BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

Readers no doubt recall that in December 2017 the BBC’s Christmas season programming included a programme commissioned for BBC Two titled ‘Alternativity’.

Contrary to prior claims from the station’s controller Patrick Holland, the programme did not present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of the hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging relating to Israel promoted from both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning ‘Alternativity’ which, because of the word-count restrictions on complaints, focused on just three aspects of the programme.

Over six months later the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has upheld one of the points made by BBC Watch and rejected two additional points.  As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received at those first two stages on a point that was eventually upheld.

The first point we raised in our initial complaint referred to a claim made by the narrator at 12:20 minutes into the programme.

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.” [emphasis added]

We argued that the highlighted claim is untrue. The response we received at stage 1a was as follows:

“Figures on the number of arrests, prosecutions or convictions directly related to the refusal of Palestinians to leave land which has been seized or confiscated by Israel are unavailable, but the claim that “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention).”

We submitted a second complaint – Stage 1b – on January 22nd 2018:

“While admitting that the BBC does not have facts and figures, the response claims that the claim “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is none the less accurate. Unless the BBC can produce concrete examples of people “imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” that claim cannot be considered accurate. The original claim related to land used for construction of the anti-terrorist fence and owners of such land are not only compensated but are entitled to appeal to the Israeli courts.”

Notably, the response we received to that point in our second complaint relied primarily on information sourced from the foreign-funded political NGO B’tselem and the PFLP linked group Addameer.

“The BBC has an obligation towards achieving “due accuracy”.  Our Editorial Guidelines say “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right.  If an issue is controversial, relevant opinions as well as facts may need to be considered.  When necessary, all the relevant facts and information should also be weighed to get at the truth.”  As we are sure you are aware, the Israeli government does not publish the numbers of individuals subject to what it calls “administrative detention”, nor the reasons why those individuals have been detained (as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention). But there is a significant amount of information – what the Guideline is referring to when it uses the terms “relevant opinions”, and “relevant facts and information” – that can be analysed to provide a reasonable estimate.  For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years. 

You note that Palestinians whose land has been appropriated for construction of the barrier are compensated. But that has no bearing on the issue of how the Israeli authorities dealt with protests against the barrier’s construction.  There have been many such protests, with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land. 

The next question is therefore whether “thousands” is a reasonable estimate for the numbers detained. As noted above, there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands.”

Having exhausted stages 1a and 1b of the BBC complaints procedure, we continued with a complaint submitted on February 28th 2018 to the Executive Complaints Unit after having consulted the former IDF Chief Prosecutor in Judea & Samaria, Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch who, inter alia, pointed out that:

“To the best of my knowledge, as someone intimately involved in law enforcement in Judea and Samaria for 20 years, no Palestinian has been imprisoned for “refusing to leave their land”! That claim is simply a fiction. Firstly, most (approximately 95%) Palestinians resident in Judea and Samaria live in the large Palestinian towns and the surrounding villages. With the exception of one, none of these towns are affected by the security barrier. Secondly, “refusing to leave your land” is not an offence, and consequently no one has been arrested or imprisoned on this basis. Thirdly, Palestinians separated from their land by the security barrier are entitled to and are in practice given permits to access their land.” 

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that ““thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention)”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“As regards Administrative detention the BBC intentionally combines two subjects that have no connection whatsoever. According to international law (art. 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) a person can only be placed in administrative detention, if it is necessary for “imperative reasons of security”. No Palestinian has been placed in administrative detention for “refusing to leave their land”. According to precedent set down by Israel’s Supreme Court, a person can only be placed in administrative detention if the state proves that he poses an imminent, severe danger to the security of the public. It should be noted, that while the judicial review process of Administrative detention orders carried out by the military courts far extends the requirements of international law, Palestinians also have the right to challenge their administrative detention before Israel’s supreme court.”

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that “For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years…as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention“, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“There is nothing ‘reliable’ about the report that 100,000 Palestinians have been held in Administrative detention. The occurrence of administrative detention between the years 1967 – 1987 was very limited. In response to the Palestinian terrorism that started in 1987 the use of administrative detention increased. With the onset of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s use of administrative detention waned. Only in 2001, as a response to the wide scale Palestinian terrorist attacks, did Israel revert to the use of administrative detention. Since then, the number of Palestinians arrested in administrative detention has fluctuated considerably. According to publicly available documents, that organisations like B’tselem chose to ignore, in the 20 year period, between 1995 and 2015, 16,041. In that period, in one year (2000) only 17 new administrative detention orders were issued. In another year (2002) 2,578 new orders were issued. In other words, if one were to use the 20 years between 1995 and 2015 as a basis, it would indicate that Israel placed 800 Palestinians a year in administrative detention. Assuming that these figures are automatically reflective of the statistics since 1967, the result would be that 40,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention. Having said that, noting the tremendous fluctuation in the use of administrative detention, any statistic given, that is not based on official numbers for every year, is inherently unreliable.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “…with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”, Lt. Col Hirsch noted that:

