Last week the BBC published and broadcast several versions of a report by Lyse Doucet about the construction project at Rawabi on a variety of platforms.
On February 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an audio version of Doucet’s report (available here from 0:45:00).
On February 6th and 7th a filmed report was broadcast on BBC World News and a version of it appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page headlined “Rawabi: A new Palestinian city in the West Bank“.
Also on February 7th a written version of Doucet’s report (together with Jane McMullen) appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website under the title “The new Palestinian city that lacks only one thing“.
A number of points arise from these various reports.
1) In the introduction to the audio version presenter Julian Marshall says:
“In the Israeli-occupied West bank an audacious Palestinian project is rising on the hills.”
In the filmed versions viewers are told by Doucet that the developer is “building homes for 25,000 people on Israeli-occupied land”.
The written report opens:
“A Palestinian millionaire has built a totally new city from scratch in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, complete with a Roman amphitheatre and football stadium.”
Later on are readers informed that:
“”It’s the biggest ever project in Palestinian history,” exclaims American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri, the driving force behind a new Palestinian city in the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”
Only in the thirty-sixth paragraph do readers who bother to venture so far discover that:
“Rawabi is being built in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but access to a permanent road and a fixed pipeline goes through an area which an interim peace accord placed under Israeli jurisdiction.”
Indeed, Rawabi is situated in Area A which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords were signed. The BBC, however, continues to categorise areas which have not been under Israeli control for two decades as “occupied”.
2) The fact that Rawabi is situated in a Palestinian Authority controlled area of course means that planning approval for its construction was given (in late 2009) by that body.
“Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, the developer of Rawabi, announced that Dr. Khaled Fahd Al Qawasmi, Minister of Local Government of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has approved Rawabi’s Masterplan in an unprecedented and definitive move to clear the way for construction to begin on the first new Palestinian city in recent history. The official Ministry approval was preceded by the approval of the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.”
Nevertheless, listeners to the audio version of the report were misled by Doucet who claimed that:
“This is under Israeli occupation. He (Masri) had to get agreement from Israel about where to build….”
“Rabawi is the first ever new Palestinian city to be built in the territories: a huge gamble by American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri. He’s sunk hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money into building homes for 25 thousand Palestinians…”
Whilst that is no doubt the case, neither the audio nor filmed reports inform BBC audiences that the company developing the project also has Qatari funding.
“Bayti is jointly owned by Qatar government-owned Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Ramallah-based Massar International.”
In the written version, Qatari funding is mentioned but the involvement of the Qatari government – and its concurrent funding of Hamas – is not adequately clarified.
“Masri is funding the $1bn project from his own considerable fortune, as well as with hundreds of millions from the real estate arm of the Qatar Investment Authority. The wealthy Gulf state has become a powerful player across the Middle East. Masri concedes that their backing is politically as well as commercially motivated, and, admits they requested a very big mosque.”
4) Rawabi’s amphitheatre appears to have made a particular impression on Doucet. In the filmed version viewers hear her exclaim “Roman columns in Rawabi!” with Bashar Masri replying “Yes – it’s part of our history”.
In the audio version Doucet says:
“…it would look like a big housing project anywhere except this one has this vast Roman amphitheatre with classical Roman columns. I said ‘Roman columns in the West Bank?’. And they said ‘yes; the ancient, ancient Palestine’.”
Doucet of course makes no effort to relieve audiences of the misleading impression that there is some sort of historical connection between the term ‘Palestine’ as used by the Romans in their renaming of Judea in the second century and the modern-day Palestinians.
5) The main focus of all these reports is the issue of Rawabi’s water supply. In the audio version listeners are told:
“…and now crucially he’s [Masri] waiting for agreement from Israel – from a joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee – to get water.”
“…and the finger is being pointed at Israel; saying why are they not giving the water?”
In the filmed version viewers are told that:
“The joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee has to sign off the water supply but it hasn’t met for years. The problem is political.”
And in the written version:
“All new water infrastructure larger than a pipe 2in (5cm) in diameter has to be approved by the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee. But the JWC hasn’t met for years. […]
Despite repeated promises from Israel that water will be provided “in a few weeks”, the JWC still hasn’t met. And both Israeli and Palestinian officials are dragging their feet.”
In other words, the bottom line impression given to BBC audiences is that Rawabi’s lack of water is Israel’s fault.
At no point does Doucet clarify to her audiences on various platforms that the Joint Water Committee (JWC) is a product of the Oslo Accords – signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people. Those same accords stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the water supply in Areas A (where Rawabi is located) and B.
Whilst she does tell audiences that the JWC “hasn’t met for years”, Doucet refrains from informing audiences why that is the case, avoiding any mention of the fact that the Palestinian Water Authority suspended cooperation in 2008 as part of a political strategy and with no interview or comment from that body appearing in any of her reports. Hence, audiences remain ignorant of the fact that the committee which must convene in order to approve the water pipeline to the new Palestinian city is hobbled by the Palestinian Water Authority and Doucet makes herself party to the Palestinian politicisation of water issues.
6) In the audio item Doucet explains the editorial considerations behind this series of reports.
“We wanted to tell a story about the Palestinians which wasn’t the usual kind of story that you see in the headlines of Palestinians throwing stones, Palestinians suffering and dying in wars, Palestinians protesting. This was a story of ordinary, normal Palestinian life that anyone around the world can relate to. They just want to buy an apartment to live in; to bring their kids up in. And we wanted something that was also a microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process and this seemed to fit the bill.”
Taken into consideration together with the end products, we can conclude from those mission statements that as far as the BBC is concerned, the “microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process” is to be presented to audiences exclusively in terms of blaming Israel for the woes of Palestinians whilst studiously ignoring the policies and actions of their leaders and officials which contribute to problems or hardships.
But of course veteran BBC watchers did not need Lyse Doucet’s insights into how news is created rather than reported in order to determine that.