BBC News still promoting faux impartiality in Iran reporting

On December 5th a report headlined “Iran developing nuclear-capable missiles, European powers warn UN” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

“Three European powers have warned the UN that Iran is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in violation of a Security Council resolution.

A letter sent by the UK, France and Germany says Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile variant “equipped with a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle” that could deliver a nuclear weapon.

Such activity is “inconsistent” with a resolution endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it argues.”

It would of course have been helpful to readers had it been pointed out at that stage in the report that the UK, France and Germany – also known as the E3 – were part of the P5+1 which negotiated the JCPOA with Iran. However that information was only revealed three paragraphs from the end:

“The five other parties to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – have tried to keep it alive.”

Readers were told that:

“Iran has breached a number of commitments under the deal in recent months in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to abandon the deal and reinstate economic sanctions.

Mr Trump wants to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran has refused to negotiate unless the US first lifts its sanctions.”

They were not however informed that the context to the US president’s decision was the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – passed in 2015 – which required the US administration to certify to Congress every ninety days that Iran was fully implementing the JCPOA.

The BBC report also stated:

“In a separate development, US officials said a US Navy warship deployed in the Gulf of Oman had seized advanced missile parts believed to be headed from Iran to Yemen. The parts were on board a small boat stopped last week, they said.”

Readers were not informed that smuggling weapons into Yemen is a violation of other U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The most predictable aspect of this BBC report, however, is its amplification of Iranian spin.

“Iran has denied the allegation.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the letter was a “desperate falsehood” put out by the European powers “to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum” of their obligations under the nuclear deal.”

And:

“Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and denied that its ballistic missile programme violates the resolution.”

The BBC News website has of course repeatedly amplified such messaging in the past – for example:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

More superficial BBC reporting on Iranian nuclear programme PMDs

BBC News promotes Iranian missile ‘deterrent’ propaganda

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

It also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues and that just last month the IAEA reported the finding of multiple particles of natural uranium of “anthropogenic origin” at an unnamed site in Iran.

Nevertheless, the BBC News website continues to amplify Iran’s denials without qualification (presumably in the name of ‘impartiality’) in every report it produces in connection to the Iranian nuclear programme. That editorial policy has clearly not been revised in light of reports by the IAEA or this letter from the E3 and so the promotion of Iran’s talking points continues, even though it contributes nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

 

 

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – November 2019

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during November 2019 shows that throughout the month a total of 745 incidents took place including 127 in Judea & Samaria, 32 in Jerusalem and inside the ‘green line’ and 586 in the Gaza Strip sector.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 123 attacks with petrol bombs, 23 attacks using pipe bombs, seven arson attacks, three shooting attacks, one grenade attack, one vehicular attack and one stone-throwing attack.

Incidents recorded in the Gaza Strip sector included two shooting attacks and five hundred and eighty-four incidents of rocket fire.

Eleven people were wounded in attacks during November – five of them civilians who were injured in rocket attacks on November 12th, 13th and 26th. Four members of the security forces (November 9th) and two civilians (November 17th) were injured in attacks using petrol bombs.

Rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip which took place on November 1st, November 25th, November 26th and November 29th did not receive any BBC News website coverage. The BBC did report that between November 12th and 14th “militants fired some 450 rockets towards Israel” and two additional attacks on November 16th were also mentioned.

None of the other incidents which took place throughout November received any coverage which means that the BBC News website reported 60.7% of the attacks which took place during November.

Since the beginning of 2019 the BBC News website has covered 33.4% of the attacks which have taken place and 72.7% of the terror related fatalities. In five of those eleven months, no reporting on terrorism was seen at all.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – October 2019

BBC News ignores Gaza rocket attacks yet again

BBC News yawns at Gaza rocket fire yet again

BBC News avoids the word terror in report on strike on terrorist

BBC News website adheres zealously to editorial guidelines

BBC doublethink on display in report on rocket attacks

BBC’s Plett Usher does ‘ode to a reasonable Hamas’

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include the following in the section concerning ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Hizballah was designated in its entirety by the UK earlier this year and so we must presume that an interview with the terrorist organisation’s deputy leader by Jeremy Bowen that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 6th (as well as a longer filmed version which was promoted by BBC News) was approved in advance by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.