“There is no logical connection between these two statements. Palestinians “detained for protests against the barrier… and land annexation” include those who threw stones, molotov cocktails and committed other related offences. The arrest of these people had nothing to do with “refusing to leave their land”, but rather the fact that they committed violent offences. Moreover, considering the fact that demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier were organized by the Palestinian Authority and called for widespread participation, it is also factually inaccurate to assume that all those arrested were necessarily the owners of the land on which they were arrested.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“…there is no logical or statistical basis to use a statistic for the prevalence of law enforcement in one year alone in order to ‘calculate’ a larger figure for multiple years. For example in 2006, a total of 1120 Palestinians were prosecuted for offences categorized as “Disturbances of the peace” (as opposed to Terrorism; Regular criminal offences; and Illegal entry into Israel). That number decreased in 2008 to only 593. This category included, among other offences, stone throwing. Accordingly, this simplistic statistical approach adopted by the BBC ignores the tremendous fluctuation in law enforcement every year.”

Four months after that complaint to the ECU had been submitted, we received a reply which includes the following:

According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.

In part two of this post we will look at some of the interesting responses received from BBC Complaints in relation to the other two points raised in this complaint.

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

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BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

BBC R4’s Bethlehem crime fiction flunks accuracy and impartiality

A BBC Radio 4 series called ‘Foreign Bodies’ is described as follows:

“Mark Lawson examines how mystery novels reflect a country’s history and political system.”

The episode aired on March 4th (and to be rebroadcast on March 10th) is called “The Bethlehem Murders” and – despite the BBC’s style guide stating that “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – it is described in the synopsis as: [emphasis added]

“Crime fiction set in Palestine. Omar Yussef, schoolteacher and amateur sleuth, tries to clear the name of his former student George, falsely accused of murder in their hometown of Bethlehem. […]

In The Bethlehem Murders, Yussef tries to save the life of his former student George Saba, a Christian recently returned to his home town of Bethlehem, who has fallen foul of a Palestinian militia group. In doing so, Yussef uncovers a world of corruption, cynicism and fear which makes him regret the passing of a time when Christians and Muslims lived peacefully side by side.”

That drama – like another one scheduled for broadcast next week – is based on a novel written by a former Time Magazine correspondent from Britain who was based in Jerusalem from 2000 – 2006.

“This is the second novel of the Palestinian Quartet series by Matt Rees to be dramatised for Radio 4 by Jennifer Howarth. Matt Rees draws on his experience as Time Magazine’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief to create detective stories which give us an insight into life in Palestine in the early 2000’s.” [emphasis added]

Given that latter claim, one would expect the backdrop to the drama to be accurate and impartial. BBC editorial guidelines relating to “factually based drama” state:

“When a drama portrays real people or events, it is inevitable that the creative realisation of some dramatic elements such as characterisation, dialogue and atmosphere may be fictional.  However, the portrayal should be based on a substantial and well-sourced body of evidence whenever practicable and we should ensure it does not distort the known facts, including chronology, unduly.”

Editorial guidelines on impartiality in Drama, Entertainment and Culture state: 

“A drama where a view of ‘controversial subjects’ is central to its purpose, must be clearly signposted to our audience.  Its excellence and insights must justify the platform offered.  It may be appropriate to offer alternative views in other connected and signposted output.”

‘The Bethlehem Murders’ opens with a monologue by the main character and narrator.

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Omar Yussef and I’m a teacher in the city of Bethlehem in Palestine. My family, my tribe, have been here nearly 60 years – ever since we were kicked out of our homelands at the point of a gun.” [emphasis added]

The character goes on to explain that “this story opens in 2001”.

“For nearly a year now we’ve been at war with Israel. We call it the second Intifada: the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.”

Audiences are not told that by the time the second Intifada began, Bethlehem had been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control for almost five years.

The main character goes on to introduce a secondary character, describing him as living in “Beit Jala – a Palestinian Christian town just south of Bethlehem”.

Beit Jala is of course located to the north of Bethlehem.

The drama includes numerous additional issues of accuracy, impartiality and omission. While central figures in the story belong to what are described as “the Martyrs Brigades”, audiences are not informed that that terror group belongs to the ruling political party Fatah. Terrorists are repeatedly portrayed as “freedom fighters” while audiences are told that Israel “bulldozes the houses” of Palestinians who “won’t collaborate”. Israeli forces entering Bethlehem after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem are portrayed as “here to take revenge”.

