BBC tones down Iranian rhetoric and extremism

Precisely what does the BBC mean when it uses the word ‘occupation’? We do not have to suppose or speculate about the answer to that question because the BBC’s Key Terms guide tells us exactly what it means.

“Occupied Territories/occupation

The phrase ‘Occupied Territories’ refers to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and strictly speaking the Golan Heights. However, it is common usage for this phrase to refer to the West Bank as a whole and not the Golan Heights (unless it is in a story specifically on the 1967 War or Syrian/Israeli relations).    

This is our preferred description. It is advisable to avoid trying to find another formula, although the phrase ‘occupied West Bank’ can also be used. It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.”   

In other words, when it uses the word ‘occupation’, the BBC intends readers to understand that it is describing areas which came under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War. 

So consider this August 2nd BBC headline: “Iran’s Rouhani calls Israel occupation ‘old wound’ on Islamic world“.

Rouhani speech

As others have noted, Rouhani of course made no such distinction between areas east or west of the ‘green line’: his ‘problem’ is with Israel as a whole – not just this or that particular part of it.  

The article’s strap-line further shows the BBC’s transparent attempt to tone down Rouhani’s rhetoric by insertion of the phrase “Palestinian areas”.

“Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rouhani has denounced Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas as an “old wound on the body of the Islamic world”.”

What does the BBC mean when it says “Palestinian areas”? We do not have to guess about that one either. 

“Palestinian land

This phrase has become more widely used by politicians and broadcasters to refer to the Occupied Territories - for example, to explain why the construction of settlements is considered illegal by the UN.

Critics of the phrase say it is not strictly accurate because, for example, the West Bank was captured from Jordan in 1967. 

The BBC Governors considered this issue in a complaint which was referred to in the programme complaints bulletin of July 2004. Their decision was that, although the complainant objected to references to ‘Palestinian land’ and ‘Arab land’, these terms “appropriately reflected the language of UN resolutions”.

So the use of the phrase “Palestinian areas” is clearly intended to reinforce the false impression that Rouhani was referring to land gained by Israel in the 1967 war. 

Why the BBC should find it necessary to tone down Rouhani’s remarks in a manner which it presumably thinks makes them more palatable to Western audiences is anybody’s guess, especially as other members of the Western media managed to report the geographical intentions of Rouhani’s words accurately. 

The problem is, of course, that the BBC has invested much in educating its audiences with regard to its own definition of “occupation”, but rarely bothers to clarify the fact that for other parties – including Iran and its terrorist proxies – “occupation” means every last inch of Israel. Hence, average readers would be liable to fail to grasp the real significance of Rouhani’s words quoted later on in the article:

Speaking at a rally, Mr Rouhani said: “There is an old wound on the body of the Islamic world, under the shadow of the occupation of the holy lands of Palestine and Quds [Jerusalem].

But the BBC’s whitewashing does not stop there.  

“His remarks echo those of other Iranian leaders and come on Jerusalem (Quds) Day, held every year in Iran to support the Palestinians and denounce Israel.”

 There is nothing ‘pro-Palestinian’ about the hate-filled annual event which is Al Quds day and “denounce” is a very euphemistic way to describe the aims of an event that includes demonstrations of support for an Iranian-backed terrorist organisation which also make no distinction between pre and post 1967 Israel.  As the NYT correspondent in Tehran pointed out:

“Walking among celebrators holding signs reading “Death to Israel” and pictures of maimed Palestinian children, Mr. Rouhani […] gave a preplanned statement to waiting television cameras.”

That’s “Death to Israel”, dear BBC – not “Death to the bits of Israel east of the ‘green line’ “. 

