Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

We have frequently posited on these pages that the BBC’s long-standing policy of avoiding the use of the word ‘terror’ and its derivatives on the grounds that such use would constitute a “value judgement” is in fact a value judgement in itself. 

The recent terror attack in Nairobi seems to have brought the subject of that self-inflicted abstinence into the arena of public debate. The Daily Telegraph reported that “[t]he BBC is under mounting pressure to end an effective ban on the use of the word “terrorist””.

“The corporation has drawn criticism during its coverage of the Kenyan massacre for describing the perpetrators as “militants”.

Neil Sleat, the newsreader on Radio 4’s Today programme, did not use the word “terrorist” once in any of his four news bulletins on Tuesday, instead referring to the attackers as “Islamist militants” while coverage of the incident on the BBC’s website describes the group as “suspected al-Shabab militants”. […]

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East, said the BBC was “out of touch” on the issue.

“Most members of the British public would see the planned and systematic murder of dozens of innocent people in Kenya as terrorism,” he said.”

Reactions to a Tweet sent from the BBC Breaking News account on September 24th corroborate Mr Wilson’s gauging of public opinion. 

kenya tweet

In the Telegraph’s blogs section, Brendan O’Neill writes:

“In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC’s yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word– terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend.”

Members of the public can make their opinions on this subject (and others) known to the BBC Trust by taking advantage of the ongoing consultation on the subject of BBC news and current affairs content. 

BBC second Intifada backgrounders: ‘Sharon started it’

We have previously noted on these pages that – despite the BBC ECU having upheld a complaint on the subject in 2010 – BBC backgrounders on the subject of the second Intifada (along with several additional articles which also continue to be available on the internet) still advance the narrative according to which Mohammed al Dura died from Israeli gunfire at Netzarim junction in September 2000.

Another narrative advanced in the two backgrounders which use al Dura’s image (as well as in other articles still available online) is that of the visit of Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount on September 28th 2000 as the cause of the second Intifada. 

The backgrounder titled “Al-Aqsa Intifada timeline” (dating from September 2004, but still available) opens by informing readers that:

“The second Palestinian intifada or uprising broke out at the end of September 2000 and is named after the Jerusalem mosque complex where the violence began. […]

Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s opposition, paid a visit to the site in East Jerusalem known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa mosque – and frustration boiled over into violence.”

second Intifada 2

That ‘timeline’ has just three entries for the year 2000, the first of which states:

28 September: Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – against the background of the failure of the peace process – provides one of the sparks that ignites a cycle of violence.”

The page for “Second intifada” (year 2000) in the backgrounder titled “A History of Conflict” informs readers that:

“In the uncertainty of the ensuing impasse, Ariel Sharon, the veteran right-winger who succeeded Binyamin Netanyahu as Likud leader, toured the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on 28 September. Sharon’s critics saw it as a highly provocative move. Palestinian demonstrations followed, quickly developing into what became known as the al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising.”

second intifada 1

Notably, neither article mentions that violence actually began the previous day when terrorists detonated roadside bombs near Netzarim, killing Sgt David Biri. Equally remarkable is the fact that the entry for the year 2000 in the “Al Aqsa Intifada Timeline” neglects to mention the killing of Border Police Supt. Yosef (Yossi) Tabeja  by his Palestinian counterpart whilst on a joint patrol on September 29th 2000, the Palestinian besiegement  of Joseph’s Tomb in Schem on October 1st 2000 – in which Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusuf was killed – or the October 12th 2000 lynching of First Sgt. Vadim Norzhich and First Cpl. Yosef Avrahami at Ramallah’s police station. 

Whilst the catalyst for the intifada is attributed in that timeline to Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount and the sole casualty mentioned is Mohammed al Dura, the fact that 52 Israelis were killed by Palestinians (including members of Fatah-linked terror organisations and PA security personnel) between September 27th and December 31st 2000 is apparently deemed unnecessary information for BBC audiences.

But do the known facts support the BBC’s promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which Sharon’s thirty-four minute visit to Temple Mount during normal opening hours – which had been pre-coordinated with the Palestinian security forces – was the spark which inevitably ignited the second Intifada? 

As is well known, that intifada had in fact been planned in advance. In an interview with Al Hayat from September 2001 Marwan Barghouti said:

“I knew that the end of September was the last period (of time) before the explosion, but when Sharon reached the al-Aqsa Mosque, this was the most appropriate moment for the outbreak of the intifada….The night prior to Sharon’s visit, I participated in a panel on a local television station and I seized the opportunity to call on the public to go to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning, for it was not possible that Sharon would reach al-Haram al-Sharif just so, and walk away peacefully. I finished and went to al-Aqsa in the morning….We tried to create clashes without success because of the differences of opinion that emerged with others in the al-Aqsa compound at the time….After Sharon left, I remained for two hours in the presence of other people, we discussed the manner of response and how it was possible to react in all the cities (bilad) and not just in Jerusalem. We contacted all (the Palestinian) factions.”

