BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

On September 1st the BBC News website published a feature titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” which has since become a frequent appendage to numerous other articles published on the website’s Middle East page. As we know, the BBC has stated that its online content is intended to act as “historical records” and hence the accuracy and impartiality of that content is of prime importance.Toll of Operations art

This particular feature opens with the following words:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

The UN says the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilian. But figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price.”

Once again we see the BBC quoting “the UN” as though that body were impeccably objective, but with no effort made to inform audiences with regard to the very significant issue of the background to those UN statements and the political motivations involved.

The feature then goes on to address the topic of casualties in three conflicts in reverse chronological order. First comes a section titled “2014: Operation Protective Edge” in which readers are told that:

“The overwhelming majority of those killed were Palestinians.

The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences, for example, of the ongoing analysis being carried out by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which, after examination of some 35% of the named casualties, so far indicates that the ratio of combatants to civilians stands at 49% to 51% respectively.

The section goes on to present graphics including one complied on the basis of information provided, inter alia, by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and “Al Akhbar” – an anti-Israel Lebanese online media organization considered by some to be pro-Hizballah. It further includes ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s head of statistics who – as readers may recall – was forced to radically amend a previous article on the topic of casualties in the Gaza Strip due to outside pressure from politically motivated organisations.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The section goes on to state that “[s]atellite images released by the United Nations show how a section of Shijaia [sic] neighbourhood in Gaza City has been razed by attacks since 8 July” but no attempt is made to provide BBC audiences with the all-important context behind those images by informing them of the military installations deliberately placed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in that neighbourhood.

The feature then moves on to a section titled “2012: Operation Pillar of Defense” in which readers are informed that:

“Israel’s previous major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

Prior to the operation, there had been spates of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

In other words, the BBC continues its now well-entrenched practice of downplaying the months of terror attacks which preceded – and caused – Operation Pillar of Defense. Casualty figures promoted in that section come from one source alone:

“An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.”

Detailed examination of the names of casualties by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre put the ratio of combatants to civilians at 60:40 compared to B’Tselem’s 52% civilian casualty rate.

The feature’s third and final section is titled “2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead” and it opens with the (apparently copy pasted) claim that:

The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. Around 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including an estimated 759 civilians, according to B’Tselem. Reports say this included 344 children and 110 women.” [emphasis added]

The section goes on to promote two more politically motivated NGOs and to advance the myth of the use of white phosphorous as a weapon during Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel’s military had put the overall Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom it said 295 were “uninvolved” civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 Palestinians died, 926 of whom were civilians.

An Amnesty International report into the operation said lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care.” It also condemned the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.”

No mention is made of the fact that Hamas’ Fathi Hamad admitted in a 2010 interview that around half the casualties in that operation were terrorists, thus negating the inaccurate claims made by the PCHR still being promoted by the BBC.

But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

Now let us remind ourselves of the BBC’s opening statement in this feature:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.”

That statement would lead any reasonable reader to believe that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge was somehow exceptional enough to prompt “international concern and condemnation”. The BBC’s editorial decision to omit from this feature any comparison to other conflicts means that audiences are unable to put that statement into its correct perspective and are hence likely to be misled.

Of course that editorial decision will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who closely followed BBC coverage of Operation Protective Edge throughout its duration because one dominant theme discernible throughout that coverage was the inaccurate portrayal of the conflict as an Israeli attack upon the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The feature tells readers that:  

“…figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price”

Indeed the price paid by Gaza’s civilian population for the actions of terrorist organisations embedded in their midst is a “heavy” and regrettable one. However – in contrast to the impression this anonymously written feature deliberately attempts to create – it is nevertheless no heavier than that paid by civilian populations in conflict zones elsewhere in the world. The BBC’s decision not to inform its audiences of that fact can only be attributed to political motivations being allowed to trump editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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

BBC’s Knell continues the downplaying of terror from the Gaza Strip

On November 21st we noted here that – despite the presence of BBC staff in the Gaza Strip at the time – no report had appeared on the subject of the military parades which took place there on and around November 14th

On November 22nd an article by Yolande Knell titled “Tensions high between Israel and Gaza a year after truce” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Knell Gaza parades

Knell opens her article with descriptions of those military parades. She notes that “[m]ore than 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in last November’s clashes” but fails to make it clear to her readers that some 60% of casualties in the Gaza Strip were members of various terrorist organisations, including 71 from Hamas, 17 from the PIJ, six from the PRC and three from Fatah.

