Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

For years visitors to the BBC News website have regularly come across claims concerning ‘international law’ in the corporation’s Israel-related content. For example:  

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”


“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative and thus breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In recent months the level of audience exposure to that narrative has risen.

The graph below shows the appearance of written reports on the BBC News website which included claims concerning ‘settlements and international law’ during the whole of 2016 and the first two months of 2017 (links provided below). It does not include filmed reports or content from additional BBC platforms.

In all of those 42 reports, BBC audiences were told that ‘settlements are considered illegal under international law’ and that ‘Israel disputes this’ but only in one of them – a backgrounder published in December 2016 – were they given any information concerning  the legal basis for those conflicting opinions. On no occasion throughout the past 14 months were audiences informed of the existence of additional alternative views of the subject beyond that of Israel. 

Readers of that backgrounder were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

The BBC has editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s near standard ‘international law’ insert obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

In other words, this increasingly touted mantra promotes a specific political narrative rather than meeting the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’.

January 2016:




March 2016:



April 2016:



July 2016: 




August 2016:


September 2016:



October 2016:



November 2016:


December 2016:











http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38458884  backgrounder

January 2017:







February 2017:










Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction




4 comments on “Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

  1. Where are the “due weight and prominence” given by the BBC to the Israeli “significant views and perspectives” on this so-called “controversial subject” ?

  2. The BBC Trust recently ruled that when Bowen said “Mr Netanyahu authorised thousands more homes for Jews in the occupied territories in defiance of international law,” he was being accurate and impartial. In other words the BBC now no longer thinks it necessary even to qualify the assertion that building new new homes for Jews breaks international law.

    The law that they quote is Art. 49 (6) of the 4th Geneva Convention “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

    How they can twist those words to mean that Israel may not build new homes for people born in Judea or Samaria is beyond me. The BBC Trust’s answer is:

    “With regard to the complainant’s assertion that a different status be accorded to Israelis born in a settlement, such that homes built for them cannot be illegal under international law. Israel has for a long time held the position that it is not building new settlements but rather expanding existing settlements to allow for natural growth. This has not altered the international community’s view that the settlements are illegal under international law.”

    The international view that they refer to is just political statements. There is no accompanying legal explanation.

  3. Pingback: BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction | BBC Watch

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