A strange concept of balance at BBC Radio Ulster

Last week we wrote about the BBC Radio Ulster ‘Sunday Sequence’ programme of May 19th 2013 in which Mairead Maguire was given free rein to promote Assad regime propaganda and antisemitic tropes. 

At least one member of the public who wrote to presenter William Crawley following that broadcast was told by him that ‘balance’ to that particular interview would come in the form of another one with Professor Richard Landes a week later on May 26th and in his introduction to that interview, Crawley makes the same claim.

“You’ll remember last week we interviewed the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire regarding in particular Syria, but also wider issues in the Middle East. During that interview she spoke about the alleged role of Israel, blaming it and its supporters for contributing to a great deal of the strife in the region. We said we’d focus this week on the other side of that argument where attention is on whether or not the West should be and should have been tougher on the rise of radical fundamentalist regimes which are bitterly opposed to Israel.”

Sunday Sequence 26 5

The interview with Professor Landes can be heard here for a limited period of time and it is also worth listening to the interview immediately following it with Dr Simon Waldman of King’s College London.

However, as interesting as these two interviews are – and even presuming that those listeners who heard Mairead Maguire bothered to tune in again a whole week later to hear “the other side” – they do absolutely nothing to counter the torrent of misinformation and hate speech which Maguire was allowed to promote from a BBC platform. 

BBC’s Jim Muir paints ‘cartoon villain’ Israel

On May 22nd 2013 the BBC News website’s Middle East page included an article by Beirut correspondent Jim Muir titled “Hezbollah plunges deeper into Syrian conflict“.

Muir Hizb

Our colleague at CAMERA Gilead Ini took a look at one particularly strange aspect of Muir’s report.

“In a BBC article about Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, the reporter introduces readers to a shadowy figure lurking in the background and laughing maniacally over the bodies of the dead. The identity of that cartoonish culprit might not come as a surprise to those familiar with the BBC’s Mideast coverage: It is Israel.

If we’re exaggerating here, it’s only slightly. The May 22 story, “Hezbollah plunges deeper into Syrian conflict” by BBC Beirut correspondent Jim Muir, is mostly about intra-Arab clashes, until the reporter and his anonymous source take readers on a little detour: 

“Yes, it’s a risk for Hezbollah, but it’s part of Iran’s overarching regional strategy: the Syrian regime must not fall,” said one well-placed Shia observer.

“It’s all systems go, and Iran will unleash everything it has to. It and Hezbollah consider this a threat to their political existence.”

“Israel’s interest is to see the civil war continue and Hezbollah sucked in and massacred as it has been in the past few days, when they’ve lost 40 fighters. It’s a grinding machine, and Israel is laughing and happy.”

Indeed, put like that, it is hard to imagine Israel not being happy to see what it regards as extremists and terrorists from both the Shia and Sunni sides of the sectarian divide at each other’s throats in Syria.” [emphasis added]

It is apparently quite easy for the BBC reporter to imagine Israel as a caricature, rubbing its hands together gleefully as it watches the carnage in Syria, but very difficult to envision the real country, and its real sense of concern with the upheaval on its northern border.”

Read the rest of Gilead’s commentary here

Behind a Jon Donnison recommended article

Readers may remember that back at the beginning of February the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Jon Donnison recommended to his Twitter followers an “interesting” New York Times article headlined  “Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate”. 

Writing in the latest edition of The Tower, Adi Schwartz takes a closer look at the content of the report upon which that NYT article was based.

“Almost every major news outlet zeroed in on the report’s finding of mutual culpability, producing headlines like the AP’s “Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians.” A more clearly political presentation of the study was found in the New York Times headline: “Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim that Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate.” ” […]

“What I found isn’t pretty. The report is not only flawed, but also dishonest. It systematically exaggerates the faults in Israeli textbooks and downplays those found in the Palestinians’. Its methodology tends to distort the raw data rather than analyze it, usually to the detriment of the Israeli education system. Put simply, it makes every possible effort to create the impression that Israeli and Palestinian attitudes toward each other are the same, even when this is demonstrably untrue—according to the study’s own research data. It is no surprise that the State Department, which funded the study in its early phases, has endorsed neither the composition of the committee nor the report’s findings.”

