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. 

 

BBC WS Newshour enables the Schabas show

On the same day that the BBC News website published its selectively framed report on the resignation of William Schabas from the position of chair of the UN HRC commission of inquiry (established in July 2014 before the conflict between Hamas and Israel had even come to an end), the BBC World Service Radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a five-minute long item on the same story.Newshour 3 2 15

That entire item (from 37:33 here) was devoted to the provision of a platform for Schabas to promote his version of events. Presenter Tim Franks introduced it as follows:

“The Israeli government has called on the UN Human Rights Council to scrap its inquiry into last year’s Gaza-Israel conflict. The Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the demand after the Chairman of the commission of inquiry handed in his resignation on Monday. William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, stepped down after Israel had complained that in 2012 he’d offered legal advice to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Earlier, Professor Schabas came into the Newshour studio.”

William Schabas: “Israel has been attacking me since the day…since the minute…I was appointed, claiming that I show appearance of bias or that I’m biased and that campaign has continued. A few weeks ago they announced that they were organizing their attack on the report of the commission and that personal attacks on me would be an important part of that.”

Schabas is not asked to provide a credible source for that latter claim and Franks fails to inform listeners that criticism of Schabas’ appointment has also come from many non-Israeli sources. Schabas continues:

“About a week ago – or more than that – they formulated a complaint to the Human Rights Council asking formally for my removal and that was discussed last night by the executive of the Human Rights Council and they decided to follow up on the complaint and to investigate it. So what that means is that there’s an investigation ongoing into my alleged lack of impartiality.”

TF: “What – just to be clear – you did paid work for the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, back in 2013: is that right?”

WS: “Twelve.”

TF: “2012.”

WS: “I did a…I was asked as an international lawyer to provide a legal opinion to the Palestine Liberation Organisation about the International Criminal Court. I did that. I have done lots of work for governments. They call me and ask me for legal opinions and they pay me for them and sometimes, if they don’t want to bother, they read my books and they do it even in Israel.”

Franks refrains from inquiring whether the $1,300 fee Schabas charged the PLO for that seven-page legal opinion is the going rate for all governments seeking his advice.  He continues:

TF: “Sure, but as a lawyer you will know that it’s not just about justice being done – it’s about justice being seen to be done. There at least could be the perception of a conflict of interests; the fact that you had done work for the PLO.”

WS: “Well that appears to be the conclusion – that there’s an issue there. As I say it’s probably on the scale of things that they’ve been criticizing me about not the major event. So in any case, they’ve decided to investigate this.”

TF: “Why had you not declared that you’d done this?”

WS: Well when I was appointed by the Human Rights Council I was called up and asked if I wanted to do it and then the next thing they know I was appointed. So I wasn’t asked to make a long disclosure or anything. I have a long list of things that I’ve done – writings about Palestine, speeches and all of that. That wouldn’t be at the top of the list. There would be a long list and they knew about it. Everybody knew about it.”

In fact, in his previously submitted unsuccessful application for the post of ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967′ in 2013, Schabas had also failed to declare his paid work for the PLO in 2012.  Refraining from joining the obvious dots between Schabas’ claim that “everybody knew” about his record of anti-Israel statements and activities, the fact that – according to him – he was not required by the UN HRC to declare any conflict of interests and his appointment to the post nonetheless, Franks continues:

TF: “A long list – what – of your views on Israel?”

WS: “Views, engagement in one way or another; participating in events and so on. So that was not a secret to anybody.”

TF: “OK. And just for new readers here, to – I mean – if I can summarise that it would be that you’ve been strongly critical of the Israeli government policy and strongly supportive of the Palestinians over the past few years. Would that be a reasonable summary?”

WS: “As a brief summary – my views in the past – that’s fair enough.”

Schabas’ on-record remarks of course go far beyond Tim Franks’ tepid description: “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?” is not by any stretch of the imagination criticism of “Israeli government policy”, not least because the president of Israel has no role in determining government policy.

