BBC presents property purchased by Jews as ‘settlements’

On October 25th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article titled “US urges probe after teenager shot dead in West Bank“. Apparently based at least in part on a report appearing in Ha’aretz, the article informs readers that:Silwad art

“The US state department has called for a “speedy and transparent investigation” into the death of a Palestinian-American teenager killed by Israeli soldiers on Friday.

Police said that Orwa Hammad, 14, was about to throw a petrol bomb near Ramallah in the West Bank. […]

A relative identified the teenager as Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad, who was born in New Orleans and came to the West Bank when he was six, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.”

Other media reports (quoting Palestinian media outlets and Palestinian officials) have described the youth as being sixteen or seventeen years old.

With regard to the circumstances of the incident, in addition describing its location as “near Ramallah”, the BBC informs its audiences that:

“He [Hammad] was reported to have been shot in the head during clashes between IDF soldiers and stone-throwing protesters.

Some of the protesters were seen making and throwing Molotov cocktails.

An IDF spokesman initially told Reuters that forces “managed to prevent an attack when they encountered a Palestinian man hurling a Molotov cocktail at them on the main road. They opened fire and confirmed a hit.” “

In the caption to one of the photographs used to illustrate the report, readers are also told that:

“Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at Israeli jeeps and soldiers in Silwad, near Ramallah”

So where did the incident occur and what actually happened? Channel 10 News reported as follows:

“According to an announcement by the IDF Spokesman, at around 19:00 hours a unit of the parachute regiment engaged in operational activity between the village of Silwad and Route 60 in the Ramallah area identified a Palestinian throwing petrol bombs in the direction of the road upon which Israeli vehicles were travelling.”

Walla reported:

“A Palestinian youth was killed yesterday (Friday) by fire from an IDF unit which was in an ambush in the village of Silwad, north-east of Ramallah, after the unit identified him throwing a petrol bomb at Route 60 and opened fire.”

The Jerusalem Post reported:

“A Palestinian was shot dead by IDF troops outside the village of Silwad in the West Bank on Friday evening, after he threw a Molotov cocktail at traffic on highway 60, the IDF Spokesperson’s Department said.

The IDF said that the soldiers were on patrol in the area and had set up an ambush overlooking the stretch of highway when they saw the assailant throw the bottle.

They said that the soldiers opened fire “in order to neutralize the threat to the lives of civilians driving on the highway.” “

In other words, the incident did not take place “near Ramallah” as stated by the BBC, but some fifteen and a half kilometers away outside Silwad on a main highway used by both Israeli and Palestinian motorists. Additionally, it is likely that civilian motorists were the target of Hammad’s petrol bomb rather than – as suggested by the BBC – IDF forces, with the BBC’s claim that Hammad was shot “during clashes between IDF soldiers and stone-throwing protesters” not being supported by other media reports.Silwad map

Like the US State Department, the BBC is apparently not overly interested in investigating why a US citizen was throwing petrol bombs at motorists on a main highway.

Notably too, this report misleads readers with the following statement, which appears both as a caption to an illustrative photo and in the body of the report:

“Tensions have been high since the end of the 50-day conflict in Gaza.” 

Later on, a seemingly contradictory statement is presented:

“Although a fragile ceasefire has been holding since the end of the 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, incidents of violence have continued sporadically throughout the West Bank and near holy sites in Jerusalem.”

Of course the ceasefire which brought this summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip (not exclusively “in Gaza” as described by the BBC) between Israel and Hamas (not “Palestinians” as the BBC claims) has absolutely no bearing on the rioting and violent attacks carried out in other areas.

Whilst on the one hand the BBC informs audiences that tensions “have been high” since the ceasefire came into effect, on the other hand it claims that violent incidents have been ‘sporadic’: i.e. “occurring at irregular intervals; having no pattern or order in time“.

So what are the facts behind those two BBC statements?

In fact, according to data collected by the ISA, violent attacks by Palestinians in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem peaked during July and have since returned to the levels seen prior to Operation Protective Edge. However, it is difficult to see how they can be accurately described as having “continued sporadically” seeing as their occurrence (usually not reported by the BBC) is a daily event.

Silwad graph

But the really interesting part of this BBC report is its shoehorning of the topic of ‘settlements’ into its ‘contextualisation’ of Palestinian terror. Despite there being no confirmation of the motives of Orwah Hammad as he lobbed petrol bombs at passing cars, one of the images used to illustrate the report is presented with the following tendentious caption:

“Palestinians were protesting against the expansion of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank”

Silwad art pic

Relating to the terror attack in Jerusalem on October 22nd, the article later informs readers that:

“Wednesday’s car attack was carried out by a Palestinian man from Silwan in East Jerusalem, where tensions are high among Palestinians who are angry over Jewish settlements in the area.”

