BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part three

Lyse Doucet’s second filmed report from the Gaza Strip (the first was discussed here) seen by viewers of BBC television news on February 25th took the now well-worn ‘reporter in the rubble’ theme to its logical conclusion by having Doucet deliver a two and a half-minute monologue while standing on a pile of earth, metal and concrete in Shuja’iya.

The report also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page where it was titled “Caught in a wasteland: Gaza six months after the ceasefire“.Doucet filmed Gaza 2

“Gazans, the international community, certainly didn’t expect Gaza to look like this. Six months ago there was a welcome, there was a celebration among Gazans, among Israelis – particularly in southern Israel – that a ceasefire had been reached. But look at this now. It’s like a wasteland. You could be forgiven for thinking there’d been a natural disaster here.”

Whilst Doucet made copious use of those ‘wasteland’ and ‘natural disaster’ themes in all of her latest reporting from the Gaza Strip, at no point did she bother to try to put the scenes of destruction she promoted so enthusiastically on radio, television and social media into their correct context. BBC audiences were not informed that the scenes from the neighbourhood of Shuja’iya upon which her reports focused are not representative of the situation in the entire Gaza Strip.

That same practice was already in evidence six months ago when BBC reporters likewise nudged audiences towards the mistaken belief that the isolated images of structural damage which had been selected to appear in BBC reports reflected the situation as a whole. Doucet continues:

“But this was the result of 51 days of war as Israeli forces entered on the ground and carried out airstrikes and artillery fire looking for the network of underground tunnels in what they had described as a Hamas stronghold.”

As we see, Doucet is still unwilling to tell audiences the facts about Shuja’iya without ‘Israel says’ style qualification. She goes on:

“But there was a huge human cost as well. And today you can see behind me, in the shell of that home, there’s one pneumatic drill hard at work. In most neighbourhoods we go to we see one digger, one drill. It’s not enough. And just take a closer look at these mounds of slabs of concrete and twisted wires: the white signs that have been posted. Each sign says…gives a description of what stood there once – you can hard….you don’t know what it is now – what stood there, which family lost it and a telephone number to call when aid is going to arrive.  

But unfortunately, a lot of the aid hasn’t arrived. And so people – you see clothing lines – people are living in what’s left of their houses and here – right across this crossing here – we’ve been seeing a man in the window of his home, waiting every day, hoping against hope that someone – the United Nations, the Palestinian authorities – someone will come to deliver money.”

Whether or not there is any substance to Doucet’s pathos filled suppositions about a man viewers do not hear or see, we do not know. She continues with more use of the famous ‘Israel says’ formula, which BBC audiences have been very well trained to interpret as actually meaning ‘the BBC refuses to take a position on whether or not this is true’.

“Now, Israel says it has allowed some construction materials in.”

But, as we noted in our previous post:

“In January 2015 alone, 15,205 tons of construction materials were imported into the Gaza Strip. Since the end of the conflict, 50,000 tons of building materials have entered the Strip and more than 42,000 residents have purchased them.”

There was, therefore, no reason whatsoever for Doucet to use the ‘Israel says’ formula here. She could have easily verified the exact amounts of construction materials which have been imported into the Gaza Strip over the last six months and informed her viewers accurately and impartially on that topic. Significantly, she chose not to do that. Doucet’s monologue goes on:

“The international community – the UN – says some donors have been generous and given some aid.”

Once again, Doucet avoids providing audiences  with factual information about the factors which have caused other donors to be less forthcoming and instead opts for dramatic and emotive generalisations.

“But look at the scale of this. The United Nations in the summer said that nearly 20,000 homes and schools were completely destroyed. There’s not enough aid and construction materials to rebuild these homes and certainly not enough to rebuild lives. But in Gaza nothing is ever simple. They’re caught in the politics of disunity between Hamas and the Palestinian authority. Caught in the ongoing conflict with Israel, tensions with Egypt which also keeps its border shut. The appeal of Gazans today to the aid agencies is don’t let the people suffer because of the politics.”

So far we have looked at three reports from Shuja’iya put out by Lyse Doucet in the last few days. All of those reports were lacking in detailed, factual information which would help BBC audiences to understand why reconstruction in Gaza is happening so slowly or to appreciate what has been done so far. All three reports placed the focus on emotive, generalized, over-dramatic, context-free descriptions more suited to a telethon appeal than to contributing to viewers’ or listeners’ fact-based knowledge and one report was replete with Hamas propaganda. The bottom line of all these reports is that Doucet avoided adequately explaining to BBC audiences that the reconstruction of housing in the Gaza Strip has been hampered primarily by the Palestinians themselves.