Franks then goes on to ask whether or not the inquiry will have to start from scratch in light of Schabas’ resignation, to which his interviewee replies in the negative before going on to describe what the commission has done so far. Schabas says:

“We made solemn affirmations to be independent and impartial and I believe we conducted ourselves. We’ve surprised many people. Netanyahu even today was saying why are they only looking at Israel – why don’t they look at Hamas? They should be looking at Hamas. And everybody in Israel knows we did look at Hamas.”

Franks makes no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate of the commission of inquiry set up by the UN HRC was biased and politically motivated by definition, with its start date defined as one day after the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas-funded terror cell and its geographic stipulations excluding “violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in Israel – such as missile fire at civilian targets.

“Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults, and to report to the Council at its twenty-eighth session.” [emphasis added]

Schabas – who is on record as stating that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer the question of whether or not he considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization – continues:

“We’ve had witnesses – victims – from inside Israel who travelled – had to travel – to Geneva. One poor man who’d lost his legs – blown off by a mortar – and he had to make that long, painful trip to Geneva to meet us because they wouldn’t let us go and see him at his kibbutz in southern Israel where we wanted to go because they wouldn’t let us into the country.”

In contrast to the impression perhaps received by listeners, the seven-person Israeli delegation to Geneva was not organized by Schabas and his commission, but by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Schabas ends the item by complimenting himself on the commission’s treatment of the Israeli delegation.

“The Israeli victims who came to meet with us in Geneva came back – I think pleasantly surprised is the way to describe them – with the dignity in which they were…and the welcome and the way they were treated and the genuine interest that three commissioners – not just myself but the others – had in learning about their victimization because there are victims on all sides of the fence in this conflict.”

Clearly listeners to the BBC World Service learned very little about the all-important background to the story of Schabas’ resignation from this item. Schabas’ record of anti-Israel statements and activism is blurred by Franks and misleadingly presented as criticism of Israeli government policy. Schabas is given a platform from which to promote himself as a victim of Israeli “attacks” whilst the much more important topic of the political motivations which lie behind mandate he accepted with his appointment – and the implications for the objectivity and relevance of the report which will be produced in his absence – is completely avoided.

Once again the BBC has failed in its mission to “build a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC continues to mislead audiences on issue of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Much of the BBC’s reporting on the issue of the recent Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court has framed those moves as being a legitimate alternative to direct talks and has promoted the notion that negotiations between the parties are a means of solving the conflict demanded and imposed by Israel.Marcus art

On January 7th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Obama’s five key Middle East battlegrounds in 2015“. In that article Marcus also used the above theme:

“An early test of Mr Obama’s thinking may be how he responds to the Palestinians’ determination to pursue their quest for statehood by seeking membership of a variety of international organisations.

This runs against the basic Israeli and US position that the only way to peace is through direct talks between the parties themselves.”

Of course the principle according to which the conflict must be solved by means of negotiations is by no means merely an “Israeli and US position”: it is a principle to which the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people signed up over twenty-one years ago when Yasser Arafat sent his September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin in which he stated:

“The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” [emphasis added]

Arafat 1993 letter

That same principle of direct negotiations underpins both the Oslo I and Oslo II agreements – also signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people and, no less importantly, witnessed and guaranteed by Jordan, the US, Egypt, Russia, Norway and the EU and endorsed by the UN.

Hence, when the BBC fails to inform audiences that the principle of conflict resolution by means of direct negotiations alone is not just an Israeli or American caprice but actually the mainstay of the existing agreements to which the Palestinians are party and the international community guarantors, it deliberately hinders audience understanding of the significance of the PA’s breach of those existing agreements by means of unilateral moves designed to bypass negotiations.

If the BBC is to fulfil its obligations to its funding public, it must begin to present this topic accurately and impartially. 

 

Political messaging and inaccuracies in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’

On December 2nd another edition of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Terror Through Time’ (presented by Fergal Keane) was broadcast under the title “Death Wish: Battling Suicide Bombers“. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Terror Through Time 2 12 14

“Fergal Keane visits Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to discover how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers. He’s joined by Assaf Moghadan, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, former Israeli Army commander Nitzan Nuriel and by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University.”

