The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

On November 21st 2012, the programme ‘Newsround’ which is produced by the children’s section of the BBC – CBBC – put out an item entitled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“.  Whilst there is much to critique in the article itself – not least its ridiculously mistaken title – at the bottom of it, readers will notice this announcement:

Newsround correction

So what brought about such a speedy change in the wording of this article?

The answer to that question can be found of the website of CAABU – the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding – which, on November 22ndannounced that it had made a formal complaint regarding the ‘Newsround’ item of the previous day. 

CAABU complaint

On December 6th, the CAABU website announced that changes had been made to the item and provided a link to the BBC’s response of December 3rd to CAABU’s complaint.

Many BBC Watch readers will no doubt be amazed by the unusual alacrity of the BBC’s response to this complaint, but additional factors may go some way towards explaining it.

CAABU was established in 1967, just after the Six Day War, with the declared aim of being “prepared to stand up for Arab and Palestinian rights”, which it achieves, among other means, through extensive lobbying in the British parliament, by campaigning in British schools and through lobbying the media.  According to CAABU’s Director, Chris Doyle in an interview given to the Gulf News earlier this year:

“Caabu has a distinguished history of working to change the pro-Israeli atmosphere in British politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Much has changed since then, and the plight of the Palestinians is now widely recognised.

“Today, 70 per cent of the British public support Palestinian rights, which is a huge shift from 1967, when 20 years after the end of the Second World War there was still a lot of sympathy for Israel,” Doyle said.

Caabu’s core mission has been the crucial work of lobbying on key issues concerning British-Arab relations, such as Palestinian rights, making sure that the British government is constructive in its relations with other states based on international law and human rights, helping those countries that are en route to become democracies, and working with both media and schools.

“We talk to between 10,000 to 15,000 school children every year. We are the only organisation in Britain that gives children an opportunity to engage with the Arab World. Dr Amiee Shalan is the head of education, and she manages associate speakers who Caabu trains to speak to 16 to 17 year olds. We try to get them to look behind the headlines. We aim to get them thinking, and provoke them to have a different attitude on how they look to the region,” Doyle said.

A core function of Caabu is to lobby parliament. “At a time when so much is going on the Arab world, British politicians need an organisation which can synthesise everything into an easily understood coherent narrative, so that we can explain the main trends of what is happening in the region.

Caabu regularly takes delegations to the Arab world. It took 19 members of parliament to Palestine last year, and the members saw for themselves what it is like. They themselves felt the impact of the colonies, and the blockade of Gaza among other irritants.

“When they came back to Britain, they were angered and very concerned, and appalled at how the Palestinians are treated,” said Doyle, pointing out that this personal experience encourages them to speak out for Palestinian rights.”

In other words, CAABU is an integral and well-established part of the Arab lobby in the United Kingdom with no fewer than three MPs and two former MPs sitting on its executive committee. Some of those board members, however, can be rather coy about the organization they support and represent. 

Several months after the start of the unrest in Syria, commentators began remarking on CAABU’s sudden reinvention of itself as a supporter of the so-called ‘Syrian opposition’, after it apparently became clear even to CAABU that the Assad horse was the wrong one to back. In the framework of the ensuing damage control, CAABU board member and former MP Derek Wyatt posted three letters from fellow board members and staff on his blog. In one of those letters, CAABU co-chair Andy Love MP wrote:

 “Caabu has zero links to the British-Syrian Society nor desires any. “

The British Syrian Society was founded in 2003 by Fawas Akhras – the father in law of Bashar al Assad. His daughter – Asma al Assad – is reportedly a patron of the BSS, which also included among its ranks the Assad regime supporter Wafik Said. Until July 26th 2010, Rim Turkmani – wife of CAABU’s Director Chris Doyle – was a director of the British Syrian Society. 

Another director of the British Syrian Society (since March 23rd 2010 and to this day) is Shaza Shannan, who was also vice-chair of CAABU from February 2009 until April 5th 2012. According to the BSS website, Ms Shannan also works as a management consultant for the FCO-funded British Council and was also described as holding a position with that organization when, in 2010, she appeared together with Chris Doyle at an event at the London International Documentary Festival. 

