Political messaging eclipses context in BBC WS Fourth of July report

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on July 4th heard a report from Yolande Knell in which information and context were side lined in favour of political messaging.

The introduction given by programme host Dan Damon (from 18:08 here) included the claim that there is such a thing as “international policy”.

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

Damon: “As the United States celebrates Independence Day, in Israel local officials and American diplomats are marking what they say are their closest ever ties. For the first time the US embassy to Israel has held its 4th of July party in Jerusalem; this of course after President Trump recognised that city as Israel’s capital – a controversial departure from long-time international policy. Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis have criticised recent actions by US Ambassador David Friedman in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their hoped-for future state. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Listeners heard the sound of fireworks before Knell began with an incomplete and context-free portrayal of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister. While listeners could be forgiven for assuming that Netanyahu had compared “relations with this White House” to those with previous US administrations, he did not. 

Knell: “Off with a bang. The US embassy held its first ever Independence Day party in Jerusalem this week. Watching the fireworks with their wives: the ambassador and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He celebrated his close relations with this White House.”

Recording Netanyahu: “…and it’s wonderful to have the greatest power on earth not opposing the Jewish state but supporting the Jewish state. What a twist.”

Listeners then heard that archaeology is “an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda”, although it is doubtful that they would be aware of the background to Knell’s reference to the opening of an archaeological site seeing as the BBC has failed to produce any reporting on that story.

Knell: “And breaking past conventions, there’ve also been some unusual shows of US support for an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda. Wielding a hammer, Ambassador David Friedman smashed through an underground wall to open a controversial Jewish archaeology centre in East Jerusalem.”

Recording Friedman: “Why would an American ambassador come to this event and speak at this event? Some people – not necessarily friends of ours – are obsessing about my being here.”

Listeners heard the unexplained sound of some sort of machinery working before Knell continued:

Knell: “Above the site in Silwan, tunneling has badly damaged some Palestinian homes. And the action of the top diplomat was seen as confirmation that the US is recognising Israeli control over East Jerusalem and supports the presence of Jewish settlers here on land the Palestinians want for their own state.”

Knell’s promotion of the claim made by local activists that houses in Silwan have been “badly damaged” by the archaeological dig is not supported by an interview with a local resident which appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

“There are cracks in some walls. But this is not new. This has been going on for years. Some residents have hired lawyers to ask for financial compensation to renovate their homes. I heard that some people did receive compensation.”

Knell refrained from informing audiences that the people she dubbed “Jewish settlers” reside in legally purchased properties. Interestingly, the BBC’s own definition of ‘settlements’ is as follows:

“Settlements are residential areas built by the Israeli government in the territories occupied by Israel following the June 1967 war.” [emphasis added] 

That is not the case in Silwan, where some Israelis live in previously existing housing. However Knell steered listeners towards a narrative which characterises the purchase of property in certain areas of a city by people of a specific faith and ethnicity as “illegal” and undesirable. One of course doubts very much that the BBC would encourage its audiences to view neighbourhoods of mixed religion, ethnicity (and perhaps colour or sexual orientation) in any other city in such a light.

Knell also failed to inform listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting and that, like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognised by the international community.

Knell next inadequately introduced her first interviewee:

Knell: “Jawad Siam lives locally.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, she did not bother to inform listeners that the professional political activist Siam (who has previously appeared in BBC content) has been campaigning against the archaeological dig for years.

Siam: “We are used that the USA supporting Israel but even it didn’t reach this level. He behaved like any other settlers in Palestine. He behaved like the Right wings in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset. He does not see Palestinians have any right neither in Jerusalem nor Palestine.”

Knell continued with a reference to another inadequately presented event.

Knell: “Nearby, a musician plays the oud as the call to prayer rings out from the Al Aqsa Mosque. This gathering was at a sensitive spot by the Western Wall – the holiest site where Jews can pray. It was hosted by a pro-Netanyahu newspaper owned by a US billionaire who’s also a donor to President Trump and the discussion was about Washington’s latest peace efforts.”

That “sensitive spot” is the Davidson Center and the “gathering” was the ‘Israel Hayom Forum on US-Israel Relations’. Listeners then heard an edited recording of part of a speech made by US special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt at that event.

Recording Greenblatt: “We might get there if people recognise that vague terms such as ‘international law’, ‘UN resolutions’ and ‘internationally recognised parameters’ are not always clear-cut…”

Knell: “The president’s advisor, Jason Greenblatt – just back from a workshop in Bahrain.”

Greenblatt: “We might get there if people stop pretending settlements – or what I like to call neighbourhoods and cities – are the reason for the lack of peace.”

Knell then made sure that listeners did not forget the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’.

