BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

h/t DH, SFoI

Previously we noted that reports on BBC radio and the BBC News website relating to cell phone tracking of Coronavirus carriers in Israel had in all cases failed to inform audiences of the parliamentary and legal oversights of that step taken by the government but did choose to  amplify the claims of political NGOs.

Earlier this month we documented a BBC News website report’s unsatisfactory portrayal of the postponement of Binyamin Netanyahu’s court case.

“Readers […] would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.”

Both those topics came up again in the March 30th edition of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Outside Source’.

Following an item concerning steps taken by the Hungarian parliament, presenter Kasia Madera told viewers (from 14:13 in the video below):

Madera: “But Hungary’s government is not the only one in fact to increase its powers during the outbreak of Covid 19. We are in fact seeing stronger measures being implemented around the world.”

Having told audiences of media censorship, curfews and deployment of the military in Thailand, she went on:

Madera: “While compare that to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there saying that…who was…he was set to stand trial on corruption allegations but in fact now he’s shut down the courts. He’s also permitted the tracking of Israeli citizens’ phones and the prime minister says that the move will help track individuals who’ve come into contact those who contract Covid 19 but critics argue that this could lead to a Big Brother-style society.” [emphasis added]

Once again the BBC failed to inform its audiences that the surveillance measures are in place for a period of 30 days, that there is a Knesset sub-committee overseeing them and that the High Court has conditioned the measures on legislation. Moreover, while failing to provide that highly relevant information, the BBC once again amplified the therefore context-free claims of “critics”.

As for the claim that the Israeli prime minister – and he alone – “shut down the courts”: it was in fact the Justice Minister who cut back the activity of the courts on March 15th.

“Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared a 24-hour “state of emergency” in Israel’s court system early Sunday morning, “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

The decision means that courts can only sit for urgent hearings on arrest and remand orders, administrative detention orders, offenses under legislation “relating to the special emergency” and certain interim relief in civil matters.”

On March 21st the Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut published a press release in which she clarified that the courts continue to function throughout the country, providing essential services to the public. Her statement emphasized that the courts are not closed and that they would continue to provide services while observing the emergency restrictions issued by the Ministry of Health. She clarified that any current – and, if necessary, future – reduction in the activity of the courts due to the Corona pandemic was in accordance with her decisions as President of the Supreme Court.

In other words, the BBC’s claim that Netanyahu has “shut down the courts” is completely inaccurate and misleading to BBC audiences.

That failure to adhere to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy would of course be egregious at any time but it is all the more reprehensible at a time when the BBC is promoting itself as the ‘trusted’ antidote to Fake News concerning the Covid 19 pandemic. 

Related Articles:

Examining BBC reports on Corona-related cell phone tracking

BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Examining BBC reports on Corona-related cell phone tracking

On March 17th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard the following report in a news bulletin (from 2:08:05 here):

Newsreader: “Israel’s government has approved measures for its security agencies to use mobile phone data to track the location of suspected Coronavirus patients. The move has led to criticism from civil rights groups. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The emergency measures allow the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, to harvest information, including location data, from the mobile phones of confirmed Coronavirus patients and those suspected of having the disease. The regulations were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval. The mobile phone data showing an individual’s movements will be passed to the Ministry of Health to alert others who they may have come into contact with and will also be used to enforce quarantine regulations. Israel has more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus. Civil rights groups called the move dangerous. The government said it was trying to strike a balance between health needs and people’s rights.”

On the same day the BBC News website published an article headlined “Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers”. Written by BBC Technology cyber-security reporter Joe Tidy, the report includes analysis from Tom Bateman.

“The Israeli government has approved emergency measures for its security agencies to track the mobile-phone data of people with suspected coronavirus.

The new powers will be used to enforce quarantine and warn those who may have come into contact with infected people.

The temporary laws were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”.

Such powers are usually reserved for counter-terrorism operations.”

On March 29th listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 37:10 here) by Krassi Twigg of BBC Monitoring about “fears that some countries are seeing new levels of intrusion which could have a damaging effect on societies”.

The report mentioned South Korea, Italy, France and (from 40:57) Israel.

Twigg: “…and Israel has ordered its domestic security agency to track the mobile phone data of suspected Coronavirus cases. The Shin Bet normally uses such surveillance methods on Palestinians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis. Joel Greenberg, BBC Monitoring’s Israel specialist, said the use of these methods against [sic] Israeli citizens has been hugely controversial.”