Oddly, some might say, the BBC appears to believe that “tensions” and ‘anger’ felt by those who oppose people of a certain ethnicity living in a certain place are a factor which can be used to ‘explain’ both petrol bomb attacks on motorists and the deliberate murder of a three month-old baby.

But are there in fact “Jewish settlements” in the Silwan (Kfar Shiloach) neighbourhood of Jerusalem? Well, not according to the BBC’s own definition of ‘settlements’:

“Settlements are residential areas built by the Israeli government in the territories occupied by Israel following the June 1967 war. They are illegal under international law – that is the position of the UN Security Council. Israel rejects this assertion. ” [emphasis added]

What there is in that neighbourhood of Jerusalem is existing housing purchased and inhabited by some 90 Jewish families (roughly 500 people out of a population of over 50,000). Hence we see that the BBC is herding audiences towards a very dubious narrative which encourages them to view the purchase of property in certain areas of a city by people of a specific faith and ethnicity as “illegal” and undesirable. One has to wonder whether the BBC’s ‘progressive’ approach would extend to encouraging its audiences to view neighbourhoods of mixed religion, ethnicity (and perhaps colour or sexual orientation) in any other city in such a light.

But of course that anachronistic BBC narrative does not appear by chance: it is also the narrative of the Palestinian Authority, the president of which recently introduced new punishments (unreported by the BBC) for those who sell property to Jewish Israelis.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday issued an order that would toughen punishment for Palestinians involved in real estate deals with “hostile countries” and their citizens.

Abbas’s decision came following reports that Palestinians have sold houses in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood to Jews. […]

In his order, Abbas decided to amend the Palestinian penal code so that it would include hard labor in addition to life imprisonment for Palestinians who sell, rent out or serve as mediators in real estate transactions with “hostile countries” and their citizens.

In 2010, a PA court reaffirmed that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death. Although the death sentence has not been officially executed, several Palestinians have been murdered in east Jerusalem and the West Bank over the past four decades after being accused of involvement in property transactions with Jews. ” 

Whilst BBC licence fee payers got a hefty dose of PA propaganda in this article, they have clearly not been provided with the accurate, impartial or comprehensive reporting to which the BBC is committed.

BBC News skirts opportunity to fully inform audiences on PA and Fatah incitement

The morning after the October 22nd terror attack in Jerusalem in which a three month-old baby was killed and eight other people injured, the BBC News website replaced its highly unsatisfactory report on the incident with another article titled “Israel’s Netanyahu accuses Abbas over Jerusalem car attack“.

Although the unnecessary inverted commas around the word attack seen in the previous article’s various headlines did not appear in this one, the description of a “car attack” of course still fails to adequately inform audiences that this was an act of terror and indeed the BBC refrains from categorizing the incident as such itself.

 “A spokesman said the incident was being treated as a “terrorist attack”.”

For some reason the BBC found it necessary to ensure that before readers had reached the end of the first six paragraphs of the article, they had been informed no fewer than three times that the terrorist was shot by the Israeli security forces: once in the caption to the photograph illustrating the report and twice in its text.

Pigua second art

As has often been documented here, the BBC consistently avoids reporting on the issue of Palestinian incitement from all factions and so this report may appear to make a welcome change to that previous policy. The topic of the article’s headline is presented thus:

“Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian president of incitement, after an attack which killed a baby girl in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu said Mahmoud Abbas had provided encouragement for incidents such as the killing of the three-month-old by a Palestinian driver.” […]

In a statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu accused the Palestinian unity government, backed by Mr Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas, of fuelling such attacks.

“This is the way in which Abu Mazen’s [Mahmoud Abbas] partners in government operate, the same Abu Mazen who just days ago incited to harm Jews in Jerusalem,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu was alluding to comments by Mr Abbas in which he said Jewish “settlers” should be barred “by any means” from entering a disputed holy compound in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. He described Jews visiting the site as a “herds of cattle”.

Mr Abbas was speaking after a series of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police on the compound.”

However, as Khaled Abu Toameh has documented, Abbas’ incitement has extended beyond those comments as they are reported by the BBC.

“A few days before the terrorist attack in Jerusalem, Abbas strongly denounced Jews who visit the Temple Mount as a “herd of cattle.”

Abbas told Fatah activists from Jerusalem who visited him in his office that they must make an effort to stop Jewish “settlers,” “by all means,” from “desecrating our holy sites.”

Abbas added:

“We must prevent them from entering the Noble Sanctuary by all means. This is our Al-Aqsa. Al-Aqsa is a red line: Israel must be aware that the ongoing raids and attacks on Al-Aqsa will cause a volcanic explosion in the area that will reach Israel. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine, and without it, there will be no state.”

Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have been exploiting the visits by Jews to the Temple Mount to incite Palestinians against Israel. They have been incorrectly denouncing these visits as “assaults” and “raids” on Islamic holy sites by Jewish “extremists”.”