Even the image chosen to illustrate the drama’s webpage lacks accuracy. A person presumably intended to represent the main character is shown against the background of a section of the anti-terrorist fence. The fence is not even mentioned in the story itself and the obvious explanation for that is that the drama is set in 2001 and construction of the fence did not commence until July 2003, when the first section was built many miles to the north of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, the BBC selected that anachronistic image to illustrate this programme.

Obviously the BBC’s claim that this radio drama gives audiences “an insight into life in Palestine in the early 2000’s” is unfortunately diminished by such accuracy and impartiality failures.

Related Articles:

Stone-Throwing Chic at Time Magazine   (CAMERA)

Time Magazine’s One-Sided Feature on Palestinians (CAMERA)

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis

 

BBC R4 airs partisan portrayal of Jenin masked as ‘entertainment’

h/t BF

BBC Radio 4’s entertainment programme ‘Loose Ends’ aired an edition on February 3rd which included a conversation (from 21:05 here) with a guest described by co-presenter Nikki Bedi as “comedian and activist Mark Thomas”.

The purpose of the item was obviously to promote BBC regular Mark Thomas’ latest project which, like some of his previous ones, relates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bedi: “But the indefatigable Mark is at it again – raising social and political issues in a funny and thought-provoking piece of theatre. It’s called ‘Showtime from the Front Line’ and let’s talk about the genesis for the show, Mark, because you spent a month at the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied territories – that’s north of the West Bank – and you were trying to set up a comedy club there.”

Thomas began by using the term Palestine to describe a location the BBC’s style guide says should not be described as such and describing a structure that is over 95% fence as a “wall”.

Thomas: “Well what happened was I went to Palestine in 2009 and I walked the length of the Israeli wall in the West Bank. And one of the first places I went to was Jenin which is – as you say – it’s in the north, it’s a rural area, it’s quite poor compared to the rest of the West Bank. And it’s very conservative but it’s very fierce and it’s very proud of its rebelliousness.”

Of course the majority of Radio 4 listeners would not be able to fill in the blanks left by Thomas’ euphemisms and so they would not understand that by “very conservative” he presumably means dominated by Islamist factions such as Hamas. Neither would they be likely to know that “fierce” and “rebelliousness” apparently refer to Jenin’s long history as a place from which countless terror attacks against civilians have been launched, including the Matza Restaurant attack, the 823 bus bombing, the Megiddo junction attack and the Maxim Restaurant attack. Notably, the hundreds of people murdered and wounded in those attacks and many others did not get even a cursory mention in this item.

Thomas went on to recount his 2009 visit to the theatre in Jenin and his meeting with the person who ran it at the time – Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Thomas: “…it’s very volatile, the relationship of the theatre with the camp because there’s all sorts of politics that go on there.”

Interestingly, he refrained from informing Radio 4 listeners that Mer-Khamis was later murdered by a Palestinian.

Nikki Bedi then asked Thomas to describe the Jenin refugee camp.

Bedi: “When you talk about a camp, by the way, can you just give us a picture because I think a lot of people will assume that they’re…they’re living in, you know, structures that could be blown away. And how large…

Thomas [interrupts] “Well they can be blown away and they were in 2002 when the Israeli army came in. But they are buildings. Basically people fled from Haifa and they came to Jenin and they set up there and it’s a really…it’s thousands and thousands of people living in this incredibly dense sort of urban…it’s incredible to be there. It’s just…it’s not like any place I’ve ever been to before.”

Thomas is of course referring in that highlighted sentence to Operation Defensive Shield which was launched in late March 2002 following a series of terror attacks. During that operation the IDF acted in the Jenin refugee camp due to it being a prime base for terrorism. Thomas of course did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that terrorists had booby-trapped part of the camp and so the buildings that were “blown away” (less than 10% of the total) were just as likely to have been damaged by Palestinian actions as by Israeli ones.

After talking about the comedy course he ran in Jenin, Thomas turned to the topic of his two fellow actors in the current show.

Thomas: “And what they have to say is hugely complex. We’re talking about people who lived through the second Intifada, who’ve had their homes destroyed, you know…”

The programme’s other presenter, Clive Anderson, then asked:

Anderson: “Are you worried about going into such a complex area? I mean even the terminology of what the country is called…whether it’s, you know, West Bank…”

Thomas [interrupts] “You called it a country, Clive, that’s…that’s a letter of complaint.”

Anderson: “Well exactly. Country, West Bank, whether it’s occupied territory, Palestinians – they’re all areas where somebody’s going ‘oh wait a minute: that’s slightly the wrong terminology’.”

Thomas: “I look at it very, very simply that people confuse Israel and Palestine as a conflict and it’s not a conflict. It’s a military occupation. They’re two very different things. So it’s quite clear for me.”

