BBC News report uncritically amplifies political NGO’s talking points

On the afternoon of November 5th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘Middle East’ page which was presented to audiences with a ‘halo effect’ reference to a “rights activist”.

The report itself (tagged, inter alia, ‘human rights’) is headlined “Israel court rejects Human Rights Watch activist’s deportation appeal” and the caption under the photograph at the top of the article reads:

“Omar Shakir said he had not called for a boycott of Israel during his time at Human Rights Watch”

Obviously the BBC did not fact-check that claim from the person it had already flagged up as a “rights activist” (i.e. good) before amplifying it.

Had it done so, it would know that analysis of Tweets sent from Shakir’s personal Twitter account between June 2018 and February 2019 by NGO Monitor shows that 16% of those Tweets focused on BDS campaigns against Booking.com and TripAdvisor and additional Tweets supported a UN “blacklist” of businesses operating in Judea & Samaria.

45% of the BBC article’s word count is devoted to uncritical amplification of talking points from Omar Shakir (including a link to a Tweet) and his employer ‘Human Rights Watch, including the following claim:

“The group [HRW] insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promote boycotts of Israel.”

That claim was also seen in a May 2018 BBC report on the same case and as we noted at the time:

“Obviously too, the BBC has ‘forgotten’ that an anti-Israel campaign at FIFA (which it vigorously promoted at the time) was supported by political NGOs including Human Rights Watch. In fact, Shakir even went so far as to fly to Bahrain a year ago to lobby FIFA officials and – as Professor Gerald Steinberg recently noted:

“In the past year alone, HRW pushed divestment from Israeli banks, targeted Israel’s membership in FIFA (the international soccer association), called for arms embargoes and ending security cooperation, lobbied the UN to “blacklist” companies doing business in Israel, and petitioned the International Criminal Court to open prosecutions against Israeli officials.””

32% of the BBC report’s word count describes the position of Israel’s interior ministry. As usual the BBC abstains from providing its audiences with an explanation of the BDS campaign in its own words.

“The interior ministry argued that Mr Shakir was an “activist” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism. In 2017, it passed a law refusing entry to people with links to BDS.”

The body of the report includes links to three items of additional reading:

The first of those items promotes the falsehood that the BDS campaign solely relates to a “cultural boycott” of Israel. The second is remarkable for its lack of fact checking and the third (from 2015) uncritically amplifies falsehoods promoted by a professional BDS campaigner, including about the campaign’s origins.

Readers also find the BBC’s standard partisan portrayal of ‘international law’.

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The report’s final paragraph is devoted to amplification of the support of third parties for Shakir, including unnamed organisations portrayed as “human rights groups” which actually include political NGOs such as ‘Breaking the Silence’.  

“Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join Mr Shakir’s appeal, while the European Union and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on Israel not to deport him.”

Remarkably though, the BBC’s report makes no attempt to provide readers with details of the Supreme Court decision. As NGO Monitor documents:

“The Court firmly rejected a key argument from Shakir’s lawyers. They tried to argue that Shakir’s personal BDS activity ended upon his employment at HRW, at which point all his expressions should be attributed to HRW as an organization. Since HRW is not on the Israeli government’s list of “BDS organizations,” Shakir’s activity as an HRW employee should be granted “immunity” from the Entry into Israel Law. In sharp contradiction, the Court determined that he is responsible for his public statements, especially those on his private Twitter account.”

For years ‘Human Rights Watch’ has been one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel and yet that organisation’s political agenda has never been adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Since Omar Shakir’s work permit was not renewed in May 2018 BBC audiences have seen only superficial coverage which, like this latest report, clearly demonstrates that the BBC has no interest whatsoever in providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story and its wider BDS campaign related background.

Related Articles:

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

BBC amplified anti-Israel campaign rejected by FIFA

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC News claims BDS is solely about ‘a cultural boycott’

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part one

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

 

 

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

Back in November 2018 the BBC News website published no fewer than three reports (see ‘related articles’ below) concerning an announcement from the American company Airbnb concerning its intention to remove some 200 listings in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

All three of those reports – two written and one filmed – promoted the corporation’s standard mantra concerning ‘international law’ with the BBC electing once again to ignore its editorial obligation of “due impartiality” by erasing from audience view the existence of legal opinions which contradict its chosen narrative.

The two written reports uncritically amplified statements made by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch and the second article even provided a link to a problematic report produced by that NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’ which was actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis.