In copy-paste style, Knell then repeats the claim made in a previous BBC article on the subject of the anniversary of Operation Pillar of Cloud:

“Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence, which it said was aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza, with the assassination of the head of the Qassam Brigades, Ahmed Jabari, on 14 November 2012.” [emphasis added]

Once again, this version of events fails to provide BBC audiences with any of the important context behind the reasons for the operation. The use of the phrase “which it said was aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza” implies that the BBC is not convinced that the fact that between January 1st and November 13th 2012 (the day before the operation began), 797 missiles had been fired from the Gaza Strip at civilian targets in Israel – one hundred and twenty-three of them between November 10th and 13th alone – was reason enough for Israel to take action to stop those terror attacks.

Knell continues:

“While its strong rhetoric against Israel continues, Hamas has largely kept to its pledge to prevent rocket fire.”

Her next sentence, however, indicates that “to prevent rocket fire” – a la BBC – means the launching from territory controlled by Hamas of over fifty missiles at civilian targets: in other words, an average of one terror attack a week.

“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) says that since Operation Pillar of Defence about 50 rockets have been launched from Gaza, compared with 1,500 the previous year.”

Knell then goes on to inform her audience that those missile attacks are not so bad:

“Those fired have caused little damage, landing in open areas or being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. However, civilians in their range are still forced to run for cover whenever the “red alert” siren sounds.”

The breathtaking banality of Knell’s downplaying of the effects of regular terror attacks on civilians is enabled by the fact that since the end of last November’s hostilities (and likewise before their ‘official’ commencement on November 14th 2012) no BBC reporter has made the 90 minute journey from Jerusalem to Sderot or Ashkelon in order to bring to BBC audiences the experiences and viewpoints of residents of those areas still subject to regular missile attacks. 

Whilst the number of missile attacks (most of which have been ignored by the BBC) has indeed decreased since the end of last November’s operation, past experience of the similar situation after Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 shows that trite reporting of mere numbers conceals a much more complex picture.  

“Hila Barzilai, the director of the Sderot Resilience Center (Merkaz Hosen) recently told Sderot Media Center that in the past six months following Operation Cast Lead, hundreds of Sderot children have turned to the resilience center for therapy treatment. 

“These kids come to us with their parents to seek therapy for the trauma built up from years of rocket attacks,” says Barzilai. “These problems did not just begin post-Operation Cast Lead. We are talking about eight years of constant rocket attacks whose psychological effects are now emerging during this period of calm.” […]

The average recovery period for a child can take up to eight months or more, said Barzilai. One of the challenges of trauma patients face in the recovery process are the sporadic rocket attacks that still continue to hit Sderot and the western Negev region.  

Barzilai notes in frustration that “it takes one rocket attack to destroy any progress in the patient’s therapy. The siren alert will trigger the flashbacks of terror and fear in the child or adult, which means that the therapy process has to begin anew.” […]

Orna Hurwitz, the director of the Sderot Bon Tone Hearing Institute, told Sderot Media Center on Monday that hearing loss has become an ailment unique to Sderot and Gaza-border residents.

“The hearing impairments suffered by residents of Sderot are akin to the hearing loss that soldiers experience during war. The repeated blasts of the rocket explosions harm the ear drum to the point that many residents have to be treated for hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, and/or central auditory processing disorders,” says Hurwitz.”

And yet, the BBC continues to avoid telling this story in full, thus compromising its obligation to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”. 

Related articles:

Compare and contrast: BBC reporting on cross-border missile fire

Patchy BBC reporting on security incidents compromises context and accuracy

Missile attack on Israeli civilians not a ‘flare-up’ for the BBC

Another missile attack on Israeli civilians ignored by the BBC

Missiles fired into Israel not news for the BBC

Not news for the BBC

BBC ignores missile fire from Gaza Strip

Missiles fired at Southern Israel communities – BBC silent

Gaza Strip news – BBC style

On Thursday November 14th  staff from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau visited the Gaza Strip, where several Hamas-organised military parades marking the anniversary of last November’s fighting against Israel were taking place.

Knell tweet gaza parade

Colebourn tweet Gaza parade

Colebourn tweet Gaza parade 2

The parades included displays of weaponry and masked gunmen and were attended by Hamas leaders

pic Hamas parade 2

pic Hamas parade

Despite the BBC presence on the ground at the time, no report on these parades has appeared on the BBC News website. 

