When BBC journalists become the story – and when they don’t

On January 20th followers of the BBC News Twitter account were alerted to a story described as follows:

Tweet journalist fly US

However, only those who followed the link and bothered to read the article – titled “BBC journalist Rana Rahimpour stopped from flying to US” – in full would appreciate that in fact the well promoted story (which is also told in an additional article by BBC Trending called “Why I tweeted a picture of myself in tears“) has nothing at all to do with the BBC or journalism and that it is actually about the visa related tribulations of a woman making a private journey who just happens to work for the corporation.Rahimpour story

In an additional filmed interview on BBC News Rahimpour gave a positive answer to this loaded question from the presenter:

“Does this feel right now that you are being discriminated against because of your heritage?”

The question of whether or not journalists should become the story is of course largely a matter of taste but in this case it seems pretty clear that Ms Rahimpour’s BBC connections prompted wide coverage of an event which might otherwise have received much less exposure.

Interestingly, a previous story about another BBC employee did not receive any coverage from the corporation. BBC News producer Erica Chernofsky wrote about her experiences whilst driving in Judea & Samaria last October at the Times of Israel.Rahimpour story Trending

“And then suddenly there was a loud boom. And another, and another, and then another. And I couldn’t see a thing, and I heard my children screaming, the baby crying, I looked out my window and saw the Palestinian children, and then an Israeli soldier. I fumbled for my cell phone, following the protocol I had been taught but never had to use.

I called for help. I heard my voice shaking as I tried to explain where we were, what had happened, and as I did my car’s windscreen finally came into focus, it was smashed, my legs and arms were covered in glass, my knee was burning where a shard of glass was stuck inside my skin. And then I dropped the phone, suddenly remembering my children, ohmigod my children, the baby! I climbed out of my seat to look behind me as my husband continued driving away as fast as he could.

They were screaming, my 3-year-old was crying hysterically, my 6-year-old was yelling “what happened mommy, what happened!” over and over again. And the baby, was crying, screaming, oh, he’s such a good baby and he never cries, and then I saw he was covered in millions of tiny pieces of glass. The entire back windshield of the car had smashed in, there was glass everywhere, all over my children, all over my baby. In his hair, on his face, on his little onesie. I gently tried to shake the glass off him as my hands trembled, “drive faster, quickly, quickly, we have to check the baby,” I cried to my husband, who had somehow not lost control of the car during the attack. […]

It’s in the news all the time. Rock throwing. It seems trivial. But it wasn’t rocks. It wasn’t pebbles. It was giant blocks of stone, the rectangular kind that are used to build houses. And it can kill. Rocks, stones, guns, are all the same. They are weapons. They are violence. They are tools to commit murder.”

So, whilst a BBC employee with nationality-related visa problems makes the news, a BBC employee targeted in a terror attack for no other reason than her nationality did not.

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News from Hamas – via the BBC’s Gaza office

Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Rushdi Abualouf, on January 13th.

Rushdi tweet IED 13 1

As can be seen from the wording of the Tweet, that version of the story came from Hamas sources and was obviously not verified before it was disseminated.

“One man was killed in the strike and three more were injured, according to Hamas, which claimed the attack came not from an aircraft, but from an Israel Navy ship.”

The incident received no further coverage from the BBC.

“The Israel Air Force attacked a terror cell in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, in a joint operation with the Shin Bet.

Members of the terror cell were planting explosives on the border fence, which they were planning on setting off near an IDF patrol.

The Palestinians reported one killed, 31-year-old Musa Za’aytar, and three others wounded in the attack, their condition currently unknown. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group, later identified the deceased as a member, saying he was targeted while planting explosives.”

Whilst the terror cell’s affiliations are not clear, as far as the BBC is concerned this Palestinian fatality will join the many others which are opaquely described as having come about “in clashes with Israeli forces”.

Impartiality fail from BBC’s Barbara Plett

The Tweet below was sent by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett on January 14th 2016.

Plett tweet

Why Ms Plett found it necessary at this time to use her BBC branded Twitter account to resurrect an article unrelated to her field of reporting nearly three years after its initial publication remains a mystery. What is clear however is that the article promoted by Plett is about a study that is by no means “new” and which was shown at the time to be highly controversial.

The Israeli-Palestinian Textbook Study Fraud

The Palestinian Textbook Fiasco

The Whitewashing of Hate

Study on incitement ‘another Goldstone Report’

Giving incitement the stamp of approval

BBC editorial guidelines on “Personal use of Social Networking and other third party websites” state:

“Impartiality is a particular concern for those working in News and Current Affairs. Nothing should appear on their personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.” 

