Exclusive: how a complainant convinced the BBC Trust’s ESC to uphold his appeal

As we have previously noted, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee recently upheld an appeal regarding a complaint about a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which was broadcast on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme in June 2011. 

As reported by The Times in mid-March:

“The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint which alleged that a five-minute report on Radio 4’s Today programme about the Six-Day War was misleading and biased, The Times has learnt. […]

The latest complaint relates to an item which aired on the Today programme in June 2011. The report, by Kevin Connolly, one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents, examined the legacy of the 1967 conflict between Israel and several neighbouring states.

According to the trust’s findings, which were obtained by The Times, a listener alleged that the Today report wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the war, when it had given 90 per cent of the land captured in 1967 back to Egypt. The programme also, the complainant alleged, gave a misleading impression that Israel was not willing to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.

The trust found that the Today report had been inaccurate on both points and that the complaints should be upheld.”

As previously noted here, this complaint took a shocking two and a half years to make its way through the BBC’s complaints procedure and one of the interesting features of the ESC’s report on the topic (pages 9 -23 here) is the documentation of the sudden about-turn in the BBC’s stance regarding the complaint after input from “the News Division and from the BBC correspondent [Kevin Connolly]”.

“On 3 December 2012 the complainant received an undated letter from the Head of the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit], advising him of the Unit’s provisional finding. The ECU said that by drawing attention to the original extent of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 without referring to the return of Sinai, the item may have created the impression that Israel remained vastly larger as a result of the war and that land for peace remained an untested option. It had therefore provisionally decided to uphold a breach of accuracy in this respect. [emphasis added]

Following an inquiry by the complainant in March 2013 about whether the decision had been finalised, the complainant was advised that the last letter he had received telling him of the provisional finding, had been sent to him in error; it had been intended as a draft for internal consultation.

As a result of representations from the News Division and from the BBC correspondent in response to the internal circulation of the provisional finding, the Head of the ECU had now altered his view and had decided not to uphold any aspect of the complaint. He said the point had been made to him that the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” as envisaged in those Accords. An integral part of the Accords had been a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Because the ECU was now satisfied that the return of the Sinai did not constitute “land for peace” the significance of any incorrect impression as to the extent of territory Israel had withdrawn from was much reduced and the ECU decided it would not therefore have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the Head of the ECU – who had previously been inclined to uphold the complaint – was persuaded to completely reverse his position by the specious claim of Kevin Connolly et al that Israel’s return of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt within the framework of the peace treaty between the two countries did not constitute ‘land for peace’.  Many of us might simply have given up in the face of such contorted logic, but the complainant did not. Instead, he persevered with a reply to Connolly’s claims.

“The complainant responded to the revised provisional finding on 13 April 2013 with a detailed rebuttal of the ECU’s conclusions, challenging the ECU’s interpretation of the contents of the Camp David Accords.”

Whilst that detailed rebuttal did not prompt the Head of the ECU to change his mind about rejecting the complaint, it was taken into consideration by the Editorial Standards Committee which eventually did uphold the complaint.

BBC Watch contacted the complainant, Sam Green, who kindly agreed to share with us details of his rebuttal of the claims produced by Connolly. Sam’s account below makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever waded into the BBC complaints procedure and raises serious questions about the workings of that procedure as a whole.

“The lowest point in the grinding slog of my BBC complaint was probably receiving the Editorial Complaints Unit proposed final ruling. This was the final stage within the Corporation before I appealed to the BBC Trust, the semi-detached oversight body.

It was so demoralising because, on top of the delay (I was strongly suspicious they were trying to use delay as a tactic to bury the complaint), the logic in this finding was so flawed, so tortuous, so surreal that this letter made me doubt the bona fides of the organisation. The important thing was not the journalism; it was preventing a complaint succeeding.

The second response came after they had previously said they were planning to partly uphold the complaint, and then said I’d been told that by mistake.

Here is their reasoning on why my complaint didn’t hold water:

“…the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” envisaged in those Accords, an integral part of which was a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Put simply, the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai could be regarded as an instance of “land for peace” if that outcome had been achieved, but it has not been.

…Kevin Connolly’s report was concerned with “land for peace” in the same sense – a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”

I had a problem in how I was going to respond to this; one of the tactics the BBC used was to layer on complication; the more complication they layered on the easier it was for them to say how complicated it all was and they couldn’t possibly hope to deal with all of that. I needed to focus on the internal logic of the report rather than a history of the Middle East. However I did need to engage with their argument, so I dealt with both. It was a long letter.

I started by signposting the attempt to overcomplicate in their response:

I will not be drawn into a line-by-line dissection of the Camp David Accords; it is a diversion from the question of whether your listeners heard an inaccurate and misleading report. They are for the most part not expert in the history and politics of the Middle East, and nor am I. Nor should there be any expectation that we have such specialist knowledge.

If the BBC starts from the expectation that its listeners ought to have postgraduate level knowledge of all the topics it covers it would not benefit your listernership.

I went on to differentiate between the two treaties that made up Camp David, to outline elements of the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty, summarising;

It is called a Peace Treaty. It establishes a state of peace between Egypt and Israel. It links the establishment of that peace with the exchange of territory.

I engaged with the term “land for peace” (their inverted commas) and my efforts to find out where their singular usage they claimed for the phrase had come from. It was not in the other Camp David accord; the Framework for Peace, it was not in the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty. A Google search took me to Security Council Resolution 242 which itself did not contain the phrase, was not raised in the report or previously in the complaint and did not contain a meaning claimed in the ECU provisional ruling.

