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.”

Or:

“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:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35155227

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35351388

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35428457

March 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35901317

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35910853

April 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36091872

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36102449

July 2016: 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682056

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682062

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36720851

August 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37235922

September 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37345444

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37376069

October 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37570670

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37633012

November 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37978099

December 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38215653

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38450424

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38412079

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38416144

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38421026

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38425512

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38429385

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38431399

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38451258

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38455753

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

January 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38621527

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608990

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38667119

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38711701 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38740712

February 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38830103

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38842551

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38850975

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38879100

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38888649

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38907755

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38931180  

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38987028

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38989906

Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

 

 

 

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BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

On March 17th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit’“. The article opens with a ‘last-first’ summary of the story:

“Israel has shot down a Syrian missile using its most advanced anti-missile system for the first time, Israeli media say.

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say.

The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria.”

The article goes on:

“In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles.”

However, only in the report’s seventh paragraph do BBC audiences find out what those “several targets” actually were.

An insert of analysis from the BBC’s defence correspondent tells readers that:

“It is rare for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria though there have been reports of at least four similar raids against Hezbollah weapons shipments since the start of December last year. […]

It’s a signal perhaps to all concerned that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is ready to escalate its air campaign.”

In the body of the article readers find the following:

“Air strikes, said to have been carried out by Israel, have hit sites in Syria on numerous occasions, reportedly targeting weapons shipments for Lebanon’s Shia militant movement Hezbollah.” [emphasis added]

As is inevitably the case in content relating to such stories, the BBC refrains from giving an accurate description of Hizballah as a terror organisation and no background information concerning the suppliers of these “weapons shipments” is provided. Also as usual, this article fails to provide BBC audiences with the very relevant context concerning UN Security Council resolution 1701’s requirement of “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” and its ban on “sales or supply of arms and related material” to Hizballah or any other Lebanese militia.

The same omissions were evident in coverage of the story on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 30:04 here), with presenter Julian Marshall describing the terror organisation Hizballah as “militants in Lebanon”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s news from southern Syria front: for Arabic speakers only

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

BBC’s Bowen tells WS listeners Israel bombs Syria ‘regularly’

BBC continues to conceal Gaza missile attacks from its audience

On the morning of March 18th residents of the western Negev region once again came under missile attack, just days after a previous incident.

“Rocket sirens broke the Sabbath calm and sent residents throughout the Gaza periphery scrambling Saturday morning, as two projectiles were launched from the Strip.

One rocket exploded near the city of Ashkelon, north of Gaza, causing no casualties or damage. The second apparently fell inside Palestinian territory.

The Israel Defense Forces responded with tank fire and air strikes at several Hamas targets in the Strip. There were no reports of casualties.”

Yet again the BBC chose not to report the attack.

Since the beginning of the year seven missile attacks against Israel have taken place – five from Gaza and two from Sinai – none of which have been reported by the BBC’s English language services. Israel’s response to three of the attacks launched from the Gaza Strip has however been the subject of coverage on the corporation’s Arabic language website.

The pattern of reporting whereby the majority of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is reported in Arabic has been in evidence since the end of the summer 2014 conflict. Throughout 2016 just one of ten attacks received BBC coverage in the English language.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores Gaza missile in English but reports response in Arabic

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

h/t AM

On March 15th a UN body titled ‘United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’ (ESCWA) – part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council – published a report claiming that Israel imposes an ‘apartheid regime’ on Palestinians.

“UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the “first of its type” from a U.N. body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people”. […]

ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that the report was published without any prior consultation with the UN secretariat.

“The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres),” said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.” [emphasis added]

The ESCWA member states that commissioned the report are Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, ‘Palestine’, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE and Yemen. The report was written by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley and, given the records of both those authors, its conclusions were foregone.