With no effort made to inform audiences of the history of the area concerned – including its occupation and unrecognised annexation by Jordan, the somewhat obsequious conversation continued:

Bedi: “But you then introduce really cleverly – with great humour, wit, but also in an edifying way – parts of these guys’ history that we wouldn’t know. I mean you make us think of refugees in a different way. What do you want to say?”

Thomas: “What I want to do is confound people’s ideas of what refugees are and to make people challenge their own ideas about how their relationship is with places like Palestine, with people who are refugees…”

While listeners would not of course expect to hear anything other than context-free and partisan messaging from veteran political activist Mark Thomas, they would have expected the two BBC presenters to provide the missing information and context in order to mitigate the severely warped view fed to listeners under the guise of ‘entertainment’.

However, audiences heard nothing of the Jenin refugee camp’s role as a major hub for terror, nothing of the fact that it was established in 1953 while Jordan occupied the area or how that occupation came about and nothing of the fact that the people portrayed as ‘refugees’ have actually been living under Palestinian Authority rule since 1996.

We do however see in this item the continuation of a recent trend in BBC content in which guidance appearing the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” is ignored:

“…in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

That trend has been apparent on at least three previous occasions (see here, here, and here) since late December and apparently BBC presenters such as Clive Anderson are not sufficiently aware of – or attentive to – the BBC’s own guidelines concerning the use of appropriate terminology in order to adhere to supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

h/t RB

As we saw in part one of this post the BBC’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem presented a uniform portrayal of diminished numbers of visitors to the city that was attributed exclusively to “increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

BBC World Service radio listeners were not spared politicised messaging either. The December 24th edition of ‘The Newsroom’ opened with an item about Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (from 00:06 here) in which listeners were told by presenter Jackie Leonard that the Patriarch of Jerusalem “reached Bethlehem after being driven through a checkpoint at the Israeli separation barrier”. Leonard went on:

Leonard: “Marwan Kattan runs the five-star Jacir Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. He says bookings have plummeted after the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked violence in the occupied West Bank.”

Kattan: “Every year we are fully booked in Christmas and the New Year. This year we have it; before it was over-booking but when the uprising started, everything cancelled. What he said; uprising started; we lose everything.”

Reporting from Bethlehem, the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman then told listeners that:

Bateman: “…there is of course the backdrop of growing hostility and, you know, on a near daily basis now ever since Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem we’ve had clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, not least here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem and also on the Gaza border and that diplomatic stand-off between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”

However, Jackie Leonard then went on to allude to information concerning tourism previously undisclosed to BBC audiences and the conversation began to go somewhat off message.

Leonard: “Now we’ve heard from the Israeli tourism ministry saying that they expect to see the number of Christian pilgrims increase. What are you seeing with tourist numbers?”

Bateman: “Well certainly tourism, the tourist economy in Bethlehem has taken a severe dent over the last ten days or so. I was talking to a hotelier last night who said that many hotels had really been emptied after the Trump announcement. Now a lot of that was the domestic tourists – the Palestinian Christians both from the West Bank and also Palestinians from inside Israel who traditionally come here often in the week before Christmas and many of these simply cancelled and didn’t come.

As for international tourists, well many have been here today. I mean I was talking to some Irish pilgrims from Dublin a little earlier on. Having said that, some of the religious leaders have said that groups have been cancelling and I think there is no doubt that the tourism economy in Bethlehem has suffered. But as you say, I mean, overall, more broadly, the Israelis have made the point that, you know, the number of Christian pilgrims coming to the holy land overall has risen by a significant amount when you compare it to the years before.”

Leonard then asked Bateman about security at the Christmas events in Bethlehem and his answer included the following:

Bateman: “In terms of the clashes that have taken place, well, they haven’t been to the scale that many had feared or predicted after Donald Trump’s announcement but they have taken place on a regular basis. They do tend to be very localised and in areas that are quite predictable so, you know, tourists can avoid, really, with a fair amount of ease. But I think what it has affected, of course, is the mood.”

As we see, Tom Bateman knows that the response to calls for violence instigated and encouraged by Palestinian bodies has been limited and that tourists can in fact easily avoid problematic locations. He did not, however, bother to inform BBC audiences of an additional and relevant part of the picture: the fact that Palestinian officials ordered limitations on the Christmas festivities.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

Although that deliberate cancelling of festivities (along with a similar – but failed – attempt by the mayor of Nazareth) could obviously account for some cancellations by tourists, the BBC is clearly not interested in letting its audiences know that just as Palestinian officials jeopardised Christmas tourism by calling for violence and bloodshed in response to the US announcement concerning Jerusalem, they have also given tourists much less of a reason to visit Bethlehem by cancelling parts of the festivities.

