A Middle East first ignored by BBC News

One might have assumed that the first ever transgender beauty pageant in Israel (and presumably in the entire Middle East) would have been a newsworthy story for the self-styled “standard-setter of international journalism”. However, last weekend’s event received no coverage on BBC News’ English language website.

“The first ever “Miss Trans Israel Pageant” packed an auditorium at the Bima National Theater in Tel Aviv on Friday, to mark the beginning of the 2016 Pride Events in Tel Aviv. The winner of the event – 21-year-old Ta’alin Abu Hanna, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, will represent Israel at the Miss TransStar International pageant in Barcelona in September.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“A Christian Arab-Israeli ballet dancer, Abu Hanna told reporters she is “proud to be an Israeli Arab,” noting, “If I had not been in Israel and had been elsewhere — in Palestine or in any other Arab country — I might have been oppressed or I might have been in prison or murdered.””

One BBC department did however report on the competition in its earlier stages and, interestingly, that was BBC Arabic.

BBC News’ confused messaging on Gaza Strip executions

On May 25th we noted here the absence of BBC reporting on the topic of thirteen scheduled public executions (some of which have apparently since taken place) in the Gaza Strip. On May 26th an article titled “UN alarmed by Hamas plans for executions in Gaza” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Gaza executions art  

Linking to a report from the New York Times, the article tells readers that:

“One Palestinian group has documented 67 executions in Gaza since 2007.

However, that figure does not include the killings of people accused by Hamas of being collaborators during wartime. At least 25 were shot dead after the 2014 conflict with Israel.” [emphasis added]

As was documented here at the time – reports of extrajudicial killings of alleged ‘collaborators’ which emerged in the local media during (rather than “after”) the 2014 conflict were not addressed by BBC correspondents on the ground, with the exception of cases in which Hamas sought publicity.

Despite having noted those mass executions of alleged ‘collaborators’, the report then goes on to tell readers that:

“The Hamas authorities mostly stopped carrying out the death penalty in June 2014, when a government of national consensus was formed and officially placed in charge of Gaza.”

The apparent source of that statement appears in the linked NYT article:

“Hamas mostly stopped the executions after June 2014 because a national unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority was officially placed in charge of Gaza.”

Whether or not that confusing information is intended to communicate to BBC audiences that there is cause to view the killing of alleged ‘collaborators’ differently to other executions is unclear but obviously the conflicting statements “[a]t least 25 were shot dead after the 2014 conflict with Israel” and “[t]he Hamas authorities mostly stopped carrying out the death penalty in June 2014” are not conducive to audience understanding of the issue.

Relating to the legal questions surrounding the planned executions, the article fails to inform readers of the moratorium on death sentences put in place by the PA president in 2005.

“On Wednesday, Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian parliament announced they had approved a measure allowing executions to be carried out in Gaza without having first been ratified by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank. […]

 It was not clear what authority the MPs had to authorise executions in the coastal territory, given that the full Palestinian Legislative Council has not met since Hamas reinforced its power in Gaza in 2007 following a violent rift with Mr Abbas’ Fatah movement.” [emphasis added]

That latter euphemistic statement is how the broadcaster charged with building “a global understanding of international issues” portrays to its audiences a terror organisation’s violent military coup against the representative body of the Palestinian people as recognized by the international community.

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

h/t GB

The May 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 22:55 here) described in the synopsis thus:FOOC 28 5

“And the news media may love an anniversary, but some of its senior correspondents have dates they’d sooner forget …”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the piece as follows:

“Anniversaries are a regular feature of news coverage these days. Words like ‘it’s 12 months since’ or ‘100 years ago today’ preface many a tale. This can be useful for editors: it provides not only an opportunity to revisit and reassess a story but also, of course, a way to fill up space and airtime. But some anniversaries – as Jeremy Bowen knows – are marked more quietly, away from the public gaze.”

There is nothing “away from the public gaze” about the anniversary Jeremy Bowen chose to mark by broadcasting this particular item on national radio and – as can be seen in the examples in the related articles below – Bowen does not mark that anniversary “quietly”: he in fact makes a point of recounting the story annually.