The PA president has also recently used other issues to promote incitement:

“During the 50-day military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in July and August, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank made it a daily practice to incite their people against Israel.

The anti-Israel campaign of incitement reached its peak with Abbas’s speech at the UN General Assembly last month, when he accused Israel of waging a “war of genocide” in the Gaza Strip. Abbas made no reference to Hamas’s crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Forty-eight hours before the Jerusalem attack, Abbas intensified his rhetorical assault on Israel by announcing that any Palestinian who is involved in property transactions with “hostile countries” (Israel) would be punished by life imprisonment with hard labor.

Abbas’s announcement came in response to reports that Palestinians had sold homes to Jewish families in Silwan — the Jerusalem neighborhood where al-Shalodi lived. By threatening to punish Palestinians for selling property to Jews, Abbas was sending a message that this is an awful crime that should not pass without a Palestinian response.”

Rather than clarifying to BBC audiences the scale and intensity of the incitement promoted by the Palestinian Authority president it so frequently describes as “moderate“, the BBC elects to present the issue in terms of “accusations” by the Israeli prime minister. The fact that Abbas’ party Fatah published a ‘martyrdom poster’ praising the terrorist on its Facebook page and that Abbas’ advisor described him as “a heroic martyr” has not been reported to BBC audiences.

Image credit: PMW

Image credit: PMW

Whilst the BBC has one the one hand frequently promoted the erroneous notion that the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas was a result of the lack of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and on the other sympathetically amplified the PA’s assorted unilateral moves to achieve international recognition of statehood whilst avoiding negotiations, the corporation consistently fails to provide audiences with information on the very relevant issues of the incitement and glorification of terrorism propagated by Palestinian leaders of all factions. Unfortunately, this report does little to correct those omissions or to begin to provide BBC audiences with the information necessary to enable their understanding of the part played by those factors in encouraging terrorism and making any negotiated peace agreement increasingly unlikely.

Unsatisfactory comments moderation on BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog

The ‘House Rules’ for BBC blogs include the following:BBC Online

“Comments on our blogs are checked by a team of trained moderators to make the blogs a safe and enjoyable place to be, and ensure that they meet the House Rules. […]

The blog author or host does not usually moderate the content of the boards, although it is their job to keep the discussions relevant to the topic and within the BBC’s guidelines. They may close off-topic or other rule-breaking discussions, and sometimes make a decision on comments that have been referred to them by the moderators. They may also alert the moderators to rule-breaking comments that they see in the course of their work.”

And:

“At the BBC, we allow as much freedom as possible to have relevant discussions on our blogs. However, we are also responsible for making sure that these discussions stay polite, safe and relevant and do not violate any laws or the BBC editorial policies. This is why we have a set of House Rules that we ask everyone to follow. Moderators only remove messages that break these House Rules.

Moderation is necessary so all users can participate in online communities without fear of intimidation by other users or being subjected to offensive content.”

Hot on the heels of its previously published article in which the manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was given an unchallenged platform from which to defend his presentation of ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’, the BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog ran a piece by Anthony Zurcher titled “Free speech, ‘psychological rape’ and the Death of Klinghoffer” on October 23rd.

The item was opened to comments and some of them – which have passed moderation and hence can be assumed to have been judged as not breaching ‘House Rules’ (which include defamation) or “BBC editorial policies” (which include accuracy), “relevant to the topic” and not “offensive” – can be seen below.

The ‘ethnic cleansing’ canard passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 1

The false description of a military operation against terrorism as ‘terrorism’ was also allowed: 

Zurcher comment 2

The antisemitic ‘Jews controlling the media’ trope passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 3

The antisemitic act of holding Jews responsible for (falsely described) Israeli actions was deemed within ‘house rules’:

Zurcher comment 4

As was the false claim that any criticism of Israel is branded antisemitism:

Zurcher comment 5The well-worn canard of illegal use of white phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead is promoted using a link to a media outlet associated with the Iranian regime:

Zurcher comment 6

The inaccurate claim that all the casualties in this summer’s conflict were ‘innocent’ is promoted:

Zurcher comment 7Of course this is far from the first time that the moderation of comments on BBC blogs and articles has been unsatisfactory and failed to adhere to the BBC’s own rules.

BBC Complaints defends its use of Hamas supplied casualty figures

We have previously discussed two aspects of a response received by a reader from the BBC Complaints department here and here.

The third (and final, readers will no doubt be relieved to know) part of that response related to the issue of the BBC’s reporting of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip during the recent conflict.Complaint pic

“We dispute the suggestion that using numbers provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza and the UN on the death toll in Gaza indicates a pro-Palestinian bias.