Iranians carry anti-Israeli placards during a rally to mark al-Quds Day in Tehran, Iran, 02 August 2013. Photo: EPA

Iranian man carrying the Hizballah flag at an anti-Israeli rally to mark al-Quds Day in Tehran, Iran, 02 August 2013. Photo EPA

al-Quds Day rally in Tehran

Iranians attend al-Quds Day rally on August 2, 2013 in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Maryam Rahmanian

Iran's new president calls Israel an 'old wound'

An Iranian man holds an anti-Israeli placard with a portrait of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah during an annual Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. Photo: AP

Another BBC report on the subject of Rouhani’s inauguration appeared on the BBC News websites’s Middle east page on August 3rd. In that article too, the BBC misleads readers as to the meaning of Rouhani’s remarks.  [emphasis added]

“The day before he took office, Mr Rouhani said Israeli occupation was an “old wound on the body of the Islamic world”, as Iran marked its annual Jerusalem (Quds) Day.

His remarks echo those of other Iranian leaders on the day dedicated to supporting the Palestinians and denouncing Israel.”

It appears that the BBC is having difficulty sobering up after its ‘Rouhani the moderate reformer’ binge following the June elections and that, rather than engaging in a critical review of its own misguided stance, is now attempting – fingers placed firmly in ears – to bend reality to fit its own narrative.

That policy of course does nothing to meet the corporation’s obligation to enable its audiences to “build a global understanding of international issues”. 


An edition of a BBC World News programme has the BBC Persian service’s Rana Rahimpour translating Rouhani’s words as follows: 

“The occupation of the holy land of Palestine and Quds – which is Jerusalem – is an old wound on the body of the Muslim world.”

Rahimpour hastens to add:

“But he never mentioned Israel or the Zionist regime, as Iranian politicians refer to Israel…”

Of course Rouhani had no need to mention Israel by name: his audience at what Zeinab Badawi ridiculously insists upon calling the “pro-Palestinian rally” would have understood his intention perfectly well, given the Iranian regime’s record and its long-standing support for terrorist organisations which do not accept Israel’s existence in any form. BBC audiences, however, will remain in the dark due to this latest bout of the syndrome described by Sohrab Ahmari and James Kirchick in 2012 as “We Are All Persian Grammarians Now“.

Clearly, the BBC could have avoided this case of inaccurate and misleading reporting had it simply been more vigilant in its use of quotation marks in that headline. 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ on democracy in Egypt

This episode of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ in which Zeinab Badawi interviews Coptic Christian Naguib Sawiris – founder of the Free Egyptians Party – is not connected to Israel, but it is both interesting in itself as well as useful in that it provides a glimpse into BBC perceptions of the “Arab Spring” some six months after the publication of the BBC Trust commissioned report on the subject.

(Sound is lost at around 04:00 but resumes at 05:39)  

BBC does ‘The Palestinian Authority economy for dummies’

One day, perhaps, a BBC journalist will make a fact-based programme which will explain to audiences the real reasons that lie behind the weakness of the economy in the Palestinian National Authority controlled areas. 

Such a report would of course have to include factors such as the population growth rate, the rise of the dependency of the PA economy upon foreign donations from 10.47% in the year 2000 to over 60% in recent years, the endemic corruption, the lack of investment in infrastructure and means of production, the top-heavy civil service sector, the payment of wages to workers in Gaza who stay at home and convicted terrorists in Israeli jails, the inefficient tax collection, the self-inflicted effects of the second Intifada and the stifling influence on the economy of foreign NGOs and aid agencies – as well as many more contributing elements. 

But until that day, BBC audiences will have to make do with superficial reports such as the one broadcast on BBC News by Zeinab Badawi on November 6th 2012. 

 The accompanying synopsis states that:

“Recent protests across cities on the West Bank against rising fuel and food prices have sometimes turned violent.

Many people blame obstacles put in place by the Israeli authorities.

Despite the problems some Palestinians are trying to do more to boost their own economy, and create more jobs.”

The video report continues with the same theme of gratuitously blaming Israel for the PA’s economic ills with one of the interviewees , Ziad Anabtawi, stating that:

“We don’t have any control over our borders whether it’s coming from the port of Ashdod or Haifa or the crossing from Jordan, it’s always being handled by the Israelis and they have the control over every movement that we make at the border line.”

Seeing as the territory controlled by the PA (both at present and under any future agreements)  is landlocked, the situation regarding sea ports is not going to change unless the PA resolves its differences with Hamas and constructs a port in the Gaza Strip. That, of course, has nothing to do with Israel. 

