Examining the BBC’s portrayal of Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ as Israeli electioneering

One of the recurrent themes adopted across the board by the BBC both before and during Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ was that the recent upsurge in violence between Israel and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip was connected to the elections due to be held in Israel in January of next year.

These are just several of many examples:

Here is the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly’s response when asked by Jeremy Vine on November 19th whether the operation should be seen as connected to the Israeli elections:

 “Yeah, I think we should is the simple truth. I mean I think from Binyamin Netanyahu’s point of view, if he were able to show that he had eradicated or really, really substantially degraded the threat of rockets from Gaza then that would be something very useful to take into an election campaign. Israelis are going to vote in about two months’ time and there’s no question that that would be a political advantage to him.”

“…a lot of Israelis feel that if they can just stick to this operation until it’s carried to its logical end, they can really, really damage Hamas’ military potential and if Netanyahu can do that without incurring too many Israeli casualties then …you know…it’s a brutal political calculation, but it’s real, Jeremy,… then that would be, I think, an advantage to him. And of course he is an elected politician – that simply has to be in his mind.”

Here is the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on the BBC News website’s Middle East section ‘live updates’ page on November 14th:

“Israel says it killed the Hamas military leader because he had a lot of blood on his hands – and as an answer to Palestinian rocket fire. But there will be questions about the timing of Israel’s action. The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called an election in January. In the past, military strikes have been used to send messages about the toughness of Israeli leaders.”

Here is Jon Donnison on October 29th – a full two weeks before the operation began:

“The Israeli government is also under pressure from the public to be seen to be responding to Palestinian rocket fire which impacts on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in southern Israel.

This is especially the case in the run-up to Israeli elections which will take place in January next year.”

It is therefore fitting to take a look at the effects of Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ on the Israeli political scene. 

In a poll conducted by the Israeli Channel 2 TV station very close to the announcement of the cease fire on November 22nd, the current ruling coalition of the Likud (headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) and Israel Beiteinu (headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman) went down from its current 42 seats in the Knesset to 34. 

The opposition Labour Party went up from a current eight seats to nineteen. Labour’s Amir Peretz (a resident of Sderot) has been receiving much praise in the Israeli media for his role as ‘father’ of the Iron Dome missile defence system which saved so many lives during the latest hostilities. 

On November 26th, a mere four days after the end of the operation, Defence Minister Ehud Barak of the Independence Party announced his retirement from politics: a move which puts the future of that party in doubt. 

In other words, the BBC’s ‘it’s all because of the Israeli elections’ theme was clearly based on its promoters’ personal perceptions of  specific Israeli politicians rather than on fact-based analysis and an understanding of the Israeli political scene.  

Does the BBC’s use of Twitter meet its editorial guidelines?

The use of Twitter during Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ marked another step along the ever-changing road of media coverage of conflict zones. The BBC was of course no exception, with its correspondents on the ground using the medium of social media to reach its audiences around the world in real-time.

But it was not just those who follow ‘our man in Jerusalem or Gaza’ who got news updates straight from Twitter. The BBC also made use of its correspondents’ Tweets as material for updates and articles. 

Here is a screenshot of one of the BBC News website’s Middle East pages whilst the site was running live updates throughout Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’. As you can see, those updates included ‘raw’ Tweets from BBC correspondents on the ground. 

Another example of the way in which the BBC made use of its correspondent’s Twitter activity is this article – made up entirely of Tweets by Paul Danahar of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau.

So the BBC obviously considers its correspondents’ Twitter accounts an appropriate source of information suitable for dissemination to wider audiences. But that raises several issues which the BBC does not seem to have entirely thought through.

As we mentioned in this article, a contributor recently informed us that:

“The BBC (Audience Services) has confirmed to me that their complaints procedure can be used on tweets by BBC journalists and presenters on their BBC Twitter pages.”

That presumably means that the Twitter accounts of BBC journalists and presenters are subject to the same Editorial Guidelines as the rest of BBC-produced content, seeing as the basis for complaints is a perceived breach of one or more of those Guidelines. Certainly, according to those same guidelines, any material gathered for use in a BBC programme or article – whether sourced from Twitter or not – should comply with editorial standards. 

