BBC Trust ESC rules: no requirement to translate accurately

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

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

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

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

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

The Committee concluded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

The report goes on:

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

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

Most importantly, we also learn that: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BBC’s Omar Masharawi story has rug pulled by UNHRC

The drop down menu of the ‘From our own correspondent’ section on the ‘magazine’ page of the BBC News website looked like this on March 7th 2013:

FOOC Masharawi magazine 7 3

Yes – over three months after Operation Pillar of Cloud, the BBC is still promoting Jon Donnison’s story about the son of the BBC employee in Gaza who the BBC very energetically insisted had been killed in an Israeli air-strike. 

As readers may remember, BBC Watch pointed out at the time that there were terrorist rocket launching sites in the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City in which the Masharawi home was situated and that the BBC’s automatic assumption that Omar Masharawi’s death was the result of an Israeli attack was not founded upon any solid evidence.

In his report Donnison stated:

“Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.

But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.

Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.

Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.

As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.”

Despite the lack of evidence, the BBC continued (and still continues, as can be seen above) to promote this story very heavily indeed and of course it was picked up and propagated by other members of the mainstream media – as well as numerous anti-Israel websites – as cast-iron evidence of Israeli wrongdoing,  bearing the hallmark of BBC accuracy and impartiality. 

On March 6th 2013 the UN HRC issued an advance version of its report on the November 2012 hostilities and blogger Elder of Ziyon bothered to read the whole thing. The report states on page 14 that a UN investigation found that:

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” [emphasis added]

A footnote adds that the UN investigated the incident itself.

Omar Masharawi was the only 11 month-old infant killed on November 14th in the Zaitoun neighbourhood (although the woman killed at the same time was not in fact his mother as the UN report states, but his father’s brother’s wife; Hiba). 

The BBC used the story of Omar Masharawi to advance the narrative of Israel as a ruthless killer of innocent children. It did so in unusually gory detail which etched the story in audiences’ minds, but without checking the facts, and with no regard whatsoever for its obligations to accuracy and impartiality. BBC reporters and editors  – including Jon Donnison, Paul Danahar and the many others who distributed the story via Twitter – rushed to spread as far and wide as possible a story they could not validate, but which fit in with their own narrative.

It is impossible to undo the extensive damage done by the BBC with this story. No apology or correction can now erase it from the internet or from the memories of the countless people who read it or heard it. Nevertheless, the people responsible for the fact that the unverified story was allowed to run – and that it was deliberately given such exceptionally extensive coverage – must be held accountable for their failure to even try to uphold the standards to which the BBC professes to adhere. 

Any other outcome will make a mockery of the supposed BBC commitment to accuracy and impartiality and will further erode the BBC’s already bruised reputation.

 

BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

On January 28th 2013, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of its ‘Beyond Belief’ programme, hosted by Ernie Rea, which supposedly dealt with the subject of contemporary antisemitism in Europe. 

Beyond Belief

The programme can be heard here or as a podcast here. Its guests were Dr Edward Kessler – Executive Director of the Woolf Institute,  Dr Yaakov Wise of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and Mohammed Ansar (referred to by the host as ‘Mo’ during the broadcast) – described as a “social and political commentator”.  Beyond Belief

After listening to the programme, readers may find much to criticize and comment upon. For example, Rea states unquestioningly that there is “little doubt that Jews fared better under Islam than under Christianity throughout the Middle Ages” and, with equal certainty, later says:

“It does seem that it’s very difficult to criticize the Israeli government without in turn being told you’re antisemitc and some people would say that Jews see antisemitism everywhere.”

Yaakov Wise replies:

“Yes – they tend to be Americans actually, rather than European Jews who, I think, are probably a bit more realistic about…and of course have a lot more experience of living with antisemitism.”

Also notable are the repeated suggestions by Mohammed Ansar that it is “far right activity” on social media which promotes antisemitism, his constant attempts to shift the conversation in the direction of Islamophobia, his claim that “Islam is incredibly inclusive”  and his promotion of Norman Finkelstein (he later made it clear on Twitter that this was the specific piece he was promoting – suggesting to his Twitter followers that they read Chomsky and Pilger too). Mind you, Ansar also thinks that Jesus was a Palestinian.