Lyse Doucet is not some rookie reporter or even a local bureau staffer: she is the chief international correspondent of the world’s biggest media organization. The fact that she appears to believe that reports of this mediocre quality contribute anything to fulfilling the BBC’s obligations to its funding public should be cause for considerable concern.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part one

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part two

Why did BBC News cut the word terror from the headline of an article about a terrorism trial?

On February 23rd the BBC News website published a report on both its US & Canada and Middle East pages about the verdict issued by a New York court finding the Palestinian Authority and the PLO liable for a number of terror attacks which took place during the second Intifada.

That decidedly minimalist BBC report was originally headlined “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel terror fine in US”. By the time its third version was published some three hours later, the word terror had been removed from the headline and the article now appears under the title “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US“.PA PLO trial art

Remarkably, in a report about the outcome of a court case entirely about terrorism, that word does not appear at all.

The first two versions of the article failed to inform readers that the damages awarded would be tripled according to US law, as explained by the NYT:

“The damages are to be $655.5 million, under a special terrorism law that provides for tripling the $218.5 million awarded by the jury in Federal District Court.”

From version three onwards the words “The US Anti-Terrorism Act could yet allow for the fine to be tripled” were added to the BBC’s report but no further clarification was offered to readers unfamiliar with US legislation.

Critically, the article fails to clarify to readers what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO actually are; instead repeating the use of the ambiguous phrase “Palestinian groups” seen in the headline.

“A US court in New York has found the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority liable for attacks in Israel over 10 years ago.

Six attacks in and around Jerusalem killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more during the second Palestinian intifada between 2002 and 2004.

The jury awarded victims of the attacks more than $218m.

The Palestinian groups expressed dismay at the court’s decision and vowed they would appeal.”

Hence, the significance of the fact that the de facto Palestinian government (the PA) and the PLO (the body which is recognised as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ by over a hundred countries worldwide and the UN and which officially represents the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel) have been found liable in a court of law for terror attacks against civilians is obscured from the view of BBC audiences.

The article also uses the tactic of ‘false balance‘, presenting highly edited versions of statements made by the defendants and claims made by their representatives on an equal platform with what had at the time of writing already been accepted by the court.

“A joint statement by the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) described the charges as “baseless” and said they were disappointed by the ruling.

The victims’ families allege that internal documents show the attacks were approved by the Palestinian authorities.

“Those involved in the attacks still receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority and still get promoted in rank while in jail,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center, a lawyer who is representing the victims’ families.

But defence lawyer Mark Rochon told jurors that the PA and PLO did not have knowledge of the attacks before they took place.

And he said the organisations could not be held liable for the actions of suicide bombers and gunmen, whom he argued acted alone.”

Of course the BBC has consistently refrained from carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s past and current provision of funding to terrorists and their families past and present. Likewise, the subject of the PA’s glorification of terrorism is a no-go area for BBC journalists and BBC content typically avoids the issue of Yasser Arafat’s role in instigating and financing the second Intifada.

Had BBC audiences been accurately and impartially informed of those issues over the years, they would clearly be in a better position to understand the outcome of this court case and to place the quoted claims from the defence lawyer in their correct context. Significantly, no effort is made in this BBC report to rectify that situation. 

 

A Palestinian voice you won’t hear on the BBC

As has often been noted on these pages, the BBC’s reporting on Palestinian issues is by and large a very one-dimensional affair, with stories generally making the news only when there is some sort of connection to Israel. Audiences are very rarely informed about domestic Palestinian issues – either political or social – and topics such as freedom of the press or persecution of religious minorities are no-go areas for BBC reporters. Whilst audiences have plenty of opportunity to hear messaging from officials such as Saeb Erekat, Husam Zomlot and Mustafa Barghouti, the ordinary person in the street is rarely given a platform, except in cases when selected quotes are employed to provide backing for a particular narrative.

Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid recently published an opinion piece at the Times of Israel and it is well worth the read, not least because it highlights a viewpoint which BBC audiences never get to hear.

“Let’s be realistic. We Palestinians are not doing well.

In Gaza, our schools are controlled by Muslim fanatics who indoctrinate our children, and Hamas uses our civilians as human shields in a losing battle against Israel. Hamas maintains power through violence, and it ensures that money is spent on its arsenal rather than on making the Palestinians’ lives better. While President Abbas is quick to denounce Israel whenever it attacks Hamas, he has absolutely no ability to stop Hamas from provoking Israel.

