BBC head of political research wants poll on ‘world peace’

Hot on the heels of its last jaunt into the genre of pointless polling, the BBC is about to repeat the exercise.

“The Today programme is asking listeners to come up with questions to put to tens of thousands of people in more than 60 countries around the world.

The programme will submit two questions suggested by listeners to feature in the Gallup International poll.

A panel including the BBC’s Head of Political Research David Cowling and the Today programme’s Sarah Montague will then decide which questions will be put forward.”

On July 25th 2013 listeners to the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme learned in a conversation between presenter John Humphrys and David Cowling that a short-list of three questions has already been drawn up. The relevant section of the programme can be heard here from 1:45:07 for a limited period of time. 

David Cowling 'Today'

The three short-listed questions – two of which will be selected by BBC audiences to take part in the poll – are:

“Which country do you believe to be the greatest threat to world peace today?”

“Does religion generally play a positive role in your country?”

“If politicians were predominantly women, would the world be a better place?”

In the banter between Humphrys and Cowling, audiences learn that the latter’s favourite question is the first one. 

DC: “Yes, I think it would be “Which country do you believe to be the greatest threat to world peace today?”. I suspect that – working with journalists – I know colleagues who would be quite excited by what might be coming out of…”

Humphrys interrupts:

“That’s certainly true, but isn’t it a bit narrow? Because there aren’t many…although you could say of course the United States because it’s the most powerful, or you could say China because it’s whatever, or you could say North Korea because it’s bonkers, or you know….

DC: “What I’d be interested in, John, is the variations. So for example there are going to be questions asked in Lebanon, in the West Bank and Gaza. I suspect different answers there if it was asked..”

JH: “Of course we’re asking this around the world – that’s the interesting thing.”

DC: “So it might be that more stories would come from it by just looking at the regional variations – if regional variations were there…”

JH: “However, our audiences must not be swayed by that: they have their shortlist, they will vote, you and Sarah will sort of adjudicate and then the question will be asked.”

So, with Cowling having already done his bit as far as trying to influence BBC audiences into selecting a specific question is concerned, all that remains is to place bets on the phrasing of upcoming BBC headlines to be written by those “quite excited” journalists – and it might not be outlandish to assume that there is a fairly strong possibility that the words “Israel” and “threat” will be in there somewhere.

Alternatively, BBC Watch readers might like to suggest some of their own ‘questions they would most like answered’ in the comments box below.   How about “Why does the BBC fabricate non-existent stories by commissioning simplistic polls?” or “Is it high time that the BBC released the Balen Report?”  

Related posts:

A BBC commissioned popularity contest






The knock-on effect of a throwaway BBC claim

An article from July 18th by the BBC’s Central Asia correspondent Rayhan Demytrie which appeared in both the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website and on its Middle East page in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section tells the story of a man stuck in Kazakhstan’s Almaty International airport.

Kazakhstan article

In paragraph six of the story (which appears to have originated from the Mir 24 news agency) the following throwaway claim is made:

“The 26-year-old Palestinian refugee, born in Iraq, is confined to what officials call “the sterile zone” for travellers and airport staff – he’s the only one who belongs in neither category.

He cannot enter Kazakhstan because he has no visa, but nor does he have a visa to enter any other country. Israel won’t allow him to travel to the Palestinian territories, and the UN accepts that with no living relatives in Iraq, it would be unsafe for him to return to the country of his birth.” [emphasis added]

Kazakhstan article 2

Interestingly, out of all the “any other” countries in the world, the writer opts to name Israel – apparently on the flimsy basis of the fact that Iraqi-born Mr Al Bahish has ancestors who were at some point classed as Palestinian refugees.

Whether or not Mohammed Al Bahish has in fact applied for a visa to enter Israel (and from there to travel to the PA controlled territories or the Gaza Strip – which he could also reach, of course, via Egypt) is unclear from Demytrie’s account. Certainly, no official Israeli response to the accusation is presented at all. BBC Watch tried to find out via the relevant authorities in Israel, but in the absence of additional information (passport number, ID number, date of application or suchlike) was unable to clarify the question. Neither is it clear from the article whether Al Bahish is travelling on an Iraqi passport but even if that is the case, it is possible to apply for an entry visa. 

tourist visas

Hence, we cannot be sure whether Demytrie’s claim is based on fact, hearsay or supposition or indeed why Al Bahish would actually want to try to reach the “Palestinian territories” if he arrived in Kazakhstan to join his pregnant girlfriend there.