Read the whole article here

BBC myths and mantras on the peace process

Particularly on the day following the horrendous terrorist murder of a British soldier in Woolwich, it was difficult to find anything remotely newsworthy about the item broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 May 23rd edition of the ‘Today’ programme with regard to the latest visit by John Kerry to Israel. At the time it was broadcast (9:30 am local time), Kerry would barely have had time to hang up his coat, let alone make any headway in the Middle East peace process. But nevertheless, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly used the occasion of the visit as a convenient hook upon which to hang three and a half minutes of repetition of jaded BBC mantras and to cook up some new tropes. 

Today prog 23 5

The broadcast is available here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins at 1:30:40. Presenter John Humphrys opens:  

“The American Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East today doing what every secretary of state’s been trying to do for decades: trying to encourage a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Direct talks between the two sides had broken down even before the Arab uprising swept the Middle East. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly reports.”

It is not clear why Humphrys should see any connection between the timing of “the Arab uprising” and the breakdown of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Connolly’s report begins:

“Last week Palestinians marked with protests and with rallies the moment in 1948 which helped define the modern Middle East. They call it the Naqba – the catastrophe. Israelis celebrate the same sequence of maneuverings of the UN and fighting in the Holy Land as Independence Day. It was diplomacy as a zero sum game. Israel – it seemed to the Arab world – won because the Palestinians lost. ” 

What the phrase “sequence of maneuverings of the UN” is supposed to represent is anyone’s guess, but it is notable that Connolly whitewashes the intended annihilation of nascent Israel by five Arab nations by euphemistically referring to “fighting in the Holy Land” and that he describes their defeat solely in terms of a Palestinian loss. Of course, had there been no Arab attack on Israel, there would have been no defeat – and no “catastrophe”.  Connolly continues: 

“In the decades since, world leaders have come to coalesce around what they believe would be a win-win solution. A Palestinian state could and should be created on the land Israel conquered in 1967. Israel could and should give up that territory in return for recognition and guaranteed security. Land for peace. “

Of course Connolly does not bother reminding readers that “the land Israel conquered in 1967” was due to another annihilation attempt by Arab nations or that the said land was conquered by Jordan in 1948, with its 19-year occupation never recognized by the international community. Neither does he bother to examine the track record of the ‘land for peace’ principle. He goes on:

“When Barak Obama came to Israel a couple of months ago he put the argument elegantly and passionately, as he’s done before.”

The programme then cuts to a recording of part of Obama’s speech in Jerusalem in March:

BO: “But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination – their right to justice – must also be recognized. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

Then it is back to Connolly:

“Everyone knows the depths of mutual hostility and suspicion that make a deal so difficult. But the key players know how to avoid international condemnation by sounding like they’re readier to do a deal than they really are.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have expanded. They are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes that interpretation. Mr Netanyahu leads a government which includes ministers who oppose the very idea of a Palestinian state, but when he talks about it, it still sounds eminently doable.”

There’s ye olde “international law” mantra, coming before the distinctly bizarre notion that all ministers in a democratic government should have the exact same opinions as their prime minister and if they don’t, then a peace deal cannot be made. The 1979 Knesset debate on the subject of the peace treaty with Egypt lasted a turbulent 28 hours – and not because all those present agreed with each other – but in the end the treaty was approved. 

The broadcast then cuts to a recording of Binyamin Netanyahu:

BN: “So let me be clear: Israel remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We extend our hands in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people.”

Connolly goes on:

“The Palestinian leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, says there can’t be peace talks until that settlement expansion stops. But on other issues Mr Abbas sounds the very soul of flexibility. He says he’s ready to give up his personal claim to right of return to his own childhood home – which is now in Israel – in order to make peace.” 

There’s BBC mantra number two: ‘settlements are an obstacle to peace’. The broadcast then cuts to a recording of Mahmoud Abbas speaking in a 2012 interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV station. 

