Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

On October 8th listeners to the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4 heard an item by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available here for a limited period of time from 43:58) which was introduced by presenter John Humphrys in the following flippant – and inaccurate – terms.Connolly Today

Humphrys: “The guns and the rockets have pretty much fallen silent in Gaza but the two sides are hardly at peace with each other in any real sense. The Palestinians accuse the Israelis of genocide. Israel sees its armed forces as the most moral in the world. Israel calls Hamas terrorists whose every operation is a war crime. Hamas sees its resistance to occupation as legitimate. Previous rounds of fighting produced controversial war crimes investigations and it’s likely that this year’s fighting will be no different. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly has been listening as each side makes its case.”

The BBC is of course well aware of the fact that no “genocide” took place in the Gaza Strip. It also knows full well that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that its designation as such is by no means exclusively an Israeli view.

“Hamas is of course defined as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan – as the BBC’s own profile of Hamas clearly states. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom.”

The BBC knows equally well that the Gaza Strip has not been under “occupation” for over nine years and that Hamas’ so-called “resistance” is aimed at ending the existence of Israel. One presumes that the BBC is also aware of the fact that the head of a prior UN HRC ‘investigation’ later stated “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”.

Nevertheless, John Humphrys made no attempt whatsoever to inform listeners to Radio 4 of the actual facts behind his statements, thereby deliberately misleading listeners.

Kevin Connolly opened as follows:

Connolly: “The sounds of the summer war between Israel and the militant groups of Gaza have faded but the accusations that war crimes were committed on both sides haven’t gone away. It is a sort of second front to the bitter violence; an attempt to win the politics after an inconclusive conflict. [sound of an air-raid siren] The Israeli case against Hamas is simple: here’s an organization that hides amongst its own civilians to fire rockets at Israel’s. Two clear breaches – says Israel – of the laws of war. And here’s the senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti with his charge sheet against Israel.”

Barghouti: “Targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them. Indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include…eh…cancerogenous [sic – carcinogenic – Ed.] materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destruction of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza.”

Connolly made no effort to clarify to audiences that there is no proven evidence to support any of Barghouti’s wild claims, thus deliberately leaving listeners with the inaccurate impression (for the second time in minutes) that the accusations made by that old BBC favourite may have some basis.

Listeners then heard a recording from a news bulletin: “A deafening blast. An Israeli airstrike…” after which Connolly continued:

“We all remember individual moments from the summer’s conflict. This is the American network ABC reporting the deaths of four little boys hit by Israeli missile fire as they played on a beach.”

Connolly neglected to provide listeners with any context to the simplistic account he promoted or to inform them that the circumstances of the incident are still under investigation. He continued:

“No-one would dispute that something terrible happened there, but I asked Israel’s deputy Military Attorney General Eli Baron if he thought it amounted to a war crime.”

Baron: “Basic presumption that every death has to be translated into a breach of the laws of war is just wrong because death – even of civilians – is not an unreasonable consequence of war. During war people die and it doesn’t always mean that there has been a breach of the rules. You may sometimes rely on wrong intelligence and sometimes you just make mistakes.”

The item continued with a recording of radio communications in Hebrew followed by Connolly saying:

“Israelis often describe their armed forces as the most moral in the world; a claim based on this kind of evidence. It’s a recording of a pilot aborting an attack because there are civilians in the target zone. The release of that kind of tape is meant to demonstrate Israel’s adherence to two basic laws of war: discrimination – you have to distinguish between military and civilian positions – and proportionality – any civilian casualties must be proportionate to any possible military gain. But Israel still has plenty of questions to answer. It hit UN-run schools in Gaza for a start and it targeted the homes of militant leaders, arguing they were also used to store weapons or control operations.”

Again, Connolly failed to provide necessary context such as the fact that terrorists fired missiles at Israeli civilian targets from the vicinity of UN-run schools. He went on:

“Israel’s military now says it’s conducting its own investigations. But Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem says that’s not enough.”

Connolly’s introduction of Michaeli and her organization is obviously intended to give listeners the impression that a “human rights organization” is a neutral body with unbiased opinions they can take as fact. That, of course, is not the case. B’Tselem is a political NGO which has employed a ‘human rights halo’ to advance its political agenda before, throughout and since the recent conflict, collaborating with additional political NGOs engaged in political warfare against Israel.

Michaeli: “The military advocate general provided the army with legal advice both before and during the hostilities. It seems absurd that the same person; the same – you know – office will now look at the orders that he himself approved to see whether those orders could have been unlawful. Clearly there is a major conflict of interests there. It is simply unacceptable as a way to ascertain the truth and as a way to ensure accountability.”

Obviously Connolly did not bother to fact check Michaeli’s insinuations before broadcasting them to millions in the UK.

“The IDF Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, has ordered that a General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments (the ‘FFA Mechanism’) will examine Exceptional Incidents that occurred during Operation ‘Protective Edge’. The FFA Mechanism, headed by a Major General, was activated soon after the commencement of Operation ‘Protective Edge’, in the midst of the ongoing hostilities. […]

The FFA Mechanism is currently headed by Major General Noam Tibon and is comprised of a number of fact-finding assessment teams. Each team is led by a senior IDF officer (in active service or in the IDF reserves), with a rank ranging from Colonel to Major General. The teams are comprised primarily of high-ranking IDF reservist officers, possessing operational expertise in a range of military areas (such as artillery, intelligence and aerial operations), as well as members possessing both legal qualifications and professional experience in the field of investigations. Each team is also provided with ongoing legal advice from legal officers in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps, who have particular expertise and experience in international law. An additional senior officer from the IDF reserves, with expertise in international law, has also been appointed to assist the head of the FFA Mechanism. None of the fact-finding assessment teams’ members served in the chain of command during Operation ‘Protective Edge’.” [emphasis added]

Connolly closed:

“Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in negotiations to firm up the ceasefire in Gaza. It says much about the prospects for any lasting deal that these allegations of war crimes will be traded and investigated in parallel with those talks.”

Not content with the promotion of this item replete with misleading inaccuracies on BBC Radio 4, a written article on the same topic by Kevin Connolly was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the same day. Titled “Israeli-Palestinian conflict: How ‘lawfare’ has become a weapon“, the article misrepresents Israel’s motives for conducting the routine investigations into the actions of its armed forces.Connolly written

“Each side sees the advantage of establishing the justice and virtue of its cause over the other – seeking a clear political and diplomatic victory after an inconclusive military outcome.”

Further, Connolly later adds:

“Israel’s fear of standing condemned before an international tribunal prompted it to begin those investigations before the fighting had stopped.”

In fact the Military Attorney General (MAG) investigates all allegations as a matter of course and without any connection to external ‘tribunals’.

In this article Connolly repeats the amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims heard in the audio version. (Incidentally, Connolly’s “influential Palestinian politician” gained the grand total of 26,909 votes in the last PLC elections in 2006.)

“The influential Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, who spent time in Gaza during the latest bombardment, gave me a kind of charge sheet for Israel.

“Their war crimes included the collective disproportional use of force, targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them.

“There’s also the indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas, as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include cancerous materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destructions of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza, including in some cases the destruction of a whole town like Shejaiya.””