And yet throughout Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ we saw worrying issues of accuracy and impartiality arise  frequently on various BBC-linked Twitter accounts  – particularly when journalists were rather ‘trigger happy’; rushing to send out information which had not been properly verified, often from unreliable sources – with Jon Donnison’s distribution of a photograph taken in Syria as though it were from Gaza now being  the most well-known example. 

Example of lack of accuracy (several of the Palestinian casualties were terrorists):

Examples of badly sourced information:

Example of lack of accuracy (Israel did not target journalists in Gaza, but journalists in Gaza were used as human shields by terrorists):

Example of lack of accuracy and impartiality (No Israeli warships fired ‘randomly’):

Example of lack of impartiality and accuracy (at least 7 of the dead were known to be terror operatives):

Example of lack of accuracy (Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital):

In some cases – but far from all – corrections were later put out or apologies made. But of course the very nature of Twitter means that corrections are not guaranteed to reach everyone who read – and believed – erroneous information put out by such a trusted source as a BBC journalist or an official BBC account, especially if that information came their way via a retweet from a third party. 

In this new environment in which often unverified and improperly sourced information is reaching audiences either directly from the Twitter accounts of BBC journalists or via BBC articles based on those Tweets, there is an obvious need for the BBC to invest in some serious thinking as to how its employees’ Twitter feeds can comply with its existing editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

BBC Radio 4 dances with the ‘apartheid’ trope

h/t Sharon, Joe

The small, but noisy, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel  – led by its ‘high priest’ Omar Bargouti – has, according to him, three basic aims:

“… ending Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied since 1967; ending racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens; and recognising the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

As Norman Finkelstein (not one of the better known card-carrying Zionists) pointed out earlier this year, the makers of those demands have one end-game in their sights.

“They call it their three tiers… We want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return, and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever, because they know the result of implementing all three is what? What’s the result? You know and I know what’s the result: there’s no Israel.”

And indeed, many of the BDS movement’s supporters, founders and activists are very open about that end-game, despite the fact that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is defined as antisemitism under the EUMC Working Definition of that form of racism. 

The methods used to try to bring about that end game include the deligitimisation of Israel: the attempt to paint a picture of a country so morally unacceptable that any ‘right-minded’ person cannot possibly tolerate its continued existence.

One way of doing that is to use the ‘apartheid’ trope. By deliberately employing rhetoric which the public associates with a universally morally unacceptable theme, the BDS movement aspires to brand Israel in the minds of the general public with the same stigma as the former racist regime in South Africa. 

Of course a close and factual examination of the situation immediately reveals that the use of the ‘apartheid’ trope in relation to Israel is utterly unfounded.  But sadly, many if not most members of the general public do not have sufficient knowledge of the facts to be able to assess the ‘apartheid’ trope for what it really is: a rhetorical tactic relying on the human mind’s natural tendency to make associations. 

A recent programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (iPM, November 24th 2012), supposedly about the recent  BDS protests against the Israeli dance troupe ‘Batsheva’ at the Edinburgh Festival, did nothing to meet the BBC’s obligations to “seek to ensure that the BBC gives information about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas.” 

Instead – as we have seen happen on various BBC outlets with increasing frequency of late – it provided a platform for an anti-Israel activist, supporting what is ultimately a racist cause, to spout factually incorrect propaganda posing as an ‘opinion’ – unchallenged. 

Scottish play-write and national poet Liz Lochhead stated:

“Well, when I went to Palestine in June this year [….] Well, believe me, I saw a really horrible place to live. After that I was happy to sign the letter against the Batsheva Dance Company being welcomed officially at the Edinburgh International Festival. I used to be naïve enough to think that arts and politics don’t and shouldn’t mix and that is a naïve point of view. People in Israel are not speaking out. They’re not seeing the way the Palestinians live. The ..emm…country is run on such apartheid lines it’s possible for the two sides to just literally not see each other. And that’s a terrible thing and this boycott is a regrettable, but entirely legitimate and very, very useful tool for getting behind the news.”

Did interviewer Eddie Mair demand that Lochhead qualify her statements with facts or himself present any facts which would allow the audience to understand the issue in a balanced manner?