The Health Ministry in Gaza is in touch with all the hospitals in Gaza. The Ministry is where all deaths are registered. It is the key source of information on deaths in the conflict for all news organisations and for other external organisations, including foreign embassies. Israeli authorities simply do not have access to hospitals and morgues in Gaza to provide such reporting. When the BBC reports death tolls they are clearly attributed to the Health Ministry, so the source has been clear in our coverage. Generally, during the conflict the Health Ministry itself did not make claims as to what number of those killed were civilians or combatants. They were collating information coming in from their morgues and passing on quickly to the media a number of times each day.

The UN has made claims as to the number of Palestinians killed and the number of those who are civilians. The BBC reports these numbers attributed to the UN which is of course an internationally recognised organisation. The UN has a large staff in Gaza who compile these reports. The question of who has officials in Gaza collating such reports is important. Some Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes when the IDF would have had surveillance of the aftermath of the strike from the air. However, many people have been killed by sustained artillery assault on certain areas which caused death from shrapnel fire, buildings collapsing and other factors. The BBC’s approach to reporting these numbers is common to the rest of the media.

We have, however, at a number of stages during the conflict broadcast interviews with Israeli officials who questioned the accuracy of the UN figures produced, and suggested that in future they may be revised downwards as has sometimes happened in previous conflicts. It’s also worth noting that Israel has not provided evidence as to why their figures on civilian casualties differed so significantly from the figures produced by UN officials on the ground in Gaza.”

The claim that “[w]hen the BBC reports death tolls they are clearly attributed to the Health Ministry, so the source has been clear in our coverage” is true in so far as it goes. However, those reports consistently failed to sufficiently clarify to BBC audiences that “the Health Ministry” is run by the same terrorist organization engaged in conflict with Israel and hence not an impartial or reliable source.

The claim that “[g]enerally, during the conflict the Health Ministry itself did not make claims as to what number of those killed were civilians or combatants” avoids recognition of the fact that the Gaza Health Ministry’s policy of identifying all casualties as civilians was a deliberate one designed to influence public opinion. Throughout its reporting on the conflict the BBC refrained from informing audiences of the very relevant issue of the instructions put out by Hamas’ Interior Ministry specifically ordering all parties to describe all casualties as ‘civilians’. The BBC also adopted the Hamas stance according to which all casualties were the result of Israeli actions and consistently ignored issues such as casualties resulting from misfired missiles or booby-trapped buildings.

The statement “[t]he UN has made claims as to the number of Palestinians killed and the number of those who are civilians. The BBC reports these numbers attributed to the UN which is of course an internationally recognised organization” clearly indicates that the BBC not only ignores the very relevant topic of the bias of UN bodies themselves, but also the political motivations of the sources of the figures quoted by the UN.

As was noted here at the time, UN statistics were compiled from a variety of primary and secondary sources and the BBC’s claim that “[t]he UN has a large staff in Gaza who compile these reports” is not supported by the information BBC Watch received from the UN itself.

“Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselemthe PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.”

The statement “[t]he question of who has officials in Gaza collating such reports is important” is undoubtedly true – although not in the manner intended in this response. The fact that the UN relies on local NGOs concurrently engaged in lawfare against Israel is a highly relevant factor in the assessment of the reliability of those claims.

Notably, this response completely avoids the topic of the BBC’s failure to independently verify the statistics it quoted and promoted and the fact that at no point did the BBC attempt to put the figures it quoted into their correct context.

The response states:

“The BBC’s approach to reporting these numbers is common to the rest of the media.”

“The rest of the media”, however, is not bound by the same editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality relevant to BBC coverage.

The statement “[i]t’s also worth noting that Israel has not provided evidence as to why their figures on civilian casualties differed so significantly from the figures produced by UN officials on the ground in Gaza” is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the BBC has made no such demand for “evidence” from the Hamas Health Ministry or the political NGOs which supply figures to the UN.

As the work of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre has shown, examination of the lists of names provided by those bodies reveals instances in which names were recorded more than once and cases in which the ages of casualties were misrepresented. As ‘Elder of Ziyon’ has demonstrated, many of those described by sources used by the BBC (particularly the PCHR) as ‘civilian casualties’ have turned out to be terrorists.

This response from the BBC Complaints department is clearly also unsatisfactory in that it completely fails to acknowledge the very relevant topic of manipulation of civilian casualty figures by Hamas and its supporters as part of their propaganda war aimed at garnering Western public opinion. The BBC’s promotion and amplification of Hamas-supplied figures, its failure to independently verify casualty statistics and civilian/combatant ratios and its documented capitulation to political pressure from interested parties on the topic of casualty figures is all evidence of its adoption of a specific politically motivated narrative.

No wonder, therefore, that complaints have been made on this subject but – as is amply clear from the official response above – the self-regulating BBC is incapable of providing an  appropriately impartial response to complaints from its funding public, resorting instead to attempted self-justification of its editorial policies.  

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

As has been noted here previously, the BBC’s coverage of the recent Cairo donor conference aimed at securing funding for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip was quite extensive with the scene set by Yolande Knell on October 11th and a very partial representation of the topic appearing on the BBC News website on October 12th.