Just as the BBC never portrays Palestinians as having agency or being responsible for the violence they choose to instigate, the corporation’s narrative does not include own goal political posturing by Palestinian leaders which harms the tourist industry upon which many Bethlehem residents rely.

Instead, as we see in these BBC Christmas reports from Bethlehem, the narrative the corporation has chosen to promote once again lays the blame at the door of any party other than the Palestinians themselves and this year the BBC has chosen to uniformly promote simplistic and politically motivated messaging blaming the US president for the results of choices made by Palestinian leaders.  

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

As documented here earlier this month, the BBC began telling its audiences that the US president had ruined Christmas for Palestinians just hours after his announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made on December 6th.

At the same time, multiple BBC platforms promoted copious numbers of reports and news bulletins claiming that the US statement would spark violent reactions that were portrayed as being inexorable and irresistible. When reporting on rioting and other acts of violence, including missile fire at civilian communities in Israel, the BBC made sure that audiences were told that ‘reason’ for the violence was Donald Trump’s announcement – rather than the choices made by the people who chose to engage in such acts of violence. 

Two and a half weeks later, we see that the BBC is still perpetuating those themes in its Christmas reporting from Bethlehem.

Listeners to the December 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ heard a report from the Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 14:47 here) that was introduced by presenter Edward Stourton with a dollop of political messaging.

Stourton: “Later this morning the head of the Latin Catholic church in Jerusalem will, in accordance with tradition, set off on a journey to Bethlehem where he’ll celebrate midnight mass tonight. Bur these days the route means he’ll have to go through Israel’s West Bank separation barrier: a reminder that even at Christmas the politics of the place aren’t far away.”

Yolande Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Santa hat sellers are out in force and all around me there’s a riot of multi-coloured lights. But something is missing: the tourists. Many have cancelled their planned visits here in just the past few weeks because of growing unrest. There have been days of clashes by an Israeli military watchtower built into the high wall at the edge of Bethlehem: part of Israel’s separation barrier. Young Palestinians throw stones and Israeli soldiers fire tear gas. Similar scenes have unfolded at other flashpoints across the West Bank.

While Israel welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, saying this reflected Jewish history and the modern reality, Palestinians are furious. They want occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of their promised future state and say the US has disqualified itself as a mediator for peace talks.

[sound of church bells] Back by the Nativity Church I’ve been talking to local Christians. One woman spoke of her frustration after her son and his family – who live overseas – decided at the last minute not to come home for Christmas, fearing trouble. And a hotelier complained that Bethlehem got all dressed up for Christmas and all of a sudden the streets are empty.”

In a filmed report that appeared on the BBC News website on December 24th under the title “Bethlehem celebrates Christmas amid heightened tensions” Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman told audiences:

Bateman: “Well the crowds have turned out in their hundreds for the day but the numbers are much lighter than in previous years. And that’s because tourism has taken a severe dent here because of fears over clashes that have taken place in the last few weeks in the occupied West Bank ever since Donald Trump announced that the US officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The synopsis to another filmed report – “Bethlehem Christmas: Church of the Nativity hosts pilgrims” – posted in the early hours of December 25th tells BBC audiences that:

“Fewer people than usual were in the West Bank town because of increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Interestingly, BBC Christmas reporting from Bethlehem has in previous years also included comment on the number of tourists visiting the town. BBC audiences have repeatedly been told sad tales of dwindling crowds that have been attributed to a variety of (inevitably Israel related) factors.

For example, in 2012 BBC audiences heard that:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

“And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.”

“Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

In 2015 BBC audiences were told of “dampened” celebrations that were attributed to a wave of Palestinian terrorism that was portrayed by the BBC in euphemistic language – with no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to limit celebrations.

“Celebrations are taking place in the West Bank town where it is believed that Jesus was born. However this year they are overshadowed by the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence that shows no signs of abating. […] Like many Palestinian Christians, Mary thinks the holiday spirit is dampened this year and that festivities will be relatively low-key.”

And:

“Even as visitor numbers continue to dwindle Christmas upon Christmas, this year the reason is pretty clear: the tensions that have washed over Israel and the occupied territories show no sign of abating.”

However this year it’s not ‘the occupation’, ‘the wall’ or ambiguous ‘tensions’ that have caused allegedly low numbers of visitors to Bethlehem at Christmas: this year the BBC has decided that the blame should be laid at the door of Donald Trump.  

However, one BBC programme went a little off message– as we will see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

BBC’s Hardtalk presenter paints inaccurate portraits

The guest on the December 19th edition of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett. The show was repeated on the same television channel the following day (available here to UK-based readers and here with Hebrew subtitles) and a clip from that interview was also promoted on the BBC News website. In addition, an audio version (available here) was aired on BBC World Service radio on December 20th.