If one carried out an internet search in English for Mr Al Bahish’s name on July 18th, as I did,  two results turned up: this BBC article and another one  – from a Russian site which describes itself as an “Islamic information portal” – in which no mention of Israel is made. Since that date the number of results in several languages has mushroomed considerably, with many articles linking to or based on the BBC piece. 

As an example of the importance of BBC accuracy and how an unsourced, gratuitous throwaway line in an article published by the trusted BBC gains traction, note this July 21st rewrite of Demytrie’s claim from the Dubai-based Pars Herald:

“Unfortunately, he has no leave to go in Kazakhstan as he has no visa, but he cannot get a visa to go anywhere else and Israel refuse to let him go home [sic].” [emphasis added] 

BBC guest ‘expert’ is ‘Veterans Today’, ‘Rense’ contributor

A BBC audience member who happened to be looking on that organisation’s website for information about the escape of hundreds of convicted Al Qaeda terrorists from two prisons in Iraq on July 21st would have come across a number of items on the subject.

Iraqi jailbreak hp

In the main article audiences could read that:

“Al-Qaeda has said it carried out two mass jailbreaks in Iraq, which freed hundreds of prisoners including senior leaders of the Islamist militant group.” [emphasis added]

Alternatively, they could listen to the BBC’s Arab affairs analyst Rami Ruhayem being interviewed by Mishal Husain in a television news programme and hear him refer to the perpetrators of attacks which apparently involved suicide bombings, car bombings, mortar fire and the killing of some twenty Iraqi security guards as “militants”.

“It’s really strange that given how well-known it [Abu Ghraib] is, that the militants want to attack these prisons and try to free the prisoners inside, especially those serving life sentences or who have been handed death sentences.”

In addition, audiences were given the option of listening to Rami Ruhayem in an item originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on July 23rd and also featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

Today prog 23 7 iraq

In that broadcast listeners could also hear analysis from Sharmine Narwani, who is described as “a middle east expert at St Anthony’s College, Oxford”. As we know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

In this case (as in others), the BBC most definitely did not make it clear to listeners that despite the neutral-sounding academic description, there is rather more to Ms Narwani than the BBC is letting on. 

In addition to some aggressive anti-Americanism, Narwani peddles anti-Israel, pro Assad,  pro-Iranian regime and pro-Hizballah rhetoric.  As well as having blogged at the Huffington Post until her pro-Assad stance apparently became too much – Narwani has written for the Guardian and the pro-Hizballah/pro-Assad Lebanese outlet Al Akhbar English.

She also appears to have something of an affinity with antisemitic  conspiracy theorists, writing for the ‘Veterans Today website – which has links, via its editor, to Iran’s Press TV – and its sister site ‘Veterans News Now’ (I won’t link to those sites: do a search), as well as – according to her Twitter account – recently appearing on Rense Radio.  

Narwani Rense

Narwani’s ‘analysis’ for the ‘Today’ programme naturally takes on a whole new light when one is aware of her ideological and political leanings. Audiences, however, would not be able to appreciate that because she is misrepresented – in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines – as a neutral academic ‘Middle East expert’.

And then of course there is the important question of whether ‘analysis’ from a mouthpiece of the Iranian and Syrian regimes who hobnobs with racist, Holocaust denying conspiracy theorists is really the best the BBC can offer the public which pays it £145.50 a year in order to be better informed on international issues. 

Related posts:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC selected ‘expert opinions’ and transparency

The BBC’s fantasy version of peace talks

On July 22nd 2013 an article titled “Netanyahu pledges Israeli referendum on peace deal” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. 

Netanyahu referendum main

Right at the end of the article we yet again find the BBC misleading readers on the subject of the reasons for the discontinuation of previous talks in September 2010.