Ansar tweet 1 Ansar tweet 2

Ansar’s inclusion in a discussion panel about antisemitism – particularly one which highlights the recent case of racist Tweets in France – may seem distinctly odd when one considers that, despite his writings on the subject, only four months ago Ansar endorsed a Twitter account entitled “IsraeltheNazis”. 

However, the part of this programme which is by far the most egregious comes at 23:15 when Ansar says:

“I think it’s really important to recognize also that as well as making the distinction in this country and the West about the distinction between Zionism, Israeli foreign policy and Judaism and Jews, this distinction is also being made in the Middle East – in the Arab territories. We have somebody who’s been considered a very controversial Muslim scholar in the West – Yusuf al Qaradawi – who goes to great lengths to ensure that people have a nuanced understanding and saying if you have difficulty with Israeli foreign policy, if you have difficulty with military occupation, this is something distinct from Judaism and Jews. And so regardless of many of his other statements, I think it’s really important that wherever we work we continue to make this distinction.”

Qaradawi – the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – has been refused entry to Ireland, the US and the UK. The British ban was the subject of criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain, with which Ansar is associated

“Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the MCB, condemned the ban. He said the UK government had bowed to Zionist and neo-con pressure…” 

So let’s have a look at some of Qaradawi’s promotion of what Mohammed Ansar describes as “nuanced understanding”.

(Transcript available here.)

In his 2003 book ‘Fatwas on Palestine’ Qaradawi wrote:

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”

And that – as anyone even slightly familiar with Qaradawi knows – is merely the tip of the iceberg.

This BBC Radio 4 programme was not a live broadcast. According to Ansar himself it was recorded on January 23rd

Ansar tweet 6 23 1

Ansar tweet 5 23 1

In other words, the BBC had five whole days in which to edit out Mohammed Ansar’s misrepresentation and promotion of one of the most reprehensible antisemitic hate-preachers around. But it chose not to do that.

That decision by the programme’s editor turns a broadcast supposedly attempting to discuss and inform on the subject of antisemitism into one indirectly promoting it. It makes the BBC part of the problem rather than a contributing factor to any solution. Beyond belief indeed. 

 

The BBC, Bell and the blood libel

On January 29th 2013 the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme brought in Stephen Pollard – editor of the Jewish Chronicle – and Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell to discuss the subject of Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon which was the subject of much objection when it appeared in the Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day, and for which the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch has personally apologized, as has its acting editor.  

Today 29 1

The entire programme can be listened to here or alternatively a podcast of the relevant section can be heard here.  

At 1:38 in the podcast Steve Bell says:

“I think apologizing for this cartoon, which in fact, for once, wasn’t a bad cartoon…I think Stephen Pollard invokes terms like ‘the blood libel’ and kind of genocidal hate rage, he’s attributing this to a cartoon which is actually, it’s sort of like a mirror image of the cartoon that Scarfe did the week before which was about President Assad doing exactly…I think it was clutching the head of a baby the week before which is even considered to be more offensive. Not a squeak about that.”

Not a squeak from the programme’s presenter either – who apparently saw no problem in Bell’s attempt to compare a cartoon of a dictator waging a civil war – which has claimed more lives in under two years that the entire Arab-Israeli conflict – with one of a democratically elected prime minister. Crucially, as Stephen Pollard pointed out on his Editor’s blog:

“It’s a fair point to say that the previous week Scarfe depicted Assad in a similar way, and he’s entitled to his view of Netanyahu, just as the Sunday Times are entitled to print it.

But there’s never been an anti-Alawite blood libel, and the context matters. The blood libel is central to the history of antisemitism.”

Bell goes on: [emphasis added]

“Ahm..the problem with the State of Israel and the – if you like – Zionist lobby is that they never acknowledge the crime of ethnic cleansing upon which the state was founded and that’s a permanent problem. It’s always going to be a difficult issue. It’s always going to set people at odds like this…”

No intervention from the presenter in the name of accuracy or impartiality there either. 

Bell continues:

“If you use the term blood libel as loosely and as ridiculously as that… the blood libel refers I think to a medieval belief that the Jews actually ate their own children – or ate Christian children – which is not actually a current..ahm…idea that’s abroad. Nobody’s actually saying…”

So now we learn that Bell, whom the BBC invited to talk about a cartoon judged by many to be offensive because it invokes the blood libel, does not actually know what the blood libel is. Needless to say, the presenter did not bother to correct Bell’s erroneous assertions on that point and neither did he trouble his audience – many if not most of whom will not have a clue as to what the blood libel is – with a factual explanation of its historic roots and modern interpretations. The BBC’s written ‘explanation’ of the term here also leaves much to be desired. 

