Reporter in the rubble: what is missing from BBC presentation of structural damage in Gaza?

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th BBC audiences have seen copious amounts of footage and images of damaged and destroyed buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Examples of televised reports include James Reynolds in Shuja’iya on August 6th, Jon Donnison in Beit Hanoun on August 5th, Orla Guerin in Khuza’a on August 11th and Chris Morris in Gaza City on July 29th. Listeners to BBC radio have heard dramatic descriptions such as this one by Kevin Connolly from Juhor-ad-Dik on Radio 4 and visitors to the BBC News website have seen illustrative photographs and graphics such as those below by the dozen and read statements such as:

“Approximately 16,800 housing units in Gaza had been destroyed, Mr Serry added, affecting some 100,000 Palestinians.” (“Gaza ceasefire ‘extended by a day’ after Cairo talks“, 19/8/14)

Damage photos 1

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Damage photos 2

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Damage photos 3

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Damage photos 4

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Damage photos 5

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Damage photos 6

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Absent from these BBC reports and the many others relating to the same topic, however, are two very important aspects of context: where and why.   

Most BBC audience members will have no reason to be familiar with the geography of the Gaza Strip. They will therefore be unable to judge to what extent the isolated images they are repeatedly shown by the BBC represent the picture in the whole of the Gaza Strip.Damge heat map

As we see above, the BBC obviously relies on UN OCHA as a source of information on the topic of damaged structures and that organization recently put out a series of maps titled “Gaza Crisis Atlas”. Analysis of those maps published at ‘Israellycool’ – see here and here – shows that the majority of damaged structures are concentrated in specific locations.

“Several patterns are discernible:

The attacks are in no way “random” or “indiscriminate”. One can clearly see the spatial distribution of the damage in several aspects. We find 8,952 of the 12,433 total points (72%) are within a 3 KM buffer abutting the border with Israel. The main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.

That the most intensive damage was caused to the area where the tunnels naturally originated is thus perfectly understandable. Furthermore, of the 4,441 destroyed structures, 3,481 of them (78%) are within the 3 KM buffer, as are 2,531 of 3,303 (77%) of the lowest intensity damage (simple craters), which are mostly strikes on rocket launchers and tunnels.

Most of the attacks are grouped around certain neighborhoods or villages, such as Shuja’iyya, Johur ad-Dik, Sureij, and Khuza’a. These were probably the result of the ground operations that took place in dense urban areas also within the 3 KM buffer that housed multiple tunnel entrances and shafts, as well as launch sites for mortars and rockets.”

Of course another important type of context lacking from most BBC reports is why certain locations were targeted. Some examples of explanations can be seen in the video below.

So why is it that context which is so vital for BBC audiences’ understanding of what they are being shown by the BBC is subject to serial omission? Well, former AP correspondent Matti Friedman has some important insights to share on the topic of Western media coverage which may provide a clue.

“While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. […]

Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story.”

Read the whole article here

 

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

Readers no doubt remember that on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at the accuracy and validity of Roy’s claims by using a test case: BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.FOOC

Between July 8th (commencement of Operation Protective Edge) and the present, eight editions of the programme have been broadcast. The first two (July 10th and July 12th) did not include any content related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The July 17th edition included an item by Yolande Knell (available here from 00:42) which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie using the description ‘fasting under fire’. Knell’s report focuses entirely on the presentation of life in the Gaza Strip with descriptions of shortages of food, frightened children, reduced business in markets and evacuees. Much focus is also put on the topic of border restrictions with Knell twice quoting interviewees referring to a “siege” which of course does not exist and no explanation given regarding the terrorism which brought about the border restrictions.

On July 19th the programme featured an item by Jeremy Bowen which is available here from 00:45. Whilst the item is introduced as being about the whole Middle East, the BBC’s Middle East editor has his sights firmly set on one tiny part of that region. Using the language of Hamas Bowen tells listeners:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Like Knell before him, Bowen makes no attempt to tell listeners about the Hamas terrorism which brought about border restrictions.  He later continues:

“And there’s been a reminder in the last few days of the terrible potency of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [..] But the new war in Gaza shows how the Palestinian –Israeli conflict still has resonance across the world as well as in the region. People care about it, get angry about it in a way that they don’t about other crises and wars. I’m calling what’s happening in Gaza a war though I’m aware that it perhaps is not a perfect description. Some people have even told me I shouldn’t use the word because of the enormous imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I disagree. Wars are increasingly fought between the strong and the weak. By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree. The only long-term way to end this chronic killing is through a permanent settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It has to be one both sides can tolerate. An imposed peace would just contain the seeds of the next war. But at the moment peace is not conceivable. Even a long-term absence of war is unattainable. What’s the alternative? If nothing changes more and more of these mini wars, which will eventually become major wars.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s Middle East editor makes no effort to inform listeners that Hamas is not interested in the kind of “permanent settlement” which has been on the table for two decades, neglecting to inform them that Hamas was one of the Palestinian factions which rejected the Oslo accords.

On July 26th listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ heard Paul Adams. That item is available from 00:50 here and includes the following. [all emphasis in bold added]

“Generations have experienced nothing but occupation, embargo, blockade, war and death. It’s had a slow, brutalising effect. Perhaps that’s why some of them are seized by such a furious desire to tunnel out and seek revenge. For Gaza is a giant prison surrounded by a wall, watch towers and the most sophisticated military in the Middle East.”

Although he makes no effort to inform listeners of the fact that nine years ago, when Israel withdrew, Gaza stood at a crossroads which could have taken it in a very different direction had its leaders not chosen terrorism as their raison d’être, notably Adams does tell of things which – like the rest of his colleagues – he failed to report whilst he was in Gaza

“Of course it would be wrong to suggest that this prison 66 years in the making is full only of the innocent. There are men of violence here. Men who will never, ever accept Israel’s right to exist in the land they still regard as theirs. Men who will store weapons in mosques and schools and take great pride in launching almost entirely indiscriminate rockets from the midst of populated areas, hoping – in the name of resistance – to cause death and fear on the other side. During a week in Gaza I caught occasional glimpses of them; weapons stuffed under shirts, furtive in civilian clothes, moving with purpose through the ravaged streets of Shuja’iya looking for a fight. But when so many of those dismembered and burned by Israeli rockets and shells are not the fighters but women, old people and especially children, then it’s really, really hard not to conclude that the Palestinians are being collectively punished.”

The August 2nd edition of the programme included an item by Chris Morris, available here from 00:42 or here. In addition to Morris’ very graphic descriptions, audiences hear the following. [emphasis added]FOOC Morris

“Because things have got worse; much worse. Could anyone have imagined that twenty years on this would be their fate? Bombed from land, sea and air. Stuck inside the world’s largest prison with nowhere to run. […]

That’s why Hamas’ main demand is now in tune with public opinion: lift the siege of Gaza, open the borders, give people a chance to live.”