Greenberg: “Critics of the policy have challenged it in the Supreme Court and they argue that it’s a dangerous invasion of privacy by the government. The government has said that the use of mobile phone tracking will be strictly limited to the battle against the Coronavirus but still the critics say that there may be no going back. Once the Shin Bet has begun tracking the cell phones of ordinary Israelis, the policy may be used again.”

The story is however by no means as simple as those three BBC reports spread over a period of twelve days tell audiences. Only in the written report was it made it clear that “Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the new powers will last for 30 days only”.

The chain of events actually began two days before the BBC picked up the story, on March 15th, as reported by the Times of Israel.

“The government on Sunday approved a proposal to allow the Shin Bet security service to perform mass surveillance on Israelis’ phones without requiring a court order in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting major concerns of privacy and civil liberty violations.

The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee. […]

In recent weeks authorities in Taiwan and Singapore, among other countries, have used cellular phone data to ensure that citizens were abiding by required quarantine orders.

Those tools — the Israel Police and Health Ministry already have similar means at their disposal — are not what was approved by the government Sunday.

Instead, the Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters (6.6 feet) of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.

“The information will be given only to the Health Ministry, to specific people with security clearances, and it will be erased immediately after it is used,” a senior Justice Ministry official told Channel 13 news.”

However the Knesset subcommittee did not vote on the matter and on March 19th the Supreme Court ruled that the tracking could not continue for more than five days without Knesset oversight.

“In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice said Thursday that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament fails to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.”

Following a request from the State Prosecutor and the re-establishment of the subcommittee, the Supreme Court lifted the injunction on March 24th on condition that legislation concerning the surveillance measures would be put in place.

“The High Court warned that if the legislation was not advanced in the coming weeks, it would once again be forced to intervene.

The judges noted that, given the additional government restrictions expected to be approved to further curb movement, the surveillance should be used as little as possible to minimize privacy violations.”

Especially given that, as the BBC has reported, the UK is also considering the employment of technological measures to combat the pandemic, one would have expected BBC journalists – including BBC Monitoring’s “Israel specialist” – to be able to report the story more accurately and with at least some mention of the safeguards put in place rather than focusing primarily on the speculative claims promoted by inadequately presented political NGOs such as ACRI and Adalah.  

BBC News ignores rocket attack from Gaza Strip

As we have noted on several occasions of late, BBC audiences have not seen any reporting on the topic of the cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in combating the outbreak of Coronavirus in the region. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process recently commented on that topic:

Coronavirus testing kits being delivered to the Gaza Strip. Photo credit: COGAT

“In a statement released on Friday, the coordination and cooperation established between Israel and Palestine, with regard to tackling COVID-19, was described as “excellent”. 

The Israeli and Palestinian authorities are continuing to coordinate their responses closely and constructively, the statement said, which is a major factor in the level of disease containment achieved so far. […]

Since the beginning of the crisis, Israel has allowed the entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza: examples of critical supplies include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for COVID-19 testing, and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers.

The statement also noted Israel’s cooperation in allowing health workers and other personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.”

Neither have BBC audiences seen any mention of an incident which took place on the evening of March 27th.

“Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket toward Israeli territory, triggering warning sirens in the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area on Friday evening, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

A regional spokesman said the projectile apparently fell in an open area and there were no injuries or damage.

The IDF retaliated later Friday night.”

By contrast, consumers of BBC content on both domestic and international platforms have repeatedly – but erroneously – been informed since mid-March that the reason that the Gaza Strip is badly placed to cope with the Covid 19 outbreak is “crippling” Israeli measures taken against terror organisations which the corporation cannot even bring itself to name as such.

Although the BBC consistently fails to provide its audiences with a representative portrayal of rocket attacks perpetrated against Israeli civilians by terror factions in the Gaza Strip, one would have thought that a story about civilians in lock-down and quarantine having to dash to air-raid shelters during a pandemic – and the subsequent issue of guidelines on how to respond to such a situation – would have sparked at least a bit of interest on the part of BBC journalists in Jerusalem.

Related Articles:

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BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

As we have previously documented (see ‘related articles’ below), in the past couple of weeks the BBC provided its audiences with preemptive reporting on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and reports on the first two cases diagnosed there.

On March 26th seven additional cases were confirmed and the final item in that day’s afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was billed as follows in the synopsis:

“And will Gaza’s health care system be able to stem the spread of the virus?”

Presenter James Menendez introduced the report (from 48:41 here) using a novel euphemism to describe a terrorist organisation and promoting talking points already seen in earlier reports.