“The issue of settlement-building halted the last direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2010.”

In fact, what actually “halted the last direct talks” was Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to continue them when a ten month building freeze which he had ignored for 90% of its duration came to an end on September 26th 2010.

The BBC has promoted this misleading version of events to readers of its website incessantly over the past few weeks – see for example here and here.  

In the article’s penultimate paragraph we find another distortion.

“The Palestinians have insisted Israel recognise pre-1967 ceasefire lines as borders of a Palestinian state, subject to some negotiation, before any talks commence, but this is something that has been opposed by right-wing members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.” [emphasis added]

The notion that a homogenous group called “the Palestinians” – or its representatives – is open to negotiation with regard to the 1949 Armistice Lines is patently false. Hamas (which received 44.45% of the votes in the last PLC elections) obviously rejects such a proposal, as do many others. In fact, the concept of land swaps – which is what the BBC is describing here – has only been officially accepted by the Fatah central council – which is just one of the factions making up the PLO which actually conducts negotiations – and even then under very limited terms. 

“The Fatah Central Committee has accepted the Arab League’s latest proposal authorizing land swaps with Israel. […]

“Although PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat initially said that this was not a new idea and that the proposal was presented in coordination with the Palestinians, some Fatah and PA officials have come out against the land swap plan.

Other Palestinians said the Arab League did not have a mandate to speak on behalf of Palestinians and offer territorial concessions to Israel.” […]

Unlike most Palestinian factions, Fatah said that today, it was not opposed to the land swap idea.

Fatah’s leaders stressed after their meeting, however, that they perceive the idea as meaning that there would be “minor and mutual adjustments” to the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Accepting the idea does not mean “legitimizing settlement blocs” in the West Bank, they explained.

“Settlements in all the Palestinian lands are illegal. There can be no land swaps without an Israeli recognition of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,” they said.”

Here we see the BBC patronizingly lumping of all Palestinians into one uniform group, and erasing the distinctions between Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, as well as ignoring the fact that there are large sections of Palestinian society not represented by any of those bodies.

 Clearly, the BBC is trying to present a much more accommodating picture of the Palestinian leadership than actually exists – and to contrast it with a picture of “right-wing” Israeli government intransigence in the second half of the above sentence.

This is not news reporting or current affairs analysis. It is the dumbed-down distortion of facts in order to promote a specific politically motivated narrative – i.e. propaganda – and that is not what the licence fee-financing public pays for.


BBC annual report cites drop in current affairs programme viewing

An article appearing in the Independent on July 16th 2013 provides some interesting glimpses into the BBC’s recently presented annual report for 2012-13. 

“The annual report identifies many areas in which the BBC is facing significant challenges, including concerns over the lack of public interest in current affairs output. “We are concerned about the gradual decline in audience numbers for current affairs programmes on television in recent years and about the degree of ambition and quality of current affairs programming.”

The report showed that the BBC website still has not fully recovered from falling public appreciation levels after significant changes were introduced to its format.”

Doubtless many readers here have their own concerns regarding the “quality of current affairs programming” – not least on issues of accuracy and impartiality – and it would of course be perfectly natural for such concerns, when unanswered, to translate into “the gradual decline in audience numbers” in our modern world of rapid communications and a consumer’s market of multiple sources of news and information.

Those wishing to read the entire BBC annual report can find its various sections here.  

BBC tweaks Hizballah statement, promotes its conspiracy theories

The website of Hizballah’s Al Manar TV station carries details of a statement put out on July 22nd by the terrorist organisation in response to the EU’s blacklisting of its ‘military wing’. The website cites “Hezbollah media relations” as its source for the statement, so we can probably assume that it is accurate.

Al Manar Hizb statement


“Hezbollah expressed in a statement issued Monday evening firm rejection of the European Union’s decision to put its military wing on the list of terrorism, and considered it as “aggressive, unjust decision written with Zionist ink.”

Hezbollah saw in the EU bowing to pressures of the US administration and the Zionist entity as a serious turnover in its compliance to the White House dictates. “It looks as if the decision was written by American hands with Zionist ink and the EU had only to put its seal for approval,” Hezbollah’s statement said.

