The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

On March 11th listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another report (from 37:50 here) from Anna Foster in Bethlehem about the discovery of Coronavirus in that town.

Tim Franks: “Around the world in places affected by the Coronavirus people aren’t just frightened of infection; they are scared of the long-term economic impact. This week Israel – with more than 70 cases of the virus – has taken stringent measures, ordering all new Israeli and foreign arrivals to the country to go into home quarantine which effectively halts tourism. Last week Bethlehem – just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank – was put into near lock-down by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities after the first cases of Coronavirus were found at a hotel. The BBC’s Anna Foster has been talking to some residents in Bethlehem.”

The same item appeared in the BBC World Service ‘Global News Podcast’ (from 08:13 here) on that day.

Listeners would learn little more from Foster’s conversations with a student, market vendors, a hotel manager and a mother of two and her closing observation that “a whole community is suffering” could of course have been made in many other locations around the world. As in Foster’s previous report on the topic, listeners heard nothing about Israel’s efforts to help the Palestinian Authority deal with the outbreak of Coronavirus. 

Given the BBC’s long record of highly limited interest in reporting internal Palestinian affairs, it was not surprising to see that Foster showed no interest in reporting a story that began with televised remarks made by the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas concerning a recent doctors’ strike.

“Some trade unions, like the doctors’ union, have declared a strike. […] Why? They want a raise. What raise? They want to double their salaries. I can’t pay their original salaries, so how do they expect me to pay for a raise? Nevertheless, I told them that if we overcome our financial crisis, and if our money stops being confiscated [by Israel] and things get better, we can talk about it. I met the people at the doctors’ union, and their secretary-general. They had made me promises that they later recanted and declared a strike. Why a strike? Is it reasonable for the doctors’ union to strike today when we are being confronted by the coronavirus? Even if there were no other [problems], once the coronavirus appeared, they should have dropped everything and went to work. The measures taken by the doctors are irresponsible. To declare a strike at a time like this, when we have the Deal of the Century on the one hand, and the economic and financial siege on the other hand, and on top of that, we have the coronavirus…”

As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh, criticism of Abbas’ remarks on Facebook prompted the arrest of a member of Fatah.

“A senior Fatah official who called into question the mental health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been arrested by the Palestinian security forces.

Hussam Khader, 59, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested by PA security forces at this home in Balata refugee camp in Nablus on Friday.

Khader, an outspoken critic of the PA leadership, was arrested by the PA’s Protective Security Service after he posted a comment on Facebook criticizing the 84-year-old Abbas’s handling of a recent strike by Palestinian physicians who are demanding a salary increase. […]

Khader’s daughter, Ameera, said several Palestinian security officers raided the family’s home around midnight and told her father they have a court order to search the house. […]

Ameera said the search warrant presented by the officers stated that her father was accused of “incitement against the Palestinian Authority.””

Khader was apparently released five days later.

It is difficult to imagine that the arrest of an MP for criticising remarks made by the president or prime minister of a Western country would not have been reported by the BBC but as we see time and time again, it is rare for BBC audiences to be provided with stand-alone reporting on internal Palestinian affairs if the topic cannot be framed within the context of ‘the conflict’ and does not have an Israel-related component. 

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BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Palestinian affairs in 2019

 

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The March 6th edition of the BBC radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 16:48 here) which suggests that following the discovery of seven Coronavirus cases in Bethlehem on March 5th and the subsequent introduction of measures by the Palestinian Authority which included the closure of the Church of the Nativity, the BBC decided to send a reporter to that town.

Presenter Shaun Ley introduced the item. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ley: “Now, as governments try to contain the spread of Coronavirus, some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world are in place in Israel, where 21 cases gave been reported. So far, it’s closed its borders to more than ten countries, and ordered travellers recently arrived from places like France Germany and Spain to self-isolate for fourteen days. Yesterday the first cases were confirmed in the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem. Within hours the main checkpoint from there into Israel had been shut down. The prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he’s unafraid to take harsh measures to try to contain the virus. But how stringently are they being followed and is there a wider economic impact to consider? Our Middle East correspondent Anna Foster begins her report in Bethlehem.”

Anna Foster commenced with the debatable claim that the Church of the Nativity is “the world’s oldest church” and by promoting the notion that Bethlehem – which has been under exclusive PA control for nearly a quarter of a century – is “occupied”.

Foster: “The sight of the ancient wooden door being firmly locked made headlines. The world’s oldest church where Christians believe Jesus was born, forced to close its doors as Coronavirus reached the occupied territories. I watched as the final visitors scrambled to touch the metal star that marks the spot. Hand after hand rubbing it without any soap and water in sight.”

