BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

On August 15th 2014 the BBC added a footnote to an article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures” which, after originally appearing on the BBC News website on August 8th, had undergone a series of very significant changes three days later. The last line of that footnote read:

Original version - dated August 8th

Original version – dated August 8th

“We expect to return to this subject at a later date.”

Not only has the BBC never bothered to explain to its funding public why an article written by its own Head of Statistics was so radically altered but it has also not returned to the subject of casualty ratios during the 2014 conflict in any meaningful way, preferring to quote UN supplied figures sourced from political actors and with no independent BBC verification of those figures apparent.

One organization which has carried out meticulous identification of the names appearing on the casualty lists supplied by Hamas and additional actors is the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre and it recently published its eleventh report on the topic – available here. Links to the previous ten reports can be found here.

Notably, this latest ITIC report studies fifty names which did not appear on the lists of casualties supplied by Hamas. All of those 50 casualties belonged to assorted terrorist organisations and most of them were Hamas operatives.

The ITIC report states:

“The findings of our investigation so far (based on an examination of approximately 61% of the names of the dead) suggest that terrorist operatives constitute 48.7% of the names that have been identified, and noninvolved civilians constitute approximately 51.3%. This ratio may vary in the future, but not significantly, in our assessment.” […]

“This ratio differs from the findings of the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, indicating that 1,462 civilians were killed, out of 2,251 Palestinians fatalities, i.e., around 65% of all the casualties were civilians. Thus, by implication, according to the UN report, around 35% of the dead were terrorist operatives, although the report refrains from saying explicitly that all the others are operatives affiliated with terrorist organizations (the report uses the phrase “Palestinian armed groups”‘).”

A media organization truly committed to accuracy and impartiality would clearly have made good on its stated intention to “return to this subject at a later date” in order to ensure that the information it continues to quote and promote is indeed accurate, that its rulings on complaints on the topic are fact-based and fair and that its impartiality is not compromised by the failure to provide audiences with accurate civilian/combatant casualty ratios on one side of the conflict – as was for example evident in the BBC’s recent prolific coverage of the conflict’s anniversary.

“Now on this day last year another war erupted in Gaza. It lasted 51 days and turned into the longest, most costly conflict of the three wars in the past six years. More than 2,100 people were killed in Gaza and 72 were killed on the Israeli side including 66 soldiers. And a very high price paid by civilians – and most of all children – became a defining issue in this confrontation.” (Rebecca Kesby, ‘BBC World Update: Daily Commute’, BBC World Service, 8/7/2015) [emphasis added]

Of course the longer the BBC fails to address this topic openly and honestly, the more it fosters the impression of a political motivation behind the both changes made to its August 8th 2014 article and its subsequent presentation of the subject of civilian/combatant ratios in the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

BBC Complaints defends its use of Hamas supplied casualty figures

What connects Hamas supplied casualty figures to the BBC’s expedited complaints procedure?

 

Will ex-BBC Gunness tell the Frontline Club how he got a BBC article rewritten?

On July 29th the Frontline Club in London will hold the event described below.

frontline club event 1

So who is scheduled to be on that “panel of journalists”? At the moment it appears to consist of two people.

frontline club event 2

Readers considering attending the event and seeking advance insight into what they might hear from the generously portrayed Mr Blumenthal can find information collated by our colleagues at UK Media Watch here and at CAMERA here. A particularly useful research paper on Blumenthal’s book ‘Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel’ by Petra Marquardt-Bigman can be found here.

Those participating in the event might of course take the opportunity to ask Chris Gunness about his apparent role in instigating the politically motivated rewrite of the August 8th 2014 BBC article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures“. Licence fee payers in the audience and further afield would, after all, probably be very interested to learn about the potential for outside influence on BBC editorial decisions. 

The event will also be available live on the Frontline Club’s Youtube channel.

Related Articles:

BBC College of Journalism “associations”

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part four

In the first three installments of this post (see ‘related articles’ below) we documented BBC News website coverage of the first thirty days of Operation Protective Edge. Part four relates to the next ten days: August 7th to August 16th 2014 inclusive.

Content on the website included written news reports and written ‘Features and Analysis’ articles as well as filmed items presented as stand-alone reports and additionally often embedded into the written articles. Those filmed items also appeared on BBC television news programmes and hence give us an idea of what worldwide audiences were being shown and to what extent the BBC lived up to its claims of “equal coverage” of the two sides to the conflict.