I moved on to the contradictory and ever fluid meaning of ‘peace’. In the statement from the ECU there was no peace for which land had been traded because the “staged progression  to full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement” did not come to pass, and, at the same time it meant “…a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”. That’s quite an unexplained stretch for a concept. It shows just how desperate the BBC was to retrofit plausible meaning on their report.

I spent quite some words addressing this; if it was about peace with the Palestinians why talk about Syria so much?

The Camp David Accords were between Israel and Egypt. There were no other regional parties who were signatories to those accords or, as far as I understand, who accepted it.

And which parties do you mean? The states involved in the 1967 Six Day War? Syria was excluded from the Camp David accords, Jordan was not a party. And what about Iraq and the Arab League? The PLO, or Fatah, and what about Hamas? Other Arab states? Who are “all parties”? Why is there an assumption that Egypt spoke for and signed on their behalf when they explicitly rejected it?

It was at this point I mentioned the Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 which also included territorial concessions. Land as part of a peace deal.

And the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005; more complex but still relevant in terms of willingness to withdraw from conquered territory.

In terms of the extent of territory under Israeli control, the ECU had this to say;

“…the significance of such an incorrect impression is much reduced if the resulting inference that ‘land for peace remained an untested option’ is not viewed as misleading; and, on balance, I don’t think it would have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report to the extent that I would regard it as a breach of editorial standards.”

To me it seemed blindingly obvious:

a listener without specialist knowledge would naturally infer that in the absence of any statement to the contrary Israel remains triple the size (or controls territory triple its original size).

After travelling much further into the complex history of the region than I wanted to, I had moved to my real point; the importance in not losing sight of what the listener heard and the natural meaning they would associate with that.

Turning to the question of land for peace. I again suggest it is appropriate for you to rely on natural meaning… the impression your listener would have been left with by the report that went out was one of intransigence and unwillingness to trade territory for peace. An impression that required context.

…on any natural meaning, as understood by a reasonable listener, trading more than 90% of the territory captured in the context of peace treaties, for peace, constitutes land for peace; land pursuant to peace. Trying to use semantics to argue otherwise smacks of casuistry.

This made no impact on the ECU which rejected the complaint. It is only because the complaint managed to reach the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that these points (along with later submissions) were properly considered, and the Trust ruled that the report was inaccurate and misleading; that it was bad journalism.

The question now is; why didn’t Kevin Connolly understand that? Does he get it now? Does he accept it? Why didn’t the Today programme producers and Editor understand that? Why didn’t the people dealing with the initial complaint understand that and why, for all their lengthy and reflective deliberations didn’t the ECU understand that?

And what are they all going to do about it?

They haven’t said – and I think we can all have a pretty good guess at the answers to all of those questions.” 

 

 

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace”: a barrier to understanding Israel’s borders

The BBC’s July 2013 backgrounder titled “Middle East peace talks: Where they stand“, which includes details of what the BBC defines as the “core issues” of the current negotiations between Israel and the PLO, has been appended to many articles appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as a ‘related article’.

At the bottom of that webpage, under the heading “more on this story”, audiences still find links to the four highly problematic articles going under the title “Obstacles to Peace” which – despite being dated 2010 – were actually originally produced by Martin Asser in mid-2007.

We have previously discussed here three of Asser’s pieces – see ‘related articles’ below. The fourth article in the series is titled “Obstacles to Middle East peace: Borders and settlements“. Asser borders

Asser elects to completely ignore the San Remo conference and the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 which brought about the creation of the Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations. Hence, he is able to begin his flawed account in 1948.

“The modern Israeli state was forged in the fires of the first Middle East war in 1948-1949, but from the beginning it was a state without clear borders.”

The borders of the Mandate for Palestine were of course amply clear. The fact that surrounding Arab countries chose not to respect them when Britain abandoned its role as administrator of the Mandate and the State of Israel was declared is the real issue which Asser chooses to conceal. He goes on:

“Jordan and Egypt have signed treaties with Israel, turning some of the 1949 ceasefire lines into state borders. But the absence of final settlements with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians mean most of Israel’s boundaries remain potential flashpoints and the state itself is unstable.”

In fact, the border agreed upon by Israel and Jordan within the framework of the 1994 peace treaty does not run along the 1949 ceasefire lines at all, but this obvious inaccuracy has nevertheless been allowed to stand on the BBC website for seven years.

Asser continues by failing to clarify that it was the “Arab forces” who initiated the war against the nascent Jewish state:

“In 1948, when British rule of Palestine ended, Israeli forces managed to push most of the Arab forces that joined the war to the former Mandate boundaries, which became temporary ceasefire lines.

The exceptions were what we now know as the West Bank, which remained under Jordanian control, and the Gaza Strip, which was controlled by Egypt.”

By use of the word “exceptions”, Asser fails to adequately clarify to readers that the 1949 ceasefire lines agreed with Jordan were also specifically defined as temporary. He then promotes the chimera of the UN partition plan, which of course is entirely irrelevant to the issue under discussion because it has no legal standing due to the fact that it was rejected by the Arab side to the dispute.

“Thus Israel came into being on 78% of the former Palestine, rather than the 55% allocated under the UN partition plan.”

