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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-32060613 

“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

BBC ME editor’s analysis of threat to Christians: IS, extreme Islam – and Israel

h/t: MG, SI

The April 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme included an interview (available here for a limited period of time from 01:49:45) with Cardinal Vincent Nichols on the subject of his recent visit to displaced Christian communities in Iraq.Today 14 4

 Immediately after that interview, presenter Mishal Husain brought in Jeremy Bowen (from 01:54:35) for further analysis of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq as described by Cardinal Nichols and listeners heard an ‘interesting’ interpretation of the cause of Islamist violence against Christians in that country.

MH: “On the line is our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Jeremy, listening to Cardinal Nichols, it’s a reminder that although we may see the fight against IS and the position in the Middle East at the moment often through sectarian…in sectarian terms and through that sort of prism, this has been traditionally a religiously diverse part of the world.”

JB: “Yes. In Syria and Iraq there was a delicate mosaic – a very interesting mosaic – of different faiths which really has been shattered now. In Iraq, in the last…since 2011…since the war started there…sorry; in Syria I should say…2011…but in Iraq it’s been going on since the invasion by American-led forces in 2003 in that since then, the population of Iraqi Christians has been reduced pretty much by more than half. And there have…it’s been a catastrophe for them which started before the rise of Islamic State, which started as a consequence of the invasion. And if you talk to the Christian communities in other parts of the Middle East as I often do, a lot of them will look to that example of Iraq and say we do not want to be like Iraq and now they’ll also say of course we don’t want to be like what’s been happening in Syria too.” [emphasis added]

Following a question about the possibility of Iraqi Christians from the Nineveh Plains being able to return to their homes, Husain said:

MH: “Perhaps we’ve only just recently woken up to the reality of what’s been happening to minority communities in this part of the world because of all the headlines and the attention that’s been grabbed by Islamic State. From what you’re saying, this is a much longer phenomenon.”

JB: “Well, Christians have been leaving the Middle East for an awfully long time. There are well-established groups of émigré Middle Eastern Christians in all sorts of countries – in South America for example; one region of the world. But…ehm…what has changed; the rise of extreme Islam – which of course has resulted in the killing of many Muslims – has also resulted over the last ten years or so in a lot of Christian communities being dislocated and it’s become particularly acute since the rise of Islamic State. And it’s not just Islamic State either: Christians in Egypt feel very threatened there by different kinds of religious extremism. There is still a large community of Christians in Egypt, also in Lebanon – they’re pretty well established in Lebanon and strong but they again feel pressure. And Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened from not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing. So all round the place when you look at it, it’s difficult.” [emphasis added]

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.

But no less remarkable is the fact that Bowen would clearly have listeners believe that, in terms of threats to Middle East Christian communities, “what the Israeli government might be doing” (whatever that bizarre phrase is supposed to mean) can and should be seen as being on a par with the religiously motivated persecution and slaughter of Christians (and of course other minorities) by Islamist extremists.

And that, dear readers, is from the man whose entire job was created with the stated intention of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. 

 

 

 

Jeremy Bowen exploits Radio 4 news bulletin for Hamas PR promotion

Listeners to the 8 a.m. news bulletin broadcast during the April 1st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard items about the UK elections, zero hours contracts, a study concerning the drug Paracetamol, the P5+1 talks with Iran, the Nigerian presidential election, EU milk quotas, the death of a Getty heir and the hospitalization of singer Joni Mitchell.Today 1 4 15

In among those actual news stories they also heard an additional fabricated news item (from 02:06:35 here) which took up over a minute and a half of that ten-minute news segment.

News presenter: “The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Masha’al, has accused the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of killing the peace process. He also condemned the activities of Jihadist groups which he said were against the teachings of Islam. Khaled Masha’al was speaking to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen: “Khaled Masha’al nearly died in 1997 in a bungled Israeli assassination attempt on the orders of Benjamin Netanyahu; then in his first term as prime minister. Now Mr Masha’al says the re-elected Israeli prime minister has killed the peace process and the chances of a negotiated two state solution.”

Masha’al [voice-over]: “Even in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans, Netanyahu is the most extreme leader and the one who likes to shed blood the most. That’s why we’re expecting difficult times with him. And it’s the responsibility of the international community to put a stop to his stubbornness and Israeli extremism.”