Knell: “Jewish settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israeli authorities disagree. As Left-wing Israelis worry about changes in US language and long-held policy in East Jerusalem, I meet Hagit Ofran from the NGO ‘Peace Now’.”

Listeners were told nothing of the political agenda of ‘Peace Now – not least the fact that it organised a demonstration against the opening of the ‘Pilgrimage Road’ archaeological site – again despite BBC editorial guidelines stipulating that the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees should be clarified.

Ofran: “This is the most delicate place of our conflict – the volcanic core – a few meters from the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, al Aqsa mosque. You cannot come with sledgehammers and say this is Israel sovereignty. You should come with tweezers and settle this place in a way that respects everybody.”

Knell closed her report with more promotion of a specific narrative:

Knell: “Back at the embassy’s Independence Day party, most Israelis are delighted about this White House’s strong backing for their country. But there are warnings too: that by losing credibility as a peace broker with the Palestinians, it could make it harder to resolve the conflict here and that would ultimately go against Israel’s interests.”

While Knell was apparently not interested in reporting on the Second Temple era archaeological discoveries that she portrayed as “controversial”, she clearly was interested in using them to advance an overtly political and completely one-sided narrative on Jerusalem – and the Israelis living in one of its neighbourhoods.

Related Articles:

Excavating the Washington Post’s narrative on the Israel-Islamist conflict  (CAMERA)

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

BBC presents property purchased by Jews as ‘settlements’

 

 

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Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – June 2019

Throughout the month of June 2019, sixteen written or filmed reports relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages and three of which were carried over from the previous month.

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

One report concerned security issues:

Israel strikes Syrian targets near Golan Heights (2/6/19 to 7/6/19) discussed here

Five items related to political/diplomatic aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict – specifically the economic workshop in Bahrain:

Middle East peace plan: Jared Kushner proposes $50bn fund (22/6/19 to 24/6/19)

Is peace between Israel and Palestinians out of reach? Yolande Knell (24/6/19 to 3/7/19) discussed here

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank Yolande Knell (25/6/19 to 2/7/19)

Kushner urges Palestinians to embrace ‘opportunity of century’ (25/6/19 to present)

Israel-Palestinian conflict: Kushner says peace can bring prosperity (25/6/19 to 27/6/19)

One article had a historical theme:

Last known survivor of Sobibor death camp uprising dies aged 96 (4/6/19 to 7/6/19)

One report concerned internal Palestinian affairs:

Anger at Palestinian ministers’ secret 67% pay rises (6/6/19 to 12/6/19) discussed here

Of eight reports concerning Israeli affairs, three were about internal politics:

Israel’s Netanyahu: Is ‘King’ Bibi’s crown slipping? Tom Bateman (30/5/19 to 19/6/19)

Israel to hold fresh election as Netanyahu fails to form coalition (29/5/19 to 2/6/19)

Israel: Amir Ohana becomes first openly gay minister (6/6/19 to 11/6/19) discussed here

One report concerned a legal/criminal case:

Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara admits misusing public funds (16/6/19 to 19/6/19) discussed here

One report related to an Israeli national holiday:

Clashes break out at Jerusalem holy site Tom Bateman (3/6/19 to 14/6/19) discussed here

One report concerned internal security:

Russia denies role in Israeli airport GPS jamming BBC Technology (27/6/19 to 1/7/19)

One report related to planning:

Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement (16/6/19 to 18/6/19) discussed here and here

One report can be classified as miscellaneous:

I never met my daughter’s dad – she was his dying wish Sarah McDermott (22/5/19 to 5/6/19)

While BBC audiences saw eight reports concerning Israeli affairs, just one report on internal Palestinian affairs appeared throughout the month.

In the six months between January and June 2019 the BBC News website has published sixty-seven articles pertaining to Israeli affairs and just eight reports on internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – May 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – April 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – March 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – January 2019

BBC impartiality – a case study

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: (update: link to new version here

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

And:

“Across our output as a whole, we must be inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion.  We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts.  We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. […]

Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item.  Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output.”

The corporation’s coverage of the recent US initiated economic workshop in Bahrain provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage ahead of a debate in the UK Parliament on that topic on July 15th.

Between June 20th and June 26th 2019 various BBC departments put out content relating to the conference in Bahrain. Common threads running through that coverage included:

  • Heavy promotion of Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points both by BBC journalists and by means of interviews with Palestinians.
  • Promotion of the notion of ‘the Palestinians’ as a homogeneous entity under one leadership with no mention of the long-standing splits between Palestinian factions and the fact that the PA and PLO do not represent the Palestinians as a whole.
  • The absence of any mention of the fact that Hamas and additional factions reject the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
  • Exclusive promotion of the PLO’s interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.
  • Use of partial terminology such as “illegal settlements”.
  • The absence of any mention of the participation of Palestinian businessmen in the conference and subsequent events.
  • Downplaying – and in most cases, ignoring – Palestinian terrorism and its role in creating the need for counter-terrorism measures.