The programme begins with a recording of Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, after which Keane informs listeners:

“But within months, a new campaign of terrorism was bringing carnage to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…”

Of course the post-Oslo terror campaign also took place in many additional locations in Israel besides its two largest cities, contrary to the inaccurate impression given by Keane. He goes on to interview Israeli film-maker Noam Sharon, stating “I’m here in the Old City of Jerusalem”. In fact, as Sharon states, the interview took place on Yoel Moshe Salomon street, which is not located in the Old City. After Sharon has described some of the suicide bombings which took place in that district in Jerusalem, Keane goes on to interview Assaf Moghadan and then states:Map Yoel Moshe Salomon

“By the 1990s the balance of power among the Palestinians was shifting. Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as militant elements within Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, were opposed to the peace process. Support for a path of violent opposition to Israel would grow sharply in the wake of a massacre of Palestinians carried out at the Cave of the Patriarchs by a Jewish extremist.”

After a recording of an archive news bulletin, Keane once again inadequately introduces political activist cum academic Rashid Khalidi, failing to provide audiences with the crucial background summary of Khalidi’s “viewpoint” which would enable them to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

Keane: “Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University, New York.”

Khalidi: “Suicide attacks were carried out in the wake of the Hebron Mosque massacre – the Haram al Ibrahimi massacre – by Baruch Goldstein in 1994, when dozens of worshippers were gunned down by this armed settler fanatic.”

But do the facts actually support Khalid’s claim? Suicide attacks had in fact already begun in 1989 with the one on the 405 bus carried out by the PIJ. Two attacks were carried out in 1993 by Hamas and in 1994 five attacks by Hamas took place. The years that followed showed a slight decline in suicide attacks – 1995: 4, 1996: 4, 1997: 3, 1998: 2, 1999: 2. The surge in suicide attacks actually came during the second Intifada which began six and a half years after Goldstein’s terror attack at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 2000: 5, 2001: 40, 2002: 47 attacks. Hence, Khalidi’s linkage is doubtful to say the least. Keane goes on to tell listeners:

“Rashid Khalidi says that Palestinian anger over a peace process that failed to stop the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land helped to create support for violent action against Israeli civilians.”

Of course Keane’s blind adoption and amplification of Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative means that he erases from audience view several vital points, one of which is the fact that the representatives of the Palestinian people willingly signed the Oslo Accords in which no limitation on Israeli (or Palestinian) building was stipulated. He also ignores the fact that construction in existing communities took place in Area C which, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords is to have its status determined in final status negotiations, making Keane’s description of that area as “Palestinian land” inaccurate and misleading.

Khalidi: “Instead of punishing the settlers by doing what a majority of his cabinet apparently wanted to do, which was to remove settlers from Hebron and perhaps even remove the Kiryat Arba settlement where the most fanatic, most extreme armed settlers were concentrated, Rabin did quite the opposite. He began the enforcement of incredibly restrictive conditions on the population of Hebron in the area where the Jewish settlers had set up in the city, such that it became clear to the Palestinians that the peace process was not delivering and to settlement and improvement of the situation for Palestinians: quite the contrary.”

Neither Khalidi nor Keane bother to inform listeners that the status of Hebron and the security arrangements there are the product of the Hebron Protocols – again willingly signed by the Palestinian leadership. Clearly that fact does not fit into Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative which portrays Palestinians exclusively as victims.

Keane then goes on to discuss with Ronen Bergman and Nitzan Nuriel Israel’s methods of coping with the wave of suicide bombings during the second Intifada before informing listeners that:

“The most profound, long-term impact was political. Suicide bombing created fear among the Israeli public and a sense of betrayal. Where were the promises of peace, they asked. And so voters gradually turned away from the likes of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak of Labour and towards the right-wing in the form of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. As suicide bombing reached its peak in 2002, Sharon ordered the army into West Bank towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Operation Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the war of 1967. The compound of PLO leader Yasser Arafat was besieged and according to the United Nations, 497 Palestinians were killed along with 30 Israeli soldiers. Arafat was accused of supporting suicide bombers from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – a faction of his Fatah movement. Human Rights Watch said that while he didn’t have command responsibility, he bore a heavy political responsibility for the atrocities. More than a hundred people died in bomb attacks in Israel from March to May 2002.”