Bowen: “Mr Masha’al heads an organization that’s classified as a terrorist group by the United States and Britain among many others. But he seemed to be calibrating his comments to catch the prevailing mood of anger in the White House towards Mr Netanyahu after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli right in the last days of the election campaign. Mr Masha’al called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”

Bowen’s embarrassingly puerile attempt to persuade listeners to Radio 4’s most widely heard and influential programme that the US Administration is on the same page as an internationally recognized terrorist organization of course depends on listeners being kept in the dark with regard to the fact that Hamas regards all of Israel as ‘occupied land’ – not just the areas previously occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967 – and rejects Israel’s right to exist, thus making a two state solution unviable.

Perhaps the ‘Today’ editor would care to clarify both the editorial considerations behind the omission of that and other important context and the broader decision to misleadingly present Bowen’s transparent propaganda to Radio 4 listeners as ‘news’.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

 More enablement of Hamas propaganda from BBC’s ME editor

 

 

More enablement of Hamas propaganda from BBC’s ME editor

In addition to the previously discussed written and filmed reports based around Jeremy Bowen’s recent interview with Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al in Doha published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 1st, other filmed reports appeared on BBC television news programmes on that date.

In one report viewers yet again saw Masha’al being given a platform from which to promote the notion that his organisation is different from other Islamist groups operating in the region. Bowen’s failure to challenge the statement “There is no Daesh [ISIS], no IS or Al Qaeda in Palestine. There are some lone wolves but they are isolated. We don’t allow such thoughts in Palestine” should of course be assessed within the context of the fact that a BBC reporter was kidnapped by the Al Qaeda affiliated group Jaish al Islam in Gaza in 2007 and in light of the history of Hamas’ relations with that group and others.

“In a previous agreement between the two groups, Hamas had given Jaish al-Islam $5 million and more than a million Kalashnikov bullets in compensation for its freeing of BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Jaish al-Islam also received formal recognition from Hamas as a legitimate jihadi organization, and it was agreed that joint actions carried out in the past would not be revealed.”

Notable too is the fact that whilst Bowen clearly does not believe the oft-touted myth that all unrest in the Middle East is ultimately attributable to the Palestinian –Israeli conflict, he still gives Masha’al a platform for promotion of that ridiculous notion and others – including the claim that “we are the owners of the land”.

Another report seen by viewers of BBC television news programmes opens with aerial footage of Shuja’iya which has already been used in several BBC reports. No attempt is made to put that footage into its correct context, meaning that audiences are led to believe that it is representative of the situation in the whole of the Gaza Strip.

Bowen tells viewers that:

“Israel has walled and fenced Gaza so Hamas opened up another front – underground.”

He provides no background information concerning the reasons why Israel had to construct walls against snipers and fences against infiltrators and even goes on to promote the regularly used – and repeatedly disproved – Hamas propaganda line according to which it only attacks military targets.

“Hamas says the tunnels were part of an active defence aimed at military targets.”

Of course there are plenty of examples of Hamas officials stating that the terror organisation’s policy is to target Israeli civilians – including this one from Fawzi Barhoum.  

“We say to [Israeli Arabs], living in Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Lod, Ramla, and the Negev: The rockets fired by the Al-Qassam Brigades will not hit you. We know those parts. We are familiar with the geography and with the history. Not a single Arab Palestinian child will be hit by one of our missiles. Our rockets are aimed at the Hebrews, the murderers, the Israelis, the criminals. […] We say to our people in Haifa: The missiles of Al-Qassam will not hit any Arab home. Rest assured, our missiles accurately target the homes of the Israelis and the Zionists.” [ Al-Aqsa TV, July 11, 2014] [emphasis added]

With regard to the cross-border tunnels specifically:

“On four separate occasions throughout the 2014 Gaza Conflict, Hamas militants emerged from covert tunnels onto Israeli territory, within the territory or in close proximity to Israeli residential communities:

