Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

Despite a very lively campaign that has so far included the dismantling of previous alliances, the registration of numerous new parties and the standing down of some veteran Israeli politicians, BBC reporting on Israel’s upcoming April 9th general election has to date been confined to a report about the announcement of the election and a mention in a subsequent BBC Radio 4 programme which ignored that announcement.

Before the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau commences coverage of the 2019 election it is worth taking a look at its record of reporting on previous Israeli elections.

In the 2013  election the BBC’s reporting focused predominantly on one side of the political map and presented Israel as a country lurching rightward while depicting that perceived shift as the sole reason for the predicted failure to make progress in the peace process. When that predicted lurch to the right did not happen, some furious backtracking ensued and as was noted here at the time:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

In coverage of the 2015 election BBC audiences once again saw the corporation focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’.

“Connolly’s article frames the fate of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon political developments on one side of the negotiating table. That portrayal is not only obviously absurd but it actually hinders audience understanding of the fact that the reason why that topic is not a major campaign issue in this election is precisely because the majority of Israelis understand that progress on that issue is not dependent on their government alone.”

As had been previously seen in 2013, BBC coverage of the 2015 Israeli elections bizarrely included a remarkable number of interviews with Palestinian commentators and in fact audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than they did from Israeli candidates standing for election.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

Whether or not in the coming weeks BBC journalists will produce any reporting that informs audiences about the full range of issues that concern Israeli voters in the April general election remains to be seen but if its previous record is anything to go by, it seems likely that the corporation will continue to promote the facile and narrative-driven portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the paper placed in the ballot box by Israeli voters.

Related Articles:

Elections 2015 – a postscript on BBC framing of Israeli elections over 23 years

 

 

 

 

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BBC News report contradicts BBC backgrounder

A report titled “Five arrested after Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation raided” appeared briefly on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the evening of January 5th.

Relating to an incident which had taken place in the Gaza Strip the previous day, the article informed readers that:

“Five men have been arrested after the offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Gaza were ransacked.

Thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment was destroyed when the armed men attacked the building on Friday.

The broadcaster is funded by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by the Fatah faction.

Staff initially blamed the raid on the faction’s rivals Hamas, which controls Gaza, but the Islamist group said unhappy PA employees carried it out.”

The report went on:

“The five men who have been arrested are “employees of the Palestinian Authority whose salaries have been cut recently,” the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said in a statement.

“It turned out that one of them was a Palestine TV employee whose salary was cut last month,” it added. […]

The interior ministry said an investigation had been carried out and the men had been identified by surveillance footage and were all members of Fatah.”

The BBC did not explain to its readers how that latter claim squares with other reports from the PA news agency alleging that the attackers had been masked.  Allegations of additional attempted detentions of Fatah linked officials by Hamas were not mentioned and neither was the reported decision by Fatah to close down offices in the Gaza Strip.

The Jerusalem Post reported an apparent additional development hours before this BBC article was published.

“The Palestinian Authority has decided to stop paying salaries to hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including many Fatah members, sources said on Friday.

Palestinians see the move in the context of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s punitive measures against Hamas and his critics in Fatah. These measures were taken last year in response to Hamas’s refusal to hand over full control of the Gaza Strip to Abbas’s Ramallah-based government. […]

Abbas, who is currently visiting Cairo, told Egyptian journalists and writers on Friday night that he was considering halting the monthly PA funds that are earmarked for the Gaza Strip and which, he said, were estimated at $96 million. […]

One Palestinian source told The Jerusalem Post that the latest PA move will affect 169 Palestinians believed to be affiliated with deposed Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, an outspoken political opponent and critic of Abbas. […]

Another source said that dozens of former Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prison have also been told that they will no longer be receiving their salaries from the PA. Most of the former prisoners are affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but were nevertheless on the payroll of the PA, the source explained. […]

In another sign of mounting tensions between the two sides, Fatah announced that it has decided to close all its offices in the Gaza Strip in protest against Hamas “threats” and “harassment.””

At the end of the BBC’s article readers were told that:

“The two factions [Fatah and Hamas] have been at odds since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a brief but violent battle in 2007.

In October 2017, the rivals signed a reconciliation deal that was meant to see Hamas hand over administrative control of Gaza to the PA, but disputes have delayed the deal’s full implementation.”