While the table below is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligation to “give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument” and to reflect “a breadth and diversity of opinion”.

As we see, the BBC chose to provide air-time to three times more Palestinian officials than Israeli officials and did not include any interviews with US officials in its coverage at all. Audiences saw or heard extensive and repeated comment from Palestinian civilians while just two Israeli voices were heard in a single item. Interviews were conducted with two representatives from US think tanks, one Saudi Arabian journalist and one inadequately presented UN official. 

[1] BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

[2] More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one & More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

[3] BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

[4] https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141985649131757569 & https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141986084525674496

[5] Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

[6] BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

[7] More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743663

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743429

[10] BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one & BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

[11] BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

[12] BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one & BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

Across a variety of BBC platforms, audiences were given a very specific and overwhelmingly one-sided view of the Bahrain economic workshop and the US peace initiative in general. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear “a breadth and diversity of opinion” at all. 

Whether or not the fact that BBC journalists were given a ‘briefing’ by a Palestinian Authority representative three days before coverage began (a BBC decision which in itself is detrimental to “perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”) had an effect on the chosen framing is of course difficult to determine but certainly the corporation’s coverage of the Bahrain economic workshop did not live up to its supposed standards of editorial impartiality. 

The purpose of those editorial standards is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports. 

Related Articles:

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

No BBC reporting on arrest of Bahrain workshop participant

 

BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

In part one of this post we saw how presenter Mishal Husain gave listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on June 26th a very partial view of the Arab Peace Initiative and promoted the notion that the United States had “killed hopes of a Palestinian state”.

Later on in the programme  (from 2:35:28 here) listeners heard a seven and a half minute long item concerning the Bahrain economic workshop taking place on that day which was introduced by Husain using the same framing.

Once again Husain refrained from informing audiences that Hamas does not support the Arab Peace Initiative and – as in all BBC coverage of the Bahrain workshop – she misleadingly presented “the Palestinians” as a homogenous group, failing to clarify both that Hamas opposes any peace plan and that some Palestinian businessmen did take part in the conference.

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

Husain: “A US sponsored conference on economic development in the Palestinian territories has opened in Bahrain. Jared Kushner says it’s the opportunity of the century – part of his father-in-law Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which has not involved the Palestinians at all. As the event began Mr Kushner spoke of any future peace deal not being along the lines of the widely accepted Arab Peace Initiative which envisages a Palestinian state alongside Israel. I’ve been speaking to Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN. But first, Michael Lynk – UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine.” 

Michael Lynk’s actual title is “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”. Husain made no effort to inform listeners of his “particular viewpoint” as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality and so they had no idea that behind the ostensibly ‘neutral’ statements they heard from a UN representative lies a long record of anti-Israel activity.

“Michael Lynk […] plays a leadership role in numerous Arab lobby groups, including CEPAL, which promotes “Annual Israeli Apartheid Week” events; signs anti-Israel petitions; calls to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes; addresses “One State” conferences that seek to eliminate Israel; and argues that “the solution” to “the problem” must go back to Israel’s very creation in 1948, which he calls “the start of ethnic cleansing.””

Unsurprisingly to anyone who is familiar with Michael Lynk, he had nothing at all to say about Palestinian terrorism.

Lynk: “On the one hand the concept of building a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian economy is one that we would all support but trying to put an economic peace ahead of political settlement I think is almost certainly going to fail and the most important reasons for the feeble Palestinian economy are tied to the 52-year-old Israeli occupation.”

Husain: “But traditionally the political settlement idea has been pursued first and that hasn’t worked. Is it possible that by putting the focus on economic prosperity you might create a different climate for political solutions to be talked about?”

Lynk: “I think not. You know, in order to have a successful economy any country is going to need control over its own territory, the ability to trade and to export, the ability to develop a vibrant labour market, the ability to create a supportive investment infrastructure and the Palestinians have none of these economic freedoms. Unless you solve the political problem first and end the occupation, any focus on the economy I believe is going to be doomed.”

Husain failed to clarify to listeners that, despite the security measures made necessary by Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians did manage to export 94.8 million dollars-worth of goods in 2017. She went on to re-promote her partial framing of the Arab Peace Initiative, making no effort to inform listeners of its additional aspects – in particular those relating to Palestinian refugees – which make it a non-starter.

Husain: “Well it would seem from Jared Kushner’s envisaging of a way to solve the political problem…I mean he has…he has said the Arab Peace Initiative – this is the plan that envisages two states, one Israeli, one…one Palestinian – ahm…will not happen. ‘If there is ever a deal it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative’ he said. ‘Any future deal will be somewhere between that initiative and the Israeli position’. So it seems that – as many people would have suspected for some time – that the two state solution is dying or already dead.”