Asser then moves on to 1967 – once again failing to note why that war broke out and the fact it was Jordan’s decision to join the attack which led to the capture of Judea & Samaria.

“Fast forward to 1967, when Israel captured both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Israeli-controlled land now stretched from the Jordan Valley in the east and the Suez Canal to the west; it completely enclosed the Sea of Galilee in the north, and gave it a foothold on the Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea.” ???????????????????

Asser’s assertion that only after 1967 did the Sea of Galilee become “completely enclosed” by territory under Israeli control is inaccurate.

“The 1923 Franco-British Boundary Agreement came about after the British High Commissioner at the time, Herbert Samuel, demanded and got full control of the Sea of Galilee and the Upper Jordan River. The border was set 100 meters to the east of the Jordan River, with a ten meter-wide strip at the north-eastern side of the lake and a broader strip at its south-eastern side included in the territory of the Mandate for Palestine.” 

Asser goes on to make a gratuitous reference to Israel’s former presence in southern Lebanon, with no mention at all of the cross-border terror war waged by the PLO which brought about the first Lebanon war.

“The Sinai was exchanged for peace with Egypt in the early 1980s (at about the time Israel occupied south Lebanon, where it remained until withdrawing unilaterally in May 2000).”

Asser then turns his attention to communities in Judea & Samaria, including the usual incomplete BBC representation of their legal status which – in breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality – fails to inform readers of the existence of conflicting opinions regarding the claim that “settlements are illegal under international law”.

“The settlements are illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this and has pressed ahead with its activity despite signing various agreements to curb settlement growth.”

Which “agreements” those are supposed to be is unclear, but Asser certainly makes no attempt to clarify to readers that the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – do not include any restrictions on Israeli building in Area C. Neglecting to mention Hebron’s historic Jewish ties as well as its status under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Asser then goes on to claim that:

“The first settlers were religious Jews who remained in Hebron after celebrating Passover there in 1968.”

In fact, Mehola in the Jordan Rift Valley was established in 1967, and Kfar Etzion was reestablished in Gush Etzion in the same year. Ignoring the fact that at least a third of Israeli residents of Judea & Samaria do not identify as religiously observant, Asser presents a cherry picked portion of scripture as though it were the basis for contemporary Israeli policy:

“The settlement movement has become closely affiliated to Jewish religious nationalism, which claims boundaries of modern Israel based on Genesis 15:18: “God made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates’.” “

That leads on to a blatantly political presentation of a ‘timeline’ which completely ignores the terrorism of the post-Oslo years and the second Intifada.

“On both political and religious grounds, therefore, it has been extremely sensitive for Israeli politicians to dabble in land-for-peace negotiations.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pushed for a two-state solution in the 1990s, and was made to pay for it with a Jewish nationalist assassin’s bullet.

Successors Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled out of south Lebanon and Gaza, respectively – both of which moves were followed by a resurgence of violent confrontation in subsequent years, discrediting that approach.

Benjamin Netanyahu managed to put the brakes on Rabin’s historic drive for a two-state solution in the 1990s and has been in no rush to get to the negotiating table during his second term.”

Asser’s piece ends with outlines of various ‘solutions’ to the issue where he makes a reference to some mysterious “further territorial compromises” on the part of representatives of the Palestinian people who, in their various line-ups over the years, have refused the partition plan, refused to make peace after the Six Day War, scuppered the Oslo Accords and failed to respond to Olmert’s peace proposals.

“Further territorial compromises (having already been squeezed into 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) could also be a bitter pill for the Palestinian faction that favours a two-state solution, the Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Although he does note that Hamas is opposed to any negotiated end to the conflict, Asser eliminates Hamas’ terrorism from the picture entirely and fails to clarify its opposition to the Saudi Arabian initiative which he mentions, or the fact that Hamas is not alone in its opposition to Israel’s existence. He ends up by suggesting that Israel is to blame even for Hamas’ stance:

“In the long term, therefore, Israel’s reluctance to accept the existing Green Line in some ways plays into the hands of militant Islamist groups such as Hamas.”

Asser’s article also includes a side box in which, inter alia, it is stated that:

“Settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank”

With even the PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat having stated that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria take up 1.1% of the land, one might wonder where the BBC sourced that bizarre 40% figure. One possibility is a report put out by the highly politicised UN OCHA in the same year that Asser wrote this article which states in its introduction that:

“The analysis shows that almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure.”

Later on readers learn that nature reserves and military training areas also count as “infrastructure” for UN OCHA.

“More than 38% of the West Bank now consists of settlements, outposts, military bases and closed military areas, Israeli declared nature reserves or other related infrastructure that are off-limits or tightly controlled to Palestinians.”

The BBC’s claim that “settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank” is therefore obviously both inaccurate and misleading.

In light of the fact that the current round of negotiations has – like its predecessors – so far failed to break new ground, it is all the more regrettable that the BBC continues to promote this partisan and misleading article by Martin Asser from which attacks on Israel by neighbouring countries and ideologically driven terrorism are completely erased. Like the rest of the outdated “Obstacles to Peace” series, this item fails to provide BBC audiences with the sort of accurate and impartial information they need if they are to be able to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues“.

Related Articles:

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 1

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” erases pre-1967 Jewish history in Jerusalem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-peace BDS campaigner on judging panel of BBC Arabic competition

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page in recent days may have noticed that its ‘Features & Analysis’ section currently includes promotion of a film festival organised by BBC Arabic in partnership with the British Council.