In the West Bank, while Abbas has been incapable of stopping the construction of Israeli settlements, the only good jobs are with Israeli companies, and the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is doing its best to take those jobs away from us. Abbas runs a corrupt dictatorship that uses international funds to consolidate its own administration rather than to develop the Palestinian economy.

In East Jerusalem, the PA is so mistrusted that most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli rule than under PA rule, and yet some of us seem unable to live in peace with the Jews.

In Palestinian camps in Arab countries, our human rights are constantly being violated, and we are simply used by our Arab hosts to further their own goals.”

Read the whole article here.

 

 

BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports from Rawabi: inaccuracies and omissions

Last week the BBC published and broadcast several versions of a report by Lyse Doucet about the construction project at Rawabi on a variety of platforms.

On February 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an audio version of Doucet’s report (available here from 0:45:00).

On February 6th and 7th a filmed report was broadcast on BBC World News and a version of it appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page headlined “Rawabi: A new Palestinian city in the West Bank“.

Also on February 7th a written version of Doucet’s report (together with Jane McMullen) appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website under the title “The new Palestinian city that lacks only one thing“.

A number of points arise from these various reports.

1) In the introduction to the audio version presenter Julian Marshall says:

“In the Israeli-occupied West bank an audacious Palestinian project is rising on the hills.”

In the filmed versions viewers are told by Doucet that the developer is “building homes for 25,000 people on Israeli-occupied land”.

The written report opens:

“A Palestinian millionaire has built a totally new city from scratch in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, complete with a Roman amphitheatre and football stadium.”

Later on are readers informed that:

“”It’s the biggest ever project in Palestinian history,” exclaims American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri, the driving force behind a new Palestinian city in the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Only in the thirty-sixth paragraph do readers who bother to venture so far discover that:

“Rawabi is being built in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but access to a permanent road and a fixed pipeline goes through an area which an interim peace accord placed under Israeli jurisdiction.”

Indeed, Rawabi is situated in Area A which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords were signed. The BBC, however, continues to categorise areas which have not been under Israeli control for two decades as “occupied”.

2) The fact that Rawabi is situated in a Palestinian Authority controlled area of course means that planning approval for its construction was given (in late 2009) by that body.

“Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, the developer of Rawabi, announced that Dr. Khaled Fahd Al Qawasmi, Minister of Local Government of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has approved Rawabi’s Masterplan in an unprecedented and definitive move to clear the way for construction to begin on the first new Palestinian city in recent history. The official Ministry approval was preceded by the approval of the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.”

Nevertheless, listeners to the audio version of the report were misled by Doucet who claimed that:

“This is under Israeli occupation. He (Masri) had to get agreement from Israel about where to build….”

3) Also in the audio version, listeners heard presenter Julian Marshall say:Rawabi 1

“Rabawi is the first ever new Palestinian city to be built in the territories: a huge gamble by American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri. He’s sunk hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money into building homes for 25 thousand Palestinians…”

Whilst that is no doubt the case, neither the audio nor filmed reports inform BBC audiences that the company developing the project also has Qatari funding.

“Bayti is jointly owned by Qatar government-owned Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Ramallah-based Massar International.”

In the written version, Qatari funding is mentioned but the involvement of the Qatari government – and its concurrent funding of Hamas – is not adequately clarified.

“Masri is funding the $1bn project from his own considerable fortune, as well as with hundreds of millions from the real estate arm of the Qatar Investment Authority. The wealthy Gulf state has become a powerful player across the Middle East. Masri concedes that their backing is politically as well as commercially motivated, and, admits they requested a very big mosque.”

4) Rawabi’s amphitheatre appears to have made a particular impression on Doucet. In the filmed version viewers hear her exclaim “Roman columns in Rawabi!” with Bashar Masri replying “Yes – it’s part of our history”.

In the audio version Doucet says:

“…it would look like a big housing project anywhere except this one has this vast Roman amphitheatre with classical Roman columns. I said ‘Roman columns in the West Bank?’. And they said ‘yes; the ancient, ancient Palestine’.”

Doucet of course makes no effort to relieve audiences of the misleading impression that there is some sort of historical connection between the term ‘Palestine’ as used by the Romans in their renaming of Judea in the second century and the modern-day Palestinians.

5) The main focus of all these reports is the issue of Rawabi’s water supply. In the audio version listeners are told:

“…and now crucially he’s [Masri] waiting for agreement from Israel – from a joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee – to get water.”