BBC explanation blood libel

Later on Bell says: [emphasis added]

“The problem with this argument is, it’s extraneous notions like ‘blood libel’ and.. err.. are dragged in and sensitivities are talked up when there actually don’t….the very word antisemitic – it becomes devalued. They throw it around with such abandon and if there is real antisemitism, it’s actually getting ignored.”

Of course the audience is not informed who “they” are, but we do not need a cartoonist’s imagination to understand Bell’s intentions.

So what did Radio 4 audiences learn from Bell’s participation in this discussion? They found out that there’s a “Zionist lobby” that ignores “ethnic cleansing” of which Israel is guilty and that there is something called the blood libel which involves beliefs about Jews eating children. They also learned that “they” accuse people falsely of antisemitism, which may or may not be real, by invoking the term blood libel.

Had Radio 4 actually tried to get as many erroneous and offensive notions about Jews and Israel as possible into a seven minute item, it would have had difficulty topping this. And yet, the ‘Today’ presenter allowed Bell a free rein, at no point stepping in to correct his distortions. 

This broadcast yet again raises the subject of BBC interviewees who use the platform provided to them to promote untruths – either due to ignorance or as deliberate politically motivated propaganda. 

Can the BBC shirk its obligations concerning accurate and impartial broadcasting by hiding behind the defence that these are an interviewee’s opinions – no matter how wrong or offensive? Or does the BBC have an obligation to correct misleading assertions presented as ‘opinion’ in order to meet its own standards of accuracy and impartiality? 

 

BBC’s Paul Moss promotes politically motivated stereotypes of Israelis

Can you imagine the BBC publishing or broadcasting a facile report which tries too hard to be funny by tapping into jaded Benny Hill-style stereotypes about certain national characteristics such as Frenchmen who smell of garlic, women-chasing Italians or lazy, siesta-loving Spaniards?

No? Well then prepare to be surprised…or perhaps not.

On January 24th 2013 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also broadcast on the BBC World Service) featured an item by Paul Moss. The podcast can be downloaded here (listen from 22:34) or heard here. A very similar written version of the same report was featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th

Paul Moss

Moss’ piece is entitled “The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet” and supposedly tells of his recent flight from Luton to Tel Aviv. But Moss decided to turn an account that flight into a contrived analogy for the Middle East conflict as a whole – or at least what he perceives as the Israeli contribution to it. 

And so, despite admitting that he speaks neither Hebrew nor Russian, Paul Moss portrays Israeli passengers on the flight as argumentative and aggressive.

“The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.

Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.

And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.

Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.

“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.”

Predictably, Moss’ Israeli co-passengers are also pushy, rude and potentially dangerous into the bargain.

“Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.”

“Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.”

The laboured analogy and stereotypes continue, with Moss ditching all efforts to display any of that much-touted appreciation of diversity in which his countrymen take so much pride and exhibiting particular disdain for the religious passengers on the flight.

There is, of course, absolutely no point to this article whatsoever. It does not inform the reader about any particular news event and it certainly does nothing to increase audiences’ understanding of the world. All Moss achieves in his shallow, superficial piece is the promotion of stereotypes in order to advance a very clear political agenda. 

However, simplistic agenda-driven reporting on Israel seems to be something of a pattern as far as Moss is concerned. In January 2009, at the time of Operation Cast Lead, he was also in Israel. In one article from the time he reported on Israeli Arabs in Haifa opposed to the operation, implying that they were representative of the whole Arab Israeli population and quoting Leah Tsemel and Ameer Makhoul without disclosing to his readers who they are or what they represent. 

In another article (which does much to explain his attitudes towards Israelis) Moss showcased the opinions of the founder of ‘Zochrot‘, which he described as an “educational charity” and in a third piece Moss uses a visit to Masada to suggest that Israelis are unnecessarily militaristic. The World Tonight 25 1

If readers are wondering what happened once Moss’ flight landed in Tel Aviv, the answer to that is to be found in another radio broadcast from January 25th. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The World Tonight” featured Paul Moss (from 35:43 or as a podcast here from around 29:31) on the subject of “Israel’s view of its international image” in which he argued that Israelis – in contrast to citizens of other countries – should care more about how they are perceived abroad.  