Hezbollah considered that this unjust decision does not reflect the interests of the peoples of the European Union “and comes in contrast with its values and aspirations that support the principles of freedom and independence, which it had always advocated.”

“If the EU countries think they are booking its locations in our Arab and Islamic countries by submitting to the logic of U.S. blackmailing, we assure them that Washington had made similar decision and gained only further failures and disappointments,” the statement ended up saying.” [emphasis added]

So how did the BBC report that statement? In the latest version of a July 22nd article entitled “EU ministers agree to blacklist Hezbollah’s armed wing” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website, the BBC appears to have found fit to tweak that quote.

“In a statement, Hezbollah said the EU decision “was written by American hands with Israeli ink“.

The group said the move “has no justification and is not based on any proof”. ” [emphasis added]

EU desigantion Hizb article

As Middle East observers will be aware, it is very rare for Hizballah officials and spokesmen to call Israel by name, preferring to use atavistic terms such as “the Zionist entity”.  So why does the BBC think it needs to tone down – and misquote – the terrorist organization’s statement for Western consumption?

The same article includes a filmed report by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Jim Muir which also appeared separately on the Middle East page of the BBC News website and was broadcast on BBC television. 

Muir filmed report

In that report Muir promotes the Hizballah line, using the terrorist organisation’s terminology.

Muir: “Hizballah is deeply rooted in Lebanese society, especially in Shiite areas like this part of Beirut, also in the southern suburbs of the capital and in the south of the country and the eastern Bekaa Valley where Hizballah really holds sway. Militarily, it’s stronger than the Lebanese army itself. Politically it’s also very strong. In communities like this there is no way that Hizballah is regarded as terrorist. People here have quite a different view from the European Union.”

Man in the street: “They can say what they like but to us Hizballah is not a terrorist organization. It has a popular base which extends all over the country.”

Woman in the street: “Hizballah is everything to us. We rely on it in a number of ways. It is our strength. If it wasn’t for Hizballah, the Americans and Israelis would have taken over a long time ago. We support Hizballah – it is not a terrorist organization.”

Despite the BBC’s commitment to accuracy and impartiality, Muir makes no attempt to bring Lebanese voices expressing alternative opinions (of which there are many) to his audiences. Neither does he make any effort to provide facts to put into proportion the bizarre “taken over” statement made by his female interviewee.  Muir continues by making a couple of valid and accurate points:

“Diplomats here are going to find it very hard to follow through on that distinction between the military wing and political wing of Hizballah that they have tried to make because Hizballah does not make that distinction itself. It’s one organization – it has many MPs in parliament, it has cabinet ministers in the outgoing government, so it’s going to be hard for diplomats to decide exactly who they’re talking to.

Hizballah’s involvement in Syria has been very divisive here. Hizballah fighters are openly combating the rebels alongside government forces. That’s been very divisive, so in Sunni parts of Lebanon you’ll find people certainly who will applaud the European Union for listing Hizballah as a terrorist organization.”

Muir does not however attempt to clarify for his audiences the proportions of Sunni and Shiia within the context of Lebanese demographics, or to explain to audiences that many additional ethnic and religious groups – not necessarily supportive of Hizballah – also exist.

Demographics Lebanon

Muir ends his report with a burst of pure Hizballah propaganda.

“It’s ironic that Hizballah’s involvement in Syria may have been something that stiffened European opinion against it because one of the main arguments it has for taking part in that struggle is to combat the Al Qaeda-type terrorists – as they see it – who are fighting alongside the rebels and they’re indeed taking the initiative in many areas. So for Hizballah the whole terrorist issue is highly politicized – that’s why it is undoubtedly going to dismiss this European move as highly politically motivated: part of an Israeli-backed plan to undermine resistance both by Hizballah, by Syria and by their strategic ally, Iran.”  

It is perfectly legitimate to attempt to explain to BBC audiences the outlook of a terrorist organization in order to enhance their understanding of a complicated issue, providing that the journalist balances that information with facts so as to avoid turning his report into propaganda. It is quite another thing to adopt a terrorist organisation’s language – as seen in Muir’s use of the term “resistance” – and to promote its conspiracy theories.