Notably, at no point in this programme is it clarified that Arafat was not only the leader of the PLO, but also the president of the Palestinian Authority. No mention is made of his instigation of the second Intifada and, as we see above, his role in financing that terror war is downplayed to the level of ambiguous “political responsibility”.

After discussing the role of the anti-terrorist fence in reducing suicide bombings with Assaf Moghadan, Keane once again turns his attentions away from counter-terrorism and towards politics.

“But Israel’s politics changed dramatically. The old existential fear dominated and produced governments for whom security – rather than a long-term pact with the Palestinians – became the primary focus. Along with this came the steady expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land: a deep cause of Palestinian fury. For the Palestinian militants, instead of suicide bombers the new terrorism would see hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.”

So according to Keane’s version of events, it was “Jewish settlements” which caused “fury” which prompted the continuation of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, with the tactic changing from suicide bombings to rockets.

The one major hole in Keane’s inaccurate theory is of course that the majority of the thousands – not “hundreds”- of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip took place after Israel’s disengagement from that territory in 2005 – including the evacuation of all ‘settlements’ – and hence one can in fact see that Keane’s linkage between the Palestinian terror organisations’ activities and ‘settlements’ is fallacious to say the least.

Missile attacks from GS

Keane proceeds with a very odd question:

“As with the airline hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombing campaigns focused attention on the Palestinian cause. But did they improve living conditions or bring a Palestinian state any closer?”

Keane gives the last word to Khalidi.

“Well, I would argue that attacks carried out in particular during the second Intifada which began in 2000 – and those attacks really reached a peak in 2001/2002 with bus bombs and other atrocities all over Israeli cities – had a devastating effect on the Palestinians, not only in terms of public opinion but in terms of hardening Israeli opinion against the Palestinians in terms of unifying Israeli opinion around the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics. So their ultimate impact, besides the havoc that the Israeli army wreaked on the Palestinians as part of the re-occupation of the tiny areas that they had originally evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords, the public opinion impact worldwide of the Palestinians blowing up buses – all of these things together in my view had a devastating impact on the Palestinians primarily. Obviously there was enormous suffering caused by the actual attacks, but strategically I would say the balance is entirely in Israel’s favour and that should be a strategic factor for any Palestinian political leader.”

In other words, BBC audiences are left with the message that suicide bombings are undesirable not because they are morally wrong or abhorrent, but because they do not serve the strategic interests of Palestinian public relations. They are also told that Israeli public opinion is ‘unified’ around “the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics” – a claim not borne out by the results of the 2013 elections or those which went before them. Khalidi also erases the fact that Arafat’s campaign of terror actually coincided with an increase in foreign donor contributions to the Palestinian Authority and that continuing terrorism cannot be said to have had a detrimental effect upon the provision of foreign aid funding.

Ostensibly, Fergal Keane set out to explore in this programme “how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers”. What he actually achieved was – once again – uncritical amplification of political messaging from the Rashid Khalidi show. 

 

Munich Olympics terrorists get BBC rebranding

On September 22nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Israeli Mossad spy Mike Harari dies, aged 87“.

Remarkably, in that report the terrorists responsible for the murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games are rebranded “militants”, the terrorist organization to which they belonged is termed merely a “group” and no mention is made of the Black September Organisation’s links to Fatah and the PLO.

Harari art text

No less bizarre is the article’s failure to inform readers that the rescue operation at Entebbe which it mentions was brought about by a hijacking carried out by another Palestinian terrorist organization – the PFLP – and just as interesting is the fact that the title of this report was changed some thirty-five minutes after its publication, with the original headline having read “Mossad agent behind Palestinian assassinations dies”.

The BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements”.  As we have on occasion noted here before, the corporation’s abstention from use of the word in some circumstances and geographic locations (see related articles below) is evidence of a double standard which reveals politically motivated “value judgements” in itself.

Related Articles:

 Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

No terror please, we’re the British Broadcasting Corporation

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?