Film fest on hp

 

Film fest main

 

According to the information provided:

“Aan Korb is a new film and documentary festival in London, presented by BBC Arabic in partnership with the British Council.

The festival will screen the very best work across feature and short films, documentaries and investigative and citizen journalism, that has been created about the Arab world since the start of the uprisings in December 2010.

Taking place in the fantastic surroundings of the iconic Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House, the festival will be packed for four days with screenings, talks, debates and workshops.”

There is of course nothing novel about collaboration between the BBC and the British Council. In fact, we recently noted here some of the joint projects carried out in the Middle East by those two organisations (both of which receive part of their funding from the UK taxpayer via the government) and the disturbing fact some of the partnership groups with which they work are associated directly or indirectly with the anti-peace movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).

One of the British Council-supported projects which openly promotes the anti-peace BDS movement is the ‘Palestine Festival of Literature’ – or PalFest as it is better known. Writing about the 2012 PalFest in the Guardian, Alison Flood noted that:

“Supported by organisations including Arts Council England and the British Council, with patrons including Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney and Philip Pullman, it endorses the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and states as its mission the reinvigoration of “cultural ties between Arab countries, ties that have been eroded for too long”. [Ahdaf] Soueif is its founding chair.” [emphasis added]

Readers can find out more about the birth of ‘PalFest’ and its “founding chair” and Palestine Solidarity Campaign patron Ahdaf Soueif here. Ms Soueif is also named as one of the judges for this latest BBC Arabic/British Council film festival.

Soueif film fest

The British Council has claimed to oppose the BDS movement’s efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel.  

 “The British Council is firmly opposed to an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Academic boycotts are bad in principle, and would be bad in this specific case… dialogue is unlikely to be sustained without exchange between academics and academic institutions…”   

Past and present British governments have repeatedly claimed that they do not support the anti-two state solution BDS movement – for example in 2009:

 “The British government is opposed to any kind of boycott of Israel.”

In 2014:

“…the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated: “The UK Government does not support the BDS movement,” and “we have been very clear that the boycotts movement is not productive… it could be deeply corrosive.” “

And just this month, British PM David Cameron stated:

“And to those who do not share my ambition who want to boycott Israel I have a clear message. Britain opposes boycotts. Whether it’s trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.”

Such analgesic rhetoric however takes on the sinister complexion of doublespeak when UK government-funded bodies such as BBC Arabic and the British Council engage the services of a prominent anti-peace BDS campaigner such as Ahdaf Soueif. 

 

 

 

 

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee findings published on March 25th include details of its rejection of the presentation of an appeal concerning the June 14th 2013 edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. 

Readers can remind themselves of that interview on the subject of Iran with Jack Straw and Dore Gold here. During the interview Jack Straw said:

“It [Israel] has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians…”

That assertion was not challenged or corrected by the programme’s presenter John Humphrys.

The ESC’s decision can be read on pages 104 to 111 here.

One of the more interesting aspect of that decision is the fact that the BBC’s rejection of the complaint at earlier stages and the decision not to bring the complaint to appeal is based in no small part upon the claim that Dr Dore Gold did not challenge Jack Straw’s gratuitous slur.

“He [the Complaints Director] considered [….] that Dr Gold had a reasonable opportunity to respond to the comments that had been made.”

“She [the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser] also noted that Dr Gold had chosen not to respond to Jack Straw’s comment about land theft. She considered that overall, Trustees would be likely to conclude that Dr Gold had been given an appropriate amount of time to make the points that he wished to make.”

“However, the Committee believed that Dr Dore [sic] had made it clear, in his responses, that he did not wish to discuss Israel’s policies, although he was given opportunities to do so.”

That of course seems to suggest that according to the BBC’s perception, an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation is not only responsible for refuting any and every falsehood which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, but his or her very presence absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify slurs which may mislead audiences. 

 

BBC’s Knell amplifies PA narrative, mainstreams BDS on late-night BBC Radio 5

On March 27th BBC Radio 5 live’s late night show ‘Up All Night’ featured an item with the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell. The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins from around 37:15. Up All Night

Presenter Rhod Sharp introduces the item:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry interrupted his trip to Europe on Wednesday to rush to Israel. He wanted to urge the Palestinians and Israelis to extend their peace talks which seem to be faltering maid fears that Israel may scrap plans to free a final batch of Palestinian prisoners. With more on this, I’ve been speaking to Yolande Knell on the West Bank.”

Kerry of course flew to Amman in Jordan – not to Israel.

Yolande Knell opens:

“He broke away from this trip – President Obama’s talks in Europe on the crisis in the Ukraine. I think the fact he’s done this just underscores the seriousness of the threat to the peace talks that he sees. Ahm…the peace talks of course going on between Israel and the Palestinians – a process in which he has invested so much energy already – and so what he did, he broke away…ahm…and came to Amman just yesterday and he is supposed to have had talks last night – after having a meeting with the King of Jordan – with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We were told he was going to have a working dinner with him and he was supposed to speak to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by video conference or by phone as well.