  • On July 17, thirteen Hamas militants infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel that opened just 1.5 km from civilian homes in an Israeli community, Kibbutz Sufa. In light of the imminent danger, the residents of 12 nearby residential communities were instructed by the IDF to barricade themselves in their homes for up to five hours.
  • Two days later, on July 19, approximately 10 Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel opening 4.7 km from civilian homes in Kibbutz Be’eri armed with lethal weapons as well as tranquillizers and handcuffs for kidnapping Israelis. The residents of five residential communities near the border with Gaza were instructed by the IDF to barricade themselves in their homes in the hours surrounding the attack.
  • On July 21, approximately 12 Hamas militants infiltrated Israel via an underground tunnel that opened in the territory of Kibbutz Nir Am, just 1.3 km from civilian homes in the Kibbutz and 1.1 km from civilian homes in the town of Sderot, communities bordering Gaza. Militants disguised as IDF soldiers and armed with lethal weapons headed towards Nir Am. To ensure their protection, the IDF instructed the residents of all of the communities in the Otef Aza border region to barricade themselves in their homes for hours.
  • On July 28, nine Hamas militants infiltrated Israeli territory through a tunnel opening in the territory of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just 2 km from civilian homes in the Kibbutz. The residents of the residential communities of Nahal Oz and Alumim were instructed by the IDF to barricade themselves in their homes in the hours surrounding the attack. Following the attack, three ready-to-use motorcycles and deadly weapons were found inside the tunnel, attesting to the militants’ ability to penetrate deep into Israeli territory and carry out attacks.”

In October 2014 the Hamas newspaper al Risalah interviewed a Hamas commander who said:

“The Al-Qassam Brigades use the tunnels for several military missions, such as: firing rockets on Israeli cities; firing massive barrages of hundreds of mortars on the settlements around the Gaza Strip, and carrying out quality operations behind enemy lines that have resulted in the killing and capture of soldiers and terrorized millions of Israelis…” [emphasis added]

Clearly – when addressing its domestic audience – even Hamas itself does not buy into Jeremy Bowen’s promotion of the notion of exclusively “military targets”.

Bowen continues:

“Israel calls them terror tunnels to back up rocket attacks which Amnesty International says showed a flagrant disregard for civilian lives.”

In fact, as the BBC reported on March 26th, Amnesty International said rather more than that: it described Hamas’ missile attacks as “unlawful attacks” which “amount to war crimes”. Bowen, however, conceals that information from viewers.

Predictably, these filmed reports from Bowen join the two previous ones on the same topic in not only failing to meet the BBC’s commitment to “build a global understanding of international issues”, but actively sabotaging that public purpose as defined in the BBC’s charter. 

BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

On the morning of April 1st the following headline was promoted on assorted BBC Twitter accounts. It was apparently not an April Fools’ Day joke.

Bowen Hamas tweet 1

Bowen Hamas tweet 2

Visitors to the BBC News website found both written and filmed versions of Jeremy Bowen’s embarrassingly unchallenging interview with Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al: “Hamas leader Meshaal warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after elections” and “Hamas leader accuses Israel of killing peace process“. In the synopsis to the filmed version, audiences are told that:Bowen Hamas filmed

“Khaled Meshaal was speaking to the BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where he lives in exile.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here before, the accurate terminology is ‘self-imposed exile’.  

Bowen’s self-conscripted role as a vessel for the propagation of Hamas’ public relations campaign should of course be viewed within the context of his earlier orchestration of coverage of the recent election in Israel which focused on persuading BBC audiences that the Israeli electorate’s choice – and that alone – had killed off the peace process. Thus, in response to a question from Bowen which viewers of the filmed report do not hear, Masha’al replies:

“Even in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans, Netanyahu is the most extreme leader and the one who likes to shed blood the most. That’s why we’re expecting difficult times with him. And it’s the responsibility of the international community to put a stop to his stubbornness and Israeli extremism. We’re not looking for any escalation but we will defend ourselves.” [emphasis added]

Notably, the BBC did not edit out that highlighted statement.

Any serious journalist would of course have followed through on that latter sentence with questions on topics such as Hamas’ frequent missile testing and tunnel reconstruction since the end of last summer’s conflict, Masha’al’s slated visit to Tehran, his colleague Mahmoud al Zahar’s recent call for support from Hizballah and Iran and Hamas’ ongoing attempts to establish its terror infrastructure in PA controlled areas. Bowen predictably did not confront his interviewee with such tricky subjects, but moved on to a ‘question’ which provided the opportunity for Masha’al to mislead BBC audiences with regard to Hamas’ aims.

Bowen: “Do you think a two state solution is still possible between yourselves and the Israelis?

Masha’al: “Israel with its extremist leadership has killed the peace process, the two state solution and every opportunity for a political solution for the Palestinian cause. And if the West and the United States want to do something new, then they have to change the approach that they followed for years. The new approach should be pressuring Israel and not the Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not the ones who are responsible.”

Similarly, in the written version we find the BBC unquestioningly promoting this Hamas spin:

“Although Hamas has opposed years of on-off peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Mr Meshaal said he and the group had agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.”

