BBC upholds PSC inspired complaints against ‘Today’ programme

Via the Guardian we learn that:

“The BBC has ruled that a Today programme misled viewers in a report on the recent period of renewed violence in Israel and Palestine.”Today

The report concerned was broadcast on the October 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

“The BBC received a number of complaints about an on-air conversation between presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on 19 October about an ongoing flare-up in violence between Palestinians and Israelis that began on 1 October.

The conversation began with Humphrys referring to the most recent attacks, and summing up the total number of casualties.

John Humphrys: “Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It’s about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Kevin Connolly: “We think about 50 dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.””

According to the Guardian’s report:

“The BBC head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, has written to those who complained saying that while it was clear the reference to 50 dead was meant to take in casualties on both sides, it would be “natural” to infer from the broadcast that only Israelis had been killed.

“In the context of a discussion of attacks carried out by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading,” wrote Steel. “To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint.””

At the time of that broadcast ten Israelis had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the wave of attacks began. The Palestinian casualties were for the most part either terrorists shot whilst carrying out attacks or violent rioters threatening the lives of others. Ironically, it is the BBC’s attempt “to take in casualties on both sides” (seen not only in this report but also in many others) and the ensuing promotion of a false notion of moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims which was the root cause of this inaccuracy.

Should the BBC by chance deviate from its usual practice by issuing an on-air correction, in the interests of the same editorial guidelines concerning accuracy it should of course clarify that the Palestinian casualties include a high proportion of terrorists.  

Insight into the source of inspiration for the complaints comes not only the fact that the Guardian’s report includes comment from a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign but also from the fact that the PSC’s Amena Saleem flagged up the ‘Today’ report at her usual ‘electronic Intifada’ slot the day after its broadcast.

As has been noted here before with regard to the PSC:

“Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer [2014] about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.”

Given the above statement from Colborne and the article by Saleem, the BBC complaints department might care to revisit its own words concerning “interested groups/supporters” – written in response to a complaint concerning a different report by Kevin Connolly in the same month. Additional BBC responses to less successful complaints concerning the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terrorism can be seen here and here.

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BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

As readers will recall, last month the BBC rejected complaints concerning Jeremy Bowen’s interview with the head of the Hamas terrorist organisation and last week the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit finalised his dismissal of complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during an interview with a member of the Parisian Jewish community in January.Complaint pic

However, those who do not make a habit of visiting propaganda outlets such as ‘Electronic Intifada’ and the Russian state-run ‘RT’ may be unaware of the fact that complaints concerning another BBC interview conducted in March 2015 have apparently been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.

Writing at her regular ‘Electronic Intifada’ slot, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem claims that:

“A BBC investigation has found that one of its senior presenters, Sarah Montague, breached the organization’s editorial standards on impartiality in a radio interview she conducted with Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon in March.

The investigation was carried out following allegations of pro-Israel bias against Montague’s interview by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and a number of concerned individuals who complained to the BBC.”

According to RT, the PSC’s complaint included the following point:

“In Montague’s interview with Ya’alon, the senior BBC journalist failed to address misleading statements by the Israeli defense minister.

According to a transcript, Ya’alon said Palestinians “enjoy already political independence. They have their own political system, government, parliament, municipalities and so forth. And we are happy with it. We don’t want to govern them whatsoever.”

The PSC has challenged Ya’alon’s statement, claiming Palestinians live under occupation and, in Gaza, under siege.”

Amena Saleem informs her readers that the same BBC employee who refused to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of Tim Willcox’s “Jewish hands” remarks in Paris came up with the following ruling.

“Last week, all complainants received an email message from Fraser Steel, the BBC’s head of editorial complaints, on behalf of the ECU.

Steel, announcing that he would be upholding the complaint, wrote: “Mr. Yaalon was allowed to make several controversial statements … without any meaningful challenge, and the program-makers have accepted that the interviewer ought to have interrupted him and questioned him on his assertions.””