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

Menendez: “Covid 19’s shown its power to overwhelm well-funded health systems in the richest countries. How much greater the risk then when those medical services are weak to begin with and when people are packed into spaces in which calls for social distancing or self-isolation are all but futile. Gaza is the tiny strip of land between Israel and Egypt into which 2 million Palestinians are crammed under the governance of the internationally shunned Hamas movement. Matthias Schmale is the Gaza operations director of UNRWA – the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – and he’s been talking to my colleague Tim Franks.”

Schmale: “Overnight another 7 cases were announced, bringing the total to nine.”

Franks: “Right and do you know where these infections originated from?”

Schmale: “The official line from the Ministry of Health is that the original two cases came from outside. They were two Palestinians who’d been in Pakistan and then were put into quarantine. And the latest seven announced last night are guards, security people at this quarantine. So, you know, it’s a bit a border line because they didn’t travel but they contracted it from there other two inside the quarantine area.”

Franks: “Right and I guess that’s particularly concerning is once you get into local transmission.”

Schmale: “I’ve been saying now for several days we need to treat this as if it is a full outbreak. You know, we don’t have the luxury to speculate. And so as UN we are working as if there is a full outbreak locally.”

Listeners were not told that UNRWA had suspended food distribution two days earlier.

Franks: “Well you say you need to treat it as if it’s a full outbreak; Gaza has particular challenges, to put it euphemistically. How difficult is it to try and contain this virus for you?”

Schmale: “The biggest challenge really is that it is so overcrowded and that standards of living – particularly in the refugee camps; 1.4 million people in Gaza of the 2 million living here are refugees, many of whom live in overcrowded camps, so it’s very common to have six, eight or even ten people living in a room or two. And so to do social distancing in those kinds of circumstances – or isolation when once that becomes necessary – is almost impossible to imagine. So that’s one big challenge.”

Of course Tim Franks did not ask Matthias Schmale to explain to listeners why there are still refugee camps in the Gaza Strip nearly fifteen years after Israel’s disengagement from the territory and he refrained from providing BBC audiences with the highly relevant context of UNRWA’s deliberate perpetuation of hereditary refugee status for millions of people living under Palestinian control.  

Schmale: “The other big challenge is that the hospitalisation sector is completely in meltdown. Now what I’ve been told is we have at maximum 60 ICU beds. Out of every hundred people who get ill, five at least on average would need ICU so you can do the math. As soon as more than 1,500 people are ill, they won’t be able to cope. So we are really worried about that, not to mention then the many mild and medium cases that we would have that would have no place to go to.”

Franks did not ask Schmale for the source of that claim that 5% of Covid 19 patients would need ICU treatment. This model, for example, estimates that 2% of patients would need ICU treatment and 1% would require a ventilator. Neither did he bother to enquire how the fact that the Gaza Strip has a relatively young population (the median age is around 18 years) in comparison with many countries would affect the demands placed on the healthcare system.

Franks: “The next question inevitably is what can be done about it?”

Schmale: “We’ve been working for days now as UN including UNRWA – the organisation I work for looking after Palestine refugees – at high speed and try and contain it, you know, and that’s about public health messaging, as difficult as it is to try and respect the guidance from the World Health Organisation about personal hygiene, about social distance at least one or two meters apart. That needs to hold and we’re trying to do that. We are trying to work with the authorities to actually impose a curfew. We think that’s now essential, you know. We don’t – as some colleagues have expressed – want to end up like places like Italy where maybe some those decision were taken too late. And so what we’re trying to do is hope for the best that there won’t be lots of people getting ill but preparing for the worst. And there will be clear limitations as to what we can do if there indeed is a full-scale outbreak in terms of many people getting sick.”

Menendez: “Matthias Schmale, the Gaza operations director of UNRWA – that’s the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – talking about the situation there.”

As we see the BBC continues to promote long-standing talking points concerning the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic. Notably though, audiences have yet to hear about Hamas’ prioritisation of terror over public services for more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the shortage of medicines and equipment in hospitals in the Gaza Strip or the part played by Israel in delivering testing kits and medical supplies to the territory.  