And what US officials say is that his aim is to narrow the gaps in peace talks but really, if you speak to either side, they’ll say there’s been little real progress on the core issues but what’s thrown these talks into crisis right now…ahm…because they’re supposed to go on until the end of April – that was…when the US managed to broker a return to the negotiating table last year. But now we have the scheduled release of the fourth and final batch of more than a hundred Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails scheduled for this weekend. It was part of a deal that Israel struck with the Palestinians to get the peace talks restarted and what the Palestinians agreed was in return they wouldn’t take action against Israel at the UN…ahm… through the UN bodies to which they got access after their status was upgraded. And so…ah…really now Israel is saying it doesn’t want to go ahead with this prisoner release at the moment. There’s been talk of how the Palestinians should…ah…reach a framework agreement. We understand that the Americans are supposed to be putting a framework agreement to both sides before this happens. Ahm…and the Palestinians saying that if the prisoner release doesn’t happen as scheduled then they will perhaps go to the UN, take other means and the talks could very well fall apart.”

Knell makes no effort to inform listeners that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to progress in the talks – which she admits has not been forthcoming. Neither of course does she bother to mention the incitement and glorification of terrorism which was seen during the Palestinian Authority organised celebrations of the three previous tranches or the cash hand-outs awarded to the released terrorists.

Sharp then asks:

RS: “Well but why would Israel not release the prisoners as scheduled?”

YK: “Well, these prisoner releases have been particularly divisive – in fact for both sides. What you’re talking about here is long-term Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of them have been convicted of serious offences like murdering Israelis so Israelis see them as convicted terrorists. On the Palestinian side, these are people who have sacrificed their lives in some way, with the long prison sentences that they’ve been through, for the nationalist cause.”

Knell’s promotion of the notion of terrorists convicted in a court of law as ‘heroes’ is of course not new: such portrayal was a hallmark of her reporting of previous prisoner releases and is part and parcel of the BBC’s policy of presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism – in some parts of the world.

She goes on:

“So already you have something which is a very emotive topic and then we’ve had Israeli families objecting to these releases – they’ve been staging protests – and what we’ve seen with all of the previous batches is that…ahm…those opposed within the Israeli coalition government, these have helped push through settlement announcements…ahm…which have threatened to undermine the peace talks repeatedly each time there has been a prisoner release. Ahm…and then you’ve got different people speaking out – different politicians – the deputy defence minister Danny Danon – a member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party – threatening to resign if this prisoner release went ahead.”

In other words, audiences are herded towards the view that Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism does not “undermine the peace talks”, whereas Israeli building tenders most certainly do. Notably too, Knell completely neglects to inform listeners of the PA’s demand that in this particular tranche, Israel release convicted terrorists who are not residents of Palestinian controlled areas, but Israeli citizens.

Knell continues:

“Another thing that the Israelis seem to be worried about is they want assurances that Mr Abbas won’t walk away from the peace talks straight after this prisoner release because – as I say – if you speak to the Palestinians they’ll say that there has been no progress on the core issues on Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees, settlements and borders; the things that they want to talk about. They say that Israel has side-tracked the talks talking about the Jordan Valley….ahm….the Palestinians say they won’t give up control of their eastern border of the West Bank and Israel’s saying they want to keep a military presence there for security reasons.”

Beyond the fact that Knell has invented a Palestinian “eastern border” which does not exist, clearly her presentation of discussions on the subject of the Jordan Valley – in other words a discussion about borders – as having “side-tracked” the talks is an obvious and partial promotion of the PA’s narrative.  She goes on:

“And then there’s this other issue which has been so thorny as well, about recognising Israel as a Jewish state – that’s another one of Israel’s demands.”

The Israeli demand is of course for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – not a Jewish state and as has been the case in all previous BBC coverage of this topic, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform audiences of the reasons for Israel’s demand and its significance as regards an end to future claims and hence its role in bringing about an end to the conflict. Sharp then says:

RS: “Let’s turn to the Arab League. Ah…here’s a thought: the Arab League of course has seemed a bit more modern in recent times but Arab leaders did what they’ve been quite used to doing in the past.”

Knell’s reply includes further promotion of the PA narrative through – inter alia – use of the offensive term “Judaisation of Jerusalem” and the depiction of Arab Israelis as “1948 Palestinians”.

YK: “Well, actually it all relates back to this Jewish state issue and it was one of the few points that the Arab leaders could all agree on after this two-day annual summit that’s just taken place in Kuwait. And the statement they ended with has actually strengthened Mr Abbas’ hand I think in many ways and made Mr Kerry’s job potentially more difficult because they came out with a statement saying that they totally rejected…ahm…. the call to consider Israel a Jewish state and then they also talked about other things like Jewish settlements, the Judaisation of Jerusalem – these kind of things. Ahm…they’d heard from President Abbas at the beginning of the summit when he said that Palestinians reject even discussing this issue of a Jewish state because for them it’s all caught up with the fate of Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes, who fled in 1948 when Israel became a state. Ahm….and also it’s about the rights of Arab Israelis – the 20% of the population of Israel who are these 1948 Palestinians as they’re also known – what of their rights if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state? So it is a very complicated subject and that’s one that the Arab League countries – 22 of them – seem to have united on in terms of backing President Abbas and his stance.”

Knell makes no effort to explain to listeners that Palestinian refugees were not for the most part “forced out of their homes” but in many cases were urged to leave by the five Arab armies which instigated a war Knell does not apparently find it necessary to even mention. She neglects to inform audiences that PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state in no way presents any kind of threat to the rights of Arab Israelis and she fails to make clear the ‘end game’ of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ of refugees.