Of course the BBC has been pushing this theme for some time now, despite the fact that Masha’al made his position clear in a BBC interview in February 2013:

Stephen Sackur:  “But I just want to nail down what your current position is on the question of a two state solution to provide a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Saudi newspaper Al Sharq reported just the other day that you are now prepared to accept a two state solution. You have told this, according to the newspaper, to King Abdullah and you’ve asked King Abdullah to…of Jordan…to relay this message to President Obama. Is that true?”

Masha’al: “This is not true.” 

Further, in January 2014:

“Hamas said it never gave Abbas or anyone else a mandate to agree to the two-state solution.
The Islamist group said that in 2006, all Palestinian factions agreed to the establishment of Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel “without recognizing the Zionist entity or its legitimacy on the land of Palestine.” 
It added that “resistance in all shapes, first and foremost armed struggle, will remain the only effective way to achieve the goals of the Palestinian people and liberate their land.””

Bowen refrains from making any effort to deconstruct Masha’al’s Western-focused PR spin and goes on to provide him with the opportunity for more:

Bowen: “Now in some of the…ahh…statements put out by Mr Netanyahu and others in Israel they have associated the activities of Hamas with the activities of Jihadist groups like the group that calls itself Islamic State and also like Al Qaeda. They tend to put you all into the same category. What do you think of that? Do you think that’s a fair comment?”

Masha’al: “There is no Daesh [ISIS], no IS or Al Qaeda in Palestine. There are some lone wolves but they are isolated. We don’t allow such thoughts in Palestine. The Palestinian people are in a movement for national liberation. It is a just cause and it is certainly not terrorism – quite the opposite. The Palestinians have been the victims of Israeli terrorism for decades. I condemn any side that is practicing extremism and killing based on identity or affiliation.” [emphasis added]

Bowen makes no effort to question Masha’al on the topic of Hamas collaboration with Jihadist elements in the Sinai Peninsula and of course he refrains from asking him how that highlighted sentence fits in with statements in the Hamas charter and the propaganda disseminated in Hamas-run mosques and Hamas-run media.

Hamas cleric:  “Our belief about fighting you [Jews] is that we will exterminate you, until the last one, and we will not leave of you even one. For you are the usurpers of the land, foreigners, mercenaries of the present and of all times. Look at history, brothers: Wherever there were Jews, they spread corruption… (Quran): “They spread corruption in the land, and Allah does not like corrupters.” Their belief is destructive. Their belief fulfills the prophecy. Our belief is in obtaining our rights on our land, implementing Shari’ah (Islamic law) under Allah’s sky.”  [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), July 25, 2014]

Bowen’s subsequent questions enable Masha’al to expand on his whitewashing of Hamas ideology for Western audiences.

Bowen: Is there a sense in which…ahh….the activities of Muslim Brotherhood allies like yourselves in Hamas are being overshadowed by the growth of Jihadist groups – Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the like?”

Masha’al: “We are an active resistance with a just cause battling the occupier. We have a moderate ideology and an open mind. Others practice violence in the name of Jihad, which we condemn. And this is not Islam. [emphasis added]

Bowen: “There are plenty people in America, Britain, Israel, other places who would laugh when they heard you say that Hamas is a moderate organization. That’s not how they’d describe you.”

Masha’al: “The ones who are laughing at our logic today, they should laugh at Mandela and what the Vietnamese people have done and what De Gaulle did when he led the liberation war against the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. They should laugh at George Washington and the American Revolution. The people of the world have been liberated from occupiers and the Palestinian people are doing the same and so is Hamas.”

Bowen of course avoids asking Masha’al why Hamas continues to carry out terror attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel a decade after the last Israeli soldier left the Gaza Strip.

Additional Hamas propaganda promoted in the written report includes:Bowen Hamas written

“But to its supporters Hamas is seen as a legitimate resistance movement.

In an interview with BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Qatar, Mr Meshaal said attacks on Israel would continue “as long as there is occupation, aggression, war and killing”.

But he stressed that Hamas was “careful to respect international humanitarian law and to target only military targets”.” [emphasis added]

And:

“The Palestinians, he [Masha’al] asserted, had shown that they were “flexible, serious and keen to achieve a just and rightful peace”.

“But Israel killed the peace process,” he added, blaming Mr Netanyahu’s outgoing government, along with “extremist forces” in Israel, for the collapse of the US-brokered direct negotiations last year.”

No effort is made to point out to readers that Hamas was not party to those negotiations and expressed opposition to them or that their collapse was the result of the PA’s  decision to form a ‘unity government’ with Hamas.