Meanwhile, the BBC News website’s ‘Palestinian territories’ profile continues to mislead audiences with the inaccurate claim that “a government of national unity assumed control of Gaza public institutions in October 2017”.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s redundant ‘Palestinian unity government’ claim

Inaccuracy in BBC’s Fatah profile exposed

PA TV executives reveal goals of station partnered by BBC charity

 

 

 

The BBC’s redundant ‘Palestinian unity government’ claim

The BBC’s ‘Palestinian territories’ profile (last updated in December 2017) tells audiences that:

“The Fatah faction of the PLO ran the PNA until 2006, when Hamas won a majority in Legislative Council elections.

Uneasy co-existence between PNA President Mahmoud Abbas and a Hamas-led government led to violence between armed wings of Fatah and Hamas, culminating in Hamas seizing power in Gaza in June 2007 and President Abbas dismissing the government.

The two PNA areas were then run by the separate factions – the West Bank by Fatah, and Gaza by Hamas – until a government of national unity assumed control of Gaza public institutions in October 2017.” [emphasis added]

That same profile’s ‘timeline‘ states:

“2017 October – Hamas lets the Ramallah-based unity government take over public institutions in Gaza as part of a reconciliation process between the two rival administrations.”

While the BBC enthusiastically reported that ‘unity government’ story at the time, those statements obviously do not reflect Palestinian political reality.

Earlier this week Fatah accused Hamas of arresting a large number of its members in the Gaza Strip.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction claimed on Monday that Hamas has arrested 500 of its activists and officials in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah spokesmen said the arrests were designed to prevent the men from celebrating the 54th anniversary of the launching of its first attack against Israel.”

Although Hamas denied the allegations saying that “only 38 senior Fatah men were summoned for questioning”, as the Jerusalem Post reports the row continues.

“The Hamas crackdown has enraged Fatah leaders in Ramallah. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as chairman of Fatah, launched a scathing attack on Hamas. In a speech, Abbas strongly denounced the Hamas measures against his supporters in the Gaza Strip. He even went as far as hinting that Hamas was working for Israel. “Those who prevent us from marking this occasion are spies,” he said, referring to Hamas. “We have been suffering from the spies here and there, and they will end up in the dustbin of history.” […]

Hamas quickly responded by hinting that the 83-year-old Abbas was senile and talking nonsense. “Abbas’s speech is trivial,” retorted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. […]

Several other Hamas leaders and spokesmen reacted with outrage to Abbas’s charge. They used the words dictator, senile, mentally unstable, traitor, collaborator and liar to condemn the Fatah leader. The Hamas representatives said that Abbas was the real collaborator because of the security coordination between his security forces and Israel in the West Bank.”

Prominent analyst Khaled Abu Toameh went on to report that:

“Fatah officials in the West Bank said on Wednesday that Hamas’s actions against their men indicate that there’s no chance that the two parties could ever resolve their differences. The officials pointed out that the Egyptians have given up on their repeated attempts to end the Hamas-Fatah rift.

“That’s it: There will be no dialogue with Hamas,” said Hussein al-Shiekh, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank. “We have notified Egypt and Qatar that their efforts to achieve reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah] have reached a dead end.” […]

Until recently, it appeared as if the Egyptians were on the verge of reaching another “historic” reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah. The two parties have signed several reconciliation accords in the past 11 years, but none have been implemented. The last reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo in October 2017. That accord, too, has yet to be implemented.

Judging from the actions and words of Fatah and Hamas, it now seems that the chances of ending the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are virtually zero.”

Clearly it is high time for an update to bring the BBC’s ‘Palestinian territories’ profile into step with reality.

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to side-step internal Palestinian politics

BBC ignores Fatah’s anniversary incitement

BBC News ignores Fatah Day for fourth year running

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2018

As has often been noted here, for years the BBC has reported stories relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) without adequately clarifying to its audiences that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

So did BBC audiences see any improvement in reporting on that topic in 2018?

The year opened with listeners to BBC Radio 5 live on January 1st hearing a gratuitous and baseless comparison of Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa and being repeatedly told that a singer had made the “right” call by giving in to pressure from supporters of a campaign that the BBC presenter made no effort whatsoever to the explain properly.

Radio 5 live item promotes apartheid analogy, breaches style guide

A week later listeners to BBC World Service heard an item which dealt specifically with the subject of the BDS campaign, but once again the BBC did not provide audiences with the clear picture of its aims that they have lacked for years. Rather, in addition to providing an inaccurate definition of the campaign’s goals himself, the presenter allowed his interviewee to promote inaccurate statements and claims with no challenge.

