Behind a BBC News video on Gaza airport

On September 12th a filmed report was posted on the BBC News website under the headline “Gaza’s abandoned airport in ruins” and with the following synopsis:

“In 1998 the Yasser Arafat International Airport was built in Gaza.

It was seen by many as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty, soon after the Oslo Accords were signed by Israel and the Palestinians, in a move towards peace.

But by 2001, the airport was no longer operational.”

Viewers of the report were told that:

“These are the ruins of Gaza’s international airport. Yasser Arafat International Airport opened in 1998, costing $86m. But no planes have taken off or landed here since 2001. The runway is scattered with litter from nearby refugee camps. But this place was once seen as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty. The airport was opened soon after the Oslo Accords which were a bid for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Israeli-Palestinian relations broke down. The airport was destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada. The International Civil Aviation Organisation condemned the destruction of the airport and urged Israel to allow it to reopen. Gaza currently has no functioning airports.”

As we see, BBC audiences were given scant background information concerning the circumstances behind the airport’s closure and failure to subsequently reopen. Interestingly, in April 2005 – over two years before the Gaza Strip was taken over by the Hamas terror faction – a BBC reporter had already noted that:

“The Palestinian leadership says it is time to re-open the airport.

But Israel says no. Gaza is home to militant groups like Hamas that have struck at Israeli soldiers and civilians many times. Israel worries that its enemies might use the airport to smuggle in weapons.

The Palestinian security forces are widely regarded as being riddled with members who are sympathetic to – or even active in – militant groups.

The Israelis say they don’t believe that they would run the airport securely.”

Neither were viewers of this report told that the Oslo Accords also included a clause titled “Security of the Airspace” according to which Israel was to maintain control of Gaza’s airspace. Following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, an Agreement on Movement and Access was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which included the following clause on aviation: 

“The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue on the issues of security arrangements, construction, and operation.”

Two months later, in January 2006, the Palestinian Legislative Council elections brought significant gains for Hamas, which went on to take over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, with the result that the co-signer of that agreement – the Palestinian Authority – lost all influence there.

So while BBC audiences were correctly told that Israel had been “urged to allow it to reopen“, they were not informed why Israel might consider an international airport situated literally meters from its border and controlled by a terrorist organisation which does not co-operate with Israel on anything – let alone aviation safety and security – and which has been responsible for hundreds of terror attacks and the firing of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians, to be a security concern.  

But why were BBC audiences presented with this report now? The 20th anniversary of the opening of the Gaza Strip airport is still over two months away and while one may surmise that this report has some connection to this month’s anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, a rather more mundane reason may be equally relevant.

On the same day that the BBC’s report emerged, AFP’s Gaza office produced a filmed report from the exact same location and with some strikingly similar visuals.

BBC report

AFP report

BBC report

AFP report

However, unlike the BBC version, AFP’s report also included contributions by officials from the Palestinian Aviation Authority and the Gaza Civil Aviation Authority who, it appears from a written AFP report published on the same day, accompanied the agency’s journalists to the location.

“Zuhair Zomlot, coordinator of the Civil Aviation Authority in Gaza, joined AFP on the tour.”

The reopening of the Gaza Strip airport has of course long been on the wish-list presented by Hamas during negotiation of assorted ceasefire agreements. Now an AFP Gaza bureau report produced in cooperation with Gaza based officials has apparently been recycled into a context-free ‘stocking filler’ BBC video which does nothing to provide audiences with the information needed for full understanding of how the fact that “Gaza currently has no functioning airports” is connected to Hamas terrorism.

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BBC News website audiences misled by recycled delayed mail story

h/t Tomer Ilan

As was noted here last year when the BBC began working with the AFP news agency:

“…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.”

On August 14th AFP published a report by Hossam Ezzedine about delayed post addressed to people living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas. That report was picked up by numerous other media outlets including the BBC which, on August 15th, published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

The only indication that the story was sourced from an agency came in two indirect quotes from AFP:

“An official told AFP it would take another two weeks to sort and deliver.”

“The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“Packages, letters and even a wheelchair intended for Palestinians have arrived in the occupied West Bank after Israel released years of undelivered mail.

The post, which includes internet orders that never arrived, had been held in Jordan since 2010 and was released under a one-time agreement.”

The explanation for the delay given to BBC audiences is as follows:

“Ramadan Ghazawi, who works at the post office in Jericho, said the items appeared to have been blocked on security or administrative grounds. 

Israel controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Allam Moussa accused Israel of having failed to implement a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 that would have allowed international mail to enter the Palestinian Territories without first going through the Israeli postal service.

The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

So what is the real background to this story?

The 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. However, Arab countries which do not recognise Israel refuse to send postal items to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority via the Israel Postal Authority. In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve that problem.

“The [Israeli] Communications Ministry and the corresponding PA bureau are reportedly close to finalizing an agreement which would allow the Palestinians to receive mail from other Arab countries.

 Arab nations will not use the Israel Postal Service, which currently supplies the PA with international mail services. Israel is interested in signing the agreement in order to ease communications between Palestinian and their families abroad. […]

Yigal Levi, the Communications Ministry’s director of postal services, met with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmood Diwan several days ago and the two agreed to form a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services.”

In September 2016 a memorandum of understanding was signed.

“Until now, Israeli conducted global postal affairs for the Palestinians, including financial transactions. Mail would come first to Israel, which then transferred it to local Palestinian post offices in the West Bank and Gaza.

That system changed on Sunday, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed a memorandum of understanding to give the Palestinians postal rights. […]

“The MOU is designed to gradually regulate direct transfer of mail from around the world to the Palestinian Authority through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge,” COGAT said.”

As Ha’aretz reported, work on that issue continues.

““About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is therefore no direct mail transfer at this time,” COGAT said in a statement.

“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan,” the statement concluded.

Hussein Sawafta, director of the Palestinian postal service, said that Israel held up the mail because it was not properly addressed to the Israeli postal service. Sawafta said the mail was released last week and workers are now sorting through mounds of letters and packages.” [emphasis added]

As we see, readers were by no means provided with the full background to this story (not least the relevant issue of the refusal by Arab countries to use the existing system) and the BBC’s report amplified inaccurate claims from Palestinian Authority Communications Minister regarding the 2016 memorandum of understanding which mistakenly led audiences to believe that Israel is exclusively to blame for the fact that the delivery of items including “even a wheelchair” was delayed.

BBC News also posted the report on Facebook and some of the responses allowed to remain standing on that BBC account included – not for the first time – offensive statements, comments “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and antisemitic Nazi analogies. For example:

Moreover, the day after the BBC News website recycled that misleading AFP article, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman went to Jericho to report on the same story for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:06 here). Bateman’s report indicates that the BBC is aware of the fact that efforts had been made in the past to reach an agreement whereby not all post destined for PA controlled areas would have to come through the Israeli postal system (although he did not bother to inform listeners that the context was the refusal of Arab countries to use the Israeli postal services) and that the BBC also knows that past understandings have not yet “been implemented or not implemented in full”.

Significantly, however, the BBC did not bother to update its online report with that information.

 

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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The figures behind a story the BBC chooses not report 

 

 

 

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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