BBC’s Donnison returns with inaccurate promotion of armistice lines as ‘borders’

The BBC’s former Gaza Strip and West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison was back on the BBC News website’s Middle East page (and Asia page) on June 9th with an article titled “Israel and Australia: New best mates?” in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section.Donnison Israel Australia

Readers who are wondering about the connection between the image used to illustrate that article and the obviously unconnected caption appended by the BBC may be interested to learn that the original photograph was captioned as follows:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the original flag Israeli paratroopers waved at the Western Wall during the 1967 Middle East War, before a special cabinet meeting marking Jerusalem Day at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem May 28, 2014.”

Donnison begins by implying that there is something untoward about the fact that the Israeli prime minister congratulated Egypt’s new president on his win of elections which Donnison appears to believe lack legitimacy.

“After a quick call to congratulate the new President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on his election victory, which many regard as far from democratic, Mr Netanyahu singled out Australia for high praise at his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.”

Of course President Sisi also received congratulations from many other nations, including the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and China, but that point does not seem to concern Donnison quite as much.

Next Donnison moves on to the real topic of his article: the recent statement by Australia’s Attorney General on the issue of the use of the term ‘occupied’ to describe specific neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. Donnison, however, only quotes part of the statement:

“Last week the Australian Attorney General George Brandis issued a statement saying: “The description of East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful.” “

That quoted line would of course have been better understood by BBC audiences were it placed within the context of the words coming before it:

“Australia supports a peaceful solution to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people, which recognises the right of Israel to exist peacefully within secure borders and also recognises the aspiration to statehood of the Palestinian people,” Senator Brandis said.

”The description of areas which are subject to negotiations in the course of the peace process by reference to historical events is unhelpful.

”The description of East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.”

Jon Donnison, however, is apparently of the opinion that the Australian government is incapable of deciding on its approach to this subject all by itself and so he goes on to provide readers with obviously speculative ‘explanations’ for the Attorney General’s statement which involve “extreme right-wing Israeli lobbyists” who have “influence”.

“Australia’s support for Israel is contentious here.

The former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr has recently said that extreme right-wing Israeli lobbyists here had an extraordinary influence on Australian policy in the Middle East under former Prime Minister Julia Gillard that he regarded as “very unhealthy.”

Mr Carr’s comments were strongly criticised by the Israeli government and some of the country’s supporters.

Why Australia has chosen now to change its position is not clear.

It’s possible Mr Brandis was speaking off the cuff or out of turn, but the clarifying statement suggests not.

The country has a relatively small Jewish population of about 100,000 (0.4% of the total).

The Arab population is much larger: roughly 300,000 people, mostly of Lebanese origin, but including around 7,000 Palestinians.

Israel’s critics will say the change on policy shows the influence of the lobby group Mr Carr talked about.”

As someone who spent over three years reporting from the Middle East, Donnison should be capable of avoiding the breaches of accuracy and impartiality evident in other parts of this article.

“Jerusalem is at the heart of the Middle East’s most intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Donnison provides no evidence for his claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is “the [..] most intractable” in the Middle East or that it is any more intractable than, say, that between Sunni and Shi’a which has been going on for considerably longer and with much more lethal consequences.

“Israel captured East Jerusalem along with Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 Six Day Arab Israeli war.”

Donnison fails to provide any context to that statement and of course neglects to inform readers that the eastern part of Jerusalem was only separated from the rest of the city for the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation and that its later annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community. Likewise, he fails to inform audiences that Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip are all areas designated for the creation of the Jewish homeland under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine.

Next comes a statement which must have crept past the BBC editorial checks.

Donnison piece deal

Donnison cites assorted countries and organisations in order provide backing for the viewpoint he wishes to promote, but fails to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing readers of opposing opinions.

“Almost the entire international community, including the United States, does not recognise Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem

The United Nations and the International Court of Justice regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

President Obama has called for the ending of “the occupation, which began in 1967″. Although in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly he did not specify if he was referring to East Jerusalem.”