In January 2001 Barghouti told the New Yorker:

“The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse. He is a hated man.”
(New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2001)

In November 2011 Arafat’s widow spoke on PA television of the preplanned nature of the second Intifada.

Imad Faluji -PA Minister of Communications at the time of the Intifada – described the second intifada’s advance planning in December 2000 both on film and as reported by the pro-Fatah newspaper ‘Al Ayyam’. 

“Imad Faluji, PA Minister of Communications stressed that the PA began the preparations and to get ready for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the negotiations at Camp David at the request of President Yasser Arafat, who expected it [to be] the stage complementing the Palestinian resolve in the negotiations, and not just as a protest to [Israeli Parliament Member Ariel] Sharon’s visit to the Noble Sanctuary of Jerusalem (i.e., the Temple Mount)… Faluji said that the PA made the factions and political forces responsible for directing the Intifada. … He emphasized that the Intifada would continue and that it will inevitably bring about a new reality which will be nothing other than an ‘independent state.’ Faluji did not rule out the possibility that the PA would turn into a (violent) resistance enterprise because of the continued Israeli arrogance and stubbornness.” [Al-Ayyam, Dec. 6, 2000]

Many more examples of Palestinian statements regarding the second Intifada’s advance planning and the PA’s organization of it and participation in it are available here

But beyond the obvious inaccuracy of the BBC’s presentation of Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount as the cause of the second Intifada, there lies a deeper question. Why does the BBC apparently automatically assume that even if Palestinians did consider that visit provocative, they could not choose to refrain from rioting and violence? Some might say that such an obvious display of bigotry of low expectations compromises the BBC’s impartiality. 

It really is high time for the BBC News website to have a spring cleaning session and remove the many inaccurate, partial and misleading items which visitors searching for factual information will still come across. 

Related articles:

Another lethal narrative on the BBC website

The BBC’s Macfarlane and the Vulture Club

Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

Not fit for purpose: BBC backgrounder on second Intifada

The Guardian again promotes myth that Ariel Sharon started 2nd Intifada

One to watch: final part of Schama documentary on BBC 2

A reminder for UK-based readers: the fifth and final episode – titled “Return” – of Simon Schama’s documentary “The Story of the Jews” will be shown on BBC 2 at 21:00 tonight – Sunday, September 29th 2013.

Schama doc 5

“Simon Schama examines how the Holocaust and the creation of Israel have fundamentally changed what it means to be Jewish.

Mixing personal recollection with epic history, Simon tells the story of the remarkable personalities and unprecedented events which turned the Zionist dream of creating a modern state of Israel into reality – and the consequences for the world. With contributions from writer David Grossman, photographer Micha Bar-Am, kibbutz founder Freddie Kahan, West Bank settler Zvi Cooper and Palestinian villager Yacoub Odeh. This film explores the tension between the high ideals and dire necessities that led to the creation of a Jewish homeland and the realities of conflict, dispossession and occupation that have followed in its wake.”

Whether or not this is the same “Palestinian villager Yacoub Odeh” as took the BBC’s former Jerusalem correspondent Wyre Davies on a tour of Lifta in May 2011 remains to be seen, but if it is, readers might like to find out more about Mr Odeh the professional political activist, and his remarkably selective memory, here

For those who may have missed them, the previous four episodes of Simon Schama’s documentary are available to view in the UK on BBC iPlayer. The series will apparently be broadcast in the coming spring in the United States.

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4: (also here.)

Related articles:

So far, so good: BBC 2 series ‘The Story of the Jews’

BBC TV mentions exodus from Egypt

Not fit for purpose: BBC backgrounder on second Intifada

On Friday September 27th 2013 violent demonstrations (unreported by the BBC, as was a rocket attack that same night) took place in several locations in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Judea & Samaria as Palestinians marked the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the second intifada. Several Israelis were injured

A BBC audience member searching for information regarding the second Intifada on the corporation’s website would – among other items – come across an article titled “2000: Second intifada” which forms part of the BBC’s “Israel Timeline”.

2000 second intifada

That article is dated May 6th 2008, meaning that for almost five and a half years users of the BBC’s website have been mistakenly informed that:

“By 2000, a second intifada was being openly fought and Israel re-occupied the West Bank.”

