeli soldier not only killing children or fathers before…He is not dealt with as an equal human being. This is the base of everything and then there is the fact that there is no restraint, no discipline within the army and, uh, uh, even there’s an encouragement…Many Israelis need this and also the Palestinians because inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazi.”

Sarraj was also a member of the flotilla-organising, ISM-rooted Free Gaza Movement’s ‘Gaza Advisory Council’ – part of its Board of Advisors.

Hence, the Tweet below – sent on December 18th by Jeremy Bowen: the Middle East Editor tasked with being the gatekeeper of accurate and impartial Middle East reporting - does little to help the BBC’s reputation as an impartial body.

Bowen Sarraj tweet

BBC takes a stroll down the tabloid journalism side of the street

In between feverishly promoting his own book via his Twitter account, former BBC Jerusalem Bureau chief Paul Danahar (now based in Washington) found time on October 6th to make his thoughts known on an issue of dire international importance – at least for people who don’t do metaphors.

Danahar tweet jeans

Danahar tweet jeans 2

The following day, October 7th, the BBC News website saw fit to produce an entire article on the subject of what some people were posting on Twitter. 

Jeans art

Not to be outdone, on October 13th BBC Middle East Editor (and no less prolific book promoter) Jeremy Bowen Tweeted his own second-hand scoop.

Tweet 2 Iran porn

The following day the BBC News website published on its Middle East page a non-event of an article – cribbed from another media source – titled “Israel PM Netanyahu Twitter account ‘in erotica gaffe’ “.

article twitter iran porn

Tweet 1 Iran porn

Whilst visitors to the BBC News website remain in the dark with regard to issues such as missile attacks and terror attacks on Israeli civilians, Palestinian Authority incitement and glorification of terror and the phenomenon of billions of unaccounted-for Euros, they can at least rest assured that they are au fait with the latest earth-stopping developments as far as who wrote what and who followed or unfollowed whom on Twitter is concerned – just as long as it can somehow be linked to Israel’s prime minister. 

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The BBC and the Brotherhood

The still unfolding dramatic events of recent days in Egypt prompted this writer to recall an article published just over a year ago – in late June 2012 – in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section. In that opinion piece on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt it was stated: [all emphasis added] 

“The Muslim Brothers have been hounded and persecuted throughout their long history, so their resilience and tenacity is not only to be admired and respected, but should also be held as an example for those who wish to make a difference in Egypt’s vibrant but chaotic post-Mubarak political landscape. [..]

It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics. […]

There are so many people who hate the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and beyond. But no one can deny that they have proven to be the most successful grassroots movement across the entire region. 

The Brotherhood is the closest one can find in Egypt today to an independent political institution where established practices and commitment to an idea seem to trounce blood ties and financial interests.

It’s not only populist, but also truly popular. Its members are drawn from all walks of life – middle-class professionals as well as workers and peasants. […]

But their bond with their constituencies is not seasonal. Care for the poor and the weak is central to Islamic teaching, and they would not have enjoyed the support they do if they had not lived up to those ideals. […]

Unless the liberals and other secular forces learn from the commitment and organisational skills of the Muslim Brothers, leave their affluent ghettos in the big cities and venture out in the countryside, they will remain condemned to a handful of seats in any future election.” 

One must of course wonder if the author of that article has changed his point of view in the face of the reality of the past year of Muslim Brotherhood rule. 

However, those words (which even got the Muslim Brotherhood’s official stamp of approval at the time) were not penned by a Western journalist caught up in starry-eyed enthusiasm for the ‘Arab Spring’. They were written by a native-born Egyptian – and former BBC Arab Affairs Analyst – Magdi Abdelhadi. 

Abdelhadi left the BBC to pursue a freelance career in April 2011; three months after the historic events in Tahrir Square, and hence was most probably analysing those events on behalf of the BBC during part of the time period covered in the BBC’s internal report on its coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’. In that report, published in June 2012, it is noted that:

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

In January 2011 the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen informed audiences (in an article which was later twice amended) that:

“The country’s only properly organised mass political movement outside the ruling party is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it would do very well in any free election.

Unlike the jihadis, it does not believe it is at war with the West. It is conservative, moderate and non-violent. But it is highly critical of Western policy in the Middle East.” [emphasis added] 

A June 2012 profile of the Muslim Brotherhood on the BBC News website still informs readers that:

“Mr Mursi has insisted that as president he wants to build a “democratic, civil and modern state” that guarantees the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest.”

The whole point of BBC analysis – like any other – is surely to provide those reading it with enhanced understanding of a particular issue or subject. Whilst the actual current events in Egypt may have taken many people by surprise, thebackground to them is not new by any stretch of the imagination and there were analysts who, from the outset, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt in a less romantic light than the one which prevailed in BBC reporting. Such voices, however, were not given significant space by the BBC – resulting in the kind of impoverished analysis we see above.

The BBC obviously needs to ask itself why that was the case – and not only in relation to Egypt – if it wishes to be relevant as an international media outlet.