He then goes on to state:

“The United States, European Union and the United Nations all believe a future Palestinian state should be based around the pre-1967 borders.”

There is, of course, no such thing as “pre-1967 borders” because – as Donnison surely should know – the 1949 Armistice lines were not borders, as the agreement which created them specifically states.  [emphasis added]

“Article II

With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognised;

2. It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

“Article VI

8. The provisions of this article shall not be interpreted as prejudicing, in any sense, an ultimate political settlement between the Parties to this Agreement.

9. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Donnison’s inaccuracies are outdone only by his lack of impartiality in what is a blatantly political polemic barely disguised as ‘analysis’.



BBC’s Jon Donnison promotes BDS misinformation on Twitter

Perhaps you too are beginning to wonder if and when the BBC’s Jon Donnison will ever get round to reading those guidelines on social media use put out by his employer.

“Those involved in editorial or production areas must take particular care to ensure that they do not undermine the integrity or impartiality of the BBC or its output on their blogs or microblogs. For example those involved in News and Current Affairs or factual programming should not advocate a particular position on high profile controversial subjects relevant to their areas.” [emphasis added]

Donnison tweet

As those responding to Donnison pointed out:

Donnison tweet replies 1

Donnison tweet replies 2

donnison tweet replies 3

Readers no doubt recall that Donnison’s failure to check facts and sources before hitting the Tweet button is by no means confined to this case. Despite those past breaches of BBC editorial guidelines, Donnison apparently once again failed to check out the agenda of the journalist who wrote the story he promotes in this latest Tweet.

Had he done so, Donnison might perhaps have reached the rather obvious conclusion that the promotion of a story touting a non-existent BDS ‘victory’ written by someone who, in his not too distant university days was to be found promoting a Ben White article on Twitter and writing the lines below, is not the smartest move for a BBC journalist committed to standards of accuracy and impartiality.

“Once the Israeli forces finish murdering human rights activists aboard the Free Gaza flotilla, they can wash the blood from their hands in the international waters where this atrocity was committed.” [...]

“The blockade on Gaza started in June 2007. This tight squeeze of the area prevents food, water, medical supplies, and even people from entering or leaving the Gaza strip.”

Donnison tweet CroucherRelated Articles:

BBC’s social media guidance continues to be ineffective

BBC’s Jon Donnison Tweets malicious fauxtography

BBC’s Jon Donnison Tweets unverified information again


BBC Arabic interview with former Arafat bodyguard

Courtesy of the indispensable MEMRI, non-Arabic speaking readers can now view a portion of an interview with Muhammad Al-Daya – formerly the bodyguard of Yasser Arafat – which appeared on BBC Arabic on April 3rd.

A transcript is also available here.

Seeing as it isn’t that long ago since former Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Jon Donnison was doing terrorist chic with the promotion of “Arafat’s legacy” to the BBC’s English-speaking audiences, it would of course be appropriate for the corporation to make this interview available to audiences outside the limited sphere of BBC Arabic.


The BBC story making 2013 round-up headlines

One particular BBC story has been making the headlines in various round-ups of Middle East media coverage throughout 2013.

Although it was first publicized extensively in and around late 2012, the story relating to the unfortunate death of the son of BBC employee in Gaza Jihad Masharawi came into the spotlight once again in March 2013 when the BBC’s unproven and unsupported claim that the little boy had been killed in an Israeli operation had the rug pulled from under it by a UNHRC report. 

CAMERA’s “Top Ten MidEast Media Mangles for 2013” notes that: 

“Though it was later determined that the death was likely the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket, subsequent corrections received far less attention. Promoted as part of a preconceived narrative depicting Israelis as ‘baby killers,’ an image of Jihad Masharawi holding his son’s body became entrenched in the minds of many as a depiction of Israeli wrong-doing. The image has since been used in several anti-Israel protests and continues to foment hatred against Israel. Months later, the flawed account of Omar Masharawi’s death was still featured prominently in the Magazine section of the BBC website.”