“MPs in most countries will insist it’s their people that [sic] should determine who forms their government and what is in their country’s interests. But Israel, of course, is not like most countries. For a start it gets huge amounts of financial aid from the United States.”

Of course Israel has not received economic aid from the US since 2008 and the vast majority of the military aid it does receive (around 1% of the Israeli economy) is spent in the United States, thus sustaining American jobs. As the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department put it in 2011: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long-standing bond, we support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so”. 

But does the fact that Israel receives US aid at all make it – as Moss claims – “not like most countries”? Hardly: not only is Israel not the biggest recipient of military aid from the US, but if we look at the subject of financial aid in general, we see that in fact, Israel is exactly like most countries.

Foreign Assistance by country

But Paul Moss is obviously not one to allow mere facts to get in the way of the agenda he is trying to promote. 

Moss is, of course, entitled to his own political opinions and prejudices. What he is not entitled to do as a BBC presenter is to allow those prejudices to spill over into his reports, thus compromising the BBC’s reputation for impartiality – even under the pretext of supposedly trying to be funny. 

A BBC template response to complaints

On November 7th 2012 an edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme featured a conversation between the presenter and the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, relating to the re-election of Barak Obama. The relevant portion of the programme can be heard here

At 03:13 Simpson says: [all emphasis added]

“And anyway, Obama has taken a rather different line towards Israel – a more hostile line towards Israel. And he’s still won the election in spite of everything the Israeli Prime Minister could do to discourage Americans from voting for him…”

Later, the presenter says:

“A message of sup…I was going to say support…not a message of support – a message of congratulations (laughs) from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli (laughs) Prime Minister. But..erm…I wonder what, briefly, will be going through his mind.”

Simpson replies:

“Oh, I should think he’s really disappointed. Err…he threw everything that he could, including calling..err…Mr Obama – effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran. Including saying …err…more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend that Israel would have chosen. Ahm..he didn’t use those words, but that was very clear. Ah..so he must feel that he’s got the wrong president there.”

Several members of the general public have informed BBC Watch that they made complaints to the BBC regarding Simpson’s claim in this programme that attempts were made by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. Interestingly, all those who submitted complaints received exactly the same reply from the BBC. 

Dear ******

Reference ***********

Thanks for contacting us about Radio 4′s Today broadcast on 7 November.

Firstly we’d like to apologise for the delay in replying. We realise correspondents expect a quick response and we’re sorry you‘ve had to wait on this occasion.

We understand you believe John Simpson made inaccurate and slanderous comments about the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during a discussion on the 2012 US Presidential election.

We forwarded your concerns to the Today programme who pointed out that John Simpson specifically said:

”Obama has taken a…more hostile line towards Israel and still won the election despite everything the Israeli PM could do to discourage Americans from voting for him.”

Later he amplified that by saying:

“He (Netanyahu) threw everything that he could including…effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran including, saying more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend Israel would have chosen – he didn’t use those words but that was clear – so he must feel he got the wrong President there.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the relationship between the two leaders is poor and this has been reported elsewhere in the media. Reuters has referred to “long-strained ties” between the two, while the Telegraph has referred to difficulties between the two:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/nilegardiner/100180493/barack-obama-refuses-to-meet-benjamin-netanyahu-on-his-us-visit-a-rude-snub-to-7-million-israelis/

Meanwhile in the Guardian it was reported how the relationship was dysfunctional:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10611303

And how, in a story about Netanyahu’s appearance in a political ad produced by a fringe non-profit group to criticise President Obama, that:

“The ad is the latest in a series of appearances by Netanyahu in the heated US presidential election. The prime minister made a point of being photographed with Republican challenger Mitt Romney on his visit to Israel in July and praised the candidate’s views on Iran. In a Jerusalem press conference on the 9/11 anniversary, Netanyahu criticized the Obama administration’s refusal to notify Iran of a ‘red line’ that would trigger an attack on its nuclear facilities. Complaints by the prime minister’s office about Obama declining a meeting at the UN next week have been eagerly used by Republicans in attacks on the president.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/20/netanyahu-us-political-ad-obama

(Please note that the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites.)