In addition to that, radio audiences heard a long item on the October 12th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from 00:50 to 09:30) which recycled a previously aired item by Yolande Knell as well as including contributions from Orla Guerin in Cairo and the partisan UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.Newshour 12 10 14

In that programme presenter James Menendez twice states that “Hamas controls Gaza” whilst – confusingly for listeners – Orla Guerin describes a “fragile unity government which is supposed to be in place”. No effort is made to properly clarify the situation for audiences.

Neither is any effort made to inform listeners that the reason Israel imposes border restrictions on the Gaza Strip is the years of terrorism against Israeli civilians perpetrated by Hamas and other terrorist organisations based there and so listeners hear the following context-free statements from Guerin.

“…but the Israeli blockade of Gaza remains in place. Now that is a blockade by air, land and sea. It is Israel which decides which trucks and how many and carrying what goods are allowed in and out of Gaza. There are serious concerns being expressed by aid agencies about whether or not Israel will allow enough construction materials in. A temporary mechanism has been agreed and that will involve monitoring by the United Nations but they are literally almost at the level of counting the grains of sand going in and out of Gaza and there are serious fears that the volume of cement and construction materials that would be required will simply not be allowed in. Israel of course views cement as a dual-use item and it has been used by Hamas to build tunnels right out of Gaza under the ground into Israeli territory, so cement is particularly carefully monitored.”

The BBC has shown no interest to date in carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of Hamas’ misappropriation of the building supplies previously allowed into the Gaza Strip or the related – and very serious – subject of the accountability of the aid agencies and international bodies which were supposed to be supervising and guaranteeing the construction projects for which those materials were intended. With funds supplied, among others, by tax-payers in the West now scheduled for the reconstruction of housing in the Gaza Strip, those tax-payers might actually have been interested to hear how this latest “temporary mechanism” intended to prevent building supplies being used for the purposes of terror (which would of course eventually result in yet more conflict and further destruction of structures their taxes have paid for) is actually any different – and more efficient – than the previous failed one.

Audiences would also of course have benefited from information on the topic of why their governments are prepared to commit vast amounts of money to the reconstruction of a territory in which the government which supposedly runs it is unable to compete with terrorist-run militias funded and backed by foreign governments such as Iran and Qatar and why no demand has been made to disarm those terrorist organisations in order to prevent further hostilities and destruction.

But as Menendez’s final interview in this programme shows, its aim is not to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enable them to reach a comprehensive understanding of this particular “international issue“, but to promote the agenda of those supporting the Hamas campaign to lift border restrictions. One of the major players in that long-standing campaign is of course the highly politicized UNRWA and its spokesman Chris Gunness (who, readers may recall, was instrumental in the BBC’s revision of an article concerning casualty figures in the Gaza Strip) is given a three and a half minute long unchallenged platform for that purpose.

Gunness: “But let’s be clear: this mechanism is not a substitute for lifting the blockade. There is little point in reconstructing Gaza if the world refuses to allow Gaza to trade. Otherwise we’re gonna have people in lovely new houses but completely aid-dependent, which is why we say the blockade must be lifted, Gaza must be allowed to trade, to export, and the natural export markets of Gaza is…are…the West Bank and that’s what we need to see first of all.”

Menendez makes no attempt to point out to audiences that – contrary to the impression they will have received from Gunness, exports do leave the Gaza Strip. He also makes no attempt to challenge the following over-vehement protestations from Gunness.

“Well I have to be honest here and say that UNRWA has been taking materials – building materials – into Gaza for years and there is no evidence whatsoever that one grain of sand that UNRWA has taken into Gaza has ever been stolen or expropriated by any organization, least of all the militant organization. So we have a proven track record and I can speak for UNRWA and certainly we are able to get building materials into Gaza and for it not to be subverted or taken by any group and certainly not any militant group.”

Menedez does not raise the question of how an organization which could not prevent its aid being stolen or missiles being stored in and fired from its schools by terrorists is in a position to guarantee anything. He passes up on the opportunity to ask Gunness why sacks of UNRWA materials were discovered inside tunnels during the recent conflict.

Since July augmented context-free amplification of Hamas’ demands to lift border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to the activities of that terror organisation and others has been all too evident in BBC reporting. The promotion of UNRWA’s political campaigning on that issue is also by no means new for the BBC. As we see in this edition of ‘Newshour’, that editorial policy continues. 

 

 

BBC Complaints: ‘it was hard for journalists in Gaza to see rockets being fired’

A few days ago we discussed part of a response received by a reader from the BBC Complaints department.Blindfold

Another section of that same response reads as follows:

“…we did raise your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at BBC News who covered the recent conflict in Gaza. They explained that there are number of reasons why BBC News has not shown images or footage of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants firing rockets. The main reason is that militant groups keep the location of launch sites secret. It was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out, however, during Orla Guerin’s report for the News at Ten on 12 August we reported on allegations that Hamas and other militants put Palestinian civilian lives at risk by operating from residential areas, as well as launching rockets near schools and hospitals. During the aforementioned report Orla Guerin explained that: “During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras, but we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas.”