No chance. Listen to the whole programme here

Wyre Davies’ historically incorrect reporting upgraded by BBC to ‘analysis’

Readers will probably remember that a few days ago we commented on Wyre Davies’ grossly historically incorrect claim that rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians are a result of the partial blockade on the Gaza Strip – rather than the other way round. 

Has that error since been corrected?

No: in fact the report concerned was expanded and upgraded to the category of ‘analysis’. 

Davies’ expanded article is, if anything, even more egregious than the original report and is far more occupied with promoting a narrative than with anything which could be remotely described as fact-based analysis.

“You can feel the palpable lifting of that burden among Gazan colleagues. This is such a small densely populated stretch of land that few areas have escaped the impact – direct or indirect – of Israeli bombing in recent days.

In the BBC Gaza office, that feeling was most tangibly felt on the first day of this conflict when Omar, the 11-month-old son of our cameraman Jihad Misharawi, was killed when a missile hit his home. It was a pointless, terrible tragedy that deeply affected Jihad’s colleagues who live and work here in these testing conditions.

What has shocked me most over the last eight days – during which I have reported exclusively from Gaza, with BBC colleagues complementing in Israel – is the appallingly high number of children killed and injured.”

In fact, according to figures released by the IDF, of a total of 165 people killed in Gaza during the operation, 93 belonged to one of seven different terrorist groups. Sixty eight civilians died, of those 25 children and 9 youths. That civilian to combatant ratio is one of the lowest known, reflecting the considerable efforts made to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible. 

Like his colleague Jon Donnison, Davies avoids the subject of children or other civilians in Gaza killed or injured as a result of at least 152 known instances of short-falls of terrorist-launched missiles. He and his esteemed colleagues decline, for example, to call to the attention of audiences the fact that four year-old Mahmoud Sadallah – who the BBC, like many other media outlets, described as having been killed in an Israeli air strike – actually died as a result of a terrorist’s rocket. 

Neither does Davies’ ‘analysis’ include the fact that Hamas and other terrorist organisations acting within the Gaza Strip deliberately embed rocket-launchers, weapons storage facilities and terror operatives deep within built up residential areas in order to co-opt the civilian population as human shields.

For Davies – as with the rest of the BBC’s team in Gaza – the only story worth telling is one in which a Palestinian child is killed in an Israeli air strike – whether that assertion is verifiable or not. 

The ‘analysis’ continues – recycling Davies’ previously made historically incorrect argument:

“If the events of the last week (and 2006 and 2008-9) are not to be repeated, a lasting ceasefire is paramount and a permanent solution to improving the daily lives of more the one and a half million Gazans must be put into place.

It is a destructive cycle.

After previous conflicts, it went something like this: Gaza would be allowed to rebuild its institutions and infrastructure; but, with time, as people became increasingly frustrated with the Israeli blockade, Palestinian militants would fire more and more rockets into Israel; Israel would respond with overwhelming military force, and much of what had been built up was destroyed.”

Obviously, any BBC reporter supposedly trying to inform audiences about the Arab-Israeli conflict is hampered by the fact that the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines discourage (to put it mildly) the use of the word ‘terror’ in order to avoid “value judgements”.

Hence, it is difficult to explain that Hamas is a terrorist organization which seeks the expulsion of Jews from the whole of Israel, and why Hamas and its terror colleagues are still firing rockets at Israeli civilians deep inside the ‘green line’ from a place where virtually no Israeli civilian has set foot for the past seven and a quarter years. 

Thus, instead of factually accurate analysis, audiences have to make do with ‘contextualised’ interpretations featuring red herrings such as “the Israeli blockade”, “a lasting ceasefire” and “a permanent solution”.

Such analysis has to deliberately ignore the fact that the Gaza Strip has a border with Egypt, through which it could theoretically import and export at will in order to develop its economy – had it not seriously compromised that by annoying its neighbours to the south by making its main imports weapons and its main export terror. 

And, it seems, such analysis must also describe an almost daily twelve year long stream of war crimes – the deliberate targeting of a civilian population with mortars, rockets and missiles – as though it were something on a par with throwing litter on the street.