The “2013 Dishonest Reporting Awards” also highlight the BBC’s inappropriate response:

“Months afterwards, the UN concluded that Baby Omar had, in fact, been killed by a Palestinian rocket. To their credit, most Western papers picked up on the new findings. But despite the revelations, the BBC — Misharawi’s employer — continued waving its fists at reality, arguing that Israeli responsibility was still disputable.”

Of course the real issue behind this story – the fact that the BBC knowingly published and extensively promoted a story for which it had absolutely no proven evidence, purely because it fit in with the political narrative accepted and promoted by the BBC – has to this day not been adequately addressed by the corporation which claims commitment to editorial values of accuracy and impartiality. 

Related articles:

BBC’s Omar Masharawi story has rug pulled by UNHRC

A reminder of the chronology of the BBC’s Omar Masharawi story

BBC appoints Jon Donnison as ‘Shin Gimmel’ of Masharawi story

After effects 2 : BBC accuracy failure again used to promote hatred

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

One of the less attractive features of the Christmas season in recent years has been its exploitation by politically motivated NGOs as a spring-board for augmented delegitimisation of Israel, with a dominant feature of those opportunistic campaigns being the deliberate conflation of present day Palestinians with the characters depicted in the Christmas story. For example, in recent years some charities have been selling blatantly political Christmas cards which portray Joseph and Mary as Palestinians and one-sided inaccurate representations of the anti-terrorist fence feature widely in seasonal merchandise. 

Here are two Christmas cards being promoted this year – along with other products – by the Amos Trust.

Christmas merchandise 1

Christmas merchandise 2

Here is one item from what ‘War on Want’ describes as its range of “ethical” products on sale this year.

Christmas merchandise 3

Here is another Christmas card produced by ‘War on Want’ a few years ago.

Christmas merchandise 4

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is currently marketing the following items.

Christmas merchandise 5

Christmas merchandise 6

This time of year also often sees members of the international media amplifying the same memes as those promoted by anti-Israel campaigners, with the BBC unfortunately being no exception. Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme and on the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

Knell article Bethlehem nativity

In its editorial guidelines on the subject of reporting terrorism, the BBC declares:

“We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments….”

No less a threat to the BBC’s impartiality is the adoption of the trite and jaded memes to be found among the arsenal of some of the most unabashed anti-Israel campaigners. Let’s hope that this year the BBC can resist the temptation to fall back on that default option and perhaps even come up with some original, interesting and cliché free reporting.

Related articles:

Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive


Of camels and humps: the BBC addresses ‘media visual stereotyping’

A couple of recent BBC News website articles relating to the subject of photographed images have the most likely unintended distinction of falling into the category of the old adage “write about what you know” as far as the BBC is concerned. SONY DSC

On November 22nd an article titled “Altered Images: How to verify photos of current events” appeared in the website’s ‘News from Elsewhere’ section which is compiled by BBC Monitoring.

The article states:

“With smartphone use widespread, images of unfolding events quickly fill social media networks. While many are genuine, it is not uncommon for a picture depicting something else entirely to be passed off as documenting a protest, a natural disaster or other event.”

“Not uncommon” indeed.

Another article, which appeared in the website’s ‘In Pictures’ section on December 2nd, addresses the subject of what the BBC College of Journalism Twitter account termed “media visual stereotyping”.

Media Visual Stereotyping CoJ

Whilst the article – titled “Challenging stereotypes: Teesside’s new Roma” – deals with the work of a photographer who “challenges many of the stereotypical visuals seen in the media” in relation to Roma in the United Kingdom, the general theme will be more than a little familiar to BBC Watch readers.

In pictures 1

In pictures 2

In pictures 3

In pictures 4

In pictures 5

In pictures 6

Will the ‘In pictures’ camel finally get around to taking a look at some of its own humps?