But whilst the story and its yearly narration by the BBC’s Middle East editor are not novel, it does provide some insight into why the corporation’s coverage of Israel is as it is because it reveals what lies behind the long-standing approach to that country adopted by the gatekeeper of BBC Middle East content.

JB: “Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army. Abed was Lebanese from Beirut. He’d worked for the BBC since the [Lebanese] civil war started in the 1970s. Abed was in his early 50s with three boys and a wife. His business card said ‘driver producer’. He was a fixer: the kind of person without whom foreign correspondents could not function. We rely on people like Abed around the world, though he was exceptional because of his experience, his sense of humour and his bravery. He used to pick me up in his battered Mercedes taxi when I arrived at Beirut airport and accelerate away into the traffic, boasting that he was a better driver than Michael Schumacher. Istill miss him when I arrive at the airport and he isn’t there. I’ve never had the heart to delete his phone number from my contacts book.

On the day Abed was killed the Israelis were ending a long occupation of southern Lebanon. They were driven out by Hizballah – the Shia militia that also became a political and social movement. We kept a safe distance from the Israeli forces as they retreated. My big mistake was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera near the Lebanese border with Israel. I didn’t think they’d shoot from the other side of the wire. I asked Abed to pull over. He stayed in the car making a phone call while the cameraman Malek Kenaan and I got out. A couple of minutes later an Israeli tank about a kilometer away on their side of the border fired a shell into the back of the car. Somehow Abed forced his way out of the window and then dropped down onto the road. Malek told me not to go up to the remains of the car, which was on fire, because Abed was dead and the Israelis would kill me too. A colleague on the Israeli side heard the tank crew saying they’d got one of us and they’d kill the other two with a heavy machine gun. When I stuck my head out of the place where Malek and I had taken cover, they opened fire as they said they would. I’m as certain as I can be that the Israelis would have tried to kill me too if I’d gone up to find him. But I still feel guilty that I didn’t.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

A few weeks later when I was back in Israel where I was based at the time, I went to see a General in Tel Aviv whom I’d been promised would explain their version of events. He said they’d thought we were terrorists about to attack them. Hizballah did not drive Israel out in 2000 by sauntering along a road in the midday sun of South Lebanon. They’re way cleverer than that. When I said that to the General he shrugged and said there were frightened boys in the tank who’d been warned they might be attacked.

 I believe the soldiers in the tank could see us clearly for what we were – harmless civilians. It was a bright, blue sky day and the optics in Israeli tanks are excellent. I think, for them, Lebanese lives were cheap and they assumed we were a Lebanese news team – not the BBC. […] Reporting wars is a dangerous business, obviously. I think it’s more dangerous now than it was when I went to my first war in 1989 or in that dreadful week in 2000. The reason is the 24/7 news cycle. Killing journalists is a good way of sending a message about power and ruthlessness.

I gave up going to wars for a while after the awful few days sixteen years ago. But it would be impossible to report the Middle East as it is now without accepting a degree of risk. I try to stay away from the front lines but sometimes they’re part of the job. Many of my working days in the Middle East involve men with guns. If I get an easier job I won’t regret saying goodbye to them. But for now they’re part of my working life and of increasing numbers of journalists in our troubled world.”

In short, the BBC has allowed Jeremy Bowen to use this item to once again promote the unsupported, unproven and unfounded allegation that Israel deliberately targets and kills journalists/civilians. And yet, for the last decade (since the creation of the position of Middle East editor in 2006) the man shooting that accusation from the hip at every opportunity has also been the person entrusted with ensuring that BBC coverage of Israel is accurate and impartial.

That, sadly for the BBC’s reputation, says it all.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Examining the facts behind a claim from BBC Complaints

A number of readers have written to BBC Watch over the past months to inform us of the receipt of a template response to their complaints concerning the BBC’s portrayal of the surge of terror attacks against Israelis which began last September. That response from BBC Complaints – also sent in at least one case in reply to a complaint about another issue – includes the following:EG

“We appreciate you believe our coverage of this story has shown bias in favour of the Palestinians and against Israelis and the state of Israel. In this response we hope to explain why we feel this has not been the case.

Across our news bulletins and programmes we have reported on the increasing number of attacks committed by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and security forces. We have broadcast reports where our reporters have spoken to the families of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the recent violence and have heard their respective stories and own specific takes on the conflict.

