As our colleague Adam Levick noted over at UK Media Watch, the Guardian’s coverage of the Mayor of London’s recent visit to Israel and the PA controlled areas did not inform readers of the fact that a journalist covering Boris Johnson’s trip on behalf of the Jewish Chronicle was banned from attending an event in Ramallah because she is Israeli.
“Stephen Pollard, editor of the JC, said: “This is the reality of BDS. Forget the lies about it targeting institutions rather than people. As this outrageous ban on a journalist for no reason other than her nationality shows, it is about singling out individual Israelis and telling them that they are banned as people.””
So did the BBC do any better than the Guardian? Whilst the corporation covered the subject of the cancellation of some of the Mayor’s scheduled programme extensively on a variety of platforms, the banning of a fellow journalist simply because of her nationality was obviously not considered newsworthy by the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism”.
All the BBC’s reports did, however, highlight Boris Johnson’s previously made remarks concerning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. But – as is inevitably the case in BBC reporting on the issue of BDS – no effort was made to inform BBC audiences of the underlying agenda of that campaign.
In a filmed report for BBC television news programmes which was also posted on the BBC News website on November 11th under the title “Boris Johnson forced to cut short West Bank visit“, Karl Mercer told audiences that:
“What he said to them [Israeli leaders] over the movement that wants to ban Israeli products and maybe ban Israeli services is that he completely disagrees with any boycott. […]
The Mayor’s comments have been seen as controversial. […] They may be comments he’s going to regret now. […] He flies back to London tomorrow having learnt – you might think – a valuable lesson in international diplomacy.”
The BBC News website also produced a written article on the subject under the title “Boris Johnson cancels West Bank events amid Israeli boycott row” in which readers were told that:
“Advocates of a boycott, which has been in place by some organisations in recent years, claims it exerts pressure on the Israeli government, particularly in relation to the building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, which have been condemned by the UN.”
The article makes no mention of the fact that the BDS campaign’s ultimate agenda is to bring about Israel’s demise by means of delegitimisation and it even goes on to amplify misleading claims from the vociferously anti-Israel – and not infrequently antisemitic – group known as the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Also on November 11th BBC Radio 4 audiences heard a report on the same topic from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the ‘PM’ programme.
“These are remarks that the Mayor came up with when he was discussing his views on calls in the outside world for a boycott of Israel and of course they’re calls that you hear all the time in both the academic and the economic spheres.”
Yet again none of the context vital for audience understanding of the BDS campaign’s agenda was supplied and so BBC audiences were not only deliberately deprived of information which would contribute to their understanding of the issue in general, but also of background vital for the formation of informed opinions concerning the Mayor of London’s remarks.
Kevin Connolly later told Radio 4 listeners:
“You know, official visitors here; foreign embassies, international news organisations, us – everyone weighs their words on these matters with infinite, exquisite care – or at least we try to – because it is just so easy to give offence to one side or the other….”
That a publicly funded corporation legally charged with enhancing audience understanding of international issues is apparently more concerned about ‘giving offence’ than fully informing audiences of the real background to this story (and the many previous ones in which it has similarly failed to provide crucial context) should be remarkable. Sadly, the BBC’s long history of whitewashing and mainstreaming the BDS campaign means that is no longer the case.