On April 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Airbnb reverses ban on West Bank settlement listings” which opened by telling readers that:

“Airbnb has reversed its decision to remove rental listings of homes located inside Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

The background to that reversal was portrayed by the BBC as follows:

“Israeli lawyers filed a class action suit, which is when a group of people with similar claims sues the defendant in one action.

The suit sought 15,000 shekels ($4,200; £3,200) for each host of the 200 homes that were due to be deleted from Airbnb’s listings.

Airbnb said that under the terms of a settlement it would “not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform”.”

However the BBC did not inform its audiences of the basis for that class action suit.

“The suit was filed under the Fair Housing Act, which was meant to prevent discrimination against minorities in the United States. Because Airbnb is based in the United States, it must adhere to the act in all its listings worldwide.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that Airbnb was discriminating against them for being Jewish, given that it still allowed listings by Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

“The policy Airbnb announced last November was abject discrimination against Jewish users of the website,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat Hadin, said in a statement. “Whatever one’s political view, discrimination based on religious affiliation should never be the solution.””

Readers would hence no doubt have found it difficult to understand why one of the people quoted in a section of the report sub-headed “What’s the reaction been?” used the term “discriminatory”.

“Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem, told AFP news agency: “Airbnb has realized what we have long argued – that boycotts of Jews anywhere, even just in the West Bank, are discriminatory.”

That sub-section went on to uncritically amplify statements from two of the BBC’s most quoted and promoted political NGOs – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – while making no effort to adhere to the corporation’s own editorial guidelines by informing audiences of the political agenda of those organisations.

“But Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch said: “Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings, as they’ve promised to do, does nothing to remedy the ‘human suffering’ they have acknowledged that their activities cause.

“By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in the abuses settlements trigger,” he added.

An Amnesty International report published earlier in the year argued that Airbnb was among the digital tourism companies profiting from “war crimes” by offering services in West Bank settlements.” [emphasis added]

As usual, readers of this report were presented with the corporation’s chosen one-sided narrative on ‘international law’ – “the settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this” – without the existence of alternative opinions even being acknowledged.

And so once again BBC audiences got a carefully framed portrayal of this story which, while promoting an anti-Israel NGO’s “war crimes” hyperbole, failed to adequately present the whole picture.

Related Articles:

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

More inadequate BBC reports on the Airbnb story

The NGOs and Funders Behind Airbnb’s BDS Policy (NGO Monitor)

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

 

Weekend long read

1) The Community Security Trust has published its Antisemitic Incidents Report for 2018.

“The 1,652 antisemitic incidents CST recorded in 2018 represent a 16 per cent rise from the 1,420 incidents recorded in 2017. These 1,652 incidents were spread throughout the year, with over 100 incidents recorded in every month for the first time in any calendar year; indicating that a general atmosphere of intolerance and prejudice is sustaining the high incident totals, rather than a one-off specific ‘trigger’ event. In addition to more general background factors, the highest monthly totals in 2018 came when the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party was the subject of intense discussion and activity, or when violence surged temporarily on the border between Israel and Gaza; suggesting that these events, and reactions to them, also played a role in 2018’s record total.”

2) At the Washington Examiner, David May and Jonathan Schanzer ask “Why has Human Rights Watch become an anti-Israel activist group?”.

“It’s unclear exactly when HRW began to juggle both human rights research and anti-Israel activism. One could point to the joint declaration of the 2001 NGO Forum in South Africa, reportedly formulated with Human Rights Watch’s assistance, which endorsed sanctions against the Jewish state. It also could have been 2004, when it hired anti-Israel activist Sarah Leah Whitson. Soon after she took over as Middle East director, HRW endorsed a campaign led by vehemently anti-Israel groups to suspend sales of Caterpillar equipment to the Jewish state after pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie was killed when she stood in the way of an Israeli military bulldozer.”

3) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “Iran’s Strategy for Control of Syria”.

“Iran’s efforts are taking place at three levels:  below the official Syrian state structures – in the arming and sponsoring of Iran-controlled paramilitary formations on Syria soil, within the Syrian state – in the control of institutions that are officially organs of the regime, and above the state, in the pursuit of formal links between the Iranian and Syrian regimes.  As Teheran seeks to impose its influence on Assad’s Syria in the emergent post-rebellion period, meanwhile, there are indications that its project is running up against the rival plans and ambitions of the Russians.”

4) The ITIC analyses Hamas’ latest fundraising efforts.

“Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, two terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, recently called on their supporters to donate money using the virtual currency Bitcoin. To date, requests for donors have been made by Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, and by the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees. […]

The Palestinian organizations’ fundraising campaign in the Gaza Strip is yet another example of the terrorist organizations’ use of virtual currencies, mainly Bitcoin, to finance terror activity. The anonymity provided by trading in these currencies, their availability, and the ability to carry out money transfers around the world quickly and easily without the need for identification or exposure enable these organizations to transfer funds earmarked for terrorist activity without supervision by authorities or banks while circumventing international regulations against money laundering.” 

 

More inadequate BBC reports on the Airbnb story

Despite having already published a report on exactly the same story late the previous evening, on the morning of November 20th the BBC News website published an article titled “Airbnb: Israeli uproar as firm bars West Bank settlements“.

A video embedded into the article also appeared separately on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 21st under the title “The West Bank homes being dropped from Airbnb“.

In that filmed report from Gush Etzion – where Jews purchased land long before the Jordanian invasion and occupation in 1948 – viewers were told that:

“Built on land occupied after the 1967 Six Day War, the settlements are seen as illegal under international law.”

In the written report readers were similarly told that:

“Jewish settlements in territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Obviously this story in particular requires full audience understanding of the topic of ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ but nevertheless the BBC elected once again to ignore its editorial obligation of “due impartiality” by erasing from audience view the existence of legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative.

BBC editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’ state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ – as seen in both these reports and the previous one on the same story – obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

The written report included uncritical amplification of a claim which dovetails with standard BBC framing of the conflict:

“Airbnb said it had made the decision because settlements were “at the core” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The BBC did not bother to enhance readers’ understanding of the story by pointing out that the conflict predates ‘settlements’ by several decades.

Linking to a report produced by the political NGOs ‘Human Rights Watch’ and ‘Kerem Navot’ that is actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis, the written article told readers that:

“Human Rights Watch called Airbnb’s decision “a positive step” and urged other tourism companies, such as Booking.com, to follow suit.

In a report released on Tuesday, the New York-based group said “Israelis and foreigners may rent properties in settlements, but Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred”.

It said this was the only example the rights body could find “in which Airbnb hosts have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin”.”

The BBC did not bother to inform its audiences that Airbnb hosts in a plethora of countries including Algeria, Malaysia and Bangladesh would “have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin” because those countries do not allow entry to the holders of Israeli passports.

As in the previous written report, readers were not informed that Airbnb does business in numerous other disputed locations – for example northern Cyprus and Western Sahara.  

Related Articles:

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

 

 

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Late on November 19th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Airbnb removes Israeli West Bank listings” which was soon re-titled “Airbnb removes Israeli West Bank settlement listings”.

One hundred and twenty-three of the article’s 422 words summarised the announcement put out by the company while 129 words described subsequent reactions from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, the Israeli tourism minister and a relevant Israeli organisation.

One hundred and fourteen words were given over to background information, including the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning ‘international law’:

“The West Bank settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Readers were also told that:

“The issue of settlements is one of the most contentious areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians see them as a major obstacle to peace and a barrier to a hoped-for Palestinian state on land which they occupy.

Israel says such an argument is a pretext for avoiding direct peace talks, and that the fate of settlements should be negotiated in accordance with peace accords signed with the Palestinians in 1993.”

Notably, despite having quoted Airbnb as saying that “…many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced”, the BBC did not find it relevant to tell its audiences about the people displaced from places such as the Gush Etzion communities, Beit HaArava or the Old City of Jerusalem just nineteen years before its selected start-date for Middle East history.

Without clarification of the fact that a PLO representative has in the past threatened legal action against Airbnb, readers were told that:

“Airbnb has previously been criticised by Palestinian officials and human rights campaigners for allowing listings of homes to rent in Israeli settlements.”

While those so-called “human rights campaigners” remained unidentified by the BBC, readers were not informed that Airbnb does business in numerous other disputed locations (for example northern Cyprus, Western Sahara) or whether or not those same campaigners have “criticised” those operations.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC found it appropriate to cite one of its most frequently quoted and promoted political NGOs – including images.

“The decision was announced the day before Human Rights Watch was set to publish a report examining Airbnb’s business in the settlements.

The organisation praised Airbnb’s decision on Twitter, hailing it as “a breakthrough”.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify to its audiences that the said ‘report’ produced by the political NGOs ‘Human Rights Watch’ and ‘Kerem Navot’ is actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis which makes no mention whatsoever of Airbnb’s business in additional disputed locations around the world.

Related Articles:

The NGOs and Funders Behind Airbnb’s BDS Policy (NGO Monitor)