The question that therefore arises is of what journalistic value was that specially approved interview? Did it provide BBC audiences with “a range and depth of analysis and content” which could not otherwise be achieved and did it contribute to their being better “informed citizens”?

‘Today’ co-presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:36:22 here) with a pinch of Iranian propaganda.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Protests in Iraq, Lebanon and in Iran where Iranian state television has said that those killed by security forces during last month’s mass protests against the petrol price rise were thugs and rioters. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen joins us now. What’s your reading of those protests, Jeremy?”

Bowen: “Well Mishal, you know, what’s interesting is that there are others who say that they weren’t thugs and rioters but they were protesting and they started protesting as well against the regime and that is why the security forces opened fire in the way that they did and killed so many people. Now it’s clear that the Iranians have got a big set of problems at the moment. Ah…the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home. Maximum pressure as Trump calls them, American sanctions and also what’s important for them is they project power through their allies and in Iraq and Lebanon where there’ve been demonstrations – and those are generally regarded as Iranian allies – many people there see Iran as part of their problems.”

It is not clear what Bowen intended to communicate with that reference to “the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home” and his description of Lebanon – rather than Hizballah – as an Iranian ally clearly does not enhance audience understanding of the topic.

Bowen: “It’s really hard for us to try and work out what’s going in Iran [laughs] partly because they won’t let us in there. Ahm…so one good way of doing it is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah who are in Lebanon and they are Iranian proteges but they’re very powerful as well. One of Israel’s big enemies along with Iran itself. Now I’ve just come back from Beirut and while I was there I talked to the deputy leader of Hizballah who’s a man called Naim Qassem. He’s late 60s, he wears robes, he’s got a white turban, gives the impression of being very shrewd actually, and intelligent and strong views about the region. And he doesn’t talk much so it was a good opportunity to talk about the Middle East and they’re uncomfortable about what’s happening. They like the status quo. So anyway I started off by asking Naim Qassem of Hizballah about the crisis in Lebanon.”

Obviously any interview with a representative of a terrorist organisation needs to be very carefully edited and presented so that audiences can put its inevitable propaganda into the appropriate context. Bowen’s sartorially focused introductory portrayal of Qassem clearly did not provide any meaningful background information about the terror group’s record or agenda. Neither were listeners given sufficient information about the current political crisis in Lebanon before they were exposed to Qassem’s allegations.  

Qassem [voiceover]: “Of course the situation in Lebanon is very dangerous. Consequently you can see how the economic situation is collapsing. And you can see how people are suffering from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. We cannot accept things to continue like this. So for this reason we said very clearly that the government has to be formed in order to put an end to this collapse and decline. And unfortunately there are some who are trying to cause damage to Lebanon and especially the United States. And every two or three days the US Secretary of State Pompeo makes statements and says he doesn’t want to see Hizballah in the government. And Hizballah is part of the people. So let America put a stop to its meddling.”

Bowen: “Now Secretary Pompeo in the US, like the British government, regard your organisation as a terrorist organisation. That’s why he says the things that he says.”

Qassem: “What concerns us is how our people view us. We as Hizballah in the minds of our people, we are a resistance that liberated the land. A party which serves the interests of the people and also serves for a better future for the people. And because America and Britain support Israel which is an occupying power, a power of aggression, a criminal power, they are taking political stance against Hizballah. If they label us as terrorists this doesn’t mean that their designation is right. We consider America to be the leading terrorist entity because it does not serve the interests of the people. The same goes for Britain as well.”

Bowen made no effort to inform listeners of the real background to the designation of Hizballah by the US, the UK and other nations and bodies or to provide factual information concerning the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Hizballah, including their military entrenchment in Syria.

Bowen: “You’re part of a coalition led by Iran that faces off against Israel and by implication against the United States as well. Iran is in real trouble at the moment, isn’t it? There are anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq, there is feeling against Iran in this country and there’ve been big demonstration inside…demonstrations inside Iran itself. Your friends in Iran are in trouble, aren’t they?”