MA: “But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it but not to live there. West Bank and Gaza is Palestine. Other parts [sic] is Israel.”

Connolly conveniently avoids examining the issue of whether all Mahmoud Abbas’ ministers are pro-peace and ignores the fact that the Palestinian governmental system as a whole currently has no legitimate elected mandate. He equally conveniently airbrushes Hamas and the other rejectionist Palestinian factions out of the picture altogether. And of course Abbas’ supposed willingness to “give up…right of return” has absolutely no significance, as Abbas himself soon clarified.

 “Talking about Safed is a personal position and does not mean giving up the right of return.” Indeed, he went on, “No-one can give up the right of return as all international texts and Arab and Islamic decisions refer to a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, according to UN Resolution 194, with the term ‘agreed upon’ meaning agreement with the Israeli side.”

“I do not change my position,” Abbas stressed. “What I say to the Palestinians is no different from what I say to the Israelis or the Americans or anyone.”

Connolly concludes:

“And yet, even with all that reasonableness around and all this renewed effort, another Naqba day has gone by with no deal. There was a time when making peace between Israel and the Palestinians was seen as the key to changing the Middle East, but the Arab Spring has shown that the Middle East was capable of changing while this peace process remained hopelessly stalled.”

Those who may think or have thought that the Arab-Israeli conflict is or was “the key to changing the Middle East” obviously had no understanding of the myriad of complex issues facing the region in the first place, but allowed themselves to be dazzled by the spotlight placed on that issue by political activists. They are – coincidentally – quite often those who equally erroneously promote the idea that the changes brought about by the ‘Arab Spring’ so far have made any significant difference to the lives of the peoples – and particularly the minorities – of the Middle East.

It seems that Kevin Connolly and the BBC are unable – and unwilling – to get themselves out of the rut of incessant repetition of the same old jaded, politically inspired myths and mantras about the Middle East which prevent audiences from gaining any real grasp of the region’s history, present or future.


BBC article on rising bigotry hosts antisemitic comments

The US State Department’s recently published ‘International Religious Freedom Report for 2012‘ was the subject of an article entitled “Bigotry against Jews and Muslims on the rise, says US” which appeared on the Middle East page and the US & Canada page of the BBC News website on May 20th.  

antisemitism article

Interestingly, the BBC’s summary of the report chose to concentrate on rising antisemitism in Egypt, Venezuela and Iran whilst ignoring the State Department report’s observations regarding Europe.

“…a member of the Golden Dawn party in Greece read from the notorious Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, during a parliamentary session. In a worrisome sign, such anti-Semitic and xenophobic parties gained seats in parliaments, and a rise in violent attacks on Jews in Europe included several shocking incidents. Hungary saw continued racist commentary by an openly anti-Semitic political party with seats in parliament, the Jobbik Party, and also witnessed an attack on a member of the Jewish community outside of a prayer house in Budapest. In France, an Islamist extremist killed a rabbi and his two children, along with another student, outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. While a number of governments took active measures to combat anti-Semitism, this pernicious evil continued to spread.”

Particularly notable – given the BBC’s own recent whitewashing of antisemitism in Tunisia (see here, here and here) – is the omission from the BBC article of the conclusions of the report relating to that country.

“In Tunisia, Salafists (fundamentalist Sunni Muslims) attacked synagogues and issued anti-Semitic messages, as did some imams during Friday prayer sermons. Certain Salafist imams preached anti-Jewish and anti-Christian messages, including calling for the killing of non-Muslim citizens. Police arrested five persons, including one police officer, for allegedly plotting to kidnap Jews in Zarzis in October for ransom.”

