BBC News backgrounder on Iran nuclear negotiations disappoints

As the P5+1 negotiations with Iran in Lausanne approached their deadline, coverage on the BBC News website’s Middle East page included what appeared to be a handy guide intended to assist audiences in better understanding the technical background to the story.

Iran talks six issues art on HP

That impression continued in the opening paragraph of the March 30th article titled “Iran nuclear crisis: Six key points“.Iran talks 6 pts art

“Over a decade of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme come to a head on Tuesday, the deadline for a deal. Here are some of the key points to understanding what the nuclear crisis is all about.”

However, what audiences actually got was a dumbed-down space-filler which did little to enhance their understanding of the real issues lying behind the difficulties in securing the framework to an agreement which would prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

The “six key points” promoted in the BBC’s article are as follows:

  • We’re at a pivotal moment in one of the world’s most serious crises.
  • It’s about fear and distrust
  • Lots of countries have nuclear weapons, but Iran’s case is different
  • Iran has been severely hit by sanctions
  • Some countries are unhappy about a pending deal
  • This is not the end of it

Under the second heading, readers are told:

“A core group of powers – the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to be satisfied that Iran won’t have the capacity to make a bomb in under a year if it decided to – the so-called “break-out” time.”

No further details are given on the technical aspects of the definition of break-out time or how the pending agreement  would guarantee that one year minimum time-frame. 

The article continues the long-standing BBC practice of ‘impartiality box ticking’ presentation of Iranian claims, despite the fact that the IAEA has clearly stated that it is not in a position “to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities”.

“Iran for its part says it does not want a nuclear bomb, but insists on exercising its right to run a peaceful nuclear industry. It also wants crippling international sanctions lifted quickly.

Many countries do not believe Iran’s declared intentions, and there is fear of what Iran might do with a nuclear weapon, and of the prospect of a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most unstable regions.”

Under the third heading readers are told:

“It looks to some like Iran is being singled out – after all, many countries have nuclear programmes and at least eight possess nuclear weapons.” […]

“Iran says the international community is displaying double standards by not doing anything about its arch-foe Israel, which is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal – though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied this. Israel however, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, is not a signatory to the NPT.”

On the topic of PMDs (possible military dimensions), the article merely states:

“What also worries the international community are unanswered questions surrounding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

A 2007 US intelligence report said Iran had a nuclear weapons programme but “halted” this in 2003. The global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has been investigating this in parallel to the main nuclear talks, but says Iran has not provided enough information about its past activities. These include possible nuclear-related tests at a secret military site, where Iran has barred IAEA inspectors.”

The BBC article does not visit the topic of if or how that issue will be addressed in the emerging framework deal.  No mention is made of the contentious issue of Iran’s existing stockpile of uranium, of the all-important topic of verification of Iranian compliance with the terms of any deal or of the wider – but related – picture of Iranian activities across the Middle East. Hence, when readers get to the section titled “Some countries are unhappy about a pending deal” they are still not in a position to understand the background to the vague statements it includes.

The BBC has some talented science correspondents who are surely capable of compiling the long-needed fact-based backgrounder which has been glaringly absent from the corporation’s coverage of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran to date. In the meantime, readers will no doubt find this fact sheet on the subject of nuclear break-out time written by the former deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA helpful to their understanding of this story.

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Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial?

We are often told that the impartiality of BBC content should be judged “over time” and some guidance as to what that term means can be found in this section of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“In achieving due impartiality, a ‘series of programmes’ may be considered as a whole.

The term ‘series of programmes’ applies to the following:

Content that deals with the same or related issues, within an appropriate period, and are clearly linked.

This may include a strand with a common title; different types of linked programmes (such as a drama with a following debate); a clearly identified season of programmes or items on the same or similar subjects; or a set of interlinked web pages.  Such programmes, items or web pages need to achieve due impartiality across the series, and online content should include links or signposts to the other online elements.

The intention to achieve due impartiality in this way should be planned in advance.”

With BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election now having come to a close, we can examine the question of whether due impartiality was achieved in the ‘series of programmes’ relating to that topic.Knell filmed 17 3

All the relevant BBC content – written, audio and filmed – already discussed on these pages is available in chronological order under ‘related articles’ below.

The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.

The BBC’s disproportionate focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’ can be illustrated by taking a look at the number of Palestinian commentators interviewed and quoted by the BBC in just three days of coverage, beginning with the day of the election itself.

17/3/15: Husam Zomlot – filmed report by Yolande Knell – BBC television news & website

                Husam Zomlot – audio report by Yoande Knell – ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Raja Shehadeh – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Sabri Saydan – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

18/3/15: Mohammed Shtayyeh – filmed report by Lyse Doucet – BBC television news & website

                 Saeb Erekat & Mahmoud Abbas – quoted in written report on BBC News website

                 Hanan Ashrawi – audio report by Kevin Connolly – Radio 4 ‘PM’ (here from 41:50)

19/3/15: Yousef Munnayer & Mustafa Barghouti – interviews ‘Newshour’, World Service radioNewshour 19 3

Despite extensive use of the ‘peace process’ theme and the generous airtime given to Palestinian interviewees, not one BBC report raised the topic of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of progress in negotiations and the related topic of long overdue elections for both the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA president was likewise not even briefly mentioned.