In 2012 Virginia Tilley – a supporter of the ‘one-state solution’published a study titled “Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Richard Falk – who in his former role as UN rapporteur was frequently quoted by the BBC – is infamous for his antisemitism, his promotion of conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 and Boston marathon attacks, his support for Hamas and more.

Although the BBC did not cover the publication of the ESCWA report on March 15th, one BBC employee found it appropriate to retweet the Reuters report on the subject to his followers.

Two days after the report’s publication and following a request from the UN Secretary General to remove it from the ESCWA website, the body’s secretary-general resigned.

The BBC then published an article titled “UN’s Rima Khalaf quits over report accusing Israel of apartheid” on its website’s Middle East page.

“A UN official has resigned after saying the UN had pressured her to withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid over its treatment of Palestinians.

The report was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), led by Under Secretary General Rima Khalaf. […]

Speaking in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Ms Khalaf, a Jordanian, said she had submitted her resignation to Mr Guterres after he insisted on the report’s withdrawal.”

The article goes on to amplify a statement made by Khalaf:

“”We expected of course that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the secretary general of the UN so that he would disavow the report, and that they would ask him to withdraw it,” she was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.”

However, readers are not told of an obviously relevant statement made by the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson:

“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself.”

Neither are they told that Khalaf’s term of office was in any case due to come to an end.

“The spokesman said that Mr. Guterres had not asked Ms. Khalaf to resign, and that her term had been set to expire at the end of the month.”

The article describes ESCWA as follows:

“It [the report] was published on Wednesday by the ESCWA, which promotes economic and social development in 18 Arab countries, and is based in Beirut.”

At no point are readers informed which countries make up ESCWA or of the fact that all are members of the ‘Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’ which has a long history of anti-Israel campaigning at the UN.

At no point are BBC audiences informed of the identities of the authors of the report and the obviously relevant issue of their well-documented anti-Israel stances.

The article includes Israel’s reaction to the ESCWA report:

“Israel has condemned the report. “The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement.”

However, readers are not provided with background information concerning the employment of the ‘apartheid’ trope by anti-Israel campaigners to delegitimise the country and the BBC’s article refrains from telling audiences in its own words that accusations of ‘apartheid’ against Israel are baseless, while amplifying the report’s ‘findings’:

“She [Khalaf] had said it was the first to conclude Israel was a racist state. […]

The report itself said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid”.”

The article then goes on to provide what is apparently intended to be seen as ‘back-up’ to those claims:

“In 2014, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” if a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians was not found soon.”

That link leads to a BBC article from April 2014 that, as noted here at the time, included ‘analysis’ from Paul Danahar which not only failed to explain to BBC audiences why the ‘apartheid’ trope is used and by whom, but suggested that there is a “debate” to be had on the issue.

The article closes with the BBC’s standard promotion of a partial narrative on ‘international law’:

“The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to nearly 500,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In order for readers to be able to understand this story properly, they need to be made aware of its subject matter’s background and context. While BBC audiences not infrequently find the ‘apartheid’ trope mainstreamed in BBC content, they have long been deprived of information which would help them comprehend its redundancy and the true aims of those who promote that tactical smear. This latest article merely perpetuates that deprivation.  

Related Articles:

The BBC and the ‘apartheid’ smear

Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Dan Efrony – former Military Advocate General of the IDF – writes about “The law of armed conflict: legality vs. legitimacy“.

“Since the 1980s, all of Israel’s armed conflicts have been fought against non-state actors, prominent among them, the terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.

These non-state enemies systematically and deliberately violate international humanitarian law, and specifically its basic principles which reflect customary international law that binds any state or non-state actor engaged in an armed conflict.

At the same time, they view the commitment of democracies like Israel to the rule of law as a weakness, which they can exploit to boost their gains in each front of the conflict, and within each level of activity, both tactical and strategic.”