And:

“…and the finger is being pointed at Israel; saying why are they not giving the water?”

In the filmed version viewers are told that:

“The joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee has to sign off the water supply but it hasn’t met for years. The problem is political.”

And in the written version:

“All new water infrastructure larger than a pipe 2in (5cm) in diameter has to be approved by the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee. But the JWC hasn’t met for years. […]

Despite repeated promises from Israel that water will be provided “in a few weeks”, the JWC still hasn’t met. And both Israeli and Palestinian officials are dragging their feet.”

In other words, the bottom line impression given to BBC audiences is that Rawabi’s lack of water is Israel’s fault.

At no point does Doucet clarify to her audiences on various platforms that the Joint Water Committee (JWC) is a product of the Oslo Accords – signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people. Those same accords stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the water supply in Areas A (where Rawabi is located) and B.

Whilst she does tell audiences that the JWC “hasn’t met for years”, Doucet refrains from informing audiences why that is the case, avoiding any mention of the fact that the Palestinian Water Authority suspended cooperation in 2008 as part of a political strategy and with no interview or comment from that body appearing in any of her reports. Hence, audiences remain ignorant of the fact that the committee which must convene in order to approve the water pipeline to the new Palestinian city is hobbled by the Palestinian Water Authority and Doucet makes herself party to the Palestinian politicisation of water issues.Rawabi 2

6) In the audio item Doucet explains the editorial considerations behind this series of reports.

“We wanted to tell a story about the Palestinians which wasn’t the usual kind of story that you see in the headlines of Palestinians throwing stones, Palestinians suffering and dying in wars, Palestinians protesting. This was a story of ordinary, normal Palestinian life that anyone around the world can relate to. They just want to buy an apartment to live in; to bring their kids up in. And we wanted something that was also a microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process and this seemed to fit the bill.”

Taken into consideration together with the end products, we can conclude from those mission statements that as far as the BBC is concerned, the “microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process” is to be presented to audiences exclusively in terms of blaming Israel for the woes of Palestinians whilst studiously ignoring the policies and actions of their leaders and officials which contribute to problems or hardships.

But of course veteran BBC watchers did not need Lyse Doucet’s insights into how news is created rather than reported in order to determine that.

Related Articles:

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

BBC jumps on EU’s water politicisation bandwagon

Home truths on Palestinian water issues you haven’t heard from the BBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

h/t D

Readers may recall that on January 14th the BBC News website published a Q&A feature concerning the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the International Criminal Court. As was noted here at the time:ICC Q&A

“Under the sub-heading “When will they become ICC members and what does it mean?” the article states:

“The Palestinians have asked it to exercise jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza from 13 June 2014. This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.”

That, of course, is correct but notably the BBC refrains from pointing out to audiences that – as is also the case with the UN HRC’s Schabas commission – the ‘start date’ selected by the PA deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hebron-based Hamas cell on June 12th 2014.”

A member of the public who took note of the same point submitted a complaint to the BBC and recently received a response which includes the following:

“We have reviewed the article in question and agree the date chosen by the Palestinians as the starting point for the ICC to investigate requires explanation as it is clearly not arbitrary. We have therefore updated the article with the following lines, which we hope you will find satisfactory: […]”

Although no footnote has been added to the article to inform audiences that it has been amended, the relevant passage now reads:

ICC art amendment

The wording of that amendment still does not adequately clarify the point that the ‘start date’ selected by the PA for the investigation it wants the ICC to pursue deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach – or why.

Additionally, the statement “Israeli forces began a mass round-up of Palestinians” misleadingly suggests that people were arrested randomly simply because they were Palestinians and does not make it clear that arrests were based on intelligence linking those arrested to the suspects and/or to terrorist organisations. As Ynet reported at the later stages of the search operation:

“Since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keepers, a total of 419 Palestinians have been arrested, among them 59 were released in the Shalit deal, and 279 are Hamas operatives. The IDF has searched 2,200 sites.”

As the BBC’s reply to this complaint shows, it is fully aware of the fact that the Palestinian request for an investigation of events after June 13th 2014 is “clearly not arbitrary” and of the significance of that selected ‘start date’. And yet, despite acknowledgement that the issue “requires explanation”, the wording of this amendment still does not sufficiently clarify a point vital to audience understanding of the political motives behind the Palestinian ICC bid.  

 

Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

Where’s the BBC follow up?