Yes – Fraser Steel apparently accepts that it is “controversial” to state self-evident, provable facts about the Palestinian Authority’s political system. That of course is all the more bizarre given the BBC’s frequent description of Hamas as “the democratically elected” ruling body in the Gaza Strip. 

Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.

In addition to further highlighting that subject, the upholding of this blatantly politically motivated complaint by the head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit also serves to indicate yet again the inherent flaws in the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system and the urgent need for that topic to be addressed.

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Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

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Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

This article was originally published at the British political blog Harry’s Place.  

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign needs no introduction and neither does its recently accelerated campaign to try to persuade the British public that the BBC suffers from pro-Israel bias. At her usual Electronic Intifada gig on August 3rd, PSC activist Amena Saleem wrote:EG

“Pro-Israeli broadcasters are finding it ever harder to defend Israel in the face of the large-scale massacres and destruction in Gaza, but the BBC is determined to do its best, sacrificing all claims to impartiality and journalistic integrity in the process.

In addition to flooding its radio and television programs with Israeli spokespeople, while keeping Palestinian voices to a minimum, the BBC, as it did during Israel’s 2012 assault on Gaza, has taken to presenting pro-Israel commentators as independent.

BBC audiences are, therefore, given strong doses of pro-Israeli propaganda — being told that Hamas is using civilians as human shields, that Israel has shown nothing but restraint in the face of constant rocket attacks, that it is defending its citizens and so on — while under the impression that they are hearing neutral, independent comment.

These key Israeli messages are, of course, more likely to be believed by viewers and listeners if they think they are impartial observations, rather than the opinions of pro-Israeli spokespeople.”

Saleem goes on to produce a list of examples of what she claims were inadequate introductions on the part of the BBC which failed to clarify the supposedly pro-Israel stance of contributors and recounts that in one case:

“The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC to remind it of its own editorial guidelines, which include this: “We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

For once, the BBC was quick to write back, sending this by email: “We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.” “

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality do indeed relate to the issue of clarification of the viewpoint of interviewees in section 4.4.14 and in October of last year the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit recommitted to the practice of “summarising the standpoint” of contributors after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign made a complaint based on similar claims to those appearing in Saleem’s above article.

However, the selective nature of Amena Saleem’s interest in this matter indicates that it does not stem from genuine concerns about BBC impartiality and journalistic integrity but is a tactic employed in the broader PSC public relations strategy.

Read the rest of the article here

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

h/t J

On Friday January 31st the BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (here from 02:42:55) by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly titled “Scarlett Johansson ‘should know better’“. 

Today Connolly

At 0:50 into Connolly’s item, listeners hear the sound of shouting and chanting:

“One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state.”

Connolly then comes in saying:

“Now SodaStream, and Scarlett, find themselves caught up in the bitter politics of the Middle East and in particular the calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses that trade on the lands that Israel captured in the war of 1967.”

The same shouting and chanting continues in the background throughout the whole time that Connolly is speaking – clearly the result of two separate recordings being intentionally spliced together. He continues:

“Israel disputes that its activities in the West Bank, like the operations of the SodaStream factory there, are a breach of international law but these protesters gathered at the Israeli embassy in London are in no doubt. Among them was Amena Saleem who says you should know that buying a SodaStream props up the occupation and that Scarlett Johansson should know better.”

Amena Saleem: “She’s advertising SodaStream and she’s promoting it so she’s promoting the occupation, she’s promoting apartheid in the West Bank. By supporting SodaStream which supports the occupation you are supporting the occupation as well and Scarlett Johansson unfortunately is supporting the Israeli occupation and Israeli apartheid.”

Does Connolly bother to inform the millions of listeners to the ‘Today’ programme that Saleem’s defamatory claims of “Israeli apartheid” are inaccurate? No he does not. Does he bother to tell them that Amena Saleem is a professional activist with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign who writes for outlets such as Electronic Intifada and the UK-based Hamas mouthpiece MEMO? No he does not. Does he even bother to make it clear who organized that noisy demonstration outside the Israeli embassy which the BBC’s sound engineers took such pains to splice into his item? No he does not. 