Listeners then heard Lynk’s interpretation of the two-state solution which, unsurprisingly, dovetails with that of the PLO – including the erroneous notion of “’67 borders”.

Lynk: “Yes and I agree with you. You know the…keep in mind that the international community has for a long time laid out what are the essential elements of a final political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It means an independent, contiguous Palestinian state based on the ’67 borders alongside of Israel. It means a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It means an absolute end to the illegal Israeli settlements. It means a just solution for the Palestinian refugees and it means obviously guarantees. That’s not what we’ve been hearing from the statements being made by the three advisors on the Middle East peace plan. They’ve given their blessings to Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank – which is illegal under international law. They have envisaged something much less than a fully sovereign Palestinian state. None of this is any basis for trying to build trust that you’re leading towards a viable, just and fair settlement for both sides.”

Following that unchallenged promotion of PLO talking points from a supposedly ‘neutral’ source, Husain moved on to tick the ‘impartiality’ box with her next interviewee, telling listeners what “is absent from this plan” even though the relevant part of it has yet to be published.

Husain: “Ehm…let me turn to Danny Danon – Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations – who is listening to you, Michael Lynk. Ambassador Danon; isn’t it true that any real concept of peace involves political and economic freedom and that is absent from this plan?”

Danon: “Well I think it is unfortunate that you have a very important discussion taking place and the Palestinians are again ignoring it. So we welcome the US initiative. We are open-minded to discuss new ideas. But we all know that in order to move things on the ground, you need all the parties engaged. Today the Palestinians are saying out loud ‘we do not recognise the Israelis as partners, we do not recognise the US as mediators’ and it is unfortunate.”

Husain then took on the role of Palestinian advocate.

Husain: “Well, to not recognise as mediators, that is because this administration has shown very clearly which side they favour in all the actions that they have taken so far and the reason the Palestinians aren’t there at this event is because it is not discussing all issues. It is not discussing any of the political issues.”

Danon: “So as we know this is only the first part of the plan. We will have to wait to see the entire plan and to discuss it.”

Husain: “When is the rest of the plan coming?”

Danon: “It is up to the US administration to decide about that. We presume it will be after the elections in Israel and I don’t know if we will support everything in the plan but we respect the efforts and we welcome the involvement of very original partners and I think the fact that you have today Arab countries coming together, I think this is the right way to move forward.”

Despite having just acknowledged that the political part of the plan has yet to be published, Husain once again went on to claim to know what it includes.

Husain: “The long struggle of the Jewish people for self-determination and for your own homeland: you would never have accepted the sort of state that is now being put forward for the Palestinians – if you can even call it a state – somewhere where there are no full political rights alongside any economic rights.”

Danon: “So I think when you look at the history of the Jewish people we never had an ambition to hurt anyone else, to support terrorism or to encourage incitement. And I published an op-ed at the New York Times yesterday where I think it’s about time that the Palestinians will look at the future and not the past. For example, take the payment they are paying for convicted terrorists. Why they have this culture of hate? Let’s move on, recognise Israel and negotiate with Israel.”

Mr Danon’s op-ed can be found here.

Husain: “In that piece you wrote you used the word ‘surrender’. You said ‘there is nothing wrong with Palestinians surrendering – that would create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society’. I mean that, they would say, is a very offensive way to…to talk about their struggle for their rights.”

Danon: “You have to read the entire article because I use the word surrender to surrender their ideas of moving the Jews out of Israel…”

Husain interrupted with her own very revealing interpretation of the idea that Palestinians should accept that the Jews are not going to be driven out of the region:

Husain [interrupts] “To surrender their dream of statehood.”

Danon: “…and preaching of hatred. They should forget about that. We are there to stay and they should accept that. They should teach their children that that is, that Israel is there to stay. In order to move forward we have to recognise Israel and we have to see how we can live together or one side by side with the other and move forward. Until they will not do that they will stay where they are. And look what’s happening today: Israel is booming, our economy is stronger than ever and they are staying behind.”

Once again Husain promoted a strawman:

Husain: “Are you saying they should accept there will be one state in the future – the Jewish state?”

Danon: “I say they should enter the room. It’s legitimate that they will come with their own aspirations, their own demands, requests, requirements. And we will come with ours. You know, the international community can help and I think the financial help is well appreciated but at the end it will be us and the Palestinians living there. That’s why eventually we will have to engage in a direct dialogue.”

Apparently reluctant to close the item on that note, Husain let the partisan UN rapporteur have the last word.

Husain: “Michael Lynk: just a final thought from you. Do you think that the Palestinians should be engaging in this dialogue, however much they object to the terms in which it’s framed?”

