BBC R4 sidelines editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality

BBC Radio 4 has been running a series called ‘Eighteen’ which it describes as follows:

“Eighteen explores the lives, dreams and creative world of six brilliant young artists from the fields of visual art, folk music, slam poetry, opera, contemporary dance and punk rock.

Their stories take us from a teenage Icelandic punk band to an Aboriginal Australian contemporary dancer, from an award-winning Nigerian slam poet to a Palestinian visual artist, and from a South African opera student to a transgender Scottish folk musician.

Presented in immersive binaural stereo, these are the tales of remarkable young people at the dawn of their careers. Told largely through personal testimony and sound montage, Eighteen offers a unique opportunity to hear their voices and stories without mediation – as the intoxicating soundscapes of Cape Town, Lagos, Glasgow and Reykjavik create an intimate portrait of their world.”

The third episode of the series, aired on March 31st, includes an artist called Malak Mattar (06:00 to 12:00 and 16:25 to 24:30)

“Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the young Palestinian artist Malak Mattar (20) is preparing for an exhibition in Holland – and thinking about life back home on the Gaza Strip.”

The fact that the producer of this series, Steven Rajam, chose to present it “without mediation” means that no effort was made to provide objective background information (such as the rocket attacks and cross-border tunnels which prompted the 2014 conflict) relating to statements heard by listeners such as the following:

“I had this art professor who was coming to my show and he told me Malak it’s good but it’s sad. You are only 15, why so sad? I say why would I be happy? I survived three wars and I’m not yet 16 years old.”

“The day I started painting was actually during the 51 days attack on Gaza Strip in 2014.”

“Malak is of her time and of her generation, brought up in confinement…”

“…the more I travel the more it actually makes me feel so sad that I can’t see anything to indicate my country on the screen that shows people’s destination. What does that mean if I can’t go home?”

The result is BBC Radio 4 listeners were provided with a picture made up of subjective and politicised statements which they were unable to place in their correct context because accuracy and impartiality were sidelined in this programme in favour of “personal testimony…without mediation”.

 

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – March 2020

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) throughout March 2020 shows that throughout the month a total of 89 incidents took place: 50 in Judea & Samaria, 37 in Jerusalem and inside the ‘green line’ and two in the Gaza Strip sector.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 74 attacks with petrol bombs, five attacks using pipe bombs, three arson attacks, one shooting attack, one stabbing and three incidents of rock throwing and two grenade attacks. In the Gaza Strip sector two rocket attacks were recorded.

Five people – three civilians and two members of the security forces – were injured during March. Four of them were injured in attacks with petrol bombs in Jerusalem and one was injured in a rock throwing attack in the Binyamin district.

The BBC News website did not report any of the incidents which took place throughout the month, including the rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 27th.

Throughout the first quarter of 2020 visitors to the BBC News website saw coverage of 8.5% of the terror attacks against Israelis which actually took place.

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores rocket attack from Gaza Strip

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – March 2020

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – February 2020

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – January 2020

The BBC, Coronavirus and population density

On March 31st an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The article is made up of comment on a number of locations in the region, including Israel, the Palestinian Authority administered territories and the Gaza Strip. [all emphasis added]

Israel:

“The virus has already arrived in the region. Israel – a country with a sophisticated Western-style health system and a significant capacity to mobilise resources – is already beginning to struggle with the potential consequences of the pandemic.

It is facing the self-same problems as experienced in Western Europe and the United States.”

Marcus did not provide any information to illustrate or substantiate his claim that Israel “is already beginning to struggle”.

“However, the Middle East has some specific problems that may exacerbate the crisis. Ways of life governed by religion, for example, play a significant part in the lives of many countries’ citizens.

Such communities may often be insular and slow to change their practices.

It is perhaps no accident that in Israel, its ultra-Orthodox Haredi community has been slow to adopt the recommended social distancing measures and has suffered disproportionately from the virus.”

While rates of infection have indeed been higher than average in some ultra-Orthodox communities, Marcus’ attribution of that solely to “ways of life governed by religion” ignores additional relevant factors such as poverty, population density and the difficulties of effective isolation for members of large families.

