An overview of BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary

On October 24th 2017 the PLO’s negotiations affairs department put out a document titled “A Century of Injustice: Q and A on Palestine and the Balfour Declaration”. As well as the theme of ‘injustice’ promoted in its title, the document promotes additional messaging aimed at advancing the PLO’s narrative by portraying the Balfour Declaration as:

  • a ‘colonialist’ act that brought about the ‘colonisation’ of Palestine.
  • a ‘promise’ Britain had no right to make and for which it has not assumed responsibility.
  • ignoring the existence of an Arab majority in Palestine at the time and violating their right to self-determination.
  • having caused the Palestinian refugee issue termed the ‘Nakba’.
  • having brought about a situation in which there is allegedly one state (Israel) with two separate systems and no equal rights for non-Jews.
  • a document Britain is wrong to celebrate and for which it must atone by recognising a Palestinian state and taking a stand against ‘settlements’.

There is of course nothing new about those talking points; as PMW director Itamar Marcus has explained, they have been promoted by the Palestinian Authority for years.

“For the PA, the Balfour Declaration is a necessary component of the Palestinian narrative. The two foundations of Palestinian ideology, both fictitious, are that a Palestinian nation existed for thousands of years and that there never had been a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. But this left one problem: The PA needed to explain to its people why millions of Jews had immigrated from Europe and all over the world, if they had no connection to the land.

The PA’s answer is colonialism, and Balfour is the “proof.”

According to the PA’s adjusted narrative, Balfour and Britain’s support were not one step in the growing Zionist movement, but the beginning of all Jewish history in the land. […]

Defining Israel as a European colony is a fundamental and essential component of PA myth-building, and has been part of the PA narrative since the early years of the PA. […]

In honor of the 100th anniversary of this important document, the PA decided to make the Balfour Declaration and denial of Israel’s right to exist its primary messaging this year.

Mahmoud Abbas is taking the lead with public statements such as: “It must be emphasized that the historical injustice that was caused to our people, and which continues to accumulate, began in fact with the ominous Balfour Promise. Therefore, we call on the government of Britain to bear its historical and moral responsibility and not mark and celebrate the 100th anniversary of this invalid promise. Instead, it must submit an apology to our Palestinian people…””

Between October 1st and November 2nd 2017 the BBC broadcast and published remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary on its various platforms that included the following:

1) October 1st, BBC Radio 4, ‘Sunday’:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

2) October 8th, BBC Radio Wales, ‘All Things Considered’:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

3) October 28th, BBC Radio 4, ‘The Week in Westminster’:

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

4) October 31st, BBC Two, “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land”, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

5) October 31st, BBC News website, “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

6) November 1st, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

7) November 1st, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

8) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

9) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

10) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology”, Tom Bateman:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

11) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Balfour Declaration: 100 years of conflict”, Yolande Knell:

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

12) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“:

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

13) November 2nd, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

14) November 2nd, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

Most of that BBC content adopted and amplified PLO framing of the Balfour Declaration as an ‘injustice’ and advanced the notion that Britain should apologise for the century-old document.

Only five items out of the fourteen accurately informed BBC audiences that the Balfour Declaration’s ‘second part’ – which was for the most part presented as being ‘incomplete’ and ‘unfinished business’ – specifically refers to the “civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” rather than, as was inaccurately claimed in the rest of the content, rights in general.

With the exception of two of the items, the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinians living in Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip do so under Palestinian rule and hence have political rights under that system was erased from audience view.

The narrative of the Balfour Declaration as ‘colonialism’ and an act that Britain had no right to carry out was repeatedly advanced in many of these items, as was the claim that the British government should take a stand against ‘settlements’. The anti-Israel BDS campaign was promoted in two of the items.

The notion that Palestinians were ‘dispossessed’ of ‘their land’ by the Balfour Declaration and that the document was the cause of the ‘Nakba’ was repeatedly promoted in many of these reports. In four of the items BBC audiences were given inaccurate portrayals of the McMahon correspondence and the false notion that the land assigned to creation of a homeland for the Jewish people had already been promised to the Arabs by the British was promoted.

In only one item did BBC audiences hear a reference (not from a BBC journalist) to the significance of Jordan as a location in which the political rights of Arab communities in the area known as Palestine at the time were fulfilled. The part of the Balfour Declaration safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” was erased from BBC coverage, along with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an ‘impartial’ media organisation, it is all too obvious that the editorial approach adopted throughout the corporation’s remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary bears an uncanny resemblance to the PLO’s political narrative concerning that topic.

 

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5 comments on “An overview of BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary

  1. Let the ‘Balfour’ coverage by the BBC that manages to omit any reference to the ‘the rights and and political status enjoyed by by Jews in any other country’ be a telling and permanent reminder of the current standards of our much-vaunted BBC.

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