The promotion of a discredited study with distinct political overtones by a BBC journalist would clearly undermine the corporation’s reputation for impartiality at any time. When such promotion is done by a journalist who has already been shown to lack an impartial approach to the subject matter concerned, it is obviously all the more problematic.

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BBC takes action over offensive Twitter account

Earlier this month we noted the existence of a Twitter account held by someone claiming to be a BBC employee which included offensive Israel-related posts.Grintz profile

“If the BBC really does employ the holder of this Twitter account, then obviously the corporation needs to address the matter urgently. If not, the issue of someone posing as a BBC employee on social media and thereby bringing the corporation into disrepute also clearly warrants action.” 

Shortly afterwards the account was discontinued and in response to a complaint submitted by Mr Stephen Franklin, the BBC has clarified that the holder is not a member of its staff.

“We can assure you that the user in question is not BBC staff. We became aware of this matter and took the appropriate measures. This account has since been suspended.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.”

Does offensive Twitter account belong to a BBC employee?

BBC editorial guidelines on “Personal use of Social Networking and other third party websites” refer staff to a guidance document which states:

“…when someone clearly identifies their association with the BBC and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately when on the Internet, and in ways that are consistent with the BBC’s editorial values and policies.”

Under the heading “principles”, the guidance states:

“The BBC’s reputation for impartiality and objectivity is crucial. The public must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes and services. Our audiences need to be confident that the outside activities of our presenters, programme makers and other staff do not undermine the BBC’s impartiality or reputation and that editorial decisions are not perceived to be influenced by any commercial or personal interests.

To this end when identified as a BBC staff member or BBC talent, people:

  • Should not engage in activities on the Internet which might bring the BBC into disrepute.
  • Should act in a transparent manner when altering online sources of information.
  • Should not use the Internet in any way to attack or abuse colleagues.
  • Should not post derogatory or offensive comments on the Internet.

Even if they are not identified as a BBC staff member, editorial staff and staff in politically sensitive areas should not be seen to support any political party or cause.”

The Twitter account belonging to someone calling himself ‘Comrade Grintz’ claims in the profile that the holder is a BBC cameraman.

Grintz profile

A Tweet recently sent from that account referring to Labour MP Liz Kendall has been the subject of much criticism on social media.

Grintz tweet Kendall

Further perusal of the account’s timeline shows numerous other offensive Tweets.

Grintz tweets 1

Grintz tweet 2

Grintz tweet 3

Grintz tweet 4

Grintz tweet 5

Grintz tweet 6

Grintz tweet 7

If the BBC really does employ the holder of this Twitter account, then obviously the corporation needs to address the matter urgently. If not, the issue of someone posing as a BBC employee on social media and thereby bringing the corporation into disrepute also clearly warrants action. 

Context-free Tweet from BBC Gaza correspondent compromises impartiality

h/t KK

On November 29th two terror attacks took place in Jerusalem within a matter of hours. In the first incident a 38 year-old Palestinian stabbed a Border Police officer.

“A Border Police officer was lightly to moderately wounded in a stabbing attack at the Damascus Gate leading to Jerusalem’s Old City Sunday morning.

The officer, in his early 20s, was stabbed in the neck. Magen David Adom medics evacuated him to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

The terrorist was identified as a 38-year-old Palestinian resident of Nablus in the northern West Bank.

He was shot and killed by officers at the scene.

He shouted “Allah akbar” as he stabbed the policeman, officers said. A body search found an additional knife in the assailant’s clothing.”

In the second incident a Nepalese national was stabbed by a 17 year-old Palestinian who was later arrested.

“According to police, “An initial investigation of the attack revealed that the woman was standing next to a bust stop on Shamgar Street, when a Palestinian man approached her and stabbed her in the back before fleeing the scene. The wounded woman was evacuated to Sha’are Tzedek hospital. Forces conducted a man hunt to find the assailant.”

He was later apprehended at a construction site and tied himself to the attacks.

According to police, the suspect was a 17.5-year-old Palestinian, who tied himself to the attack. Two other Palestinians were detained for questioning by police.”

The BBC News website did not report either of those attacks.

However, BBC Gaza bureau correspondent Rushdi Abualouf – who likewise ignored the two terror attacks in Jerusalem – did find it appropriate to send the Tweet below to his followers later on the evening of the same day.