 

BBC WS ‘Witness’ erases Arafat’s terrorism

On September 15th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ broadcast an episode titled “Rabin and Arafat Shake Hands” pertaining to the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993.Witness Oslo

Presenter Louise Hidalgo set the scene thus:

“This was going to be a truly historic moment. These two bitter adversaries – Yitzhak Rabin the army general turned prime minister and Yasser Arafat the guerilla leader – standing side by side to witness the signing of the first agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘guerilla’ as follows:

“A member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces.”

Fatah and the PLO – both led by Arafat –at no point confined their activities to fighting the Israeli army.

In a paper published in 2010, Dr Boaz Ganor wrote the following in the chapter titled “Guerrilla Warfare vs. Terrorism”:

“Ehud Sprinzak sums up this approach as follows: “Guerrilla war is a small war – subject to the same rules that apply to big wars, and on this it differs from terrorism.” David Rapaport adds: “The traditional distinguishing characteristic of the terrorist was his explicit refusal to accept the conventional moral limits which defined military and guerrilla action.”
As opposed to Laqueur, Paul Wilkinson distinguishes between terrorism and guerrilla warfare by stressing another aspect–harm to civilians:

Guerrillas may fight with small numbers and often inadequate weaponry, but they can and often do fight according to conventions of war, taking and exchanging prisoners and respecting the rights of non-combatants. Terrorists place no limits on means employed and frequently resort to widespread assassination, the waging of ‘general terror’ upon the indigenous civilian population.

The proposed definition, as noted, distinguishes terrorism from guerrilla activity according to the intended target of attack. The definition states that if an attack deliberately targets civilians, then that attack will be considered a terrorist attack, whereas, if it targets military or security personnel then it will be considered a guerrilla attack. It all depends on who the intended victims are. First and foremost, this definition is meant to answer the need for analyzing and classifying specific events as “terrorism” or “guerrilla activities.” “

As is well known, under Arafat’s leadership, the PLO carried out thousands of attacks on civilians over the decades and the organisation was designated a foreign terrorist organization by his White House hosts until the Oslo Accords. In the eleven years between the signing of those agreements and Arafat’s death, the Fatah faction he also led continued to carry out terror attacks which deliberately targeted Israeli civilians.  

But, as Dr Ganor also notes:

“Terrorism and guerrilla warfare often serve as alternative designations of the same phenomenon. The term “terrorism,” however, has a far more negative connotation, seemingly requiring one to take a stand, whereas the term “guerrilla warfare” is perceived as neutral and carries a more positive connotation.”

The BBC’s apparent wish to present “a more positive connotation” by means of use of the term “guerilla leader” does not in this case meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

‘Hardtalk': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

As has been noted here previously, on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.Hardtalk Osama Hamdan

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Since the beginning of this year the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk’ has conducted interviews with numerous people in connection with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict or touching on that issue as part of the conversation.

The year kicked off with a repeat of an interview with anti-Israel activist Roger Waters on January 1st.  

The following month the programme hosted the PLO’s Saeb Erekat on February 18th and Israel’s Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett on February 24th.

On April 28th the programme’s guest was Ahmed Kathrada and part of that interview was devoted to the topic of his anti-Israel activism.Hardtalk Yasser Abed Rabbo

June 30th saw an interview with the anti-Zionist campaigner and academic Ilan Pappe.  

The next month saw interviews with former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold on July 8th, Hamas’ spokesman Osama Hamdan on July 10th, Israel’s former deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon on July 24th and Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Masha’al on July 25th.

On August 18th ‘Hardtalk’ interviewed anti-Israel activist Mads Gilbert and on August 28th Israel’s Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz appeared on the programme.

September 1st saw Stephen Sackur interviewing the Secretary General of the PLO’s Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo and on the next day, September 2nd, Sackur’s guest was journalist Gideon Levy.

Since the beginning of the year, therefore, regular viewers of ‘Hardtalk’ have seen interviews with four guests presenting a mainstream Israeli point of view – three politicians and a former Ambassador. They have also heard from two members of Hamas and two representatives of the PLO. In addition, they have viewed interviews with three foreign anti-Israel campaigners and two Israelis: one of whom is also an anti-Israel campaigner and neither of whom can be said to represent the mainstream Israeli viewpoint. 