No effort is made by Connolly to clarify to readers that Barghouti’s accusation of “unjustified massive destructions” in Shuja’iya is inconsistent with the fact that the neighbourhood was the site of Hamas military assets including the entrances to almost a third of the 32 cross-border attack tunnels discovered during the operation. That very serious omission is of course hardly surprising: the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences of what actually happened in Shuja’iya – and why – throughout the entire three months since the fighting there took place.

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In the written version, Barghouti is also quoted as saying:

“If Palestinians have a problem, they are ready to go to the court,” he explained. “But the most important thing is to hold Israel responsible in front of the ICC. Israel has enjoyed a status of impunity to international law and to international humanitarian law. This cannot be allowed to continue.

“Israel has to be held responsible for the war crimes it has committed against the Palestinian population. Not only in the last war but in many previous wars on Gaza and in many previous attacks in the West Bank”.

As Connolly correctly points out, a Palestinian Authority decision to join the ICC could well prove to be a double-edged sword.

Connolly writes:

“The United Nations Human Rights Council has already established an independent commission of enquiry under the Canadian professor of international law, William Schabas – but Israel regards the council as a kind of standing kangaroo court which is biased against it.”

He fails to inform BBC audiences of Schabas’ record of statements which are the basis for that view and that it is also shared by others.

In both these items Connolly inaccurately presents the subject of ‘lawfare’ as though it were a policy used equally by both sides and passes up on the opportunity to inform BBC audiences how ‘lawfare’ is actually used by anti-Israel organisations as a means of delegitimizing Israel.

Connolly’s amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims in both his written article and the audio item join numerous previous BBC reports in which unqualified promotion was given to similarly baseless accusations from Hamas spokesmen and employees of political NGOs involved in political warfare against Israel – literally from day one of the recent conflict. Once again, the BBC’s supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting is trumped by its self-conscription to the provision of publicity for ‘lawfare’ campaigners.

Related Articles:

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

 

 

R4 ‘Today’ editor: listener numbers down because BBC couldn’t ‘report on the ground’ in Gaza

A recent report in the Guardian reveals that the editor of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ thinks that its coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has contributed to reduced numbers of listeners.Today 3 7

“Jamie Angus said some listeners had stopped tuning in to Today and had told him they could not take any more of “this terrible thing that I can’t influence”. This follows a period when the news has been dominated by the escalating civil war in Ukraine, with the threat of Russia and Nato being drawn into a wider conflict, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and most recently the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.” […]

“Today had a weekly reach of 6.7 million listeners in the second quarter of this year, the last period for which figures are available, down from a high of more than 7 million in the previous three months.”

Notably, Jamie Angus attributes the drop in numbers of listeners to a non-existent factor.

“The difficulty in getting BBC journalists in to the conflict zones, he added, resulted in “a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side”, which also proved a turn off.” […]

“He added: “One of the big challenges for us, if we can’t report on the ground which we couldn’t very easily in Gaza because the BBC only had two correspondents there, you end up doing a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side and generally that’s an unrewarding listen and audiences will switch off after too much of it.” ” [emphasis added]

However, just days before the conflict commenced, the BBC’s Andrew Roy told BBC World Service listeners that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

Indeed, the BBC does have an office in Gaza City and in addition to that, between July 8th and August 26th BBC journalists reporting from the Gaza Strip included Yolande Knell, Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet, Paul Adams, James Reynolds, Ian Pannell, Martin Patience, Quentin Somerville, Jon Donnison, Chris Morris, Orla Guerin and Kevin Connolly. For most of that period there were typically at least three BBC foreign correspondents in the Gaza Strip, together with their support crews and along with the permanent local staff.

The sheer volume of reporting produced by BBC staff during those seven weeks clearly undermines the claim that the corporation could not easily “report from the ground”, as does the well-known fact that the Gaza Strip is – as indicated by the arrival of some 700 international journalists this last summer – one of the easier places from which to report.  

Revealingly, the issue with which Mr Angus appears to be less concerned is the content and quality of BBC reporting from the scene rather than its mere amount. Had the BBC adopted an editorial policy which ventured beyond repetitive, homogeneous, context-free ‘disaster zone’ style depictions of casualties and damage and instead actually lived up to its existing commitment to provide audiences with factual and impartial background information on issues such as the reasons for the conflict and its development, listeners might well have felt that they were being informed rather than herded towards a specific view and hence shown more interest in what the BBC had to offer. But in fact, during seven weeks of coverage, audiences were fed little which deviated from repeated emotive, context-free ‘reporter in the rubble’ reports and politically motivated campaigning items.

Unsurprisingly, Angus’ statistics suggest that BBC audiences may expect higher quality fact-based content from a programme purporting to deal in news and current affairs. 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ airs falsehoods on Gaza medicine shortage (and the ramblings of Bar Hillel)

Judging by the amount of correspondence in our inbox on the morning of July 22nd, a great number of people were very dismayed by the peculiar decision made by producers of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme to invite Mira Bar Hillel to speak as a supposedly representative voice of “British-Israeli Jews” as she was introduced by presenter Sarah Montague.

Bar Hillel’s outlandish remarks are of course about as worthy of comment as those of the average chap on the street-corner with a sandwich board and – given her previous record – entirely unsurprising. Those who wish to hear them, however, can do see here or here because the BBC evidently considers them worthy of stand-alone promotion.

One has to wonder if – twenty-four hours on and post Bar Hillel’s David Ward groupie performance on Twitter – the ‘Today’ programme team still thinks that was a good idea.

B Hillel tweet

But what is more interesting about this edition of the ‘Today’ programme that the ramblings of Bar Hillel is the introduction to the item given by presenter Sarah Montague to apparently seven million listeners. That can be heard for a limited period of time from around 01:51:00 here.

“It would be impossible not to be affected by the news from Gaza.”

Six million Israelis in air-raid shelters, missile attacks aimed at a nuclear facility and an international airport and terrorists tunneling underground to carry out atrocities in a kibbutz are apparently not news.

“More than 580 Palestinians have now been killed by Israel, many of them women and children. Most of them civilians according to Palestinians. And for everyone killed, hundreds more are injured.”

Yet again we see that no clarification is given regarding the partisan nature of the sources of casualty figures cited – but not independently verified by the BBC. And yet again we observe the now well entrenched BBC policy of failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties with no effort made to inform audiences how many of the dead were terrorists.Today 22 7 bar hillel

“The UN says a hundred thousand have now fled their homes, and this in a space where there is no running water and – because of Israel’s embargo – little food or medical supplies.”

There again is that now oft-promoted BBC falsehood about the shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip being connected to Israeli policies along with another one which misleads listeners by claiming that Israel restricts or bans (who knows where Sarah Montague’s imagination leads her?) the entry of food into the Gaza Strip. The fact is that since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th and until July 21st (the day before this programme was aired), seven hundred and seventy-eight lorry-loads of humanitarian aid (food, medical supplies and other essentials) had entered the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

“Israel say [sic] they are only defending themselves; that it is Hamas’ fault for firing rockets into their territory and that it is Hamas who are deliberately putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way.”