Qassem: “First of all we don’t deny that we are part of an axis led by Iran because Iran advocates the causes of the people’s rights and also supports the resistance. It believes in justice. It believes in the liberation of Palestine. Now, when it comes to the problems within Iran because of the decision to increase the price of gasoline, this is a domestic matter related to Iran.”

Audiences should of course have been informed at this point that in Hizballah-speak “the liberation of Palestine” means the annihilation of Israel.

Bowen: “Now with your allies in Iran you have amassed an enormous arsenal of rockets and missiles including guided missiles that presumably you’d use in a war with Israel. Under what circumstances would you use that arsenal of weapons?”

Qassem: “We are a resistance and we are defending. If Israel were to launch an aggression or attack us, we will respond. And so we don’t have any plans when it comes to initiating any confrontation with Israel. But we are determined to respond to Israel if it were to attack. Israel understands this language only. It won’t be deterred except if we are strong.”

Bowen made no effort to counter that propaganda by, for example, reminding listeners that it was Hizballah which initiated the 2006 conflict and Hizballah which just a year ago had its cross-border tunnels exposed and destroyed. Neither did he bother to clarify the background to any hypothetical attack on Iran’s “nuclear facilities”.

Bowen: “What if Israel or the US attacked Iran; attacked its nuclear facilities? Would you then use your weapons against Israel?”

Qassem: “I don’t know what could happen but what I do know is that any aggression of such scale could ignite the whole region. And those who initiated the aggression will take a big responsibility and also take responsibility for very large-scale reactions. My estimation is that war with Israel is unlikely at this stage. The balance of deterrence is what contributes to the absence of war because they are not convinced of what the results would be if a war were to take place.”

The interview ended there with a laconic statement from co-presenter Martha Kearney.

Kearney: “And that report was by Jeremy Bowen.”

In his introduction Bowen claimed that “one good way” to try to “work out” what is going on in Iran “is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah”. Whether or not that was also the rationale given when approval was sought to interview a senior figure in “an organisation […] designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary” is of course unknown but obviously this interview contributed nothing at all to that supposed aim.

In fact all audiences heard was over four minutes of barely challenged propaganda from the number two in a notorious terrorist organisation: propaganda that they could just as easily have found on Hizballah’s own media channels – and without paying a licence fee.

Related Articles:

Why the new BBC editorial guidelines may not mean less terror showcasing

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

Last week we noted the inaccurate portrayal of a resolution passed by the French parliament in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page.

BBC News misrepresents French parliament resolution

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report (including a link to the draft resolution passed by France’s National Assembly) and two days later we received a reply from the BBC News website:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the article and added a correction note at the bottom, advising readers of these changes.”

The original version of the report read as follows:

The amended version and the added footnote now read:

 

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Orna Mizrahi and Yoram Schweitzer give their analysis of ‘The Demonstrations in Lebanon’.

“The ongoing protests in Lebanon are a threat to both stable governance and to the dominant role of Hezbollah within the political system. Hezbollah is not interested in change to a status quo that has allowed the organization to wield significant influence without being perceived as a lead actor, all the while preserving its independence, primarily as an armed militia. Consequently, Hezbollah has been working to quell the upheavals without thus far resorting to wide scale violence, while pointing the finger of blame at outside actors, chiefly the United States, as those responsible for fomenting the protest. In parallel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has labored to prevent a political solution in the form of the technocrat government demanded by the demonstrators, which would undermine his clout.”

2) Yoni Ben Menachem discusses ‘A Non-Aggression Agreement between Israel and the Arab Countries’ at the JCPA.

“According to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel is trying to advance a non-aggression agreement with four Arab countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries are Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

This agreement would be a stepping-stone toward full normalization between Israel and these four countries, which are already conducting ties behind the scenes.

The agreement includes maintaining friendly ties between Israel and these Arab countries based on UN treaties and international law and the adoption of steps required to prevent hostile actions, such as the threat of war or terror activities, violence or incitement between both sides.”

3) At the Fathom Journal Ezra Friedman writes about ‘Gas and foreign policy’.