A glimpse into the rationale behind these two alarmingly opaque puff pieces from Jeremy Bowen can be found in the insert of his ‘analysis’ in the written report:

“He [Masha’al] seemed to be calibrating his comments on the conflict with Israel to catch the prevailing mood of anger towards Mr Netanyahu in the White House, after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli Right in the last days of the election campaign.

Mr Meshaal called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”

And of course Jeremy ‘I see no human shields’ Bowen just happened to be in Doha at this particular juncture in order to play matchmaker and enable the joining of those dots.

These two reports not only fail to meet the BBC’s commitment to “build a global understanding of international issues”, they actively sabotage that public purpose. They do, however, provide further indication why the corporation’s Middle East reporting consistently falls short of its professed standards of accuracy and impartiality and why it will continue to do so for as long as the helm of its Middle East reporting is steered by a man who long since self-conscripted to a particular political cause.

Related Articles:

More BBC amplification of Hamas ‘siege’ propaganda

‘Hardtalk’ presenter gets reality check from Khaled Masha’al

 

 

Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial?

We are often told that the impartiality of BBC content should be judged “over time” and some guidance as to what that term means can be found in this section of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“In achieving due impartiality, a ‘series of programmes’ may be considered as a whole.

The term ‘series of programmes’ applies to the following:

Content that deals with the same or related issues, within an appropriate period, and are clearly linked.

This may include a strand with a common title; different types of linked programmes (such as a drama with a following debate); a clearly identified season of programmes or items on the same or similar subjects; or a set of interlinked web pages.  Such programmes, items or web pages need to achieve due impartiality across the series, and online content should include links or signposts to the other online elements.

The intention to achieve due impartiality in this way should be planned in advance.”

With BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election now having come to a close, we can examine the question of whether due impartiality was achieved in the ‘series of programmes’ relating to that topic.Knell filmed 17 3

All the relevant BBC content – written, audio and filmed – already discussed on these pages is available in chronological order under ‘related articles’ below.

The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.

The BBC’s disproportionate focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’ can be illustrated by taking a look at the number of Palestinian commentators interviewed and quoted by the BBC in just three days of coverage, beginning with the day of the election itself.

17/3/15: Husam Zomlot – filmed report by Yolande Knell – BBC television news & website

                Husam Zomlot – audio report by Yoande Knell – ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Raja Shehadeh – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Sabri Saydan – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

18/3/15: Mohammed Shtayyeh – filmed report by Lyse Doucet – BBC television news & website

                 Saeb Erekat & Mahmoud Abbas – quoted in written report on BBC News website

                 Hanan Ashrawi – audio report by Kevin Connolly – Radio 4 ‘PM’ (here from 41:50)

19/3/15: Yousef Munnayer & Mustafa Barghouti – interviews ‘Newshour’, World Service radioNewshour 19 3

Despite extensive use of the ‘peace process’ theme and the generous airtime given to Palestinian interviewees, not one BBC report raised the topic of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of progress in negotiations and the related topic of long overdue elections for both the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA president was likewise not even briefly mentioned.

Israeli politicians interviewed in the same three-day period included Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List (17/3 – filmed report by Jeremy Bowen), Yitzhak Herzog (17/3 ‘Newshour’) and Nahman Shai (17/3 ‘Newshour’) of the Zionist Union, first-time Likud candidate Sharren Haskel (17/3, ‘Newshour’), Rachel Azaria of Kulanu (18/3, ‘Newshour’ – here from 34:55) and Moshe Ya’alon of Likud (19/3).

In other words, BBC audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than from Israeli politicians standing for election.

Little attempt was made to introduce BBC audiences to most of the 26 parties competing in the election or to explain the differences between their positions. Background information on the topic of the Israeli electoral system was mostly confined to references to the fact that the system makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

The topic of the foreign-funded campaign to influence the outcome of the election was completely ignored in all BBC coverage even though that factor played a role in influencing the election’s result and foreign intervention in elections in a democratic country should obviously have been a big story.Connolly filmed 16 3

Whilst the BBC put considerable focus on the statement made by the Israeli prime minister on March 17th concerning the related issue of busing of Joint Arab List voters to the polling stations, it did not report at all on the comments (or later fall-out) made at the Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv on March 7th – even though a BBC team was present at the event.  Despite the fact that Zionist Union leader Herzog later cited that incident as having affected his party’s performance “without a shadow of a doubt“, BBC audiences remain completely unaware of it ever having happened, just as they were not informed of assorted statements made by members of the Joint Arab List.

