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 still citing erroneous civilian/combatant casualty ratio

On December 24th 2012 an article was published in the Middle East section of the BBC News website pertaining to the statement put out on the same day by ‘Human Rights Watch’ which deemed the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian terror organisations to be a violation of the laws of war. 

BBC report on HRW

In an apparent attempt to inject an air of moral equivalence early on in the piece, the article’s third paragraph states:

“Last week, HRW said Israeli attacks on media facilities and journalists in Gaza also violated the laws of war.”

In the fifth paragraph we find the BBC still touting erroneous claims about casualty figures from Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ [emphasis added]:

“At least 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the fighting. Most of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians, although Israel says 30 senior militants were among the dead. Four of the Israelis killed by rocket strikes were civilians, and two were soldiers.”

Apparently the BBC is not yet aware that a list of names of casualties from the Gaza Strip was published on December 16th by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The list was compiled by cross-referencing the names of casualties published by the Hamas Ministry of Health with those appearing on the websites and social media forums of the various terror organisations active in the Gaza Strip and in the Palestinian media. 

The list is not perfect: for instance it categorises four year-old Mahmoud Sadallah as an uninvolved (civilian) casualty despite the fact that there is very good reason to believe that his death was the result of a misfired rocket by one of the Palestinian terror groups. 

Nevertheless, it does give us the names and affiliations of 169 casualties out of a maximum number of 178. Nine names – all adult males – were unidentifiable. Some of the people identified have been shown to have died from natural causes unconnected to the conflict, but their names were added to the Hamas Ministry of Health list anyway. 

Of the 169 casualties identified, 101 (some 60%) were shown to be members of terrorist organisations. Sixty eight (around 40%) of the casualties were uninvolved civilians who died during attacks on terrorists and terrorist installations. Of the terrorists killed, 71 belonged to Hamas, 17 to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, 6 to the Popular Resistance Committees, three to Fatah, two to the Army of Islam, one to the PFLP and one to a Salafist-Jihadist group. 

Unless the BBC can come up with any concrete evidence which contradicts the information provided on that list, it should – according to its own standards of accuracy – cease to use the claim that “most of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians” and correct its existing reports accordingly. 

Another misleading claim in this article states that:

“Israel’s declared aim in launching its offensive on 14 November was to stop rocket attacks from Gaza. Thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel since 2005 when it pulled Jewish settlers and troops out of the territory.”

The average reader of that paragraph would understand that rocket fire into Israel began in the year 2005. That of course is not the case, with rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians living in villages inside the Gaza Strip having begun on January 30th 2001 and attacks over the ‘green line’ having commenced two months later in March 2001. Whilst the phrase “thousands of rockets” is not strictly speaking incorrect, a more accurate choice of wording would have been “tens of thousands of rockets” and even better would have been to give the readily available precise numbers. 

The article concludes by returning yet again to the prior HRW report which accused Israel of ‘targeting journalists’, with the BBC still insisting on categorizing members of the propaganda arm of a terrorist organisation as “Palestinian cameramen”, even though their affiliations have been clarified on a Hamas-linked website.

al Kumi & Salama

Unless the BBC can produce evidence which contradicts Hamas’ acknowledgement of Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al Kumi as part of its media arm, or unless it can come up with any legal basis to support the implied claim that journalists working for terror organisations are not categorized as non-civilians in the same manner as journalists working for regular armies are, then according to its own standards of accuracy it should cease to refer to them as merely “Palestinian cameramen”. 

In conclusion, what we have in this article is an inaccurate civilian/combatant casualty ratio, a misleading statement concerning the duration of rocket attacks and – in a report ostensibly about Palestinian violations – no fewer than six paragraphs about a different HRW report altogether, used to suggest moral equivalence between the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians and the targeted killings of members of terrorist organisations.


Letter to The Times calls for release of Balen Report

The letter below, from the former Chair of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain & Ireland, recently appeared in The Times (£). 

Sir, Is it unreasonable to expect the BBC, our public broadcaster, to be neutral in its reporting, to expose and not ignore matters of national importance, to treat its funding with respect, not to re-employ executives who have been publicly criticised, and to have a complaints procedure that does not require a near genius to navigate? Professor Goode’s defence of the BBC for only doing part of its job is misplaced.

The BBC should always be transparent, and now would be a good opportunity to show it understands its failings and publish its own commissioned Balen report (on its reporting of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) that it has spent more than £330,000 of our money in concealing.

Harvey Rose 
London NW11


BBC promotes Avaaz report but stays mum on group’s Syrian ties

On December 21st 2012 a report by BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website. The item originates from the ‘GMT’ programme which is part of BBC World News. Entitled “Struggling Syrians face tough winter“, both the synopsis and the report itself quote the organisation ‘Avaaz’ which is described as “a campaign group”.