“Israel’s solidification of the ‘Tripartite Alliance’ with Greece and Cyprus, in the face of increasingly aggressive policies by a revisionist Turkey, is becoming a stabilising fixture in the region. This is enhancing cooperation on a host of critical economic and security issues for Israel, while also providing Jerusalem with critical advocates within the European Union (EU). The formation and integration of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) with Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is creating the necessary diplomatic space to facilitate a competitive and sustainable regional gas market. The EMGF is providing Israeli gas with export opportunities to its neighbours while increasing regional economic interdependence. Both of these developments present Israel, a country long perceived as sidelined on the international stage, with several unique avenues to pursue foreign policy objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe, and the broader Middle East.”

4) Writing for Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick reviews some American media coverage of the UK Labour party.

“By writing of a British Jewish community that is painfully divided over Labour anti-Semitism, The New York Times, whether wittingly or not, is playing into the Corbynist narrative that the whole, four-year-long saga of Jeremy and the Jews is just another partisan issue. And if that is the case, if complaints of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour ranks are like party political disagreements over National Health Service funding or railway nationalization, then it is a short journey to the belief that those expressing concern about said anti-Jewish prejudice are not sincere actors but rather cynical, right-wing agitators drumming up outrage against a thoroughly decent, “lifelong anti-racist” whose only sin is that he cares too much about the Palestinians.”

BBC’s ME editor ‘joins the dots’ but dodges issues

Readers may recall that in late October the BBC’s Middle East editor published an article titled “Is a new Arab Spring unfolding in the Middle East?” in which he ignored the anti-Iran component of popular demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon.

Since then the BBC News website has produced related content which has included a filmed report claiming “common causes” between the protests in Iraq and Lebanon and those in Ecuador, Chile, Spain and Hong Kong and a written article on the protests in Iraq which claims to provide “all the background you need to know” but which offers just 51 words of explanation in answer to the question “Why are the protesters also angry at Iran?”.

“They accuse the country of complicity in Iraq’s governance failure and corruption.

Iran’s influence over Iraq’s internal affairs has grown steadily since 2003. It has close links to Shia politicians who are part of the ruling elite, and has backed the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force, which is dominated by Shia militias.”

On December 5th – over a month and a half after the protests in Lebanon began – the BBC News website published a long filmed report by the BBC’s Middle East editor titled “What’s behind the wave of Middle East protests?”.

“You might remember the uprisings in the Middle East in 2011. As dictators were toppled hundreds of thousands of protesters called for change, for freedom and a new start. Their high hopes came to very little and the region lurched back towards war and repression.

But the grievances that drove the 2011 uprisings – the so-called Arab Spring – never went away. 2019 might be the year it started again. Already protests have forced the resignations of two Prime Ministers – in Lebanon and Iraq.

Since October there have been big, mainly peaceful protests in Lebanon and extremely bloody ones in Iraq. And in Iran, hundreds have been shot dead at protests in the last few weeks.

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen has been trying to make sense of it all in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.”

Most of that almost ten and a half minute-long video relates to the protests in Lebanon, with focus on their economic aspects. From 06:45 however viewers see an unidentified Lebanese woman describe the demand of the protesters in Iraq as “to live better in a country free of militias”. She goes on to say “we [in Lebanon] want to live in dignity in our country, free of any foreign influence” but viewers see no explanation of her words.

Only nearly eight minutes into the report does Bowen inform viewers that:

“They [protesters in Iraq] don’t just blame their own inept politicians, they’re also targeting Iraq’s alliance with Iran, torching its consulates in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. For Iran this was supposed to be friendly territory.”

Mentioning the Lebanese terrorist organisation for the first time, Bowen goes on:

“Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran have serious problems at home too. Big protests started in Iran in the last fortnight after a rise in petrol prices. Crushing American sanctions have made matters worse in an economy already weakened by corruption and mismanagement. BBC Persian estimates that more than 200 were killed by the regime.”

Offering no explanation as to why those “crushing American sanctions” were imposed, Bowen returns to Lebanon:

“Iran’s ally Hezbollah sent thugs to try to break up the demonstrations in Beirut, without success. But that’s not the end of it. Hezbollah is powerful and heavily armed and it’s worked for 40 years to dominate Lebanon. The status quo suits them and they don’t want it to change.”

