BBC audiences in the dark on Iranian terror financing yet again

Readers may recall that when the JCPOA deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers was closed just over two years ago, senior BBC correspondents assured audiences that funds freed up by sanctions relief would be used by the Iranian regime to improve the country’s economy.

“President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.” Jeremy Bowen, PM, BBC Radio 4, July 14th, 2015

“In exchange it [Iran] will get a lot. It will get a release of the punishing sanctions. We heard from Hassan Rouhani saying as Iran always says that the sanctions did not succeed but he conceded that they did have an impact on the everyday lives of Iranians. There’s an estimate that some $100 billion will, over time, once Iran carries out its implementation of this agreement, will be released into the Iranian economy.”  Lyse Doucet, Newshour, BBC World Service radio, July 14th, 2015.

Many Middle East observers will not have been surprised by the fact that the last two years have repeatedly shown that the BBC’s analysis was off the mark. Recently, yet another example of Iranian terror financing was publicised.

Last week Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar held his first meeting with journalists since taking over from Ismail Haniyeh in February. Reuters reported that:

““Relations with Iran are excellent and Iran is the largest supporter of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades with money and arms,” Yehya al-Sinwar, referring to Hamas’s armed wing, told reporters.

Neither Hamas nor Iran have disclosed the full scale of Tehran’s backing. But regional diplomats have said Iran’s financial aid for the Islamist movement was dramatically reduced in recent years and directed to the Qassam Brigades rather than to Hamas’s political institutions.

Hamas angered Iran by refusing to support Iran’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-old civil war.

“The relationship today is developing and returning to what it was in the old days,” Sinwar, who was elected in February, said in his first briefing session with reporters.

“This will be reflected in the resistance (against Israel) and in (Hamas’s) agenda to achieve the liberation,” he said.”

The Times of Israel added:

“Hamas is “developing our military strength in order to liberate Palestine,” Sinwar said, but he also stressed that it does not seek war for now “and takes every effort to avoid a war… At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it.”

“The Iranian military support to Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic,” he added, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era.”

“Every day we build missiles and continue military training,” he added, saying that thousands of people are working “day and night” to prepare for the next conflict.”

Whether or not a BBC representative was present at Sinwar’s first meeting with the press is unclear but the agency AFP – to which the BBC subscribeswas there. Nevertheless, BBC audiences have seen no reporting whatsoever on this latest example of Iranian terror financing.

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Accuracy trumped by politics in BBC report on Israeli PM’s Paris visit

On July 16th an article titled “Netanyahu in Paris to commemorate Vel d’Hiv deportation of Jews” appeared on the BBC News website’s Europe and Middle East pages. However, the version of that report which is currently available is markedly different from its earlier editions.

The article originally opened as follows:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Paris to commemorate the victims of a mass arrest of Jews in Nazi-occupied France in 1942.

More than 13,000 Jews were rounded up and detained at a cycling stadium, the Velodrome d’Hiver, before being deported to Nazi death camps.

Mr Netanyahu will also hold direct talks for the first time with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The visit has been criticised by some groups as politicising a tragedy.” [emphasis added]

About an hour after publication, that latter sentence was amended to read:

“The visit has drawn consternation from critics of the Israeli PM.” 

BBC website visitors who read the article’s first two versions were later told that:

“Mr Netanyahu’s attendance at the commemoration ceremony has not been welcomed by everyone in France.”

That statement was replaced in version 3 by the following:

“The visit has drawn consternation from critics of the Israeli PM.

Some in France have criticised Mr Netanyahu’s attendance at the commemoration ceremony arguing it was becoming too politicised.”

Readers of the first three versions of the report were next informed that:

“Elie Barnav, a former French ambassador to Israel, told AFP news agency: “The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy.

“This story has nothing to do with Israel.””

Obviously the BBC did not copy/paste the AFP report it recycled properly because the person concerned is actually called Elie Barnavi rather than ‘Barnav’.