“It is not normal, not acceptable, that rocket fire resumes on southern Israel, and the consequences must be crystal-clear for any militants who grow frustrated with a lack of political progress in coming months or years.”

It must take quite some doing to convince oneself that “militants” – be they members of Hamas, Fatah (which also lays claim to having fired rockets at Israeli civilians last week) or any other faction – are so “frustrated” by a “lack of political progress” that they have no choice but to turn to rocket fire. 

BBC reporters’ ‘analysis’ can contribute nothing to his audiences’ understanding of the Middle East as long as they are based on distortions of history and until journalists cease projecting and begin to actually listen to the people about whom they write. 



BBC’s Jon Donnison displays a professional and ethical conflict of interests

On Saturday, November 24th 2012, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of  ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC World Service), which included a piece by Jon Donnison. The broadcast can be heard here or here, or downloaded here

Frankly, this is a subject I would have preferred not to have had to write about. Donnison’s broadcast concerns the death of the son of his BBC colleague, Jihad Masharawi, on November 14th and of course any death – but perhaps particularly that of a baby – is tragic and bound to evoke understandable emotional reactions – especially among those who know the family personally.

But as is the case with professionals in any field, journalists should be able to separate their personal storm of emotions from the task of carrying out their job. It is Jon Donnison’s inability to do that (along with many of his colleagues) which leaves no choice but to address the subject.

Below is a transcript of the programme: [all emphasis added]

Introduction by Kate Adie:

“A fragile ceasefire continues to hold in the Gaza Strip this morning. One Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces yesterday near the town of Khan Yunis. He was the first to be killed since the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel came into effect on Wednesday night, ending a week of fighting between the two sides. Israel launched its offensive in what it said was an effort to prevent Palestinian rocket fire. Jon Donnison has spent the week in Gaza and was there as one of his BBC colleagues heard that his house had been bombed.”

Adie gives no context whatsoever for the shooting of Anwar Qudaih on November 23rd and  her casting of aspersions upon the reasons for Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ – although by now standard BBC fare – totally ignores the context of the attack on an army jeep in Israeli territory with an anti-tank missile on November 10th and 110 missiles fired from Gaza at civilian communities between that incident and the operation’s commencement on November 14th.

Next, we hear Donnison’s broadcast:

“My friend and colleague Jihad Masharawi is usually the last to leave our Gaza bureau. Hard working but softly spoken, he often stays late, beavering away on his laptop. He has a cool head – unflappable when others like me are flapping around him. He’s a video editor and just one of our local BBC Arabic service staff who make the office tick. But on the Wednesday before last, soon after Gaza’s latest war erupted with Israel’s killing of Hamas’ military commander Ahmed al Jabari, Jihad burst out of the edit suite, screaming. He sprinted down the stairs, his face ripped with anguish. He’d just had a call from a friend to tell him the Israeli military had bombed his house and that his eleven month-old baby boy Omar was dead.”

Yet again, Donnison promotes the standard BBC line which ignores five days of rocket attacks on civilians prior to the targeted killing of Jabari, thus placing the blame for the hostilities on Israel – and excusing Hamas from any responsibility. Donnison makes an early attempt to establish the supposed bombing of Masharawi’s house by Israel as fact, despite having no proof for that assertion. He continues:

“Most fathers will tell you that their children are beautiful. Omar was a picture book baby. Standing in what’s left of his burnt-out home this week, Jihad showed me a photo on his mobile phone. It was of a cheeky, chunky, round-faced little boy in denim dungarees, chuckling in a push-chair. Dark eyed, with a fringe of fine brown hair pushed across his brow. “He only knew how to smile” Jihad told me, as we both struggled to hold back the tears.

“He could say just two words – Babba and Mamma”, his father went on. Also on Jihad’s phone is another photo; a hideous tiny corpse – Omar’s smiling face virtually burnt off, that fine hair appearing to be melted onto his scalp. Jihad’s sister-in-law, Hiba, was also killed. “We still haven’t found her head”, Jihad said. And his brother is critically ill in hospital with massive burns. His chances are not good.”

Donnison’s unnecessarily graphic descriptions are the audio version of the photographs of dead children (some real and some not – as Donnison well knows) used frequently by Hamas propagandists to incite world opinion against Israel.