When answering criticism of his organisation’s coverage of Israel, the BBC’s director general recently claimed:

 “It is hard… tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as we can across the period.”

In this case it is not difficult to see that the BBC came nowhere near to achieving “due impartiality over time” – primarily because its journalists chose to cover the Israeli election almost exclusively from an angle which, whilst of only minor relevance to the issue itself, coalesced more with their own pre-existing views and agenda. And whilst audiences were fed reams of material on “the Palestinian view”, their understanding of what should have been the story’s actual subject matter – the factors influencing the election’s result – was hampered by selective omission of information and a distinct lack of interest in anything which got in the way of the story’s chosen framing.  

Lord Hall might care to ponder the fact that it would be much less “hard” and “tough” to cover Israel-related news accurately and impartially were the journalists working for his organisation to stick to reporting the stories that exist rather than instead promoting the stories they want to tell.

Related Articles:

Tim Franks on BBC WS Newshour: ‘you make Israel sound like a normal country’

Elections 2015: more BBC confusion on 1949 Armistice Lines

Elections 2015: the BBC’s obsessive compulsive ‘peace process’ disorder

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day WS radio reports

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

Elections 2015: the morning after – Doucet on BBC television news

Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

One-staters get BBC WS platform for promotion of BDS, ‘resistance’ and ‘apartheid’ trope

Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

 

 

Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

No fewer than seven articles concerning the previous day’s Israeli election were published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 18th.

An article which originally appeared the previous evening under the title “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest” underwent numerous changes as the votes were counted overnight, ending up under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu’s Likud storms to victory“. As was the case in much of the BBC’s prior coverage of the topic, that article and the others appearing on the same day focused audience attentions on the topic the election was not about.18 3 website 1

“Mr Netanyahu had vowed not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, while Zionist Union expressed support for a two-state solution and promised to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

In the wake of the vote, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would step up their bid for statehood.

“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, he told AFP news agency.”

An insert from the BBC’s Middle East editor added:

“He [Netanyahu] also made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the US and Europe if he continues as prime minister. He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories, and said he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

Jeremy Bowen produced an article titled “Israel election: Dramatic turnaround for Netanyahu” which he opened by brushing aside the topic of his organisation’s previous heavy promotion of opinion polls.18 3 website 2

“In the end Israeli opinion polls told the wrong story, yet again.”

Bowen informed readers that:

“The prime minister narrowed the gap with Mr Herzog’s Zionist Union, and then overhauled it, by turning sharply towards the ultra-nationalist Israeli right.

He issued a series of grim warnings about the consequences for Israel if he lost; Arabs with Israeli citizenship were voting, so his people needed to turn out.

Mr Netanyahu made a series of promises that would worsen Israel’s relations with the United States and Europe if he stays on as prime minister.

He promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied territories. And he said that he would not allow the Palestinians to have a state.”

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two articles, the first of which was a report from the Likud campaign headquarters titled “Likud celebrates surprise success in Israeli election” in which readers were informed that:18 3 website 3

“If a new right-of-centre coalition is formed it will be formed in the context of Mr Netanyahu indicating that he was prepared to block the formation of a Palestinian state.

International observers trying to interpret what this result means for hopes of a resumption in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will see that as a bleak signal.

A Herzog-led government might have been a more comfortable partner for the US State Department and for European governments interested in reviving talks.

But for now, it appears that the Israeli electorate has decided otherwise.”

Connolly’s second article of the day expanded on that theme under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu win dims peace process prospects“.18 3 website 4

“Everyone knows, of course, that the Israeli right, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is at best sceptical about the prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians, while the left under Yitzhak Herzog is much keener on the kind of constructive engagement that would keep the White House and the State Department happy. […]

He made it clear that in the modern Middle East with its rising tide of militant Islamism and its deepening atmosphere of instability the conditions just do not exist to create a Palestinian state.

It was a smart move invoking the image of a leader who is prepared to stand up for Israel’s interests in an uncertain world and who is not worried if his single-mindedness on the issue irritates the Europeans, the Americans or indeed anyone else.

At one point he was asked directly if his return as prime minister would mean categorically that a Palestinian state would not be established.

He answered with the single Hebrew word “Achen” – which means “indeed”.”

The BBC News website also produced a profile of Netanyahu titled “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PM” in which readers were told that:18 3 website 5

“For Mr Netanyahu, the number one issue has long been Israel’s security, and he has taken a tough line towards the Palestinians, seeing land-for-peace as too dangerous to accept.