“Israel’s prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu took great satisfaction from President Trump’s decision to ignore longstanding international convention and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But that diplomatic boost can’t disguise Mr Netanyahu’s vulnerability at home. He’s the target of a long running police anti-corruption investigation and may soon face charges. Stephen Sackur speaks to Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett who has declared he wants to be Israel’s next Prime Minister. Is a changing of the guard in the offing?”

In the first third or so of the interview presenter Stephen Sackur focused on a topic one cannot imagine would have been of particular interest to most audience members: domestic Israeli politics.

A theme promoted throughout much of the interview was – predictably – the December 6th US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Sackur noting “strong” objection to that move and an “international consensus” against the recognition. After Bennett had pointed out that Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel does not depend on international approval, Sackur interjected (11:47 in the audio version). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Sackur: “Yeah, listen: I’m not…I’m not in the business of disputing that your Knesset’s in Jerusalem, your prime minister’s office is in Jerusalem, many of your ministerial offices are in Jerusalem. Of course that is a fact. What is also a fact is that the international community – bar Donald Trump, insofar as we take this decision seriously – the international community still sees that the whole issue of Jerusalem’s future and sovereignty to be discussed as part of a peace settlement between you and the Palestinians.” 

Bennett: “I get it but they’re wrong. And no settlement – no peace settlement – can be predicated on dividing up Jerusalem. There will never be peace based on a divided Jerusalem. […] We cannot divide Jerusalem and expect good things to happen. So Jerusalem will remain unified under Israeli sovereignty forever. That’s a fact.”

Sackur then began to paint a noteworthy portrait of Jerusalem. [emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “Jerusalem isn’t unified and when you said recently, you know, in…in saluting the Trump decision you said ‘for the past 25 years we’ve been failing peace precisely because it’s been predicated on putting fences in the heart of Jerusalem and now that’s not going to happen and we can do peace’, I mean you’re ignoring…you’re ignoring the reality that actually there is a wall, a fence – call it what you will – that runs through Jerusalem built by your government because you know de facto Jerusalem is still divided and a quarter of a million Arabs live in occupied East Jerusalem and that they still insist East Jerusalem will one day be their eternal capital.”

Sackur is apparently able to ignore the irony of the fact that while on the one hand he rebukes Bennett (and Trump) for calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital, invoking an ‘international consensus’ according to which the city’s status will only be determined through negotiations, on the other hand he has no problem advocating for the same claim from the other side of the conflict. Bennett responded:

Bennett: “Well you’ve got your facts wrong. I happen to work in Jerusalem every day and I drive through the Old City. There’s no wall between the west and east Jerusalem. There is no west and east Jerusalem. There is just Jerusalem. I can get out of this studio, get in a car and drive directly to the Western Wall or Temple Mount. There’s no…”

Sackur [interrupts]: “Well hang on a minute. I didn’t couch my question in terms of the Old City. You know as well as I do there are many points in Jerusalem where you can go up to a great big wall. On one side is the Jewish residential area. On the other side is the Arab residential area. And if you don’t call it a wall, you can call it a fence. Call it what you like but Jerusalem still has a divide.”

Obviously BBC audiences would understand from Sackur’s portrayal of Jerusalem that “a great big wall” separates Arab and Jewish areas in Jerusalem. As the map below – produced by the BBC’s go-to NGO B’tselem – shows and as Naftali Bennett later clarified, that is not the case. The anti-terrorist fence (and notably Sackur displayed no interest in explaining to his viewers and listeners why it had to be built) which is marked in red on the map actually runs more or less along the city’s municipal boundary – marked in yellow. On the same side of the fence as Jewish neighbourhoods are Arab neighbourhoods such as Sur Baher, Abu Tur, Silwan, Issawiya and Jabel Mukaber.

Later on in the programme (from 19:50 in the audio version) Sackur painted another distorted portrait intended to influence audience perceptions.

Sackur: “Mr Bennett […] I just wonder whether you might be misreading Europe, Mr Bennett, because I see one of your ministerial colleagues, the intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, said the other day [sic] that Israel is prepared to ‘bomb Lebanon into the stone age’ in its pursuit of Hizballah. Do you really think that sort of language wins you friends in Europe?”

Despite Sackur’s inaccurate claim, Katz’s comments were made at the beginning of November rather than “the other day” and – undisclosed by Sackur to BBC audiences – they came in response to threats from Hizballah’s leader.  

“Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz warned Tuesday that Israel was prepared to completely eviscerate Lebanon in response to any cross-border missile attack by Hezbollah.

Katz (Likud) was responding to a fiery speech by the Shiite group’s head Hassan Nasrallah earlier in the day in which the extremist leader claimed that his organization’s rockets can hit anywhere in Israel and threatened to target the country’s sea ports and main airport in the next conflict.”

