At the end of last year we noted here that one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC during 2014 was Human Rights Watch (HRW). The media practice of uncritically amplifying press releases and reports put out by third parties – known as ‘churnalism‘ – is of course by no means limited to the BBC but the corporation’s editorial guidelines mean that, in contrast to other organisations, the BBC has an obligation to inform audiences of any political agenda and/or ideological affiliations which may have a bearing upon the impartiality of the information put out by the NGO concerned.
It is well over five years since HRW’s founder blew the whistle on its obsessive, politically motivated focus on Israel. As has been noted on these pages on numerous occasions since last summer, HRW is one of a number of politically motivated NGOs engaged in the lawfare campaign against Israel. That background is obviously essential knowledge for any member of the BBC’s audience viewing, hearing or reading a report about Israel based on claims made by Human Rights Watch and yet time and time again, we see the BBC self-conscripting to the role of PR promoter for HRW ‘reports’ without any attempt being made to provide that crucial context.
Last month HRW produced yet another of its reports – this time on the topic of Thai agricultural workers in Israel. Having interviewed less than one per-cent of the total number of Thai nationals employed on Israeli farms (who, like all foreign workers, are of course protected by law), the NGO concluded that it had uncovered “serious abuse”.
Nine days after the publication of HRW’s report, an article appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel’s Thai farmworkers tell of grim plight“. The freelance writer of this article, Camilla Schick (who ironically claims to have done previous work on the issue of ‘churnalism’) makes no attempt to hide the fact that her article is based on the HRW report, with over a quarter of her word-count composed of amplification of its content or quotes from its author. Schick however devoted no words at all to informing readers of her main source’s record of anti-Israel political campaigning.
Another organization promoted, albeit to a lesser extent, in Schick’s report is Kav Laoved – also known as Workers’ Hotline. How Camilla Schick made contact with the mostly anonymous Thai workers she interviewed for her report and whether or not HRW and/or Kav Laoved played any part in setting up those meetings is not clarified.
One of the main focuses of both the HRW report and Schick’s piece is an issue described in a sub-heading as “Unexplained deaths”. Schick writes:
“One of the most serious allegations concerns a number of farm-worker deaths.
Between 2008 and 2013, 122 Thai nationals died while employed on Israeli farms, according to government figures reported by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
The causes ranged from accidents, alcohol poisoning, heart failure and suffocation, to fire, suicide, beating and stabbing, Israel’s Ministry of Health says.
The ministry notes 43 of these deaths were due to “Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome” (Sunds), a rare condition, whose causes are little understood.
A further 22 deaths had no autopsy and were noted as “unexplained”.”
She then goes on to use a phone interview with a Thai worker and quotes from officials from the two NGOs highlighted in her report to suggest that the deaths may be connected to long working hours.
“They’re being worked incredibly long hours under incredibly hot conditions,” says HRW’s Nicholas McGeehan, who wrote the report.
“We’ve severe concerns that many are actually being worked to death, and that the Israeli authorities are not properly investigating the extent to which these deaths may be related to living and working conditions, instead falling back on an excuse that Thai workers are genetically predisposed to cardiac death.”
No attempt is made by Schick to properly explain the subject of SUNDS or to clarify to readers that absent from McGeehan’s CV is evidence of any medical training which would put him in the position of being able to make professional statements on that condition, which is also found among young men of South East Asian descent in other countries. As blogger Elder of Ziyon has already pointed out, HRW’s report includes some very questionable pseudo-medical allegations, which the report’s author has further amplified on social media.
Camilla Schick shows no interest in carrying out any serious journalistic investigation of the allegations made by HRW and in fact her entire report is nothing more than an embellished amplification that NGO’s claims which once again highlights the cosy, symbiotic relationship between the media and politically motivated ‘human rights’ organisations – as portrayed in the tweet below from the author of the HRW report and contributor to Schick’s article.
When a BBC article is based on unchallenged repetition of a HRW report and includes input from its author, it is of course to be entirely expected that such ‘journalism’ can be no more than an echo chamber giving publicity to the “same problems”. McGeehan knows that. Schick and the BBC know that. And yet audiences are being led to believe that this is independently sourced impartial news.