His third term shifted from renewed peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony, to war with militants in Gaza just three months later.”

Readers are not informed that those talks collapsed because the PA decided to from a unity government with Hamas.

Later on in the article, however, this example of the ‘land for peace’ formula appears:

“Despite having fiercely criticised the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, in 1997 Mr Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.”

No effort is made to inform readers that the unprecedented construction freeze of 2009/10 did not cause the PA to come to the negotiating table until one month before it expired and, as ever, the BBC fails to inform audiences accurately with regard to the significance of the Israeli demand for the PA to recognise Israel as the Jewish state:

“Mr Netanyahu’s government was criticised by some in the international community for not renewing a partial freeze on Jewish settlement-building and possibly avoiding a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians in late 2010.

He publicly accepted the concept of a demilitarised Palestinian state, but insisted the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state” in turn and make reciprocal concessions.

In 2015 he distanced himself from accepting the prospect of a state, dismissing it as irrelevant given the rise of militant Islam across the Middle East.”

Later on in the evening the BBC News website published two articles with a US slant, the first of which – by PJ Crowley – was subtly titled “Netanyahu win gives Obama a headache“.18 3 website 6

“Over the weekend, he made explicit what many, particularly the Palestinians, had long believed.

As long as he is prime minister, there will not be a Palestinian state. He even acknowledged that his administration used settlement construction to undermine the process.

These statements sent a moribund peace process into freefall, calling into question the future of the Oslo process.”

Apparently BBC audiences are to believe that “the future of the Oslo process” was not called into question by – among other things – the failure of the Oslo Accords’ guarantors to insist upon disarmament of Hamas before the formation of a unity government together with the Palestinian Authority.

Another article titled “Israel election: US concern over ‘divisive’ rhetoric” told readers that:18 3 website 7

“During campaigning, Mr Netanyahu said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected. […]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The US would “re-evaluate our approach” in the wake of Mr Netanyahu’s comments ruling out a Palestinian state, he said.”

The article also states:

“On a warning from Mr Netanyahu that his opponents were bussing Arab-Israeli voters to polling stations, he [Earnest] said: “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.” “

Yet again the BBC refrains from providing audiences with the necessary context concerning the anti-Zionist parties running on the Joint Arab List and the foreign funding for organisations which ran a campaign against Netanyahu.

The article later states:

“The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would work with any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, without which, he said, peace negotiations stood “no chance”.”

The uninformed reader seeking to understand the topic of the Israeli election from these seven articles could only arrive at the conclusion that the Likud party’s victory is the prime factor preventing a peace agreement being signed between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Economical’ presentation of subjects such as the reason for the breakdown of previous rounds of talks coupled with the complete absence of any reference to the fact that almost a year ago the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with a terrorist organization which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction mean that the bottom line effect of these reports is to mislead audiences with regard to the peace process in general and the significance of the result of the election in particular. As we observed here in January 2013 after the previous election and again in December 2014 when the BBC first began reporting on this one:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Plus ça change… 

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

In addition to Yolande Knell’s propaganda laden view of the Israeli election from Ramallah, March 17th saw the appearance of several filmed reports for television news programmes from various BBC correspondents.

Lyse Doucet produced a report titled “A closer look at Israeli politics and the election” in which viewers were told that:

“Likud is hawkish on security and critical of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

Audiences reading, viewing and listening to content on other BBC platforms on that day would have noticed that the adjective ‘hawkish’ – defined as “advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs” and “supporting the use of force in political relationships rather than discussion or other more peaceful solutions” –  was very popular with BBC correspondents, despite the fact that the outgoing Likud-led Israeli government engaged in nine months of negotiations with the PLO and went to considerable lengths to try to avoid all out conflict with Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Another filmed report was produced by BBC Arabic’s Issam Ikirmawi under the title “Israel elections: Voting in Nazareth“.Bowen filmed 17 3

BBC television audiences also saw a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen which purported to enlighten them on the topic of “What do Israeli voters want?” and opened with the sarcastic quip:

“Not the drums of war – for once. These were beating time at the Jerusalem marathon.”