On December 17th 2014 the BBC News website produced no fewer than six versions of an article titled “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list”.BBC News logo 2

On January 19th 2015 the Council of the European Union announced that it had decided to appeal that court decision.

“The Council of the European Union has decided to appeal today the Judgment of the General Court (in Case T-400/10 – Hamas v. Council) of 17 December 2014. 

The Judgment of the General Court of the European Union annulled measures taken by the Council of the European Union against Hamas, namely the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the freezing of Hamas’ funds. This ruling was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the Court of the merits of designating the Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

The Council has now decided to challenge some of the findings of the Court regarding the procedural grounds to list terrorist organizations under EU autonomous measures to combat terrorism, as set out in Common Position 2001/931. As a result of the appeal, the effects of the Judgment are suspended until a final judgment is rendered by the Court of Justice.”

There has been no follow-up reporting on that decision by the Council on the BBC News website’s Middle East page to date.

Whilst BBC News website’s reporting of the PA’s bid to join the ICC has been extensive – including a Q&A feature on the topic – two recent developments have also not received any BBC coverage.ICC Q&A

On January 18th the Jerusalem Post revealed that:

“The Palestinians want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Fatah official announced on Sunday.

Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of Arafat, who died in November 2004.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” Muheissen told the Palestinian Shms News Agency. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.” “

On the same day the Times of Israel reported that the PA is prepared to drop its ‘war crimes’ suit against Israel if construction in ‘settlements’ is frozen.

“A senior Palestinian official said Sunday that the first subject to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Palestinian Authority’s legal campaign against Israel would be settlement construction

The official told The Times of Israel that land seizures in occupied territory constituted a clear violation of international law. Still, he noted that the appeal to the ICC would be withdrawn if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, and added that the Palestinian Authority had conveyed to Israel an official message to that effect, through Jordan and Egypt.”

In its above-mentioned Q&A from January 14th, the BBC noted that:

 “Some legal commentators suggest that it [the court] would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

The two reports above clearly demonstrate that PA’s bid to join the ICC is first and foremost a political tactic aimed at pressurizing Israel and avoiding the negotiations to which it is already committed. BBC audiences, however, remain in the dark with regard to the PA’s cynical and frivolous exploitation of the ICC.

BBC News shoehorns apartheid trope into supposed news story

Among the reports promoted to visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 18th were two items relating to a rent-a-mob incident in Ramallah in which shoes and eggs were thrown at the visiting Canadian foreign minister. As well as a filmed report titled “Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters“, a written report appeared under the headline “Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird“.Baird Ramallah art

Seeing as the minister was fortunately not harmed in the incident – as is already pointed out in the second paragraph of the BBC article – and taking into account that the BBC does not usually go out of its way to report on Palestinians behaving badly, one might be curious as to the editorial considerations behind the running of this story – particularly as the subject of Canadian aid to the Palestinians ($66 million in 2014 alone) is not mentioned in the report.

In the first seven paragraphs of the article the BBC manages to squeeze in information on the incident itself, on Canada’s relations with Israel and on Mr Baird’s comments after the meeting with his PA counterpart. From paragraphs eight to eleven inclusive, the report’s focus shifts to the amplification of a defamatory politically motivated trope from that old BBC favourite Saeb Erekat.

“Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who did not meet Mr Baird, issued a statement expressing his anger at Canada’s backing for Israel.

“We regret the Canadian government’s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies,” he said.

Harsh critics of Israel level the charge of apartheid – the system of state-sanctioned racial discrimination once practised by South Africa – against the Jewish state over its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli-Arab minority. Israel says the accusation is baseless and a part of efforts to demonise it.

He criticised Mr Baird for meeting Israeli officials in occupied east Jerusalem in 2013.”

Erekat’s “statement” was actually an opinion piece published in the Globe & Mail on January 16th. Remarkably, out of the nine hundred and forty-four words comprising that screed, the BBC elected to focus audience attentions on the ‘apartheid’ trope and to unreservedly adopt Erekat’s language by use of the phrase “occupied east Jerusalem”. Notably too, the BBC’s token nod to editorial impartiality comes in the form of its well-worn ‘Israel says’ formula.

So to sum up, the anonymous writer of this BBC report decided to use a quarter of the paragraphs in a story supposedly about Palestinians throwing eggs at the Canadian FM for amplification of a defamatory trope against Israel by a well-known Palestinian demagogue who was not even party to the meeting with the visiting Canadian official. Having amplified and embroidered the trope, he or she failed to clarify to BBC audiences that it is completely baseless and false but played one of its infamous token ‘Israel says’ get-out-of-impartiality-jail-free cards.