 As for the border crossings into Jordan, the 1994 Paris Economic Agreement – which some called to annul during the September demonstrations against the economic situation in the PA – includes provisions for PA customs control there. 

 “In the entry points of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip:

Freight shipment
The Palestinian Authority will have full responsibility and powers in the Palestinian customs points (freight-area) for the implementation of the agreed upon customs and importation policy as specified in this protocol, including the inspection and the collection of taxes and other charges, when due.
Israeli customs officials will be present and will receive from the Palestinian customs officials a copy of the necessary relevant documents related to the specific shipment and will be entitled to ask for inspection in their presence of both goods and tax collection.
The Palestinian customs officials will be responsible for the handling of the customs procedure including the inspection and collection of due taxes.
In case of disagreement on the clearance of any shipment according to this Article, the shipment will be delayed for inspection for a maximum period of 48 hours during which a joint sub-committee will resolve the issue on the basis of the relevant provisions of this Article. The shipment will be released only upon the sub-committee’s decision.”

Unfortunately, of course, the decision by the Palestinian Authority to launch a terror war against Israel in 2000 has had repercussions on all aspects of the Oslo Accords of which that protocol is part. 

Badawi also interviews an olive farmer who states that “After the 1967 war so many young people left because of the lack of job opportunities”. A somewhat less one-dimensional view of the situation at the time can be read here.

Zeinab Badawi concludes her report by stating that the Palestinians:

“…need more backing from their own leaders and fewer restrictions on their economic activities by the Israeli authorities.”

Significantly, she neglects entirely to mention the fact that  - as in the past – the Israeli government has in recent months done much to try to boost the ailing PA economy, including making advance payments of 380 million shekels of tax monies not yet collected and adding a further 5,000 new work permits. 

“All told, some 48,000 Palestinians can now work legally within the Green Line, while some 26,000 work in industrial zones in settlement regions, and an estimated 30,000 more are working in Israel without permits. Thus, over 100,000 Palestinians are earning their livelihoods directly from Israel, receiving salaries that are at least double the salaries paid in the West Bank..”

Badawi also fails to mention the 617 million shekel debt owed by the PA to the Israel Electric Corporation, the PA’s $1.1 billion deficit in 2011, Israel’s appeals to the International Monetary Fund for aid to the PA and so forth. 

By resorting to the all too easy and simplistic default option of blaming Israel for just about any Palestinian problem, Zeinab Badawi displays a blatant disregard for accuracy. It is therefore not surprising that on occasions such as this, the BBC’s impartiality is then called into question. 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’: soft on Hamas

The BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ describes itself on its own website thus:

“HARDtalk is the hard-hitting flagship news programme shown on BBC World News and the BBC News channel.

The half hour interview is the result of detailed research and in-depth investigations.

HARDtalk asks the difficult questions and gets behind the stories that make the news – from international political leaders to entertainers; from corporate decision-makers to ordinary individuals facing huge challenges.”

Here is a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Ghazi Hamad of Hamas from July 2012:

Notably, presenter Zeinab Badawi allows Hamad to speak about the blockade without bringing up the subject of rocket fire at Israeli civilian communities.

When forced by the constraints of ‘impartiality’ to represent the Israeli point of view as Hamad recites his list of Israeli ‘crimes’, Badawi displays palpable ennui which, when interrupted by Hamad fizzles out into an apologetic “I was just trying to give you what they…”.

Badawi asks Hamad about arms smuggling through Rafah, but when he changes the subject to that of the smuggling of food, medicines and building materials, she fails to follow through.

Her final attempt at ‘impartiality’ is a lame “they [Israel] deny that of course” after Hamad states “We are sure that Israel poisoned President Arafat”. 

This is not the first time that Ghazi Hamad has appeared on ‘Hardtalk’. Here he is in May 2011 going completely unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur when he says that Hamas is ready to “liberate our homeland” and claims that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, not radical and not extremist. 

“Hard hitting”? “Difficult questions”?