Seeing as BBC teams on the ground have resolutely avoided adequately reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields it is perhaps hardly surprising that Sarah Montague can do nothing better than that to inform listeners of the realities of this conflict and, given her citing of unverified civilian casualty figures, the omission of any real information regarding the fact that Hamas stores and fires missiles in residential areas – and the number of deaths caused by those deliberate practices – is of course particularly significant.

Montague then goes on to cite Israeli casualty figures, failing of course to note that the reason for the lower Israeli death toll is the lengths to which Israel goes to protect its civilians and the stark contrast between its policies and those of Hamas.

“The Israeli death toll is far lower. Twenty have been killed in the past fortnight.”

She closes with a whitewashed portrayal of antisemitic rioting and agitprop.

 “Thousands have protested around the world at what they see as Israel’s heavy-handed response.”

The issue of the BBC’s repeated deliberate misrepresentation of the nature and purpose of restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip is becoming a very serious one. The ‘Today’ programme must issue a prompt and public correction to the falsehoods promoted by Sarah Montague concerning food and medicines.

Contact details for ‘Today': e-mail: today@bbc.co.uk, Twitter: @BBCR4Today 

Will the BBC correct its insinuations of a ‘two-tier justice system’ in Israel?

On July 17th the BBC News website published an article titled “Three charged over Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khdair murder“.

The report relates to the fact that eleven days after their arrest on July 6th, three people were charged with the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Ahu Khdeir on July 2nd.

The BBC’s report correctly notes that:

“The Israeli ministry of defence meanwhile said it now recognised the killing as a “terrorist act” and had decided to recognise Mohammad Abu Khdair as a “victim of terrorism”.”

It fails to inform readers however that the Defence Ministry’s decision means that the victim’s family will receive monthly benefits from the state and that Mohammed Abu Khdeir will be included in the list of names on Israel’s Memorial Day for victims of terror attacks.

Earlier in the month, during the four days which passed between the murder and the arrests, some BBC journalists promoted the notion of a ‘two-tier justice system’ in Israel, suggesting that Palestinians receive inferior treatment.

“… it was interesting as well – and telling, I think – to see the mother of the Palestinian teenager who was killed saying Palestinians have no rights and I think that they feel that there’s one law for Israelis and one law for themselves and that they’re never going to be in a better place until they get independence, get their own state and that, I think, is the prevalent view among Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

Jeremy Bowen, ‘Today’, BBC Radio 4, July 3rd 2014

“But Palestinians at Muhammed’s funeral don’t trust Israeli justice. They want Israel to leave Palestinian towns and cities so that they can build a state and a justice system of their own.”

James Reynolds, BBC News, July 4th 2014

It would of course be appropriate for the BBC to clarify to its audiences that its insinuations of Israeli state discrimination are unfounded. 

BBC’s John Humphrys on Gaza conflict: it’s the settlements, innit?

public purposes

(source)

The BBC’s funding public might reasonably expect its journalists – and not least interviewers – to act as a medium for the conveyance of information from interviewees which contributes towards fulfilling those above defined purposes and helps them broaden their knowledge and understanding of international issues.

All too often, however, we see that instead of asking the questions which will prompt the interviewee to provide essential information, BBC presenters use the opportunity to get on their soap-box and audiences actually learn more about their personal opinions than anything else.

On July 9th the Israeli Ambassador to the UK was invited to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. With Operation Protective Edge having commenced the day before, this was an opportunity for listeners to hear the answers to a whole range of questions on topics which might have interested them, such as – for example – how much does it cost to defend Israeli civilians using the Iron Dome missile defence system and what sort of other national projects does Israel have to sacrifice in order to be able to provide such protection to its civilians? They might also have been interested to learn about the costs of damage to property and businesses in Israel caused by the missiles fired from the Gaza Strip and how Israel copes with such issues.

Another topic which might have interested audiences is how Israel manages to keep the flow of humanitarian aid, medicines and fuel into Gaza going even as it is being attacked by terrorists from that territory and why does it still provide electricity to and accept patients from the Gaza Strip even as conflict rages? Listeners might also have been interested in hearing about Israel’s policy of warning civilians in Gaza before air-strikes are carried out – how does it work? What are the mechanisms? They would certainly have come away with a better understanding of the issue had presenter John Humphrys asked why a ground operation might be the only way to search out the thousands of missiles stored underground by assorted terrorist organisations.

The Radio 4 ‘Today’ interview was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza invasion ‘credible option’, says Israeli ambassador“. There, the synopsis once again promotes the erroneous notion that missile fire by terrorists is a reaction to Israeli actions rather than the other way round.R4 Today 9 7 Amb Taub

“Palestinian militants have fired more rockets at Israeli cities after Israel carried out dozens of air strikes on Gaza in the early hours of Wednesday.”

The item opens with Ambassador Taub saying:

“As you know, we have 3.5 million people today – that’s close to half of our population: 40% – who have to live their lives within reach of bomb-shelters because of these missiles being fired. But as we try to protect them, we are also trying to – as much as possible – protect the lives of Palestinians who the terrorists are hiding behind.”

Rather than taking the opportunity to expand audience knowledge on the topic of Hamas’ use of the local population as human shields, John Humphrys could only retort:

“You’ve just killed 25 civilians – or mostly civilians – including women and children.”

Of those first 25 casualties, at least six (Abdul al Saufi, Rashad Yassin, Mohammed Shaaban, Khader al Bashliqi, Amjad Shaaban and Hafez Hamad) were – according to Palestinian sources – members of terrorist organisations; mainly Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Seven civilians – including children – were killed when they elected to act as human shields at a house in Khan Yunis.

“Also among the dead Tuesday were seven people, including three teens, who were killed in an airstrike on the three-story cinder-block house of a Hamas operative in the teeming city of Khan Younis, Hamas officials said. The operative was apparently not among the casualties.

One of the occupants of the house, Sawsan Kawarea, said she received a call from someone who identified himself as “David” from the Israeli military — apparently one of the warnings Israel says it issues to prevent civilian deaths.

“He asked for me by name. He said: ‘You have women and children in the house. Get out. You have five minutes before the rockets come,’ ” Kawarea said in an interview outside the crumbled building.

She ran outside with her children, she said. A first small missile struck the house — what Gazans call an Israeli “warning rocket.” After that strike, a crowd of young men ran into the house and up to the roof, thinking they would either protect the house from another strike or die defying the Israeli bombardment.”

Listeners to the ‘Today’ programme, however, were not informed of the complexities of the situation or of Hamas’ calls to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip to ignore Israeli warnings aimed at reducing casualties. Neither were they given any context on the topic of how Israel’s record on civilian casualties compares with that of other Western armies. Instead, Humphrys chose to promote the simplistic and misleading sound-bite ‘Israel kills women and children’.

Although much of the interview was devoted to the subject of a possible ground operation (termed by Humphrys repeatedly as an “invasion”), it was not clarified to listeners that it is the fact that terrorist organisations store weapons and missiles underground in residential area which makes such a ground operation necessary. Humphrys did however promote his own personal – and jaw-droppingly irrelevant – proposals as to how to stop a plethora of terror organisations in the Gaza Strip from indiscriminately firing military grade missiles at Israel’s civilian population.

“But you know as well as everybody else that in the end you’ve got to talk and you’ve got to talk seriously and you have to make concessions – for instance stop building settlements – as a beginning.”