Foster spoke to some German tourists who did not seem to be paying particular attention to instructions concerning self-isolation before going on:

Foster: “In Israel tens of thousands of locals and tourists are now in self-quarantine. But if you’re on holiday and not following the Hebrew media, how do you find out if you’re affected and what you should be doing?”

Listeners were not told that there are numerous non-Hebrew media outlets in Israel reporting daily on that topic or that both the Ministry of Health and the ambulance service provide information and help lines in English and other languages. Instead, Foster asked a worker at a hotel in Jerusalem:

Foster: “Should you be trying to tell them more though, because the government would want you to pass that information on for them, wouldn’t they?”

Moving on to the Old City in Jerusalem, Foster noted the reduction in the number of tourists.

Foster: “Israel is proud of its proactive approach to containing Coronavirus but shop owners like Mohammed can already see the impact of keeping tourists away.”

When her interviewee complained that business was already in decline because of “the situations between the Israel and the Palestinians” Foster did not explain to listeners the effects of Palestinian terrorism and violence on the tourism industry.

As we see, listeners to this superficial report did not in fact find out why the Israeli government has implemented “some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world” or what steps are being taken to help sectors impacted by the situation.

Neither did they hear anything of the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has included the evacuation of tourists from PA controlled areas and the supply of testing kits and training.

“COGAT has been working in the past two weeks to assist the Palestinian Authority in curbing and preventing a coronavirus outbreak in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.  Under the stewardship of Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA. Furthermore, joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel were organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.

In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak.  The information published in Arabic is available to the entire Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.”

That information would of course have been far more useful to BBC audiences trying to understand how Israel is handling the situation than interviews with a couple of random tourist industry workers in Jerusalem.  

BBC’s Donnison misleads on Israel’s election result

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 3rd heard a report about the previous day’s election in Israel. Presenter Jon Donnison introduced the item (from 18:56 here) with promotion of the notion that the Likud party had secured a “victory”. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Donnison: “Now, to Israel and after a third election in less than a year, it looks like – according to partial results anyway – like the Houdini of Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu, arguably the most successful and certainly the most durable politician of his generation, has just about pulled off another victory.”

Donnison’s reference to “another victory” misleads listeners by concealing the fact that in the election held in April 2019 Netanyahu’s party secured the same number of seats (35) as its main rival Blue & White and in the election held in September 2019, Blue & White secured 33 seats while the Likud party got 32.  

Fortunately for BBC audiences around the world, Donnison brought in Anna Foster to report from Jerusalem and she put his claim into perspective.

Foster: “Now it’s not a victory just yet because those votes need to be counted, they need to be verified. So far this is all based on exit polls which show that his [Netanyahu’s] Right-wing block will have potentially 59 of the 61 seats that he needs to form a governing coalition in the Knesset. So he’s only part way there and there’ll be a lot of negotiations to be done in the next few days.”

Given that the BBC correspondent in Jerusalem obviously understood the picture accurately, one must ask why ‘Newshour’ producers allowed Donnison’s misleading introduction to pass.

Anna Foster went on to explain that:

Foster: “…if he [Netanyahu] does end up having 59 or potentially 60 seats, what he needs to do is bring across an MK from a different party. Now that is not as easy as it may sound to get somebody to cross the floor because there are penalties. If he manages to…to woo somebody across from Blue & White for example, that person would not be able to serve as a minister or deputy minister in the Knesset and when that particular Knesset session ends, they would not be able to stand again for any of the parties currently represented. So it makes Mr Netanyahu’s negotiating hand somewhat difficult. What can he offer them? There are places on committees potentially that might…that might tempt somebody across but anybody who does that is very much limiting their future political life so it’s not going to be an easy horse trade.”

That portrayal of the sanctions against individual MKs who cross the floor is largely accurate (in addition, they would not be permitted to form a new party) but it only tells part of the story. As explained by Dr Assaf Shapira at the IDI, two additional scenarios also exist.

“A number of the slates elected to the twenty-third Knesset are actually joint lists made up of a number of independent parties. If an independent party decides to split from its list after the elections it will not face any sanctions. For example, if the Gesher party, headed by Orly Levy, decides to leave the joint list of Labor-Meretz-Gesher it will not face any sanctions. Such a move would be treated as a party splitting (as opposed to individual defections). In fact, the newly independent group would then either become an independent faction – or it could join an existing list already in the Knesset. Parties that decide to split do not face sanctions. 

An additional possibility is that one-third of the MKs elected to the Knesset on a particular list decide to break away. Such a move (that also must include a minimum of two MKs) will also be defined as a list that split into two independent factions and individual MKs who decided to defect.