Interestingly, the BBC has repeatedly cited those three factors in its many reports on Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and later on in his article Marcus himself referred to that territory’s population density.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. The population density in Bnei Brak – one of the locations in Israel most seriously affected by Covid 19 – was 26,368 persons/km2 at the end of 2017 but apparently Marcus did not consider it necessary to inform readers of that fact. 

Towards the end of the article readers were told that:

“Even in democratic Israel, the pandemic has sparked a constitutional crisis with political repercussions. The need to tackle the coronavirus looks like forcing opposition leader Benny Gantz into a national unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu (something he said he would never do and a move which has split his new party asunder).

And the closure of the courts has delayed the corruption trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who looks like soldiering on in office.”

Israel of course has no written constitution and so the claim of a “constitutional crisis” is debatable. The political deadlock in Israel which has not been resolved by three general elections has been ongoing for a year and was not “sparked” by the pandemic.

As we have previously had cause to note, the courts in Israel have not been closed. Activity has been reduced in line with Ministry of Health instructions and the Judiciary’s website states:

The courts and employment tribunals will function under emergency measures whereby only urgent hearings will be held.”

PA controlled territories and Gaza Strip:

Marcus gave a politicised portrayal of the Gaza Strip – from which Israel disengaged in 2005 – and the areas which have been under Palestinian Authority control for two and a half decades as “Israeli-occupied”, despite going on to later contradict himself by describing the PA as a governing body and Hamas as “rulers”.

“Even in places where there is the absence of full-scale war, there are some alarming potential coronavirus crisis-points. The Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a case in point.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs in about 40% of the West Bank, is struggling with limited means to curtail the initial outbreak, with fears that close economic ties – workers travelling between Israel and the West Bank – have potentially been one vector for the spread of the virus.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s continued prioritisation of the payment of salaries for terrorists is one of the factors contributing to its “limited means”.

Marcus went on to give a qualified explanation of the reason for the counter-terrorism measures adopted by Israel and Egypt while whitewashing that terrorism by use of the euphemism “militants”. He failed to clarify that the Gaza Strip was transferred to Palestinian control almost 15 years ago and in theory – though not in practice since the violent Hamas coup in 2007 – is run by the Palestinian Authority.

“But the densely populated Gaza Strip presents an altogether more worrying case. The population there is isolated; the Palestinians are under effective blockade from both Israel and Egypt, who say it is a necessary security measure against militants.

There has been a long-running debate between Israel and the international community as to its abiding responsibilities for the territory. Israel’s troops have left and it insists that it is no longer responsible for events there, which is now the job of the Hamas rulers.

But if the pandemic sweeps through Gaza this may become a very difficult case to argue given the grip that Israel still retains from outside.

No wonder there have been calls from Palestinian experts and humanitarian agencies for the so-called Israeli “blockade” to be lifted, and for Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Israelis to make common cause to fight the pandemic.”

Marcus made no effort to analyse the political motivations behind those “calls” (which, revealingly, do not appear to extend to Egypt) or to examine their validity in light of the fact that there is no restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Neither did he bother to address the obviously relevant issue of what would happen were the blockade lifted, given that Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip clearly have no intention of renouncing the terrorism which caused its implementation and indeed continue to issue threats.

“The head of Hamas in Gaza warned Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients were not brought into the Palestinian enclave then his terror group will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” said Yahya Sinwar, according to Hebrew media reports.”

Marcus went on to describe well-reported (though not by the BBC) actions which have been publicly praised by the UN as “behind the scenes”.

“It would be nice to think that rivalries could be set aside for the time being during this period of global crisis. Behind the scenes Israel has been transferring some equipment to the Palestinians in the West Bank, and training courses have been running for medical personnel.”

As we see, while the BBC has repeatedly promoted the topic of population density in the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, curiously that factor was completely ignored in Jonathan Marcus’ portrayal of outbreaks of Covid 19 in Israel.

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

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

As regular readers know, since mid-March the BBC has produced several reports (see ‘related articles’ below) on the topic of the Gaza strip and the Coronavirus pandemic; some pre-emptive and some after the first cases were diagnosed. Most of those reports focused on the population density and poor healthcare services in the Gaza Strip, with some falsely claiming that Israeli counter-terrorism measures are responsible for the latter.