After Knell speaks about other Arab League related issues, Sharp says:

“Let’s turn away from politics. Well we think we’re turning away from politics to the world of entertainment but it seems that they have got awfully mixed up here. Why are the Rolling Stones in trouble?”

YK: “Well, they’re not in trouble with everybody. Certainly the Israelis are delighted with them at the moment because this week the Rolling Stones were officially booked basically to perform their first ever concert in Israel. It’s gonna be on the 4th of June we’re told in Tel Aviv and later today the tickets are expected to go on sale online and big prices: well over a hundred British pounds up to about 500 British pounds I’m told. Ahm…but yes there have been all sorts of puns in the Israeli press. After months – even years- of speculation, Israelis can finally get some satisfaction it said in the Jerusalem Post. But the people who are outraged are the Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinians because of course there is this call for a cultural boycott of Israel and protest at the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel with the occupation being seen as illegal under international law.”

Besides erroneously presenting the BDS movement as “supporters of the Palestinians” rather than a politically motivated campaign to delegitimise and dismantle Israel, Knell mainstreams the so-called “cultural boycott”, promotes the partisan narrative of “Palestinian land” and fails to inform listeners of the existence of alternative views regarding “international law”, in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

Not for the first time by any means we see Yolande Knell acting as a mouthpiece for unadulterated amplification of the PA narrative in this radio interview. The type of terminology she chooses to use, her presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism and her mainstreaming of BDS are part and parcel of the promotion of that narrative.

Notably too, this interview joins numerous other BBC reports in failing to even try to clarify to BBC audiences the rationale behind the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and why the issue of that Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition is crucial to the success of any agreement.

With the negotiations having reached such a critical point, it is vital that the BBC adhere to its public purposes and begin clarifying that issue to audiences.  

Related Articles:

BBC already setting the scene for ME talks collapse

BBC audiences are not being updated on ME talks

BBC continues to self-censor on the issue of PA recognition of Israel

Accuracy and impartiality issues in BBC report on Abbas White House visit

BBC’s Knell promotes already debunked claims in ‘Jewish state’ article

 

More on the uselessness of BBC complaints response targets

The same BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee report referred to in this recent post also includes the ESC’s findings regarding complaints made concerning another edition of the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme which was broadcast on November 7th 2012 – see details of that programme here.

The appeal was not upheld (see pages 24 – 29 here).  Among several interesting aspects of the committee’s decision is that fact that it seems to embrace a quaint belief that if something has been written or said by a journalist – any journalist – it must be true.

“The Committee considered that the range of submissions from the BBC demonstrated that the World Affairs Editor’s analysis was broadly representative of the media coverage at the time…”

In its findings regarding the two and a half year-long complaint concerning the ‘Today’ programme’s June 10th 2011 edition which appears before this one in the ESC report, it was noted that the stage 1A reply took over six times the acceptable defined time to reach the complainant than designated by the BBC. target

“the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.” [emphasis added]

One of the people who made a complaint about the ‘Today’ programme’s  November 7th 2012 edition has informed us that:

“I made my complaint at Stage 1A on 9th November 2012 and got my first response (despite numerous phone calls and emails in the meanwhile, which were recorded and given their own BBC Complaints reference numbers) on 24th May 2013.”

In other words, the 10 day target was in that case exceeded by an incredible 186 days.

And yet the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee is not persuaded of “any shortcoming in the procedure itself“.

 

BBC already setting the scene for ME talks collapse

On March 26th an article titled “Kerry flies to Jordan for Abbas talks as deadline looms” appeared on the Middle East and US & Canada pages of the BBC News website. Kerry Amman art

The article states:

“A dispute over the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails threatens to derail his [Kerry’s] plan to continue talks beyond 29 April.

Mr Abbas has insisted that they must be freed by the end of this month, in keeping with a promise made by Israel before direct negotiations resumed last summer following a three-year hiatus.”

The BBC fails to inform readers that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to the talks’ progress – of which there has been little to date – as explained by the Israeli prime minister to his electorate last July.

“I believe that it is important for the State of Israel to enter a diplomatic process that will continue for at least nine months – in order to check if it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians during this time.

But even with all of the importance that I ascribe to the diplomatic process, I was not prepared to accept the Palestinians’ demands for withdrawals and freezes as preconditions for entering negotiations.

Neither was I prepared to accept their demand to release Palestinian prisoners before the start of negotiations. I did agree to release 104 Palestinians in stages after the start of the negotiations and in accordance with the circumstances of their progress.” [emphasis added]

The report goes on to say:

“The Palestinians have also said the 26 prisoners should include 14 Arab-Israelis, but the Israelis have insisted they made no such commitment.”

The BBC fails to inform audiences that the subject of which prisoners are to be released and when is decided by a committee of Israeli ministers – not by the Palestinian Authority.

“The vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of renewed peace talks was delayed for several hours on Sunday morning as Netanyahu sought to secure enough support for the move, in the face of internal pressure from within his own Likud party.

In an attempt to neutralize the strong opposition within his party, Netanyahu made a distinction between Israeli Arab prisoners and other prisoners, saying a decision to release the former would be made separately and brought to an additional vote. […]

The prime minister also said that a committee to be made up of himself, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet head, will be established to determine which prisoners will released, and when.”

Of course no attempt is made by the BBC to point out to audiences the absurdity of the discordant assumption by the Palestinian Authority that it can demand the release of murderers who are citizens of the state in which they are imprisoned due to their having killed citizens of the same state.

Neither does this article bother to inform readers with regard to the likelihood of the PA’s agreeing to extend the talks after April 29th: a point which is particularly relevant given that the PLO’s chief negotiator made it very clear during an interview with the BBC just last month that the chances of that are exceedingly slim.  

The report ends:

“Arab League leaders attending a summit in Kuwait on Tuesday expressed their “total rejection” of Israel’s call to be recognised as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians recognise the State of Israel, but say recognising its Jewish character would have implications for refugees and Israeli-Arabs.”

Once again, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform BBC audiences of the significance of Israel’s demand that the PA recognize Israel as the Jewish state as far as ending any future claims – and therefore the conflict – is concerned.

There is of course a distinct possibility that this round of talks will become unsustainable in the coming days or weeks. Whether the BBC will choose to ‘contextualise’ that through promotion of the notion that Israel did not meet its agreements regarding prisoner releases or whether it will be the demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or some other Israeli action which will be blamed for the collapse is as yet unclear.

What is obvious, however, is that the scene is already being set by means of articles such as this one which fail to provide audiences with accurate and comprehensive information and instead simply opt to amplify the narrative of the Palestinian Authority and its Arab League mentor.

Related Articles:

BBC audiences are not being updated on ME talks

Accuracy and impartiality issues in BBC report on Abbas White House visit

Why has the BBC stopped reporting on the Israel-PLO peace talks?

 

 

 

BBC’s Abualouf promotes Hamas “fishermen” PR line

Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC Gaza office’s Rushdi Abualouf on March 26th.

Tweet Abualouf fishermen

However, beyond the unqualified amplification of a statement made by a Hamas spokesman, Abualouf’s Twitter followers were not informed of the actual facts behind this story.

“Israeli naval troops in the Mediterranean Sea opened fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning on suspected Palestinian smugglers travelling in two boats from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians said that four people on the boats had been wounded. […]

The incident occurred at around 3 am, several hundred meters from the Gaza coastline.  

Soldiers from a nearby naval base were patrolling the area when they noticed two small boats making their way back from the Sinai coast to southern Gaza. The IDF is still unclear as to what the boats were carrying, but the secondary explosions have raised suspicions that the two vessels were carrying weapons.”

During the incident, the naval forces also came under fire from gunmen situated near Rafah:

“As the Navy was escorting the boats in question back to the Gaza shore, gunmen on the coast opened fire on the Israeli forces.”

Another similar incident took place later on the same day.

As has previously been documented here:

“Under the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – Gaza’s coastal waters remained under Israeli responsibility. The agreements divide those waters into three different zones named K,L and M.

“Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, Zones K and M will be closed areas, in which navigation will be restricted to activity of the Israel Navy.”

Zone L was designated for “fishing, recreation and economic activities”, subject to specific provisions, including the following:

“As part of Israel’s responsibilities for safety and security within the three Maritime Activity Zones, Israel Navy vessels may sail throughout these zones, as necessary and without limitations, and may take any measures necessary against vessels suspected of being used for terrorist activities or for smuggling arms, ammunition, drugs, goods, or for any other illegal activity. The Palestinian Police will be notified of such actions, and the ensuing procedures will be coordinated through the MC.” [Emphasis added]

Following the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the November 15th 2005 agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Agreed documents on movement and access from and to Gaza) made no change to the above provisions.” 

In other words, Israeli counter-smuggling measures along the Gaza Strip coast are within the terms of an agreement signed with the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian people – the Palestinian Authority.

Rather than being mere “fishing boats” as reported by Hamas and the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, the vessels involved in this incident appear to have been engaged in smuggling – likely as an alternative to smuggling via the cross-border tunnels in Rafah which have been rendered inoperative by the Egyptian army in recent months.

Given that the closure of those smuggling tunnels has resulted in financial crisis for Hamas with, by its own admission, 40% of its revenue (other observers put the figure much higher) previously having come from taxes imposed on goods smuggled through those tunnels, it would hardly be unexpected to see the development of an alternative sea route. It would also not be surprising to see a Hamas spokesman promoting the public relations line of smugglers caught in the act as innocent “fishermen” for Western consumption.

It should, however, be unacceptable for a BBC employee to unquestioningly amplify the PR of a terrorist organization with a vested interest in smuggling operations involving both taxable goods and weapons.

 

 

 

Two and a half years a BBC complainant

Earlier this month we noted a Times report on the subject of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s upholding of a complaint against an edition of the ‘Today’ programme broadcast on June 10th 2011. 

The BBC Trust has now published its findings and they can be read on pages 9 – 23 here.

Beyond the substance of the complaint itself, the ESC also relates to the fact that it took a shocking two and a half years for the complaint to be resolved and documents the serial failures of the BBC’s complaints mechanism to adhere to its own standards. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the detailed timeline of how the complaint had been handled which had been compiled by the Editorial Adviser. It noted in particular the following points:

*the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.

*the Stage 1B response was not forthcoming until the complainant wrote to the Director of News to inquire why he had not received a reply to his letter.

* the Stage 1B response from Audience Services was received approximately 250 working days after the complainant’s submission (the target is 20-35 working days).

*the ECU sent an undated provisional finding to the complainant approximately 60 working days after he asked the ECU to investigate. This was about 20 working days later than he had been advised he could expect to receive a response (it later transpired that the finding was sent in error and had been intended for circulation internally; that provisional decision to uphold his complaint was subsequently reversed).