Those omissions suggest that BBC journalists are less interested in informing audiences of the realities of the situation than they are in promoting a long since adopted narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Itai Brun and Sarah J. Feuer provide an overview of the Coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

“The coronavirus is making its way across the Middle East, forcing states to prepare for the possible collapse of governing systems. The virus struck a region already buckling under the weight of armed conflicts, social upheaval, severe economic distress, and identity-related clashes. The data on corona’s spread is far from precise or reliable, given the lack of testing, lagging policies, and likely efforts at concealment on the part of certain regimes. But it is safe to assume that the number of infections is far greater than what is reported. Every regime seeks to mitigate corona’s consequences, and for the moment governments across the region appear to enjoy support from the public in doing so. Still, the region could suffer an uncontrollable outbreak, given high population density in certain cities and the sizable clusters of refugees and displaced persons scattered throughout the area.”

2) Dr Raz Zimmt gives his ‘Initial Assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Iran’s Regional Activities’ at the ITIC.

“The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis finds Iran is one of the toughest points in its modern history. The withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement (the JCPOA) and reimposition of economic sanctions exacerbated the economic troubles the country is facing, pushing Iran’s economy to an unprecedented crisis. The sharp drop in the oil prices risks further exacerbating Iran’s economic crisis. The closure of Iran’s borders to neighboring countries due to the pandemic is also exacting a high economic cost on Iran, whose implications will likely persist even after the health crisis passes.”

3) At the Times of Israel Haviv Rettig Gur looks at the latest developments in Israeli politics.

“…Blue and White fell apart on Thursday afternoon before Gantz had anything more than a few vague promises from Netanyahu. Negotiations over the details of the new government are still underway.

And Gantz has sealed off any foreseeable future bid to challenge Netanyahu at the ballot box. The political vehicle he dismantled was made up of his Israel Resilience party and, crucially, of the tight-knit organization and massive ground operation of Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

He surrendered his only decisive leverage over Netanyahu going forward: Netanyahu’s abject fear of the laws Blue and White had planned to advance that would forbid an indicted MK like Netanyahu from becoming prime minister.

And he broke his defining campaign promise: to remove Netanyahu from power.”

4) The BESA Center carries a profile of Raed Salah by Dr Shaul Bartal.

“Sheikh Raed Salah was recently sentenced to 28 months in prison for encouraging and supporting terror attacks by his followers, including the attack at the Temple Mount on July 14, 2017, that killed police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan. Though Salah has been behind bars for security offenses on multiple occasions, legal verdicts have never prevented him or his illegal Northern Branch from continuing to incite Israeli Arabs against the country in which they live.”

BBC ignores PA double standards on Coronavirus related mosque closures

With BBC Jerusalem bureau coverage of the Coronavirus story having focused mainly on Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip, audiences have heard much less about the measures being taken by Israeli authorities to combat the pandemic, including at religious sites in Jerusalem.

On March 15th the director of al Aqsa Mosque announced that it would be closed in light of the Covid 19 outbreak but that prayers would continue to be held outside.

Five days later clashes erupted in Jerusalem as police sought to limit the number of people arriving for Friday prayers in accordance with Ministry of Health directives and the chairman of the Waqf was subsequently fined for allowing worshippers to gather in breach of those guidelines.

On March 22nd the Waqf decided to close the compound to all but Waqf employees.

“The administration of the Wakf Islamic religious trust announced on Sunday that it has decided to suspend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem as of Monday morning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The unprecedented decision came in accordance with recommendations by religious and health parties, the Jordanian-controlled Wakf said after holding an emergency meeting in Jerusalem.

The decision means that worshipers would not be permitted to enter the compound starting Monday. […]

In the past few weeks, hundreds of Muslims have been converging on the compound for prayers, ignoring warnings by the Israeli Health Ministry and other health institutions in Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian Authority had already closed mosques and other religious institutions in areas under its control on March 14th. Nevertheless, the PA’s official daily newspaper published an article on March 22nd criticising Israel for that decision taken by the Waqf.

“The lead article adorning Al-Hayat Al-Jadida’s front page detailed the Islamic Wakf Council’s criticism of Israel for fining the council’s chairman Abdul Azim Salhab NIS 5,000 for not closing the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on Friday. According to the article, Salhab claimed that Israel was simply taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak, exploiting it as a means to harm Muslims by closing the mosque.”

The same edition of the paper also criticised Hamas for not closing mosques in the Gaza Strip.

Readers may recall that Salhab – who has a long record of promotion of incitement using baseless rumours about ‘threats’ to al Aqsa Mosque – was interviewed by the BBC in 2017.  

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BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip has suffered from shortages of medical equipment and supplies for many years because of the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA which is responsible for healthcare both in the areas under its control and the Gaza Strip.