Can ‘Hardtalk’ producers look back at that content and honestly say – as Andrew Roy claims – “we did give fair balance to each side”?

Related Articles:

‘From Our Own Correspondent': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

 

 

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC’s misrepresentation of Israeli building during the period of the recently ended negotiations between Israel and the PLO and the way in which politically motivated reporting steered audiences towards a belief that thousands of new houses and apartments had been constructed in Judea & Samaria and areas of Jerusalem over the ‘green line’ during that time, despite the fact that the actual figures show a different picture.tenders bbc art

The prime cause of the inaccurate impression received by audiences on this issue is the fact that the BBC refrains from reporting on actual building and instead focuses its (and its audiences’) attentions on requests for building tenders, even though it is a known fact that a considerable proportion of those tenders do not result in one breeze-block being laid or foundations being dug either because no bids are offered by contractors or bids which are made are too low.

Unsuccessful tenders are sometimes reissued, which often means that the foreign media – including the BBC – report the same tenders more than once. Such was the case, for example, in early April of this year when reissued tenders for 708 housing units in Gilo were reported by the BBC News website no fewer than three times in nine days.

Neither does the BBC overly trouble itself when it comes to reporting where exactly building tenders are located and whether or not they are in areas which, under any realistic scenario, will remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace agreement. Hence audiences remain oblivious of whether or not the plans cited by the BBC have any actual bearing or significance.

Likewise, audiences are not made aware of the fact that no existing agreements between Israel and the PLO (including the Oslo Accords) forbid or curb construction of housing within Jerusalem or Judea & Samaria.

A report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th under the title “Israel issues tenders for new settler homes” is notable for its failure to make many of the above points clear to readers.

The article opens:

“Israel has advanced plans for 1,460 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank after the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

It goes on to state:

“The Israeli housing ministry published tenders late on Wednesday for about 900 housing units in the West Bank and 560 in East Jerusalem. It represents the final government approval before construction can begin.”

However, at no point in the article are readers informed that the vast majority of those tenders are located in areas which, under the terms of previous proposals such as the Olmert Plan and the Clinton Parameters, would – in the event of a peace agreement – remain under Israeli control after land swaps.

Map tenders 1

 

Tenders map 2

The article does of course include a version of the BBC’s standard problematic insert on the topic of ‘settlements’ which not only breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to note differing legal interpretations of ‘international law’ besides that of Israel, but also inaccurately informs readers that all the people living in what the BBC terms ‘settlements’ are Jews.  

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

This report also includes the amplification of assorted quotations from politically partial sources.

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said it viewed the announcement of new tenders as a “grave violation”.

Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said it viewed the “latest escalation with the utmost seriousness” and would appeal to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.”

A “grave violation” of what precisely is not clarified to audiences.

“Lior Amichai, of the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said the move showed “the government’s policy is moving us towards one state”.”

No attempt is made to place that unsubstantiated and outlandish claim from a campaigning organisation repeatedly quoted and promoted by the BBC into its appropriate political context.

In contrast to the amplification of context-free political slogans, BBC audiences are not however provided with any proper background information concerning the pressing housing shortage in Israel and its relevance to the topic of this article.

This report also breaches BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by once more misrepresenting Hamas’ terrorist designation.

“Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the US.”

The recent round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO commenced at the end of July 2013 and concluded towards the end of April 2014. As the statistics show, actual construction in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem as a whole – not just the neighbourhoods described as ‘settlements’ by the BBC – was nowhere near the figures cited and promoted by the BBC throughout that period.

Despite the fact that no limitations were placed on construction in the preliminary agreements which came as precursors to those talks (the PLO of course opted for prisoner releases instead), we see that between the end of July 2013 and the end of March 2014, actual construction starts and completes fell in Judea & Samaria.

construction J&S

BBC audiences will of course not be aware of that fact because the reporting they receive on this topic is uniformly designed to promote a misleading political message and hence airbrushes out the real statistics, thereby actively preventing audiences from reaching their own conclusions based on factual information. 