Muir’s failure to present any balance to the Hizballah party line, his promotion of the conspiracy theory-based notion of the EU designation as being a “politically motivated” cave-in to a mysterious Israeli master plan and his resulting relativist whitewashing of Hizballah’s very long history of terror and crime is not only inaccurate and partial, but deliberate misinformation.  

Regrettably, this is far from the first time that we have seen Jim Muir promoting the concept of “resistance”, whitewashing Hizballah’s violence, trivialising Hizballah’s role in the destabilisation of the region as a whole  and gratuitously advancing the anti-Israel conspiracy theories of Hizballah and its supporters.

Jim Muir’s reporting from the Middle East is not helping BBC audiences to “build a global understanding of international issues” – and neither does BBC editors’ ‘tweaking’ of quotes from a terrorist organization in order to make it appear less unhinged.

Related posts:

New resource on Hizballah gives information not supplied by BBC

BBC trumpets Hizballah narrative of ‘resistance’

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

The curious CV of a former BBC Arabic journalist

BBC reports on Palestinian ‘detainees’, but not their crimes

On July 20th 2013 an article entitled “Israel to free Palestinian prisoners over Kerry talks” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website.

prisoners release talks

As can be seen here, later versions of the article were garnished with the now standard BBC slogans concerning the previous round of talks and the legal status of ‘settlements’.

“Israel and the Palestinians last held direct talks in 2010, which were halted over the issue of settlement-building.”

As has unfortunately had to be stated here many times before, that pro forma insertion does not fully and accurately inform BBC audiences as to the real background to the discontinuation of talks nearly three years ago.

“The Palestinian Authority refused to continue direct negotiations in late September 2010 – two years and eight months ago. The statement fails to inform readers that prior to that break-down in talks, a ten-month freeze on construction had been implemented by Israel in order to encourage the renewal of discussions, but the Palestinian Authority failed to come to the negotiating table for nine of those ten months and then used the end of the construction freeze on September 26th 2010 as a pretext to refuse to continue talks.”

The BBC article continues with the standard statement:

“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Yet again, the BBC refrains from making the slightest attempt made to inform readers of the wider aspects of the issue beyond that trite slogan or to present alternative views on the subject or even to inform BBC audiences of the fact that there are opposing views to it which come from non-Israelis. 

There is also nothing novel about this article’s euphemistic treatment of the subject of the Palestinian prisoners allegedly scheduled for release under the terms of the Kerry-brokered deal. The language used by the BBC conceals from its audiences the nature of the crimes for which those prisoners were convicted, with the word ‘terrorist’ not being used at all. 

“Israel says it will release a number of Palestinian prisoners as part of an agreement made with US Secretary of State John Kerry to resume peace talks.

Yuval Steinitz, minister responsible for international relations, said it would involve “heavyweight prisoners in jail for decades”. […]

The release of prisoners would take place in stages, he said.

While the number of detainees to be freed is unclear, one Palestinian official said discussions had earlier focused on the release of 350 prisoners over a period of months, including around 100 men held since before 1993, when Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo peace accords.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 4,817 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails.” [emphasis added]

According to Ha’aretz ($):

“Israel is planning to free some 82 of the 103 Palestinians sentenced to prison terms in Israel before the Oslo Accords were first signed in 1993, as part of the gestures to the Palestinian Authority in the context of the renewal of peace talks. The prisoners will not all be released immediately but rather in four different stages during the talks.

All the prisoners to be released have already served between 20-35 years in prison, most being Fatah members.” [emphasis added]

As readers no doubt remember, last month BBC Watch published a translation of the list of those pre-Oslo prisoners , their crimes and their sentences, which allows us to take note of the type of information about them which is not being reported by the BBC.

Among those on the list described as Fatah members we find, for example, Maher Younis and Kareem Younis – both of whom were convicted of the murder of Avraham  (Avi) Bromberg (along with other crimes) and whose sentences are due to be fully served in 2023. Twenty year-old Corporal Bromberg was on his way home to Zichron Ya’akov from his base in the Golan Heights where he was a tank mechanic, when the cell which included Maher Younis and Kareem Younis kidnapped him, shot him in the head and stole his gun, leaving him mortally wounded. Avi managed to crawl to the side of the road, where he was found the next morning.  He died several days later.