A small amount of content which appeared on the BBC News website at the time has since become unavailable, but below are the vast majority of the reports offered to the website’s visitors. We are not including here the many reports concerning demonstrations relating to the conflict in Europe and elsewhere which appeared on the Middle East page: that topic will be covered separately. Also not included in this chapter are three separate filmed reports about NHS activities (delegations to the region, donations of equipment) which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 9th, 11th and 12th.

August 7th:Chart Aug 7

Written:

Israel offers Gaza truce extension but Hamas has yet to agree

DEC launches Gaza emergency appeal

Israel Gaza: Mediators seek to extend truce in Cairo

Features:

Israelis along the Gaza Border keep calm and carry on  Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Filmed:

Israeli army say main objective in Gaza achieved ‘completely’  Lyse Doucet in Israel (discussed here)

 Israel’s military strategy in Gaza under scrutiny  Paul Adams (discussed here)

Gaza awaits Israeli-Hamas truce talks verdict   Orla Guerin in Gaza

August 8th:Chart Aug 8

Written: (discussed here)

Gaza ceasefire ends as Israel reports rocket fire

Israel air strikes resume in Gaza amid rockets  

Features:

Graphic content: How media differ on use of Gaza images  BBC Monitoring

After the Gaza ceasefire: Hyper-tense and under fire   Wyre Davies (discussed here)

Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures  (discussed here, later amended, date changed – discussed here)

Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives  (discussed here)

Filmed:

Air strikes and rocket attacks after Gaza ceasefire ends  Orla Guerin in Gaza

BBC reports from blockaded Israel-Gaza border crossing   Wyre Davies at Kerem Shalom (discussed here)

‘We’ve seen and heard a number of explosions here in Gaza’  James Reynolds in Gaza (discussed here)

August 9th:Chart Aug 9

Written:

Gaza conflict: US and UN condemn new Gaza violence

Gaza air strikes ‘kill five’ as rockets hit Israel

Filmed:

Strikes resume in Gaza as ceasefire ends  Kevin Connolly in Gaza (discussed here)

Violence resumes is Gaza as truce comes to an end  James Reynolds in Gaza (discussed here)

Israel ‘very restrained’ with its offensive in Gaza  Danny Ayalon

August 10th:Chart Aug 10

Written:

Gaza conflict: Egypt seeks new Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Gaza conflict: New three-day ceasefire begins

Filmed:

New truce agreed in Gaza conflict  Orla Guerin in Gaza

Gaza conflict: Israel refuses to negotiate while ‘under fire’  Kevin Connolly in Gaza

Gaza crisis: Fears that talks in Cairo could collapse  Lyse Doucet

August 11th:Chart Aug 11

Written:

Gaza conflict: New three-day ceasefire holds

Gaza conflict: Fresh talks begin in Egypt

Filmed:

Gaza conflict: Families return home as Gaza ceasefire holds  Yolande Knell in Gaza (discussed here)

Mid-East crisis: Gazans hope for ‘open seas and borders’   Orla Guerin in Gaza (discussed here)

August 12th:Chart Aug 12

Written:

Israel export licences warning from UK

August 13th:

Written:

Six dead as Gaza disposal team tackles Israeli missile

Rocket fired from Gaza hits Israel

Filmed:Chart Aug 13

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres ‘seeks peace’ over Gaza  Wyre Davies interview with Shimon Peres

Gaza conflict: Allegations of war crimes  Orla Guerin in Gaza (discussed here)

Mid-East crisis: The blockade of Gaza – in 60 seconds  Michael Hirst (discussed here)

Israel, Palestinians ‘extend Gaza truce by five days’  Yolande Knell

August 14th:Chart Aug 14

Written:

Israel and Palestinians begin tense five-day Gaza truce  (discussed here)

Filmed:

Gaza conflict: Ceasefire extended by five days  Yolande Knell in Gaza

August 15th:

Written:Chart Aug 15

Jewish Chronicle apologises after running Gaza appeal advert   later amended and date changed (discussed here)

Filmed:

Yolande Knell meets Gazans working to restore utilities  Yolande Knell in Gaza (discussed here)

August 16th:

Features:Chart Aug 16

Dutchman returns Holocaust medal after family deaths in Gaza  (discussed here and here)

Clearly the most striking aspect of this period of coverage of the conflict is the sudden decline in the number of reports produced by the BBC in comparison with the previous thirty days. Two factors contributed to that drop: like much of the foreign media the BBC apparently assumed that the August 5th ceasefire was going to hold and began moving journalists who do not normally cover the region, but had been ‘parachuted in’ to provide back up to its Jerusalem Bureau team, out of the area. Concurrently, the ISIS story in Iraq and Syria began to gather pace and resources were diverted to covering that issue.