Like his colleagues, Morris of course makes no attempt to explain to listeners that it was Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians which brought border restrictions into being.

On August 9th listeners heard a report by Tim Whewell: the first (and last) making any attempt to portray the Israeli side of the story. That item can be heard here or here from 00:45. Especially, given the track record of his BBC colleagues as far as promoting the notion of a mythical ‘siege’ and failing to report on the context and background of border restrictions is concerned, one interesting part of Whewell’s report is this:

“Why, they [Israelis] demand, don’t you – foreign correspondents – ever report that? And again and again I slip into the same argument. We do report the reasons but we also have to report the results and then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatized like Honi [phonetic] is bad, but not nearly as bad as being dead – as so many more Palestinians now are. We’re talking now uncomfortably about hierarchies of suffering and Israelis reply ‘so what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly?’ “

The August 16th edition of the programme featured a report by Kevin Connolly on the children of Gaza already discussed here and with the audio versions available here from 06:00 or here.

As we see, between July 17th and August 16th six editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 included items pertaining to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Only one of those items presented an Israeli point of view, with the other five not only presenting the opposite viewpoint, but often promoting the terminology of a terrorist organization and failing to provide essential context.

Surely even Andrew Roy cannot possibly claim that any attempt was made to “give fair balance to each side” in that series of programmes.

Related Articles:

BBC pats itself on the back for its ME coverage

Half a picture, half a story: how the BBC compromises its own impartiality in Gaza

 

 

 

BBC airs inaccurate report by Yolande Knell on Gaza infrastructure

Viewers of BBC television news were recently treated to a long report by Yolande Knell on the topic of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The same report also appeared on the BBC News website on August 15th under the title “Yolande Knell meets Gazans working to restore utilities“. Unfortunately, viewers were unable to glean much factual information from a report replete with inaccuracies and omissions.Knell infrastructure Knell opens:

“Gaza took a pounding during recent Israeli airstrikes. This is the third conflict here in five years and it’s been the most deadly and destructive. Israel says it’s targeted militant sites, but civilian infrastructure’s not been spared.”

Accurate and impartial presentation of the topic would of course have demanded that at this point Knell clarify to viewers that Hamas and other terrorist organisations deliberately locate their terrorist facilities such as missile launchers and weapons stores in civilian residential areas, thereby increasing the likelihood of damage to both civilians themselves and the infrastructure serving them. Knell continues:

“Gaza’s only power plant was shelled two weeks ago, setting its fuel tanks on fire. The Israeli military says it’s investigating but the effects are clear.”

Whilst the investigation into that incident is still ongoing, what is clear – and has been since it occurred – is that the power plant was not intentionally targeted by Israeli forces. After a short interview with the power plant’s manager Knell tells viewers:

“The manager, Rafik Maliha, has been here since the electricity plant opened a decade ago. It was supposed to make use of the latest technology to meet rising demand. Instead, it’s faced constant challenges. It’s been caught up in previous fighting between Hamas which controls Gaza and the group’s sworn enemy Israel. Tight border restrictions limited fuel imports. Although power cuts were common in Gaza before, now they’re much worse.”

This is far from the first time that the BBC (and specifically Yolande Knell) has inaccurately told its audiences that Gaza’s electricity supply problems – which predate this conflict by a long time – are the result of Israeli border restrictions and it would appear that the BBC is beginning to believe its own spin. In fact – like the shortage of medical supplies which Yolande Knell and others have also inaccurately attributed to Israeli policy – the fuel shortage in the Gaza Strip is the product of disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Though it may be hard to believe, 1.5 million Palestinians have lived without electricity throughout most of the day in 2013. For the past two weeks, residents of the Gaza Strip have endured a cycle of six hours of electricity followed by a 12-hour power outage. Last Wednesday, the power went out at 6:00 am and was finally restored only late that evening.

This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell fails to inform viewers that throughout the entire recent conflict – and of course before it – fuel of various kinds has continued to enter the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing, including 4.44 million liters of fuel for Gaza’s power plant.

Knell’s report then returns to the Gaza power plant manager who gives BBC viewers the mistaken impression that Gaza’s entire electricity supply depends upon his establishment.

“It [the power plant] would to serve electricity for the civilian in Gaza almost 2 million people who are, I mean, suffer and when you are talking about electricity we are talking about water supply, water treatment plant, water sewage plant and we are talking about hospitals, we are talking about the schools. All aspects, all basic of our life requirements are not existing.”

In fact, of course, the Gaza Strip has two additional sources of power. Egypt supplies some 27 megawatts on a regular basis and recently increased that supply by a further 7 megawatts in light of the current power crisis in Gaza. In line with the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel continues to supply the Gaza Strip with 120 megawatts and although several instances of power supply lines being damaged by terrorist missile fire occurred during Operation Protective Edge (unreported by the BBC), those lines were repaired by the Israel Electric Corporation.  Coincidentally, the debt owed to Israel’s electric company by the Gaza Strip stands at around 220 million shekels.

After an interview with members of a family in Beit Lahiya, Knell moves on to the topic of water and sewage. Despite her descriptions of damage caused during Israel’s ground operation, she fails to mention that Hamas refused a ceasefire two days before that operation commenced.

“Entire neighbourhoods of Gaza were reduced to rubble during the ground invasion by Israeli armed forces. In Shuja’iya in the east they said they destroyed tunnels used by Palestinian fighters. But they also damaged underground water and sewage systems. Already these were in a fragile state. The blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel and Egypt had made maintenance hard. Now there’s contamination and widespread water shortages.”

Like the electricity crisis, Gaza’s problems with water and sewage long predate the recent conflict. The responsibility for water and sewage in the Gaza Strip lies with the Palestinian Water Authority – established in 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords – and so for almost two decades those utilities have been under Palestinian control. For the past seven years, of course, the Palestinian Authority has had no influence in the Gaza Strip and Hamas has done little in terms of maintenance of water and sewage systems, with piping for sewage projects even having been misappropriated for the purpose of manufacturing missiles. Knell continues:

“Across Gaza emergency efforts are underway to fix or just to patch up basic infrastructure, often in incredibly difficult circumstances. Here the workers are struggling to restore basic water supplies. They’ve got miles and miles of broken pipes. Hospitals are already seeing diseases spreading as more Gazans displaced by this conflict are forced to put up with dire living conditions. And here, the growing problems with Gaza’s infrastructure can be a matter of life and death. The machines in this intensive care unit are now relying mostly on generators which are meant to be used for back-up purposes only.”

Knell then interviews the director of Shifa hospital, but predictably refrains from popping down to that hospital’s basement to ask the Hamas leaders ensconced there for well over a month about their years of neglect of Gaza’s infrastructure, their short-sighted policy decisions which have left the civilian population without sufficient electricity supplies and their diversion of concrete, piping and other materials which could have been used to improve Gaza’s neglected utilities to terrorism.