The second Intifada commenced on September 27th 2000 with a roadside bomb attack on a convoy of civilians, escorted by IDF soldiers, en route to Netzarim. Sgt. David Biri, aged 19, was killed in that attack and another soldier was injured when they got out of their vehicle to check on the civilians – including a baby – after the first IED exploded.

Hence, for the first nine months of the year 2000, a second intifada was not “being openly fought”, contrary to the statement made in this article. Likewise, the suggestion that “Israel re-occupied the West Bank” in the year 2000 – as any reasonable reader would understand this sentence – is clearly inaccurate.

Only at the end of March and beginning of April 2002 – eighteen months after the beginning of the second Intifada – did Israeli forces enter the six Palestinian Authority-controlled towns of Ramallah (29/3/2002), Tulkarem, Qalqilya (1/4/2002), Bethlehem (2/4/2002), Jenin and Schem (3/4/2002) in Operation Defensive Shield. The BBC’s suggestion that “Israel re-occupied the West Bank” is also inaccurate in light of the fact that no Israeli forces were present in other towns such as Jericho and Hebron.

In the year and a half prior to that operation, hundreds of Israelis had been killed and injured by Palestinian terrorists, with the month of March 2002 alone seeing the deaths of over a hundred Israelis, including thirty people killed in the Park Hotel attack on March 27th.Terrorist Attack against the Park Hotel in Netanya (2002)

Not only does this BBC backgrounder fail to reflect the campaign of terror which lead to Israeli forces having to enter PA controlled areas, but it also fails to make any mention of the foreign donor funded Palestinian Authority’s encouragement, organization and financing of that terror war. The article also makes no attempt to inform readers that as an initial result of Operation Defensive Shield, suicide bombings fell by 46%.

Clearly, this BBC backgrounder contributes nothing to audience understanding of the second intifada and the fact that it has remained online for over five years whilst promoting such major inaccuracies indicates that the BBC’s system of checks and balances is sorely lacking.


R4 ‘Today’ expounds BBC ‘World View’ on Iran

If listeners are interested in hearing a potted version of the BBC World View regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, the September 26th edition of the Today programme provides just such an opportunity. It also underscores two themes which the BBC appears to be doing its utmost to promote and amplify.

Starting at around 1:33:32 in this recording (available for a limited period of time) presenter John Humphrys introduces a segment of the broadcast which includes an interview with Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev with the following words.

“It was President Bush who coined the phrase ‘axis of evil’ – three countries whose activities threatened world peace – and Iran was one of the three. That was eleven years ago. A lot’s changed since then. At least that’s the hope at the United Nations today. For the first time there will be high-level meetings to find ways of Iran giving up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for sanctions being dropped. The reason for this new hope is the more moderate approach of the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.” [emphasis added]

There is the first BBC promoted theme: audiences are not invited to make up their own minds as to whether a few strategically chosen words in interviews, speeches – and perhaps Tweets too – signal anything which can realistically be described as ‘moderation’. They are not even encouraged to ponder the question of what a “moderate approach” is in a regime which supports and enables regional dictators and terror organisations, which dictates the dress code of half its citizens and which discriminates against, imprisons and executes its own civilians for adhering to the ‘wrong’ religious or political views. 

No – the BBC made up its mind that Rouhani is a ‘moderate’ practically before he had opened his mouth and BBC audiences are being kept firmly in line with that view, with no chance of reality being allowed to get in the way.

During the interview with Mark Regev – which was also featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page – Humphrys promotes another BBC theme: that of equivalence between a repressive theocratic dictatorship and a working multi-cultural democracy. Today prog on ME pge

At 1:21 in that recording Humphrys says:

“Well in other words, they’re [Iran] doing those things that Israel itself has done because Israel itself has nuclear weapons.”

Regev replies:

“The issue we’re talking about is Iran and its nuclear weapons…”

Humphrys – with audible disdain – interrupts:

“Well is it irrelevant then that (scoffing laughter) Israel has nuclear….you’re telling Iran it cannot have nuclear weapons while you yourselves have nuclear weapons.”

After Regev’s reply, at 2:28, Humphrys says:

“What’s the difference between an ‘aggressive’ nuclear bomb and …I dunno…a ‘passive’ nuclear bomb?”

At 3:06 Humphrys interrupts Mark Regev again – deftly changing the subject from Iran’s activities in the Syrian civil war.

“They’re making very different noises now, aren’t they? And you…of course you’re entitled to say ‘oh, it’s just talk and they don’t mean it’, but give it a chance, can’t you? I mean isn’t that what the world wants you to do? What the world – at least a very large part of the world including the United States – wants Israel to do, which is to say yes; of course we are deeply suspicious of this regime, given some of its history. On the other hand,  we have treated Iran – that is to say the West, the United States, this country [Britain], has treated Iran in very dodgy ways indeed over the years – let’s now give it a chance to see if it can change its ways and if it does, the world will benefit hugely. A huge threat will have been lifted.”