Unfortunately, the BBC’s own record on combating antisemitism is by no means as good as it could – and should – be. In addition to whitewashing and downplaying antisemitic remarks made by certain public figures in the UK, it has on occasion furthered the spread of anti-Semitic discourse by, for example, allowing the unhindered promotion of antisemitic tropes by interviewees as well as the airbrushing of a known antisemitic hate preacher, the promotion of a film company which uses antisemitic imagery and the hosting of an openly antisemitic guest on more than one occasion

On BBC internet comment boards it is not rare to see antisemitic comments permitted to stand (for example see here, here, here and here), with the overall impression being that the BBC’s moderators and the editors responsible for keeping the discussion within BBC guidelines are not sufficiently proficient in identifying comments which meet the definitions of antisemitism

That impression was once more reinforced by some of the comments which got past moderation in the discussion under this particular BBC article pertaining – ironically – to the spread of bigotry.  

AS thread 1AS thread 2AS thread 3AS thread 4AS thread 5AS thread 6 

Next week (May 28th – 30th inclusive) Jerusalem will host the 4th International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. Readers interested in watching live streaming from the conference’s plenary session will be able to do so at this URL. BBC Watch will be participating in the working group on antisemitism on the internet and in the media. 



A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC

There are days when one wonders if the Guardian and the BBC are actually joined at the hip. May 20th was one of them, when a report titled “Keeping alive Gaza’s culinary traditions” by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website, where it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life when ingredients and power are scarce”. The same report was also featured in the website’s ‘Magazine’ section; there it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life under blockade”. 

Magazine GAza food

So what has this to do with the Guardian? Well – by complete coincidence – that paper’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, produced an amazingly similar article on precisely the same subject and promoting the exact same themes just six days earlier.

Both Knell and Sherwood wax lyrical about Gazan salads and seafood dishes – with both stressing the subject of the fishing zone, but without mentioning that after it had been extended to 6 miles in November 2012, following the ceasefire which brought an end to Operation pillar of Cloud, it had to be reduced again in March 2013 due to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Incidentally, the zone was re-extended to six miles on May 21st 2103. 

Both Knell and Sherwood make much of supposed food shortages in the Gaza Strip and stress the subject of UNRWA food aid – without making any effort to tell readers of other sides to the storyBoth Knell and Sherwood emphasise the issue of power cuts and gas shortages. And of course both Sherwood and Knell blame any and every shortage on Israel, but at least the former does not make the same mistake as Knell by claiming (yet again) that the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip was “tightened” in 2007, when in fact it did not exist until 2009. 

But the most glaring similarity between the two articles is the fact that they both promote the same cookbook – just in time for its UK launch. Knell writes:

“However, a new cookbook – The Gaza Kitchen – that went on sale in the UK this month, tries to give an alternative perspective by focusing on the distinctive, and piquant, local cuisine.

“We had an intuition that this would be a really remarkable way of telling the story of Gaza – the connection between the people, the land and the history,” says co-author Laila el-Haddad, who is Gazan but lives in the US.”

As pointed out on our sister site CiF Watch, Kuwaiti-born, Saudi Arabia-raised Laila el Haddad is no ordinary food writer. She is in fact a professional anti-Israel activist and a proponent of the eradication of Israel through the ‘one-state solution’. It therefore will come as no surprise to readers to learn that the launch of her latest book in the UK has been promoted by the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre, the London BDS website and the Mosaic Rooms which belongs to the AM Qattan Foundation – a trustee of which, Nadia Hijab, is also director of the ‘one-state’ promoting ‘think tank’ Al Shabaka, for which Laila el Haddad is a policy advisor.  

One must of course at this point wonder whether the culinary trip or trips to Gaza made by Yolande Knell and Harriet Sherwood were in fact organized – and perhaps even sponsored – by Laila el Haddad and/or her publisher, because this almost simultaneous free advertising for a professional anti-Israel activist and her cause from both the Guardian and the BBC’s Jerusalem-based staff is certainly something of a bizarre coincidence.

Whilst we’re at it, we should probably also ask how the promotion of this book in the body of an article on the BBC News website squares up with the BBC’s restrictions on advertising to UK readers of that site.


More criticism of BBC’s Assad propaganda headline

Writing in the May 9th edition of the Jerusalem Post magazine on the subject of the BBC’s (since amended) headline of May 5th in which it was claimed “Israeli strikes on Syria ‘co-ordinated with terrorists'”, London-based barrister and writer Jeremy Brier remarked:

“The pertinent question for British license-fee payers is: why is the state broadcaster taking a mass murderer at his word and why is it emphasizing his propaganda like this?” 