Of course the real aim of Knell’s report is not to inform BBC viewers why Gaza’s infrastructure is so badly neglected. Her entire report is in fact yet another contribution to the BBC’s ongoing advocacy campaign for Hamas demands concerning the lifting of border restrictions – as can be seen in her conclusion.

“For years Gaza has struggled. But the latest conflict has left it on life support. A temporary truce is giving some breathing space. As Egyptian negotiators try to secure a longer term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, now the hope for the future is a deal that can address security concerns and open up Gaza’s borders so a full recovery can begin.”

An accurate and impartial report on this issue would have to include the provision of information to audiences as to why the demand to “open up Gaza’s borders” is precisely one of the “security concerns” which now need to be addressed. As is the case with all other BBC reports on this topic, weapons smuggling, the rearming of terrorist groups and well over a decade of terrorism from the Gaza Strip are not included on the menu. 

BBC’s Gaza border restrictions campaign continues: the Yolande Knell edition

Three days after Wyre Davies’ visit to the Kerem Shalom border crossing for commercial goods between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the BBC apparently decided that its viewers had not heard anywhere near enough misleading, context-free and inaccurate descriptions of the situation at that crossing and so it sent Yolande Knell to report from the same place.Knell 11 8 Kerem Shalom

Notably, Knell’s August 11th report – which, in addition to being broadcast on BBC television news programmes, also appears on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza conflict: Families return home as Gaza ceasefire holds” – makes no mention of the fact that the previous day the crossing through which all goods and humanitarian aid enter the Gaza Strip had to be closed because of missile fire by terrorists (caught on CCTV cameras here) which endangered the safety of its workers.

Knell opens with her version of the standard BBC messaging:

“Supplies rolling into Gaza today, coming across the border from Israel. Most of this is bought by Palestinian businesses. And there’s aid too, but the Israelis impose tight controls. Almost no exports leave here. Now, with talks about a longer term ceasefire deal back on in Cairo, maintaining Israel’s security and lifting Gaza’s blockade are the key demands. These lorries are bringing goods into Gaza from Israel’s only commercial crossing point which is just down the road. Palestinians want it to be open more fully so they can trade effectively.”

As was pointed out here only recently, the Kerem Shalom crossing does not currently work at full capacity because there is no demand for it to do so from the Palestinian side. Should demand rise, the crossing is capable of working three shifts a day.

“Israel has invested 80 million ₪ [shekels] to expand Kerem Shalom to accommodate up to 450 trucks daily. However, due to demand on the Palestinian side, the average number of trucks that enter Gaza each day remains between 300- 350.” [emphasis added]

And what of Knell’s claim that “almost no exports leave here”? She makes no attempt to inform viewers how she quantifies “almost no” or to what period of time she refers, but before the current hostilities exports of agricultural produce were leaving the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing as can be seen in the weekly reports produced by COGAT. Most importantly, Knell fails to inform audiences that not only does Israel not place any restrictions on the export of produce abroad, it actually helps farmers in the Gaza Strip to export their vegetables and flowers, for example, to Europe.

Knell’s claim that “the Israelis impose tight controls” is of course a woefully inadequate and misleading representation of the situation. She fails to inform viewers that the only import restrictions are on weapons and dual-use goods which can be used for the purposes of terrorism – surely a highly pertinent point of background information given that less than a month has passed since the discovery of Hamas’ thirty-two cross-border attack tunnels. Also in line with the usual BBC policy, Knell neglects to inform audiences why restrictions were imposed in the first place and her presentation predictably fails to include the word terrorism at all, meaning that viewers are herded towards the misunderstanding that border restrictions are the product of some sort of Israeli vindictiveness rather than a means of trying to protect Israeli civilians by curbing the flow of arms and other materials for terrorist activity into the Gaza Strip.

Likewise, Knell’s portrayal of the situation at the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt also fails to inform viewers of the reasons for restrictions imposed by Egypt.

“And then behind me you have the Rafah crossing point with Egypt. It’s been mostly closed to travelers for the past year. But Palestinians say it should be Gaza’s gateway to the world. Currently, only those with foreign passports or residency can leave to Egypt.”

It is more than obvious that the BBC has taken upon itself to amplify Hamas’ demands concerning the restrictions on its borders with Egypt and Israel and audiences are now seeing daily reports on the topic which all promote the exact same messaging. However, not one item of BBC content has properly clarified to viewers that it was Hamas terrorism which made it necessary to impose those restrictions in the first place or what the consequences of a relaxation of restrictions are likely to be.

The BBC’s correspondents are not incompetent: they know exactly when and why those border restrictions were brought in and they are well aware of the fact that Hamas’ demand to lift restrictions stems not from any concern for the welfare of the people of Gaza, but from the dual need to be able to present an achievement as justification for initiating the recent hostilities and to be able to rearm for the next round.

Charged as they are with the responsibility of meeting the BBC’s obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues”, the consistent refusal of BBC journalists to present this highly topical issue to their audiences comprehensively, accurately and impartially is obviously a cause for very serious concern. 

 

 

What Beit Hanoun tells us about BBC impartiality

Here is a Tweet from one of those impartial BBC journalists currently reporting from the Gaza Strip: Tweet Chris Morris Beit Hanoun So, did the IDF actually say that “people didn’t die” in Beit Hanoun last Thursday as Morris facetiously claims? No. What the IDF investigation into the incident at the UNRWA school in which sixteen people were killed did reveal is that during a battle between IDF soldiers and terrorists located in the area, an IDF mortar did land in the schoolyard, but that yard was empty at the time. Ha’aretz has further details:

“The IDF released the findings of its investigation into the incident on Sunday morning. According to the inquiry, Palestinian militants opened fire from the area of the school, shooting mortars and antitank missiles at Israeli forces. In response, the investigation reveals, the IDF decided to return fire with mortars.

According to the army, whose inquiry included investigations of the ground forces and video footage of the incident, “one of the mortars fell in the school’s courtyard whilst it was empty of people.” “

An official statement adds:

“It has been established that Hamas rockets landed in the area and may have hit the UN facility. The investigation of the incident has revealed that Hamas terrorists fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers from the area of the UN school. The IDF responded with mortar fire, and one of the rounds fell in the school’s courtyard, which was empty at the time. This was the only IDF fire that hit the school compound. These findings disprove the claim, made by various parties, that IDF fire caused casualties on the school grounds. Israel regrets all civilian casualties, but they are the direct result of Hamas’ decision to use Palestinian civilians as human shields.” [emphasis added]

In light of these findings BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis would of course do well to address the topic of her hastily reached conclusion that “You hit it. You killed them.” – which was broadcast to millions of viewers in the UK on July 24th.Maitlis Likewise, the editors of the filmed report by Yolande Knell which was shown to television audiences and promoted on the BBC News website on July 24th might like to reconsider the wisdom of the inclusion – before the circumstances of the incident were clear – of footage of a woman saying:

“The Israelis hit us in our homes and they hit us at the school”

That same footage of the same woman also appeared in a filmed report by Ian Pannell from the same date which was promoted on the BBC News website and shown on BBC television news. Both Pannell’s report and the ‘Newsnight’ interview by Emily Maitlis appear in a written report published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 24th. Listeners to an edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ heard the presenter saying:

“For the fourth time in as many days a UN facility there found itself in the eye of the storm; hit by what the Palestinians say was an Israeli shell.”

