Breaches of editorial guidelines in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special Sharon broadcast

Just one hour after the official announcement of Ariel Sharon’s death on January 11th, the BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’ programme went on air with an edition titled “Ariel Sharon dies” presented by Lyse Doucet which can be heard here.

Newshour 11 1 14

The programme opens with an item by BBC World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge in which the second Intifada myth is once again promoted.

“It was as Likud leader in opposition in September 2000 that he paid a visit that was to go down in history, like other actions of his. Ariel Sharon simply going to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem – a site also holy to Jews – turned out to be one of the sparks for the second Palestinian uprising or Intifada.”

Wooldridge even includes in his account a recording of former Arafat advisor Ahmad Tibi deliberately misrepresenting geography:

“He [Sharon] came here in order to burn up the area. Al Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic place. Al Aqsa is in the Palestinian territory.”

The editorial decisions behind the presentation of the various interviewees in this programme of course remain a mystery, but the very first person to be interviewed by Doucet is Mustafa Barghouti who is presented as a “prominent Palestinian politician”, with of course no mention of hisanti-Israel activism. Barghouti opens: 

“Well of course there is no gloating in death – nobody should celebrate any death – but unfortunately I have to say that Mr Sharon left no good memories with Palestinians. Eh..he was responsible for the terrible invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He was personally accused even by Israeli courts for responsibility for the massacre in Sabra and Shatila which took the lives of thousands of Palestinians. He himself provoked the Intifada – the second Intifada – when he visited Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, killing practically the Oslo process and then he engaged in a unilateral redeployment in Gaza, refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian side. And the worst thing – the worst memories I have in this period was when they invaded us again in an act of invasion that destroyed our houses, killed hundreds of Palestinians and practically re-established occupation again of the West Bank. And he is accused also of the assassination of President Arafat, so all in all unfortunately he had a path of war and aggression and a great failure in making peace with the Palestinian people.”

If one is expecting Lyse Doucet to jump in at this point and clarify to her millions of listeners that the Lebanon war began in response to Palestinian terrorism and that the Kahan Commission was not a court but a commission of inquiry and that it found that Sharon bore indirect responsibility for the massacre by Lebanese Christian Arabs of Palestinian Arabs, then one will be sorely disappointed.  Likewise, Doucet makes no effort to explain that the second Intifada was pre-planned long before Sharon set foot on Temple Mount , that Operation Defensive Shield was brought about by unprecedented Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians or that two recent reports have shown that Arafat died of natural causes. Instead, Doucet allows Barghouti free rein to continue his tirade of falsehoods by asking him if – had he not been taken ill – Sharon would also have withdrawn from the PA controlled territories in Judea & Samaria. Barghouti replies:

“I doubt that totally because there are big differences between West Bank and Gaza. Actually what he did in Gaza helped destroy the Palestinian internal unity because he really did not withdraw from Gaza. He did not end the occupation of Gaza. All he did is redeployment and establishment of a new form of occupation where Gaza is besieged by air, by land and by sea. And his main goal was to separate the West Bank from Gaza and thus by getting rid of 1.3% of the land he could keep the rest of the land and this way he could get rid of one third of the demographic formula.”

No comment is made by Doucet regarding Barghouti’s use of that figure of 1.3%, even though it reveals the true nature of his agenda seeing as the Gaza Strip comprises 1.3% of the land which was under British administration at the time of the Mandate. Neither does the frankly comic notion that Sharon destroyed “Palestinian internal unity” raise any reaction from Doucet and she offers no clarification of the fact that the partial blockade on the Gaza Strip came as a direct response to Palestinian terrorism.  Barghouti goes on:

“The other issue of course which will remain for history to decide, is whether one day he will be judged also in the court of justice for crimes against humanity, especially what happened in terms of the invasions and also in Sabra and Shatila – these were his orders.”