With less than a minute and a half of the report left, Bowen presents his concluding analysis:

“Well the time’s come now to try to join the dots. Let’s say there are two main camps in the Middle East. One of them we can call ‘Team America’. It also includes Saudi Arabia and Israel. The other one is ‘Team Iran’. It also includes the Assad regime in Syria, Iraq and the strongest single group here in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which is a Shia Muslim movement. Now the Iranians need their allies. They use them to try to project power. But they’ve got a real problem at the moment because the demonstrations have shown that anti-Iranian feeling is growing in Iraq and here in Lebanon. Across the region there are demonstrations against local grievances and their shared deep-seated anger that crosses borders among the young, who want to sweep away discredited, corrupt and inept leaders. It all feeds into the geo-political instability of the world’s most turbulent region. Another storm is brewing in the Middle East.”

So although it took over a month for Bowen to “join the dots”, BBC audiences did finally get to hear something about the anti-Iran component of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon. However the man tasked with “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” made no attempt to explain to audiences what lies behind either Iran’s efforts to “project power” or the “anti-Iranian feeling” in Iraq and Lebanon, while portraying an internationally active terrorist organisation merely as “a Shia Muslim movement”.  

One of the conclusions of the 2012 report into the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’ was that it required more “breadth and context”. 

“Alison Hastings, chair of the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee […] added that the trust was also “keen to see if improvements can be made”. “These would be both in the scope of coverage to provide a fuller picture of events, and in providing better context for audiences.” 

Should Bowen’s predictions of a ‘brewing storm’ materialise, BBC audiences will once again lack the context which will help them understand the broader picture.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

 

 

 

 

BBC News ignores story of Hizballah operative convicted in the US

On December 3rd the US Department of Justice announced that a Hizballah operative had been sentenced to 40 years in prison after having been convicted of crimes that included “help[ing] the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States”.

As reported by the Times of Israel:

“Ali Kourani, 35, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein after the Lebanon-born Kourani was convicted at a May trial. […]

US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a release that Kourani spent years conducting surveillance for the terror group at federal buildings, airports including Kennedy International Airport and even daycare centers after he was recruited, trained and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization.”

One might have assumed that a story about an operative for an Iranian-sponsored terrorist organisation being imprisoned in connection to potential attacks in the USA – particularly given that the terrorist organisation concerned has been part of the Lebanese government since 2005 – would be covered by a major media organisation with offices in both those countries.

To date, however, neither the BBC News website’s ‘Lebanon’ page nor its ‘United States’ page carry any reporting whatsoever on that story.

Related Articles:

Hizballah London explosives story not newsworthy for the BBC

 

BBC News misrepresents French parliament resolution

On December 4th a report titled “France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas” was published on the ‘Europe’ page of the BBC News website.

Towards the end of that report – throughout which the BBC once again used the wrong spelling of the word antisemitism – readers were told that: [emphasis added]

“On Tuesday night, France’s National Assembly passed a draft resolution that includes hatred of Israel as an example of anti-Semitism.

The definition, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, has already been adopted by the European Parliament and several other countries.

A number of MPs from President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party voted against the resolution.”

The IHRA definition of course does not include “hatred of Israel” as an example of antisemitism. It does include the following:

    • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
       
    • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
       
    • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
       
    • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
       
    • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
       
    • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
       
    • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The resolution passed by the French National Assembly on December 3rd includes the following:

“Considering that it would constitute an effective instrument for combating antisemitism in its modern and renewed form, encompassing manifestations of hatred of the State of Israel justified solely by the perception of Israel as a Jewish community.” [emphasis added]

The preceding explanatory statement clarifies:

 “…anti-Zionist acts can sometimes obscure antisemitic realities. Criticizing the very existence of Israel as a community of Jewish citizens is tantamount to hatred of the Jewish community as a whole, as holding Jews collectively responsible for the policies of the Israeli political authorities is a manifestation of antisemitism. Such drifts are increasingly making anti-Zionism “one of the contemporary forms of antisemitism,” to use the words of the President of the Republic. To point to such drifts does not prevent any free criticism of the policies and positions taken by Israeli governments.” [emphasis added]

The BBC, however, chose to promote a dumbed-down portrayal of the resolution adopted by the lower house of the French parliament that is both inaccurate and misleading. Coming as it does after a series of failed BBC attempts to explain anti-Zionism and antisemitism to its audiences (see some examples in ‘related articles’ below), that lazy and inaccurate portrayal is not particularly surprising.