The most obvious effect of those changes is that after the withdrawal of Israeli ground troops from the Gaza Strip on August 5th and despite the breakdown of the ceasefire of that date and the continuation of missile fire into Israel, BBC audiences saw only one filmed report depicting the situation as far as civilians in Israel were concerned between August 7th and August 16th. They did, however, see twelve filmed reports from the Gaza Strip during that period.

 Graph Aug 7 to Aug 16

By August 16th visitors to the BBC News website (and television audiences) had seen almost three times as much filmed coverage from the Gaza Strip as they had from Israel (37.5 reports compared to 100.5) since the beginning of the conflict.  

Graph Jul 8 to Aug 16

The major theme dominating BBC reporting during the period from August 7th to August 16th remained the vigorous amplification of Hamas’ demands concerning the lifting of border restrictions and the construction of a seaport. Missile attacks on Israel were severely under-reported or ignored and ceasefire violations by terrorist groups downplayed or distorted. The amplification of the agendas of NGOs engaged in political warfare against Israel continued, as did the promotion of claims of ‘war crimes’.

A particularly notable event during this period was the appearance of the article by the BBC News Head of Statistics on the issue of Gaza casualty figures after an entire month of context-free BBC citation of Hamas-supplied data. The fact that the article soon underwent changes which diluted its original message as a result of the application of outside political pressure is highly significant and of course reflects very badly on the BBC’s supposed commitment to accuracy and impartiality.

Related articles:

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part one

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part two

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part three

BBC WS ‘Newshour’: a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

The BBC’s pictorial portrayal of conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip

‘From Our Own Correspondent’: a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s capitulation to political pressure on Gaza casualty figures: tip of a bigger iceberg?

The saga of the BBC’s squeezy stance on the reporting of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip continues.

To recap the story so far; on August 8th the BBC News website published an article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures” written by the Head of Statistics for BBC News. Three days later, unannounced changes were made to that article – apparently as a result of pressure from campaigning actors including UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness who reportedly told ‘Private Eye’ (print version only) that the article was “an appalling piece of journalism”. Only on August 15th – four days after amendments had been made to the article – was a footnote added informing audiences that changes had been made to its content. The BBC’s damage control continued in the form of a nine-minute item in the August 22nd edition of ‘More or Less’ on Radio 4. Since then, the BBC has continued to produce highly problematic content on the topic of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.  

Not content with the censoring of BBC audiences’ access to statistical insight into the issue of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign now seeks to restrict audiences’ opportunities to benefit from such analysis in the future.PSC

Following a PR campaign, on September 29th the PSC presented a letter (signed by a minuscule proportion of the UK population) to the BBC Director General demanding that:

“…Reuben will no longer be assigned to reporting on Palestine and Israel, as his impartiality and journalistic integrity on this subject cannot be guaranteed.”

As is well known, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s faux ‘concerns’ about BBC impartiality and integrity are highly selective; only making an appearance when they are deemed a useful tool in that organisation’s anti-Israel public relations campaigns. Nevertheless, especially in light of the manner in which the BBC speedily capitulated to political pressure over the content of Anthony Reuben’s original article, it might not be in the least surprising to see it allow an opaquely funded fringe group, which provides support for a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government, dictate what BBC audiences can read see or hear.

This latest in a long line of PSC actions is of course particularly interesting in light of the fact that only a couple of weeks ago Jeremy Bowen and John Lloyd were telling listeners to BBC Radio 4 that, with regard to complaints to the BBC, “Palestinians weren’t organized in the same sort of way” [as supporters of Israel] and “Palestinians weren’t geared to complain as Israelis and the Jewish diaspora were”. 

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

On September 1st the BBC News website published a feature titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” which has since become a frequent appendage to numerous other articles published on the website’s Middle East page. As we know, the BBC has stated that its online content is intended to act as “historical records” and hence the accuracy and impartiality of that content is of prime importance.Toll of Operations art

This particular feature opens with the following words:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

The UN says the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilian. But figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price.”

Once again we see the BBC quoting “the UN” as though that body were impeccably objective, but with no effort made to inform audiences with regard to the very significant issue of the background to those UN statements and the political motivations involved.

The feature then goes on to address the topic of casualties in three conflicts in reverse chronological order. First comes a section titled “2014: Operation Protective Edge” in which readers are told that:

“The overwhelming majority of those killed were Palestinians.

The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences, for example, of the ongoing analysis being carried out by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which, after examination of some 35% of the named casualties, so far indicates that the ratio of combatants to civilians stands at 49% to 51% respectively.