Although Bennett pointed out that Katz’s words related to a scenario in which Hizballah once again attacked Israel with missiles, Sackur condescendingly continued to lecture his interviewee while painting his portrait of Israeli politicians as rash extremists and downplaying the threat from the Lebanese terror organisation.

Sackur: “So as a senior member in the government, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, a man who wants to be the next prime minister of Israel, you’re suggesting to me that you, as a leading Israeli voice, believe that it would be – what? – sensible, wise, responsible for Israel to consider bombing Lebanon to the stone age in response to what you see as Hizballah’s threat coming from Lebanon?”

Unfortunately for the BBC’s funding public, ‘Hardtalk’ interviews with Israeli public figures invariably fail to make the most of the opportunity to allow viewers to hear an Israeli point of view. Instead – as we see once again in this latest example – Stephen Sackur is usually much more interested in lecturing his guests, promoting his own patronising opinions, his political agenda and his selective and inaccurate caricatures of issues BBC audiences rarely get to see from a perspective that does not comply with the BBC’s selected narrative.

Related Articles:

Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host ‘you rewrite the history’ – part one

Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host: ‘you rewrite the history’ – part two

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

BBC Hardtalk for Israel, Softchat for Palestinians

 

 

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, much of the first half of the BBC Two commissioned ‘documentary’ titled ‘Alternativity’ which was aired on December 17th presented audiences with an overwhelmingly one-sided portrayal of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence.

The only explanation of why the structure had to be constructed came nearly a quarter of the way into the programme in the grand total of twenty-seven words from Danny Boyle. Viewers saw no images of any of the dozens of suicide bombings which brought about public demand for that counter-terrorism measure and did not hear from even one Israeli whose life was affected by Palestinian terrorism.

That first part of the programme also focused on the Bethlehem area, although interestingly – given the film’s declared subject matter – the problems facing Christians in that city and the sharp decline in their numbers since the PA took control of Bethlehem were not among the topics addressed. At 22:07 narrator Olivia Colman set the scene as Danny Boyle was taken to another location.

Colman: “Bethlehem has the largest Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories. But the nativity isn’t just a Christian story and Danny’s nativity needs to be relevant to all so he’s visiting the mainly Muslim city of Hebron. Peace talks in the mid ’90s carved the West Bank up into areas A, B and C under Palestinian, combined and Israeli control respectively. But Hebron is especially contested with Jewish settlers occupying specific streets and sometimes specific houses. Here, the heavily defended settlers come and go as they please. But Danny’s guides – Fadi, a Christian and Saeed, a Muslim – are both Palestinians. And neither of them are allowed into the parts of Hebron claimed by the settlers.”

Obviously no viewer lacking background knowledge on Hebron (i.e. the majority) would understand from that ‘explanation’ that the agreement concerning that city signed by Israel and the Palestinians almost twenty-one years ago divided it into two parts: H1 – under Palestinian control – and the smaller H2 – under Israeli control. Not only does this programme fail to explain that the presence of Jews in Hebron is the result of that agreement, but the history of Jews in Hebron – including the fateful 1929 pogrom by Arabs – is completely erased.

At 23:15 viewers see Boyle on a street in H2 on what we later learn is Shabbat – Saturday.

Boyle: “It’s like a ghost town, isn’t it? It’s like a Western, isn’t it? It’s like a showdown or something. It’s crazy to think like that but it makes you feel like that, doesn’t it?”

Having later come across a family out walking, Boyle – clearly no firearms expert – tells viewers:

Boyle: “So that’s extraordinary to see a man out walking peacefully on the Sabbath with his wife and his child in a buggy and he’s got a AK47 [sic] or whatever the machine gun [sic] is…it’s a machine gun [sic]. So his statement that he’s making about what he expects to find, to protect his family – which is a natural instinct – is terrifying really.”

Boyle does not however bother to give viewers any idea of the scale of terror attacks in that area either in the past or in recent months. Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. Additional examples of graffiti on the same street can be seen in the photographs here on the right. 

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.

Again failing to provide crucial context, the narrator subsequently tells viewers that: “Not all of Hebron has been settled”.

Later on in the film viewers see footage of preparations for the Balfour Declaration centenary ‘street party’ at the Walled Off hotel that was generously covered by the BBC at the time. That segment includes the following statement from the hotel manager:

Salsaa: “This [the Balfour Declaration] is the origin of the modern conflict in the Middle East. Millions became refugees, thousands died and hundreds of thousands suffered because of this.”

At 33:11 the narrator tells viewers that:

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

That claim is of course inaccurate and misleading: there are no restrictions whatsoever on the roads leading to the vast majority of communities in Judea and Samaria. She goes on:

Colman: “There are virtually no Jewish people in Bethlehem and Israeli citizens are warned that entering any part of the city is dangerous.”