 Let us be quite clear: this is war pornography. Its use is designed specifically to shock audiences into oblivion regarding the circumstances and facts and it aims to solicit purely emotional reactions of anger and disgust at the suggested perpetrator.

 Of course we have never (thankfully) heard comparable BBC descriptions of Israeli casualties broadcast in such a manner. 

For those unfamiliar with the BBC’s domestic broadcasts, it is worth pointing out that they are rife with warnings to the effect that “some viewers may find the content disturbing”. No such warning is given at the beginning of this programme. Did its unnamed producer consider the usual niceties unnecessary – or a hindrance? 

Donnison continues:

“Jihad has another son, Ali, four years old, who was lightly injured. He keeps asking where his baby brother has gone. Eleven members of the Masharawi family lived in the tiny breeze-block house in the Sabra district of Gaza City. Five people slept in one room. The beds are now only good for charcoal. On the kitchen shelves there are rows of melted plastic jars full of spices, their shapes distorted as if reflected from a fairground mirror. And in the entrance hall; a two foot-wide hole in the flimsy metal ceiling – where the missile ripped through.”

Donnison is the only person claiming that the Masharawi family home is in the Sabra district. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, as well as numerous media reports, all place the house in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City and that fact is very relevant indeed. 

Donnison goes on:

“Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air-strike, some have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket. But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, Israel’s military says mortars had been launched from Gaza, but very few rockets. Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jihad’s house. Others say that the damage was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks, but the BBC visited other bomb sites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”. Like at Jihad’s house, there was very little structural damage, but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns.”

With all due respect, none of the numerous BBC correspondents in Gaza last week are ballistic or munitions experts, and until an independent study by such a professional comes to light, Donnison’s conjectures based on anecdotal evidence remain precisely that.

Regarding Donnison’s claim of mortars, “but very few rockets” having been fired at the time (BBC Watch has seen no such statement by the IDF, but would be delighted if Donnison could produce it), as is pointed out here, “very few rockets” does not mean no rockets. 

It is at this juncture useful to return to a report on the same subject put out by Donnison on November 15th – the day after the incident. In that report (specifically marked as containing disturbing images), Jihad Masharawi is interviewed by colleagues from the BBC Arabic Service. The report’s synopsis states that:

“Jihad Misharawi said his 11-month-old son Omar died after shrapnel hit the family home in Gaza.”

In the filmed interview, the following exchange takes place between Jihad Masharawi and the interviewer:

Interviewer: “Our condolences, Jihad. Tell me what happened with you.”

JM: “Shrapnel hit our house.”

Interviewer: “Shrapnel?”

JM: “Yes. My sister-in-law was killed along with my son and my brother and my other son were wounded.

Interviewer: “In which area?”

JM: “In al Zeitoun.”

Viewing the timeline of announcements from the IDF Spokesman on the relevant day (and corroborated in numerous media reports from the time) we see that immediately following the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, attempts were made to neutralize the arsenal of long-range Iranian supplied Fajr 5 missiles held by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip so as to minimize the dangers of reactions to Jabari’s killing to Israeli civilians. 

Later that evening, the IDF released an aerial photograph of one such rocket launching site – owned by Hamas – in the Zeitoun neighbourhood in which Jihad Masharawi’s house is – according to him – situated. 

Whether or not Jihad Masharawi’s house was hit by a short-falling terrorist rocket, by shrapnel from secondary explosions of Fajr 5 missiles deliberately hidden by Hamas in built-up residential areas or whether an errant IDF shell targeting those rocket launching sites and weapons storage facilities caused that accident, we may never know.

But it is significant that the BBC has doggedly avoided conducting any sort of investigation whatsoever into the subject of Palestinians killed or injured by at least 152 known shortfalls of rockets fired by terrorists during the week November 14th to 21st and that it has had no inclination whatsoever to report on the use of the civilian population of Gaza as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organizations storing and launching military-grade weapons from residential areas, despite having frequently (if inadvertently) documented those launchings itself.

In that vein, Donnison continues:

Most likely is that Omar died in one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks. Omar was not a terrorist.”