“Shaza Shannan is currently the Head of Cultural Committee at British Syrian Society and the Vice Chair at CAABU – she organises events focussed on Middle Eastern issues. She is the Business Change Manager at British Council and also holds a position teaching arabic at SOAS.”

In 2007 Shannan organized a conference on the subject of the Golan Heights in London with the collaboration of the Syrian Media Centre in London (formerly headed by Ghayth Armanazi – also executive director of the British Syrian Society) and the Syrian Embassy. Among those attending was Fawaz Akhras and among the speakers was Jihad Makdissi – Syrian Embassy and Foreign Ministry spokesman from 1998 and until his reported defection at the beginning of December 2012. 

Here is CAABU in 2008 advertising via Google Groups  – on behalf of the British Syrian Society – a lecture by Brigid Keenan (more on her here). 

keenan event

In other words, CAABU co-chair Andy Love was not being frank when he claimed “zero links” to the BSS and – by extension – the Syrian regime. 

But what does all that have to do with the above mentioned complaint about the CBBC children’s programme ‘Newsround’? Well, another board member at CAABU is named Jonathan Fryer – an aspiring Lib Dem MEP, a lecturer at SOAS , a recent participant in the Arab League Conference on Palestine in Baghdad (together with his “chum” Craig Murray) and a past participant in the Doha Conference on Jerusalem.  A seasoned anti-Israel campaigner , he is also apparently the man Deborah Fink copies in to her e-mails of complaint about the sacking of Jenny Tonge. 

Fryer LDFOP 

In addition, Jonathan Fryer happens to be a journalist (apparently freelance) for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent programme. 

FOOC Fryer

Whilst Fryer’s dual role as CAABU board member and BBC journalist does not of course guarantee instant compliance with CAABU complaints, it certainly does not seem to be doing any harm. What is odd is that the fact that a board member of an organisation which frequently lobbies the BBC also does work for it – and that this does not appear to be perceived as a potentially problematic conflict of interests by the BBC itself. 