The section goes on to present graphics including one complied on the basis of information provided, inter alia, by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and “Al Akhbar” – an anti-Israel Lebanese online media organization considered by some to be pro-Hizballah. It further includes ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s head of statistics who – as readers may recall – was forced to radically amend a previous article on the topic of casualties in the Gaza Strip due to outside pressure from politically motivated organisations.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The section goes on to state that “[s]atellite images released by the United Nations show how a section of Shijaia [sic] neighbourhood in Gaza City has been razed by attacks since 8 July” but no attempt is made to provide BBC audiences with the all-important context behind those images by informing them of the military installations deliberately placed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in that neighbourhood.

The feature then moves on to a section titled “2012: Operation Pillar of Defense” in which readers are informed that:

“Israel’s previous major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

Prior to the operation, there had been spates of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

In other words, the BBC continues its now well-entrenched practice of downplaying the months of terror attacks which preceded – and caused – Operation Pillar of Defense. Casualty figures promoted in that section come from one source alone:

“An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.”

Detailed examination of the names of casualties by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre put the ratio of combatants to civilians at 60:40 compared to B’Tselem’s 52% civilian casualty rate.

The feature’s third and final section is titled “2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead” and it opens with the (apparently copy pasted) claim that:

The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. Around 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including an estimated 759 civilians, according to B’Tselem. Reports say this included 344 children and 110 women.” [emphasis added]

The section goes on to promote two more politically motivated NGOs and to advance the myth of the use of white phosphorous as a weapon during Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel’s military had put the overall Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom it said 295 were “uninvolved” civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 Palestinians died, 926 of whom were civilians.

An Amnesty International report into the operation said lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care.” It also condemned the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.”

No mention is made of the fact that Hamas’ Fathi Hamad admitted in a 2010 interview that around half the casualties in that operation were terrorists, thus negating the inaccurate claims made by the PCHR still being promoted by the BBC.

But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

Now let us remind ourselves of the BBC’s opening statement in this feature:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.”

That statement would lead any reasonable reader to believe that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge was somehow exceptional enough to prompt “international concern and condemnation”. The BBC’s editorial decision to omit from this feature any comparison to other conflicts means that audiences are unable to put that statement into its correct perspective and are hence likely to be misled.

Of course that editorial decision will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who closely followed BBC coverage of Operation Protective Edge throughout its duration because one dominant theme discernible throughout that coverage was the inaccurate portrayal of the conflict as an Israeli attack upon the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The feature tells readers that:  

“…figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price”

Indeed the price paid by Gaza’s civilian population for the actions of terrorist organisations embedded in their midst is a “heavy” and regrettable one. However – in contrast to the impression this anonymously written feature deliberately attempts to create – it is nevertheless no heavier than that paid by civilian populations in conflict zones elsewhere in the world. The BBC’s decision not to inform its audiences of that fact can only be attributed to political motivations being allowed to trump editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

On August 22nd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ included an item on the topic of casualty figures from the Gaza Strip which purported to provide listeners with information pertaining to the questions “[w]hy are men over-represented in civilian death tolls and how are the statistics gathered?” The segment can be heard here and the whole programme is here with the relevant item beginning at 13:23.More or Less R4 22 8

After an introduction composed of statements from BBC news bulletins, presenter Tim Harford (also a Financial Times columnist) begins the item.

TH: “The number of civilians killed in Gaza during the conflict between Palestinian militants there and the Israeli military has raised international concern and condemnation. A UN report estimated that between the 7th of July and the 20th of August this year there were 1,999 deaths in Gaza caused by the conflict. Of those killed, the UN estimate that 70% were civilians and of those thought to be civilians, approximately 250 were women, 450 were children and 700 were men. The figures, say the United Nations, are subject to change based on verification. The same UN report states that on the Israeli side, 64 soldiers have been killed and three civilians.

Now the fact that among the Palestinian civilian casualties there are nearly three times as many men as women has been in the spotlight. Indeed an article on the BBC News website said “if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”. Well that’s a comment that attracted controversy and a number of e-mails from listeners who’ve written to ‘More or Less’ directly. It might be worth spelling out why. The comment invites people to conclude that if Israeli attacks were indiscriminate, we wouldn’t see far more men than women killed; we’d see roughly equal numbers. And joining the dots, perhaps many of the men thought to be civilians weren’t civilians at all. Now, none of that was explicitly said in the BBC article but some critics have complained to ‘More or Less’ that that’s what it was hinting at. And the Times of Israel – an online newspaper – ran an article citing the BBC’s analysis in support of these conclusions. All very sensitive stuff, needless to say. Well, Ruth Alexander’s here to help me investigate. Ruth, before we get to the issue of what’s happening in Gaza, what’s the latest on that BBC article?”