“But there is a second, subtler irony in all this. The BBC has long since refused to use the word “terrorism” to describe the acts of those who blow up Israelis in pizza shops, nightclubs and bus-stops. Those guys are “militants”. It seems you can only get the BBC to use the T-word when it comes from the mouth of a tyrant.”

Read the rest here.  


BBC wrongly blames Israel for cooking gas shortage in Gaza

h/t JK

In addition to the written version of Yolande Knell’s recent feature on offshore gas finds which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website, the subject was covered in an additional report by Knell which was broadcast on May 21st 2013 in ‘The World Tonight’ on BBC Radio 4. 

The World Tonight 21 5

The relevant section of the programme begins from 34:16 here, with Knell first visiting Lebanon and Israel. At 38:17 she reports from Gaza.

“Further south along the coast we reach the Gaza Strip, where dozens of men are dragging their empty gas canisters along the street as they queue to refill them. The Palestinian Authority awarded British Gas the licence to develop an offshore gas field here back in 1999, but so far it’s brought no benefits to locals. Gaza currently has serious shortages of cooking gas, partly due to border restrictions imposed by Israel.”

To drive the point home, listeners then hear an anonymous ‘man in the street’ say:

“Animals live a better life than us. Everyone here had to leave his business and stand in this long line to get a can of gas for his family. We pay a high price and we don’t get it easily.”

Knell continues:

“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has long held up plans to exploit Gazan gas. In 2007 the situation got more complicated when the Islamist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and ousted their political rivals Fatah. Mohammed Shtayyeh is President of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Construction.”

Dr Shtayyeh says:

“Overall it is for us as Palestinians extremely frustrating that, you know, you have that natural resource there that should be a real wealth for the nation and you’re really not utilising it. There are some problems related to excavations and technical problems, but mainly political problems.”

Beyond the euphemistic  statement that “in 2007 the situation got more complicated”, Knell does not make any real attempt to explain to her listeners that the main stumbling block preventing the exploitation of offshore gas near the Gaza Strip is the fact that the recognised representative of the Palestinian people (and hence the body tasked with administrating their natural resources) – the Palestinian Authority – has no control over the Gaza Strip due to the violent takeover of that territory by a terrorist organisation. Instead, Knell churns out the old mantra according to which it is “the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians” which is to blame. 

Especially insidious is Knell’s treatment of the subject of the shortage of cooking gas in the Gaza Strip, which she claims is “partly due to border restrictions imposed by Israel” – without making any attempt to clarify to listeners what the other part of that “partly” might be – and hence portraying the problem as an Israeli-created one.

So what are the facts behind the issue? Here is some recent (April 2013) relevant background information: [emphasis added]

“According to the data of the Land Crossings Authority at the Ministry of Defence, the infrastructure of Kerem Shalom meets the requirements and provides the necessary needs to transfer all goods into Gaza, including cooking gas, but the crossing infrastructure are not being exploited to its fullest when the volume of orders by gas suppliers from the Gaza Strip does not match the needs of the public. Here it should be noted that as part of the expansion of civil policy, in quarter A of 2013 Israel approved the transfer of tens of thousands of gas cylinders for domestic use.

From the data at the District Coordination Office in Gaza, we understand that there is a constant shortage of 1,300 tons of cooking gas (monthly average), about 60 tons of gas per day (daily average). Last year, gas smuggling from Egypt were reduced from 700 to 200 tons per month due to an internal crisis in the energy sector in Egypt. This reduction limits the amount of cooking gas in the market (and the ability to cope with its constant lack) and harms the population of the Gaza Strip.” […]

“There is no public entity in the Gaza Strip that supervises the cooking gas field and there is no public storage facility that allows accumulating surplus for “a rainy day”. During the summer months, the demand for cooking gas in the Gaza Strip declines as well as utilization of the infrastructure in Kerem Shalom crossing. In addition, the credit policy of the Palestinian  Authority ‘s Energy Authority limits the local merchants in Gaza from holding sufficient supply. Extending credit lines will allow accumulating larger stock toward the winter.