Bowen’s suggestion that the previous government had put “expensive Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ahead of the cost of living” failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the status of Area C (in which all Israeli towns and villages are located) is in fact subject to negotiation according to the terms of the Oslo Accords and his categorization of that land as “occupied Palestinian territory” is hence misleading. Similarly, on a helicopter ride Bowen purported to show viewers “…the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank…” without any mention of the issue of final status negotiations and with no clarification of the reason why that anti-terrorist fence had to be built. According to Bowen, the anti-terrorist fence”…shows Israel’s security preoccupation with the Palestinians…” but again, no effort was made to explain to viewers what that actually means, or why.

Whilst he acknowledged that economy related issues were of prime importance to Israeli voters in this election, Bowen failed to provide audiences with any meaningful factual background on that topic, instead – like so many of his colleagues – constantly bringing the focus of his reporting back to the issue upon which Israelis did not go to the polls to decide.

“…but in the election the political future of that relationship [with the Palestinians] has not been a big issue. House prices are much more important and that’s because Israelis – like Palestinians – have got very cynical about the chances of a peace agreement. Up to now the negotiations have failed.”

A more accurate word than ‘cynical’ to describe the approach of a nation which still overwhelmingly supports a two-state solution in theory but cannot see a partner for that aspiration on the horizon, would have been ‘realistic’.

Despite being aware that “polls aren’t reliable” – as he noted at the end of his report – Bowen nevertheless earlier promoted the notion that “Yitzhak Herzog of the new centre Left alliance Zionist Union has turned the polls around…”.Bowen filmed 17 3 exit polls  

Soon after voting came to an end at 10 pm and the first exit poll results became available, Jeremy Bowen produced a report titled “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest“. Once again, his reliance on informal polls – coupled perhaps with over-confidence in his own understanding of the Israeli political system and Israelis – caused him to provide BBC audiences with inaccurate information.

“In a country where it’s possible to live very well, economic pressures became the most potent issue in the campaign. Never mind the pursuit of the high life: falling living standards for many Israelis took votes away from the prime minister.”

“Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union alliance, did not let up on social and financial issues and led the polls through the last weeks of campaigning.”

“The Israeli people have not voted for any kind of radical change but they haven’t given Mr Netanyahu a resounding vote of confidence either.” [all emphasis added]

Part of Bowen’s report focused on the Joint Arab List and residents of Jerusalem, Acco, Jaffa, Ramla, Lod, Ma’alot-Tarshiha and elsewhere might have been surprised to hear that:

“One significant development came from Haifa in the north: about the closest Israel gets to a mixed city where its Jewish and Arab citizens can live in relative harmony.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

Ayman Odeh […] heads the Joint List – an alliance of parties mainly representing the 20% or so of the Israeli citizens who are from Palestinian families who didn’t flee or get expelled when Israel was created in 1948. He told me this day would be historic as his party would push the Right Wing off into opposition. That might not happen. But the Joint List has shown that Israel’s Arab citizens are ready to flex some new political muscles, potentially providing crucial support for the centre Left.”

In fact, by the time Bowen made that declaration the Joint Arab List had already indicated ten days previously that it had no intention of supporting any shade of the Israeli Left when it refused to collaborate even with Meretz on a surplus vote sharing agreement.

“Last week, Herzog and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tried to broker a deal by which the Zionist Union would sign a vote-sharing agreement with Yesh Atid, and Meretz with the Joint List.

Herzog called all the heads of the Arab parties that make up the Joint List, but Balad leader Jamal Zehalka refused to pick up the phone.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh was in favor of signing the deal with Meretz, but Balad ruled it out because it did not want to cooperate with a Zionist party in any way. Zehalka even threatened to remove Balad from the Joint List, a threat that at this stage is not permitted by law.”

The Joint Arab List secured 13 places in the Knesset in this election (just two seats more than the combined number secured by its component parties running separately in the previous one) indicating that Bowen’s prophesy of “new political muscles” was – like much of the rest of his analysis – based more on his own ideas of how Israel should be than on objectively viewed reality. 

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

Readers may have heard about the Hamas social media campaign which recently invited Twitter users to ‘#AskHamas’. It is safe to say that the results of that PR drive did not exactly meet the terrorist organisation’s expectations and the topic was picked up by the mainstream media – see for example here, here and here.

Whilst Hamas did not answer most of the Tweets sent its way, here is one which did receive a reply:

Hamas tweet Bowen

Clearly the BBC Middle East editor’s efforts to whitewash Hamas’ use of human shields during last summer’s hostilities did not go unnoticed by that internationally recognised terrorist organisation.

The civilian population of the Gaza Strip might, however, be somewhat less appreciative of that politically motivated reporting from the man supposedly responsible for ensuring the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s Middle East content.