If readers are perhaps anticipating that this incident will prompt the BBC to reconsider its current policy of refraining from anything approaching robust reporting on the issue of the use of the local civilian population as human shields – which is precisely what a terrorist who fires anti-tank missiles at Israeli soldiers from the vicinity of a UN school is doing – then they may be in for some disappointment. That same ‘Newsday’ programme includes parts of Stephen Sackur’s recent interview with Khaled Masha’al. In addition, amplification is given to the following denial by Masha’al of Hamas’ use of human shields.GAZA MOI

“This is wrong information. Hamas does not give orders to people to stay inside their home. Hamas encourages people to stand fast and let the Palestinians show their steadfastness. This is the will of the people. Go to Gaza and see the people in hospitals and see the areas destroyed. These people are determined to preserve their land. You should not put the blame on the victims. The blame should go to the Israeli that has committed this massacre. We have several hundred Palestinians killed – most of them civilians – whereas Hamas is focusing on killing Israeli soldiers who came to Gaza to attack Palestinians. This is the ethical difference between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli aggression.”

One presumes that the BBC must be aware of the ample filmed and written evidence of Hamas’ spokesmen and Ministry of the Interior telling civilians in the Gaza Strip not to leave their homes. Nevertheless, its journalists not only fail to report adequately on the issue itself and even promote denial of it, but also amplify Masha’al’s obviously inaccurate claims. In that ‘Newsnight’ interview on July 24th, Emily Maitlis asked Mark Regev:

“If, after the fog of war has passed, this does turn out to be the fault of Israel, will you pause? Will you reset your rules of engagement tonight?”

We might well ask Emily Maitlis, her editors and numerous other BBC correspondents, editors and producers a very similar question.

Update:

Here is the IDF video footage showing the empty school yard at the time of the errant mortar strike. 

 

Half a picture, half a story: how the BBC compromises its own impartiality in Gaza

As was noted in this recent post, an article by Yolande Knell titled “Gaza: Hamas seeks to emerge stronger” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 24th. The article includes the following interesting passages:Crossings Knell written

“Israel says its military offensive in Gaza targets militants from the Palestinian movement, Hamas. Yet for the most part the Islamist fighters remain shadowy figures during this latest conflict.

In northern Gaza last week, heavy exchanges of gunfire with advancing Israeli ground troops suggested the presence of militants nearby.

However, it was only during Sunday’s bloody scenes in Shejaiya, north-east of Gaza City, that journalists saw masked men hurrying down the streets and talking furtively into walkie-talkies on street corners. […]

There have been occasional televised statements by the former Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, but most of the Islamist group’s officials have gone to ground during this conflict. Their houses tend to be empty when they are targeted by Israeli air strikes.

The only place where we have been able to approach Hamas spokesmen is at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City where they make periodic appearances. […]

The large turnouts for funerals of local Hamas leaders killed in the latest conflict are a reminder of how the Islamist movement still commands wide respect in Gaza, which remains among the most socially conservative Palestinian areas.”

BBC television audiences have not seen any footage of those “large turnouts” at Hamas funerals which Knell has apparently witnessed and have not been provided with combatant casualty figures. Although interviews with Hamas spokesmen at Shifa hospital have been aired, audiences have not seen any real reporting of the fact that the Hamas leadership is in hiding in that hospital. Apart from a couple of brief mentions by Lyse Doucet of those “masked men hurrying down the streets and talking furtively into walkie-talkies on street corners”, BBC audiences have not seen any footage or read any accounts of the actions of Hamas terrorists.

They have not seen or been told anything of the fierce battles between terrorists and the IDF: no images of Hamas members firing RPGs, anti-tank missiles or mortars at Israeli troops have been aired. They have not seen footage of the launching of even one of more than 2,350 missiles which have been fired at Israeli civilians since July 8th or of the effects of the 10 to 15% of  missiles which fall short and land in the Gaza Strip itself. Neither have they seen any reporting on the topic Hamas’ use of child soldiers.

Yolande Knell would apparently have us believe that not one of the plethora of BBC reporters on the ground in the Gaza Strip in the last nineteen days has witnessed or recorded any of the above.

Now it may well be that foreign correspondents in Gaza – and the BBC among them – are being subjected to pressures which prevent them from reporting anything which does not fall into the category of Israeli military actions or dead and wounded Palestinian civilians. Certainly the social media accounts of some of those reporters would suggest that is the case. But if it is, audiences should obviously be informed for the sake of accuracy and impartiality that they are only receiving a partial picture of events and why that is the case – and that has so far not happened.

In an interesting article in Ha’aretz, former BBC journalist Stephen Games asks “[c]an the BBC really report from Gaza?” and refers to a BBC interview with Andrew Roy who readers may remember was recently to be found patting his organization on the back for its Middle East coverage.

“On another popular BBC radio programme, “Feedback”, which provides a platform for public comment, listeners are said to have complained in equal numbers that BBC coverage was biased either towards Israel or towards the Palestinians.

In response to such contradictory criticism, BBC executives stereotypically say that if they are being criticized from both sides, they must be getting the balance just about right. On this occasion the “Feedback” host, Roger Bolton, stepped back from this glib reply and tried to explore the alternative possibility that the BBC was getting it badly wrong, but this tack was instantly dismissed by his studio guest, the World Editor of BBC News, Andrew Roy.

Roy admitted that covering Gaza was difficult because reporters are at physical risk; but he went on to argue that the BBC was adept at navigating pressure by lobbyists on both sides to adapt its reporting to their liking. He also claimed that its authority came from its being one of the few international broadcasters with a permanent presence in Gaza and having a website to provide further context.

What Roy would not address, however, was Bolton’s suggestion that unlike reporters working in Israel, those in Gaza are hampered by lack of access and by the dangers, not so much to BBC staff, but to potential interviewees, of being targeted if they talk openly. Roy would only acknowledge the danger of working “under bombardment”, giving the impression that the threat to honest journalism came only from Israeli rockets, not from Hamas enforcers. 

It was not clear whether Roy refused to acknowledge the impossibility of carrying out normal investigative journalism under Hamas because he—personally or corporately—cannot see it, or because the BBC dare not tell the truth for fear of losing its ringside seat at one of the world’s worst trouble spots. 

What did emerge from the interview is the unintended damage caused by the BBC’s ostensible policy of even-handedness. Because it cannot be seen as editorialising, the BBC bends over backwards to maintain a policy of “show-don’t-tell”. Thus, the only truths about Gaza that BBC reporters can convey are those that a camera can point at. Never has a BBC reporter broken a story from Gaza, interviewed a Hamas commander about splits in the ranks, examined the Palestinian justice and detention system, exposed the climate of fear that Gazans are subject to, shown missile stockpiling or residential defensive positions, or challenged the brainwashing of children in schools.” 