For example, during BBC One’s News at Ten on 9 October we heard from Odel Bennet. She and her husband were attacked by a Palestinian in the Old City the previous weekend. She was seriously injured; her husband and a rabbi who intervened were both killed. During the report we showed amateur video footage of the attack. We then heard from Mrs Bennet who, from her hospital bed, spoke of her fear and pain, and described how Palestinian passers-by mocked and verbally abused her while she lay wounded on the street.” [emphasis added]

Indeed Orla Guerin’s report from October 9th did include a thirty-eight word-long interview with Mrs Bennett. As was noted here at the time, it then cut straight to an interview with the mother of a Palestinian youth accidentally killed during violent rioting near Bethlehem.

That interview with Adele Bennett was however the one and only occasion on which BBC audiences heard from Israeli victims of terror or their families in the six-month period between mid-October 2015 and mid-April 2016. Later in April Yolande Knell interviewed the sons of Yaakov Don in a filmed report and in May 2016 Jeremy Bowen interviewed Racheli and Shiran Dadon – the mother and sister of the most seriously injured victim of the April 18th bus bombing in Jerusalem – in written, audio and filmed reports.

In all, therefore, BBC audiences have had the opportunity to hear from one Israeli victim of terror and from members of the families of two additional victims. In addition to the above mentioned interview by Orla Guerin on October 9th, interviews with relatives of Palestinian terrorists or rioters during the same period of time have included:

11/10/15: interview with the father of terrorist Muhannad Halabi by Orla Guerin.

15/10/15: interview with the father of terrorist Hassan Manasra by Jeremy Bowen.

16/10/15: interviews with the father of terrorist Hassan Manasra and the cousin of terrorist Alaa Abu Jamal by Jeremy Bowen.

30/10/15: interview with the mother of terrorist Saad al Atrash by Yolande Knell.

30/10/15: interview (radio) with the mother of terrorist Saad al Atrash by Yolande Knell.

10/1/16: interview (radio) with another cousin of terrorist Alaa Abu Jamal.

23/4/16: interviews with the father of terrorist Izz al-Din Abu Shakhadam and the family of terrorist Amani Sabateen by Yolande Knell.

4/5/16: interview with the mother of terrorist Abdul Hamid Abu Srour by Jeremy Bowen.

4/5/16: interviews with thwarted terrorist Dima al Wawi and the family of Maram and Ibrahim Taha by Jeremy Bowen.

5/5/16: interview with the mother of terrorist Abdul Hamid Abu Srour by Jeremy Bowen.

In other words, whilst the claim from BBC Complaints that “our reporters have spoken to the families of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the recent violence” is true, BBC audiences have heard, read or seen considerably more interviews with the families of Palestinian attackers than they have from those of Israeli victims. That fact of course raises questions concerning the BBC’s adherence to its own editorial guidelines demanding “due impartiality”.

Inaccuracies in BBC backgrounder on Sinai terrorists

An article by Kevin Connolly published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 20th under the title “EgyptAir crash fuels fears and theories” tells readers that:

“Egypt sees itself as a regional power in the front line of a war against global jihadism and its strong-man President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, portrays himself as the hammer of political Islamism at home.

Privately many Egyptians appear to worry that might make their country an obvious target for jihadists – the fear being that a long-bubbling Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula might escalate elsewhere in Egypt.”

The link provided leads to a backgrounder produced by BBC Monitoring titled “Sinai Province: Egypt’s most dangerous group” which tells readers that:Sinai province

“Sinai Province started by attacking Israel with rockets, but after the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 it focused on Egypt’s security services, killing dozens of soldiers.

It has been involved in suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations and beheadings.”

Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) emerged in 2011 after the ousting of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.  Its activities began with attacks on the oil pipelines running between Israel and Egypt and on July 30th of that year it attacked a police station in El Arish, killing six people. On August 14th 2011 the Egyptian army launched ‘Operation Eagle’ to tackle the insurgency and four days later a combined terror attack took place along the Israeli-Egyptian border resulting in the deaths of eight Israelis.