Related articles:

Seeing Israel through the BBC’s lens

Disproportional representation: every (BBC chosen) picture tells a story

BBC’s “In Pictures” fails to meet editorial standards

BBC pictorial feature on ‘suffering’

BBC pictorial portrayals of conflict in Israel and Gaza

BBC Arafat binge continues to promote conspiracy theories

The BBC’s recent Arafat overdose – which began on November 6th when no fewer than six reports were placed on its website within hours – continued the next day with the appearance of additional items. 

Those included a written article titled “Arafat polonium findings confirmed by Swiss scientists“, a filmed report by Yolande Knell titled “Palestinians react to Arafat report“, a filmed item by John Simpson who apparently now remembers that “Yasser Arafat death ‘was always suspicious’” and another filmed report by Nick Childs titled “Swiss scientists confirm polonium in Yasser Arafat remains“. All three of the filmed items appeared on BBC television news as well as on the BBC News website. 

Also on November 7th, at the same URL as a previous item originally titled “Arafat widow’s ‘shock and anger’” (and hence replacing it), a filmed piece entitled “Widow: Yasser Arafat ‘had many enemies’” appeared.

Like most of the articles of the previous day, the written report amplifies evidence-free speculations of Israeli involvement in Arafat’s death.

“Many Palestinians have long believed that Israel poisoned Arafat. There have also been allegations that he had Aids or cancer. Israel has consistently denied any involvement.”

Once again too, the article downplays the scale of the role of Al Jazeera in the manufacturing of this story.

“France began a murder inquiry in August 2012 after the preliminary findings of polonium by the Lausanne scientists, who have been working with an al-Jazeera documentary crew.”

The synopsis to Knell’s filmed report states:

“Many Palestinians have long believed that Israel poisoned Arafat but Jerusalem has consistently denied any involvement.”

Knell provides a platform for the promotion of ‘man in the Ramallah street’ conspiracy theories regarding speculations of Israeli involvement and then embellishes them with her own narrative.

Simpson’s report presents an over-simplified view of the Swiss laboratory’s findings and also amplifies the Israel-related Palestinian conspiracy theories on the subject. 

In Nick Childs’ report he erroneously describes Arafat as “a guerilla leader”. As we noted here a year ago when Jon Donnison also whitewashed Arafat’s terrorism by describing him as a “guerilla fighter”:

“A guerrilla fighter, by definition, “acts as a member of an irregular usually politically motivated armed force that combats stronger regular forces, such as the army or police”.

In other words, guerrilla fighters act against official security forces – not against civilians. […]

Yehuda Ohayon (aged 10), Yafa Batito (8), Mimon Biton (7), Haviva Biton (7), Chana Biton (8), Shimon Biton (9), Shulamit Biton (9) and Aliza Petretz (14) were not soldiers or policemen. They were pupils on their way to school on May 22nd 1970 when two bazooka shells were fired at their school bus by the PLO – under Yasser Arafat’s command.

Neither were the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by the PLO’s ‘Black September’ group at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 a military target.

The 25 Israelis killed in the Ma’alot massacre – 22 of them children – in 1974 were not soldiers or policemen either. The 38 Israelis – including 13 children – murdered in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre carried out by the PLO under Arafat were also not a military target.”

On November 8th the BBC News website added two more reports to its collection of Arafat-related items:  a written article titled “Palestinian officials: Israel only suspect in Arafat death” and a filmed report titled “Yasser Arafat forensic studies ‘will continue’“, both of which relate to the press conference given on that day by Tawfik Tirawi and amplify the PA’s unfounded accusations against Israel.

To sum up, in a period of less than 48 hours the BBC News website promoted thirteen different reports (shown below) on the subject of the publication of the Swiss findings and related subject matter, with nine of those items amplifying conspiracy theories concerning Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s death. None of the items attempted to propose any other explanation for the as yet unproven poisoning theory. 

website 6 to 8 11

Related articles:

BBC goes into Arafat overdose mode – again

 The BBC’s Arafat overdose

BBC Trust ESC rules: no requirement to translate accurately

As readers may remember, back in February we noted here that a report by the then BBC Gaza Strip correspondent Jon Donnison – which was promoted on several BBC platforms and in various formats – included a mistranslation of the words of one interviewee. 