Related Articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

BBC again ignores the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism

Another BBC antisemitism backgrounder promotes Livingstone Formulation

BBC News’ side-lining of French president’s anti-Zionism statement is no surprise

BBC report on UN SG’s Israel visit omits his statements on anti-Zionism

BBC report on antisemitism in France marred by its own record

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the topic of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Jenny Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour”, with listeners hearing nothing at all about that fringe group’s agenda.

Having declared herself “absolutely horrified” by Mirvis’ article, Manson began by disputing a statement made earlier on in the programme by the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Martin Bashir concerning the number of British Jews represented by the Chief Rabbi before going on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Manson: “…these allegations – I’ve just had a quick look through the letter [sic] – many of them have been…ehm…repudated [sic] by JVL if you’d like to look at our website. We’ve proper evidence, we’ve even had lawyers pouring over them in relation to the Labour MPs who’ve left citing antisemitism, in relation to the mural.”

Listeners were not informed by Shah what that opaque reference to “the mural” actually means before Manson went on.

Manson: “He [the Chief Rabbi] mentions in his letter [sic] the EHRC’s investigating institutional antisemitism – that is not true. They are investigating the processes. If he’s looked at the EHRC site you can see this.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission website clarifies that it is investigating more than “processes”.

Shah however made no effort to clarify that point.

Shah: “But the fact that there is an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the Labour party is something that may concern many people. He also says…”

Manson: “OK. Can I…can I just…”

Shah: “Indeed but can I just mention one point. The Chief Rabbi says that ‘convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics and rightly so. However challenging racism in all its forms is not a matter of politics: it goes well beyond that’.”

Manson: “Oh absolutely. I mean we challenge racism every time and any racism we see either in the Labour party or anywhere else, we call out. But let me go back to the EHRC. Both the Conservative party and the Labour party had sent the EHRC…had…sorry…the EHRC has received complaints about the Conservative party and the Labour party. You don’t hear about that, about the Conservative party. They received many complaints. They had to investigate many complaints. What they decided to do – if anyone wants to look at their website – was to investigate the processes not the party.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge that claim.

Shah: “OK well you’ve made that point but the thing that will stand out in people’s minds is that the Chief Rabbi has chosen to make an intervention – he uses the phrase with the heaviest of hearts – at what is clearly a very sensitive time in the run-up to an election; we’re weeks away. Why do you think he would have felt the need to do this if he didn’t believe the problem was very, very serious?”

Manson: “What I think must have happened is that we’ve had three and a half years of – in my view and in the view of my colleagues – extremely biased reporting. We have put out statements. Nobody picks them up. There’s been one side of this issue – it’s not only been on the BBC – but if anyone wants to look at the facts, I say they abound.”

Shah made no effort to question that claim from Manson or to point out that members of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – including Manson herself – have made regular appearances in BBC content over the past couple of years before her interviewee went on:

Manson: “So that many Jews have got genuinely frightened. What we know because we really do know the facts – I say we look at them very carefully – is there was a serious new threat to Jews on the Far-Right. There is no threat to Jews in the Labour party. There has been some people who’ve said foolish things. There’s some people who say foolish things in the Lib Dem party and in the Conservative party but only the Labour party is being looked at [by] the Chief Rabbi and his colleagues and I have to ask why about that too. But let’s just say that there’s been…they’ve been misled badly and I think to intervene in the election at this time is very, very poor stuff. It won’t go down well with people who are…who are open-minded, who know, who look at the evidence. It’s a bad day for me as a Jew to hear false allegations being repeated yet again.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge Manson’s claims before closing the interview at that point.

The next day Manson appeared on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 34:59 here) and was interviewed by Razia Iqbal directly after an interview with Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Iqbal: “Joining me in the studio now is Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn. […] What’s your response to what you’ve just heard Mike Katz saying?”