On the same day, two mortars were fired into Israel, for which the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (which also held its own parades) claimed responsibility.  The IDF targeted rocket launching sites in the Gaza Strip in response. Although its journalists were clearly aware of the incident, no report on the subject was produced by the BBC.

Colebourn tweets mortars thurs

To date, no report on the ongoing fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip has appeared on the BBC News website. Hence, BBC audiences remain unaware of the dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas which, among other things, has resulted in streets being flooded with sewage – although apparently it does not impact Hamas’ ability to hold parades of motor vehicles.  

“Though it may be hard to believe, 1.5 million Palestinians have lived without electricity throughout most of the day in 2013. For the past two weeks, residents of the Gaza Strip have endured a cycle of six hours of electricity followed by a 12-hour power outage. Last Wednesday, the power went out at 6:00 am and was finally restored only late that evening.

This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

sewage Gaza pic

 

BBC perpetuates themes from Operation Pillar of Cloud

On November 14th 2013 the BBC News website’s Middle East page included an item in its ‘Features & Analysis’ section titled “Israel-Gaza conflict: One year on“.

Op PoC 1 yr on

The bulk of the article is made up of short interviews with three people from the Gaza Strip and three people from southern Israel. In its introduction we see that, one year on, the BBC continues to promote some of the same themes as it did at the time of Operation Pillar of Cloud. The article opens:

“Thursday is the first anniversary of the start of the eight-day conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.”

Rather than some amorphous collection of unspecified “militants”, the conflict was of course actually between Israel and the terrorist organization in control of the Gaza Strip – Hamas – which is responsible for the acts of terror emanating from that territory whether they are carried out by its own armed militias or by others. The introduction continues:

“Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence, which it says was aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza, with the killing of a Hamas military leader. Israel subsequently carried out hundreds of air strikes on the territory, while Hamas and other groups fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.”

This version of events fails to provide BBC audiences with any of the important context to the beginning of the operation. The use of the phrase “which it says was aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza” implies that the BBC is not convinced that the fact that between January 1st and November 13th 2012 (the day before the operation began), 797 missiles had been fired from the Gaza Strip at civilian targets in Israel – one hundred and twenty-three of them between November 10th and 13th alone – was reason enough for Israel to take action to stop those terror attacks.

The notion that the conflict began with the death of Ahmed Jabari is one which was heavily promoted by the BBC at the time, and it was enabled by the fact that the BBC’s reporting on terrorist attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in the months prior to the operation was at best patchy and selective. No BBC reporter set foot on the ground in southern Israel until after the operation began, despite the proximity of its well-staffed Jerusalem Bureau to the region paralysed by six weeks of almost continual missile fire on civilian targets. 

The introduction continues:

“According to the United Nations, a total of 174 Palestinians were killed, at least 168 of them by Israeli military action, including 101 believed to have been civilians. Hamas’ health ministry says 185 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Two Israeli soldiers and four Israeli civilians were killed by rocket or mortar fire from Gaza, the Israeli authorities say.”

Notably, the casualty figures cited above from Hamas and OHCHR sources suggest that fewer combatants – and hence, more civilians – were killed during the conflict than do figures from other sources. Clearly, the Hamas claim that the casualties were “mostly civilians” is not credible information and it is inappropriate for the BBC to promote it without independent verification. 

It is evident even from this short introduction that the BBC did not carry out effective post-event examination of its coverage of Operation Pillar of Cloud and hence the same inaccurate themes are still being promoted one year on.

Related articles:

Examining another BBC theme from Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’

BBC still citing erroneous civilian/combatant casualty ratio

A tale of two BBC maps

 

BBC continues to ignore non-fatal terror attacks

On the morning of Friday, October 25th a vehicle transporting pupils from Mevo Dotan in northern Samaria to school was attacked with an improvised explosive device. Fortunately, neither the driver nor the young passengers were injured. IDF forces searched the area for the perpetrators of the attack. 

On the evening of Saturday, October 26th a bus and a car travelling in the al Fawar area south of Hebron were attacked by stone-throwers. Eight Israelis and one Palestinian girl were injured in the attacks.

In the early afternoon of October 27th two mortars fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol region of the western Negev, fortunately falling in open areas with no injuries caused.