Tweet Abualouf

The incident apparently referred to in that Tweet took place in Ras al Amud. According to AFP:

“Israeli border police killed a Palestinian on Sunday during clashes in occupied east Jerusalem, an official at the Palestinian health ministry told AFP, identifying him as Ayman Samih Abassi, 17.

An Israeli police statement said that officers fired at a Palestinian holding a petrol bomb in the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood after they came under attack from a volley of the missiles, but they could not confirm hitting him.

“About 10 petrol bombs were thrown at border police officers in Ras al-Amud,” the statement said.

“The force, whose lives were in immediate danger, fired at the lower body of a suspect who was seen with a petrol bomb in his hand,” it added. “A hit could not be definitely identified.””

AFP also noted that:

“A Palestinian prisoners’ welfare group said that Abassi had been arrested by Israeli police twice in the past for taking part in clashes in east Jerusalem.”

It seems likely that this is the same Ayman Samih Abassi from Ras al Amud described below in an article from the Ma’an news agency in February 2015.

“Prisoner’s families committee representative Abu Asab said that authorities at HaSharon jail released Ayman Samih al-Abbasi, 16, from Ras al-Amud town after 17 months in Israeli custody.

He added that al-Abbasi was detained on Nov. 11, 2012 for a two-week period and was then released but sentenced to house arrest for 10 months.

After this period, he turned himself in and spent 18 months in Israeli jails after being accused of stabbing an Israeli settler in the Ras al-Amud area.”

The information above is undoubtedly relevant to the story of the “17 y boy in Jerusalem” as presented by Rushdi Abualouf in that Tweet amplifying messaging from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Whilst one may not have expected that latter body to disclose the particular incident’s context and circumstances or to clarify that most of the Palestinians killed in recent weeks died whilst carrying out terror attacks or engaged in violent rioting, a BBC correspondent bound by guidelines on using social media should surely have made more effort to avoid calling the BBC’s accuracy and impartiality into question. 

Compare and contrast: BBC News personalisation of victims of terror

Whilst stuck in early morning traffic on the way to Manchester airport last Monday I found myself listening to BBC Radio 5 live’s morning broadcast. The programme understandably focused mostly on the weekend’s terror attacks in Paris and one feature particularly notable to Israeli ears was the effort made to personalise and humanise the victims. 

Listeners were given a range of information which typically included names, ages, occupations, family statuses, places of birth and education and in some cases also heard of the reactions of loved ones. Such information of course enables the listener to get beyond mere casualty figures and goes some way towards helping audiences appreciate the individual personal tragedies of victims and their families.

A week on from the attacks, that trend continues to be a feature of BBC content, with an article titled “Paris attacks: Who were the victims?” appearing on the homepage and World page of the BBC News website on November 20th and the BBC News Twitter account promoting a Facebook post devoted to tributes to the victims.

BBC News Twitter paris Victims 1

BBC News Twitter Paris victims 2

BBC News FB Paris victims

By way of contrast, the BBC’s descriptions of five victims of terror murdered in two separate attacks on November 19th in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion are notable for the paucity of personal details. TA & Gush attacks 19 11

“Five people have been killed in two attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank, officials say.

In the first attack, two Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian man at the entrance of a shop that serves as a synagogue in the city of Tel Aviv.

Later, a third Israeli, a Jewish American and a Palestinian were killed in an attack near a Jewish settlement.” […]

“One of the victims, a man in his 20s, was declared dead at the scene by the Magen David Adom ambulance service. The second was rushed to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.” […]

“Hours later, an attacker in a car opened fire at a busy junction and then crashed into a group of pedestrians, killing three people and injuring several others, the Israeli military said.

Two of the dead were identified as Jewish – an 18-year-old American tourist and a 50-year-old Israeli. The third was a Palestinian.”

Rabbi Aharon Yesayev, 32, from Tel Aviv, Reuven Aviram, 51, from Ramle, Ezra Schwartz, 18, of Sharon, Massachusetts, Yaakov Don, 49, from Alon Shvut, and Shadi Arafa, 40, from Hebron were not even named by the BBC in its report on the two incidents – even though that information was in the public domain by the time its final version was updated. Their photographs and personal stories are not featured in any dedicated BBC article or Facebook post.

Predictably, the BBC article on the attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion does not mention the word ‘terror’ whilst the article about the victims murdered in Paris opens with the words “Tributes have been paid to the 130 people who lost their lives in the Paris terror attacks”. Evidently the BBC’s two-tier system of reporting terror attacks is not only confined to the use of language.