2) Writing at ‘Fathom’, former MK Einat Wilf discusses what’s holding up a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“For most Israelis, the repeated Palestinian failures to say ‘yes’ to clear and distinct opportunities to end the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to build a peaceful state for themselves in territories evacuated by Israel, reinforced the view that more than the Arab Palestinians wanted a state for themselves, they wanted to deny a state to the Jewish people. Seventy years after the British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on the eve of partition that ‘for the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state’, while ‘for the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of the land’, it seems the Arab Palestinians still see no reason to compromise with a project they view as ‘unjust’ and temporary. After all, if the crusader state lasted 88 years (including Jerusalem), then in 2017 – when Israel will mark 69 years – all the Arab Palestinians have to do is wait a mere 19 more years until the second crusader state will disappear.”

3) BICOM has produced a backgrounder to the Six Day War which can be accessed here.

4) At ‘The Long War Journal’ Amir Toumaj profiles the group behind the recently formed ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’.

“The Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba this week announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade.” While it is not uncommon for entities to name themselves after areas they aim to “liberate,” the militia’s spokesman has said that the unit could assist the Syrian regime in taking the Golan Heights, a region in the Levant that has been controlled by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

If true, the unit would likely participate in a future offensive to capture territory from Syrian opposition in the part of the Golan Heights still controlled by Syria, before moving on to the much taller order of dislodging the Israelis across the border. This week’s announcement reflects Tehran’s priorities in southern Syria since finally taking the fiercely contested city of Aleppo late last year: crush Syrian opposition, and pose military threat to Israel from the Golan Heights.” 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC ignores Gaza missile in English but reports response in Arabic

Late on the evening of March 15th a missile launched from the Gaza Strip exploded in the Western Negev district.

“A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed late Wednesday in an empty field in the Sdot Negev Regional Council near Netivot.

The rocket exploded on impact. No one was hurt and no damage was reported from the explosion.”

Hours later the IDF responded with strikes on two Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip.

No coverage of the attack appeared on the BBC’s English language website despite the fact that a member of staff at the BBC’s Gaza bureau knew it had taken place. However, the BBC Arabic website did publish a report concerning the Israeli response to the attack.

Since the beginning of the year six missile attacks against Israel have taken place – four from Gaza and two from Sinai – none of which have been reported by the BBC’s English language services. Israel’s response to three of the attacks launched from the Gaza Strip has however been the subject of coverage on the corporation’s Arabic language website.

The pattern of reporting whereby the majority of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is reported in Arabic has been in evidence since the end of the summer 2014 conflict. Throughout 2016 just one of ten attacks received BBC coverage in English.

Related Articles:

BBC News silent again on Gaza missile attack

Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

h/t JC, YM

Back in November we noted the contrast between BBC reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS in the Mosul area of Iraq and its silence concerning Hamas’ use of human shields in the Gaza Strip during the summer 2014 conflict.

As readers no doubt recall, within hours of the 2014 conflict’s commencement the BBC began to repeatedly amplify false claims that Israel was ‘targeting civilians’ – and hence committing ‘war crimes’ – while failing to report Hamas’ placement of military assets (including missile launchers) in populated civilian areas.

BBC News promotes and amplifies falsehood that Israel deliberately targets civilians

Third example of BBC promotion of the lie that Israel deliberately targets civilians  

BBC’s Bowen promotes accusations of Israeli ‘war crimes’

A written report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 13th (“IS fighters left in Mosul will die, says US envoy McGurk“) again informed BBC audiences of the use of human shields by ISIS.

‘”Mosul’s liberation is increasingly in sight, albeit with increasingly difficult fighting ahead,” Mr McGurk [US envoy to the multinational coalition] told reporters on Sunday.

He said Iraqi forces were retaking “some of the most difficult ground that we knew would have to be reclaimed”.

He added: “They’re doing this in a dense urban environment facing a suicidal enemy that’s using civilians as shields.”’ [emphasis added] 

A filmed report – also shown on BBC television news programmes – that appeared on the same page of the website on the same day under the headline “Tamer Suhalia Najaf: ‘Three of my daughters were killed’” features an injured civilian from Mosul whose three daughters were killed in an airstrike by Iraqi forces and/or their coalition partners on an ISIS position placed near their house.