Gaza have the option of  diversifying its gas import sources and allow various Israeli companies to supply gas to the Gaza Strip, but the Palestinian Authority restricts import to one company and actually prevents from local merchants to import gas from competing companies and by this use the capacity at Kerem Shalom to its full extent.

During 2012 the Palestinian Authority reached a decision regarding reduction of cooking gas prices due to public pressure exerted around the protest of cost of living in the West Bank, decision that merchants from Gaza claim caused significant losses to those holding stocks at the stations. Therefore, there is concern among local merchants that the PA will reduce again the fixed gas prices set by law (and the lack of a mechanism for compensation), a move that reduce the economic interest of the merchants to hold stocks in the Gaza strip.”

So in fact, the shortage of cooking gas in the Gaza Strip actually has nothing to do with “border restrictions imposed by Israel” as claimed by Knell, but it does have rather a lot to do with the policies of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell obviously made no effort whatsoever to fact check the accuracy of her claim blaming Israel for the shortage of cooking gas in Gaza. In fact, she merely parrots the politically motivated propaganda surrounding the issue as put out by Hamas.

The knee-jerk blaming of Israel for any and every problem in the Gaza Strip may well be the quickest, easiest – and most fashionable – option, but BBC audiences expect far more from journalists committed to accuracy and impartiality. 

BBC report on shootings in Golan parrots Assad propaganda

An article entitled “Syria and Israel in exchange of fire” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on May 21st2013. 

exchange of fire

If readers of the article were expecting to find out what actually happened in this latest incident, they would be disappointed. The report presents the story in terms of conflicting claims – and yet again undiluted Syrian regime propaganda is presented to readers without any effort having been made on the part of the BBC to verify its claims.  

Neither the headline nor the leading paragraph makes the chronology of events clear.

“Israeli and Syrian forces have exchanged fire across the ceasefire line in the occupied Golan Heights.”

Only in the second paragraph do readers learn that the Israeli fire was a response to Syrian actions.

“Israel returned fire after one of its military vehicles was hit by shots from Syria, Israel’s defence forces say. Media reports say no-one was hurt.”

However, what this report does not state is that the attack which prompted the Israeli response was in fact the third such incident of cross-border shooting in the same location in three consecutive days.

“IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported Tuesday that gunfire from Syria hit an IDF unit in the Golan Heights, as had occurred on the two previous nights. No injuries were reported, but a patrol jeep was damaged.

The IDF retaliated by firing a Tamuz missile that destroyed the post from which the shots were fired.

The IDF estimated that due to a recurring pattern of gunfire from the same Syrian area, directed at the same Israeli target and executed at roughly the same time at night, the gunfire was not the result of unintentional overspill and decided therefore to fire back.”

The BBC report, however, omits the fact that repeated shootings took place at the same location and depersonalises their targets.

“Syria and Israel have traded fire a number of times in recent weeks.”

“Syrian gunfire has hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in two previous incidents this week, without causing injury. There have been sporadic exchanges of fire between the two sides in recent months.”

What the BBC terms “sporadic exchanges of fire” are in fact twelve recorded incidents in the past three months: an average of one a week. 

Repeating claims made in an official statement by the Syrian Armed Forces broadcast on Syrian state TV, the BBC report states:

“Syria says it destroyed an Israeli vehicle which it says crossed the ceasefire line into territory its forces control.”

“A statement from the Syrian army said it had “destroyed an Israeli vehicle with everything that it had in it”. The statement said the vehicle was shot after it crossed the ceasefire line and headed towards the rebel-held village of Bir Ajam.

It warned that any attempts to violate its sovereignty would be “met with immediate and firm retaliation”.”

There is, of course, no evidence to back up those claims. The three consecutive bouts of gunfire were shot at Israeli soldiers travelling in a vehicle carrying out a routine patrol (which would be familiar to the Syrian army units in the area) along the Israeli side of the border fence.