BBC Trending, Saudi Arabia and the missing link

On September 23rd an article by BBC Trending appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The young Saudi who could be executed at any time“.

Trending Saudi story on ME pge

The article relates to social media interest in the case of a Saudi Arabian citizen sentenced to death in May 2014.

“Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr could be beheaded at any time, and now activists are rallying to highlight his case online. He’s accused of a variety of crimes against the state, all stemming from protests he took part in against the Saudi government. His appeals against a death sentence are exhausted.”BBC Trending Saudi Arabia

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“… the trend really spiked big on Wednesday. Al-Nimr’s name has now been mentioned 15,000 times in English and 21,000 times in Arabic over the past few days, with liberal and secular activists and human rights organisations leading the charge. “Our leading ally in the region crucify government critics,” tweeted one British blogger. “Wake up world.” Under Saudi law, the punishment of crucifixion to which al-Nimr was sentenced is actually a beheading, followed by the public display of the body. Others online linked the case with the recent appointment of a Saudi ambassador as chair of a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council. “Saudi Arabia chosen to head UN’s human’s rights panel & yet they’re about to behead 21yr activist,” one user commented.”

However as readers will see if they follow that link about the election of Saudi Arabia to a UN Human Rights Council panel, the writer of this article had to link to a report on the subject from the Independent – presumably because to date the BBC has refrained from producing any reporting of its own on that matter.

Quite why the BBC did not consider it newsworthy when one of the worst human rights abusing regimes in the world bagged a top position at a UN body it regularly quotes and promotes  (including on Gaza Strip casualty figures during the summer 2014 conflict) is of course a question in itself.

But the timing of this particular example of BBC self-censorship is all the more remarkable because just last week the BBC News Press Team saw fit to promote a particular quote from the latest article by a Carnegie Europe employee (there has been at least one other) extolling the virtues of the BBC World Service on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy.

Press Team tweet

Surely one would expect a media organization which touts its credentials as an agent of freedom and democracy to be among the first to report on the fact that a UN panel responsible for selecting officials who shape international human rights standards has been placed in the hands of a non-democratic, human rights abusing regime which employs medieval-style punishments

BBC editorial guidelines breached in report on Hebron incident

On September 23rd a Tweet sent from the BBC News account suggested that the most important thing audiences needed to know about a woman who tried to stab an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron was that she was a “student”.

Hebron incident BBC World tweet

That Tweet linked to an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Clashes after funeral of Palestinian shot in West Bank” and opened with interesting use of a revealing adjective:Hebron incident art

“There have been clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces in the West Bank after the funeral of a woman shot at a checkpoint on Tuesday.

The youths threw stones at the troops in the divided city of Hebron, who fired stun grenades and tear gas.” [emphasis added]

Readers are not informed that the arrangements in Hebron, whereby Israel controls Area H2 and the PA controls Area H1, are the result of the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron, signed by the representatives of the Palestinians within the framework of the Oslo Accords.

One hundred and thirteen words of this 487 word article are given over to the IDF’s account of the incident.

“The Israeli military said Hadeel al-Hashlamun, an 18-year-old student, was killed after she pulled out a knife and attempted to stab a soldier. […]

The Israeli military said that Ms Hashlamun was walking through a checkpoint dividing the Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled parts of Hebron on Tuesday when a metal detector went off.

“Forces called for her to halt, which she ignored, and she continued moving while also pulling out a knife,” a statement said.

“At this point, forces fired at the ground, then at her lower extremities in attempts to stop her advancement. The perpetrator continued and at this point, recognising a clear and present danger to their safety, the forces fired toward her.””

Double that word count – 226 words – is devoted to promotion of a contradictory account of the incident and statements from the attacker’s family. Readers are told that:

“Photographs of the incident published by Palestinian activists show a veiled woman believed to be Ms Hashlamun standing in front of two soldiers who are aiming their rifles at her.”

The article includes a photograph similar to the above description which is credited to ‘Youth Against Settlements’ but – not for the first time and in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality – the BBC refrains from informing audiences of the political agenda of that group and its “activists”.

Notably, despite its generous amplification of the messaging of ‘Youth Against Settlements’ (which included claims that she was not carrying a knife) the BBC did not find it appropriate to show readers another available photograph showing the knife carried by the attacker.