Like the vast majority of attacks against Israeli civilians, none of these examples of recent attacks was reported by the BBC, which tends only to relate to incidents in which there are fatalities or to Israeli actions resulting from those attacks. 

Terror, of course, is not just about specific incidents of damage, death and injury – its main purpose is the ‘drip drip’ intimidation of the broader civilian population with the knowledge that it could happen to them too – at any time and in any place – and the use of that fear to force political concessions from governments ultimately steered by public opinion.

Whilst many informed observers currently do not seem to regard the recent upsurge in violence as heralding an imminent third intifada, the fact remains that by downplaying – or completely ignoring – the daily acts of violence directed at Israeli civilians, the BBC neglects to provide vital context which is crucial for audience understanding of the situation as a whole and specifically, Israeli counter-terrorism measures aimed at containing the violent incidents targeting civilians. 

But the failure to accurately report the overall picture does not only sell short the BBC’s obligation to provide audiences with a “global understanding of international issues“; it also affects the standard of BBC reporting and adherence to its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. 

As we saw in the lead up to last year’s ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’, the fact that the BBC had consistently ignored the majority of the preceding missile fire and other attacks (putting no reporter on the ground in towns and cities such as Ashkelon and Netivot until Israel responded to six weeks of paralysing missile attacks) meant that – with BBC audiences oblivious of the context – it was then able to erroneously claim that the violence began with Israel’s targeting of Ahmed Jabari and to make the bizarre assertion that the operation was part of the incumbent Israeli government’s election campaign.  

It is the same lack of presentation of the context of the ‘drip drip’ of ongoing intimidation by terror which creates an environment in which BBC presenters can embarrass themselves – and the organization they represent – by making crass statements about the numbers of Israeli casualties, as was the case with Mishal Husain last year.

Clearly, an organisation as experienced in news reporting as the BBC can do better – both for its audiences and for its own reputation – if it so wishes. 

BBC terms bus bomb planner claimed as a member by 2 terror groups ‘militant’

On October 22nd 2013 a report titled “Wanted Palestinian militant killed in West Bank raid” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. The article has undergone some changes since its initial publication. 

Assi Bil'in

Assi Bil'in v 2

Relating to the death of Palestinian Islamic Jihad member Mohammad Assi who was killed during a firefight with Israeli soldiers on the morning of the same day, the article’s title and opening paragraph both use the BBC’s standard euphemistic description of members of Palestinian terrorist organizations.

“A Palestinian militant has been shot dead by Israeli troops in the West Bank, the Israeli army has said.” [emphasis added]

The rest of the report is reasonable, describing the incident itself and the reason behind the attempt to arrest Assi.

“Mohammad Assi, a member of Islamic Jihad, was killed during a gunfight near the village of Bilin, army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said.

Assi reportedly exchanged fire for several hours with the soldiers from a cave after escaping an arrest raid.

He was suspected of planning a bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv on 21 November 2012 that injured 29 people.”

A spelling mistake appears at the end of the seventh paragraph.

cage

However, two later developments have not been added to the BBC report.

In addition to the PIJ statement claiming Assi as one of its members, Hamas also claimed him as a member of its ‘al Qassam’ brigades on its website.

Hamas also released a statement claiming responsibility for the November 21st 2102 terror attack on a bus in Tel Aviv.  

So here’s a question: how many internationally recognized terror organisations have to claim a person as one of their members before the BBC will stop euphemistically describing him as a “militant”? 

Patchy BBC reporting on security incidents compromises context and accuracy

One of the notable features of BBC reporting on terrorism and security-related incidents in Israel and the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is its patchiness. Reports tend to focus on incidents which result in fatalities, for the most part ignoring the many more incidents in which, thankfully, no-one is killed. 

During the month of September 2013, for example, we see that the BBC elected to report on three security-related incidents: the death of a PIJ activist in Jenin, the murder of Sgt.Tomer Hazan and the killing of St. Sgt.Gal Kobi in Hebron. 

But of course many more incidents went completely unreported by the BBC, meaning that BBC audiences receive a very partial – and hence distorted and inaccurate – picture of the situation.

The Israel Security Agency’s monthly report for September (Hebrew) notes a sharp rise in incidents during that month – 133 compared to 99 in August – with 104 of the attacks taking place in Judea and Samaria.  BBC audiences of course remain unaware of all non-fatal incidents, just as they are also unaware of the majority of missile attacks on Israeli civilian communities.