21 comments on “The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

  1. Pingback: The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC | Blogs about Israel aggregation

  2. A tour de force of a post, Hadar! Very, very interesting.
    The BBC’s links with CAABU are of long standing, incidentally. To quote from something I wrote some time ago:
    “We’re all pretty familiar with BBC bias. But when did the BBC let slip the scrupulous objectivity demanded of it, and which once made it a respected organisation trusted round the world? Being an historically minded gal I decided to try to find out. And I believe I may have discovered the individual who began the BBC’s downward spiral into biased reporting, at least as far as news about Israel and the Middle East is concerned.
    Step forward the shade of Keith Kyle (1925-2007), a Liberal-turned-Labourite who later joined the SDP, and stood unsuccessfully for Parliament several times. Kyle seems to have been the first BBC broadcaster to flout the neutrality incumbent upon the BBC when, during the tension leading up to the Six Day War, he opined that “fundamentally in this dispute the Arabs are completely in the right. There can be no question about this at all.” These words were also printed in the 1 June 1967 issue of The Listener, a BBC publication.
    Shortly after Israel’s stunning victory, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) was set up in London in order to coordinate Arab and pro-Arab opinion in the UK. Its leading parliamentary supporters were Tory MP and Suez rebel Anthony Nutting (in 1956, when Nutting was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden had mentioned “the anti-Jewish spleen of you people in the Foreign Office”) and Labour MP Christopher Mayhew, both inveterate foes of Israel. Funded by Arab governments, CAABU could afford a secretariat, and its director was Michael Adams, who had worked for the BBC early in his career but had later joined the Guardian. It was owing to his articles in that paper that a columnist in the Jewish Chronicle (30 June 1967) observed: “It is with a sinking feeling and eventually turning stomach that one examines the Guardian each morning.” (That writer would certainly vomit daily if he read the Guardian nowadays!)
    One of CAABU’s first actions had been to send Adams, while he was still employed by the Guardian, on a funded trip to the Middle East, from whence he sent a series of articles biased against Israel. The Guardian had printed them without explaining that they had been subsidised by Arab money. There was also a despatch from Cairo which talked of the “forcible expulsion across the burning desert of Palestinian Arabs to Gaza”. In fact, those deportees were members of the Palestine Liberation Army and a threat to Israel’s security, as the Guardian grudgingly acknowledged the next day. Adams also used the offensive term “final solution” to describe Israeli policy.
    It was shortly after this that Adams became CAABU’s director. The Guardian continued to offend. In August it carried an advertisement from an Arab source that made “untrue and repulsive allegations about Israel’s treatment of Arab civilians in the occupied territories” and in a report alleged the “collective shooting of civilians” by Israeli troops in the occupied territories as well as the discovery of “mass graves”. Yet overall it seems that with Adams’s departure, and that of leader writer Frank Edmead, the Guardian’s coverage of Israel became more evenhanded – until it descended again into the travesty of truth and fair play that is its hallmark today.
    The BBC’s Keith Kyle was not slow to identify openly with CAABU. He was a keynote speaker at one of its first major rallies. The Jewish Chronicle (29 November 1968) noted “the intense anti-Jewish feeling generated in the CAABU audience – and among some of the speakers – by the very existence of the Jewish State, referred to as the Zionist State” as well as the way pro-Israel Jewish questioners were mocked and shouted down.
    One of the worst features of Kyle’s pro-Arab stance (apart from its infringement of the BBC Charter, of course) concerned the hijacking of an El Al aircraft at Zurich in February 1969. Through his Arab contacts he had learned of the plan, but had not disclosed the information “to avoid Israeli retaliation against it”.
    In the same year he presented a series of programmes on the Middle East highly slanted against Israel and replete with gratuitous comments of his own. Aghast, a Jewish Chronicle columnist (9 May 1969) observed: “The casual viewer will doubtless have been fooled into believing that the Israeli occupation of Arab territories is barbaric and ruthless.”
    And that summer, on the BBC’s Panorama, Michael Adams spewed out vitriol about “nation-wide and even world-wide Jewish pressure” – in other words, a certain lobby.
    In one of his platform appearances Adams – foreshadowing the avoidance by Al Beeb and the Guardian of the T-word – rhetorically enquired why the British press referred to “Arab terrorists”: ‘I can’t remember calling members of the resistance in Nazi-occupied France “terrorists”‘, he continued. (In 1999 his son, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Paul Adams, used the prescribed Al Beeb term “Islamic militants” of suicide bombers. It was Paul Adams, when diplomatic correspondent, who in 2007 appeared to admit to BBC bias when he described Alan Johnston’s job as “to bring us day after day reports of the Palestinian predicament in the Gaza Strip”.)
    As for Kyle, he became prominently associated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA; Chatham House) and wrote tendentious books on Suez and on Israel. In 1983, when membership secretary of the RIIA, he invited as speaker Dr Israel Shahak, chairman of the so-called (and miniscule) Israel League for Human and Civil Rights, who had authored a book containing this odious assertion: “In the Jewish State, only the Jews are considered human. Non-Jews have the status of beasts.”
    Perhaps we should not be too surprised that Kyle’s obituary in the Guardian (27 February 2007) declared that Kyle “would have made a wise foreign secretary”.’

  3. Hadar and Daphne – extraordinary information. Thank you both so much for the work that must a. have gone into the article, and b. Daphne’s response.

    I’ve been aware of Caabu under Doyle for some years – I wasn’t aware of its history or its links to the BBC. No wonder they got a complaint dealt with so expeditiously.

    I’ll share this on a couple of FB pages I’m connected to, but I do think it should get much more coverage. A political lobbying group that has an open door and access to the BBC cannot be healthy or right. Does the BBC’s charter even permit this kind of influence?