In contrast to the BBC’s 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, viewers of this report did not hear any claims of deliberate targeting of civilians or allegations of ‘war crimes’.

Viewers of another filmed report, which was shown on BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website on March 10th under the title “Battle for Mosul: The high price of freedom“, heard Orla Guerin tell the story of a woman whose house had been taken over by ISIS militiamen.

“She shows us how they hid when IS fighters stormed in to use them as human shields. One went to the roof, she says, but he started to shoot. He attacked the army.” [emphasis added]

As readers may recall, in an August 2014 report titled “Gaza conflict: Allegations of war crimes” the same Orla Guerin told BBC television audiences:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.”

Complaints concerning the accuracy of that statement were repeatedly dismissed by the BBC, with the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee calling the complainants’ definition of human shields into question.

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response.”

When that ESC decision was published in 2015 we noted that:

“The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.”

As we see, the BBC has indeed chosen to apply a definition of the term human shields in its reporting from Iraq which is markedly different to the one used in its coverage from Gaza.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

BBC pot calls the Russian media kettle black

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

Confused and conflicting BBC reporting on Syrian jihadists

When the Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in late July 2016, the BBC told its audiences that the group had “split from al-Qaeda“:

“Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant].”

The BBC News website published an additional article on the same topic by an outside contributor titled “What drove Syria’s Nusra Front to detach itself from al-Qaeda?“.

At the time we asked “Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?” and a subsequently published BBC profile of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham used rather more guarded language.

“The Syria-based jihadist group al-Nusra Front changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant) at the end of July 2016, reportedly cutting ties with al-Qaeda at the same time.

It is thought that the public severing of links with al-Qaeda may not be as total as portrayed…”

However, when the BBC News website reported a double terror attack in Damascus on March 11th, the article included the following statement:

“A double suicide bombing in the Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed at least 10 people.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said it was behind that attack.” [emphasis added]

The next day – March 12th – the BBC News website published a follow-up report concerning the claim of responsibility for that terror attack.

Titled “Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate claims twin bombing in Damascus“, the report opens:

“A Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a twin bombing on Friday [sic] in the capital Damascus that killed at least 40.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham said the attack was “a message to Iran” over the country’s support for Syrian president Bashar al Assad.” [emphasis added]

Later on readers were told that:

“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation) is a new group formed from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously al-Nusra Front) and four smaller factions.”

Readers of this article would therefore understand that the BBC is telling them that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – including its Jabhat Fateh al-Sham faction – is “a Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda”.

However, just one day before the same website had told them that the largest faction in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was a “former al-Qaeda affiliate” and less than eight months prior to that it had told them that the same faction had “split” from al-Qaeda.

Although (as noted here at the time) Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was formed around the end of January 2017, the BBC did not cover that story until a month later when, on February 28th, BBC Monitoring published an article titled “Tahrir al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s latest incarnation in Syria“. Confusingly, however, that report opened:

“The Syrian jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda last July, has rebranded itself again.

A statement issued on 28 January announced that it had agreed to merge with four smaller factions and form a new alliance, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation). […]

On 9 February, Abu Jabir delivered a message in which he insisted Tahrir al-Sham was an “independent entity and not an extension of former organisations and factions”.

It appeared to be an attempt to further distance the group from al-Qaeda.” [emphasis added]

Less than two weeks later, we now see the BBC describing Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as being “affiliated with al-Qaeda”.

Clearly there is a great deal of confusion among BBC reporters regarding this topic and obviously the appearance of conflicting and confusing information on the BBC News website is not contributing to meeting the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “global understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

The BBC, jihadists and Islamists

Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?

Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

Inaccuracies in BBC’s Jabhat al Nusra profile