As BBC Watch readers already know, the original article by the BBC News head of statistics underwent initially unannounced changes several days after its publication – apparently because its content displeased certain parties. Four days after those changes were made a footnote acknowledging them was added to the article as it appears online.

Footnote to Reuben art

The programme’s producer Ruth Alexander then comes in:

RA: “Well that particular statement about how it’s hard to square the UN’s findings of indiscriminate attacks with the fact that more men than women had been killed….”

TH: “Yeah, that one.”

RA: “…it’s gone. The article’s been edited to remove it and a few days later the BBC added a note about a series of clarifications such as the inclusion of some possible explanations for why men were disproportionately likely to be casualties.”

TH: “I spoke about this gender imbalance to Matthias Behnke from the office of the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights on the 19th of August. Matthias was speaking from Ramallah in the West Bank.”

Indeed Matthias Behnke was in Ramallah on August 19th and obviously managed to find time to talk to the BBC either before or after he took part in a symposium at Birzeit University where he shared a platform with Sharwan Jabarin (known for his alleged ties to the PFLP) of the political NGO ‘Al Haq’ which is a leading organization on the lawfare scene. That symposium was promoted as follows:

“During the workshop, colleagues Matthias Behnke (The head of the OHCHR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Shawan Jabareen (Al-Haq’s Director) will introduce participants to the role of the ‘Independent Commission of Inquiry´ also compared to alternative investigations and comparative experiences. There will be a discussion on expectations from the said investigation and possible next steps.”

The so-called “Independent Commission of Inquiry” was announced by the UN OHCHR on July 23rd after that body accepted a draft resolution proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – the same organization which claims to have been the initiator of the ‘Goldstone Report’ and has pressed the UN to introduce a “global blasphemy law”. During the ‘debate’ on whether to establish yet another of its now infamous ‘independent’ inquiries, the UN HRC heard from assorted notable champions of human rights.

Syria said that extremist gangs of settlers had been allowed to abduct a Palestinian child and burn him alive, which had led to further massacres of the innocent, particularly women and children. Israel had continuously shown utter disregard for international law. The international community had to ensure that such crimes did not go unpunished. Syria supported the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people.

Sudan said with 650 dead, thousands wounded and many thousands more displaced, the violations committed by Israel represented a policy of racial and ethnic cleansing, a massacre and genocide at a time when mankind had rejected the racist law of the jungle and moved into a time of human dignity. The Council must recognize that Israel was an occupying power supported by a superpower that could do whatever it wanted.

Iran said the brutal use of force by Israel against the Palestinian people, including in residential areas, hospitals and schools, added to the long list of violations by Israel over the past 60 years, in systematic and flagrant breach of international law. The international community must not repeat previous mistakes; it must take some responsibly for the situation. The Council must also identify the Israeli officials who had perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

According to BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality Tim Harford should have informed listeners that his supposedly objective interviewee represents a body which – even before the conflict has ended – has initiated a politically motivated and already controversial ‘inquiry’ which is part and parcel of the lawfare campaign in which the topic of civilian/combatant casualty ratios is used as a tool. Harford however failed to meet that obligation. Listeners then hear Behnke:

MB: “Men will generally be more exposed. They will move around more. Even when they are in shelters they will be staying outside; not inside the buildings but in the hallways outside. They will go back to check on their homes. They will go out to get food and water whereas children and women will usually be more sheltered and protected.”

Ruth Alexander continues by bringing in another interviewee from an organization which – as we documented here last month – is both one of the primary sources of UN casualty statistics and is also engaged in lawfare against Israel. Like her colleague, Alexander breaches BBC Editorial Guidelines by failing to clarify that fact to listeners.

RA: “Other researchers have told us that men are usually over-represented in counts of civilian casualties in war. It can be about the tasks men undertake, how they socialize, and also that they may be in general more of a target – more easily mistaken for fighters. We’ve been speaking to Mahmoud Abu Rahma from the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza which is a Palestinian group which has researchers on the ground gathering information and statistics on who has been killed. He gave an example of an attack that hit a beach café where people were watching a World Cup match.”

MAR: “Now in a place like this in southern Gaza Strip this café is more or less man only during the evening hours at least. So you have many explain. Our colleague was killed because he was on a motorcycle and Israelis suspected him. So many more men die because of the suspicion, I believe, than women.”