Amazingly, the senior presenter of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme appears to have completely failed to grasp that in the wake of the recent Syrian chemical weapons debacle, the West’s relevance in the Middle East in general – including what it wants Israel to do or not to do – has been diminished by the performance of the very countries he cites – the US and the UK. 

At 4:37 Humphrys opines:

“But surely it’s counter…it…it…it’s damaging to the whole process if, as your prime minister did, you instruct your delegation to boycott the speech…to boycott the Iranian president’s speech. Your own finance minister Mr Lapid said that instruction was a mistake. Israel, he said, should not seem as if it is serially opposed to negotiations, and is a country that is uninterested in peaceful solutions. That’s the danger for you, isn’t it? That’s how you paint yourselves.”

Humphrys’ focus on chiding the Israeli spokesman for his government’s refusal to have its UN delegation sit through Rouhani’s speech means that BBC audiences learn nothing with regard to the pro-forma anti-Israel rhetoric in the speech itself, Rouhani’s assorted Holocaust questioning and diminishing interviews with the Western media or the fact that just days before his UN appearance, Rouhani presided at a military rally (unreported by the BBC) in Tehran complete with calls for Israel’s destruction. Iran military parade

“Iranian President Hassan Rohani took part in an event in which there were calls for the destruction of Israel just days before the United Nations General Assembly.

On Sunday, a few days before he left for the UN meeting in New York, Rohani participated in a military parade in Tehran. Trucks carrying long-range missiles passed in front of him, alongside signs calling for the destruction of Israel.

A picture of the event, published on an Iranian website and by the French AFP news agency, show trucks bearing Shihab 3 missiles, which have the range to strike Israel. A sign in Persian hanging on one truck reads, “Israel must stop existing.” “

The subject of how Iran ‘paints itself’ is obviously not an issue for the cultural relativists of the ‘Today’ programme, but nevertheless, BBC audiences have the right to expect to be informed of the entire picture – not just the themes the BBC is keen to promote.

Related articles:

Does the evidence support the BBC’s touting of “less hardline Iranian stance” on nuclear issue?

BBC continues to portray a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime

Inaccuracy corrected in one BBC Rouhani article, left standing in another

BBC tones down Iranian rhetoric and extremism

That bizarre BBC e-mail disclaimer

As anyone who has entered into e-mail correspondence with the BBC regarding a complaint will be aware, replies often include a standard footnote which begins with the following sentence.


Whilst one assumes that this is a standard disclaimer inserted for legal reasons, it is nevertheless absurd that official BBC replies to complaints made by its funding general public are flagged as “not the views of the BBC unless specifically stated”.

A BBC licence fee payer would of course expect to be the recipient of nothing less than “the views of the BBC” in communications regarding a complaint. 

The unstated connections of a BBC R4 Middle East ‘expert’

Readers may have noticed a link titled “Who supports whom?” – with the subheading “Comedian Dom Joly explains Syria in three minutes” – appearing in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page over the past few days. 

Who supports whom

That link leads to a brief film clip in which Joly appears to confuse even himself with his ‘analysis’, drifting from “more supportive of” to “couldn’t bring themselves to support” whilst barely stopping for a breath.

“I mean obviously Assad and Israel very old foes but ironically they’re [Israel] probably more supportive of Assad than anything like Al Qaeda or even a secular….I mean they might be dodgy on secular, definitely anti Al Qaeda and sort of don’t know about Assad. Yeah, they couldn’t bring themselves to support him.”

Joly & Jones

The programme promoted at the bottom of the synopsis to that film clip – “OBJs Guide to the Middle East” – was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 23rd and can be heard here

OBJs guide to the ME

Contrary to the impression given in the synopsis, Sherard Cowper-Coles does not appear in the programme – Robert Fox of the London Evening Standard takes part instead. Owen Bennett Jones’ other guests are Dom Joli and Baroness Haleh Afshar who is described merely as having “a very international background”.

If listeners can manage to get past Afshar’s incessant, inane giggles without hitting the ‘stop’ button, they will be able to hear the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf Qaradawi described at 13:14 as “an Islamic cleric” and “a well-known man”. They will, however, hear nothing about Qaradawi’s infamous homophobia, misogyny or antisemitism.