Of course an eleven-month old baby was not a terrorist: we do not need to be told that by Donnison. But let us also take note of the fact that after a week of furious avoidance of that word, the BBC has finally found a use for it: as a means to chastise Israel. 

Donnison goes on:

“Of course every civilian death on either side – not just Omar’s – is tragic. The United Nations says its preliminary investigation shows that 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians. Of these, thirty were children, twelve of whom were under the age of ten. More than a thousand people were injured. The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that every non-combatant death or injury was tragic and an operational failure.”

Significantly, Donnison chooses to quote exclusively figures put forward by the highly partisan UN OCHA. Other sources suggest very different ratios of civilian to combatant deaths with the IDF reporting 120 combatants out of a total of 177 dead and B’Tselem’s initial findings (not complete) showing a ratio of 40 civilians to 62 combatants.

But it in the next part of his report – obviously inserted in the name of ‘impartiality’ – that Donnison truly exceeds himself:

“In Israel too there were casualties. Four civilians and two soldiers. There were also many injuries, but the fact that the Israeli ambulance service was also reporting those suffering from anxiety and bruises is an indication of the asymmetric nature of the conflict.”

Very classy: having spent a week advancing the narrative that not enough Israelis were being killed, the BBC now promotes accusations that Israel inflates casualty figures.

And, quick off the mark to ‘prove’ his point, Donnison continues: 

“Jihad’s son Omar was probably the first child to die in this latest round of violence. Among the last was a young boy – Abdul Rahman Naim – killed by an Israeli attack just hours before the ceasefire was announced. Abdul Rahman’s father, Dr. Majdi, is one of the leading specialist doctors at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital. The first he knew of his son’s death was when he went to treat a patient, only to find that it was his own boy.

Before I left Jihad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp-fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death. “Very, very angry”, he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone. My thoughts, after a week where I’ve had little time to think, are with Jihad and his family. Remarkably and unnecessarily, he told me his thoughts were with me and the rest of our BBC team. “I’m just sorry, Jon, that I had to go and wasn’t there to help you with your work” he said, before we hugged and said goodbye.”

It is, of course, perfectly natural that Donnison and other BBC staff should be upset about the death of a colleague’s child. It is even perhaps understandable that several of them allowed their emotions to dictate their reactions and actions at the time. 

What is not acceptable, however, is the BBC’s use of this insufficiently investigated story to promote the narrative of a child’s death being the result of Israeli actions – whilst at the same time brushing aside the conflicting unverified versions as to what actually happened and in stark contrast to its point-blank refusal to report on the subject of casualties caused as a result of the use by Hamas of its civilian population as human shields.

No less problematic is the BBC’s collaboration in the promotion of the same narrative outside its own outlet. 

Fisher did indeed use Danahar’s photographs in his article in the Washington Post. 

Jon Donnison has, over the last two days, been promoting his ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ feature with considerable zeal on Twitter

As angry and upset as Donnison and his colleagues may be, they have clearly crossed a line which has led to a professional and ethical conflict of interests. The tragic story of Omar Masharawi is now no longer being reported: it is being used and abused to advance a very specific narrative of Israel as a killer of children.

It is in danger of rapidly turning into a ‘journalists’ blood libel’ – if it has not already done so – and that is because of the fact that despite a number of deaths of children in the Gaza Strip during the recent hostilities, the BBC fails to make clear that none of those children (or any other civilians) were deliberately targeted by Israel and fails to present the events in their true context – part of which is the fact that not only does Hamas deliberately target Israel’s civilian population, but it also intentionally  endangers its own in order to reap exactly the kind of images and stories the BBC is now running so enthusiastically.

One may be tempted to ascribe the BBC’s actions to naivety or ‘battle fatigue’ but that may not necessarily be the case – as indicated in the Tweet below by BBC Foreign Editor Jon Williams. 

“Gaza” did not produce those images: journalists did. And in the case of the BBC it is increasingly emerging that they are knowingly and intentionally being promoted in order to advance a specific – yet unverified – narrative.

 It is that fact which has seriously compromised the BBC’s reputation as an impartial and accurate reporter of the news and tipped it over into the already over-populated category of journalists who wish to define the news and the public’s perception of it for the purpose of furthering a wider agenda.