*three months later, on 5 March 2013, having received no further notification, the complainant wrote to the ECU to inquire about the final outcome of his complaint.

The Head of the ECU responded promptly stating that something had “gone badly amiss” with the handling of the complaint and he would respond fully within a week.

*on 19 March 2013 the Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant saying he should not have received the undated provisional finding he was sent in late 2012:

“What seems to have happened is that a draft of my provisional finding which was intended for internal consultation was sent to you in error. I should explain that the procedure, when we’re minded to uphold any aspect of a complaint, is to allow a period for the BBC Division responsible for the item complained of to make any representations, and I put the proposed finding to the Division – in this instance, News – in the form of a draft letter to the complainant. The reason for this part of the complaints procedure is that the programme-makers and their editorial management don’t have right of appeal to the BBC Trust, whereas complainants do. The consultation period is therefore their last opportunity to correct any errors on our part, or to make a case for altering the finding.”

*the Head of the ECU said that he had received representations from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and from the BBC correspondent which had caused him to change his initial view that the item had been misleading in one respect. He was now not intending to uphold the complaint.

*this substantive Stage 2 finding was issued six months after the complainant had first written to the ECU and almost two years after he had initially lodged the complaint.

* the complainant challenged the finding within the time scale he had been provided. He heard nothing, and five months later on 17 September 2013 he wrote to the ECU inquiring what had happened.

The Head of the ECU responded on 20 September 2013:

“I must apologise profusely for my long silence. An office move in July caused some disruption, and it appears that our correspondence was one of the casualties of it. I have now retrieved the papers, and am reviewing the issues and arguments afresh. I shall aim to give you a definitive ruling by the end of the month, though if circumstances arise in which further consultation with News management is required, it may take me a little longer. In that event, I shall write again to let you know the likely extent of the delay.”  

The Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant on 15 October 2013 advising that he remained of the view that the complaint should not be upheld. He again apologised for the delays which had beset the process.

The Committee noted the reasons given by Audience Services for the Stage 1 delays and by the ECU for the delays and mismanagement at Stage 2 appear to have been the result of an unfortunate series of human errors. The Committee noted the complainant had received an apology from Audience Services. The Head of the ECU had acknowledged the chapter of accidents were inexcusable and that it was an extremely poor example of complaints handling. complaints

The Committee noted this aspect of the complaint related to 19.4 of the Editorial Guidelines which requires the BBC to observe the complaints framework, including the stipulated timelines.

The Committee noted that the relevant test related to the following clause from section 19.4.2  of the Accountability guideline:

 “Complaints should be responded to in a timely manner”

The Committee said the delays at Stages 1 and 2 and the inadvertent dispatch of the provisional finding to the complainant ahead of its circulation internally were deeply regrettable. The Committee added its apology to those already made to the complainant and recorded its dismay that a complaint could be so seriously and repeatedly mishandled.

The Committee noted the complainant’s query in his submission for this appeal as to whether it was routine that complaints were treated in this way and whether in effect the procedure was fit for purpose. The Committee advised that the errors in complaint handling on this occasion were in its view unprecedented, that the complaints procedure outlines clearly how the BBC is required to deal with complaints, along with the required time scale and that this had made it possible for the BBC Trust to speedily and transparently adjudicate on the allegation. The Committee was satisfied that the problems which had beset this complaint at each stage were not the result of any shortcoming in the procedure itself.”

Ah – so that’s alright then.

Of course the many other members of the BBC’s funding public who have written to BBC Watch to inform us of unexplained delays to replies to complaints they have made – and in some cases the complete absence of any response whatsoever – might be somewhat disconcerted by the glaring complacency which enabled that final line to be written. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrorism, double standards and the BBC

In the BBC’s reporting on the three rounds of prisoner releases to date, audiences have been told relatively little about the acts of terrorism committed by those prisoners and even less about the way in which Israeli society in general views the release of convicted terrorists or the effects of those releases on the families of the victims.

When attempts have been made to touch on such issues, the result has often been the herding of audiences towards a viewpoint based on a supposed moral equivalence between terrorist and victim which is framed in terms of competing political narratives made all the more opaque by the fact that the BBC of course refuses to use the word ‘terrorist’ to describe people who have been convicted in a court of law of the politically motivated murder of Israeli citizens.

Earlier in the week we noted the fact that BBC Arabic producer Michael Shuval had sent a Tweet which included a photograph of the mother of an Arab-Israeli prisoner convicted of the murder of nineteen year-old off-duty soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Tweet Shuval Walid Daka

 

Two days later, on March 25th, Shuval also sent the Tweet below, which includes a photograph of Moshe Tamam’s mother, Galia.

Michael Shuval Tweet Galia Tamam

So, one might say, both sides of a story have now been presented in an equal and balanced manner. But before we reach that conclusion there is one point for consideration which cannot be overlooked.

Twenty-nine years after Moshe Tamam’s murder, another young off-duty soldier was brutally murdered by terrorists. It can however be reasonably assumed that editorial judgement at least would preclude BBC journalists’ promotion of empathic photographs of the weeping mothers of the imprisoned murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby on social media. That story has not and would not be presented by the BBC to its audiences as one of morally equivalent narratives, the essence of which can be captured in two similar images of the mothers of murderer and victim.

And that of course leads to the question of why the same considerations and standards do not apply outside the BBC’s domestic patch.