Apparently the BBC believes that it can pass off self-conscription to Saeb Erekat’s PR team as ‘standard-setting’ journalism to its funding public.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

The part of the ICC preliminary investigation story the BBC decided not to tell

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 16th under the title “Israel-Palestinian ‘war crimes’ probed by the ICC” has two commendable features.ICC probe art

First is the fact that the article avoids falling into the sensationalist trap seen in a previous BBC report from May 2013 in which a routine ICC preliminary examination was misleadingly over-dramatised. In this latest report it is made adequately clear to audiences that the process is a routine step required in the case of any referral.

“The Hague-based ICC said on Friday it had “opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine”.

It is an automatic step taken by the court upon a referral.” 

And later on in the report:

“In a statement, the ICC says: “A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.” “

Secondly, whilst previously published material on this topic failed to point out to BBC the significance of the ‘start date’ selected by the Palestinian Authority (as recently noted in this post) this article does clarify that point.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the court to investigate Israeli “crimes… committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014″.

This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict. The period includes the kidnapping and murder by Jewish extremists of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdair on 2 July, one of the events which fuelled an escalation of violence which led to the outbreak of the summer conflict.

The Palestinians’ starting point begins a day after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, who were subsequently murdered, by Hamas militants in the West Bank on 12 June. Mohammed Abu Khdair’s killers said they murdered the teenager in revenge for the murders of the three Israelis.”

On the less bright side however, this latest report continues the practice of promoting out of date information on the subject of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio in the Gaza Strip during July and August 2014 which may well be inaccurate and has not been independently verified by the BBC.  

The most notable point about this article, however, is that it totally avoids the most newsworthy aspect of the story it purports to present.

In this report readers are informed that:

“The Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April – 90 days after they submitted documents requesting membership.”

The BBC’s previously published Q&A article on the topic of the Palestinian bid also told readers that:

“The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April.”

Some readers may therefore be asking themselves whether or not the fact that the ICC chief prosecutor has already announced a preliminary examination even before the Palestinians formally join the ICC means that she has determined that they are in fact eligible to join that body in accordance with the requirement for its members to be states.

The answer to that question is not provided in the BBC’s report but it does appear in the press release announcing the preliminary examination which was put out by the ICC on January 16th. Whilst the BBC article provides a link to that press release, it does not point out to readers that it includes an explanation of how Fatou Bensouda arrived at the conclusion that she could begin the process of examination.

“On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 67/19 granting Palestine “non-member observer State” status in the UN with a majority of 138 votes in favour, 9 votes against and 41 abstentions. The Office examined the legal implications of this development for its own purposes and concluded, on the basis of its previous extensive analysis of and consultations on the issues, that, while the change in status did not retroactively validate the previously invalid 2009 declaration lodged without the necessary standing, Palestine would be able to accept the jurisdiction of the Court from 29 November 2012 onward, pursuant to articles 12 and 125 of the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is open to accession by “all States,” with the UNSG acting as depositary of instruments of accession.”

The significance of that decision is explained by Professor Eugene Kontorovich in an article well worth reading in full.

“The decision to open the inquiry involved the prosecutor determining that the Palestinian Authority is in fact a “state,” a necessary precondition to jurisdiction under the Rome Statute, the Court’s constitutive treaty.

The ICC has never accepted jurisdiction over what is clearly at most a “marginal” state – one that is not a U.N. member, that has not ever claimed to govern any territory, and whose recognition by other states is limited (for example, the U.S., Canada and most Western European states do not recognize the existence of a Palestinian state). This is clearly dramatically different from anything the Court has done before.

But the prosecutor did not actually determine the Palestine qualifies as a “state” under the well-established legal definitions of the term. Rather, she said that the U.N. General Assembly’s vote in 2012 to call Palestine a “non-member state” is dispositive of the question. In short, she substituted the determination of the General Assembly for her own. The GA is not a judicial body, but  a political one. Its determinations are political, not legal. (It also has no power under the U.N. Charter, to create or recognize states.)”

In its January 14th Q&A article, the BBC asked “What are the possible implications for the ICC?” and responded to its own question by noting that:

“Some legal commentators suggest that it would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

Given that observation, one would have thought that the BBC would have bothered to inform audiences of the important fact that the opening of this preliminary investigation is based on a decision made in 2012 by a controversial political organisation rather than by a judicial body.