Readers will no doubt remember that not too long ago, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to “clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”. Interestingly, that statement came about as the result of a complaint from none other than the murkily funded Palestine Solidarity Campaign itself. But in this case Connolly and the editors of the ‘Today’ programme have made no effort whatsoever to identify Amena Saleem as a representative of that organization or to explain the politically motivated ideology and aims which lie behind it and the BDS campaign it supports. 

Clearly this broadcast is in breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which – as reaffirmed by the ECU – state:

“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.”

That breach of impartiality makes the BBC (not for the first time) a party in the promotion and amplification of the PSC’s campaigning and in the sanitisation of an extremist fringe group which supports a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government.

The ‘Today’ programme’s contact details are here

PSC in Gaza 

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Human Rights, anti-Israel campaigners and the BBC

The misappropriation of the term ‘human rights’ by political campaigners and the self-classification of various often opaquely-funded anti-Israel groups as ‘human rights’ organisations has not abated since the infamous events which overshadowed the Durban I UN conference over twelve years ago. 

The underlying principle of human rights is of course that they are – as it says on the packaging – universal, applying to every person regardless of gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, ethnic background and so forth. Hence, it is actually quite easy to distinguish organisations which are truly interested in promoting the human rights of the Palestinian people from those who merely exploit the halo of the term ‘human rights’ in order to co-opt its associated legitimacy for a political campaign. 

One simple litmus test for ‘pro-Palestinian’ organisations is the examination of their activity in the field of women’s rights. Do they speak out on subjects such as enforced dress codes and ‘modesty’ patrols, inheritance and child custody laws, domestic violence and lenient sentences for so-called ‘honour’ killings? Do they promote women’s education and financial independence? Or do they – as is now sadly so often the case in the ‘liberal’ West – regard issues such as polygamy, gender segregation, forced marriage and female genital mutilation as part of the untouchable ‘culture’ of a patriarchal society which their own cultural relativism prevents them from criticizing? 

Some of the most disadvantaged women in Israel are to be found in the Bedouin sector. Despite being illegal under Israeli law, polygamy is still high in that sector and birth rates are the highest in the country. Even though considerable progress has been made regarding the number of years of education, the educational gap is still large for Bedouin women. Rates of women’s employment outside the home remain low, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 

One woman trying – and succeeding – to make a difference to the lives of Bedouin women is Amal Elsana Alh’jooj – herself the first Bedouin woman in Israel to attend university. Recently Amal was the recipient of an award recognizing her work and during the time she was in London to receive it, she was interviewed by the BBC for Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ (from around 17:11 here) and for the BBC World Service programme ‘Outlook’ (from around 12:53 here). 

In those two very interesting interviews Amal spoke movingly about her position as the fifth girl born to a family in which female babies are of lower value than male ones and of her mother’s fear that her birth would prompt Amal’s father to take another wife. She explained her strategies for making progress on the front of women’s employment in a patriarchal society and spoke of the violence directed towards her when she married outside her own tribe and towards her father when he allowed her to go to university. 

All that, however, is of no interest whatsoever to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which registered its dissatisfaction with the interview in a letter to ‘Woman’s Hour’ according to Amena Saleem who took to her keyboard to condemn the BBC for ignoring what she erroneously terms “ethnic cleansing” in its two interviews with Ms Alh’jooj. 

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is of course one of several organisations currently exploiting the Bedouin for its campaign of delegitimisation of Israel. It therefore comes as no surprise that the PSC regards Amal Elsana Alh’jooj’s award-winning work promoting the rights of Bedouin women as insignificant and undeserving of coverage by the BBC, because what really interests the PSC is clearly not the human rights of the Bedouin or the Palestinians, but one-issue political campaigning against Israel.

One can only hope that “senior BBC executives remember that the next time they are invited for a chat with PSC representatives.