Lynk: “Well that’s entirely up to them. You know, to be clear, as a UN special rapporteur I don’t speak for the Palestinians and I don’t speak for the UN. Really the question which I can answer is is this particular path or vision likely to lead to a just and durable peace and as I’ve said. I cannot see it.”

Husain rounded off the item with yet another misrepresentation of Lynk’s title:

Husain: “Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Ambassador Danny Danon of Israel, thank you very much.”

So what could Radio 4 audiences learn from this item? They heard a partisan and incomplete portrayal of the Arab Peace Initiative with no explanation of why it has gone nowhere in the seventeen years since it was produced. They were led to believe that that inadequately presented initiative is the only game in town and that by not embracing it in its entirety, the US has “killed” the chances for a Palestinian state. They got a one-sided explanation of the two-state solution which complies with the PLO’s interpretation of that concept. They heard Mishal Husain purport to tell them what is in a plan that has not yet been published. They did not however receive any information concerning the Palestinians’ repeated rejection of peace plans based on the two-state solution and the sole reference to Palestinian terrorism came from the Israeli interviewee.

In other words, as the BBC’s tight framing of the topic of the Bahrain economic workshop continued, audiences were once again denied the full range of information which would enhance better and comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC ignores UNHRC’s nomination of controversial official

 

BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one

The June 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included a fairly long item relating to the Bahrain economic workshop which was in its second day. Before that, however, during a review of the day’s newspapers (from 09:53 here) listeners were told by presenter Mishal Husain that:

Husain [09:53]: “And the Times reports from the US sponsored…eh…conference aimed at Middle East peace that’s taking place in Bahrain, saying ‘the US has killed hopes of a Palestinian state as that conference opened’. This is because Jared Kushner has used an interview to mark the start of the conference by saying that…ehm…that ‘we all have to recognise that if there ever is a deal’ – he means a peace deal – ‘it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative’ and that was the initiative that envisaged an Israeli and a Palestinian state standing side by side.”

That Times article included more than just that bizarre claim presented in its opening paragraphs but that was what Husain chose to highlight. The interview to which she referred was with Al Jazeera and the relevant part is from 20:02 in the video here.

Husain’s presentation obviously suggests to listeners that the first time the idea of a two-state solution came up was in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. That of course is not the case – the concept had been around since the Peel Commission report of 1937 and has since been part of numerous initiatives, including at the Madrid Conference in 1991. What Husain did not tell Radio 4 listeners is that the Palestinians have a long record of rejection of any solution involving two states for two peoples and that the Arab Peace Initiative is not accepted by Hamas or Hizballah.

Neither did Husain bother to clarify that that initiative includes more that just “an Israeli and a Palestinian state standing side by side”. It demands Israeli withdrawal from areas which are not included in any plan for a Palestinian state (including the Golan Heights) and it is, from the Israeli point of view, extremely problematic on the issue of Palestinian refugees due to its not only demanding ‘right of return’ to Israel but also rejecting the resettlement (“patriation“) of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries.

It is therefore plausible that when Mr Kushner told the Al Jazeera interviewer that any future agreement “will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and between the Israeli position” he had those points in mind. Mishal Husain however unquestioningly embraced the viewpoint of the Times reporter and promoted the notion to listeners that the United States had “killed hopes of a Palestinian state”.

That selective and politicised framing is important because, as we shall see in part two of this post, Husain continued to promote it throughout the later item concerning the Bahrain conference.

No BBC reporting on arrest of Bahrain workshop participant

While BBC coverage of last week’s economic workshop in Bahrain (see ‘related articles’ below) made much of the Palestinian Authority’s boycott of the event, audiences were not informed that a number of Palestinian businessmen did attend the conference. Neither, of course, did audiences learn what happened once those participants returned home.

“Palestinian Authority security forces released Hebron businessman Saleh Abu Mayaleh late on Saturday night, after he had been detained upon his return from the economic conference in Bahrain.

According to Palestinian reports, the decision to release the businessman at 10:45 p.m. followed a threatening letter from the US Embassy. […]

Palestinian sources said that the businessman, identified as 49-year-old Saleh Abu Mayaleh from Hebron, was arrested by the PA General Intelligence Service headed by Gen. Majed Faraj.

Ashraf Jabari, another businessman from Hebron who attended the workshop as a representative of The Palestinian Business Network, told The Jerusalem Post that Abu Mayaleh was arrested near his home on Friday, a day after he and the other Palestinians who attended the workshop returned home. According to 45-year-old Jabari, a total of 15 Palestinian businessmen attended.

Jabari told the Post that PA security forces raided the homes of three other Palestinian businessmen in an attempt to arrest them as well.