BBC audiences have however been told next to nothing 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 Coronavirus testing kits and medical supplies to the territory.  

In early March the Hamas terror organisation which controls the Gaza Strip told residents not to travel abroad and later closed the crossings into Israel and Egypt. Hamas also began building quarantine facilities and as of April 1st there were twelve Covid 19 cases in the Gaza Strip. Between March 22nd and March 28th, 68,275 tons of goods were delivered to the Gaza Strip including 12,423 tons of food and 145 tons of medical supplies.

The March 31st evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Paul Henley – included yet another Gaza-Corona item (from 09:01 here): an interview with Najla Shawa who who works for the NGO Oxfam and was previously an UNRWA employee. Since 2015 she has been repeatedly interviewed by the BBC, more often than not without proper identification and with no information given to BBC audiences concerning her “particular viewpoints”.

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

Henley: “Let’s take a look now at the view from Gaza because the United Nations warns that poverty and a debilitated health system in the Palestinian territories would make an outbreak of Coronavirus particularly disastrous. There are only a handful of confirmed cases in Gaza so far. I’ve been talking to Najla Shawa who’s food security manager of Oxfam in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Unfortunately we are very concerned. As you know this pandemic is spreading widely around the world and in a place like Gaza, that’s a huge concern. And yes, very much so it might be a beginning and it’s very worrying for a place like Gaza.”

Henley: “You’ve Tweeted that for a start, stockpiling is not an option for people who live in Gaza, haven’t you?”

Shawa: “Actually Gaza is already in a very dire situation in terms of the very basic living. I think everybody would be following the [unintelligible]. Gaza has 37% unemployment, 62% of Gazans don’t know their next meal where is it going to come from. And you’re speaking about population that is also…it’s a very highly populated area in a very vulnerable situation to be honest. So even before the Covid 19, things were already very fragile and very, very challenging for most of the people in Gaza.”

Henley: “So the people’s resilience there has already been tested pretty much to the full.”

Shawa: “Exactly and I think now more and more I think the population have basically depleted all their resources. There’s a sense of solidarity that brings people together to support each other. However the resources are just diminishing. People already don’t have jobs, already don’t have incomes. We already locked down and there is no movement, there’s no real economy. There are no basic services and looking at the health services for example, it’s a very weak system already.”

Henley made no effort to inform listeners of the crucial context of the rift between Hamas and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in relation to that “weak system” of healthcare.

Henley: “What are people saying about the threat of the pandemic?”

Shawa: “People are very much aware of what’s going on in the world and they are very concerned. And currently like everyone is just waiting by the hour to hear the news about any new cases. So those who have some capacity to stock up some food or some essential items are doing so. However most of the population don’t have this capacity unfortunately. You know the majority of Gaza people depend on aid for life-saving assistance that is provided by humanitarian organisations.”

In light of those claims Henley could of course have raised the question of the efficacy of NGOs working in the Gaza Strip for the last decade and a half since Israel disengaged from the territory (Oxfam, for example, claims to have spent 75 million Euros in the Palestinian territories since 2014) but instead brought up another standard BBC talking point.

Henley: “And it’s well known already that people live in very close proximity to each other in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Absolutely. 5,000 persons per square kilometre. I mean you’re talking about 2 million people in this place and the number of ICU beds are hardly 87 if we count the private and the public hospitals. So this is a very worrying situation to be honest. And the extreme weakness of the system; there’s real need to very basic support to the population already from before. There are like more than 1,700 who require treatment outside of Gaza and they’re not able to access that since the lock-down. And for the lock-down I mean Gaza has been always locked down. We totally know what this means. We can empathise of course with everyone in the world and this is a moment where everyone is kind of thinking about the other in this sudden crisis. But we Palestinians have known that for many, many years unfortunately.”

The Gaza Strip has not been “always locked down”: restrictions on movement into Israel were brought into place due to the Palestinian terrorism which went completely unmentioned throughout this item. Neither were listeners informed that it was Hamas which instigated the current closure of crossings.

Henley: “What about schooling for children? What’s the situation there?”