Manson: “Well I’m actually appalled at the lack of truth in some of those comments. For example the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is not investigating the Labour party’s institutional antisemitism. Because of the number of complaints it was sent – many of which turned out not to be true is my guess – they are looking at the processes of the Labour party.”

Once again listeners heard no challenge to that spin.

Manson: “It’s not whataboutery to say that all political parties have a problem with antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia and all forms of xenophobia. There have been Conservative and Lib Dem candidates withdrawn in the last few weeks over antisemitism. It’s not a Labour party problem and it is relevant to say why should there be so much attention to the existence – I’m thankful to say – of a very small amount of antisemitism in the Labour party and almost no attention on the other political parties and no recognition of the work done by Jeremy Corbyn. I am personally offended by this continuous attack on him, who I know.”

Iqbal: “OK but the Chief Rabbi has talked about this as a ‘new poison which has been sanctioned from the very top’ and he also says that the claim by the Labour party that all cases of antisemitism in its ranks have been investigated is ‘a mendacious fiction’. I mean these are incredibly strong things to say.”

Manson: “They are incredibly…and incredibly the wrong things to be saying not only in an election campaign; at any time. It’s 0.0% [sic] of…point six of the Labour party members have been accused of antisemitism. When the party investigates they investigate it properly. Again, no point…this whataboutery but I hear that some of the people suspended for Islamophobia in the Tory party find themselves back in a couple of weeks later.”

Iqbal did not demand any evidence from Manson for that allegation.

Manson: “The Labour party’s very thorough. To have 100 cases that haven’t been heard is to do with the process. We do a proper process. We have lawyers acting. This idea, this multiplication of non-facts of the last four years against all the evidence. We have evidence and ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – we are by the way…you have…to be a full member of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ you have to be Jewish and in the Labour party. The Jewish Labour Movement do not make that requirement. We speak for Jews in the Labour party. We’ve investigated cases for example why some of these Labour MPs have left. We have the evidence of…”

Failing to challenge that highlighted spurious claim, Iqbal interrupted with a decidedly pointless question given the fact that the entire purpose of JVL is to act as cheerleaders for Corbyn.

Iqbal [interrupts]: “OK well let me ask…you say that you know Jeremy Corbyn. Can you categorically say that he has never made an antisemitic comment, that he is not antisemitic in any way?”

Manson: “I can absolutely confirm that and in a way my knowing him is not…I’m very pleased to know him but even before I knew him, when I was first involved in this campaign, I knew that this man has a great hatred of racism on all sides. What has been done is things that he’s done over the last ten years have been picked over. He has always supported, as I do, Palestinian rights very strongly. So he has a meeting – as many people were suggesting he should do including Parliament at the time – with various groups. When they sit down he addresses everybody there as friends. How in any way that can be typified as antisemitism is utterly beyond me. These are the kind of stories that have been built on for four years since he became leader in an attempt to get rid of him as leader.”

Iqbal made no effort whatsoever to explain to listeners around the world what Manson was referring to with that story or to challenge her inaccurate account. Even Corbyn himself does not deny that he called members of Hamas and Hizballah friends – rather than “everybody there” as claimed by Manson. Iqbal could and should have informed listeners that in the same speech Corbyn spoke about Hamas – an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel under its overtly antisemitic founding charter – as follows:

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

Corbyn also clearly expressed his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state: a stance categorised as antisemitism under the IHRA working definition.

“We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people. […] Our argument – and I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian we’re anti-Semitic: it’s nonsense. What we’re in favour of is a Palestine where everybody can live. They can’t live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”

Instead, Iqbal let Manson’s lies stand and posed her last question.

Iqbal: “Just very briefly, do you accept though that this is going to be hugely damaging to him and the Labour party?”

Manson: “Well strangely enough I don’t think it’s going to be and the reason is this has been going on a long time and the reason that it’s not going to damage the party as much as I think people think is because Jeremy’s character, as has been shown in the debates recently, is so clearly sincere and genuine that if it had been some lesser man perhaps this story would have been believedbut people are sceptical. They say this doesn’t sound right.”