BDS campaigner’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC World Service

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

In April the BBC News website published a report about an Irish BDS supporter in which it used the ‘Israel says’ formula to preface an explanation of the BDS campaign and the subject’s links to it.

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

In May listeners to BBC World Service radio heard promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences – and the ‘apartheid trope from a Palestinian interviewee.

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

Also in May the BBC News website published a report concerning an employee of a political NGO involved in boycott activities, 25% of which was given over to sympathetic statements.

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

The same month listeners to BBC Radio Ulster heard BDS messaging from a studio guest.

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

In early June the BBC News website failed to adequately portray the role played by BDS campaigners’ threats in the cancellation of a football match.

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

In August the BBC News website reported a business story while avoiding any mention of its own amplification of a related BDS campaign four years earlier.

BBC News website’s SodaStream report sidesteps its own previous reporting

In September the BBC News website reported the cancellation of a singer’s performance in Israel and once again made use of the ‘Israel says’ formula.

BBC’s BDS campaign reporting failures continue

Later the same month the BBC News website published a report that included promotion of the ‘apartheid’ smear and amplification of the BDS campaign.

BBC News continues to mainstream BDS and the ‘apartheid’ smear

A BBC News website report published in October erased the participation of BDS campaigners from an account of a ‘tolerance rally’.

Looking beyond the BBC Berlin correspondent’s framing

In November the BBC News website produced inadequate reporting about a boycott campaign initiated by political NGOs.

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Later the same month listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard an inadequate report on Quaker support for the BDS campaign.

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ highlights Quaker hypocrisy but still fails listeners

Once again on no occasion throughout 2018 were audiences told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism.

That obviously hinders the ability of audiences to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its appropriate context and affects their view of criticism of the campaign from other sources.

The fact that on two occasions in 2018 we saw the BBC News website telling readers that “Israel says the BDS movement opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism” does not mean that the story has been reported accurately and impartially.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2017

 

 

 

BBC News website coverage of Gaza Strip missile fire in 2018

In the early hours of December 29th a projectile was launched from the Gaza Strip.

“An IDF spokesperson said that a rocket fired from the Strip landed in open terrain in southern Israel before dawn on Saturday, causing no injury or damage to property.

The army said that rocket alert sirens did not sound in the region as the projectile was tracked to land in open area.

In retaliation, IDF attacked a Hamas position in southern Gaza. There were no reports of any casualties as a result of the strike.”

BBC audiences did not see any reporting on that incident which was the twenty-second separate bout of rocket and/or mortar fire from the Gaza Strip in 2018.

The number of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip in 2018 was the highest for four years with over a thousand projectiles fired into Israeli territory. Visitors to the BBC News English language website saw mentions or coverage of just 45% of the incidents and those getting their news from the BBC’s Arabic language website saw even less. 

Nevertheless, that marks an improvement in comparison to 2017 when BBC News website audiences saw coverage of a mere 14% of missile attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip and Sinai sectors. In 2016 just one attack (6.7% of the total) was covered by the BBC News website and in late 2014 and throughout 2015 the majority of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip were not reported in English.

It is of course extremely difficult to imagine that if terrorists had fired over a thousand rockets and mortars on twenty-two separate occasions in twelve months at British citizens, the BBC would have failed to report 55%  of those incidents. Despite the improvement we see the continuation of an editorial policy which results in audiences and BBC journalists alike being unable fully understand events and their context when Israel is obliged to respond to rising terrorism.   

Related Articles:

Gaza missile fire continues to be ignored by BBC News

Serial BBC failure to report rocket attacks comes home to roost

BBC News website coverage of Gaza terrorists’ mortar attacks

BBC News website ignores most of renewed Gaza rocket fire

How did BBC News report the latest Gaza missile attacks?

Fifth Gaza rocket attack this month not newsworthy for the BBC

Gaza missile attacks get 44 words on the BBC News website

Inaccuracy, reverse chronology and lack of context in BBC reporting on Gaza missile attacks

Rocket attack on Be’er Sheva home ignored by BBC

BBC News again yawns at missile attacks on southern Israel

Sloppy BBC News report omits rocket hits on Israeli homes

False equivalence in BBC News report on Gaza rocket attacks 

 

 

 

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

In July 2013 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder intended to inform audiences about what it considered to be the five “Core Issues” of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and security. Although that backgrounder is no longer available online in its original form, in a section titled ‘refugees’ the Palestinian position was presented thus:

“Formally, they maintain the “right of return”, arguing that without it a great injustice would not be put right. However, there has been regular talk among Palestinians that this “right” could be met by compensation.” 