In spite of the fact that Barghouti has just claimed that the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila was carried out upon the “orders” of Sharon, Doucet makes no attempt to inform listeners of the false nature of that claim, instead closing with “thank you for joining us from Ramallah”. To make matters worse, parts of Barghouti’s uninterrupted monologue of lies and defamation are later rebroadcast twice in the programme.

Doucet’s other interviewees include two Israelis (Zalman Shuval and David Horowitz ), three additional BBC correspondents (Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Bowen and Karim Gohary of the BBC Arabic Service), former US negotiator Dennis Ross and Palestinian journalist Ghassan Khatib. 

Karim Gohary is brought in at around 27:37 to inform listeners of the reaction to Sharon’s death in the Arab world. His contribution is seasoned with terms such as “war crimes” and “criminal court” as well as what are clearly his own interpretations of events, which also go unchallenged by Doucet.

“..in addition to what I’ve already spoken about, the starting of the second Intifada – actually going to the Al Aqsa Mosque, unannounced as well – it has a lot of meaning for many Arabs…”

In fact, Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount (he did not enter either of the mosques) was pre-coordinated with Jibril Rajoub of the PA security forces, so it can hardly be described as “unannounced”.  Of course the “meaning” of that event might perhaps be a little different were it reported accurately by the media – including the BBC – both over the past thirteen years and at the present time.

Doucet’s final guest is Ghassan Khatib who, when asked by Doucet for his “thoughts today”, says:

“Well, I thought that we only have negative and bad memories of Sharon. I think the consensus among Palestinians is that Sharon needed to be treated as a war criminal more than anything else. In all his political life he was a leading figure in the Israeli political camp that worked by all possible means, legal and illegal, in order to maintain the illegal control of Israel over the Palestinians and the Palestinian territories in West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He was responsible for massacres. He pulled out of – from – Gaza in order to consolidate the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and he did it in a way that contributed to marginalising the peace camp in Palestine and he did it in a way that played to the hand of the opposition of the peace process in the Palestinian territories. There’s a consensus among Palestinians that he is the worst ever leader in Israel from prospective [the perspective] of Palestinians. Palestinians – I think most Palestinians, all Palestinians, would like to see him and his memory resting in the [unintelligible] history, worst possible place in history.”

Neither Khatib nor Doucet of course bother to inform listeners that Sharon’s successor Ehud Olmert, who became acting prime minister when Sharon was taken ill in January 2006 – less than five months after the Gaza disengagement – and then was elected (having run on a platform of withdrawal from Judea & Samaria) to continue the post in April 2006, offered Mahmoud Abbas a peace plan which demonstrates just how disingenuous claims of ‘consolidation’ of Israel’s presence there – as promoted by Khatib – actually are.  

BBC editorial guidelines do not apply merely to content spoken or written by BBC employees. Hence, an interviewer has the responsibility to ensure that when interviewees make grossly misleading or defamatory statements, they are countered with facts. 

“As it is not possible to guarantee the compliance of live programmes in advance of transmission we should take special care to minimise the risks involved such as inadvertently causing harm or offence, giving undue prominence to products, organisations or services or creating legal problems. This applies to anyone appearing live on air or online including our contributors, our own presenters, journalists and reporters, commentators and analysts, and even the live audience. The risks of live broadcasting may include:

 the inappropriate use of strong language;

the inadvertent inclusion of strong language in song lyrics (both English and foreign language versions), film clips, poetry readings, extracts from literature and so on;

issues of portrayal including racism and national stereotyping;

broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments;

failure to achieve impartiality;

misleading of audiences;

detailed and inappropriate identification of child contributors;

undue prominence of a product, for example, a film, book or sponsors logo;

unexpected and potentially inappropriate coverage of injuries and loss of life in national or international emergencies;

inappropriately graphic or insensitive coverage of sporting fatalities or severe injuries;

failure to alert viewers who may have photosensitive epilepsy to the inclusion of editorially justified flashing images or strobing.

[emphasis added]   […]

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. “

In this broadcast Doucet and her producers were not even going through the motions of pretending to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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