In the first nine months of 2013, thirty-three missile hits were identified in southern Israel, including five in Eilat. The number of missiles actually fired is higher: a relatively large proportion of them fall outside Israeli territory, endangering the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. 

But how many of those attacks have been reported by the BBC? The first instance of missile fire to breach the ceasefire which ended Operation Pillar of Cloud was reported on February 26th. Five missiles fired from the Gaza Strip on March 21st received only a brief (and inaccurate) mention from the BBC at the bottom of an article about Obama’s visit to Israel.  Missile fire on April 3rd was covered (highlighting the Israeli response), as were the April 17st attacks on Eilat, but attacks from the Gaza Strip on April 18th and 21st were ignored, and those at the end of April only got a cursory mention in a later article. Attacks on May 2nd went unreported, as did those on Eilat and all attacks on the Western Negev during the month of July.  Likewise, attacks in August and September received no BBC coverage.  

Whilst it may not be realistic to expect the BBC to produce individual reports on every single incident (even the local media does not always manage to keep up with the pace of events), it is nevertheless vital for audience understanding – and BBC adherence to its own ‘Public Purposes’ and guidelines of accuracy and impartiality – that context and background information with regard to the scale of security incidents which Israel faces is regularly provided. 

Related posts:

Nine year-old wounded in attack in Psagot: BBC silent

BBC fails to report on Route 5 terror attack

BBC ESC: ‘lack of due accuracy’ on Davies Tweet from Operation Pillar of Cloud

As long-time readers of BBC Watch know, we have frequently highlighted the fact that BBC Editorial Guidelines apply to all BBC content – including social media. Twitter – being fast-moving ‘instant’ messaging and cutting out the editorial ‘middle-man’ between the journalist and the public – is of course particularly susceptible to breaches of those guidelines. 

Last November Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC regarding two Tweets sent during ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. One of those Tweets originated from the BBC World News account and the outcome of the complaint was documented here. The other Tweet originated from the account of the then BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Wyre Davies and the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee published its findings with regard to Mr Franklin’s complaint of inaccuracy on August 29th 2013 – on page 21 here

Although Mr Franklin’s complaint related only to the accuracy of the Tweet – not its impartiality – the committee nevertheless saw fit to publish the following finding:

“Finding: Partially upheld with regard to Accuracy. Not in breach with regard to Impartiality.”

The committee’s report states:

“BBC News correspondent Wyre Davies reported from Gaza during the operation. On 15 November 2012 at 7.25am Mr Davies sent the following tweet from his Twitter account:

In this “limited operation” at least 13 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed – nearly all civilians. #Gaza.

This message was re-tweeted by @BBCWorld at 7.54am.”

Here is a screenshot of the Tweet with its local time time-stamp rather than the GMT time-frame cited by the committee.

Davies casualties tweet

Whilst accepting that the Tweet breached BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy (the Palestinians killed at that point were not “nearly all civilians” as we pointed out at the time), the committee makes much in its findings of the circumstances in which it was written.

“The Committee noted that Mr Davies was tweeting about the situation while working as a BBC correspondent in Gaza..”

“The Committee considered that the lack of due accuracy in the tweet which was the subject of this complaint likely arose from the particular, fast-paced and chaotic circumstances in which the correspondent was reporting.”

“The Committee did not regard this breach as reflecting anything other than the extreme pressure under which Mr Davies and other journalists in Gaza had been working, and it commended the overall quality and integrity of his reporting across various media during “Operation Pillar of Defence”.  “

“The Committee considered that readers would have been aware that Mr Davies was working in a conflict zone and would have understood that this was a chaotic, very fast-moving situation and that figures would be changing.”

However, at the time that Tweet was sent – some 18 hours or so after the beginning of the operation – Wyre Davies was not in Gaza, but in Israel – as one of his earlier Tweets shows and as documented at the time by BBC Watch.

Davies tweet israel border

According to his own Twitter timeline, Davies entered the Gaza Strip nearly an hour and a half after sending the Tweet concerned.

Davies no mans land tweet

The findings also state:

“In this case, the Committee noted that Mr Davies said his information had come from health officials in Gaza who had told him that “more than half” of the 13 Palestinian deaths were of civilians. This was clearly a source which it was appropriate for journalists to cite. However, there had been no attribution to the source in the tweet itself. The Committee noted the practical considerations specific to Twitter of including attributions within 140 characters.”