As Ambassador Taub pointed out, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nine years ago and what the BBC terms ‘occupied territories’ are not the issue as far as Hamas is concerned. Nevertheless, we see a senior and experienced BBC presenter electing to promote the misleading and simplistic smoke-screen of “settlements” rather than clarifying to audiences the real background to and reasons for Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians.

Whilst audiences learned little about the actual topic to which this interview ostensibly relates, those with existing knowledge of the issue did gain insight into the irrelevance of the BBC’s grasp of what lies behind the conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme broadcasts 3 minute anti-Israel diatribe

Many readers have written in over the last few days in order to bring our attention to items of BBC content on a range of platforms and we would like to thank all those who took the time to help out, especially during such an intense period.

One item which was the subject of several e-mails was a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on July 3rd, along with several other items pertaining to the rioting in Jerusalem and the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir. We will address other aspects of that programme in a future post, but Knell’s item is of particular interest because in addition to being broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme, it has also been vigorously promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, appearing under the inflammatory and of course inaccurate title “Cousins of Palestinian teenager: Police ‘protecting killers’“, so far for three consecutive days.

Cousins on HP 3 7

 

 

Cousins on HP

 

Cousins on HP 5 7

In the ‘Today’ broadcast, the item was introduced by Yolande Knell with the following words:

“Now when I was in the area late yesterday covering the clashes, I met two of Muhammed Abu Khdeir’s cousins – Dima and Sumoud Abu Khdeir and I asked them for their response to what happened.”

Following Knell’s audio report, during which she does not intervene at all (transcript below), presenter John Humphrys made do with the following comment:

“Well those were a couple of cousins of that teenager who was kidnapped and murdered yesterday talking to Yolande Knell…”

In other words, no effort was made either by Knell or Humphrys  – either before, during or after the interview – to provide listeners with any kind of balance or perspective which would enable them to put the three minutes of undiluted defamation and propaganda they were about to hear or had just heard into its appropriate context.

To clarify: what the cousin terms “settlements” are neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

Cousin A: “They took him at 3:30 in the morning while he was waiting for prayer. They took him, they killed him and they burned him. In the morning we woke up to police guarding the settlements. No man woke up thinking let we go run to the settlements and let’s attack these settlements. No: they already have it in their mind that they were gonna protect these settlements. Before it was even confirmed that it was him, they were already protecting these settlements and these people that took our cousin, killed him. They’re protecting them – the murderers.”

The accusation that the Israeli security forces are “protecting” the perpetrators of the crime is of course a very serious one indeed. It is also one for which there is absolutely no factual basis and at this stage of the ongoing investigation, the police have not yet named, apprehended or charged anyone in connection with the crime. One must therefore question the BBC’s extensive and unchallenged amplification of such a serious defamation.  The cousin continues:Knell cousins

“What does that tell you about the laws?  The laws they don’t care about us. They don’t care about Palestinians. We’re second class citizens. We’re not considered citizens. We’re garbage. They killed us: one down, five million to go, right? Less than five million. Every day there’s a martyr and they go and protect their settlements. So yeah, we’re mad, we’re upset, we’re throwing rocks. That’s all we can do is throw rocks. That’s our reaction; we’re upset.”

Of course all residents of Shuafat and other Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and the laws of the land apply equally in all regions. The interview continues with the second cousin denying Palestinian involvement in the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-ad Sha’ar and the promotion of a conspiracy theory.

Cousin B: “Five thousand prisoners. Palestinian prisoners in their jails and three of them we didn’t kill them and we all know that it’s a play from Netanyahu to kill all these kids. Your aim is kids? Kids?”

Cousin A: “Yeah. A kid was almost kidnapped – a child from his mother was almost kidnapped two days ago in front of my uncle’s store. Thank God our community is strong enough to protect this woman and her child. Unfortunately it was 3:30 in the morning when this kid got kidnapped in front of the mosque. No-one saw them. There was a few people that saw them but they got away before they could help ‘cos it was 3:30 in the morning. And they know it’s Ramadan. They know it’s Ramadan. They took him during Ramadan.”

Cousin B: “What would a kid do to you? He’s a kid. Seventeen years old. What he can do to you? To all your weapons, your sick things. Your sick settlements. There are settlers they are just killing us. Living in our land and killing us. That’s sick.”

Cousin A: “Stolen property and stolen children. Stolen. Now they’re stealing our kids and killing them. Our kids; not adults. Not people that are – hey, I’m pro-Palestinian, I wanna – no: children that haven’t even passed the [unintelligible]. Let them get into college. Let them live life a minute before you go kidnap and kill them. No-one cares. Who’s….the media doesn’t….I mean obviously you’re talking to me; you’re part of the media, but there’s something crazy going on. But for the most part no-one talks about the Palestinian situation, the Palestinian case. It’s quieted, it’s shushed because most people support the Israeli government. No-one cares if six people are missing, ten people die, two kids are kidnapped, ten women are killed. No-one cares about Palestinians.”

Cousin B: “We’re nothing, we’re nothing, we’re nothing.”

There is nothing in this uninterrupted three-minute diatribe which could possibly contribute to the enhancement of BBC audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the facts behind the event to which it supposedly relates – quite the opposite, in fact.  And yet, an editorial decision was made not only to broadcast the item on Radio 4, but also to further amplify it on the BBC News website. 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme continues template coverage of teens’ abduction

The June 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on June 12th which again adheres to the editorial template currently in use by the BBC to frame coverage of that topic.

Presented by James Naughtie, the item can be heard from 02:37:14 here for a limited period of time.Today prog 24 6

That editorial template is composed of:

  • Ambiguous presentation of the kidnappings and lack of presentation of the context of dozens of previous attempts and plots to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians.
  • Eradication of any mention of both public and official Palestinian praise for the kidnappings.
  • Patchy mention of concurrent missile attacks from the Gaza Strip solely in the framework of reporting on Israeli responses to those attacks.
  • Eradication of any mention of caches of weapons and explosives discovered during the search.
  • Emphasis on the notion of the search as ‘punishment’ of the Palestinians.
  • Portrayal of the search for the teenagers as escalating tensions, rather than the kidnapping itself.
  • Implication that the search for the kidnap victims will bring about the collapse of the PUG, rather than the kidnappings’ perpetration by a party to the Palestinian unity deal.

James Naughtie introduces the item – which conforms to all of the above points – as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

“The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his support to people who’re trying to establish the whereabouts of three Israeli teenagers who’ve been missing for three days after apparently – for several days actually; there are three of them – after apparently being kidnapped. The incident’s caused great tension on the West Bank. The Israeli armed forces say they have detained 361 people since the students went missing on June the twelfth. The mother of one of them, Rachel Frenkel, is in Geneva. She’s appealing for international support in her efforts to find her son and his friends. A few minutes ago I spoke to her and she recalled what happened to them.”

Rachel Frenkel: “They were on their way back from school and that was already twelve days ago. My son texted me; he’s on his way home. And then they never showed up. Over the night we discovered that this is…that they’re missing, that this is serious and ever since, everybody’s trying to find them.”

JN: “What do you believe happened to them?”

RF: “They were obviously kidnapped. The government thinks it’s done by Hamas. And we’re waiting for any sign of life, any….We had no contact with them whatsoever.”