 

 

Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

One of many notable features of the BBC’s reporting on the subject of the recent nine-month round of talks between Israel and the PLO was its persistent failure to adequately clarify to BBC audiences the significance of the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.BBC pic

That issue was incorrectly presented to audiences as being a new demand and was framed exclusively in terms of relating to the topic of the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees: see for example Yolande Knell’s article titled “Row over demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as ‘Jewish state’” from February 2nd and  the March 17th report headlined “Obama tells Palestinian leader to take risks for peace“. The BBC-produced backgrounder on the ‘core issues’ of the talks likewise framed the issue in terms of refugees, failing to inform audiences of the wider significance of the demand.

As has been noted here on several occasions:

“…the issue of Palestinian (and wider Arab) recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is an important one in itself and not only in connection with the subject of refugees. A lasting peace agreement cannot of course be brought about without recognition and acceptance of Israel’s existence in the region as an expression of the national rights of the Jewish people, along with an end to the kind of all too prevalent officially sanctioned incitement which encourages Palestinians (and others in the wider region) to continue to view Israel as “Arab land”.”

A recent article by Dr Jonathan Spyer gives some important background to the question of why the BBC’s failure to properly inform audiences on this issue is so important.

“The failure of the talks was predictable first and foremost because of the irreconcilable positions of the sides.  This is not a matter of small details, as is sometimes maintained.  It isn’t that the Palestinians want 99% of the West Bank while Israel will offer only 98%.

Palestinian nationalism in both its Fatah and Hamas variants rejects the possibility of accepting the permanence of Jewish statehood in any part of the area west of the Jordan River. […]

The Palestinians see themselves as part of the local majority Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslim culture.  From this point of view, the establishment of a non-Muslim sovereignty in Israel was not only an injustice, it was also an anomaly.  Israel, being an anomaly, is therefore bound eventually to be defeated and disappear.  So there is no need to reconcile to it, with all the humiliation therein. […]

This politics, in its various manifestations, exists to reverse the verdict of the war of 1948. It has no other purpose.

Its  credo was perfectly rendered in the words of the Moroccan scholar Abdallah Laroui, as quoted by Fouad Ajami: “On a certain day everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled; in this way will justice be dispensed to the victims, on that day when the presence of God shall again make itself felt.’

The language is elegant. The message is one of politicide and destruction. For as long as this credo remains at the root of Palestinian politics, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain unachievable. All else is mere detail.”

Read Dr Spyer’s entire article here.

So why does it matter that the BBC has consistently avoided informing audiences of the real significance of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state? Well, according to its constitutional document, the Royal Charter, the BBC is committed to fulfilling six public purposes which are, in fact, the very reason and justification for its existence and its right to public funding.

One of those public purposes goes under the title “Global Outlook” and its operative definition obliges the BBC to provide its funding public with information which will “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

By failing to inform audiences about the underlying significance of the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, the BBC is in fact denying them key core information as to why the conflict exists and why it has not been solved to date. It is, in other words, preventing their ability to “build a global understanding of international issues” and actively hindering their ability to “participate in the global debate” and thus neglecting its obligations to – and breaching its contract with – its funding public. 

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

In his continuing efforts to convince BBC audiences that the two-state solution is as dead as a dodo (see ‘chapter one’ of that effort here), the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen produced an audio report broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on April 29th, which is available here. The item was probably broadcast on the ‘Today’ programme, but unfortunately the entry for that day on the webpage is actually the edition previously broadcast on April 22nd.

Sticking faithfully to the line promoted in other BBC coverage of the end of the negotiations (according to which they ceased solely because Israel suspended them) the presenter introduces Bowen’s item:

“This morning was supposed to be the deadline for the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Before they started last year the American Secretary of State John Kerry said they might be the last chance for peace. Well…err….the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who suspended the talks last week, he blames the Palestinians, they blame him, President Obama blames both sides. Talks have been going on – on and off – for more than two decades now and the objective’s been the so-called two-state solution which would produce – it is said – peace by creating an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Now these negotiations have failed time and again. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is in Jerusalem and he wonders if it’s time to face up to the fact that the two-state solution isn’t going to come about.”