Israeli politicians interviewed in the same three-day period included Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List (17/3 – filmed report by Jeremy Bowen), Yitzhak Herzog (17/3 ‘Newshour’) and Nahman Shai (17/3 ‘Newshour’) of the Zionist Union, first-time Likud candidate Sharren Haskel (17/3, ‘Newshour’), Rachel Azaria of Kulanu (18/3, ‘Newshour’ – here from 34:55) and Moshe Ya’alon of Likud (19/3).

In other words, BBC audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than from Israeli politicians standing for election.

Little attempt was made to introduce BBC audiences to most of the 26 parties competing in the election or to explain the differences between their positions. Background information on the topic of the Israeli electoral system was mostly confined to references to the fact that the system makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

The topic of the foreign-funded campaign to influence the outcome of the election was completely ignored in all BBC coverage even though that factor played a role in influencing the election’s result and foreign intervention in elections in a democratic country should obviously have been a big story.Connolly filmed 16 3

Whilst the BBC put considerable focus on the statement made by the Israeli prime minister on March 17th concerning the related issue of busing of Joint Arab List voters to the polling stations, it did not report at all on the comments (or later fall-out) made at the Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv on March 7th – even though a BBC team was present at the event.  Despite the fact that Zionist Union leader Herzog later cited that incident as having affected his party’s performance “without a shadow of a doubt“, BBC audiences remain completely unaware of it ever having happened, just as they were not informed of assorted statements made by members of the Joint Arab List.

When answering criticism of his organisation’s coverage of Israel, the BBC’s director general recently claimed:

 “It is hard… tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as we can across the period.”

In this case it is not difficult to see that the BBC came nowhere near to achieving “due impartiality over time” – primarily because its journalists chose to cover the Israeli election almost exclusively from an angle which, whilst of only minor relevance to the issue itself, coalesced more with their own pre-existing views and agenda. And whilst audiences were fed reams of material on “the Palestinian view”, their understanding of what should have been the story’s actual subject matter – the factors influencing the election’s result – was hampered by selective omission of information and a distinct lack of interest in anything which got in the way of the story’s chosen framing.  

Lord Hall might care to ponder the fact that it would be much less “hard” and “tough” to cover Israel-related news accurately and impartially were the journalists working for his organisation to stick to reporting the stories that exist rather than instead promoting the stories they want to tell.

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Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day WS radio reports

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

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Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

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Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

 

 

In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

Hosted as usual by Paddy O’Connell, the March 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s weekly current affairs programme ‘Broadcasting House’ (available here) included Lib Dem MP Menzies Campbell and actor David Schneider among its guests. At 53:50 listeners heard the following extraordinary conversation.Broadcasting House 22 3 15

Paddy O’Connell: “David Schneider […] I think you want to talk to us about Israeli politics.”

David Schneider: “Well, yes. So, I’m Jewish and I was very depressed this…ehm…this week because of the…Netanyahu’s re-election. Sometimes…I mean it’s very complex for me as a sort of Left-wing Jew and my attitude to Israel. Sometimes it feels like a sort of family member with a severe drug addiction.”

PO: “With that warning, what are you reading from?” […]

DS: “There was… there was a glimmer of hope – which is on page 33 of the Observer – that the Joint List – which is an Arab-Jewish alliance – has actually won 13 seats. So despite Netanyahu saying there’ll be no Palestinian state – which he’s now backtracked on slightly after the election – and saying Arabs are heading to the polls in droves on the day of the election – which was just chilling – ehm…there is a glimmer of hope in that, sort of, more Israeli Arabs voted and there is, you know…and Arab-Jewish parties were coming together.”

Beyond the very obvious point (although clearly, not to some) that an election in the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy is about rather more than the ennui of English chatterati, Schneider misleads with regard to the Joint Arab List and O’Connell makes no attempt to correct the inaccurate impression given to listeners.

That, of course, is not surprising: the BBC has failed to inform audiences in all of its coverage of the recent Israeli election that the Joint Arab List is made up of four existing political parties, only one of which can accurately be classified as a Jewish-Arab party. That party – Hadash – has one Jewish member (Dov Hanin/Khenin) on its list and there are no Jewish MKs in any of the other three parties comprising the Joint Arab List. Schneider’s inaccurate description of the Joint Arab List as an “Arab-Jewish alliance” is hence based on the fact that one of the four parties it includes has one Jewish MK. Working on that principle, Schneider would also have to categorise the Likud, the Zionist Union, Meretz and Israel Beiteinu parties as ‘Arab- Jewish alliances’ because each of those parties has one Arab MK. 

No less important is the fact that the Joint Arab List includes the anti-Zionist parties Balad and Ta’al and the Islamist ‘United Arab List’. That information – which has not been communicated to BBC audiences at any point in the corporation’s coverage of the election – is critical to appreciation of the remarkable fact that parties which oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state participate in Israeli elections and enjoy representation in the Knesset.

In addition to O’Connell’s failure to correct his guest’s inaccurate portrayal of the Joint Arab List, we also see that he refrains from clarifying to listeners that Schneider’s cherry-picked parts of statements made by Netahyahu on the subject of a Palestinian state and regarding the connection between the foreign-funded V15 campaign and Joint Arab List voters are not complete quotes. O’Connell similarly fails to challenge Menzies Campbell’s equally selective paraphrasing of one of those statements later on in the conversation.