This is not the first time that the BBC’s reliance upon information obtained from “health officials in Gaza” has proved to be an issue and unfortunately, the BBC Trust does not appear to be sufficiently aware of the problematic aspects of that practice

The committee’s findings also include the following:

“The Committee recognised that, as in any fast-moving story of conflict, the true picture became apparent only over time with reports emerging piecemeal from different sources, and they noted Mr Davies’ comments that:

“It is not surprising that few agencies or broadcasters had exactly the same figures at exactly the same time, because the number of casualties rose quickly and some of us would have been aware of ‘new’ additions, simply because we either witnessed those deaths or were quickly on the scene. The ‘fog of war’ is also something that armchair critics at home rarely experience – we were not covering the State opening of Parliament but a brutal and confusing conflict at the end of which, by common consent, more civilians than combatants were killed on both sides.””

Of course Wyre Davies’ claim that “by common consent more civilians than combatants were killed on both sides” is also inaccurate and it is regrettable that the ESC chooses to repeat such an inaccuracy in an official document.  

Neither he nor the Editorial Standards Committee appears to have taken note of the fact that two of the Palestinian casualties included in the numbers Davies cited in his Tweet – one of them the son of a BBC employee – were later shown to have been killed by a short-falling terrorist rocket. In its uncalled-for ruling on the impartiality of that Tweet, the ESC has obviously not taken into consideration the fact that by the time it was sent, Davies’ colleagues had begun an extensive campaign of emotion-fuelled promotion of those deaths as having been caused by Israel – despite having no factual evidence for that claim – thus creating a climate of ‘group think’ which may well have influenced the composition of the Tweet, and with neither Davies nor any other members of the BBC team in Gaza at the time having shown any evidence of questioning that false narrative.  

Wyre Davies has since moved on to pastures new, leaving those whom he condescendingly belittles as “armchair critics at home” to continue living in the “fog of war” which is for some of us a permanent state of affairs rather than a mere temporary assignment.  He and his other colleagues who have likewise since relocated elsewhere also leave us to deal with the fall-out of unprofessional, inaccurate and partial reporting by correspondents who do not appear to appreciate the consequences of shoddy journalism. Unfortunately, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s appreciation of those consequences appears to be little better. 

 

BBC Executive cites Gaza article as example of improved ‘Arab Spring’ reporting

In June 2012 the BBC Trust published the report it commissioned from Edward Mortimer on the subject of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’ events. 

On August 6th 2013, the Trust published the additional report which it had requested from the Executive as part of the original report’s conclusions. That follow-up report can be read here

One of the items cited by the Executive in its follow-up report (page 6) as an example of improved accuracy and impartiality in BBC coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’ under the heading “cross-trailing & the web” is – bizarrely – an article which appeared on the BBC News website last November entitled “Q&A: Israel-Gaza violence” and which opens:

“Israel launched its military offensive against Gaza on 14 November, marking the latest eruption in a conflict with Palestinian militants which has raged between the two sides for years.

Here is a guide to some of the key issues involved.”

The item is riddled with multiple flaws from its beginning.

“How did this start?

Israel’s offensive on Gaza began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) subsequently announced the start of Operation Pillar of Defence, which it said was intended to protect Israeli civilians from rockets and mortars fired by militants in Gaza, as well as cripple Hamas’s capability to launch attacks. […]

Israeli air strikes on what it said were rocket-storage sites and on Hamas facilities, and a surge in Palestinian rocket-fire into Israel, ensued.” [emphasis added]

Of course the build-up to Operation Pillar of Cloud began long before the strike on Jabari’s vehicle on November 14th. Only later on in the article is some very sketchy background provided and that is rife with moral equivalence which actively prevents BBC audiences from understanding that while the IDF targeted terrorists and their infrastructure, the attacks emanating from Gaza were specifically aimed at civilians. 

“Although Jabari’s killing signalled the start of Israel’s offensive, it was preceded by spates of deadly cross-border violence which saw Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

The article also promotes another erroneous and much-promoted BBC theme from the time:

“Some observers have noted that the offensive was launched only nine weeks before parliamentary elections in Israel.”

The many other additional faults in this article only add to the incredulity prompted by the fact that the BBC Executive has presented it as an example of improved reporting – and on the subject of the ‘Arab Spring’ at that.