“The Palestinian security forces did not find them,” Jabari said. “They searched their homes and confiscated security cameras and documents. They told the families of the businessmen that they are wanted for participating in the Bahrain workshop.” Sources in Hebron said that PA intelligence officers raided and searched the home of businessman Ashraf Ghanmen, but he fled his home shortly before officers arrived.”

Mr Ghanmen told of his experiences in an interview (Hebrew and Arabic) with an Israeli radio station and also (in English) with the Jerusalem Post.

“I’m afraid for my life,” Ghanem said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I can’t go back to my home.” […]

“I’m now staying in a safe place,” Ghanem said. “I didn’t flee to Israel. I can’t move around because the Palestinian security forces took all my documents. I don’t have any money because they also took my credit cards. They even confiscated the security cameras from my home and searched the homes of my brothers.” 

Ghanem said he had received threats from the PA security forces and Fatah officials in Hebron before he went to Bahrain. 
“They told me I would be killed if I went to the economic conference in Bahrain,” he added. “In spite of the threats, I decided to go because I didn’t do anything wrong. Palestinian law does not ban anyone from participating in a conference.” 

Obviously that story does not fit into the BBC’s framing of the Bahrain conference and neither does another one that was reported by MEMRI.

“A video posted online on June 26, 2019, features a statement made by a group of armed and masked Fatah members from the town of Yamoun, in the West Bank. The men warn against “interacting and cooperating with the leaders of the Zionist entity” especially in its “economic enterprises”. They continued to say that they will strike with “an iron fist the necks of anyone” who sells out the Palestinian rights and anyone who participates in the Bahrain workshop. Those who attend the workshop have “opened the gates of Hell on themselves.” The Fatah members evoke the memory of the Black September organization and pledge that “Fatah’s gun is certainly capable of roaming the capitals of the world once again, in order to hunt down every single traitor and collaborator, and those engaged in normalization [of relations with Israel].” The Fatah members warn the “treacherous scoundrels among the Arab rulers” from cooperation with Israel as well.”

While the BBC gave generous coverage to Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points throughout its coverage of the Bahrain conference – and not least their claim to aspire to a ‘two-state solution’ – it has to date completely ignored those threats of violence and the PA’s intimidation of Palestinian citizens.

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BBC newsgathering again relies on Syrian state outlets

On the morning of July 1st the BBC News website published a filmed report titled “Syria war: Video shows ‘Israeli missiles being intercepted’” and a written report headlined “Syria war: Israeli jets ‘hit Iranian targets in Homs and Damascus’”.

As specified in its synopsis, the commentary-free video is made up entirely of “footage released by Syria’s state-run Sana news agency” and viewers were told that it “appears to show missiles being intercepted in mid-air”. [emphasis added]

Likewise, 37.3% of the written report’s 209 words was given over to allegations made by two Syrian state-run news agencies – with nothing to suggest any independent verification by the BBC – including the following unconfirmed claim:

“In Sahnaya, south of Damascus, four civilians – including a toddler – were killed as a result of Israeli “aggression”, Syrian state-run broadcaster al-Ikhbariya said.” [emphasis added]

Although a further 35.4% of the report repeated claims made by the UK-based organisation ‘the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’, the BBC did not include the following:

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group, said it was not immediately clear if the six civilians, among them an infant, were killed by the attacks themselves, which were attributed to Israel, by Syria’s anti-aircraft fire, or by some other secondary explosion.”

The BBC’s own contribution to the report came in just 57 words which did not include a description of Hizballah as a terrorist organisation, despite it being defined as such in the UK. [emphasis added]

“Israel’s military has not commented. It periodically attacks what it says are threats to Israeli security in Syria.

These include what it has identified as advanced weaponry destined for the Islamist Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iranian bases in Syria.

Israel says it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to entrench itself in Syria, Iran’s key ally.”

BBC audiences were not informed of an apparently related incident in northern Cyprus.

“Meanwhile, Turkish-held Cyprus said a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that was fired at Israeli jets landed north of Nicosia. No casualties were reported.

“The first assessment is that a Russian-made missile, […] which was part of the air defense system that took place last night in the face of an air strike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay said in a social media post.”

Not only have audiences been given very little factual information about the efforts of Iran and its proxies to establish a foothold in Syria in recent years but – as is the case once again in this latest report – the BBC has on repeated occasions even steered them towards the view that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily a claim touted by Israel.

As has frequently been the case in the past, we see that BBC newsgathering for this report consisted mainly of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media. Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news reports.

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

The June 26th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“Also in the programme: Jared Kushner’s conference to bring “Peace to Prosperity” to Palestinians takes place in Bahrain…without the Palestinians.” 

Presenter Paul Henley introduced the item (from 30:04 here) thus:

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

Henley: “’President Trump and America have not given up on you’ Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told Palestinians. But they weren’t there to hear him at a conference in Bahrain focusing on the economic aspects of the Middle East peace plan Mr Kushner has been working on. He wants fifty billion dollars-worth of investment to be put into the Palestinian economy. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian authorities are attending the event. It’s not discussing a political resolution.”