Menzies Campbell: “Netanyahu – quite extraordinary to be as overtly right-wing as he was in the last 24 – 48 hours. The one thing you can be certain of: he caused yet more anxiety and annoyance in the White House. Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have never been good. Those last 24 hours before the election will really have been – forgive the vulgarity – right up the nose of the American president.”

DS: “There is an interesting comment in this article though; that one of the Israeli-Arab leaders says that in a way it’s good that Netanyahu’s won because it’ll be so bad now, it’ll increase international pressure on Israel to end the occupation. It could get so bad now that things will have to change.”

That Israeli-Arab ‘leader’ is Balad branch secretary Sami Abu Shehadeh – a popular source for the Guardian and an unsurprising interviewee for the writer of the article promoted by Schneider, who previously cut her activism-cum-journalism teeth at 972 Magazine and two political NGOs. Paddy O’Connell however makes no attempt to clarify the political background to Schneider’s article of choice. Menzies Campbell continues with the following debatable declaration:

MC: “The problem is – the settlements. And you can’t…there’s no leader of the Palestinians who could possibly accept a settlement which didn’t include East Jerusalem as the cabinet of a Palestinian state. The settlements are proceeding at such a pace that it will soon be impossible for that to be the case.”

O’Connell interjects:

PO: “And I certainly make the point that the Israelis did vote so that although you’ve got your disagreements, he was returned, wasn’t he, against the odds.”

Campbell: “But look at…you know…him saying the Arabs are coming to the polls; you’ve got to get out. I mean imagine if a politician here had said the black vote is coming out; you’ve got to do something, or the Jews or, you know… it’s just impossible to conceive.”

The item ends there but what is actually inconceivable is that none of the people in that BBC studio were aware of the very relevant context that the bulk of parties making up the Joint Arab List oppose the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. Perhaps if they widened their own media consumption beyond the Guardian/Observer and the BBC, they would be able to come up with informative and relevant commentary more useful to BBC audiences than the obviously politically partisan and inaccurate caricature presented in this programme. 

Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

The March 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by Kevin Connolly (available from 06:19 here) described as follows in the programme’s synopsis:FOOC 19 3

“…a stunning election victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel — but it means frustration, anger and dismay for the country’s Palestinian population…”

As has been noted here in previous discussions of BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election (see here and here), one topic which all the corporation’s journalists avoided like the plague in all its reporting was that of foreign funding for organisations such as V15 which campaigned to influence the outcome of the election. In this report, however, Kevin Connolly goes a step beyond omission, actively misinforming listeners when he says (from around 09:00):

“…Mr Netanyahu now has the chance to replace a rather fractious and recalcitrant old coalition with a new one, which should prove more manageable. Foreign governments, of course, are far too well-behaved to interfere in the internal politics of a democratic state. But the outside world tends to view Israeli politics through the prism of the state of the peace process with the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not US tax-payers’ money was used in the V15 campaign remains to be seen – as the Free Beacon recently reported:

“The head of a progressive U.S.-based group that helped organize the failed get-out-the-vote effort to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended the initiative during a panel discussion at J Street’s annual conference on Sunday.

Kenneth Bob, who runs the U.S. nonprofit Ameinu, said around a year ago the group began meeting with board members, political parties, and other progressive organizations to figure out “what can we actually do to impact events on the ground in Israel.”

“It took us on a path to learn about Israeli electoral funding laws, and it brought us to a project that has now gotten a certain amount of publicity thanks to the prime minister of Israel,” said Bob. “We helped put together a get-out-the-vote effort in the Arab community.”

Netanyahu called on his supporters to turn out to vote last Tuesday to counter U.S.-funded efforts aimed at bringing out left-leaning and Arab-Israeli voters. His comments earned rebukes from the White House, which has suggested that he was trying to discourage minority voting.

Bob said Netanyahu’s characterization of the campaign was accurate, although the prime minister overstated how much money it had received.

“When Bibi spoke about the tens of millions of dollars pouring into this effort, my only correction was it wasn’t tens of millions,” said Bob. “He exaggerated a little bit.” […]

Several organizations that have received funding from the U.S. State Department—including OneVoice, Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives—were also involved in the voter-targeting efforts. A bipartisan Senate committee launched an investigation earlier this month into whether any U.S. government funds had been used for this campaign.” [emphasis added]

What is already known, however, is that foreign governments regularly interfere in internal Israeli politics by means of funding for assorted NGOs. Those governments include the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and Norway – to name but a few of the countries which are considerably less “well-behaved” than Connolly tries to make out.

Connolly then provides listeners with more misinformation:

“Outsiders will want to know what chance there is now of convening talks or what chance they might have of succeeding if they could be convened. The truth is that the process was already feeling pretty moribund. There’s been no movement since an American-brokered attempt at negotiations fizzled out last year. Now, it feels more moribund still.” [emphasis added]

The last round of talks between Israel and the PLO did not “fizzle out” as Connolly claims: they came to an abrupt end when the Fatah controlled  Palestinian Authority opted for a reconciliation deal with Hamas: a terrorist organization which does not recognize either Israel’s right to exist or existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.