Iqbal: “OK we will leave it there. Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – joining us live here in the ‘Newshour’ studio – thanks.”

As we see, despite having brought in an unabashed cheerleader for Jeremy Corbyn to comment on this story, neither Shah nor Iqbal made any effort to challenge her distortions, spin and downright lies, with the result being that both domestic audiences and those worldwide heard nothing in the two interviews with her which would contribute to their understanding of the issues that lie behind the Chief Rabbi’s unprecedented step.

Related Articles:

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

Reviewing BBC R4’s ‘World at One’ background on the Labour Party story

 

 

 

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

Coverage on BBC radio stations of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times on November 25th was understandably extensive and reports heard by listeners to two programmes on different stations are of particular interest.

Both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the story.

One of those interviewees was Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement which has been affiliated to the UK Labour party since 1920.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Mr Katz was introduced (from 25:17 here) as “Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement” and on ‘Newshour’ he was presented (from 30:07 here) as “Mike Katz who is the national chair of Jewish Labour”.

Listeners were given no information concerning the JLM’s long history, the fact that it is one of the oldest socialist societies to be affiliated with the Labour party or the number of members in the organisation.  

The other interviewee was Jenny Manson of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ which was launched two years ago in late September 2017. Writing several weeks after that launch, Robert Philpot noted that:

“…it was JVL’s opposition to JLM’s attempt to change Labour’s rules to crack down on anti-Semitism — a change backed by Corbyn himself — which provoked most controversy.

During the debate on the measure, which was adopted by the party, JVL’s vice-chair, Leah Lavane, railed against JLM and those who “make that accusation [of anti-Semitism] every time you criticize the despicable behavior of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people.”

For JVL, the tightening of the party’s rules represents an “anti-democratic restriction on political debate” which “runs the risk of giving the stamp of approval to those opposed to Corbyn’s leadership to drive out more of his supporters.”

It particularly objects to the party judging allegations of anti-Semitism by using the definition drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and adopted by the British government because, it claims, this restricts criticism of Israel.

In fact, the IHRA definition explicitly makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.””

BBC radio audiences however heard nothing about JVL’s background and agenda. On ‘The World Tonight’ Ms Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour” and on ‘Newshour’ – appearing after Mr Katz – she was described (from 34:59 here) as “co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – Jewish Voice for Labour – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn”. [emphasis added]

In other words, listeners to two different BBC radio stations were given the erroneous impression that those interviewees represented two comparable Jewish groups linked to the Labour party and – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – they were told practically nothing of the obviously relevant issue of the “particular viewpoint” of the fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour.

During the ‘Newshour’ interview with Mike Katz, (from 30:07 here) listeners heard Razia Iqbal twice ask him whether he thought that the Chief Rabbi’s article was the “right thing to do” and when her interviewee pointed out that antisemitism in the Labour party “is not an issue that has suddenly come out of nowhere” Iqbal interrupted him and the following exchange was heard: [emphasis in italics in the original]

33:18 Iqbal [interrupts]: “But even today, Mike Katz, even today Jeremy Corbyn says that he has made it very clear that there is no place whatsoever – I’m quoting him now – ‘for antisemitism in our society, our country or in my party. There never will be as long as I’m leader of the party’.”

Katz: “So, Razia, why hasn’t he taken proper action against it? Why has he allowed this state of affairs to flourish so that the party gets referenced to and taken up by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission? Why is it the case actually that there are still more than 100 outstanding cases before the National Constitutional Committee on antisemitism?”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “But there’s…I mean, you know…I just…I just wonder if I can point you…I wonder if I can point you to the other really big issue that does exist inside the political discourse in this country which is the presence of Islamophobia in the Conservative party and I wonder to what extent you feel that this is just a targeting of Jeremy Corbyn when there are…there are equally difficult thorny issues for the Conservative party to deal with.”

Yes – apparently ‘Newshour’ producers really did think that the understanding of audiences around the world of a story concerning unprecedented criticism of the leader of the UK Labour party from the Chief Rabbi would be enhanced by that blatant ‘whataboutery’ from Razia Iqbal.

In part two of this post we will look at the two interviews with Jenny Manson.