JN: “And you want people to rally round, really, to try to help the search for these three teenagers and perhaps to put pressure on those who may have taken them.”

RF: “Yeah well, this is not a political issue at all; this is on the humanitarian level. They are three kids; three boys on their way home from school. Their parents are waiting for them; their siblings are waiting for them. We have no idea where they are and we just want anybody who has anything to do with….in any way… that they can help. We came here to Geneva to try to speak to officials and to speak in the assembly of human rights. We could use any help we can…”

Notably, Naughtie makes no mention of the abundant examples of Palestinian public and official praise for the kidnappings on the streets or in both social and mainstream media before he goes on to say:

JN: “Now, clearly there will be people…ahm…on both sides of the divide, in a divided country, who will share your horror on this…ahm…including Palestinians.”

RF: “Surely. We got many supporting messages from Palestinians – they’re horrified by this story. Abu Mazen himself condemned it. This is not a political issue: children should be kept out of this game. There’s no reason to use children as tools in any struggle. 

Rachel Frenkel speaking at the UN in Geneva, June 24th

Rachel Frenkel speaking at the UN in Geneva, June 24th

JN: “You believe they were kidnapped by Hamas. Has that organisation said anything about this case?”

RF: “No they haven’t.”

JN: “They’ve said nothing?”

RF: “No.”

In fact, James Naughtie should have been able to tell Rachel Frenkel that whilst she was travelling to Geneva on the evening before this interview, Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al was doing an interview of his own with Al Jazeera, in which he said of the kidnappings:

““No one claimed responsibility so far. I can neither confirm [Hamas's responsibility] nor deny it,” Mashaal said, quickly adding that the circumstances of the kidnapping were more important than the perpetrators.

“Blessed be the hands that captured them,” Mashaal said. “This is a Palestinian duty, the responsibility of the Palestinian people. Our prisoners must be freed; not Hamas’s prisoners — the prisoners of the Palestinian people.””

That statement joins others made by Hamas officials, including the one made on June 19th by Salah Bardawil in which he stated that “the Palestinian resistance” had carried out the kidnappings. Naughtie goes on:

JN: “Whereas Mr Abbas – Abu Mazen as you call him – has said something.”

RF: “Yes, sure; he condemned it.”

JN: “Ahm…what is your hope now?”

RF: “Well we have every reason to believe they’re alive. This definitely looks like a kidnapping; an abduction that was meant to keep them alive. And we have no counter-indication that anything happened to them. So they’re just being hidden and kept and not… You know; just the time that the kidnappers are waiting is just…it’s just excruciating suffering. We just hope to get them back – sound and safe and healthy – and our problem should just be getting them back in life.”

JN: “Rachel Frankel: the mother of one of those teenagers apparently kidnapped on June the twelfth.”

Notably, throughout that entire interview, Naughtie never asks Rachel Frenkel her son’s name or any other personal details about her, her family or the other abducted youths. He goes on to inform listeners that it is the search efforts which are causing “tension” – not the kidnappings themselves – and fails to inform listeners that the vast majority of the “people” arrested are members of Hamas.

“We can go to our correspondent Yolande Knell. I mentioned, Yolande, in introducing Rachel Frenkel there, the tension on the West Bank – there is always tension – but this episode has really been something that has ratcheted it up. I mean I mentioned that the Israeli armed forces say that they have detained 361 people in the last few days.”

Knell responds by throwing in a gratuitous mention of “Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” and once again uses her pet “sworn enemy” phrase which steers audiences towards a mistaken view of Israel’s operations against Hamas as motivated by emotion – rather than by the legal obligation to defend its citizens from terrorist activity, as in fact the case.

Yolande Knell: “That’s right and overnight this huge military operation continued the search for the missing teenagers. It’s now in its twelfth day. They were studying at Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank when they went missing. Ahm…now, the Israeli military has made clear that its operation has two objectives. First; to find these three Israelis but second; to also target the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas – its sworn enemy – in the West Bank. Hamas hasn’t said it was behind the teenagers’ disappearance but the Israeli prime minister has said there’s unequivocal proof that it’s responsible.”

She then goes on to promote once again the falsehood of “punishment” of the Palestinians.

“And really there’s a lot of resentment on the Palestinian side. Palestinians say that the search goes beyond just finding the missing teenagers or even targeting Hamas: that all kinds of offices and businesses have been raided that have no Hamas connection. More than one and a half thousand premises have been searched and it’s putting a lot of political pressure on the Palestinians. We’ve also seen four Palestinians killed in the past week by Israeli soldiers as there have been clashes as they’ve gone about their raids.”

Naughtie then interjects, adding his shoulder to the promotion of the notion of Israeli actions as the cause of tensions, rather than the kidnappings themselves, and in contrast, notably neither he nor Knell appear to have any interest in informing listeners about the current mood on the Israeli street. Notably too, Naughtie fails to inform audiences that the kidnappings themselves are an act of political violence.

The mothers of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal, Geneva, June 24th

The mothers of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal, Geneva, June 24th

JN: “It’s interesting because Rachel Frenkel said several times in the course of my conversation with her about half an hour ago that she did not regard this as a political issue; she doesn’t want it to turn into a political issue, but the truth of it is that in the circumstances that pertain there, it’s bound to become that and the minute the Israeli military crank up their operations as you’ve just described, naturally on the Palestinian side there is outrage – even among some people who might feel passionately that these young people should be found and brought safely home.”

YK: “Yes, that’s right. I mean there are huge political implications for all of this. It’s putting a lot of pressure on the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He has condemned what he called the kidnapping of the teenagers and he said that his security forces were cooperating with the search for them. He’s since criticised what he’s described as Israeli aggression, but really you can see that he’s lost a lot of support over his stance on all of this. There have even been protests by Palestinians against the Palestinian security forces because of the security coordination – that’s been quite an unusual development.

And all of this is threatening to break the new Palestinian unity government. It’s only just been set up as part of the reconciliation deal between Mr Abbas’ secular Fatah movement and Hamas: the two main Palestinian factions. This government’s made up of technocrats and it’s supposed to pave the way for new elections. Israel’s opposed it from the start because it sees Hamas as a terrorist group and that now…this new government….it’s very unclear whether it will really be able to get to work.”

As has been the case in all BBC coverage of the Palestinian unity government, Knell fails to inform audiences of its obligation under the terms of existing agreements to take action against just such instances of terrorist acts, instead promoting the notion that it will be Israel’s fault if the PUG collapses. She also neglects yet again to accurately define Hamas’ terrorist designation or to inform audiences of inflammatory (if not downright delusional) statements made by that “technocrat” government’s foreign minister – a man with prior links to the PFLP.

“Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki claimed on Sunday that Israel may have staged the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers 10 days ago to deflect international criticism from it, arguing that the Jewish state had no proof that Hamas was behind the abduction.”

Clearly this across the board template reporting of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-ad Sha’ar is shaped by a particular political viewpoint which erases uncomfortable facts and distorts others. It is certainly doing nothing to enable the BBC to fulfil its purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

 

 

 

BBC’s Evan Davis promotes notion that search for kidnapped teens is ‘collective punishment’

Listeners to the June 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme (available here for a limited period of time) heard the following during the news bulletin two hours into the programme.Today 16 6

“Reports from the West Bank say Israeli soldiers searching for three teenagers who haven’t been seen since Thursday, have shot dead a Palestinian man near the city of Ramallah. Palestinian medical officials say he was killed during clashes that started after soldiers conducted house to house searches in a refugee camp.”