Bowen introduces his item by engaging in his usual practice of pretending that history in the Middle East only began in 1967 and erasing from the picture any mention of the fact that prior to the 19-year Jordanian occupation of the city, there was no separate ‘East’ Jerusalem.tunnel City of David

“I’m in East Jerusalem – or rather under it. This tunnel is very narrow, it’s about at the moment knee-deep in cold water and it is pitch black. East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state. But down here, in a water course which is getting on for three thousand years old, that it not a view which is popular because this is an archaeological site that shows evidence that Jewish kings David and Solomon were here. For many of the Israelis who visit here every year and lots of other people too, all this is proof of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem – to all of Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering from the world of 2,700 years ago, but of course this is Jerusalem so it’s about a lot more than archaeology; it’s about politics as well, it’s about religion and it’s about building states: Israel and a future Palestine.”

Bowen then goes on to imply some sort of redundant linkage between the City of David archaeological site and the negotiations, perhaps forgetting that during the past twenty years, Israelis have of course not put their country on hold.

“The City of David site, which is still expanding, has been developed during the years of the peace talks. City of David’s vice-president Doron Spielman says everything they’ve found here means this part of East Jerusalem should never be part of the capital of a Palestinian state.”

The recording then cuts to a short statement by Doron Spielman, after which Bowen returns.

“The site [City of David] is in the midst of a scruffy, overgrown Palestinian village called Silwan which is right on the edge of the Old City. Since the peace process started Israeli settlers have moved into some of the buildings here under armed guard paid for by the Israeli government.”

Again, Bowen’s implied linkage between the peace process and the fact that people have relocated to a neighbourhood of Israel’s capital city is gratuitous. Of course Bowen does not bother to clarify to listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting or that like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community.

Later, Bowen goes on to say:

“I’m here [in Silwan] with a local man; a Palestinian activist called Jawad Siam and he’s been campaigning against what Israel’s doing here, which he says is illegal. He says it’s creeping colonization of land that should be part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state. And what’s more, he says it’s happening at the expense of Palestinians who are being forced out of their homes.”

Despite the stipulation in the BBC editorial guidelines which states the necessity of the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint” and the BBC ECU’s recommitment last year to”summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”, Bowen does not make any attempt to tell his audiences who his “local man” really is.

He fails to clarify that Jawad Siam is the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and the Madaa Centre which, inter alia, is funded by the Middle East children’s Alliance; an American organization with links to the ISM.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Centre also collaborates with the Human Rights Defenders Fund.

Bowen also  neglects to point out that the relevance of his interviewee’s opinions – as amplified by Bowen to BBC audiences – regarding the legality of “what Israel’s doing here” should be assessed in light of the fact that Mr Siam is a social worker by training. It would also have been relevant for BBC audiences to have been made aware of the fact that Jawad Siam stood trial in 2010-13 for attacking a man from Silwan he suspected of selling land to Jews and that the case was eventually resolved by plea bargain.SONY DSC

Towards the end of the item, Bowen returns to the City of David archaeological site and presents the historically challenged implication that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15 minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention. The Israeli government says a major reason why the talks failed is that Palestinians won’t acknowledge the Jewish nature of their state.”

Bowen of course misrepresents the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and – as has been the case in all BBC coverage of that issue to date – fails to clarify to audiences why it is important for the end of all future claims and a permanent and lasting conclusion to the conflict.

He concludes by once more announcing the demise of the two-state solution.

“President Obama blamed both sides for the collapse of the latest negotiations. Maybe it’s time to face the facts: Palestinians and Israelis both want peace, but their ideas of how that looks are so wildly different that the two-state solution will not happen, despite years of talks and violence. If that’s correct, the future is threatening.”

Once again – despite Bowen’s job description – audiences are presented with context-free, historically lacking, subjective material which does little to contribute to their wider comprehension of the subject of why, like its predecessors, this round of negotiations failed to bear fruit.