The obvious result of censorship of vital parts of this story – be it the result of direct outside pressure or self-imposed – is of course that journalists deny their audiences information which is crucial to their being able to reach informed opinions on the topic. But such censorship also has another important effect; it turns journalists into one of the factors actively playing a part in a war which is not only being fought in the alleys of Shuja’iya and Beit Hanoun, but also on the internet, in print, on television, on radio and on social media.

Hamas and the other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip know full well that they cannot compete with Israel militarily and hence, as ever, a no less important battle for public opinion around the world is taking place. If BBC journalists continue their current practice of refraining from properly reporting the part being played by Hamas in bringing about the tragic scenes they do film, photograph and report – or at least explaining to audiences why they cannot report the missing parts of the picture – then they clearly compromise their own impartiality by self-conscripting to one side of the battle for public opinion.  

BBC avoids giving audiences the whole picture on Hamas’ pre-ceasefire demands

There is nothing novel about BBC misrepresentation of Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and the restrictions placed on the entry of dual-use goods to that territory. However, that topic now moves into the limelight once again because one of the demands put forward by Hamas – and, significantly, now backed by the PA – is the lifting of the blockade as a pre-condition for a ceasefire to bring an end to the current hostilities.

” “We reject the cycle of ceasefire and negotiations,” said Hamas’ political chief Khaled Mashal on Wednesday night at a press conference in Qatar. “We rejected it today and we will reject it in the future.”

Mashal said the Gaza-based group “would not accept an initiative that does not include lifting the blockade. Today Israel is worried about what happened at Ben Gurion Airport. Do you want a blockade in return for the blockade? Today the resistance in Gaza can blockade you, in the future it will from the West Bank.”

“You blockade our air space, we will blockade your air space,” threatened Mashal.”

That Hamas demand, among others, has been voiced numerous times over the past couple of weeks, but notably recent days have seen it being amplified – and justified – in BBC coverage along with the concurrent and similar Hamas demand regarding the border with Egypt.

On July 22nd Lyse Doucet was to be found in Rafah. The filmed report she produced – aired on BBC Television news and promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza: Why is Rafah crossing so important?” – opens with an airbrushed explanation as to why that crossing has been closed for much of the last year or so, in much the same way as her colleague Yolande Knell reported on the same topic last August.Crossings Rafah Doucet

“Rafah crossing. Gaza’s only opening to the world which isn’t controlled by Israel. But the road to Egypt has been all but shut for the past year. Relations between Hamas and Egypt are badly strained.”

Notably, Doucet makes no mention of the Gaza Strip-based Salafist groups which have committed acts of terrorism in Egypt’s northern Sinai area and no effort is made to present the Egyptian viewpoint.

After some scenes of people unable to cross the border, Doucet tells viewers:

“A crossing like this is a relief valve for the people of Gaza. For most who live here this is their only way out, which is why during these difficult ceasefire talks, opening the road to Egypt is one of the main demands.”

Later Doucet turns her attentions elsewhere.

“Israeli attacks are striking at the very core of Gaza life. Water pipes, electricity lines, sewage systems have been hit and hit.”

Doucet of course refrains from informing viewers that on at least two occasions since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, terrorists in Gaza have cut off the electricity by damaging power lines with missiles fired at Israel and that – despite ongoing attacks – technicians from the Israel Electric Corporation went out to repair those high voltage lines. Other repair operations to infrastructure in the Gaza Strip carried out by Israel can be followed in COGAT’s daily updatesCrossings  repairs

Doucet goes on:

“Even before this war most Gazans didn’t have running water or more than a few hours of electricity. A seven-year Israeli blockade – ever since Hamas came to power – is paralysing the economy. Israel says it’s a security measure but it’s choking life here.”

Here we see yet another BBC report erroneously attributing problems in the Gaza Strip exclusively to Israel’s policies when in fact – like the shortages of medicines – the issues with electricity and fuel supply have nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with internal Hamas-Fatah disputes.

Not only does Doucet imply to audiences that there is room for doubt regarding the real reasons for Israel’s policy with her use of the phrase “Israel says it’s a security measure”, but she fails to inform them that those policies – in fact implemented three months after Hamas carried out its violent coup in the Gaza Strip – were a direct response to escalating Hamas terror attacks.

So, Doucet erases the core issue of terror against both Egypt and Israel from the picture she presents to audiences of border restrictions affecting the Gaza Strip. She closes with this context-free promotion of Hamas messaging:

“In Gaza today they were clearing rubble again. War has made life much harder. But for Gazans ending the war must mean easing the blockade, otherwise life itself is just a long battle to survive.”

The day after that report, July 23rd, viewers of BBC television news saw another one by Yolande Knell which was promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Middle East crisis: Normal life on hold in Gaza“. That report found Knell once again visiting a market in Gaza.Crossings knell filmed

“The market here is really one of the only places you can find a lot of people. We’ve been asking them what do they want from a ceasefire deal.”

Woman: “To lift the siege, open the borders of Gaza and to let everything in. And free the prisoners from Israeli jails. This is the most important part of the conditions.”

Man: “Open the borders, have a – you know – promise from Israel that they will not do this what they did again. We want our rights, we want our freedom, we want our state. We want to be safe from their jets and their rockets.”

Knell continues:

“One positive sign for the truce efforts has been general support for Hamas’ demands from the other Palestinian factions. I’ve been to see Fatah parliamentarian Faisal Abu Shahla.

Abu Shahla: “They decided that…to accept the Egyptian initiative but at the same time that the requirements for the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, should be achieved.”

She closes:

“Everywhere you look in Gaza there’s so much evidence of the death and destruction that this latest fighting has brought and that’s why people here are really insisting that any deal to bring peace should be comprehensive and long-term.”

Yet again, no effort whatsoever is made to explain to BBC audiences how the actions of  terror organisations from the Gaza Strip caused two neighbouring countries to implement policies to protect their own citizens.

Recent written BBC reports on the same topic have been no better. An article titled “Gaza conflict: Abbas backs Hamas ceasefire demands” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 23rd opens:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has backed calls by Hamas for an end to the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip as a condition for a ceasefire.”

It later goes on to state:

“Hamas, which is dominant in Gaza, says it will not agree to a ceasefire that does not allow for freer movement of goods and people across its borders.

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister of the new unity government backed by Hamas and Fatah, said it was time to end what he said was the cycle of unrelenting suffering for the Palestinians.

“We demand justice for our people, who everyday and since the beginning of the Israeli occupation have been subject to the occupation for 47 years,” he said.

“It’s time for this aggression to stop and it’s time for this siege to stop.”

Mr Abbas, a co-founder of Fatah, also chairs the Palestine Liberation Organisation, an umbrella group which has endorsed Hamas’s ceasefire demands.