Of course accurate representation of the reasons for the failure of the last round of talks would have put a decided damper on the multi-platform campaign to portray the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the results of Israel’s election which was evident throughout the BBC’s coverage of that event. This contribution from Connolly may well fit the chosen editorial line, but it is not accurate and deliberately misleads BBC audiences.  

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Superficial BBC reporting on emerging P5+1 deal with Iran

On March 28th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Iran nuclear talks ‘enter endgame’ in Switzerland“. Relating to the apparently imminent prospect of a framework deal between the P5+1 and Iran concerning the latter’s nuclear programme, the report is remarkably economical with regard to the content and efficacy of the deal itself, framing the issue in very generalized terms.Plett written

“After meeting Mr Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Mr Zarif said: “I think we can in fact make the necessary progress to be able to resolve all the issues and start writing them down in a text that will become the final agreement.”

He has already met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Lausanne.

Mr Fabius added a note of caution, saying: “We have moved forward on certain points, but on others not enough.” […]

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes but world powers fear it has military ambitions.

Some of the most contentious issues remain unresolved, says the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher.

Potential sticking points in the nuclear talks are thought to include the pace at which sanctions would be lifted, how long the deal will last and how much of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be open to inspection.”

Barbara Plett Usher also produced an equally anodyne filmed report on the topic which, in addition to being broadcast on BBC television news programmes, appeared on the corporation’s website under the title “Growing optimism for Iran nuclear talks“. In the synopsis to that report audiences were given an upbeat message:Plett filmed

“There is growing optimism that an agreement can be reached on Iran’s nuclear programme ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, although some critical sticking points remain.”

In the report itself, Plett Usher told viewers:

“They’re […] closing in on a deal that would prevent any Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear weapon in exchange for ending sanctions on Iran.”

She added:

“Progress has been made on steps to scale back Iran’s uranium enrichment programme but how much nuclear research it will be allowed to conduct is still a contentious issue, as is the pace at which sanctions would be lifted.”

But will the deal – as Plett Usher claims – really “prevent any Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear weapon”? Aspects of the emerging results of negotiations make that statement highly questionable, as noted by other journalists presenting a far more critical and detailed picture of the negotiations than the superficial account offered to BBC audiences.

Writing in the Telegraph, Peter Foster notes that:

“…it now seems Iran will be allowed to keep 6,000 of its centrifuges, considerably more than the 500-1,500 the US originally wanted, or the 4,000 “compromise” offer Washington made a year ago.

The direction of travel is clear. Even more worryingly, the US is reportedly considering allowing Iran to keep some centrifuges at Fordow, the impenetrably hardened underground facility that Iran built in secret, and only admitted to having in 2009 after they were rumbled by Western intelligence.

Western officials soothingly say there is no need to get hung up on the details, just focus on the one-year “breakout time” that keeps Tehran at least 12 months away from being able to make a bomb and trust to the inspections regime that will alert the world long before that happens.

“Distrust and verify” says Mr Obama and yet scratch the surface of these negotiations and it is clear that there are plenty of reasons to question whether Iran will ever actually submit to the effective scrutiny on which the credibility of this deal ultimately rests.

Only this week the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that Iran has replied to just one of the 12 questions UN inspectors want answered about its nuclear past, while an IAEA report last month voiced concerns about “undisclosed nuclear related activities” including the “development of a nuclear payload for a missile.””

An editorial in the Washington Post states:

“The United States believes that, prior to 2003, Iran conducted extensive studies and tests on building a bomb and mounting it on a long-range missile — belying its claims that it has pursued nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes. U.S. intelligence was long ago turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, starting in 2006, have ordered Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in clarifying these “possible military dimensions.”

Twice, in 2007 and in 2013, Iran agreed with the IAEA on a “work plan” to clear up the military research issues. In both instances, it then stonewalled inspectors, refusing to answer questions or permit access to sites. After the agency sought access in 2011 to a military complex called Parchin, where warhead detonation tests may have been carried out, satellite surveillance revealed that Iran had demolished buildings and excavated ground in an apparent cover-up operation.

In frustration, the IAEA published an extensive report detailing what it already knew about the illicit bomb work and listed 12 outstanding issues. Two years later, in the hope of sealing an interim deal allowing the partial lifting of sanctions, the government of Hassan Rouhani agreed on a “step-by-step” plan to answer the questions.

But instead of implementing the plan, the regime went back to stonewalling. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told The Post’s Steven Mufson this week that Iran had provided information on just one of the 12 issues. On two others, Mr. Amano said, it had given “very limited” responses, and the remaining nine had not been addressed at all.

An appropriate response to this blatant violation of agreements would be to insist that Iran complete the IAEA work plan before any long-term accord is signed or any further sanctions lifted. Inspectors need their questions answered so that they will be able to determine later whether Iran has violated the controls on its nuclear research expected to be part of a deal. Furthermore, it is vital to establish that Tehran will deliver on its commitments and that it will be held accountable if it does not.

Remarkably, however, negotiators — including the supposedly hard-line French, who have taken the lead on the “military dimensions” issue — have reportedly agreed to let Iran’s noncompliance slide. The IAEA’s unanswered questions will be rolled over and rebundled into the new agreement, with a new time line. That means that Iran will have some sanctions lifted before it complies with a commitment it first made eight years ago.”