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen also spoke of how: “As expected, Israel is being supported from the United States – despite the poor relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20346981

The programme added, in closing, that the poor relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is an open secret and has been widely reported and commented upon. And it’s part of John Simpson’s job as World Affairs Editor to offer analysis of this kind for our audience.

Nevertheless, we appreciate your concerns about John Simpson’s comments and we’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Stuart Webb

BBC Complaints

The most striking thing about this response is its utter failure to answer the substance of the complaints. Readers did not complain about Simpson’s portrayal of the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, but about his claim of attempts by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. 

Of the four references the response provides as evidence for the rejection of the complaints, one is from the BBC itself: a one-line quote from Jeremy Bowen which merely reflects his own subjective assessment of the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. Another reference comes from the Daily Telegraph and two others from the Guardian – the first actually being a reproduction of an AP article which quotes a representative of ‘Americans for Peace Now’.  Interestingly, the BBC apparently finds it legitimate to use articles from other sources (including even the Guardian - singled out on more than one occasion by the CST in its annual report on antisemitic discourse) as ‘evidence’ for its stance, whilst simultaneously stating that “the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites”. 

The second of those Guardian links refers to a video made by a third-party in which publicly available footage of Netanyahu speaking about the Iranian nuclear operation was used. Neither it, nor any of the other links provided by the BBC, show evidence of the direct – and massive – intervention which Simpson claimed had occurred. 

As a supposed response to numerous complaints on the same subject, this reply from the BBC is sorely lacking in both substance and respect for its audiences’ intelligence. 

Elections in Israel and the BBC

With a week to go until the Israeli elections on January 22nd 2013, the BBC’s coverage of the subject has so far been extremely sparse. The Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly has produced a few items, including a December 20th article focusing mainly upon Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances of re-election and an item on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme of January 7th about the Israeli politician Western journalists love to hate – Avigdor Lieberman.  

Apart from that, BBC audiences will so far have scant idea of the characteristics of the thirty-odd parties standing for election, their political leanings or their manifestos. They will know little about the women heading some of those parties such as Sheli Yechimovitch, Tsipi Livni, Zahava Galon or Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka. They will not know, for example, that in addition to the usual Arab parties, a new one named “The Hope for Change” is running this year on a very different platform than that usually offered to Arab voters or that there are two parties running which aim to represent Israel’s Ethiopian community. 

Instead, like much of the Western media, the BBC so far seems intent upon portraying these elections in terms of an ominous shift to the right by the Israeli electorate and revolving solely around the issue of peace with the Palestinians. 

The kind of interpretation of the Israeli political scene which appears to be prevalent at the BBC is represented in this blog post from Robin Lustig, who recently stepped down from his BBC posts after 23 years of presenting. As a now private citizen, Mr Lustig is of course entitled to write whatever he likes, but for those of us trying to make sense of the BBC’s coverage of Israel, he provides some valuable insights into the prevailing accepted wisdom in its corridors.   

“Two-state solution? Forget it – even if President Obama really tries to push for a settlement (and let’s be honest, there’s been no sign so far that he intends to), Mr Netanyahu will simply say sorry, no can do, the Knesset won’t wear it.

Here’s the situation: Israelis have discovered they can live with the status quo. With the exception of those periods when Palestinian fighters fire rockets into Israel from Gaza, spreading real fear but causing mercifully few casualties, the vast majority of Israelis can get on with their daily lives without thinking about Palestinians at all.

So why even talk to them? Most Israelis still say they believe in a two-state solution, but it’s the sort of thing you can say without having to think too much about it. After all, anyone who looks at a map of where the Israelis have already built in the West Bank, which they’ve occupied now for more than 45 years – and where they intend to build – can see the reality: there’s no room left for anything that would remotely resemble a viable Palestinian state. […]

So, to many Israelis, it may look as if what they have now is sustainable, that somehow the Palestinians in the West Bank will eventually forget that they ever wanted a state of their own or the opportunity to decide their own futures — and that Palestinians in Gaza will no longer mind living in what they have long called the world’s biggest open-air prison.

In my view, this is a profound, and potentially disastrous, mistake. Israelis need only look to their neighbours in Egypt and Syria to see what happens when prolonged injustice is allowed to fester. But for now, what many Israelis see is a region mired in uncertainty and instability, and growing Islamist power which looks deeply alarming.