Israel imposed restrictions on the Gaza Strip in 2006 after Hamas abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The measures were tightened by Israel and Egypt in 2007 after Hamas ousted rival Fatah and forcibly took control in Gaza after winning elections the year before.”

Israel has of course not occupied the Gaza Strip for nine years, but that point is not clarified to readers. Again, no mention is made of the fact that it was the escalation of Palestinian terrorism following the June 2007 Hamas coup which caused the Israeli government to declare the Gaza Strip a hostile territory in September 2007.

This article also includes further promotion of the falsehood that the shortage of medicines in the Gaza Strip is caused by Israeli policies by including the item broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live on the same day.Crossings 5 live item

An additional article titled “Hamas says Gaza blockade must end before ceasefire” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 24th begins:

“The leader of Islamist militant group Hamas has said there can be no ceasefire to ease the conflict in Gaza without an end to Israel’s blockade.

Khaled Meshaal said Hamas would continue to reject a lasting ceasefire until its conditions were met.”

Later on it states:

“In addition to lifting the eight-year economic blockade, Mr Meshaal’s list of demands also included the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” Khaled Meshaal told reporters at a news conference in Qatar on Wednesday.”

Yet again no information is given to readers regarding the terror attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas and other terrorist organisations which brought about the restrictions.

“Israel imposed restrictions on the Gaza Strip in 2006 after Hamas abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The measures were tightened by Israel and Egypt in 2007 after Hamas ousted rival Fatah and forcibly took control in Gaza after winning elections the year before.”

Another article appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 24th under the title “Gaza: Hamas seeks to emerge stronger” was written by Yolande Knell. One of many notable features of that report is yet another inadvertent documentation of the fact that Hamas uses civilians in the Gaza Strip as human shields.Crossings Knell written

“The only place where we have been able to approach Hamas spokesmen is at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City where they make periodic appearances.”

Another is Knell’s now habitual misrepresentation of Hamas’ international designation as a terrorist organization.

“Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist organisation; the group’s founding charter is committed to the destruction of the Israeli state.”

Knell too presents a portrayal of Israeli policy which completely erases the Hamas terrorism which brought it about:

“They [Hamas] consistently demand that any ceasefire deal must include a release of prisoners from Israeli jails and an easing of the border restrictions imposed on Gaza by both Israel and Egypt.

“Until now we are under a complete suffocating siege and embargo. They have isolated Gaza from the world,” says spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum. “There’s no justification of this crime.”

A blockade of the Palestinian territory was tightened after Hamas seized control of it in 2007, a year after winning legislative elections.”

Gaza Strip-based terrorism against Egypt is also seriously downplayed in Knell’s account and the smuggling of weapons through tunnels under the Rafah border is erased.

“Meanwhile Egypt’s military-backed governments have always had a testy relationship with Hamas because of its ideological links with the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. […]

Hamas wants Egypt to reopen fully the Rafah border crossing. It has said it will not stop fighting until there is a full agreement on the table. […]

Since the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted from office a year ago, Rafah, Gaza’s main gateway to the world, has been kept shut most of the time.

The Egyptian military has also closed down the network of hundreds of Hamas-licensed smuggling tunnels that ran under its border. These provided a lifeline to the coastal enclave and provided Hamas with vital funds.

The new government in Cairo accuses Hamas of supporting Islamist militants in its restless Sinai region along the Gaza border; a charge it denies.”

Knell provides readers with some ‘man in the Gaza street’ opinions:

“When Egypt offered the deal, the Israelis picked it up but to be honest for the Palestinians it seemed like a trap,” says Ibrahim, from Gaza City. “People want commercial crossings reopened. We want to go back to a normal life.”

“We need a ceasefire that will give us our human rights and end the siege,” a charity worker, Haneen tells me. “We want the Rafah crossing opened so that we can travel again.”

So as we see, five separate items of content over three consecutive days have presented BBC audiences with information on the issue of Hamas’ pre-condition for a ceasefire which exclusively portrays the Hamas view of border restrictions. None of those reports has given readers or viewers an accurate account of how, when and why both Egypt and Israel adopted policies concerning their borders with the Gaza Strip. The terrorism which brought about those policies has not even been mentioned and no explanation has been given regarding the vital role played by the naval blockade and border restrictions in curbing the flow of missiles and other weapons to the Gaza Strip.

Clearly, BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions or “participate in the global debate” on this very topical subject without that vital information and context.  But the repeated promotion and amplification of inaccurate, politically motivated claims of shortages of medicines and food in the Gaza Strip because of Israeli policies which we have seen across many BBC platforms in the past few days suggests that the BBC has no intention of providing comprehensive, accurate and impartial reporting on this topic and that intends instead to use emotive partial accounts to amplify the same version of the story as is promoted by Hamas. 

 

Themes in BBC reporting on events in Shuja’iya

The fierce fighting between the IDF and Hamas terrorists in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shuja’iya on July 20th was the subject of a considerable number of BBC reports across various platforms. In this post we will look at some of the themes those reports promote.Shujaiya missile launches

“Massacre”

Whilst all BBC journalists avoided direct use of the word ‘massacre’ themselves, they repeatedly promoted that inaccurate and of course emotive description when it could be attributed to a third party. [all emphasis added]

On July 20th the BBC News website opened a ‘live’ page titled “As it happened: Gaza conflict intensifies“. That page opens:

“Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the conflict in Gaza. Sunday has seen the heaviest bombardment of Gaza since the Israeli offensive began. The Palestinian leadership has condemned as a massacre the killing of at least 60 people in one neighbourhood of Gaza, Shejaiya.”

A written report which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 20th titled “Gaza shelling by Israel leads to deadliest day of conflict” states in its second paragraph:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deaths in the Shejaiya district east of Gaza City were a “massacre”. Witnesses spoke of bodies lying in the streets.”

An audio report from July 20th by Lyse Doucet includes a doctor from Shifa hospital talking about “this massacre”.

The synopsis of a July 20th filmed report by Yolande Knell for BBC television news which also appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza shelling by Israel leads to deadliest day of conflict” states:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the deaths in the Shejaiya district east of Gaza City as a “massacre”.”

Another written report from July 21st – titled “Gaza crisis: 13 Israeli soldiers, scores of Gazans killed” also states:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deaths in the Shejaiya district east of Gaza City were a “massacre”.”

An article from July 21st titled “Gaza crisis: UN calls for ceasefire as deaths pass 500” states:

“More than 60 Palestinians alone were killed during heavy shelling in Shejaiya, in what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called “a massacre”.”

In a July 21st radio interview with the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’, a doctor from Shifa hospital is heard talking about “the massacre at Shuja’iya”.