Of course when that announcement was broadcast – around 08:00 GMT – that report had not been confirmed. 

Later on in the programme, from around 02:36:08 in the recording above, listeners heard presenter and Wikipedia fan Evan Davis introduce an item ostensibly on the subject of the kidnappings of the three Israeli teenagers. As readers will soon see, that item rapidly became a platform for political campaigning, both by his first guest and by Davis himself, with his adoption and use of the language and narrative used by anti-Israel campaigners quickly dispelling any impression of that famed BBC ‘impartiality’.

Evan Davis: “Three Israeli teenagers are missing. The three are students at a seminary on the occupied West Bank and they were taken while hitch-hiking on Thursday night. Israel blames Hamas and in searching for the three, Israeli troops did kill a Palestinian youth overnight.”

Again, Davis repeats an unconfirmed report and gives no context regarding what the “youth” was doing at the time. He continues:

“With me in the studio is the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, but first let’s talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who’s an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and joins us on the phone. Good morning.”

So, in an item supposedly about three kidnapped Israeli citizens, the BBC elects to open not by providing listeners with factual information about the incident or how it is affecting the families of the missing boys or Israel as a whole, but by giving a platform to one of its favorite serial Palestinian propagandists.

Mustafa Barghouti: “Good morning.”

ED: “Do you have a suspicion as to where these teenagers are or who would have taken them?”

MB: “Well there is no…nobody has any idea about where they are but I think Mr Netanyahu’s government is jeopardizing the lives of these young people by putting them in illegal settlements inside the West Bank. And the whole situation is very explosive because of the fact that 260 Palestinian prisoners who are detained without charges by Israel for…some of them for more than two years, are now on hunger strike for over 50 days and some of them might die at any moment. Eh…if Israel did release these prisoners and had a way to solve the fact that five thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails could be released, I think we would have avoided all these problems.”

Failing to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by neglecting to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s statement omits any mention of the terror offences of which the prisoners he promotes were convicted, Davis goes on.

ED: “Right. So listening to you, sorry, Dr Barghouti.  Listening to you I would – if I knew nothing about this case – would assume that someone on the Palestinian side had abducted these..err…youngsters as a political – an act – a political act of some kind. Because you’ve mentioned the settlements – the illegal settlements – you’ve mentioned the desire to release prisoners; that would suggest…I mean anyone thinking like you…that you’d take the teenagers, maybe as a bargaining chip or you’d take the teenagers as some kind of revenge.”

Note that Davis fails to meet BBC guidelines on impartiality by presenting audiences with the notion of “illegal settlements” without any accompanying clarification of the fact that there exist many differing views of that topic.

MB: “It could be the case that some Palestinian…it could be the case – nobody has the proof of course – but it could be the case that some Palestinians decided that the only way to release the prisoners whose life is at stake is to have Israeli prisoners as well…”

ED: “Mmm…”

MB: “…like has happened with Gilad Shalit before, after which Israel had to release the one thousand prisoners who were in jail for more than 30 years or 25 years.”

Again, Davis makes no attempt to clarify to listeners that those released under the terms of the Shalit deal were convicted terrorists.

MB: “So, but the original root of the problem is the fact that Israel is maintaining illegal occupation…”

Davis interrupts with another display of deliberate and active breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality:

ED: “Illegal settlements.”

MB: “..for 47 years and this occupation has transformed into a system of apartheid and discrimination…”

ED: “Doctor…”

MB: “….and the solution to this problem is not by conducting what Israel does now which are acts of collective punishment against the whole people including killing people as happened this morning in Ramallah.”

Not only does Davis fail to challenge Barghouti’s use of the defamatory and inaccurate ‘apartheid’ trope or his ridiculous promotion of the notion of “collective punishment” to describe an ever increasingly urgent search and rescue operation but – as readers will soon see – he adopts and promotes the latter propaganda himself.

ED: “Ah, Dr Barghouti; thank you for that and maybe wait on the line and listen to Daniel Taub the Israeli Ambassador. Good morning to you.”

Daniel Taub: “Good morning.”

ED: “And I know you weren’t willing to discuss with Dr Barghouti in this case. Has Israel any evidence that Hamas is actually the guilty party in this case?”

DT: “The answer is yes. Obviously I can’t share intelligence with you, but we can point to a number of things. The fact is, since the beginning of 2013 we’ve had tragically over 64….64 attempts to kidnap Israelis and we know that the majority of those were actually orchestrated by Hamas. We have Hamas leaders who have been calling for an increase in attempts – not just general terrorist attacks – but attempts to kidnap Israelis. And of course we have the Hamas leadership which still today is calling the people that perpetrated this atrocity as heroes.”

ED: “If you know it’s Hamas, and you appear to – in your own mind – be clear about that, why would you be arresting people or going into the West Bank and taking people, searching places, that are not related to Hamas – which is certainly the accusation the other side is making.”

DT: “What we’re doing at the moment is what I think any government in this situation would be doing. We are detaining for questioning anybody that may have any intelligence that can help us identify the whereabouts of these three teenagers.”

ED: “Including non-Hamas people?”

DT: “We are detaining the people that we think may have any intelligence.”

ED: “Right, but if you know it’s Hamas, why would you be detaining non-Hamas people?”

DT: “You know I’m not going to go into the details of intelligence gathering operations. As the British intelligence services know, those are complicated.”

ED: “Right, but…”

DT: “Our only goal is to bring these three boys home.”

ED: “What you do get into though is the notion of collective punishment for a whole community for the sins of maybe a few people within that community…”

DT: “I don’t think…it’s not a question of collective punishment but there is a question of collective responsibility. The fact is we have a leadership here in the Palestinian Authority which has engaged in a national unity government with Hamas. You know, they assured us, they assured the international community that in fact that Hamas would become more moderate, would sign up to the international principles of the Quartet, would renounce violence; that we would see Gaza becoming more like the West Bank, and tragically what we’re seeing is actually the West Bank becoming more like Gaza. And if President Abbas wants to be the president of a unity government the first thing that he has to do is ensure that he has a monopoly on the use of force; that he exercises responsibility over all parts of his government; dismantles Hamas and exercises authority over Gaza as well.

Once more breaching BBC guidelines on impartiality, Davis then also suggests to audiences that the blame for the kidnapping of the three teenagers lies with Israel.

Found in Nablus area, 16/6/14

Found in Nablus area, 16/6/14

ED: “Do you think your approach is working? Illegally settling those areas and having young people wandering around them. Is that working for Israeli security?

DT: “Ahm…the youngsters that we’re talking about were people that were born in this situation. These are not youngsters that you can blame for having moved somewhere. Obviously, the solution that we would like to see is a peaceful negotiation…”

ED: “You’re not denying though…it would generally have been regarded as Palestinian territory until the Israelis…”

DT: “I tell you I don’t accept that that has anything to do with this case because we know that Hamas makes no distinction. Think about it: since the beginning of this year we’ve had from Gaza over two hundred missiles fired on towns and villages inside Israel. Just yesterday we has two more…two more missiles found…people who are not living over the green line, but living in Ashkelon.”