M Wooldridge 21 12

The BBC is not being completely honest with its readers and viewers here. Whist Avaaz (read more about the organisation here) may indeed be known for its lobbying and campaigns on a dazzlingly wide range of subjects ranging from GM crops in Europe, the recent Palestinian Authority bid for UN observer status, Bedouins in the Negev and even various issues to do with the BBC itself – in Syria the unelected, unaccountable non-transparent organisation has extended itself way beyond its trademark ‘clicktivism’. 

Mike Wooldridge’s report (which includes unidentified “amateur video” footage) came out on the same day as the Avaaz report cited in the programme synopsis, which may sound like an impressively speedy piece of journalism if one is not aware of the fact that for some considerable time, Avaaz has been acting as a stringer for the Syrian opposition by supplying information to Western journalists unable to enter Syria and facilitating the entry of others. 

The BBC, however, is certainly aware of that fact: in a profile of the organisation dated February 2012, it wrote:  

“After uprisings erupted in the Arab world last year, Avaaz used donations totalling $1.5m from almost 30,000 members to provide pro-democracy movements with “high-tech phones and satellite internet modems, connect them to the world’s top media outlets, and provide communications advice”, its website says.

“We’ve seen the power of this engagement – where our support to activists has created global media cycles with footage and eyewitness accounts that our team helps distribute to CNN, BBC, al-Jazeera and others.”

Avaaz also claims to have delivered more than $1.8m of medical equipment to the worst affected areas of Syria to keep underground hospitals going, set up a network of more than 400 citizen journalists across the country, and smuggled in foreign journalists.”

By no means shy about making the most of the publicity garnered from its operations in Syria, Avaaz has featured prominently in interviews given to other media outlets too, although some of its claims are disputed. This Guardian interview with Avaaz’s co-founder and director Ricken Patel states:  

“To begin with, Avaaz sent a team of staff organisers to Lebanon after spotting the first signs of a nascent protest movement in Syria. Contact was then made with Syrian activists inside the country, and go-betweens recruited, notably Wissam Tarif, a highly respected Syrian pro-democracy leader who is widely consulted by journalists and senior western diplomats.”

Wissam Tarif, however, is Lebanese and executive director of an organisation named ‘Insan’ which is based in Spain – as even his Wikipedia profile (obviously written by a very serious fan) states. He has also been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist-dominated Syrian National Council and has been one of the main conduits for information – sometimes of debatable reliability – coming out of Syria. 

The interview goes on to say:

 “It [Avaaz] has also smuggled 34 international journalists into the trouble zones. Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times journalist, entered using another conduit, but the French photographer Remi Ochlik who died with her as a result of Syrian government shelling was helped in by Avaaz.

Journalists who went in with Avaaz’s help have at times also needed help in escaping the violent suppression of the Syrian regime. So it was that Avaaz came to be involved in the evacuation mission of four western journalists last Sunday night.”

However, some of those journalists –including photographer Paul Conroy – say that Avaaz had nothing to do with the rescue, as can be heard here in an interview well worth listening to with the BBC’s Bridget Kendall. 

Whatever one’s opinion of the situation in Syria or of the involvement of an unaccountable organization such as Avaaz in a conflict which is likely to affect the future of the Middle East long after Avaaz activists have flitted on to their next ‘sujet du jour’, one thing is clear. Avaaz’s involvement with the Syrian opposition makes it much more than just a mere “campaign group” as it is described by Mike Wooldridge.

One would expect BBC standards of accuracy and impartiality to have ensured that an organization which has taken upon itself the role of a support group for one particular side in a very acrimonious conflict would be clearly presented as such. 


Gaza Strip: what the BBC is not reporting

The BBC’s Jon Donnison was back in the Gaza Strip on December 23rd.

JD Gaza 2312

Despite that, there is no mention whatsoever on the BBC News website of any of the following incidents. 

On Friday, December 21st, a number of Gaza Strip residents were injured when they approached the border fence with Israel and refused to heed calls to leave or warning shots fired in the air. 

On Sunday, December 23rd, another incident occurred east of Dir al Balah in which two Gazans approached the border fence.  

Also on Sunday, the IDF reportedly arrested two Gazans who infiltrated the border fence and in addition, terrorists tried to fire a rocket into Israeli territory which fell short and landed inside the Gaza Strip. Another rocket reportedly fell in open ground near Ashkelon. 

These incidents and others which have taken place since November 21st of course represent breaches of the ceasefire which brought Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ to an end, but the BBC has failed consistently to report them to its audiences.  So far Israel has not responded but – as has been the case in the past – if and when an Israeli response does come, BBC audiences will have no idea of the events which brought it about. 

What Jon Donnison did not report about the Hamas rally in Nablus

On December 13th 2012 a rally was held in Schem (Nablus) in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories by the Hamas movement to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The following day another similar rally was held in Hebron. 

The BBC’s Jon Donnison reported from the rally in Schem and his article, together with a short video, appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website and apparently also on BBC television news.

The events of Friday December 14th were also reported on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. 