No terrorists

Whilst frequent and ample description is given of IDF “shelling”, “bombardment” and “pounding”, any sort of information at all on the terrorists which the IDF was fighting in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood is extremely rare and any reporting on what those terrorists were doing or what sort of weapons they used is even rarer. That of course means that the overall impression given to BBC audiences – inaccurately and misleadingly – is that the IDF was attacking civilians when in fact those civilians were caught up in a battle between the Israeli army and Hamas’ heavily armed militia.

In a radio report by Paul Adams from July 20th the sound of shooting is accompanied by the following vague description by Adams:

“And there’s suddenly gunfire coming from several locations. Someone certainly isn’t observing this ceasefire.”

In a filmed report by Lyse Doucet which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza crisis: 87 Gazans and 13 Israeli soldiers killed” as well as being broadcast on BBC television news on July 20th, the only thing she has to say about the terrorists fighting a fierce battle in the area is:Doucet filmed 20 7 keeping watch

“We saw militants on these streets keeping watch”

And:

“Israeli soldiers have met fierce resistance here.”

In a July 20th filmed report for BBC television news which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza shelling by Israel leads to deadliest day of conflict“, Yolande Knell made do with the following vague and brief description:

“There were some rockets that were fired near there and the fighting broke out again according to one of my colleagues who was at the scene”.

In a written report by Lyse Doucet from July 21st which appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza crisis: Shejaiya assault defines grimmest day” she writes:

“In Shejaiya we saw Hamas spotters taking up positions on empty streets, talking into telephones and walkie-talkies as they maintained a lookout.

Colleagues who arrived later in the day saw gunmen with black balaclavas and concealed weapons moving through the neighbourhood. And journalists and medics got caught in crossfire when a two-hour humanitarian truce was shattered in minutes.”

And:

“For many days now, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge had almost seemed to be a ghost war. In areas we were able to reach, Hamas fighters had only been visible by the rockets they fired, and through defiant messages on their TV and radio networks.”

Notably, no mention is made of the terrorists’ use of weapons beyond guns – such as RPGs and anti-tank missiles. Neither is any mention made of the practice of booby trapping houses or of secondary explosions resulting from strikes on buildings in which weapons and/or explosives are stored. Thus, BBC audiences are mistakenly led to believe that all civilian casualties in Shuja’iya are exclusively attributable to IDF fire, although the likelihood of that being the case is extremely low. And as for the Hamas terrorists? Well they just talk on the phone and wander around in balaclavas according to the BBC. 

No terrorist casualties

None of the numerous BBC reports makes any attempt whatsoever to determine how many of the casualties in Shuja’iya were Hamas combatants. In all the reports general figures are given and as has been the practice in the past, BBC audiences are not adequately informed of the fact that those figures come from Hamas sources or of the additional fact that the BBC has not independently verified those numbers.

Those omissions are particularly relevant in light of the instructions issued by the Hamas Ministry of the Interior, from which it is clear that there is an organized Hamas campaign to inflate the numbers of civilian casualties and conceal the number of dead combatants in order to influence public opinion abroad.

“Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”

Whether by accident, by design or by coercion, the BBC seems to be following the Hamas instructions closely, but of course it is actually the job of BBC journalists to cut through a terrorist organisation’s propaganda and bring the real picture to audiences. With regard to the all-important topic of combatant casualties, the BBC has come nowhere near to meeting that objective.

Some examples of typical reporting on casualties in Shuja’iya include:

“At least 87 Gazans were reported killed on Sunday – 60 of them in the district of Shejaiya alone.” (synopsis to report by Lyse Doucet, July 20th)

“Over 500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began two weeks ago, Gaza’s health ministry says.” (BBC News website, July 21st)

“Gaza has suffered the highest death toll since Israel’s offensive began, with at least 87 people reported killed on Sunday – 67 of them in one area.” (synopsis to report by Yolande Knell, July 20th)

“Gaza has come under the most intense shelling since the launch of Israel’s offensive 13 days ago, with more than 50 people reported killed in one district. The deaths occurred at Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said.” (synopsis to report by Lyse Doucet, July 20th)

“Gaza’s list of the dead crossed 500 and keeps climbing, according to figures from the health ministry here. The UN says the vast majority are civilians; many are children.” (Lyse Doucet, July 21st)

We have of course addressed the topic of the sources of UN OCHA supplied casualty figures here previously and in addition, a UNICEF information officer informed BBC Watch that its own figures – collected independently – include anyone up to the age of eighteen in the category of children. Notably, according to the latest UNICEF figures from July 21st, the number of male casualties under 18 was well over double the number of female casualties.

Downplaying prior warning

As is well known, Israel gave the residents of Shuja’iya prior warning of the necessity to evacuate the neighbourhood four days before the operation and even delayed it in order to give them more time to organize their move. That fact is not mentioned in the vast majority of the reports on the subsequent events and the concurrent fact that Hamas instructed the residents to stay put and act as human shields is not conveyed to BBC audiences at all.

Leaflet distributed in Shuja'iya on July 16th

Leaflet distributed in Shuja’iya on July 16th

Lyse Doucet writes:

“Israel said it repeatedly warned residents to leave the area.

“We asked them to leave again and again,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told BBC Arabic TV.

“We called them up, we texted, and we sent them messages. But Hamas said ‘don’t leave’,” – a reference to allegations that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields.”

“Warning?” said Anas, a 20-year-old university student with a mop of curly black hair who stood on a street corner. “They don’t warn us, they kill us.”

Whenever we ask Gazans that question, they reply: “Where do we go?” “

The fierce fighting between the IDF and Hamas terrorists on July 20th in Shuja’iya undoubtedly included many tragic scenes which were the result of civilians who had been advised to evacuate being caught in the crossfire – and it is upon those scenes which BBC reporting has exclusively focused. Whilst that may make for ‘compelling’ television or ‘powerful’ radio, it does not necessarily give BBC audiences the background and context which they need in order to be able to understand the entire picture of what happened there and why. The BBC’s reporters currently on the ground in Gaza have so far failed to provide audiences with many if not most of the vital parts of that picture. 

 

 

 

 

The reality behind the BBC’s promotion of information from medics in Gaza

As was noted here a few days ago, on July 15th the BBC’s Yolande Knell (perhaps inadvertently) documented the use of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City as a hideout for the Hamas top brass. Other journalists have reported on that topic too and of course the bottom line is that staff and patients of a civilian medical facility (as well as visiting journalists) are being exploited by a terrorist organisation as human shields, with or without the consent of that hospital’s management.Shifa hospital

In addition to the fact that the BBC has failed to adequately clarify the issue of human shields in Shifa hospital (or anywhere else) to audiences – numerous items of BBC content have been produced in that hospital over the past two weeks – obviously with the approval of its management – and various doctors have been interviewed, quoted and presented to BBC audiences as credible witnesses of the situation in Gaza. Examples include:

A BBC television news filmed report by Yolande Knell from July 8th.

Two filmed reports by Jeremy Bowen for BBC television news on July 11th.

A BBC World Service radio report by Lyse Doucet on July 20th in which a doctor promoted the unchallenged notion of a “massacre” in Shuja’iya.

A BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ interview with Dr Belal Dabour on July 21st which also allows unhindered promotion of the notion of a “massacre” in Shuja’iya.

Perhaps rather surprisingly in the current circumstances, Dr Dabour seems to have quite a bit of spare time in which to talk to the BBC – see for example here and here.

Now of course BBC audiences hearing, reading or watching an interview with a doctor will naturally presume that they are being given an accurate, impartial, apolitical and professionally neutral view of the situation. In the Gaza Strip, however, that is not necessarily the case – as has been documented by the ‘Warped Mirror’ blog here and here. And it is particularly not the case in Shifa hospital where, on July 20th, a journalist with ABC witnessed the following reaction from ‘humanitarian’ staff to the false claim by Hamas that it had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Tweet Doctors Shifa

But it is not only local doctors in the Gaza Strip whose presentation of supposedly professional observations – in fact underpinned by political motives – are facilitated by the BBC. On July 20th the BBC reached what is unfortunately not a new low by promoting and quoting none other than the infamous Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert in inserts by Yolande Knell featured in two separate written articles – see here and here.

Knell Mads Gilbert

Readers may recall Gilbert’s propaganda efforts during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9. Now the doctor who thinks the 9/11 terror attacks were justified is back in Shifa hospital, promoting the same political messaging to the media under the guise of a ‘medical opinion’ – remarkably and controversially, with recommendation from another source of ‘impartial’ information frequently promoted by the BBC – UNWRA.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

So far, in nearly two weeks of reporting, we have not seen even one attempt by the BBC’s journalists in Gaza to adhere to those guidelines by alerting audiences to the Hamas connections and/or sympathy for terrorism of medical personnel they present to audiences as ‘credible’ sources.  

BBC omits vital context in reporting from Shuja’iya

Today, July 20th, there has been heavy fighting in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shuja’iya. As was noted here yesterday in relation to a BBC article about that neighbourhood, its residents received notification via leaflets, telephone calls and announcements in the Arabic media that evacuation was advised four days previously on July 16and operations were even delayed in order to allow more civilians to organize their evacuation. 

With Hamas’ propaganda department already trying to persuade the world of a “massacre” of civilians in Shuja’iya, one can only hope that BBC correspondents on the ground will have the good sense to remember how their colleagues unquestioningly reported similar claims in Jenin twelve years ago without bothering to check facts first.

The reporting which has appeared on the BBC News website so far includes an evolving article now titled “Gaza shelling by Israel ‘most intense’, dozens reported killed“.  That report once again repeatedly cites casualty figures for which there is no evidence to suggest the BBC has independent verification and – as has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting so far – no effort is made to inform audiences of the sources of those figures and their questionable reliability.Shujaiya art

“Palestinian officials say that 395 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched its operation […]

Gaza has come under the most intense shelling since the launch of Israel’s offensive, with more than 40 people reported killed in one area overnight.

The deaths occurred in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said. Eyewitnesses spoke of bodies lying in the streets. […]

But the death toll continued to rise at the weekend, with the number of Palestinians killed now 395 since the operation began, according to Palestinian health officials.

The majority of those killed are civilians, the UN says. […]

More than 40 people died in the north-eastern district of Shejaiya in a heavy bombardment overnight, the Palestinian medics said.”

As we see, yet again no effort is made by the BBC to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties.

Much of this article is devoted to descriptions of fleeing civilians, as were Tweets posted by BBC correspondents on July 20th – see for example here, here, here, and here. If the BBC has made any attempt to determine whether those civilians did not evacuate the neighbourhood previously when warnings were originally given because of Hamas orders to stay put, those efforts are not apparent in this article, but of course BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip over the past thirteen days has systematically ignored the issue of the use of the local population as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organisations.

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell, in Gaza City, says there have been scenes of panic with thousands of residents fleeing the area – on foot or piling into the backs of cars.”

“At the scene: Paul Adams in Shejaiya

When we arrived at the edge of the neighbourhood, Palestinians were still fleeing in their hundreds: carrying nothing but their children, some pausing to vent their anger in front of cameras.

They spoke of bodies lying in the street and the wreckage of buildings, including a mosque.

After a night of ferocious bombardment, they seem traumatised and stunned. For three days, Israel had warned them to leave their homes, but Shejaiya is home to 80,000 people. Most stayed put, not expecting the ferocity of last night’s bombardment.

One man, his eyes glassy, said his father had been killed. He didn’t know where other family members were or even if they were alive.

An elderly woman, in traditional Palestinian costume, raised her arms to the sky and asked how God could let this happen.

A handicapped girl winced as she was lifted into the back of a pickup truck.

And all the time, more and more civilians emerged from Shejaiya.”

However, explanations to BBC audiences as to why the IDF needs to operate in Shuja’iya were limited to a generalised photo caption reading “The Israeli military says the ground offensive has been expanded to destroy a Hamas tunnel network” and the following statements in the body of the text:

Leaflet distributed in Shuja'iya on July 16th

Leaflet distributed in Shuja’iya on July 16th

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday after 10 days of heavy air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel says the ground operation is necessary to target Hamas tunnel networks, which it says it could not do from the air alone.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday during a gunfight with Palestinian militants who had used tunnels to cross into Israel to launch an attack, the IDF said.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, said the ground offensive was being expanded “to restore security and stability to Israel’s residents and citizens”.”

No attempt is made to clarify to readers that as well as being a significant site of Hamas command centres, weapons storage, missile manufacturing facilities and the launch site of some 140 missiles fired at Israeli civilians since the beginning of the current operation alone, Shuja’iya neighbourhood also houses the entrance to some ten of the tunnels that the BBC has so far avoided adequately informing audiences about.

IDF field hospital Gaza

IDF field hospital on the Gaza border to open on the evening of July 20th

Notably too, the BBC is very coy about clarifying to readers that Hamas opened fire at Israeli troops in the vicinity of Wafa hospital in Shuja’iya during the two-hour humanitarian hiatus (later extended by one hour) it had requested.

“A few hours later, it agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce in Shejaiya.

The ceasefire would last from 13:30 to 15:30 local time (10:30-12:30 GMT), an Israeli military spokesman said.

But a BBC team on the ground reported an exchange of fire less than an hour after the truce began.”

So whilst BBC audiences are provided with unverified casualty numbers and emotive reporting on the topic of fleeing civilians, they have not yet been provided with the all-important context of the reasons for the need for military action in Shuja’iya and they have still not been provided with an adequate overview of the topic of Hamas’ tunnel network,  the threat it poses to Israeli civilians and the reasons why the existence of those tunnels makes a ground operation necessary.

This article currently concludes with the following sentence:

“Hamas rejected an Egypt-brokered ceasefire last week, saying any deal with Israel must include an end to a blockade of Gaza.”

That conclusion fails to adequately clarify to BBC audiences that the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip could have been avoided in the first place or brought to an end almost a week ago, but that Hamas chose otherwise.