Davis then takes it upon himself to act as telepathic pollster of the Palestinian people and yet again finds a way of promoting the notion that Israel is to blame for terror attacks against its citizens.pic Avi M

ED: “Hamas may not make the distinction that you draw between the occupied and the unoccupied territories, but the rest of the Palestinian community may make that distinction and the ability of Hamas to operate in the way that you say it is operating may have been enhanced by the fact that you’re occupying what would generally have been regarded as Palestinian…”

DT: “I have to say that if you look at the experience of recent years, what Dr Barghouti is advocating doesn’t make sense to most Israelis. We have today 170,000 missiles that are directed at Israel and the vast majority – almost all of those – are located in areas that Israel has pulled out of, whether it’s in South Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. The notion that pulling out of these areas without a responsible authority that is going to take control, do what any responsible government would do, is not an intelligent move. It’s unfortunately much closer to suicide.”

The item ends at that point, with Radio 4 audiences none the wiser about how the kidnappings took place, who the kidnapped boys and their families are, how the incident is being dealt with at an operative level or what is the reaction of the Israeli public. Neither, of course, are listeners told anything about the celebratory reactions on the Palestinian street and the inflammatory statements made by Hamas and Fatah officials – as has indeed been the case in all BBC coverage of this incident so far.

As three families endure a tortuous wait for news of their loved ones and an entire nation stands anxiously between hope and fear, Davis’ politically motivated attempts to place the blame for their abduction upon Israel and frame search efforts as “collective punishment” are frankly obnoxious. The BBC has no editorial guidelines concerning its presenters’ good taste and social skills, but it does have guidelines on accuracy and impartiality which Evan Davis, in his rush to amplify his own chosen political narrative, tramples just as much as he does plain old common decency. 

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Still no BBC reporting on Palestinian celebrations of kidnappings

 

A former BBC reporter recounts an interesting episode in BBC history

h/t JS

The April 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the new film about the Nigerian civil war ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ . The film’s director Biyi Bandele was interviewed by presenter John Humphrys, along with the author Frederick Forsyth who, as assistant diplomatic correspondent at the time, covered the conflict for the BBC. The item can be heard here for a limited period of time from 2:46:58. Today 4 4 14

Parts of the conversation with Frederick Forsyth include some thought-provoking background on BBC reporting of events at the time.

John Humphrys: “You were sent by the BBC to cover that and you ended up resigning. Well, whether you were sacked or resigned, you left the BBC and that’s because effectively, you did something reporters are never meant to do; you took sides.”

Frederick Forsyth: “Well that’s the great smear and it’s not true.”

JH: “I didn’t mean it as a smear but – it was a very honourable thing that you did…”

FF: “No, no; hold on. In the early days, before the children started dying, it was a non-war and I was sent down there as assistant diplomatic correspondent of the BBC with a briefing and the briefing came from the British High Commissioner in Lagos. It broadly said this is what has led to the secession of eastern Nigeria and therefore the civil war. This is what you’ll find when you get there and this is what’s going to happen in short order: this is a non-war; this is going to be wrapped up in about fourteen days.”

JH: “That’s a load of rubbish.”

FF: “A load of rubbish. I got there and I found absolute garbage from start to finish. But being young and naïve and not knowing anything about internal BBC politics…”

JH: “As they were then.”

FF: “As they were then – and please don’t imperil your mortal soul by suggesting there’s no such thing. Having discovered that what I’d been briefed was complete garbage, I said so, and it didn’t go down well. So I was told virtually to endorse, to authenticate, what I knew to be a tissue of lies and I said I can’t do that.”

JH: “Because millions of children were dying.”

FF: “Well no – this was long before.”

JH: “Or rather they hadn’t started to die at that point.”

FF: “There was nothing emotional about it at that time – it was a straight evaluation of a situation. The Nigerian army was not conquering all before it. It was stuck on the border. Nobody virtually was dying but I was told that I had to report sweeping victories by the Nigerian Federal Army.”

JH: “Told by?”

FF: “By Broadcasting House. This was what you might call the policy. It was being said out of Lagos, you see. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s propaganda ministry was publishing all this […] but Angus McDermott who was the West Africa correspondent was filing these claims from the propaganda ministry and they were appearing with attribution at paragraph three or four, so it sounded like flat statements of fact with the authority of the BBC behind it. So why wouldn’t I confirm? And that was where it was at. Therefore if I couldn’t confirm what must be true because the British High Commissioner was saying it was true, even though he was 400 miles from the fighting – the non-fighting – and I was in the middle of it, then I must be biased.” [….]

JH: “But the story that was put out was that you’d gone native.”

FF: “Yes I know. That was – they had to smear a reporter who’d done the unthinkable.” […]

JH: “I have to say that ehm…and I’m sure you’d accept… well I don’t know whether you’d accept this or not – but ehm…the idea of being told these days to write something, to report something that you knew not to be true is simply – in this organisation – is unthinkable. I mean I’d say that without fear or favour, as it were.”

FF: “OK – well it wasn’t unthinkable then because that was my brief. My brief was simply…”

JH: “It was a long time ago.”

FF: “..my brief was this is what is happening, why are you saying the opposite? You must be biased.”

JH: “Mmm…”

Quaint as it may be to see John Humphrys’ confidence in his claim that it is “unthinkable” that a BBC journalist would, over four decades on, be told “to write something…that you knew not to be true”, one has to conclude that he has not joined the dots between the BBC’s amplification of Nigerian propaganda in 1967 and its contemporary repetition of Hamas and Hizballah propaganda.

Humphrys also appears to prefer to avoid the fact that Broadcasting House “policy” from above clearly still shapes BBC reporting on a variety of topics. Its manifestation may, in the modern era, often be just as much about not writing something a reporter knows to be true, but it certainly still exists and it is facilitated by assorted style guides and editorial guidelines which, for instance, steer reporters towards coy avoidance of use of the word terrorism in certain parts of the world or continue to cause the BBC to embarrass itself with its ridiculous refusal to locate and recognise Israel’s capital city.   

 

Exclusive: how a complainant convinced the BBC Trust’s ESC to uphold his appeal

As we have previously noted, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee recently upheld an appeal regarding a complaint about a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which was broadcast on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme in June 2011. 

As reported by The Times in mid-March:

“The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint which alleged that a five-minute report on Radio 4’s Today programme about the Six-Day War was misleading and biased, The Times has learnt. […]

The latest complaint relates to an item which aired on the Today programme in June 2011. The report, by Kevin Connolly, one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents, examined the legacy of the 1967 conflict between Israel and several neighbouring states.

According to the trust’s findings, which were obtained by The Times, a listener alleged that the Today report wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the war, when it had given 90 per cent of the land captured in 1967 back to Egypt. The programme also, the complainant alleged, gave a misleading impression that Israel was not willing to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.

The trust found that the Today report had been inaccurate on both points and that the complaints should be upheld.”