“Another version of the same story was also featured on Radio 4′s ‘PM’ programme on February 26th – available here for a limited period of time from 41:38. In that version, at 43:37, one can hear a translator interpret the words of interviewee Nour Adwan as “If we meet an Israeli and they are speaking in Hebrew..”.  Sharp eared listeners will notice that the fifteen year-old actually says the word “Yahud” – Jew – in Arabic rather than “Israeli”, but for some reason, the BBC chose to modify that in translation.”  

A BBC Watch reader has now informed us of the findings of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee with regard to a complaint (not upheld) he made about that mistranslation and those findings reveal some very interesting points concerning the Trust’s interpretation of BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy.

In the summary of its findings (page 5 in this document) the BBC Trusts Editorial Standards Committee writes: [emphasis added]

“The complaint concerned the translation of the Arabic word “Al-Yahoud” in an item about Hebrew being taught in Hamas-run schools in Gaza. The complainant said that the term translates literally into English as “the Jews” and it was inaccurate for the programme to have translated this as “an Israeli” in the English voice over. The complainant alleged that this was a mistranslation which was materially misleading. The complainant also alleged that the programme should have included the information that Arabic had been taught in Israeli schools for decades and that not mentioning this fact demonstrated a lack of due impartiality.

The Committee concluded:

that it was not the case that only a literal translation would have met audience expectation for due accuracy.

that no interpretation of the editorial guidelines requires content producers to make direct word-for-word translations without also taking account of relevant context.

that the programme makers had demonstrated they had taken care to reach a considered view on the appropriate translation, taking into account the circumstances in which the contributor was discussing interaction.

that the decision to translate the contributor’s words as “an Israeli” was an appropriate exercise of editorial judgement.

that, in the light of the programme team’s explanation of why it felt the decision not to use the literal translation was the right one, the translation employed by the programme was well sourced and based on sound evidence.

that the programme had taken account of sensitivities in this area and that it had borne these in mind when reaching its decision to translate the content in the way it had.

that the programme team had demonstrated that it had weighed all the relevant facts, and taken into account the context in which the girl was speaking, and to whom she was most likely to be referring, in reaching its decision to translate the words she used as it did.

that the chosen translation did not dilute the contributor’s hostility or soften the impact of her words. The Committee therefore concluded that the programme had achieved due accuracy as required by the editorial guidelines.

that the situations in Gaza and Israel were not analogous and it was a legitimate exercise of editorial judgement not to include the information regarding the teaching of Arabic in Israeli schools in this report.

that, as well as meeting the requirements of due accuracy, the programme had achieved due impartiality as required by the Editorial Guidelines.” 

The full findings (well worth reading) can be found on pages 52 – 58 of the same document. There, inter alia, we learn that: [emphasis added]

“The Committee did not accept the complainant’s contention that only a literal translation of the girl’s words would have met audience expectation. It noted the overarching requirement of the Editorial Guidelines, requiring that content observe “due accuracy” and “due impartiality”, i.e. that it is adequate and appropriate taking into account the subject and nature of the content and the likely audience expectation. The Committee noted that the requirements for “due accuracy” and “due impartiality” underpin the entire guidelines. In this case, as the ECU had also found, the programme-makers had demonstrated that they had taken care to reach a considered view on the appropriate translation, taking into account the circumstances in which the girl was discussing interaction.”


“The Committee considered that the decision to translate the girl’s words as “an Israeli” was an appropriate exercise of editorial judgement. In taking this view the Committee emphasised that no interpretation of the Editorial Guidelines requires content producers to make direct word-for-word translations without also taking account of relevant context. “

In other words, a BBC translation can and will be amended in accordance with the way in which editors subjectively perceive “likely audience expectation” and in accordance with their own subjective interpretations of “relevant context”.

With regard to the specific translation in question, we also learn that: [emphasis added]

“The Committee noted that the programme did not deny the distinction between “Jews” and “Israelis”, but that in this context it felt that it would be misleading not to give the audience a clearer picture of whom the girl was most likely referring to and that a literal translation would not necessarily have achieved that.”