In fact the plan speaks of $50 billion of investment to be divided between the Palestinian economy and three neighbouring Arab countries over ten years. Henley went on:

Henley: “Well, we’ll be looking at the plan in a moment. First, our Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at how the Palestinian economy is doing.”

Listeners then heard the same report by Knell that had been aired the previous day on ‘Newshour’ and on BBC Radio 4. Although the final interviewee in that report is Issam the fruit seller, Henley continued:

Henley: “Palestinian builder Rasmi ending that report by Yolande Knell. So how is the conference going given that the people who are being discussed – the Palestinians – are boycotting it? The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has said ‘what will be presented at the conference has nothing to do with reality’. ‘It’s nothing to do with occupation’, he said, ‘the best part of it will be the coffee break’.”

Following that uncritical promotion of PA talking points, Henley introduced an interviewee – a journalist covering the conference for a newspaper considered close to the Saudi Arabian regime.  

Henley: “Faisal Abbas is editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based Arab News and he joins me now from the conference, which is happening at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manama which is the capital of Bahrain. […] Is it strange that this conference is being attended by Gulf billionaires, by Israeli businessmen and the likes of Tony Blair and Christine Lagarde, all discussing a project that the Palestinians have already rejected?”

Once communication problems had been resolved, Henley repeated his question, yet again failing to inform listeners that a number of Palestinian businessmen did attend the economic workshop.

Henley: “Tell me if you think it’s strange that this conference is discussing something Palestinians have already rejected in their absence.”

Abbas: “Ahh…so it is absolutely strange. I, like all the Arabs participating here, we are here because we do care about the Palestinian cause and, you know, in our hearts, in our actions we will do anything to support the Palestinians. So I respect the decision of the Palestinian leadership but I perhaps don’t think…I don’t agree that it was the best course of action. I think it would have been much better for somebody to be here to fight the cause and explain the point of view as to why this is rejected and make fresh demands if needed.”

Henley next promoted more PA/PLO messaging.

Henley: “What’s being discussed are economic solutions. Some people have said – Palestinians have said – it amounts to bribes for them to give up their demands for a political solution: a two-state solution.”

Abbas: “Ah, look, if that is the case…this is what I was saying, you know, participating and listening does not equate to an approval. If that is indeed the case then neither them or any of the Arabs would support such an equation. You know, this is, you know, just the advantage of being here. You have to look at the plan and from an economic point of view it makes a lot of sense. It does bring hope and there is nobody that ever spoke about it that said that this is a conditional for the Palestinians agreeing to terms that they might not agree. Everybody has been saying that this only be subject to approval of both sides and subject to a reception of the political side of the peace plan which will be revealed in a few months’ time.”

Henley’s next question also had nothing to do with the US plan presented at the workshop beyond mentioning one of the participants.

Henley: “Shlomi Fogel, who’s an Israeli shipping magnate attending this conference, says he thinks the Arab world is sick and tired of the Palestinians and their cause and just wants the conflict out of the way. What do you think?”

Abbas: “Ahm, I don’t think that’s true. We sympathetic with our Palestinian brothers. We stand by them. We think it’s unjust, it’s unfair what they’ve had to go through for decades. We’re…look we’ve tried various solutions – sometimes military, sometimes non-military. Nothing has worked so far and one of the definitions of insanity is trying something over and over again and expect a different result. You have a serious…”

Henley did not even allow his interviewee to complete his sentence before closing the item.

Henley [interrupts] “Thank you very much. I’ve got to stop it there, I’m afraid.”

In the introduction to this item listeners were told that it would be “looking at the plan” presented at the Bahrain economic workshop. In fact, audiences heard nothing at all about what that plan includes and how it might advance the economic well being of the Palestinian people.

Instead BBC World Service radio listeners once again heard a superficial report which did little more than amplify Palestinian Authority talking points and contributed nothing to proper audience understanding of the story.

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BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

On June 30th the Jerusalem Post published an article which included statements issued by the Palestinian Authority concerning the opening of an archaeological site taking place on the same day.

“The PA Foreign Ministry strongly condemned plans by US Ambassador David Friedman and US special envoy Jason Greenblatt to attend the inaugural ceremony of the discovery of “Pilgrim’s Road” in Jerusalem’s Old City. The expected presence of the American officials at the event will be the first time the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty within areas of the Old City Basin.

The PA ministry said their participation underscores the US administration’s support for the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

“This is a new image of American aggression,” the ministry said. “The American presence [in the ceremony] and celebrating Judaization activities in occupied east Jerusalem are an act of hostility against the Palestinians.”