The fact that the BBC uncritically parrots the Syrian propaganda to its readers without making any attempt to confirm the accuracy of its claims does not represent impartiality, but a failure to meet BBC editorial standards of accuracy.

Also interesting is the fact that the BBC report fails to point out to readers the significance of this official Syrian claim of responsibility for the cross border attack – the first time such an admission has been made since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. 

Ironically – given the BBC’s blind rush to promote the Assad regime’s propaganda just days ago – the report states:

“Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has previously accused Israel of aiding the rebels, but has not provided substantive evidence.”

The article includes the observation:

“Syrian shells have hit Israeli positions on the Golan Heights, though it is unclear whether they were aimed at rebels in border areas, and Israel has returned fire.”

In order for that sentence to be accurate, its last part would have to read “and Israel has on some occasions returned fire” and its first part would refrain from the use of the word “positions” – which suggests exclusively military targets – whereas in fact a significant proportion of the mortar shells fired from Syria have been directed towards civilian communities. 

Under the definition of “public purposes“, the BBC pledges the following:

“BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to provide internationally respected news services to audiences around the world and they can expect the BBC to keep them in touch with what is going on in the world, giving insight into the way people live in other countries.”

It defines its priorities as being:

“Build a global understanding of international issues:
a) Provide international news broadcasting of the highest quality.
b) Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues.

Enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues.”

The blind promotion of the propaganda of a ruthless dictatorship without any effort being made to verify its claims, and without any attempt to engage in critical thinking, does not serve the purpose of building “understanding of international issues” – quite the opposite in fact. If BBC audiences are interested in reading the Assad regime’s propaganda, they can do so on its official state news websites. From the BBC, licence fee payers expect journalism which will help them look beyond that propaganda.


Move over Galloway: BBC Radio Ulster airs pro-Assad & anti-Israel propaganda

h/t IM

When George Galloway promotes Assad regime propaganda on Iran’s Press TV or the Iranian/Syrian funded Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV, most of us are probably not in the least bit surprised that media outlets beholden to totalitarian regimes make no effort whatsoever to conceal their conscripted status.

However, we reassure ourselves that such blatant and unabashed amplification of the baseless lies and propaganda of a vicious dictatorship could not happen in Western countries where reliable and reputable broadcasters operate according to clearly defined editorial standards. Or could it?

We recently witnessed one instance in which the BBC ran a headline (later amended) composed of pure, unadulterated Assad propaganda.  On Sunday, May 19th 2013 BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ programme – which claims to “explore the week’s religious and ethical news and examine the key debates from the worlds of culture and ideas” with host William Crawley – permitted a long segment of the show to be devoted to running interference for the Assad regime, together with the promotion of anti-Israel conspiracies and tropes of an antisemitic nature. 

Sunday Sequence

The programme’s guest who was provided with a BBC platform from which to engage in that diatribe was prolific anti-Israel campaigner, Vanunu fan, Global March to Jerusalem supporter, ‘Russell Tribunal on Palestine’ “jury” member and former flotilla passenger Mairead Maguire. Host William Crawley – apparently rather over-awed by her status as a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner – refrained from informing listeners about Maguire’s rich history of anti-Israel activity before allowing her to launch into her largely unhindered propaganda rant.

The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time, with the relevant segment commencing at 08:04. Not far into the broadcast we already hear Maguire state:

“No – Assad is not murdering his own people.”

That is followed at 11:19 by Maguire’s ‘explanation’ of the ‘reasons’ behind potential Western intervention in the Syrian civil war.

“And do you know what the agenda is? The agenda is Israeli security. The agenda is taking over Syria so they can destroy Iran and then we move from Iran to North Korea.”

But Maguire really gets into her stride from 18:10 onwards when Crawley asks: 

“Why do you think – why do you believe – the Syrian crisis is really about Israel?”

MM: “The President of Syria took a very strong stand against the Iraqi war. The President of Syria has taken a very strong stand in defence of the rights of the Palestinian people. He has not bowed down or cowed down to the Israeli and the American agenda. So in that situation he runs the risk of being someone outside who’s not doing as he’s told.”