Members of the BBC’s licence fee paying public will no doubt be asking themselves why the two above publications – among others – are capable of providing serious analysis which really does “enhance audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” whilst the corporation which bills itself as the “standard-setter for international journalism” makes do with superficial, anodyne reporting on such a crucial topic. 

Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

On March 27th the BBC News website ran a report titled “Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority“. One aspect of the BBC’s portrayal of that story is particularly notable.tax revenues art

The article opens:

“Israel is to stop withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a move that has crippled the Palestinian economy. […]

Israel’s military had reportedly warned that the policy was fuelling violence.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet domestic security service all recommended the move.

It did not give their reasons, but Israeli media reported earlier this week that military commanders had said the policy was fuelling violence in the occupied West Bank.”

However, actual reports in the Israeli media present a decidedly less simplistic picture than the one promoted by the BBC. Israel Hayom, for example, reported that:

“Defense officials said various factors have contributed to the latest security assessments suggesting that an escalation in Judea and Samaria may be imminent, including the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Palestinian Authority’s recent moves in The Hague, and the overall instability in the Middle East.

One military official said the defense establishment had recognized an increase in attempts to direct terrorist activity across Judea and Samaria by Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, as well as by Turkey-based Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri.

Islamic Jihad has also increased its activity on the ground, as has the Tanzim, a Fatah militant faction.

Another defense source said the nature of the next round of violence is unknown, and the military is preparing for a number of possible scenarios in Judea and Samaria, including widespread unrest, riots, and clashes between civilians and security forces.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a vested interest in curbing tensions on the ground, the source said, adding that Abbas’ ability to reconcile the dissonance between the relatively stable security situation and the unstable diplomatic situation is growing weaker.

Following Abbas’ application for membership in the International Criminal Court, effective April 1, Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF believes the move, which has aggravated the PA’s dire economic situation, may contribute to any potential flare-up of unrest on the ground.”

Ha’aretz reported:

“On the West Bank there has been a significant rise in recent months in Hamas attempts to activate terror squads by means of the external command headquarters in Turkey and the Gaza Strip. Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have arrested dozens of Hamas men from the West Bank, members of various groups suspected of planning terror attacks. Islamic Jihad has also increased its military activity, mainly in the northern West Bank. Israel has also identified renewed activity, independent and unmonitored, by members of Tanzim, the popular movement of Fatah, some of whose members defy the PA. There is a fear that in the event of an escalation in terror Tanzim members will once again take part, as happened during the second intifada.”

And Ynet reported:

“Ynet has learned that IDF officials have recently presented the political echelons with the possible security ramifications for Israel’s economic sanctions. According to army officials, growing economic tensions in the Palestinian market in the West Bank served as a catalyst for riots and even terror attacks, breaking the relative calm the West Bank has enjoyed in recent years. […]

Meanwhile, the IDF are preparing for a possible escalation in the West Bank, both spontaneous and organized. The different scenarios include multi-site riots involving thousands of protesters, some armed, throughout the West Bank; simultaneous terror attacks; kidnapping and infiltration attempts; and a possible end to security coordination with the Palestinians, which they say is very unlikely, though a number of such cases have happened at a local level.

Though IDF say coordination will continue, if only because it is in the Palestinians’ interest to maintain control over its areas in the West Bank and to be able to present itself as the legal representative of the Palestinians, and not as a terror organization. The Palestinian Authority wants to avoid bolstering Hamas (currently said to be backed by roughly half of the Palestinian population).

They also fear Hamas involvement in the West Bank, and other attempts by young Tanzim – a militant offshoot of Fatah –  supporters to set up terror cells in the area. Those youths, they say, are no longer bound by the “Prisoners Commitment” which prevents PLO officials from returning to the ways of terror. In Nablus, security forces rounded up some of these youths, especially in the Lata refugee camp.”

In other words, the withholding of tax revenues is far from the sole factor – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – which is “fuelling violence” in PA controlled areas.

The rise of Hamas terrorist activity in PA controlled areas is not a new phenomenon. It is, however, one which the BBC has consistently under-reported since last summer and – as we see in this article – it continues to do so. 

One-staters get BBC WS platform for promotion of BDS, ‘resistance’ and ‘apartheid’ trope

As readers who have followed our discussion of the BBC’s coverage of the recent Israeli election will be aware, much of the material produced stubbornly focused audience attentions on a topic which was low down on voters’ lists of priorities: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A significant number of the BBC’s reports included commentary on an interview given by the Israeli prime minister to NRG on March 16th in which he said:

“I think that anyone today going to set up a Palestinian state – anyone going to evacuate territory – is simply giving extremist Islam territory for attacks against the State of Israel. That’s the reality which has emerged here in the recent years. Whoever does not understand that is simply putting…burying his head in the sand. The Left does that – it buries its head in the sand time after time.” 

When then asked by the interviewer if it was correct to say that “…if you are prime minister a Palestinian state will not be established”, Netanyahu replied “indeed”.