Clearly too, the BBC did not bother to check the original AFP article in French because had it done so, it would know that Mr Barnavi is in fact “l’ancien ambassadeur d’Israël en France” – the former Israeli ambassador to France – (2000 to 2002) rather than “a former French ambassador to Israel” as was inaccurately claimed in the English language version of that AFP report.

As regular readers know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

It would therefore have been appropriate for readers to have been informed of Mr Barnavi’s links to political groups of a particular stripe – which are far more relevant in the context of his comments than his time spent in the diplomatic service.

“Within months of being sent off to Paris by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he found himself with a new boss: Ariel Sharon. Barnavi, a Peace Now activist, wondered what to do. Many French Jews expected him to resign.”

Similarly, when the BBC decided to promote the view of a tiny fringe French group also quoted in the AFP article (including a link to its website) it should have clarified to readers that UJFP supports the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

“The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) described the decision to invite Mr Netanyahu as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website raising those issues and subsequently the article was amended yet again to correct the inaccurate reporting of Mr Barnavi’s name and former position. The tepid and unhelpful description “a pro-Palestinian organisation” was added to the sentence promoting the UJFP.

No footnote was added to advise BBC audiences who had read the earlier versions of the report of the inaccuracies in its first three editions.

Obviously the BBC was far more concerned with amplifying politically motivated criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s Paris visit (at the invitation of the French president: a point strangely absent from the BBC’s account of the story) than it was in ensuring that audiences were provided with accurate and impartial information.

Eventually – some six and a half hours after its original appearance – the article was amended once again and the sections amplifying politically motivated criticism of the Israeli PM’s participation in the ceremony that was its subject matter were completely removed.  

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BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

Ever since its establishment the BBC has relied on news agencies as part of its newsgathering process.

“A wide variety of sources is used in the preparation of material – including BBC News, BBC World Service and a large number of internationally recognised news agencies. They include the Press Association, Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.”

However, unlike many other media outlets that use agency produced material, the BBC does not usually inform its audiences at the top of an article that the content was provided by an agency. Audiences hence have no way of knowing whether the information they receive does in fact come from the ‘trusted‘ BBC or from agencies which do not necessarily adhere to the corporation’s editorial guidelines.

Recently the BBC decided to end its contract with Associated Press.

“The BBC will end its association with international news agency Associated Press (AP) this week because of “financial pressures”, City A.M. has learned.

News staff have been informed that they will no longer be permitted to use AP video, pictures and wire copy from later this week.

Fran Unsworth, head of the World Service, today told staff in an email that the BBC was instead starting a “new relationship” with Agence France Presse. […]

On the AFP arrangement, Unsworth added:

From midnight on Friday we will subscribe to the full AFP newsroom video services for unrestricted use on BBC output – all platforms and any language. We already receive text wires from AFP and AFP stills via our contract with Getty Images, and we therefore know the high quality of their products. We also hope to work closely with AFP on other initiatives. The many other agency and partner broadcaster relationships we have around the world remain in place.”

Although AFP (Agence France Presse) is officially a commercial business independent of the French government, three of its fifteen board members are appointed by government ministers and two more come from government-owned media outlets.

As readers may recall, one of AFP’s local employees in the Middle East is also chairman of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate – which has instigated restrictions on foreign journalists and related boycotts. Late last year that same AFP employee, Nasser Abu Baker, unsuccessfully ran for a seat on Fatah’s revolutionary council.

One can only hope that the BBC’s new subscription to “full AFP services” does not ultimately mean that its funding public will be getting news from such an obviously compromised source.

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‘Rigorous Neutrality’?: Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate’s Nasser Abu Baker Moonlights For AFP  (CAMERA)

Corrupt State of Affairs at the International Federation of Journalists?  (Tamar Sternthal)

Agence France-Presse (CAMERA)

Reuters  (CAMERA)