Of course neither Maguire nor Crawley bother to inform listeners that the Assad dynasty’s supposed “defence of the rights of the Palestinian people” has never extended to Palestinians living in Syria

“Between 70 and 90 thousand refugees arrived in Syria, the majority from Tzfat, Haifa, Tiberias and Acco. In 1954 they were awarded partial rights, which did not include political rights. Until 1968 they were forbidden to hold property. Syrian law allows any Arab to obtain Syrian citizenship as long as his permanent residence is in Syria and he is capable of supporting himself economically. But the Palestinians are the only ones excluded from the terms this law. Even if they are permanent residents and affluent, the law prevents them from receiving citizenship. 

Only thirty percent of those still considered for some reason ‘Palestinian refugees in Syria’ live in refugee camps. In fact, they should have been considered as Syrians from all points of view a long time ago. They were part of the Arab national identity, they are linked by family connections, they should have been integrated into economic life. Yet despite this, as a result of political brain-washing, they remain in Syria as a foreign body, dreaming endlessly of ‘the right of return’, and beaten by their inferior situation. Most of them are at the bottom of the career ladder, in service industries (41%) and construction (27%). But there is nothing like the field of education to clarify their situation. 23% do not even get to elementary school and 3% only get academic education.”

At 19:28 Maguire goes on to say: 

“Somebody has to say to the Americans and to the Israelis you need to make peace out here or you’re going to destroy the whole Middle East and that will affect the whole world. Israel doesn’t want peace. I’ve been many, many times to Israel and Palestine – they don’t want peace.  They have chosen land. And as long as Israel chooses land, then it will continue to cause a slow genocide of the Palestinian people, stealing their land. And America says nothing because America’s afraid of Israel and President Obama is afraid of the Israeli [sic] vote in America because it is powerful. But America has to take a stand. It’s funded to the tune of millions of pounds – the militarization of Israel. And Israel with its nuclear weapons is the greatest threat in the Middle East.”

That barrage of downright lies, factual inaccuracies, defamations and antisemitic tropes is met with a tepid “there are two sides to this story, aren’t there?” reaction from Crawley, but he makes no effort to correct the erroneous impressions audiences have already received from Maguire. At 20:34 Maguire claims:

“Well you see when we were in Syria, Israel attacked Syria. Two planes over Syria. 

Crawley interjects:

“Because of concerns about chemical weapons.”

MM: “No – because it wants to control…”

WC: “But that is their explanation.”

MM: “But I mean this idea that there are chemical weapons – the Syrian government, immediately this myth was put out – immediately wrote to the UN and said send in anybody you want because we can prove we don’t have chemical weapons. And the UN never even answered their letters. But that kind of thing has sort of slowed down now because they knew it was disinformation to destroy Syria.”

The Syrian regime has of course refused entry to UN weapons inspectors and the existence of its chemical weapons stockpiles is common knowledge, but Maguire’s lies go uncorrected by Crawley, who instead poses a question which one seriously doubts he would ask in relation to any other country:

“Do you believe that Israel has a right to exist?” 

Maguire’s presumably unintentionally clichéd reply to that is:

“I totally believe that Israel has the right to exist and I love my Jewish friends. I have very many Jewish friends. But I totally oppose the policies being carried out by Israel. Israel has not the right to attack other countries and feel that it will not be held accountable under international law.”

The programme continues with what is presumably supposed to be a ‘balancing’ phone interview with Professor Beverly Milton-Edwards, which will do little to correct the perverted impressions listeners have already received from Maguire – not least because of its dismal sound quality and the fact that it lasts far less than half the time which she was allocated.

The Assad regime and its Iranian backers will no doubt be very impressed with the latest BBC voluntary contribution to the cause of spreading classic Syrian dictatorship propaganda – although the MP for Bradford West might be somewhat put out at no longer being the only star of the Assad makeover show. Real journalists – particularly publicly funded ones bound by standards of accuracy and impartiality – should, however, know better.