Throughout that time the BBC has repeatedly steered its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for that chronic shortage of medical supplies by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

As we noted here in 2014 when Yolande Knell did precisely that, there is not – and never has been – any restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip with the exception of items classed as dual use equipment which has the potential to be used for terrorism. 

“The long-standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza emanates primarily from a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatment for patients outside of Gaza.

The healthcare system in Gaza is marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment and an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza due to issues of non-payment.

COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] works to facilitate the transfer of medication and medical supplies both through the international community and the private sector, however shortages remain.”

Throughout 2019 COGAT coordinated the entry of 800 truckloads of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote the false narrative according to which the sorry state of affairs in the Gaza healthcare system is attributable to Israel – a narrative also promoted by Hamas.

The March 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item promoting an appeal put out by the United Nations.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 07:29 here).

Iqbal: “Life in some of the wealthiest countries in the world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate and in that respect a leveller. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly adversely affect those who already have so little and to address that, today the United Nations has launched a $2 billion funding drive to help vulnerable countries fight Covid 19. The UN says all of humanity is at risk. In countries already affected by conflict, natural disasters or climate change, the death toll from the virus will be higher.”

Later in that item Iqbal interviewed Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of UNOCHA. Before that, however, she sought to illustrate the points made in her introduction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “The warning comes from [sic] after the confirmation of two cases in the densely populated Gaza region – where a decade-long blockade has devastated the health services – and the first case in Syria reported on Sunday. What are the additional challenges facing crisis zones when trying to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus and are they certain to get the help they need? A short time ago I spoke to Khamis Elessy, a doctor in Gaza.”

Listeners were not informed that in addition to being a doctor, Elessy is also an associate professor at the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza. Several hours after this interview his opening statement concerning two cases of Covid 19 in the Gaza Strip was no longer accurate.

Elessy: “Thanks God that we only have 2 cases confirmed out of 155 cases so we’re assisted. And those two cases were not from Gaza. They come from Pakistan. The healthcare system is barely coping with ordinary cases. Around 40% of essential drugs are lacking inside Gaza. Many of the equipments need spare parts and need repair. Throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units. But if we think of best scenario for Corona outbreak, we have to think of at least 100 beds so we need to add another 50 beds. They are not available here in Gaza because we don’t have factories or respirators, ventilators and other [unintelligible] of core equipment and we don’t have the medicines like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and other things that are needed. So far the two cases which were diagnosed inside Gaza their condition is stable, they’re in good health so far. And we hope that we will not have any other cases and maybe for the first time we have something out of the siege. Maybe this gave us one advantage that we’re not open to the rest of the world and that’s why there is no regular flow of people into Gaza and out of Gaza.”

Of course Iqbal had already told listeners that the counter-terrorism measures employed by Egypt and Israel are responsible for ‘devastating’ the health services in the Gaza Strip and so it was unsurprising to see that audiences received no information whatsoever concerning the real cause of the lack of essential medicines. Equally predictable was Iqbal’s failure to challenge Elessy’s promotion of the false notion of a “siege”.  

Turning to the much favoured BBC theme of population density, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “I wonder though if you could reflect for us on the possibility of the outbreak affecting Gaza in a bigger way. Do you think, Doctor, that it would be possible to self-isolate in a densely-populated area?”

Elessy: “No, no because unfortunately all families here belong to an extended family class. So the parents living in the same home, their sons, their grandsons. So you see in the same building around 80 or 70 people living in the same building. So self-isolation is difficult, it is impossible and this is actually the scary scenario if, God forbid, we have a huge number of cases that is infected and we need to isolate them, we can’t isolate them.”

Interestingly, in the interview with Mark Lowcock which followed on from this he noted that in relation to weak health systems:

Lowcock: “Gaza in fact is a little bit better than some of the other places we’re talking about like Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.”

The BBC however chose not to interview a doctor from any of those places but did use the opportunity to once again promote the false and entirely context-free notion (in a programme which will remain available for over a year) that the problems affecting the Gaza Strip’s healthcare services are attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

Looking behind a BBC News Press Team Tweet

On March 23rd the BBC News Press Team put out this Tweet:

The article by freelance journalist Ben Bold which the BBC chose to promote states:

“The BBC has become the most-trusted news brand on coronavirus, with 64% of respondents selecting it as a reliable source of information from a list of media brands. The public-service broadcaster beat Sky News, which was voted for by 29% of participants, followed by The Guardian (15%), according to research from Havas Media Group.

The Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report, which surveyed nearly 1,500 respondents, found that more than half (53%) of Brits are using BBC News more than before Covid-19 hit the UK – more than double the proportion of people for any other channel.

Eva Grimmett, Havas Media’s chief strategy officer, said: “This study really highlights the role that trusted, meaningful media play in times of crisis. While most channels have seen an increase in consumption in response to Covid-19, our research reveals a much greater reliance on live TV and a need for trusted news brands such as the BBC. We’re looking forward to seeing how this behaviour develops as the situation evolves in the coming weeks.”” [emphasis added]

The Havas Media Group is part of the Havas Group – a multinational advertising and PR company.

Havas has long worked with the BBC and opened an office in Manchester after having been contracted to handle the corporation’s strategic media planning in 2015. That contract is apparently currently worth some £25 million according to reports from last August stating that Havas would be tendering to retain the account. Havas Media Manchester still lists the BBC among its clients.

In addition, Havas Media is listed as being contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to TV Licensing.

To summarise: while a UK government consultation concerning the TV license is still ongoing, a PR company contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to television licensing just happened to conduct research at the time of a pandemic which “reveals…a need for trusted brands such as the BBC” and a BBC press team then promoted those findings without clarification of the commercial relationship between the BBC and that PR company.    

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Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

As we saw last week, the BBC Jerusalem bureau already briefed audiences on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip over a week before the first two cases were diagnosed. Listeners to at least four programmes on different platforms heard the following long-employed talking points concerning the Gaza Strip repromoted in Tom Bateman’s preemptive reports:

  • The territory was described as “one of the world’s most densely crowded places” where “more than two million people live in tightly packed” and “densely populated conditions”.
  • The territory was portrayed as having “weak, underdeveloped health services” that are “far weaker than those of the developed Western world” and which are “already under significant pressure”. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip were described as “outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies” and audiences were told that an outbreak of Covid 19 “could stretch their health system to the limit.”
  • The territory was described as having “an unclean water supply and regular power cuts”.
  • Audiences heard of “deep poverty” and “crowded refugee camps”.

However when it came to explaining to audiences why health services, power supplies and water supplies in the Gaza Strip are as they are, the BBC was distinctly less forthcoming.

“…problems […] are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Of course the sole reason for that partially portrayed “blockade” is the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and additional terrorist organisations since Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nearly a decade and a half ago. The BBC, however, provided no serious background information on that topic – including the issue of Hamas’ budgetary priorities which place terrorism over healthcare and other services – while employing its standard euphemism “militants” to describe Hamas.

Neither were audiences given any significant information on how “the deep split” between Hamas and Fatah has affected the standard of living and services such as water, power and healthcare in the Gaza Strip.

The main story on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 24th was headlined “Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip” and the sub-heading read:

“The first two cases have been reported in one of the world’s most densely populated areas”

The link led to a report by Yolande Knell which appeared on the website’s ‘Coronavirus’ live page.

Readers found many of the talking points regularly promoted in BBC content.

“Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave – one of the world’s most densely populated places.”

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra about population density, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

“Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza’s crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.”

According to a WHO report published in May 2019:

“There are 81 hospitals in total in the occupied Palestinian territory, with 51 in the West Bank and 30 in the Gaza Strip. Bed capacity is approximately 1.7 beds per 1000 population and is the same for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

According to the OECD, Colombia has the same ratio of beds per 1,000 population and Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia and India have lower ratios.   

“Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.”

Apparently Knell did not recognise the irony of promoting the notion of “enforced isolation” while having earlier in her report noted that the first Covid 19 patients in the Gaza Strip were “two men returning from Pakistan”. She also refrained from disclosing that according to reports “more than 2,700 people are in home isolation [in the Gaza Strip], mostly having returned from Egypt”.

As we see, the BBC’s messaging in reports about the Gaza Strip and the Coronavirus epidemic is no different from the narratives it has been promoting for years, including the inaccurate notion that the standard of healthcare stems from Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

On the day that Knell’s report was published the Israeli journalist Hezi Simantov (a veteran Arab affairs reporter) noted that Hamas’ Khalil Al-Hayya had declared that “we will place the full responsibility on Israel in the event that the Corona virus spreads in Gaza because our ability to deal with the pandemic is lessened because of the blockade”.

The fact that the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza and the BBC are promoting the same talking points while both avoiding the topic of Hamas’ responsibility for the state of health services in the territory is obviously noteworthy.  

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BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)