Greenblatt responded to the claims on Twitter, saying that the PA should recognize history and archaeology and “stop pretending it isn’t true.””

Shortly after Mr Greenblatt had sent that Tweet the BBC’s Middle East editor put out one of his own.

The BBC has of course been promoting the PA approved notion that “The Judaisation of Arab East Jerusalem proceeds apace” for over two decades and when Jeremy Bowen visited the City of David in 2014 he came up with the historically challenged idea that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15-minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention.”

The BBC’s record “says a lot about the attitudes” at the ‘impartial’ BBC – as does this latest Tweet from its Middle East editor. 

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BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of an item aired in the June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which had commenced that morning.  

Following a report from Yolande Knell which included a statement from the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Shah went on (from 24:37 here) to introduce an interviewee. That interview is notable because for the first time in the six days that the BBC had been covering the story (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences heard an alternative view of the topic.

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

Shah began by quoting unnamed ‘critics’.

Shah: “Well critics of the plan say it’s little more than a remix of early attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they claim the document includes photos of Palestinians involved in aid programmes that have been cut by the Trump administration. Jon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and served as a deputy to the UN ambassador Nikki Haley [US ambassador to the UN – Ed.]. I put it to him that people have criticised the absence of any discussion of political issues such as Israeli settlement building or prospects for Palestinian statehood. So why didn’t he see that as a problem?

Lerner: “It’s not an obstacle because that portion of it is still to come. This is a phased plan where the initial phase is to discuss the economic aspects of it and the political aspects that they’re referring to will be outlined at a later date. The administration felt that outlining the rewards or the benefits of peace might be helpful in concentrating everybody’s minds.”

Once more Shah took to paraphrasing the supposed arguments of unidentified commentators.

Shah: “But there are those who would argue that some indication of the political decision-making of the Trump administration might already have been indicated by the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which sends a very clear signal to the Palestinians, some might argue. So there have been hints of the direction of travel which perhaps are not fair, perhaps are one-sided, but yet Palestinians are left with the view that perhaps their views are being under-represented.”

Lerner: “Yes, well that’s where the Trump administration has parted with previous efforts and I think has done so quite intelligently. They’ve taken certain questions like the question of whether Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel – a question that, you know, any serious person already knows the answer to – and they’ve said we’re going to exercise our judgement on that and recognise the reality that that is not a subject of future negotiations. There is no conceivable peace plan under which Jerusalem would cease to be the capital of Israel and so by merely recognising that reality, that does not pre-judge any of the more difficult questions…”

Interrupting her guest, yet again Shah used the ‘many people’ tactic without clarifying their identities.

Shah [interrupts]: “But that…many people would say that if you think back to the peace talks of the 1990s and the question of Jerusalem was left to be decided later because for many Palestinians that is a very important part of what they see as their future peace settlement and if you…”

Lerner: “Yes and we remember that same plan was unsuccessful and unagreed to. We should not look to the failures of the past as our guide for the future.”

Shah: “Do you think it might have built confidence with the Palestinian leadership, who are clearly very sceptical, have made no secret of their views of the Trump administration – do you think it would have helped to build confidence if perhaps there had been a mention of illegal settlements and so on: that those issues which are clearly important issues for the Palestinians – absolutely priority issues – had actually been front and centre of this plan?”

Lerner: “No I don’t. In fact the issue of settlements has been largely a distraction for a long time. It is certainly a topic that will be negotiated…”

An audibly irritated Shah once again interrupted her interviewee.

Shah [interrupts]: “Well is it a distraction if you…but is it a distraction if the ultimate goal is a two-state solution?”

Lerner: “The ultimate goal is peace. Whether it’s two states or one state or any number, any other formulation is to be determined. But by making the issue of settlements the dominant one in the discussion of the challenges facing the Middle East and facing the Palestinians, you actually take attention away from the more critical issues.”

Shah: “So just finally; we have yet to see this political road map or political plan that you talk about but should Palestinians in a sense still keep their hopes up that there could be a two-state solution under the Trump administration’s proposals?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. They should engage in it. They should continue to keep their hopes up because the goal of the Trump administration’s plans is to settle all of the disputes, have a peace agreement and improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Remarkably, Shah’s line of questioning throughout this whole interview mirrored the Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points complaining that the economic section of the plan does not include the political issues which – as had already been clarified – will be in its second part. Predictably, the only ‘political issue’ promoted twice by Shah was “illegal settlements” but she had nothing to say on relevant issues such as the Hamas-Fatah split or the fact that Hamas is not interested in a two-state solution or any other type of resolution of the conflict.

So while Radio 4 listeners did finally get to hear a different view of the Bahrain economic workshop in this interview, Shah nevertheless ensured that it avoided subjects far more relevant to the issue of the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than ‘settlements’.

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