In other words, the programme makers amended the translation to fit in with their own subjective interpretation of what the interviewee might have meant.

The report goes on:

“The Committee noted the programme’s response to the ECU explaining why it felt the decision not to use the literal translation was the right one:

“It is clear in the context that she is talking about crossing the border into Israel and meeting Israelis. Translating the words as Israelis made the most sense within this context and didn’t alter the meaning or tone of her comment. Her distrust and dislike, which was clear from her quote, was of Israelis not of Jews. Jon [Donnison] thought long and hard about this translation but on the advice of Israeli and Palestinian colleagues they came to this decision. He also added that not in this case, but in interviews with other Palestinians who have used the word ‘Jehud’ [sic], he has clarified what the interviewee meant and they nearly always say they mean Israelis unless they are referring specifically to the religion.”  ” [emphasis added]

Most importantly, we also learn that: 

“The Committee accepted that the main editorial purpose of this news item was to report that Hamas schools were teaching children Hebrew as “the language of the enemy”. The programme-makers, based on their professional judgement, understood the enemy in this case to be Israel, and the Committee understood the reasons why the programme felt it was important to communicate that clearly.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the programme-makers’ “professional judgement” led them to believe that Hamas makes a distinction between Israelis (the enemy) and Jews (not the enemy) and intended by means of this translation distortion to clarify that. 

Apparently that “professional judgement” has never come across the antisemitic themes which dominate the Hamas Charter or the words of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar from 2009, for example.

“The Zionists have legitimised the killing of their children by killing our children. They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people.” [emphasis added]

The obvious attempt by the programme-makers to tone down and censor the type of propaganda with which children in the Gaza Strip are indoctrinated by Hamas in schools, summer camps or on television by replacing the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’ – thus making it more palatable for Western audiences sensitive to issues of racism – indicates the existence of a problem far greater than mistranslation – and one which apparently exists even in the highest echelons of the BBC.



Which themes got most exposure on the BBC News website in August?

The volume of articles concerning Israel which appear consistently on the BBC News website has been recorded over the last six months in our series of articles titled “BBC Israel focus in numbers”. There we record not only the appearance of an article, but also its exposure in terms of the number of days it is left up on the webpage. A closer look at the exposure of some of the articles published throughout the month of August 2013 suggests an interesting trend. 

The longest time any Israel-related article was left up on the Middle East homepage was eight days, with four articles falling into that category, including Jon Donnison’s attempt to persuade readers that Gaza has “some of the highest population densities in the world” which was discussed here. Two other articles which appeared on the website for eight consecutive days were Jonathan Marcus’ “Does Middle-East peace process matter?”  and Bethany Bell’s “Scepticism all round amid renewed Mid-East peace talks”

The fourth article left up for eight days was titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli troops on Gaza border” . Another article about an incident in Jenin, titled “Palestinian killed in Israeli raid in West Bank” , was left up on the webpage for seven consecutive days whilst the report on the riots in Qalandiya headlined “Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli police” was viewable for three days running.

A report titled “Israeli jets bomb Lebanon target after rocket strike” was viewable on the Middle East homepage for six consecutive days. In contrast, the BBC report on the missile fire which caused the Israeli response only appeared on the website for a matter of hours. 

A report on the closure of Eilat airport due to security assessments stayed on the website for two days whilst another article about an air-strike against terrorists in Sinai was viewable for seven consecutive days.

Here at BBC Watch we have frequently remarked on the BBC’s tendency to fail to report many if not most of the terror attacks – attempted and executed – against Israeli civilians. But according to the statistics for August, it appears that even when the BBC does report on threats or attacks against Israelis, those reports are given less exposure than articles dealing with Israeli responses to terror attacks or Israeli counter-terrorism activities in which there are Palestinian casualties. We will of course continue to monitor this apparent trend.