Further on, at around 14:47, Owen Bennett Jones introduces the subject of weapons of mass destruction into the discussion. At 15;24 he says:

“And of course now we’re left in a situation – if Syria does dismantle its chemical weapons – where one Middle East country, it’s widely believed, will be left holding weapons of mass destruction and it’s a point made here in a discussion on the Today programme between two formers – it was a former British foreign secretary Jack Straw and a former advisor to the Israeli prime minister Dore Gold – it’s all about Israel’s supposed nuclear weapons arsenal.”

The programme then cuts to a clip from the said programme in which Jack Straw says:

“Israel has the most extensive nuclear weapons capability”

Presenter John Humphrys then says:

“Let me put that to Dr Gold. You can’t argue with that, can you Dr Gold?”

However, that clip has in fact been manipulated by the BBC. As noted here at the time, the actual interview went like this:

Straw interview

Bizarrely, the producers of this programme apparently did not consider it necessary to inform listeners that the clip had been edited.

The discussion continues with Bennett Jones saying at 16:48: [all emphasis added]

“But – Haleh Afshar – surely the Israelis would say that they are a very small country, they are uniquely vulnerable..”

Dom Joli: “They’re still not signed up to the nuclear…err…proliferation treaty.”

OBJ: “No, but they’re uniquely vulnerable because …”

DJ: “They’re exceptional.”

OBJ: “Well because they are surrounded by countries that are very hostile and many people don’t think they should exist.”

Haleh Afshar: “But they also have a very long history of invading their neighbours and it seems to me that for them to say they won’t use their nuclear weapons is another assertion as they always said…”

OBJ: “But there’s no suggestion that they would use it for anything other than national survival?”

HA: “Well, I have no idea…they’re expansionist…”

Later on, at 19:09, listeners will hear Afshar saying:

“The difficulty is that the Israeli lobby in America is far too strong and too many presidents depend on it far too heavily.”

Listeners might be tempted to dismiss Afshar’s jaundiced remarks as the inept ramblings of someone shoe-horned into the pose of ‘Middle East expert’ on the basis of having been born (and spent a few childhood years) in that region, but one aspect of Afshar’s background – about which the BBC does not bother to inform its listeners – puts those remarks in quite another light.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that: [emphasis added]

“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 addition, the BBC’s previous ‘Key Terms’ guide stated:

“Some “experts” may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another even if they have no overt affiliation. CASMII poster

It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.

In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase “Middle East expert” implies the BBC thinks this person’s views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement – that’s fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase. 

Overall, we should seek a precise description – for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?”

In other words, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that BBC audience’s are not subjected to partisan opinions disguised as impartial expertise, but those mechanisms cannot be effective if the BBC ignores them – as it has done in this case and others

It is completely unacceptable that the BBC does not inform its audiences of the fact that Baroness Afshar has a history of activity with CASMII – the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran – which is linked to (and conducts a public relations campaign on behalf of) the Iranian regime. 

Recycled footage and messaging in BBC business reports from Israel

A filmed report for BBC television news by the BBC’s Middle East business reporter Jonathan Frewin from September 21st  was also posted on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Business pages and still appears on the former five days later. 

Frewin economy

Here is a screenshot from another report by Frewin which appeared on August 24th – spot the similarity? 

Frewin august

Not only footage is being recycled; the two reports include interviews with the same economist and the same unsourced predictions of population growth rate in the ultra-orthodox sector in Israel. 

Are BBC audiences really in need of two reports on this internal Israeli issue in less than a month? 


The Tripod: CAMERA Links in 3 Languages – September 17th -24th edition

Israel Hayom Plays Broken Telephone
Israel Hayom’s three versions of a report on Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal becomes increasingly confused. (Presspectiva) Tripod logo

What Israel has done for the Palestinians
Has Israel really done nothing for the welfare of Palestinians in the last 46 years? (Presspectiva)

BBC WS adds clarification to Doucet remarks in Peres interview
BBC corrects claim by Lyse Doucet that Israeli PM never said what it had itself reported him as saying. (BBC Watch)

BBC’s educational resource website describes Yom Kippur attack by Syria and Egypt as ‘pre-emptive’
Politically motivated distortion on the BBC’s resource website for teachers . (BBC Watch)

Perpetrator: always Israel
The Spanish-language media tends to distort information when Israel is the victim. (ReVista de Medio Oriente)

Europa Press: distorting the information
The Spanish wire agency does its best to portray Israel in the worst possible light . (ReVista de Medio Oriente)

A Holy Land Without Christians?
The population of Christians in “Israel/Palestine” has actually increased, not decreased. (ReVista de Medio Oriente)

Where’s the Coverage? Rouhani’s Own Words Prove He is No Moderate
The latest untold story. (Snapshots)