In the March 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from thirty seconds in), presenter James Coomarasamy turned that one word into an ‘election pledge’.Newshour 19 3

Coomarasamy: “…we begin with the continuing fall-out from the Israeli election. On the domestic front the political landscape is unchanged: Binyamin Netanyahu has been reelected to a fourth term. But on the international level it’s becoming increasingly apparent that some of the pledges he made to secure that victory could have serious consequences. In particular, his suggestion that on his watch there wouldn’t be a Palestinian state has further widened the gap between him and the White House. Mr Netanyahu appeared to soften his line today, telling the American television channel MSNBC that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood – or what he called a sustainable, peaceful two state solution – provided conditions in the region improve. Well, the White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that any change in Israeli policy towards a two state solution would mean that America would have to reevaluate its position.”

After hearing a recording of Earnest’s comments, listeners heard two speakers – introduced as follows:

JC: “But first – to discuss the options for Palestinians – I’ve been speaking to Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel and holds both US and Israeli nationality. I’ve also been speaking to Mustafa Barghouti, the runner-up in the last Palestinian presidential election: was he expecting a change of approach from America?”

Notably, Coomarasamy refrained from informing listeners that the election to which he referred took place in 2005, with no election having been held since and the winner’s four-year term of office having expired six years ago. In breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality, Coomarasamy also made no effort to ‘summarise the standpoint’ of either of his interviewees or to clarify the political ideologies of the organisations with which they are involved. Worse still was Coomarasamy’s failure to challenge Barghouti’s advancement of the ‘apartheid’ trope.

Mustafa Barghouti: “I hope so, but we still have to see. It’s not enough what they said. What we need is actions and not just talks. In reality Netanyahu is trying to deceive everybody. What matters is not only what he says although he said very clearly that he is not going to allow a two state solution and all his statements were racist and practically he officially declared Israel as an apartheid state – a segregation state. Nevertheless…”

JC: “Well yeah…but he did …he said today though…he said he was committed to a two state solution provided the conditions allow it. So he has softened his stance…”

MB: “No, no, no; he is deceiving you. He’s deceiving you, deceiving the world media and deceiving everybody and that’s why I said what matters is what he does and what he does on the ground is settlement activities at a rate that is unprecedented. The settlement activities are destroying the possibility of a Palestinian state. In reality he is conducting a campaign to end the possibility of two state solution and he’s said it to win votes.”

This of course would have been the appropriate juncture for Coomarasamy to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s claim that “settlement activities” have been “unprecedented” under the governments headed by Netanyahu are inaccurate, but he failed to correct that deliberately misleading impression.

JC: “So what’s…what should the Palestinian reaction be? What calculations are you making at the moment?”

MB: “Well first of all let me say what the United States should say – should do – as you have asked about that. I think the United States and European countries – if they are really committed to Palestinian statehood and to two state solution – they should immediately recognize the Palestinian state. They should send a very clear message to Israel that they are establishing a de facto political fact as to encounter his facts on the ground as well.”

Coomarasamy then brought in Yousef Munnayer – notably without any attempt to clarify the all-important question of the level of commitment of the assorted Palestinian factions to the two state solution.

“YM: “Well…err…I think that it’s very clear where Benjamin Netanyahu stands. Anyone who has followed the career of Benjamin Netanyahu – not just in recent years, but as he came up through the right-wing Likud party – knows exactly where his ideas lie. He is not interested in ever seeing a Palestinian state. For many years the charter of the Likud party which he leads explicitly stated that their position was to flatly reject the existence of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, so obviously ruling out a Palestinian state anywhere in the West Bank and Gaza. So nobody should be fooled by anything that Benjamin Netanyahu says. But I think frankly we should not put any credence into the rhetoric of a person who so agilely changes their position on matters of principle in three days.”

Coomarasamy neglected to point out to listeners that the Likud’s updated charter no longer includes such a position whilst at the same time failing to quiz Munayyer on the topic of the Hamas charter – which rejects the existence of Israel outright – and the Palestinian Authority’s continual rejection of Israel’s right to exist. In other words, his failure to ensure the introduction of that essential context – along with the failure to note the repeated rejection of a negotiated solution by the Palestinians – meant that Coomarasamy’s listeners were led to believe that the two state solution is rejected by Israel but embraced by the Palestinians.

JC: “Yes, so what then should the Palestinian position be?”

YM: “I think the Palestinian approach should be to continue to reach out to the international community to raise pressure on Israel. The power dynamics are such that the Palestinians cannot do this by themselves.”

JC: “Well it sounds as though America might be prepared to do that. What did you make of the comments from the White House today?”

YM: “Well I think the White House is now in a very, very difficult position. They have supported Israel unwaveringly for many, many years and the leader of Israel who was just elected with a fairly significant mandate to form a right-wing government spat in the face of established US policy for many years. So this is not something that they can let go quietly; they have to do something. The question is what is it that they are going to do? They’re gonna be exploring their options. I would love to see the United States take a very strong stance right at this moment: break the taboo of support for Israel and say that they are going to be changing their policy until Israel’s behavior matches international law.”

Coomarasamy then steered the conversation to the direction of promotion of the one state ‘solution’.

JC: “But what about the Palestinians? You say that you believe there has never been a realistic chance of Israel supporting a two state solution – what should Palestinians be doing then? Should they be campaigning for equal rights within Israel?”

MB: “I would like to respond to this. First of all I think if Israel kills the two states option of course the only alternative would be one state solution with full democratic rights. But what people should understand; this would be a long journey and a struggle against the system of apartheid that Netanyahu has created. And that means that we need not only Palestinian popular resistance on the ground but also boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the very same manner that was used against the system of apartheid in South Africa at one point in time.”