Technically, there may appear to be little to criticise either in Donnison’s report from Schem or the one from Hebron.

Donnison correctly points out that the rally suggests that “ties are improving” between the Fatah-dominated PA and Hamas, although he is more than a little coy about Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

“A rift developed between the PA’s Fatah party and Hamas after the Islamist movement won legislative elections in 2006 and came to power in Gaza a year later.”

His actual description of the event is brief:

“In Thursday’s rally, thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets in Nablus, in the north of the territory, carrying banners reading “Hamas, you are the gun and we are the ammunition”, AFP news agency reports.

Fatah leader Amin Makboul praised Hamas for its “steadfastness” in the latest clashes with Israel.

“[The] victory in Gaza was a big victory for all Palestinian people,” he said at the Nablus rally.”

Similarly, the report from Hebron also stresses the reconciliation aspect of the rally held there.

“Hamas and the rival Fatah faction, which dominates the PA, have made conciliatory gestures towards each other since the end of last month’s Israeli offensive on Gaza, which Israel said it launched to stop rocket-fire.

“Hamas steadfastness and victory in Gaza was a big victory for all Palestinian people,” Amin Makboul, a Fatah leader, said in a speech at Thursday’s rally in Nablus.

A rift developed between the two groups after Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 and came to power in Gaza a year later. Repeated attempts at reconciliation have so far failed.”

But do these BBC reports – muted, but technically correct in as far as they go – tell the whole story behind those two very significant rallies? Do they really contribute towards increasing the understanding of BBC audiences with regard to the current wave of Hamas popularity in Palestinian society or the implications of any Hamas/Fatah ‘reconciliation’ for the region as a whole and the ‘peace process’ in particular? Do these BBC reports do anything to inform audiences worldwide why Israelis might view a Hamas renaissance in areas other than the Gaza Strip with something less than enthusiasm?

Another reporter was in Schem and Hebron on those particular days too. His name is Ohad Hemo and he works for Israel’s Channel 2 television station. Unlike the BBC’s correspondents in the region, he speaks fluent Arabic and this is his report of December 14th 2012.

In order to activate English subtitles, click on the white rectangle icon on the right hand side of the tool bar at the bottom. 

Spot the gratuitous sentence in a BBC report on Syria

BBC report from December 21st, entitled “Palestinian refugees return to Syrian camp” relates to some of the people who left the Yarmouk camp (actually a suburb of Damascus) for Lebanon as a result of the fighting there between pro-Assad Palestinians from Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-GC (together with other factions such as the DFLP and PFLP) and the Free Syrian Army-aligned Palestinians of the Liwa al Asifa (Storm Brigade). 

Carine Torbey 21 12

In an otherwise reasonable report in which BBC Arabic’s correspondent in Lebanon Carine Torbey did not shy away from mentioning the subjects of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon being denied basic rights and the presence of armed militias in the refugee camps, there is nevertheless one completely gratuitous sentence allowed to stand.

At 00:40 in the report Torbey’s interviewee says: [emphasis added]

“We left with nothing. It was like 1948 when Palestinians were forced to flee their homes. We walked for more than an hour. There were no cars. We knew that if we stayed, no-one would survive. And we were right: look at the camp now.”

Did the editor of the footage really think that context-free sentence contributed to the audience’s understanding of a story about people caught up in fighting between opposing Palestinian factions in Syria’s civil war? 

Antisemitic trope on BBC comments board – again

Among the already moderated comments on this article currently on display in the “In Pictures” section of the BBC News website, and also promoted on its Middle East page, is the following one.

comm 1

This is not the first instance of offensive comments being allowed to stand on BBC comments boards, as we documented earlier this month and, as we wrote then, it is the BBC’s responsibility to ensure that its moderators adhere to its own house rules which prohibit racist comments.

Those ‘house rules’ also state [emphasis added] that:  

“The blog author or host does not usually moderate the content of the boards, although it is their job to keep the discussions relevant to the topic and within the BBC’s guidelines. They may close off-topic or other rule-breaking discussions, and sometimes make a decision on comments that have been referred to them by the moderators. They may also alert the moderators to rule-breaking comments that they see in the course of their work.”

In this particular case, that would appear to be the BBC’s Picture Editor Phil Coomes. 

Upcoming BBC programmes

Readers may like to have prior notice of a couple of Middle East-related BBC programmes scheduled for Sunday, December 23rd 2012. 

At 09:00 GMT on BBC 1 (and again on BBC HD on Sunday, December 30th at 18:00 GMT), the first of a two-part documentary entitled “In the Footsteps of St Paul” with actor David Suchet will be shown. 

“In this first episode, David visits Jerusalem to discover Paul’s early life as a devout Jew and his subsequent, life-changing, conversion to the new Jesus Movement.”

Suchet prog

Also on Sunday, December 23rd 2012, at 19:00 GMT on BBC Radio 2, Hardeep Singh Koli will be presenting a programme entitled “Follow the Star” . 

Hardeep Singh Kohi prog