Harford goes on:

“So this idea that combatants are wrongly being counted as adult male civilian casualties – it’s not necessarily true. Or at least that high male civilian death toll isn’t strong evidence that a miscount is happening. There are several groups who are publishing casualty figures and their estimates vary. For example the UN says that about 70% of casualties are civilian. The Israeli Defence Force has been reported as saying civilian casualties are 50% but when we called the IDF they said they weren’t able to confirm that. Well the UN numbers are seen as perhaps the most authoritative but they’re not without their critics. So, how are they gathered? Here’s Matthias Behnke, the man in charge of them.”

MB: “They’re gathered in partnership with a number of organisations working in Gaza. There are Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations that gather data and we compile the information in a data base that we run which we also cross-check and verify with data provided in the public domain, whether that be the Ministry of Health, the IDF, even the armed groups sometimes provide information on websites and other social networks about their dead. On top of that we have a team on the ground also checking and cross-referencing these figures so it’s quite a comprehensive process. We by no means claim that it’s a final, perfect figure. We stress very clearly that these re subject to further verification which we do as we go along.”

TH: “Some people have criticized these figures on the basis that fundamentally the source of the numbers is the Ministry of Health and that’s basically a Palestinian organization – it’s controlled by Hamas. How would you respond to that criticism?”

MB: “I would say as I said before; that the Ministry of Health figures are one of our sources. It’s certainly not the main source. For instance the Ministry of Health does not differentiate in their figures between combatants and civilians. Furthermore, you will maybe have seen at times our figures have actually been a bit higher than the Ministry of Health because we have more sources to rely on.”

TH: “I wanted to press Matthias for further detail about how exactly his statistics are created and how these armed groups figure in the process. But he said he couldn’t give any more information. Perhaps that indicates how politically sensitive these numbers are.”

So that’s it then: listeners are not told exactly how the UN gathers its information or of the political motivations of its primary sources. Neither are they informed of the results of the ongoing work of those who take the trouble to cross-reference Hamas-supplied information with announcements on the websites of terrorist organisations such as the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre. Harford goes on:

“There are several reasons the count of the dead may differ between organisations. Yes, there are of course politics but these groups are trying to make sense of what’s going on in the fog of war.”

Ruth Alexander then introduces a representative from yet another political NGO which is one of the UN’s primary sources, but does not inform listeners either of that fact or of B’Tselem’s political agenda.More or Less chapter

RA: “Hagai Elad from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has researchers on the ground in Gaza and he gave us a picture of how dangerous and how difficult their work is.”

HE: “For instance there would be news about the IDF ordering the evacuation of a certain Palestinian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Ideally we would want our own researcher to go there and independently tell us what is the situation on the ground. But sometimes trying to drive over there could be dangerous and sometimes being in a location itself could be dangerous. So the confusion and the general intensity of the numbers are, I would say, the number one difficulty in analysing the data.”

RA: “And how easy is it for researchers collecting statistics on the ground to tell who was a fighter and who wasn’t? I mean they can ask people but will they always get a straight answer? Here’s Hagai Elad again.”

HE: “Sometimes there’s a desire…it’s more courageous for someone to have died as a combater [sic] for some families. In other cases maybe there’s a desire to show that the percentage of non-combatants that died is high. So yeah – there will be pressures; no question about that.”

For more on B’Tselem’s methodology – see here. Ruth Alexander concludes the item by saying:

“This is why they and the other groups we’ve spoken to say that they do cross-checks. They don’t take what they’re told at face value. But counting the cost of war is always hard and usually controversial.”

So what did listeners to BBC Radio 4 get in this nine minute-long item? Well, they learned for a start that the BBC is ‘squeezy’: it will amend an article written by its head of statistics not because it is inaccurate, but because of pressure from people who, for political reasons, don’t like what it says. It will then alter and add to that article to present a viewpoint more in line with its critics’ agenda and will even produce a nine-minute radio item as further damage control – because this is actually what Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander’s item actually is.

Harford and Alexander have brought listeners interviewees from three organisations which are all connected but without informing audiences of their ties or of their mutual political agenda. Beyond several opaque references to “politics”, they have failed to clarify to audiences  how civilian/combatant casualty ratios are used in the campaign of lawfare against Israel and to generate a specific climate of public opinion and they have failed to make any mention of the related directives issued by Hamas instructing that all casualties should be described as civilian.

Remarkably too they have framed this issue as one concerning a civilian/combatant ratio caused by Israeli actions alone, with no information provided to listeners regarding the very significant fact that the practices of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip such as launching missiles (a significant proportion of which fall short) and storing weapons and explosives in residential areas and booby-trapping houses all cause civilian casualties which of course are then attributed to Israeli actions – as the BBC should know only too well.  