Hebron incident ABD tweet

Earlier on in the report readers are accurately informed that:

“Ms Hashlamun’s death came shortly after that of another Palestinian, who the Israeli military said was killed when a bomb he was trying to throw at soldiers blew up in a village near Hebron.”

Notably however, the BBC refrains from informing readers that the man – Dia al Talahmeh – was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and that misinformation concerning that incident was also promoted by Palestinian sources, with false claims that he had been shot by Israeli forces circulating widely.

It is worth recalling that the opaquely funded group ‘Youth Against Settlements’, which is actually the source of the narrative amplified in this report, has previously been given BBC platforms (see related articles) from which to promote the claim that last summer’s search and rescue operation in Hebron following the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers was “a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians” and the notion that “Israeli society is getting more aggressive and extreme”.

As long as the BBC continues to promote messaging from political NGOs without informing audiences of their underlying agenda as its editorial guidelines demand, it cannot of course meet its remit of enhancing audience understanding of international issues.

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BBC exploits European migrant crisis for political messaging on ‘educational’ site

BBC produced content is of course widely used by researchers, academics, educators and teachers as well as members of the general public seeking factual information. One of the corporation’s projects is a website called ‘iWonder’ – billed as “the BBC’s new factual and educational site” at the time of its launch in 2014.

As we have had occasion to note here before (see related articles below), one might expect that a website with such a mission statement would make all the more effort to ensure that its content is historically accurate, factual and impartial.

In the midst of its recent special coverage of the migrant crisis in Europe, BBC News offered audiences a link to additional content on the topic of migrants.

Tweet iWonder link

That link leads to the iWonder website and a feature titled “The Longer View: Migrant crises” which is introduced as follows:

“Echoes through history

The current migrant crisis in Europe has made headlines around the world as millions seek refuge in countries across the continent.

The scale of the crisis in 2015 has not been seen since the end of World War Two, but tackling mass migration has proved to be an almost constant concern. From Biafra to the Balkans, solutions are rarely straightforward.”

The first item in that feature is titled “Exodus” and includes an archive video which does nothing to clarify to audiences that the British policy of restricting immigration of Jews to Palestine began long before July 1947 and fails to explain the legal basis of Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine.

iWonder Exodus

Those following the link titled “Watch: People of the Exodus” arrive at content produced by film-maker – not historian – Adam Curtis (who has a blog hosted by the BBC) headlined “21 Miles Off The Coast of Palestine“.

The post was written on June 2nd 2010 – and the significance of that soon becomes apparent. The article begins:

“Here is a strange echo from history.

It is a documentary made by the BBC in 1973 about the story of the ship, the Exodus.

It was the ship full of Jewish refugees – many of them survivors of the Holocaust – that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947. The participants from both sides appear and describe in detail how British soldiers boarded the ship 21 miles off the coast of Palestine killing 3 of the refugees and wounding others.

It caused an international scandal and was a PR disaster for the British government. It is seen in Israel today as one of the most significant events that led to the founding of the modern Israeli state.

The shock was compounded when the British took most of the refugees back to Germany and put them on trains and sent them to internment camps.”

But then the material promoted by BBC News as educational background to the current migrant crisis takes a sinister turn as Curtis continues:

“As you watch the film – it raises complex reactions and thoughts in your mind. But it is ironic that, although the two events are in many ways completely different, the Israelis are now preventing Palestinians and supporters of Hamas from doing what the Israeli defence organisation – the Haganah – tried to do over 60 years ago.” [emphasis added]

Yes – BBC ‘educational’ content on the subject of Holocaust survivors trying to reach Mandate Palestine really does promote a politicized and totally redundant comparison between the story of the ‘Exodus’ and the agitprop of the Mavi Marmara incident which took place two days before Curtis published this post.

The third item on this feature’s homepage is titled “Palestinians in exile”.

iWonder Palestinians in exile

There too audiences see highly partisan archive material which fails to explain to viewers why refugees who received Jordanian citizenship and were at the time living in territory occupied by Jordan were still the holders of refugee status. Those clicking on the link titled “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Palestinian refugees” arrive at the highly problematic article of the same name dated 2010 (but actually produced by Martin Asser quite some time before that) which was previously discussed on these pages here and here.

The failure to meet editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality is of course a grave issue at any time but when content specifically described as “factual and educational” fails to live up to those standards and is further employed as a platform for political messaging, it is time to ask some serious questions about the BBC’s role as a provider of educational material.

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