Shawa: “Schools have been closed since more than 3 weeks and universities as well. That’s definitely a problem because you have all the kids on lock-down in their homes and there is no place to go, no space, there’s no…also as I said the poverty is so dramatic that even their basic rights are not being met. More than 400 thousand children are living under poverty. And this is quite alarming too and very worrying for us as Oxfam and as all humanitarian organisations.”

Henley: “Najla Shawa in Gaza.”

As we see Henley failed to even remotely challenge any of Shawa’s talking points throughout that entire four-minute interview (an edited version of which was also posted in the ‘updates’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page) and refrained from providing the background information and context which would further audience understanding of the situation in the Gaza Strip. Of course Shawa’s talking points concerning population density, poverty and the healthcare system are exactly the same as the BBC’s own long-promoted narratives and so Henley’s soft-ball interviewing comes as no surprise.

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

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

BBC Complaints: BBC programme is not BBC output

Yesterday we noted an item aired on the March 30th edition of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Outside Source’ in which audiences were given inaccurate information concerning courts in Israel and partial information concerning measures taken to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those issues, the receipt of which was acknowledged on the same day.

The following day, however, we received this response from the BBC Complaints team:

“Many thanks for taking the time to contact us. The role of this department is to respond to comment, query or criticism concerning programmes on any of the BBC’s national, regional and local television or radio services.

We also deal with issues related to BBC’s policy. As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you. If you wish to contact us in the future then we would ask that you please refer to BBC programmes, broadcasts, policy or output in your complaint.” [emphasis added]

As noted above ‘Outside Source’ is aired on the BBC News Channel. That platform is described by the BBC itself as “Britain’s most-watched news channel, delivering breaking news and analysis all day, every day”.

The BBC’s complaints webform includes the option of submitting a complaint concerning the BBC News channel. A later drop-down menu also includes the programme ‘Outside Source’ itself. 

A video of the programme was uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. The programme’s presenter circulated that video on her Twitter account – where she describes herself as a BBC presenter.

The programme appeared with the BBC logo on screen.

Nevertheless, the outsourced BBC Complaints system claimed that “As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you”.

While members of the general public may understandably have been put off by such a reply, BBC Watch of course submitted a second (Stage 1b) complaint which included the above information. We have now received the following:

One can of course but wonder about the overall efficiency of a publicly funded complaints system which sends replies “issued in error”. 

Related Articles:

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BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – March 2020

Throughout the month of March 2020, fourteen written or filmed reports relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which were also published on other pages and one of which was carried over from the previous month. Partway through the month the BBC announced changes to its coverage in light of the Coronavirus crisis.   

(dates in brackets indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One report concerned security issues:

Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank clash (11/3/20 to 16/3/20) discussed here

Two items concerned Palestinian affairs, one of which was carried over from the previous month:

Mental health: Coping with the trauma of living in Gaza (29/2/20 to 4/3/20 and 5/3/20 to 8/3/20) discussed here

Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip  Yolande Knell (24/3/20 to 26/3/20) discussed here

One filmed report profiled an MMA fighter from Jordan living in the US:

MMA fighter: ‘I’m the pride of Palestine’ (6/3/20 to 7/3/20 and 8/3/20 to 27/3/20)

Of ten items relating to internal Israeli internal affairs, six reports concerned the general election:

Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year? Tom Bateman (1/3/20 to 17/3/20) discussed here

Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year (2/3/20) discussed here and here

Israel election: Netanyahu claims ‘biggest win’ amid vote count (3/3/20 to 4/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Netanyahu seeks defectors after failing to secure majority (4/3/20 to 7/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days (16/3/20 to 19/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Netanyahu rival Gantz ‘agrees emergency unity government’ (26/3/20 to present)

Four items related to the Coronavirus pandemic:

Coronavirus: Israel to bring in 14-day quarantine for all arrivals (9/3/20 to 11/3/20)

Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers (17/3/20 to 24/3/20) discussed here

Israel’s coronavirus patient 74 talks about her experience Tom Bateman (23/3/20 to present)

Israel’s Netanyahu tests negative for coronavirus (30/3/20 to present)

As we see over 70% of the items appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page throughout March concerned Israeli affairs. As is usually the case, usual BBC audiences saw no meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2020

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Palestinian affairs in 2019

 

 

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:

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

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report