The report went on to show an area of ground used by Hamas to launch rockets. It was clearly shown that the site was in very close proximity to apartments inhabited by civilians. The same piece went on to show footage from Indian television, purportedly showing Hamas firing from a residential area near the hotel where the Indian crew were staying.”

The above-mentioned report by Orla Guerin is this one. The BBC Complaints representative notably refrains from pointing out that just prior to the quoted section, Orla Guerin misled BBC audiences by inferring that Hamas’ use of civilian areas as launch sites for missiles is not evidence of its use of human shields.

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.”

The relevant section of that one report cited by BBC Complaints as showing that the BBC did report on “allegations that Hamas and other militants put Palestinian civilian lives at risk by operating from residential areas, as well as launching rockets near schools and hospitals” makes no mention of schools or hospitals. The specific section is just 44 seconds long and the report appeared thirty-six days into the conflict – by which time the BBC’s narrative was very well entrenched.

As we see, the BBC Complaints department promotes the claim that “militant groups keep the location of launch sites secret” and apparently believes it reasonable to claim that “it was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out” despite the fact that 4,562 missiles were fired throughout the 50 day conflict – an average of over ninety a day.

Notably, the BBC is still obviously unwilling to openly discuss the topic of Hamas intimidation of journalists, although correspondents from other media outlets have been more frank in explaining why audiences worldwide saw so little footage of missiles being fired or terrorists in action, as one Israeli filmmaker described.

“I met today with a Spanish journalist who just came back from Gaza. We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how comes we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen.. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly : “it’s very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.”  “

Two days before Guerin’s report was aired, a Norwegian journalist reported:

“There are decent working conditions here, however several foreign journalists have been kicked out from Gaza because Hamas does not like what they have said or written. We have received clear directions that if we see Hamas launching or shooting rockets, we cannot record them. If we do then there will be serious consequences which can lead to expulsion from Gaza. Our fixers, the person that is translating and is helping us around with everything, will also be in grave trouble if we film soldiers from Hamas, especially if they are firing rockets. Apart from that it is fairly OK to work here.”

A CNN reporter stated on camera:

“…we’ve witnessed at least the firing of rockets from this vantage point here. We haven’t seen the actual launcher per-se, but you can see the flash, you can see that it was in between buildings, and you can the thunder as the rockets roar into the air, so clearly you can tell that this is being launched from a populated area.”

Despite these and many other examples, the BBC is still pretending in response to complaints from members of its funding public that the reason it did not report adequately on the actions of terrorists in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge is that – unlike the staff of other media organisations – its own numerous correspondents on the ground did not see anything to report.

It may of course well be that the BBC’s lack of coverage of missile launches and other terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip was motivated by concern for the personal safety of its correspondents on the ground at the time and its permanent local bureau staff. Whilst that would be perfectly understandable, that policy did however affect the credibility of BBC reporting and had a major effect on its adherence to BBC editorial guidelines concerning accuracy and impartiality, thus affecting the way in which audiences understood the story as a whole.

Such an obvious lack of transparency – and common or garden honesty – in dealing with complaints from the public as shown in the above response clearly compromises the BBC’s reputation in a very serious manner. 

Ambiguous BBC reporting on Jerusalem terror attack

On the evening of October 22nd the BBC News website reported on a terror attack which had taken place in Jerusalem a couple of hours previously.  

Abd al Rahman Shaloudi from Silwan ploughed the car he was driving into a group of people waiting at the light rail station at Ammunition Hill, injuring nine of them, including three month-old Haya Zissel Braun who later died from the injuries she sustained. Shaloudi – a member of a known Hamas-linked family who had previously been imprisoned for throwing petrol bombs at motorists – tried to escape the scene on foot and was shot by a member of the security forces, later dying of his wounds. Rioting subsequently took place in the neighbourhoods of Silwan and Issawiya, with at least one motorist injured by stone-throwers.

So what were BBC audiences told about the incident? On the BBC News website’s homepage it was initially presented in language suggesting an accident: “A car hits a group of pedestrians at a Jerusalem railway station, injuring at least nine”.

Pigua Jerusalem on main page

On the website’s Middle East page a similar impression was given.

Pigua Jerusalem on ME pge

The initial version of the BBC News website’s report was also headlined in a manner which made the incident look like a road traffic accident: “Nine hurt as car hits pedestrians at Jerusalem station”. That misleading impression continued in the body of the report with readers encountering the word terror only in the fourth paragraph.

Pigua Jerusalem

The second version of the report (published some two hours later) was presented on the website’s Middle East page under the heading “Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby”.