Coomarasamy made no attempt to relieve his listeners of the erroneous impression that Israel can be legitimately compared to apartheid South Africa or to clarify to them the end game of the BDS movement: the eradication of the Jewish state.

JC: “Popular resistance: do you think this makes war more likely?”

MB: “Yes. Popular resistance – popular non-violent resistance – this is what we are calling for and I think this is the least we can do in front of a government that will include Mr Liberman who speaks about beheading Palestinians and who is speaking about executing the Palestinian prisoners.”

Coomarasamy failed to put those comments into context by explaining to audiences that Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party proposed the death penalty for terrorists during its recent election campaign.

JC: “Right. Yousef Munayyer – what are your thoughts then about whether or not Palestinians should simply be campaigning for equal rights within Israel if you don’t think the two state solution is viable?”

YM: “Well I think frankly – and this is where I perhaps…I may disagree a little bit with Dr Barghouti – is that neither outcome is a short journey. Both of these are going to be significant struggles but we really do not have an alternative. The status quo is not something that is morally acceptable as we all know. And I think there will be robust support for a Palestinian civil rights movement should the leadership chose to go in that direction. If you look at American public opinion for example, if you ask Americans what they prefer be the outcome should a two state solution fail to be achievable, as I think is fairly demonstrable at this point, the vast majority say they want to see a single democratic state because these are values that resonate with Americans which have had their own visceral experience with the civil rights struggle in the United States and I think as Israel moves further into the open as an apartheid state, that clash with US values will become more apparent.”

Of course Coomarasamy refrained from reminding his listeners – and his interviewee – that the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States never negated the rights of others to live there, never negated that country’s existence and certainly did not engage in an organised campaign of (partly foreign funded) violent indiscriminate terrorism against its population.

Regrettably, it is not rare to see context-free promotion of the ‘apartheid’ trope in BBC content. Neither is it unusual to see promotion of the anti-peace BDS campaign without any information being provided to audiences regarding that movement’s real aims. In addition to its mainstreaming of those forms of delegitimisation of Israel, we see in this programme the provision of a sympathetic BBC platform for the promotion of the one state ‘solution’ campaign to bring about the dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state and an end to the right of Jews to self-determination.

Yet again the BBC makes a mockery of its own supposed ‘impartiality’.

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BBC News reports one side of reactions to Israeli PM’s apology

On March 23rd the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Netanyahu apologises to Israeli-Arabs over election remarks“. Readers are told that:Netanyahu apology art

“Apologising for his comments he [Netanyahu] said: “I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some Israeli citizens.

“My actions as prime minister, including massive investment in minority sectors, prove the exact opposite.

“I think, similarly, that no element outside the state of Israel should intervene in our democratic processes.””

Readers are not however told to whom the apology was made, in what circumstances or how it was received. The only clue to that comes in the form of the reaction of the leader of the Joint Arab List which the BBC did find fit to promote.

“The Joint List alliance of Arab-dominated parties rejected the apology. […]

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List – an alliance of Israeli Arab-dominated parties that united for the first time and secured 13 seats at last week’s election, told Israel’s Channel 10: “We do not accept this apology.

“It was to a group of elders and not to the elected leadership of Israel’s Arabs. I want to see actions, how is he going to manifest this apology? Will he advance equality?””

Readers of this article will be unable to put Odeh’s claim that his party represents “the elected leadership of Israel’s Arabs” into its correct context because since the final results of the election were announced, the BBC has not clarified to audiences that in fact a quarter of the Arab MKs in the incoming Knesset represent other parties: Likud, Meretz, Yisrael Beitinu and the Zionist Union. Neither are BBC audiences aware of the fact that the BBC’s monochrome portrayal of Israeli Arab voters does not reflect the complete picture.

Netanyahu’s apology was made at the Prime Minister’s official residence, to which representatives from the various minority communities in Israel were invited. Readers can see for themselves below how his words were received by the invitees – and ponder the fact that whilst the BBC chose not to report that aspect of the story, it did find it necessary to report Ayman Odeh’s reaction and to repeat the White House’s criticism of Netanyahu’s original statement.

 

 

When the BBC’s ‘world view’ coincides with that of a story source

If readers have perhaps had the feeling that some recent BBC News website articles had more of a whiff of largely unadulterated White House press briefing about them than analytical journalism and critical commentary, then the article published on March 24th under the headline “Israel denies spying on US-Iran nuclear talks” would have done nothing to dispel that impression.Spying art

Based on one WSJ article from one journalist who obviously had more than a little help from White House sources, the BBC’s rehash adds nothing which audiences could not have discovered for themselves by reading the original.

Buried in the article’s fifteenth paragraph is the following information:

“The White House uncovered the operation, the report said, when US intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted messages among officials that could only have come from closed-door talks.”

In other words the White House’s claim that Israel was spying on the P5+1 talks is based on information acquired by the US whilst it was itself spying on Israel. The BBC has nothing to say about that obvious hypocrisy and it does not sufficiently clarify to readers that any information obtained by Israel could actually have come via any one of the six countries negotiating with Iran- including the one taking a more sceptical approach to the issue than the US – or from surveillance of the other party to the negotiations.