That, I suspect, is why they’re turning to leaders who speak the language of strength and resistance to compromise. What matters to them is not whether they’re liked, or even whether they’re approved of. What matters is that they’re feared. “

Beyond his disturbingly ill-informed and superficial sound-bites (for a more nuanced view, Mr Lustig  - and the recipients of his newsletter which recently included this blog-post – might like to read this recent article by Daniel Gordis), Robin Lustig provides an excellent example of the widely popular ‘doom and gloom’ approach to anticipated results of the democratic process in Israel. 

And of course what is really interesting about that approach – characterized as it is by the frequent use of adjectives such as ‘hardline’, ‘right-wing’, ‘nationalist’ or ‘hawkish’ – is the glaring contrast with the way in which the BBC approached the elections in Tunisia and Egypt, for example. 

Tunisia’s winning party Ennahda was repeatedly described as “moderate Islamist” by the BBC and one will certainly not find any of those above adjectives used to describe Mohamed Morsi, who – the BBC was very keen to inform audiences on multiple occasions – is “quietly” or “softly spoken”.  In fact, as long as the ‘Arab Spring’ elections could be described as free and democratic, the BBC seemed to be perfectly willing to enthusiastically embrace the people’s choice, no matter what the ideology of those elected.  

Any rightward shift which may or may not take place in next week’s vote in Israel will be the result of free and democratic elections. It is a pity that the BBC seems too often to be unable to appreciate that the Arab-Israeli conflict is just one of many issues facing those going to the polls or to respect the right of Israeli voters to make their own choices – even if those choices do not square up to the BBC world view. 

BBC: Al Jazeera in US market to promote football tournament

The recent acquisition of ‘Current TV’ by Al Jazeera has been making headlines. Al Jazeera’s English-language arm has been trying to break into the American cable TV market for considerable time but until now, the station’s reputation has largely scuppered those efforts. 

Of course Al Jazeera is no ordinary television company: it is the mouthpiece of a Qatari hereditary dictatorship with a less than illustrious human rights record and a penchant for funding and enabling Hamas terrorists.  

It is well known that Al Jazeera’s English language operation (launched in 2006) tones down its coverage in comparison to its less subtle Arabic department, which has fawned over the terrorist child-murderer Samir Kuntar and features as its most popular programme the weekly rantings of Qatari-based Yusuf Qaradawi – spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a virulent homophobe and antisemite. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera English remains firmly on target as the vector of the Qatari regime’s agenda, as some of its former employees have disclosed.  

According to a recent BBC programme, however, there is a specific reason for Al Jazeera’s aspirations in the US market.

BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme of January 5th 2013 brought in media analyst Claire Enders to explain the half billion dollar takeover to listeners. The relevant section – which was also promoted on the Middle East page of the BBC News website – can be heard here.

At 1:03 the presenter asks:

“And is it a commercial decision, though? Because I mean it’s a very crowded market, the US, and Al Jazeera’s brand there is not altogether loved and appreciated by everybody. Is it a commercial decision by Qatar or do they just want to buy some presents?”

His guest replies:

“They want to buy some presents but you have to understand that Al Jazeera doesn’t actually generate revenue now anyway. I mean for some time it is really a cost to the Qatari government and it doesn’t generate…it’s not really a commercial decision. It’s really a very long-term decision from a very oil rich state to set the scene for the World Cup in 2022 which is going to take place in Qatar.” [emphasis added]

Ah! So it’s all about sinking half a billion dollars into promoting a four-week football tournament almost a decade away. That’s alright then.

Later, at 2:47, the presenter says:

“There is sort of pent-up resistance and resentment really against Al Jazeera because many people – rightly or wrongly – see it as somehow, you know, being anti-American.”