In fact, the break-away MKs can either form new factions or join an existing one. And what about possible sanctions? They will be able to join the government and run in the next elections, but, if the split takes place in the first two years of the Knesset’s term, the new faction will not be eligible for public funding usually available to parties.”

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a BBC journalist in Jerusalem who clearly made an effort to understand the details of the story she is reporting and who provided audiences with fact-based pertinent information to enhance their understanding rather than promoting the usual jaded BBC narratives.

A new BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

Those following and monitoring the BBC’s Middle East reporting will be interested to know of a new arrival in that part of the world. Anna Foster – previously at BBC radio 5 live – will apparently be covering the region for “a couple of months”.

With Anna Foster having reported on air-raid sirens and shelters in South Korea in 2017, perhaps BBC audiences will finally see some similar reporting about the area of Israel just ninety minutes’ drive away from the corporation’s Jerusalem office that has seen thousands of rocket and mortar attacks over the past two decades, including nine separate incidents since mid-January – all of which have been completely ignored by the BBC.

Where does the BBC report on air-raid sirens and shelters?

BBC audiences have recently seen a number of items covering the topic of missile launches by North Korea, including reports and a dedicated blog from a Radio 5 live journalist sent specially to the region.

N Korea’s missile: The key questions  August 29th 2017.

“Sending a missile over a state’s sovereign territory is a pretty big deal…”

“North Korea is doing this solely out of spite. They’re doing it solely to threaten Japanese civilians.”

North Korea missile triggers Japan warning alarms  August 29th 2017

“Footage on social media appears to show warning alarms which were triggered in parts of Japan, after North Korea fired a missile over the country.”

A look inside a South Korean public shelter September 13th 2017

“Public shelters have been set up across the country in the event of an attack from the North.”

“When you live here, in the closest village to the border – this is only about three miles away – you need a proper shelter.”

North Korea missile: People under threat react  September 15th 2017

“People living in South Korea and Japan react to North Korea’s latest missile launch.”

“That’s a nice wake-up call. My phone translated as ‘a North Korea missile launch’. What do you do in a circumstance like that?”

“The strongest feeling I have is a feeling of fear. I don’t know when I might be killed. That is the scariest part.”

In contrast, the BBC has produced no English language reporting whatsoever on the dozen actual missile hits so far this year in a region just ninety minutes away from its Jerusalem office that has previously seen thousands of such attacks over the past sixteen years.

 

 

 

BBC’s Peter Allen: “Israel always wreaks its revenge”

Several people have written to us (thank you all) to bring the following BBC radio broadcast to our attention.

On Wednesday, November 14th 2012, at 16:00 GMT, BBC Radio 5 broadcast an edition of its programme ‘5 live Drive’ with presenters Peter Allen and Anna Foster which can be heard here.  

Sections of the broadcast dealt with the subject of Operation Pillar of Cloud, which had commenced less than two hours previous to the start of the programme.

At the beginning (01:18), one can hear the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Wyre Davies talking about the “targeted assassination” of Ahmed Jabari and speculating as to the likelihood of further “assassinations”. 

The correct term is of course ‘targeted killing’ – which is the intentional killing of a targeted person who is taking part in terrorism. Assassination, on the other hand, is defined as “to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons”. 

In electing to use the word ‘assassination’, Davies is clearly attempting to impart an air of illegality to the action of targeting the head of the Izz ad Din al Qassam brigades terrorist militia.

At around two hours into the broadcast, one can hear a Mr El Hadad from Gaza being interviewed by the BBC without any context whatsoever being given for the strikes in the Gaza Strip which he describes. El Hadad is also allowed to make an entirely speculative remark about the supposed connection of the timing of the operation to the upcoming Israeli elections: a theme which the BBC has been promoting vigorously throughout its coverage of the current operation and before. 

At 2:05:37 Peter Allen conducts an interview with Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post. Bearing in mind that Operation Pillar of Cloud had at that time been underway for less than four hours, here are Allen’s ‘contributions’ to the interview:

“We’re all aware of the arguments that a lot of rockets have been fired at Israel and that the retaliation was both necessary and just, but from the outside it just looks like part of this never-ending cycle of violence. It won’t stop anything, this, will it?”

“Yeah – but it’s not just this man [Jabari] who’s been killed. There’s a lot of innocent people getting killed at the same time.”

“Yeah – but nevertheless, if you count it up – the casualties – it’s those inside Gaza who are suffering rather than those inside Israel.”

“Yeah. You can count up the casualties. I’m sorry, you know, but the outside world would count up the casualties and see – you know – that Israel always wreaks its revenge and the revenge it takes is greater than the original – erm – suffering in this war. It does it all the time.”

Impartial? Balanced? Accurate?

Allen is not even pretending to try to meet any of those supposed BBC standards.