As previously noted here, this complaint took a shocking two and a half years to make its way through the BBC’s complaints procedure and one of the interesting features of the ESC’s report on the topic (pages 9 -23 here) is the documentation of the sudden about-turn in the BBC’s stance regarding the complaint after input from “the News Division and from the BBC correspondent [Kevin Connolly]“.

“On 3 December 2012 the complainant received an undated letter from the Head of the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit], advising him of the Unit’s provisional finding. The ECU said that by drawing attention to the original extent of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 without referring to the return of Sinai, the item may have created the impression that Israel remained vastly larger as a result of the war and that land for peace remained an untested option. It had therefore provisionally decided to uphold a breach of accuracy in this respect. [emphasis added]

Following an inquiry by the complainant in March 2013 about whether the decision had been finalised, the complainant was advised that the last letter he had received telling him of the provisional finding, had been sent to him in error; it had been intended as a draft for internal consultation.

As a result of representations from the News Division and from the BBC correspondent in response to the internal circulation of the provisional finding, the Head of the ECU had now altered his view and had decided not to uphold any aspect of the complaint. He said the point had been made to him that the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” as envisaged in those Accords. An integral part of the Accords had been a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Because the ECU was now satisfied that the return of the Sinai did not constitute “land for peace” the significance of any incorrect impression as to the extent of territory Israel had withdrawn from was much reduced and the ECU decided it would not therefore have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the Head of the ECU – who had previously been inclined to uphold the complaint – was persuaded to completely reverse his position by the specious claim of Kevin Connolly et al that Israel’s return of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt within the framework of the peace treaty between the two countries did not constitute ‘land for peace’.  Many of us might simply have given up in the face of such contorted logic, but the complainant did not. Instead, he persevered with a reply to Connolly’s claims.

“The complainant responded to the revised provisional finding on 13 April 2013 with a detailed rebuttal of the ECU’s conclusions, challenging the ECU’s interpretation of the contents of the Camp David Accords.”

Whilst that detailed rebuttal did not prompt the Head of the ECU to change his mind about rejecting the complaint, it was taken into consideration by the Editorial Standards Committee which eventually did uphold the complaint.

BBC Watch contacted the complainant, Sam Green, who kindly agreed to share with us details of his rebuttal of the claims produced by Connolly. Sam’s account below makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever waded into the BBC complaints procedure and raises serious questions about the workings of that procedure as a whole.

“The lowest point in the grinding slog of my BBC complaint was probably receiving the Editorial Complaints Unit proposed final ruling. This was the final stage within the Corporation before I appealed to the BBC Trust, the semi-detached oversight body.

It was so demoralising because, on top of the delay (I was strongly suspicious they were trying to use delay as a tactic to bury the complaint), the logic in this finding was so flawed, so tortuous, so surreal that this letter made me doubt the bona fides of the organisation. The important thing was not the journalism; it was preventing a complaint succeeding.

The second response came after they had previously said they were planning to partly uphold the complaint, and then said I’d been told that by mistake.

Here is their reasoning on why my complaint didn’t hold water:

“…the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” envisaged in those Accords, an integral part of which was a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Put simply, the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai could be regarded as an instance of “land for peace” if that outcome had been achieved, but it has not been.

…Kevin Connolly’s report was concerned with “land for peace” in the same sense – a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”

I had a problem in how I was going to respond to this; one of the tactics the BBC used was to layer on complication; the more complication they layered on the easier it was for them to say how complicated it all was and they couldn’t possibly hope to deal with all of that. I needed to focus on the internal logic of the report rather than a history of the Middle East. However I did need to engage with their argument, so I dealt with both. It was a long letter.

I started by signposting the attempt to overcomplicate in their response:

I will not be drawn into a line-by-line dissection of the Camp David Accords; it is a diversion from the question of whether your listeners heard an inaccurate and misleading report. They are for the most part not expert in the history and politics of the Middle East, and nor am I. Nor should there be any expectation that we have such specialist knowledge.

If the BBC starts from the expectation that its listeners ought to have postgraduate level knowledge of all the topics it covers it would not benefit your listernership.

I went on to differentiate between the two treaties that made up Camp David, to outline elements of the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty, summarising;

It is called a Peace Treaty. It establishes a state of peace between Egypt and Israel. It links the establishment of that peace with the exchange of territory.

I engaged with the term “land for peace” (their inverted commas) and my efforts to find out where their singular usage they claimed for the phrase had come from. It was not in the other Camp David accord; the Framework for Peace, it was not in the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty. A Google search took me to Security Council Resolution 242 which itself did not contain the phrase, was not raised in the report or previously in the complaint and did not contain a meaning claimed in the ECU provisional ruling.

I moved on to the contradictory and ever fluid meaning of ‘peace’. In the statement from the ECU there was no peace for which land had been traded because the “staged progression  to full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement” did not come to pass, and, at the same time it meant “…a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”. That’s quite an unexplained stretch for a concept. It shows just how desperate the BBC was to retrofit plausible meaning on their report.

I spent quite some words addressing this; if it was about peace with the Palestinians why talk about Syria so much?

The Camp David Accords were between Israel and Egypt. There were no other regional parties who were signatories to those accords or, as far as I understand, who accepted it.

And which parties do you mean? The states involved in the 1967 Six Day War? Syria was excluded from the Camp David accords, Jordan was not a party. And what about Iraq and the Arab League? The PLO, or Fatah, and what about Hamas? Other Arab states? Who are “all parties”? Why is there an assumption that Egypt spoke for and signed on their behalf when they explicitly rejected it?

It was at this point I mentioned the Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 which also included territorial concessions. Land as part of a peace deal.

And the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005; more complex but still relevant in terms of willingness to withdraw from conquered territory.

In terms of the extent of territory under Israeli control, the ECU had this to say;

“…the significance of such an incorrect impression is much reduced if the resulting inference that ‘land for peace remained an untested option’ is not viewed as misleading; and, on balance, I don’t think it would have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report to the extent that I would regard it as a breach of editorial standards.”

To me it seemed blindingly obvious:

a listener without specialist knowledge would naturally infer that in the absence of any statement to the contrary Israel remains triple the size (or controls territory triple its original size).

After travelling much further into the complex history of the region than I wanted to, I had moved to my real point; the importance in not losing sight of what the listener heard and the natural meaning they would associate with that.

Turning to the question of land for peace. I again suggest it is appropriate for you to rely on natural meaning… the impression your listener would have been left with by the report that went out was one of intransigence and unwillingness to trade territory for peace. An impression that required context.

…on any natural meaning, as understood by a reasonable listener, trading more than 90% of the territory captured in the context of peace treaties, for peace, constitutes land for peace; land pursuant to peace. Trying to use semantics to argue otherwise smacks of casuistry.

This made no impact on the ECU which rejected the complaint. It is only because the complaint managed to reach the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that these points (along with later submissions) were properly considered, and the Trust ruled that the report was inaccurate and misleading; that it was bad journalism.

The question now is; why didn’t Kevin Connolly understand that? Does he get it now? Does he accept it? Why didn’t the Today programme producers and Editor understand that? Why didn’t the people dealing with the initial complaint understand that and why, for all their lengthy and reflective deliberations didn’t the ECU understand that?

And what are they all going to do about it?

They haven’t said – and I think we can all have a pretty good guess at the answers to all of those questions.”