Ms. Enders, however, is having none of it:

“Well, I don’t think that’s seen in that way actually. Al Jazeera has got – as one of its vocations – to present a different perspective, perhaps than ones that the Americans are used to, on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and so I really wouldn’t say that there is an anti Al Jazeera feeling in the US, but simply that, you know, it’s a very crowded market…” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s broadcast of this airbrushing of Al Jazeera and its financer’s agenda by Claire Enders seems quite amazing – until one remembers that the BBC has its own dealings with the Qatari regime.  Since 2005 the BBC has broadcast the Doha Debates (described as a partner by the BBC) and the licence to do so is purchased from the Qatar Foundation – which is also run by the Qatari dictatorship and has warm ties with Yusuf Qaradawi

The Doha Debates are – in the BBC’s own words – “a public forum for dialogue and freedom of speech in Qatar”. The fact that “freedom of speechdoes not extend to criticizing the Qatari regime either in the Doha Debates or on Al Jazeera appears to be of little concern to the BBC, which continues to provide a veneer of ‘progressive’ respectability to Qatar’s unelected head of state and his media mouthpiece.  

BBC Radio 4′s ‘News Review of the Year’ resurrects dead baby war porn

h/t: JK

On December 30th 2012 BBC Radio 4 broadcast an hour-long programme entitled “News Review of the Year”, presented by Paddy O’Connell. The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time and readers in the UK can also find it on iPlayer

R4 news review

Among the “defining events” chosen by the programme’s producer was the mid-November conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Beginning at 46:33 one hears the presenter start straight off with the theme of moral equivalence as he says: [emphasis added]

“These rockets were recorded being fired from Gaza towards targets in Israel. The two sides have been blaming each other for an escalation that reached new heights after Israel assassinated a Hamas officer they blamed for planning the strikes.”

Once again the BBC is promoting the erroneous notion that the escalation began with the death of Ahmed Jabari, negating the importance of the hundreds of rocket attacks which preceded that event. 

Next comes a short (42 seconds) recording of a BBC report from Ashkelon which – importantly as we will see later on – makes do with describing the effects of terrorist rocket fire from Gaza in terms of “a gaping hole in the roof”.

After that, it is over to Gaza for a 34 second-long recording of Jon Donnison describing a “massive [Israeli] air strike”.

At 48:09 O’Connell is back, casting doubts upon Hamas’ use of the civilian population in Gaza as human shields, even though that was amply documented – sometimes inadvertently – by the BBC’s own reporters in Gaza at the time:

“Israel said it regretted all civilian casualties at home and in Gaza and accused Hamas of hiding weapons amid people’s houses. Jon Donnison returned to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ to recount what lay behind one civilian death in Gaza. You may well find what follows distressing”.

What follows is an abridged version of Donnison’s November 24th broadcast on ‘From Our Own Correspondent” which lasts two minutes and a half. 

Once again, a stage is given to Donnison’s explicit war pornography which gives graphic descriptions of the dead child. Once again, the unsubstantiated claim that the “Israeli military had bombed his [the child's father's] house” is propagated. Once again, Donnison’s promotion of false civilian casualty figures is aired to millions and once again Donnison’s accusation of inflated casualty figures in Israel is allowed to stand. 

It is not surprising that the BBC has elected to resurrect Donnison’s report yet again after having invested very heavily in its promotion around the time of its broadcast and ever since. The piece is still available on the front page of the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website.

Magazine 2 01

Two days after Donnison’s programme was first aired on November 24th, additional aspects to the story came to light. The BBC has so far failed to clarify why, on November 26th, one of its film crews was present at the funeral of the brother of the baby’s father who was injured in the same incident and was buried wrapped in a Hamas flag. The BBC has also failed to address the subject of the highly problematic interview given by its employee Jihad Masharawi at that funeral to Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV. 

Ahmed Masharawi 1

Instead, the BBC continues to entrench a version of the recent conflict which – like its reporting at the time – is imbalanced, inaccurate and partial. Forty two seconds of coverage of rocket attacks in Israel relate only to damage to property. More than four times that amount of total coverage from Gaza (3 minutes 4 seconds) focuses on blaming Israel for the death of a baby whilst airbrushing out any context and refusing to address the unclarified aspects of the story. 

What impression does this Radio 4 broadcast give its audiences? The answer to that is very clear. As far as the BBC is concerned, the recent conflict (like those in the past and – probably – those in the future) can be boiled down to annoying holes in the roof in Israel and tragic dead babies in Gaza.

The BBC’s dogged promotion of the Omar Masharawi story – and its failure to examine the real circumstances behind it – is indicative of a journalistic culture which seeks to advance a specific narrative by defining a narrow public perceptions of events, rather than reporting the news.  Such a culture cannot fail to further compromise the BBC’s already severely battered reputation. 