Also scheduled for release in 2023 is Bashir Al-Khatib – a member of Fatah’s ‘Force 17’ – who murdered Chaim Hai Hartouk in order to allow Fatah to make use of the victim’s body for the purpose of a prisoner exchange deal. Fatah members Ahmed Abu Jaber and Nofal Alifu Musbach Shakir kidnapped and strangled to death 21 year-old soldier Akiva Shaltiel in 1985. 

Other Fatah members on the list include Turkeman Yusef Suleiman Mahmed who, together with three accomplices also on the list, shot and killed Moshe Biton as he got out of his car at a convenience store and also shot and injured his wife Mali as she tried to help her husband. Al Haaj Othman Amar Mustafa and Damara Ibrahim Mustafa Bilal are imprisoned for the murder of Steven Fredrick Rosenfeld in 1989 whilst he was hiking near Ariel. In 1991 Abu Dahila Hassan Atik Sharif stabbed to death his employer Avi Osher – a father of two from Moshav Beka’ot – in a date palm grove.

The list goes on and on, but of course if BBC audiences are not informed of the acts of terrorism perpetrated by those the BBC insists upon euphemistically describing as “detainees”, they will not be able to comprehend the full meaning of any release of prisoners which may take place and their ability “to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” – as promised among the BBC’s public purposes – will be diminished.

Diary of a BBC complainant

This is a cross post from Harry’s Place.

When was the last time you shouted at the telly ? Over the last twenty years I have had occasion to complain to the BBC, and I guessed the reason I got fobbed off was down to my lack of preparation or perseverance. So, for twelve months – as an experiment – I have kept a diary of our dialogue, so I could learn, adapt and evolve. I’m glad I did, otherwise – as you will see – I might have started to question my own sanity.

My beef is about the BBC’s coverage of Israel. Yours might be the EU, political correctness, global warming, or some other. I read with interest Nigel Farage’s comments about the BBC’s Europhilia and its stereotypical reporting on UKIP. Well said that man. In fact, were one to take Mr Farage’s words and substitute ‘Israel’ for ‘UKIP, I wouldn’t be writing this now. So I’m not alone. You don’t have to share my particular views, but just stay with me a bit longer.

The conclusion of my twelve month experiment is that the BBC is in reality accountable to no-one but itself. It is quite simply, the largest political party in the country: immensely powerful, biased to its core, either wholly oblivious of its prejudice (or cynically aware of it) and defiantly unrepentant. It is a totally closed system, with processes engineered to repel feedback from its customers.

So, what didn’t I like about the BBC’s coverage of Israel ? Let me give you a few examples. In each case I complained. In each case, and at every level, I was rebuffed.

Continued here

Keeping BBC audience’s eyes on the ‘settlements’ ball

Predictably, the BBC has been busy over the past few days churning out a flurry of articles on the subject of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to get talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on final status negotiations restarted. In those articles, care has been taken to ensure that audiences keep their eye on the ball with regard to the BBC’s narrative regarding the ‘peace process’.

In a July 19th article entitled “Palestinians undecided on Kerry peace talks plan” readers are told yet again in a side box of analysis by Lyse Doucet that: 

“…settlements are still a major stumbling block. As Mr Kerry shuttles, Israel keeps announcing plans and permits for new homes.”

Doucet makes no attempt to explain to audiences that in fact there is absolutely no reason why planning committees should not continue their work as no building freeze has been agreed upon and indeed she makes it sound as though the routine granting of planning permissions is some sort of deliberately spiteful move on Israel’s part. 

In another article from the same day entitled “Israel and Palestinians reach agreement to resume talks” readers are once again told that:

“The last round of direct talks broke down nearly three years ago over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Of course the last round of direct talks actually broke down in late September 2010 when Mahmoud Abbas refused to continue them after the expiry of a ten-month ‘goodwill promoting’ building freeze which he had ignored for 90% of its existence.

