As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), the Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2019 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’ or ‘peace activists’, those inherently agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are obviously not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards.
When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. One of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’ in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which, since their overhaul in July 2019, states:
“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]
However, throughout 2019 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs and their representatives.
The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not adequately clarified. In other cases NGO activity or statements get BBC exposure without proper disclosure.
For example in June, Yolande Knell reported a demonstration at a gay pride event but gave no information concerning the NGO behind it. In July Tom Bateman cited an “anti-occupation group” without clarifying that he was apparently referring to the political NGO ‘Yesh Din’. In December the BBC showcased three Gaza residents without informing audiences of their links to the NGO ‘Euromed’.
More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content appeared prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.
The NGO ‘Medecins Sans Frontiers’ featured in several BBC reports relating to health services in the Gaza Strip:
Also while reporting on the Gaza Strip, the BBC promoted data sourced from a press release put out by the local branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – a highly politicised and partisan organisation that has in the past used dubious methodology to produce reports on Palestinian casualties.
In May the BBC promoted a legal case launched by Amnesty International:
Similarly – and unsurprisingly – the BBC provided uncritical amplification for Human Rights Watch’s campaign concerning the decision not to renew one of its staff’s work visa:
In February the BBC reframed a story with the help of the NGO ‘Hotline for Refugees and Migrants’:
In July ‘Breaking the Silence’ was described merely as an “advocacy group” in the introduction to an interview with one of its members:
The BBC saw fit to solicit election commentary from B’tselem in September:
In April the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher showcased ‘If Not Now’ and ‘J Street’:
The following month BBC audiences heard analysis from the ‘International Crisis Group’:
Also in May, the BBC promoted an anti-Israel event organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
In June BBC Radio 4 promoted a story based on a trip organised by ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’:
In July BBC audiences heard commentary from ‘Peace Now’:
A BBC Radio 4 programme aired the same month showcased ‘Combatants for Peace’ and ‘Hand in Hand’:
Several BBC reports produced in August cited ‘Miftah’ but failed to provide anywhere near adequate information concerning that NGO and others related to the same story.
In November the BBC News website amplified a campaign by ‘Emek Shaveh’.
Not for the first time the most widely promoted local NGOs in 2019 were B’tselem and ‘Breaking the Silence’. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent.
As in previous years, the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Despite the amendments made to those guidelines in July 2019, audiences heard nothing at all about the funding of any of the NGOs featured in its content.
The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences – along with BBC commentators – remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes overwhelmingly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is serially and consistently unbalanced.