  4. Yes; superb forensic research and writing by both Hadar and Dafne. Duvidl now knows the full story of CAABU. Brigid Keenan, in whose links she is described as “doing the devil’s work on earth,” is particularly intriguing and disgusting.

    • Following your post, just read about Brigid Keenan. Seems as if some of her readers were not too impressed by out of place comments about Palestinians and Jewish money lenders.

      As you people across the pond would say, she’s a real piece of work.

      • Indeed. Her Wikipedia entry is curiously brief, omitting that she is clearly a Poona Plastic Paddy (The Keenans are also a well-known Irish travelling family). As appealing this Xmas as a turd in the punch-bowl.

  5. Excellent report. Very little is reported about the Arab lobby and, up until now, I knew very little about CAABU. Thanks.

  6. In matters of news, and education.. and information, there are facts, and then afterwards a raft of stuff that can be categorised as ‘not facts’.

    If there is inaccuracy, and it is pointed out, it needs correcting.

    The matter of which inaccuracies get addressed, at all, or how what fact changed, or in which direction, is of course still interesting, but notoriously hard to prove, and hence even quantify. The BBC of course relies on this a lot in semantic defences that can soon lose anything less hard and fast in a sea of obfuscation. The BBC complaints system ‘bias’ option is of course a joke route to nowhere.

    I am of course now intrigued by the ‘dual role’ of the BBC journalist cited, which in any less unique organisation would surely be more flagged as ‘interest-conflicted’?

    Interesting also is the PDF provided, replete with names, and how one has to wonder it passed through the BBC ‘just between ourselves’ requirement with any complaint exchange.

    But the template is always there to be cut and pasted, along with telling complainants what they are actually complaining about to suit the needs of the response. Or presuming that BBC accepting anything means much outside the BBC.

    *In making these changes, however, we do not accept your allegation that the report is biased.”

    From ‘beliefs’ to ‘not feelings’ to ‘striving’ etc… all of which are notable in getting a personal view but of zero objective value.

    And the value of such ‘feedback’ at any level of the BBC complaint system – of which they ensure there are many to avoid changes, unless ‘fast-tracked’ to facilitate them, can be assessed by looking at this:

    Where at every stage, a belief in rectitude or BBC failure to accept the possibility of BBC error was deemed enough to dismiss any further holding to account.

    It will be interesting to see if this complaint is one simply ‘logged’ in a locked cabinet, or actually does count as a strike in public. The BBC has a poor history here too.

    On the day of the much-postponed Pollard Report, that the BBC checks itself to see if it is still perfect seems anachronistic at best. Unique even.

  7. The power of this secretive Arab lobby and its influence at the BBC deserves to be exposed. It sounds like a very unhealthy cabal is operating underneath the radar.

  8. Indeed, Andy.
    Incidentally, it occurs to me that there’s an MA thesis in this for somebody (probably on an American campus) exposing the despicable nexus between the BBC, CAABU, and the Guardian.
    If anyone wishes to repost my findings (in the comment above), please feel free to do so. The more exposure of this scandalous state of affairs, the better.

  9. Is there a full list of present UK MP’s who support CAABU? Crispin Blunt, Tory Government MInister is one. He left his wife last year after many years of marriage and she giving up her career to support him….for his boyfriend. I believe Richard Burden, a Birmingham Labour MP is another.
    Congratulations on your research

  10. Incidentally, here is something quite lethal that CAABU does:
    “PSC, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and CAABU, the Council for Arab-British Understanding have put together an excellent online educational resource designed to introduce secondary school students to Palestine. They are mainly geared towards the Citizenship Curriculum, but can be used in English, Media, History and Geography lessons.”
    I describe the contents of this “educational Resource” here if anyone is interested in how young British minds are prey to CAABU propaganda:
    And the devil take the hindmost apparently, because it seems it’s perfectly acceptable for them to propagandise like this in British schools.

    • Yes! Schocking! Clearly every secondary school in the maintained sector is now a breeding ground for antisemitic Al Qaeeda operatives! It’s a wonder we can sleep at nights! At the very least one should lock up one’s daughters!

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