Under the sub-heading ‘stumbling blocks’, readers are told yet again in the same article that:

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks between the two sides.

The Palestinian president has said that Israel must freeze settlement-building before stalled peace talks can resume, while Mr Netanyahu has urged Mr Abbas to return to talks without preconditions.”

Curiously, it never seems to occur to the BBC to question why Mahmoud Abbas cannot sit down to talks without a building freeze – or why when there was one he avoided negotiations for most of its duration.

Later on in the article the frequently made mistake of inaccurately describing the 1949 Armistice Lines as “borders” is repeated yet again – despite clear guidelines on that subject having only recently been refreshed on the BBC College of Journalism website.

“The settlement issue is just one of several thorny problems which have stymied previous attempts to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians have also demanded previously that any talks be on the basis of the borders in place from 1949 to 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”

The latest BBC guideline specifically relating to that subject says: [emphasis added]

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949.

The exact borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state are subject to negotiation between the two parties. The Palestinians want a complete end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and use the phrase to mean a return to the pre-4 June 1967 borders.

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have. To that end, we can call the Green Line ‘the generally recognised boundary between Israel and the West Bank’ “

The article goes on:

“The future status of Jerusalem and any “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendents are also core issues in any future peace talks.”

Apparently the writer did not deem it necessary to inform readers of additional “core issues” such as the PA’s incessant glorification of terror and incitement against Israelis.

Right at its end, the article states:

“The Palestinian position is further complicated by the the [sic] fact that Gaza is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, whereas Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement is in control of the West Bank.

Hamas has rejected the announcement of a return to talks, according to AFP, saying Mr Abbas had no right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.”

Some might say that “further complicated” is a bit of an understatement. The fact that the PA is not in control of part of the territory it will be negotiating about, and upon which it hopes to establish a state, is clearly a huge issue, as is the fact that the PA president’s legitimate mandate to sign anything on behalf of the Palestinian people expired years ago. Another glaring problem is that the PA clearly cannot claim to be able to give security guarantees on behalf of the range of terrorist organisations including Hamas, the PFLP, the DFLP and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad which are openly hostile to negotiations.

But the BBC apparently has no interest in any in-depth exploration of those issues; instead it keeps audiences focused on the mantra of settlements.

Isn’t it time that BBC audiences got the comprehensive, narrative-free, impartial and accurate analysis which would help them understand all aspects of this issue – to which they are entitled and which they pay for? 

David Ward saga: BBC still prevaricating on antisemitism

The July 18th BBC article entitled “MP David Ward has Lib Dem whip withdrawn over Israel comment” which currently appears on the UK Politics page of the BBC News website was originally published under a different title – “MP David Ward has Lib Dem whip withdrawn over ‘Jews’ comment”. That change and the many others to the body of the report can be seen here

Ward whip

Significantly, in its latest report on this subject the BBC yet again refrains from clarifying to audiences the antisemitic nature of the statements made by Ward which began the saga. In fact the only use in the article of the word antisemitic is when Ward’s own words are paraphrased.  

“He also insisted that neither he nor his comments had been anti-Semitic.”

That was also the case in this March 2013 article and in this February 2013 article on the subject of Ward. So whilst the BBC seems to be keen to offer Ward a platform from which to repeatedly deny the racist nature of hisremarks (as he also did in a BBC Radio Leeds interview in late January), it appears to be considerably less enthusiastic about providing its audiences with the information which will allow them to appreciate exactly why Ward’s remarks are offensive and abusive

As previously noted here on February 1st:

“One of the most remarkable – and worrying – aspects of the BBC’s coverage of this affair has been its superficiality. An almost pantomime quality of “Oh yes he did. Oh no he didn’t” has dominated its reports, which have consistently tried to play down Ward’s statements rather than explaining to audiences precisely why those criticising them find them so problematic. 

One increasingly plausible explanation for that could be that the BBC itself does not properly understand the gravity of the issue and therefore is unable to provide those clarifications to its audiences. For an organisation committed to diversity, that is obviously a problem. “

That issue has obviously not been resolved during the six months in which the BBC has been covering this story.