BBC’s ‘Question Time’ features uninterrupted anti-Israel misinformation

The November 22nd 2012 edition of the BBC’s ‘Question Time’, which raised much controversy, is available here for UK viewers only. 

The part of the programme which – judging from our inbox – many found offensive and objectionable was the two minute and eighteen second uninterrupted diatribe of lies, misrepresentation and distortions by ‘The Independent’ columnist Owen Jones

It is one thing to promote ‘robust debate’ between differing viewpoints – an essential part of any democratic society.

It is quite another for an institution charged with making sure it “gives information about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas” to allow a torrent of misinformation to pass without correction by the BBC presenter managing the debate.

In order to understand the significance of the BBC’s inaction in this and many other cases of anti-Israel propaganda being passed off as ‘opinion’, it is sufficient to see who is now promoting the BBC-sanitized clip above – some examples here, here and here.   



Open thread on BBC coverage of Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’

With Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ having come to an end, it is time to begin taking a step back and an overall look at the BBC’s coverage of the subject. 

But first of all, we would like to thank the many people who wrote in to BBC Watch with messages of support, those who sent us copies of complaints to the BBC regarding specific programmes and, especially, all those of you who took the time to alert us to programmes and even made screenshots or recordings of them.

Faced with what sometimes felt like a tsunami of material, we were unfortunately not able to feature all of the items you kindly wrote in to tell us about.  The volume of material was simply so high that an editorial decision was made to try to highlight programmes from as many different BBC outlets as possible, with as many different themes as possible. But the material you sent in has not gone to waste: it now rests in the BBC Watch files, so thanks to all concerned.

On this thread, we would like to hear from you.

What do you think of the BBC’s coverage overall? Which BBC journalists did a good job of presenting accurate and impartial material and which did not?

What themes do you think dominated BBC coverage?  My list, for example, would include “Israel started it” and “it’s all because of the Israeli elections”.

What subjects, if any, do you think the BBC avoided covering?

So – over to you, everyone: as the BBC itself puts it – have your say.



BBC pictorial portrayals of conflict in Israel and Gaza

On November 23rd 2012 an “In Pictures” photo essay entitled “Ceasefire” appeared on the homepage of the Middle East section of the BBC News website. 

The photo essay features thirteen photographs, of which nine depict Gaza and four are taken in Israel.

Four of the pictures from Gaza depict scenes of destruction of buildings, with interesting repeated – if transparent – use of bursts of colour against a largely grey background . One shows mourning women. Four other pictures depict Hamas leaders and operatives (finally available for photo-ops after eight days of being in hiding), with three of those pictures notably captioned as having been taken at funerals or mourning  events, thus adding a ‘human touch’. 

Of the pictures taken in Israel, none depict any kind of destruction or mourning.

One shows Israelis demonstrating against the ceasefire in Kiryat Malachi, where three people were killed as the result of a direct hit by a missile on an apartment block.

The remaining three pictures all have a military theme, with any civilians pictured looking relaxed and happy. Two of the three once again suggest a linkage between the Israeli army and religion. 

In the three photo essays we have covered here recently (see here and here), a total of 35 pictures supposedly documenting the conflict have been presented. Twenty of those pictures were taken in Gaza (and one in Hebron), with only two of those images showing Hamas terrorists, both at funerals. Fourteen of the 35 pictures were taken in Israel. 

Of the total 35 pictures, damage to homes, buildings or property was depicted in 12 of the pictures from the Gaza Strip and in four of the pictures from Israel. Images related to injury or death of civilians were depicted in seven of the photographs taken in Gaza, but in none of the photographs from Israel.

From the fourteen pictures taken in Israel, eleven show images of soldiers or other security forces. Four of those eleven pictures try to make a clear linkage between the Israeli army and the Jewish religion.  

If the BBC’s Picture Editor Phil Coomes would like to expand on the editorial decisions behind these photo essays, we would be very happy to publish his explanations here.  


Context-free reporting from BBC’s Lyse Doucet

A report entitled “Gaza separated by destroyed bridge” by Lyse Doucet on November 21st – appearing on the BBC News website and also apparently broadcast on television news programmes – is an example of the all too prevalent phenomenon of reporting an event without placing it in the proper context. 