In addition to the fact that this programme will be available on the BBC website for the coming year, it will also be repeated on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, August 24th at 20:00. It would of course be appropriate for its numerous failures to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality to be corrected before that happens by means of the addition of full disclosure of the political agendas of its interviewees and their role in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

The BBC’s funding public might also be interested in some frank disclosure concerning the editorial policies behind the growing list of BBC contributions (including this programme) to that same campaign.  

Contact details for ‘More or Less’ can be found here and the programme’s e-mail address is moreorless@bbc.co.uk . 

 

Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

Readers no doubt recall that on August 8th an article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures” by BBC News’ head of statistics appeared on the BBC News website.

Original version - dated August 8th

Original version – dated August 8th

Since its initial appearance, that article has undergone a series of alterations – including its date stamp – but no footnote has been appended to inform readers of the changes made.

The most significant change to Anthony Reuben’s article is the disappearance of the following line:

“Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”

In the article’s latest version, that sentence was replaced by this one:

“Nonetheless, the proportion of civilian men over 18 killed seems high and it is not immediately obvious why.”

The final version of the article also includes the following passage which did not appear in earlier versions:

“Many factors could have contributed to high fatality numbers among men aged 20 to 29.

Jana Krause, from the war studies department at Kings College London, says: “A potential explanation other than combatant roles could be that families expect them to be the first ones to leave shelters in order to care for hurt relatives, gather information, look after abandoned family homes or arrange food and water.

“Similar to combatant roles, these would be ‘high-risk’ social roles that young men are often expected to fulfil.”

She stressed that more work would be needed on the ground to determine why this group was over-represented in the casualty figures.

Men of this age may also be mistaken for fighters because they fit the age profile.”

Another addition to the article’s latest version was this:

“It should be said that while Hamas said only 50 fighters had been killed in 2008-09, some human rights groups operating in Gaza were reporting considerably higher figures.

The point is that it is hard to say with certainty at this stage how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. This is in no sense the fault of the UN employees collecting the figures – their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.”

The second paragraph above originally read:

“In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. This is in no sense the fault of the UN employees collecting the figures – their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.”

Clearly somebody was unhappy with the wording of certain parts of that article. Notably, the reference to the UN Human Rights Council and the doubt expressed regarding that organisation’s allegations of “indiscriminate” Israeli attacks has been completely erased. In addition, passages have been added and wording changed in a very transparent attempt to create the impression that the over-representation of young men among the casualty figures in the Gaza Strip might not be the result of their being members of terrorist organisations, but because they popped out to the corner shop to buy milk.

The bulk of the changes to this article are dated August 11th. However, the UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness sent a series of consecutive Tweets apparently relating to the same article which are date-stamped August 12th.

Gunness tweet 5 34

Gunness tweet 5 37

Gunness tweet 5 45

Gunness tweet 5 50

Gunness tweet 5 57

Gunness’ final Tweet in that series was this one:

Gunness tweet 6 05

In addition to Anthony Reuben’s article, readers will recall that an additional one also appeared on the BBC News website on the same morning of August 8th under the title “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives“. Notably, whilst the former article no longer appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, the latter one does. Whilst the inaccuracies concerning Israeli casualties in that article have not been corrected, another undocumented stealth change has been made.

Reuben quote second art

In the article’s original version, that quote was different to the format in which it appears now: it originally quoted Reuben’s above reference to the UN Human Right Council’s allegations of “indiscriminate” attacks.

So perhaps the BBC would like to clear up this little mystery for us. Why were those changes made three days after the article was published? Why is there no notification to readers that amendments have been made? Why has all mention of the UN HRC been expunged from this article and why have efforts – albeit very clumsy ones – been made to change the ‘take-away’ message to BBC audiences regarding the over-representation of men of fighting age among the Gaza casualty figures?

And of course one other very obvious question remains: who is pulling the BBC’s strings?   

 

The BBC’s Janus-faced approach to the issue of casualties in Gaza

On August 8th the BBC News website published an article in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of its Middle East page written by the head of statistics for BBC News, Anthony Reuben, and titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures“.Caution needed art

Many readers are probably asking themselves what took so long. After all, the BBC had maintained an across the board policy on all its platforms of blindly quoting casualty figures provided by Hamas and/or assorted political NGOs for a whole month before the appearance of this article and the horse definitely long since bolted before this ‘closing the stable door’ article appeared. However, Reuben’s report does make some valid points.

“Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.” […]

“In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. […] But it does mean that some of the conclusions being drawn from them may be premature.”

Unfortunately, the article also fails to adequately address many other crucial points.

One assumes that a fairly basic requirement of statistical analysis is that figures analysed must be accurate; after all, there is no value in carrying out analysis of faulty data. Reuben writes:

“In the Gaza conflict, most news organisations have been quoting from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which leads a group of humanitarian organisations known as the Protection Cluster.”

He goes on to provide a link to UN OCHA’s report of August 6th but apparently has failed to recognize the fact that – as was reported here on July 13th – those “humanitarian organisations” which provide UN OCHA’s data are in fact NGOs with a political agenda which includes as was reported here on July 18th – a campaign of lawfare against Israel with a vested interest in the inflation of civilian casualty numbers. The very fact that a UN body works with such NGOs and amplifies and enables their agenda should be a matter of interest to discerning journalists. It isn’t, of course.

Neither does Reuben appear to make the connection between the already partisan stance taken by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which – even before the hostilities have ended and the picture has become clear, has repeatedly voiced evidence-free accusations of ‘war crimes’ – and its adoption and amplification of figures promoted by political NGOs.

Reuben cites and links to the recent New York Times report on the topic of casualty figures, but fails to note that article’s inadequacies. Likewise he fails to bring to audience attention relevant issues recently noted here such as summary executions carried out by Hamas, the use of human shields, casualties from shortfall missiles and Hamas’ use of child soldiers. The ITIC has to date analysed some 450 names from the casualty lists provided by the Hamas run Gaza health ministry and their findings can be seen here and here.

Despite its shortcomings, Anthony Reuben’s article is of course a welcome – if very tardy – step in the right direction as far as the BBC is concerned. It would of course be appropriate for such information to be made available to BBC television and radio audiences in addition to website users and for a link to this article to be standard insertion into all written BBC reports citing casualty figures.Casualties 8 8 art

However, also on the morning August 8th, the BBC News website’s Middle East page published another article titled “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives“.

Remarkably, that article is devoted entirely to largely graphical representation of the same UN OCHA statistics which the other article states must be treated with caution and it egregiously erases all mention of the crucial context of attacks by terrorists on Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip.

“Many took refuge in shelters run by the United Nations, including schools. However, these UN schools also came under fire, including in North Gaza, Jabaliya and Rafah.”

The article also includes some glaring inaccuracies with regard to Israeli casualties.

“Meanwhile, two Israeli civilians died in Haifa and near the Erez border crossing into northern Gaza; and a Thai farm worker was killed in Ashkelon.”

Inaccurate loctions Israeli deaths

In fact, the locations of casualties in Israel from missile fire by terrorists in the Gaza Strip are as follows:

Jul 15, 2014 – Dror Hanin, 37, of Beit Aryeh was killed near the Erez Crossing after suffering a direct hit from a mortar fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, while delivering food to soldiers there.

Jul 19, 2014 – Ouda Lafi al-Waj, 32, was killed and three members of his family were injured, when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a small Bedouin settlement near Dimona.

Jul 23, 2014 – Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, from Nan’s Pua district in Thailand was killed by a mortar fired from Gaza while working in a greenhouse in one of the Israeli communities in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

Dimona is nowhere near Haifa and the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council (Hof Ashkelon) is not the city of Ashkelon.

One 70 year-old lady did die in Haifa when she collapsed due to a heart attack whilst trying to reach the safety of an air-raid shelter during a missile attack on July 12th and an American tourist in Jerusalem also died in similar circumstances. With the BBC having heavily promoted the view that rioting in Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria was a reaction to Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, one might perhaps have expected to see the 29 year-old victim of the August 4th terror attack in Jerusalem, Avraham Walles, included on the BBC’s Israeli casualty list.

The BBC has throughout the last month frequently told audiences that Israeli casualty figures are “nothing remotely like the losses on the Palestinian side“. It would therefore not have appeared to be too difficult a task to at least report them accurately, especially as – unlike the situation on the Palestinian side – the precise information is freely available in the public domain.

The importance of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip is not just one of statistical accuracy regarding civilian and combatant deaths; it is relevant because the figures presented are used as ammunition in the lawfare campaign which complements Hamas’ armed campaign and as a means of influencing public opinion worldwide. For that reason it is vital for the BBC to present its audiences not only with numbers but – if they are truly to be able to understand this particular international issue – with factual information on the methods and political motives of the organisations gathering the statistics and insight into the ways those figures have been presented and used to frame a specific view of this conflict – including, of course, by the BBC itself.