In the next two paragraphs readers discover exactly what prompted the US administration to leak a non-event of a story to a journalist:

“But it was Israel’s sharing of inside information with US lawmakers and others that particularly angered the White House, the report quoted an official as saying.

“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” the unnamed official said.”

The BBC elects not to tackle the basic – and more interesting – topics of why any of the many countries which lobby the US Congress should be in a position to be able to provide that body with information it has not already been given by the US administration or why keeping Congress in the loop apparently ‘undermines’ US diplomacy. Neither does the article address the question of whether or not Israel actually told members of Congress anything they could not discover for themselves in the mountains of media reports on the P5+1 talks or from the IAEA’s reports and statements on the subject.

Most remarkably, however, this report makes no real effort to inform BBC audiences why Israel and other countries are so concerned about the progress of the P5+1 talks with Iran. The only reference to that issue comes in an insert of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell who writes:

“Israel’s deep concerns about any emerging deal on Iran’s nuclear programme are well known, as are the tensions this is placing on ties with the US administration.”

The trouble with that claim of course is that “Israel’s deep concerns” have been communicated to BBC audiences via the BBC filter and that framing has consistently failed to provide them with an objective view of the issue.

So once again in this article the BBC chose to blindly amplify yet another manufactured political ‘crisis’ without any critical commentary on the topic itself or questioning of the motives of the source lying behind the story.  And that – apparently – is what the BBC thinks it can pass off as ‘standard-setting’ journalism. 

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

On page 29 of its 2014 Antisemitic Incidents report the Community Security Trust provided the following information:

“Almost half the incidents recorded in those two months [July and August 2014 – Ed.] – 258, or 48 per cent of the 542 incidents recorded in July and August – made direct or indirect reference to the conflict in Israel and Gaza that began on 8 July 2014 and concluded on 26 August. There was also a daily correlation between the number of antisemitic incidents reported to CST during this period and specific events in the conflict in Israel and Gaza. […] On 28 July, a day when media reported an explosion at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, CST recorded 22 antisemitic incidents in the UK.” [emphasis added]

With BBC content reaching the vast majority of the UK population and BBC One television news identified by the public as the UK’s most important source of news, the manner in which the BBC reported a story which prompted twenty-two antisemitic  incidents in that country is obviously of interest.Shifa Sahti tweet 1

Here at BBC Watch we have been tracking the BBC’s reporting of that particular story since it first emerged. On July 30th 2014 we noted that – despite information having been provided around an hour after the incidents at Shifa hospital and the Shati refugee camp occurred which showed that the cause of the civilian casualties was missiles fired by a terrorist organization – the BBC’s reporting of the story on July 28th and 29th promoted the Hamas version of the story according to which Israeli missile strikes caused the deaths of some eight children and several adults.Pannell Shati report filmed 28 7

Several days later we noted here that the BBC had produced a report on July 31st (updated on August 4th) titled “Gaza conflict: Disputed deadly incidents” which – despite the above-mentioned information – continued to encourage audiences to believe that Hamas’ version of the story was at least as credible as the information provided by Israel.

‘The BBC’s presentation of that incident, however, places data gathered from sophisticated tracking equipment on a par with the unverified verbal claims of assorted bodies all ultimately run by a proscribed terrorist organization.

“Gaza’s police, Civil Defence Directorate and health officials say Israeli air strikes caused the explosions. According to Al-Jazeera, Hamas denied it had fired any rockets from the area and said it was “categorically an Israeli air strike”. Hamas said it had collected shrapnel from the scene consistent with Israeli munitions, the channel’s website reported.

In a text message quoted by AP news agency, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described the incident as a “war crime” for which “the occupation” would pay the price.”’Shifa Shati Campbell tweet

On August 12th 2014 we noted that – despite a visit by the BBC’s chief international correspondent to an IDF missile tracking unit – the article defining the July 28th incident as “disputed” still stood.

On December 12th 2014 we noted that the IDF Military Attorney General’s investigation into the July 28th incidents at Shifa hospital and Shati concluded that they were caused by missiles fired by a terrorist organization. Despite that, all the five reports suggesting to BBC audiences that it was reasonable to assume that the deaths of civilians – mostly children – had been caused by Israeli missiles were still available to visitors to the BBC News website with no correction added.  

On March 26th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Amnesty: Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes“.  The article includes the following:AI Shati report

“Amnesty said rocket fire had also endangered Palestinian civilians.

The group said an independent munitions expert had concluded that a Palestinian rocket had exploded next to a supermarket in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 28 July, killing 13 civilians, 11 of them children aged between seven and 14.”

As we know, the BBC sets great store by any report – accurate or not – produced by Amnesty International. Perhaps then the appearance of this one will at long last prompt the corporation to append clarifications to those five reports – all of which are still accessible in their original inaccurate and misleading form on the BBC News website. It is, after all, in the BBC’s interest to do so in light of the fact that – according to its own statement from June 2014:

“…however long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”

The corporation’s continued failure to add appropriate clarifications to those five BBC reports (and any others still available to the public) risks wasting licence fee payer-provided funding on dealing with unnecessary complaints. More seriously, it also continues to provide the agar for antisemitic incidents in Britain. 

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