In other words, the BBC presented the Palestinian demand for the ‘right of return’ for refugees as a formality and steered audiences towards the view that the issue would be resolved on a practical level by means of compensation.

Over the past nine months, however, audiences have seen changes in the BBC’s presentation of that topic – primarily but not exclusively in reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ events.

In the BBC News website’s first report on those events on March 30th audiences were told that:

“Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The following day visitors to the BBC News website were told that:

“Hundreds were wounded at the start of protests demanding a right for Palestinians to return to former family homes in what is now Israel. […]

The aim of the protest is to assert what Palestinians regard as their right to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

Listeners to BBC radio 4 on March 30th heard that “Thousands of demonstrators gathered for the start of a six-week campaign for the right to return to homes that are now in Israel” and that “The demonstrators said they wanted to send a clear message that they have a right to return to what used to be Palestinian land: one of the major issues of contention in the Middle East conflict.” [emphasis in bold added]

That programme highlighted one of several issues seen BBC reporting on this topic: the corporation’s failure to challenge deliberate misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194 by Palestinian interviewees.

On the same day listeners to BBC World Service radio were told that “Thousands of Palestinians massed today in what is the start of weeks of protest to demand that refugees be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel” along with yet more misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194.

However, in early April BBC audiences began to see the use of a new phrase: ‘ancestral lands’. [emphasis in bold added]

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

As was noted here at the time:

“One may have thought that BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality would have prompted the use of terminology such as “what Palestinians see as their ancestral lands” (particularly seeing as only two years of residency in Mandate Palestine is required to meet the UN definition of refugee) but that was not the case…”

Additional examples of the cross-platform use of that and similar terminology – which is too widespread to be explained by anything other than an editorial decision – include the following:

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel…” BBC Radio 4, April 6th 2018

“…in similar protests last Friday in support of the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC World Service radio, April 6th 2018

“Protesters want refugees to be allowed to return to ancestral land now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 13th 2018

“Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“The demonstrations have seen thousands of Palestinians mass on the border in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, June 20th 2018

“…mass demonstrations along the border, at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC News website, July 17th 2018

“…thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 7th 2018

“…protests along the Gaza-Israel border at which thousands have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 15th 2018

“The protest campaign expresses support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 28th 2018

“The protests began with a demand for Palestinians to return to their ancestral land that now lies in Israel…” BBC News website, October 1st 2018

“The protesters are demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and the right to return to Palestinans’ ancestral land which now lies inside Israel.” BBC Radio 4, October 12th 2018

“The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, October 25th 2018

“The demonstrations began in March over a declared Palestinian right to return to ancestral homelands from the blockaded Strip.” BBC Radio 4, November 23rd 2018

The term “ancestral land” is of course  often used in reference to lands belonging to an indigenous cultural people or community as well as in connection to the place of origin of previous generations. The BBC’s widespread introduction of the non-neutral terms “ancestral lands”, “ancestral homes” and “ancestral homelands” over the past nine months into multiple platform reporting on the topic of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is hence particularly noteworthy – and all the more so given that audiences were serially denied important background information in the same reports.

Audiences were not provided with adequate context concerning the circumstances under which some of the Arabs living in the area in 1948 became refugees – and not least the fact that the process began because neighbouring Arab states chose to initiate a war intended to eradicate the emerging Jewish state.

None of the BBC’s reports informed audiences that UN GA resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and – contrary to often heard assertions – neither does it grant any unconditional ‘right of return’.

Equally notable is the BBC’s failure in the majority of its reports to adequately explain to audiences why Israel cannot countenance the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ and the failure to clarify that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

“The Israeli government has long ruled out any right of return…” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

“Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“Israel says it cannot allow five million refugees to return because this would overwhelm the country of 8.5 million and mean the end of its existence as a Jewish state.” BBC News website, May 15th 2018

“They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic…” BBC World Service radio, September 1st 2018

Significantly, no effort has been made over the past nine months to explain to BBC audiences that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution proposal which the BBC has repeatedly told its audiences in the past is the “declared goal” of “the international community”. 

Related Articles:

The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return” (CAMERA)

 

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BBC’s photos of the year include context-free image

On December 30th the BBC News website’s ‘In Pictures’ section published a selection of “striking photos” from 2018.