On August 5th 2012 – just over a month after Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt – an Egyptian army post near Rafah was attacked and more than 15 Egyptian security personnel were killed. The terrorists proceeded to the Kerem Shalom crossing in stolen vehicles and briefly breached the border. Two days later the Egyptian army launched ‘Operation Sinai’. On September 21st Ansar Bayt al Maqdis launched a terror attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border in which an Israeli soldier was killed.

In other words, the BBC’s claim that “Sinai Province started by attacking Israel with rockets” is not accurate: serious cross-border attacks also took place. The claim that attacks on Egypt’s security services began “after the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013” is also clearly inaccurate.

The backgrounder gives typically scant information on the topic of collaboration between Sinai Province and Hamas.

“The border with Israel and the Gaza Strip has been a scene of tension over the past few years. The Egyptian authorities have created a buffer zone, demolishing houses and digging a trench to prevent smuggling between Egypt and Gaza – which they say is a source of weapons for the militants.”

Were that BBC backgrounder more accurate, perhaps Kevin Connolly would have been in a position to tell his readers that Egypt has been tackling the issue of Sinai-based terrorists since before its current president came to power, that attacks “elsewhere in Egypt” have already taken place and that Egypt was a “target for jihadists” even when it had a president in the “political Islamism” camp.  

BBC corrects inaccuracies in reports on Israel’s coalition government

As was noted here last week, an article which appeared on the BBC News website on May 20th inaccurately described the Yisrael Beiteinu party as bringing six (rather than five) additional Knesset seats into the coalition government.correction

An additional article published on May 25th also inaccurately described the new coalition as having 67 seats in the Knesset rather than 66.

Following communication from BBC Watch both those articles have been amended – see here and here.

The footnote added to the May 20th article reads:

correction coalition art 1

The footnote added to the report from May 25th reads:

correction coalition art 2

Related Articles:

BBC audiences get a blinkered look into Israeli politics

BBC bungles basics in report on Israel’s new coalition

BBC News fails to report another Gaza missile attack to English-speakers

At around 11 pm on May 25th missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel with one projectile landing in open ground in the Sha’ar HaNegev district. The attack was apparently claimed by a Salafist group. Later in the night the Israeli air force responded with strikes on two Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip.

There was no reporting of that attack on the BBC’s English language website but the Israeli response was the subject of an article which appeared on the BBC Arabic website.BBC Arabic report response missiles 25 5

Since the beginning of 2016 the BBC has not reported on any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli civilians living near the border in the English language. However, Israeli responses to those attacks have received coverage in Arabic.

January 1st: BBC News ignores Gaza missile attacks, BBC Arabic reports Israeli response

January 24th: BBC News ignores Gaza missile attack again – in English

March 11th: BBC News continues to ignore missile attacks on Israelis – in English

March 15th: missile attack not reported.

May 6th: Patchy and selective BBC News reporting of Gaza border incidents

May 25th: missile attack not reported, response reported in Arabic.

That pattern of reporting has been predominant since the end of the conflict between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip in 2014, meaning that English-speaking BBC audiences – including its funding public – are not receiving the services pledged to them in the corporation’s public purposes.

The BBC charity’s partnership with terror glorifying PA media

The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and its television (PA TV) and radio (Voice of Palestine) stations are the PA’s official media channels.

As is regularly documented by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), both those stations have a long record of broadcasting material which negates Israel’s existence (including on children’s programmes), glorifies terrorism, spreads incitement, promotes antisemitic tropes and hate speech, propagates falsehoods about Israel and denies and distorts the Holocaust.

One might therefore assume that for organisations from liberal Western countries, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation would not meet the required criteria for partnership on joint projects – but that is apparently not the case.BBC Media Action

The BBC’s international development charity ‘BBC Media Action’ is officially “legally, financially and operationally independent from the BBC” although according to its website, some of its trustees are also BBC employees. It does not receive funding from the licence fee “except through the provision of office space and a small donation from BBC World Service to support co-production of content with their language services” and the majority of its income is provided by DfID – the UK government’s Department for International Development.

Despite the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation’s record, BBC Media Action (in collaboration with licence fee funded BBC Arabic) began partnering it in 2012. The charity claims to be “promoting accountability” through the governance projects – of which that partnership is one – and states that:

“BBC Media Action’s governance and rights programmes support more accountable, inclusive and peaceful states and societies.” 

Clearly the investment by British tax-payers did not have that effect upon the Palestinian Authority, which continues to promote hate, incitement and glorification of terrorism (mostly unreported by the BBC) via BBC Media Action’s partner the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.

Related Articles:

The BBC, the British Council and BDS: what Simon Cox didn’t report

The BBC World Service, the partner radio station and the terror-glorifying cartoon

BBC bungles basics in report on Israel’s new coalition

The consensus in Israel is that the May 25th agreement which brought the Yisrael Beiteinu party into the coalition government means that it now has a total of sixty-six seats in the Knesset whilst the opposition is left with 54.

From the Jerusalem Post:

coalition JP

From the Times of Israel:

coalition ToI

From Ha’aretz:

coalition haaretz

The BBC, however, has a different idea:

coalition

That statement appeared in an article published on the BBC News website on May 25th under the headline “Avigdor Lieberman named as Israel’s defence minister“. Five days earlier, before the agreement had been reached, BBC audiences had been told that:coalition art

“The deal would shore up Mr Netanyahu’s one-seat majority in parliament. […]

If his [Lieberman’s] six-seat Yisrael Beiteinu party joins the coalition, it will become the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”

As was noted here at the time:

“In fact, the day before this article was published, Yisrael Beiteinu had already become a five-seat faction due to the resignation from the party (but not from the Knesset) of MK Orly Levy-Abekasis.”

Whilst the May 25th article was later amended to include some decidedly predictable comment from Saeb Erekat and ‘analysis’ from Kevin Connolly which includes the apparently now standard mention of “a former nightclub bouncer”, the very simple – but distinctly less colourful – topic of how many seats the coalition government now holds remained inaccurately portrayed.

A media story the BBC ignored surfaces again

Back in 2013 we noted the BBC’s silence concerning restrictions on foreign journalists introduced by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalist’s Syndicate (PJS). Khaled Abu Toameh reported at the time that:PJS

“The new decision is directed primarily against Israeli journalists who cover Palestinian affairs. […]

The Palestinian Journalist’s Syndicate has long been opposed to “normalization” with Israel, and bans its members from holding meetings with Israeli colleagues. Some Palestinian journalists who defied the ban were recently expelled from the syndicate.”

In February 2016 the PJS went a step further and decided “to boycott any Palestinian official who gives an interview to Israeli reporters or media organizations”. Despite its logical, long-standing interest in the topic of press freedom, the BBC similarly refrained from reporting that story.

Our colleague Tamar Sternthal of CAMERA has now published an article concerning one of the instigators of this latest PJS boycott, titled “‘Rigorous Neutrality’?: Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate’s Nasser Abu Baker Moonlights For AFP”.

“Objectivity is a difficult goal to achieve. The mere unavoidable organisation of facts can influence a reader’s judgement. However, this does not prevent us from pursuing our policy of rigorous neutrality. According to its remit, AFP is independent of the French government and all other economic or political interests.” So state the lofty principles enshrined in “Agence France Presse’s Values.”

How, then, does one explain the fact that Nasser Abu Baker, the chairman of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, the leading force for the boycott of Israeli journalists and media, also writes for the influential French news agency? […]

According to an Israeli journalist who frequently reports from the Palestinian areas, Abu Baker “is without a doubt among the leaders in the boycott movement against Israeli journalists.” The Israeli, who refused to be named because of his ongoing work in Palestinian-controlled territory, maintained that Abu Baker “carries out a witch hunt against Palestinian journalists who don’t abide by this policy” by harassing and smearing them.

Indeed, when he was deputy chairman of the syndicate, Abu Baker recently threatened:

“I call upon all male and female colleagues/journalists to boycott any Palestinian official, regardless of how senior he/she is, who conducts an interview with Israeli journalists and Israeli media…this poisonous media whose only goal is to broadcast dissent and incite against our people. Their media, which is directed by their government, is one of the tools of the occupation. Therefore, the time has come for a comprehensive boycott of their media. The Syndicate will have a clear position on this and I plead with all the journalists to abide. We will publish the name of any official who gives an interview to their media from this moment.” 

Read the whole report here.