Pigua Jerusalem on ME pge 2

The link led to the second version of the report – similarly ambiguously titled “Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby at rail station”. Apparently the attack – presented in typical BBC ‘we’re not saying it actually was an attack’ inverted commas – was carried out by a car rather than a person. In the body of that report punctuation was also used to suggest to readers that there is room for doubt as to whether the incident was a terror attack. Three of the victims were described as “American” – the fact that they are also Israeli Jews is not mentioned. The incident was ‘contextualised’ for readers as being part of a “cycle of violence” and inaccurate BBC promotion of the causes of the summer conflict between Israel and Hamas continued with the hundreds of missile attacks on Israeli civilians which preceded the military operation once more erased from audience view. 

Pigua Jerusalem version 2

The report’s third version appeared some six hours after the publication of the initial report. By that time the identity of the victim was known and yet Haya Zissel Braun was not named in the BBC article. At that stage the name, Hamas connections and details of the previous convictions of the perpetrator were also known but the BBC elected to refrain from informing audiences of those details, instead promoting a slightly amended version of the ambiguous and interestingly punctuated statement from the previous version of the report.

“Officials say they are treating it as a “terrorist attack” and that the suspect had previously served time in an Israeli prison “for terrorism”.

Pigua Jerusalem version 3

On official BBC Twitter accounts similar use of punctuation was apparent.

Pigua tweet BBC World 2

Shaloudi’s known Hamas connections were presented exclusively in terms of Israeli claims.

Pigua tweet BBC News

Clearly the BBC’s deliberately ambiguous reporting of this incident fails to provide audiences with the full range of information available in relation to the perpetrator, the victims, the circumstances of the incident itself and the subsequent rioting, thus denying them the ability to reach an accurate understanding of this particular “international issue“. 

Met manager given BBC platform to defend Klinghoffer opera

On October 20th the BBC News website’s Entertainment & Arts page published an article by Jason Caffrey titled “Klinghoffer opera ‘must be performed’, says Met“. The article opens by informing readers that:Klinghoffer opera art

“The New York Metropolitan Opera is presenting controversial work The Death of Klinghoffer this week. Its general manager tells the BBC why he is determined to press ahead despite protests at its staging.”

And indeed, that is precisely what happens in this article: it is not an interview but an unchallenged monologue by the Met’s Peter Gelb with some stage setting in the form of background information provided by Caffrey.

Whilst Gelb is given a platform for the promotion of his claims that “it’s not anti-Semitic” and “[i]t does not glorify terrorism in any way”, Caffrey makes no attempt to challenge him with the rather obvious fact that many people disagree with his evaluation or to investigate Gelb’s basis for his claims. Moreover, readers are unable to judge the veracity of Gelb’s claims for themselves because at no point in the article does Caffrey make any attempt to explain what aspects of the production have prompted the allegations which Gelb denies. 

Caffrey rightly informs readers that:

“The Met had originally planned to relay the revival – a co-production with the English National Opera (ENO) first seen in London in 2012 – live to cinemas around the world.

But after Jewish groups argued the screenings would stoke anti-Semitism outside the US, the relays were cancelled.”

However, he passes up on the opportunity to ask Gelb why he considers the live performance of the opera to be any less inflammatory than the proposed screened version which he did agree to cancel.

Caffrey also correctly states that:

“It is a piece that has attracted controversy ever since it was first staged in 1991, with some accusing it of glorifying terrorism and being anti-Semitic.”

Readers are not given any real insight into the Met’s reasons for choosing to revive that controversial mix of politics, art and entertainment at this particular juncture beyond Gelb’s assertion that “[i]t is a brilliant work of art that must be performed”.

The objections of the Klinghoffer family to the production are paraphrased by Caffrey in several short paragraphs.

“The piece has also prompted sharp criticism from Mr Klinghoffer’s family for the “exploitation” of his “cold-blooded murder”.” […]

“The Klinghoffers’ daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, issued a statement after seeing its first production.

In it they expressed their outrage “at the exploitation of our parents and the cold-blooded murder of our father as the centrepiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic”.” […]

“Gelb says he agreed to print a statement from Klinghoffer’s daughters in the opera programme, in which they lay out their objections to the piece.”

Readers are not told whether any attempt was made by the BBC to obtain a first-hand response from the family. Neither are they informed of the op-ed written by Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer the day before the publication of Caffrey’s piece in which their objections – details of which are ignored in this article – are clearly expressed. No attempt is made to bring the voices of those organizing the protests to BBC audiences.

The article closes with five paragraphs presenting Gelb’s view of the issue.

“Gelb, though, is adamant that the show will go on. “We will not bow to this pressure,” he says. “We can’t.”

The protests, he believes, are “a kind of knee-jerk reaction… fuelled by the very, very difficult times in which we’re living right now.”