BBC gives air time to ‘Stop the War Coalition’

BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme of December 29th featured a short discussion between the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, Lindsey German of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and guest editor Ann Lesley on the subject of anti-Americanism in the UK. The relevant section of the broadcast can be heard here under the heading 7:51 and its synopsis reads: 

“Do we hold America to a higher moral standard than other countries? Our guest editor Ann Leslie thinks Britain is anti-American, we say nothing when Arabs kill other Arabs, but we heap criticism on the United States if it is responsible for any deaths. She suggests it is a form of racism. Jonathan Freedland writes for the Guardian and New York Times and has written about our mismatched attitudes. Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and co-author of A People’s History of London.”

At 02:00 in the clip, German says: [emphasis added] 

“I think it beggars belief really that eleven years after the war on terror began when we’ve seen wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya, there are threats now to intervene in Syria and in Iran, that Israel is backed up to the tune of $3 billion a year by the US and all these things I think lead to a great deal of criticism in this country and around the world.”

Lindsey German – being Lindsey German – has of course nothing to say about Iranian funding for terror organisations such as Hamas and Hizballah. Neither, apparently, does she appear to think that what Americans chose to do with their own money is their business or to comprehend that – as stated in November 2011 by the Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs:

“In sum, while our commitment to Israel’s security is rooted in our shared values and outlook, we don’t provide assistance out of charity. We provide assistance because it benefits our security.”

At 04:54, German goes on to say:

“Most of the refugees, if you look in the world, are from Afghanistan, Iraq – as a result of the wars – and from Palestine.”

Statistics provided by the UNHCR at the end of 2010 put the total number of refugees in the world at 15.4 million – of those, 4.82 million Palestinians. Of the 10.58 non-Palestinian refugees, 3.05 million are from Afghanistan and 1.7 million from Iraq.

However, the UNHCR does not include in its refugee figures Internally Displaced Persons, and in that category it placed a further 27 million people in 2010 – mostly from Libya, the Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Sudan. UNRWA, of course, does not count Palestinian refugees living under Palestinian rule in the Gaza Strip (1,167,572 in January 2012) or the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories (727,471 in January 2012) as repatriated refugees or IDPs. 

Uniquely, those Palestinians remain refugees because unlike the UNHCR, which constantly strives to reduce the number of refugees and DIPs and which in 2010 repatriated 197,600 refugees to their countries of origin and resettled 98,800 more in other countries, UNRWA has not made any effort since its establishment to reduce the number of Palestinian refugees either by resettlement or by ending the hereditary status of refugees of Palestinian origin. And of course like the Arab dictatorships which Lindsey German and her fringe organization support, she has nothing to say against the manipulation and exploitation of Palestinian refugees for political purposes. 

Whilst the BBC is committed according to its Editorial Guidelines on impartiality to making sure that “no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented”, the question which must be asked is do unchallenged, context-free sound bites put out by a member of an extremist, fringe organization such as the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ indeed represent anything approaching a “significant” opinion?

After the 2005 terror attacks in London, at a rally which included Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi among its speakers, Lindsey German said:

“We are here to stand up for the truth about the terrible bombings. The establishment says that they were nothing to with Iraq and the war on terror — it is to do with evil ideology.

“But the government would say that. The government is saying that the Muslim community should put their house in order, but we have to ask the government to put its own house in order.

“The government and Tony Blair is in denial about what has happened. Today we are standing together. We are not going to be divided by witch-hunts and racism.

“The only way to end the bombings is to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. When we have justice around the world we will have peace as well.”

German’s organization collaborates with 9/11 ‘troofers’ and antisemites such as Lowkey. It supports the annual Al Quds Day anti-Israel hate-fest organized in London by the Khomenist-regime’s UK supporters at the IHRC. It dabbles in anti-Americanism and antisemitism of its own and has rallied in support of the Assad regime in Syria and the Iranian dictatorship. Here is Lindsey German in London in 2012, speaking to the 200 or so people her organization managed to muster in support of the Assad regime whilst her fellow travelers harass Iranian democracy activists: 

The question is why does the BBC appear to believe that the pro-dictatorship, anti-Israel, anti-American views of a minuscule sect of opinion within the British public represent a “significant strand of thought” worth amplifying.