A great deal of the Israel-related content which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page during August was connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Three main categories of subject matter – often all appearing in the same report – can be identified: the issue of the talks themselves, the accompanying ‘goodwill gesture’ release of 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and the subject of Israeli construction which the BBC promoted vigorously throughout the month as ‘sabotaging’ the renewed talks – even though that was clearly not the case. 

Articles about the talks themselves included “Livni urges Israel coalition to support peace talks” which appeared on the website for three days and “Israel-Palestinian peace talks to resume in Jerusalem” which includes standard BBC presentations of the subject of Israeli building and ran for two days. The backgrounder titled “Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem“, which also presents Israeli construction as ‘sabotaging’ talks, ran for two days on the Middle East homepage and an article called “Israel-Palestinian peace talks resume in Jerusalem” likewise including promotion of the same theme appeared for four consecutive days. 

Articles about the prisoner release included “Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners for release” which ran for one day and “Profiles of Palestinian prisoners set to be released” which likewise ran for one day – but not on the Middle East page. Also appearing for one day was the article titled “Palestinian prisoners ‘moved’ before Israel release” which actually devoted the majority of its content to the subject of Israeli building tenders.  That subject also appeared in Kevin Connolly’s “Little hope for talks among Israelis and Palestinians” which ran for three consecutive days.

Other reports promoting the theme of construction in neighbourhoods the BBC describes as “settlements” as a threat to peace talks included “Israel widens Jewish settlement subsidies” which ran on the Middle East page for five consecutive days, “Israel backs new Jewish settlement homes” which ran for several hours before being replaced with “New West Bank settlement homes anger Palestinians” which ran for one day and “Kerry: Israeli settlements move was expected” which appeared for two days. 

Thus we see that audience exposure to written articles promoting the notion of Israeli construction as a threat to peace talks throughout August was considerably greater than, for example, exposure to the issue of terror as an obstacle to peace. Obviously, the BBC’s reputation for impartiality depends not only upon actual written or spoken content, but also on the editorial decisions behind the prioritising of some reports over others. 

Related articles:

Filmed reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page in August

BBC Israel focus in numbers – August 2013

BBC’s Donnison returns – with an old party trick

Hang on to your hats, folks! After an absence of over two months, Jon Donnison is back on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

In the department of cutting-edge ‘Features & Analysis’ we find an item titled “From little Gaza to chunky Australia” which also appears in the ‘magazine’ section of the same website as well as having been broadcast as an audio piece in the August 10th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ which is aired on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. 

Donnison Australia Gaza

Sadly, those weeks of absence have not honed Donnison’s ability to produce accurate and impartial reporting. In an item comparing the size of the Gaza Strip to Australia which is apparently supposed to be whimsical or amusing, Donnison manages to squeeze in some of his tried and trusted old themes.

“With its wall, fences and watchtowers, Gaza is not a place for the claustrophobic.”

Does Donnison bother to go on to explain to his readers and listeners why there is a need for a wall, a fence and watchtowers? Does he make clear that the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip (constructed between 1994- 96) is a product of the Oslo Accords or that the wall actually runs along the border between the Strip and Egypt? Of course he doesn’t: context would actually detract from the impression he is trying to create here.  

Donnison goes on:

“There are neighbourhoods with some of the highest population densities in the world.”

In the report’s written version that claim is accompanied by a handy graphic.

graphic donnison article

How lucky then that Donnison was not posted to Macau (population density per km2 – 19,416.29 in 2010), Monaco (population density per km2 – 17,703.5 in 2010), Singapore (population density per km2 – 7,252.43 in 2010) or Hong Kong (population density per km2 – 6,782.92 in 2010). Otherwise he would have had much more difficulty finding a convenient hook upon which to hang his agenda.

How fortunate too that the BBC’s former Gaza correspondent does not find himself in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or any of the other cities mentioned below.

cities population density

And, coming as he does from Sheffield, Jon Donnison should definitely be aware of the fact that the population density of that city’s urban area is not too far behind that of the Gaza Strip (4,092 people per km2 in 2011) – making his “highest population densities in the world” party trick all the more passé.