The feature “2018 in pictures: Striking photojournalism from around the world” was sub-headed “The BBC News picture team has selected some of the most arresting images by photojournalists from around the world in 2018” and among the twenty-eight chosen images was one taken by a Reuters photographer that was presented as follows:

“A Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier in October during clashes over an Israeli order to shut down a Palestinian school in the town of as-Sawiyah, south of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank.”

The part of that story that the BBC chose not to tell was reported by AFP in October thus:

“Clashes broke out in the occupied West Bank on Monday after Israeli forces ordered the closure of a Palestinian school, AFP correspondents said.

The Israeli army said the school had been the source of months of violence, with stones thrown at a nearby major road used by its forces and Israeli settlers.

The school serves the Palestinian villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lubban south of Nablus and is located on a main road through the West Bank. […]

The Israeli army said the school “been the site of popular terror acts and riots” in recent months.

“In response to the large number of popular terror acts endangering Israeli and Palestinian civilians driving on the road… the area of the school was declared a closed military zone.””

It would of course not have been at all difficult for the BBC’s ‘In Pictures’ team to add that relevant context to the photo caption.

No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

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Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

BBC News’ ‘different side’ to Gaza is much of the same

A video titled “The Instagrammer who wants to show a different side of Gaza” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on December 30th with a synopsis that begins as follows:

“A Palestinian Instagrammer in the Gaza Strip wants to show us a different side of life there.”

However, far from bringing audiences “a different side” to that usually seen in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip, the synopsis went on to promote the corporation’s standard mantras, including the usual uninformative slogan concerning the context to Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

“Gaza has seen three major wars between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the strip. Gaza’s economy has also been badly hit by a blockade by Israel and Egypt – needed, they say – for security reasons.” [emphasis added]

In among Kholoud Nassar’s photos of cheesecake and coffee, historic buildings, well-stocked markets, a garden centre and a strawberry field, the same slogans were promoted in the film itself.

“Gaza has been through three major wars in the last decade between Israel and the Hamas group that controls the strip. […] Israel and Egypt restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, citing security reasons.”

Remarkably the film’s producer Cara Swift chose to use that particular image despite the fact that it is not representative of the Gaza Strip at the end of the last conflict in 2014 and with no room for an explanation of the context that lies behind the damage seen.

Another day, another example of the way in which the BBC’s strict chosen framing does not allow any Gaza Strip related story to be “different”.

Related Articles:

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Reporter in the rubble: what is missing from BBC presentation of structural damage in Gaza?

 

 

 

The BBC, 2018 ‘fake news’ and fact checking

Throughout 2018 the BBC continued to cover the topic of ‘fake news’, creating a dedicated webpage for items tagged under that topic and producing various guides to identifying fake news, including one aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Fake news usually comes down to two things. Firstly, false news stories that aren’t true at all. They go online or are shared on social media even though the person writing them knows that they are made up. Number two: stories that may have some truth to them but the facts aren’t clear or checked properly or the writer has exaggerated some of it to mean what they want it to.” [emphasis in bold added]

This year too BBC Watch has documented numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC and has submitted dozens of related complaints. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections in 2018 are the following: 

1) The claim that a sign in Arabic promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions related solely to “a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements”.

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

2) The claim that the Israeli government “retroactively legalised an unauthorised settlement outpost” following a terror attack.

One month on BBC corrects inaccuracy regarding Israeli cabinet decision

3) The claim that Riyad Mansour is the “UN envoy for Palestine”.

BBC News website corrects Palestinian envoy’s title

4) The claim that the Argentinian football team’s cancellation of a friendly match against Israel was related to “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza”.

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

5) The claim that “Thousands [of Palestinians] have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”. 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

6) The claim that the head of the PLO delegation to Washington is an ‘ambassador’.

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

7) The claim that a crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip had been closed.

BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

8) The claim that UN forces were in control of the Golan Heights demilitarized zone.

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part two

9) The claim that “for the first time” a Palestinian candidate was running for a seat on the Jerusalem city council.

BBC issues correction to inaccurate Jerusalem elections claim

10) The claim that the next Israeli election “had to be held by November this year”.

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

Given the above examples of some of the many cases in which the BBC promoted news that included information that had not been properly fact checked, one might well conclude that the BBC’s focus on ‘fake news’ should begin at home.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2018 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our mission of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform the general public in a manner no less pernicious than those stories that the BBC does tag as ‘fake news’.

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BBC News report on 2017 ‘fake news’ excludes its own

After three months BBC corrects inaccurate claim

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Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy