On September 9th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel ‘coercing Eritreans and Sudanese to leave’” on its Middle East page and the main thing BBC audiences are able to learn from it is that a BBC staffer read a press release put out by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’ on the same day.
The article is 555 words long, not including its headline, photo captions and sub-headings. It includes a recycled filmed report by Richard Galpin from January 2014 which was previously discussed here. One hundred and forty-five words of the report can be described as original BBC content; mostly dedicated to the response solicited from the Israeli foreign ministry. The other four hundred and ten words are rehashed statements from the HRW press release, as shown below.
BBC: “Israel is unlawfully coercing almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into leaving the country at great personal risk, Human Rights Watch says.”
HRW: “Israeli authorities have unlawfully coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into returning to their home countries where they risk serious abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.”
BBC: “They have been denied access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and detained unlawfully, a new report says.”
HRW: “Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a “threat”, branded them “infiltrators,” denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.”
BBC: “Eritreans and Sudanese began arriving in Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in large numbers in 2006. By December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country.”
HRW: “In 2006, Eritreans and Sudanese began arriving in Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in large numbers, fleeing widespread human rights abuses in their countries. By the time Israel all but sealed off its border with Egypt in December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country.”
BBC: “HRW says that over the past eight years, the Israeli authorities have employed various measures to encourage them to leave.”
HRW: “Over the past eight years, the Israeli authorities have applied various coercive measures to “make their lives miserable” and “encourage the illegals to leave,” in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai and current Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, respectively. “
BBC: “They include “indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9% of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare”, it alleges.”
HRW: “These include indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9 percent of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare.”
BBC: “In September 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a 2012 amendment to an anti-infiltration law, which allowed for the indefinite detention of people for illegal entry, was unlawful.
In response, the Israeli parliament passed another amendment to the law in December that established the Holot facility in the remote Negev desert for those considered “infiltrators”.”
HRW: “Since June 2012, the Israeli authorities have indefinitely detained thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese for entering Israel irregularly, that is, without entering through an official border crossing. After the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in September 2013 that such detention was unlawful, the Israeli authorities responded by renaming their detention policy and began requiring Eritreans and Sudanese to live in the Holot “Residency Center” in Israel’s remote Negev desert in conditions which amount to detention despite the change in name.”
BBC: “Hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese have since been ordered to report to the centre, where they live in conditions that HRW says breach international law on arbitrary detention.”
HRW: “Detaining people in Holot breaches the prohibition under international law on arbitrary detention because people are confined to a specific location where they cannot carry out their normal occupational and social activities.”
BBC: “The Israeli authorities say they are not detained because they can leave for a few hours at a time. However, they are required to report three times a day and to be in the centre at night. The only way for them to secure their release is to be recognised as a refugee or leave the country.”
HRW: “The only way for detainees to secure their release is to be recognized as a refugee.”
BBC: “In February 2013, Israel allowed Eritreans and Sudanese to lodge asylum claims in significant numbers. However, as of March 2014, the authorities had only reviewed slightly more than 450 “detainee” cases, and the rejection rate has been almost 100%, HRW says.”
HRW: “In February 2013, Israel allowed Eritreans and Sudanese to lodge asylum claims in significant numbers. However, as of March 2014, the authorities had only reviewed just over 450 detainees’ claims, while Israeli refugee lawyers said there was no evidence that the authorities had reviewed a single claim by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israeli towns and cities. The rejection rate has been almost 100 percent.”
BBC: ” “Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centres or of risking detention and abuse back home.” “
HRW: “Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centers or of risking detention and abuse back home.”
BBC: “HRW says Israel is violating the international principle of “non-refoulement”, which forbids states from returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.”
HRW: “Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who agree to return from Israel to their own countries under threat of indefinite detention should be considered victims of refoulement, Human Rights Watch said. Refoulement, under international law, is the forcible return “in any manner whatsoever” of a refugee or asylum seeker to a risk of persecution, or of anyone to likely torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.”
There is of course a term for this sort of ‘news report’: churnalism.
“‘Churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added.”
This is not the first time that the BBC has produced a churnalism piece based on a HRW press release and far from the first occasion on which the BBC has amplified the allegations of political NGOs without informing audiences of the part those organisations play in anti-Israel campaigning. As has been noted here previously:
“[…] the sheer number of organisations putting out statements for use by the media makes it important for BBC journalists not just to make do with identifying the source of the press release, but also to inform readers of any political and/or ideological affiliations which may have a bearing upon the impartiality of the information put out by the organization concerned – as indeed they are required to do by the Editorial Guidelines with other outside contributors.”
Human Right Watch’s dismal record was called out by its founder in 2009. Its increasingly deteriorating reputation on Israel-related issues took further blows throughout the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and it is one of several political NGOs currently conducting a lawfare campaign against Israel under the guise of ‘human rights’ – as the BBC should be well aware seeing as it has made its own contributions to that campaign.
And yet, rather than providing readers with the essential relevant information on HRW’s lack of objectivity which would enable them to place the NGO’s allegations (and motivations) on the very complex issue of African migrants in Israel into their correct context, the BBC once again self-conscripts to providing nothing more than parroted PR amplification for HRW’s politicised claims.
The British government’s Culture Secretary recently voiced the opinion that the size of the BBC suggests that more savings could be made and articles such as this add weight to Sajid Javid’s view. After all, rather than having a member of staff waste all that time rehashing HRW’s press release, the BBC News website could have shortened the process considerably by simply providing the link to it and adding “we think it’s super”. The end result as far as informing BBC audiences is concerned would clearly not have been any different.