The world, he says, is “more polarised than ever before” with “horrible events taking place on a daily basis”.

All the more reason, he insists, for “great art to be presented”.

“Just because a piece of art deals with a thorny subject should not mean that it should be suppressed.” “

The message which BBC audiences are intended to take away from this one-sided article is very clear. Whilst they remain none the wiser with regard to the actual substance of the objections to the opera, they have been informed in over 700 words that all those unexplained issues (including the ones raised by Mr Klinghoffer’s family) are dwarfed by “art”. 

BBC World News news

We are informed that the BBC has appointed a new director of the BBC World Service Group.

“BBC director of news Fran Unsworth has been appointed director of the BBC World Service Group.

Unsworth is the first female director in the 82-year history of the World Service. She replaces Peter Horrocks, who last month said he was to step down from running the BBC’s global news operations – the World Service, BBC World News TV channel, BBC.com/news website and BBC Monitoring – to “find a new challenge”.”

Ms Unsworth clearly has good intentions:

“I promise to be the guardian of the best of the BBC’s values of independence, impartiality and fairness in our international services, while continuing the successful modernisation of the World Service Group to take our journalism to new audiences worldwide.”

One of the operations set to come under Ms Unsworth’s authority – the BBC World News TV channel – recently lost several million viewers from its “audiences worldwide” due to the fact that the Israeli satellite television provider ‘YES’ has decided to drop the channel from the range of those on offer to its customers.BBC World News logo

“The Israeli satellite television provider YES, which serves over 500,000 households nationwide, is dropping the venerable BBC World news station from its roster of channels on offer, Globes reports. It will be replaced by France 24’s English-language international news channel.

The BBC is widely considered to be “anti-Israel” by the public here, and YES has gotten plenty of complaints from customers on that score. […]

“Customer satisfaction with the channel is low, which is demonstrated in part by the data on the number of people watching it, which is very low,” stated YES. […]

“The British perspective, which [BBC World] presents, will continue to be represented by Sky News,” YES said.”

Clearly – as one hopes Ms Unsworth appreciates and can rectify – there is a tangible price to the failure of the corporation’s commercial services to live up to those famed ‘BBC values’ of accuracy and impartiality. 

BBC’s Israel obsession includes the price of chocolate pudding

Why on earth the producers of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ thought that an item broadcast in its October 19th edition concerning one man’s protest about the cost of living in Tel Aviv should be of interest to listeners worldwide may at first seem to be a mystery. However, once ‘Newshour’ had decided to air that item, it should obviously have been presented accurately and impartially.Newshour 19 10 14

The item (from 12:50 here) is introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

“Now to a tale of Israeli-German relations, angry Holocaust survivors and a popular chocolate dessert.”

In fact, the story has absolutely nothing to do with “Israeli-German relations”. After a recorded jingle Coomarasamy’s inaccurate presentation continues:

“Now that’s an advert for Milky – the dessert in question – which turns out to be rather cheaper in Germany than in Israel. And when a receipt proving this fact was posted on a Facebook page, that’s when the controversy began.”

The receipt in question was actually for a comparable chocolate dessert – not the original Milky – which cannot be said to be “cheaper in Germany than in Israel” because it is not sold there. Coomarasamy then goes on to interview Naor Narkis for some five minutes, allowing him ample opportunity to make his obviously political points, but failing to provide any kind of background information which would help listeners put the story into its correct context.

Despite Coomarasamy obviously being aware of the fact that “the Facebook page was an anonymous one and seemed to suggest that Israelis should leave their country and move to Germany”, he fails to adequately explore the significance of that aspect of the story and why such a suggestion should cause controversy in Israel.

Likewise he fails to address the topic of why the cost of living might be relatively high in a country in which – unlike most European ones – it is necessary to spend so much on defence. Coomarasamy makes no attempt to verify his interviewee’s claims or to point out that – for example – most British 25 year-olds would probably have similar difficulties buying a house in central London or Manchester. And had he researched the topic a little better, Coomarasamy would be aware that Narkis’ protest is centred around house prices in one specific place – as he previously told Israel’s Channel 10 news:

“When you understand that the cost of living in Tiberias [northern Israel] is identical to that in Berlin, you don’t think twice,” he said.

“I prefer to live in Tel Aviv, but it’s too expensive for me. Here I spend 30 percent less on food and rent, and I still have money left over to go out and have fun,” he said of the German capital.

Coomarasamy should also of course have informed listeners of the inaccurate nature of Narkis’ claim that:

“…three years ago we were rioting in the streets against the high cost of living…”

Although demonstrations certainly took place, rioting did not.

Clearly, the cost of chocolate pudding and housing in Israel is not a topic of interest to anyone living outside that country, but nevertheless this item got BBC airtime because it presented an opportunity for amplification of Narkis’ repeated allegations of “failed leaders” in Israel – and that is a topic which dovetails with the BBC’s political agenda.