Doucet reports:

“We’ve come to the main coastal road in the Gaza Strip to try to find some of the evidence of last night’s intensive shelling and bombardment by the Israeli forces and look what we found. This main bridge connecting north and central Gaza with the south…. is completely destroyed and that means that people who live on the southern edge, towards the Egyptian border in refugee camps or in major towns such as Khan Yunis, are effectively cut off from the rest of the Gaza Strip.

People have been arriving here talking on their telephones to people on the other side, saying “I simply have no way to get to you” ‘cos look, look what’s left – this pile of rubble – after last night’s blistering attack.

And Gazans have seen this before. During the last Israeli invasion of 2008 and 9, the Gaza Strip was effectively cut into three and bridges like this were also destroyed then.

Which is why people here say “well, there’s all this talk of a ceasefire” while on the ground, the intensive bombardment and shelling continues. They also see rockets being fired out of Gaza into southern Israel. [Sound of unidentified explosion] There you go: another explosion here. So while there’s talk of a truce, it doesn’t look and sound different on the ground.”

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? In fact the impression Doucet gives is one of wanton destruction, solely designed to make the lives of Palestinians trying to get from A to B more difficult.

Now of course I, like Lyse Doucet, have absolutely no idea why that specific bridge was targeted, but nevertheless it would have been relevant for her to mention that – as is well known – the main point of entry for weapons to the Gaza Strip is the many smuggling tunnels located on that “southern edge” she mentions and that the bridge could therefore be on a route used to transport weaponry. 

It would also have been relevant to put that specific road in context as far as alternative routes between the south of the Gaza Strip and its centre and north are concerned, especially in light of the dramatic BBC claim that Gaza is “separated”.

But Doucet did neither. Instead she chose to ignore any context which might interfere with the over-dramatic and emotionally-targeted effect she was trying to create and the one-sided story she was trying to tell.  

BBC’s Donnison suggests rioters may be farmers… or scrap metal collectors

This is a picture taken around midday local time from the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Gaza where, until less than 48 hours ago, fierce fighting was taking place. 

It shows some of a group of around 300 Palestinians involved in creating a disturbance along the border fence, including stone-throwing, causing damage to the fence and attempts to breach the border. One man did get into Israel and was later returned to Gaza. Another man was shot and killed after ignoring warning shots into the air.

Footage from the other side of the fence can be seen in Jon Donnison’s report on the incident (also apparently broadcast on BBC television news) here

Both in the voice-over to the video and in the text below the report, Donnison repeats unsubstantiated Palestinian claims that the mob were actually “farmers trying to get into their land”. The written article also has an additional version to the story:

 “Eyewitnesses said the group were farmers, while Gaza health official Adnan Abu Salmia said they had been trying to retrieve parts from a damaged Israeli jeep inside the off-limits area.”

In his commentary Donnison states that: [emphasis added]

“I should say that before this big escalation in the last eight days or so, people getting shot on the Palestinian side around the border was a pretty regular occurrence. Erm..Israel says it has imposed a unilaterally declared exclusion zone 300 meters from the fence. It regularly opens fire for what it calls security reasons. Palestinians will say this is stealing their land and that they often fire beyond that 300 meter distance.”

Donnison also reported the events on Twitter, including promotion of a previous article of his which, whilst having nothing to do with the day’s events, reinforces the theme he tries to advance in the commentary to the video.

Donnison’s choice of wording – “It [Israel] regularly opens fire for what it calls security reasons” – is clearly intended to cast doubt upon the veracity Israeli security concerns.

He completely neglects to mention any of the recent Palestinian attempts to breach the border fence, tunnel-digging beneath the border, cross-border shooting and missile attacks and the laying of IEDs which, together with incessant rocket fire on civilians in Israel, preceded Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’.

However, with Donnison and his colleagues having spent the past ten days or so trying to convince audiences that the recent escalation began with the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, it is hardly surprising that he should continue to downplay or ignore the significance of security events along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, instead preferring to promote versions of far-fetched stories about poor Palestinian farmers and scrap metal collectors – apparently conveniently equipped with either video cameras of their own or en-suite news crews.