Boyle then further displays the level of his ‘regional expertise’, telling BBC Two viewers (33:31) that Israelis and Palestinians are “the same nation”.

Boyle: “It’s very difficult, clearly. Certainly I think that one of Banksy’s purposes is to try and illuminate that actually, although this is the same nation, the chances to interact are reduced so enormously by this wall and everything that comes with this wall. So that kind of division means that it’s very, very difficult to get Israelis to come and visit openly and certainly obviously to speak on camera about it. So that’s a big, big problem that we have.”

Needless to say, that problem was not overcome: viewers of this hour-long programme did not hear even one Israeli view.

In a segment of the film about the children participating in the nativity play (in which it is implied that parents might not want their children to take part because of the ‘risk’ of them being shot by the IDF), viewers see a seven year-old child presented only as Sofia and are told that “her father got arrested two days ago”. The narrator then informs BBC audiences (43:07) that all of Israel is “occupied” land and reinforces the previously promoted inaccurate notion that ‘millions’ of Palestinians became refugees in 1948.

Colman: “Over a million Palestinians live in camps which they were settled in when their lands were occupied after 1948. It’s been alleged that Sofia’s father leads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Dheisheh camp where her family lives.”

Viewers are not informed that the PFLP is a terrorist organisation and although Sofia’s mother is seen giving her tearful account of her husband’s arrest and the story is promoted again later in the film, the mother is not named and so the story remains unverifiable.

It is blatantly obvious that the aim of this BBC commissioned film was not – as BBC Two’s controller claimed in the PR – to present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story. Rather, the seasonally relevant topic of Christmas was merely a hook upon which to hang an hour of serially inaccurate and politically biased amplification of an anti-Israel narrative, made all the more attractive to British audiences by the inclusion of ‘national treasure’ names such as Banksy, Olivia Colman and Danny Boyle.

The methodology behind this film can in fact be summed up by one of its scenes (from 34:15) in which an unnamed woman with a British accent who is helping organise Banksy’s Balfour Declaration ‘street party’ agitprop tells the camera that:

“The global news outlets will pick this up a) because it’s Banksy b) because it’s Palestine. People love stunts. They love big, brash stunts. They love it!”

And indeed a big, brash star-studded stunt is exactly what the BBC’s funding public paid for in this BBC collaboration with the agitprop of an anonymous political activist. What they did not get, however, was anything resembling an accurate and impartial programme that would contribute to their understanding of the complex topics that are the components of this story – including that of the issues facing Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule.

Related Articles:

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

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Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

As may have been expected, the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ that was aired on December 17th did not – as claimed by the station’s controller Patrick Holland – present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of that hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging promoted primarily by both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

The real ‘star’ of this exercise in the manipulation of Christmas was however the anti-terrorist fence – and although well over 90% of that structure is built of wire mesh, viewers were never informed of that fact and only saw images of the sections constructed from concrete.

The film opens with a description of its main location – Bethlehem – which has of course been under complete Palestinian Authority control for the last 22 years: a fact that was erased from the entire programme. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Colman: “This is Bethlehem: world capital of the international Jesus Christ birthday business. This year Bethlehem became home to a unique hotel. Billed as having the worst view in the world, Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel sits under the gaze of an Israeli watchtower in the occupied Palestinian territories. The place where Christmas was invented now feels like a city under siege and in need of some serious festive cheer. This is the story of what happened when Banksy asked a world-famous movie director to come all the way to the little town of Bethlehem to put on a nativity play like no other in what was once the most Christmassy place on earth.”

A siege is defined as “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”. Bethlehem of course does not fit that definition. As we see, the BBC commissioned programme uses the term “occupied Palestinian territories” to describe an area that has been under complete PA control for over two decades.

Later on (04:56) that term is also used to describe areas that – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the status of which is to be determined through negotiation and are therefore not at this time “Palestinian”.

Colman: “There are no international airports in the West Bank. Tourists fly to Tel Aviv in Israel. From there, Bethlehem is only an hour away by car. But the journey means crossing through a 400 mile long heavily fortified separation barrier into the occupied Palestinian territories. Inside this enclosed region movement is restricted. And most Palestinians are not allowed to leave without permits. It’s a small step for Danny but a huge leap into a very different reality.”

The messaging is reinforced by Boyle’s own comments.

Boyle: “And there’s the wall. Wow! Yeah. Look at that.” […] “Wow! Look at the wall. The wall’s extraordinary, isn’t it? You’ve no idea how…they’re like kind of…it’s like nails driven into the ground. It’s like…you just imagine something different really. It’s so crude and brutal.”

From 11:46 viewers hear the narrator introduce another scene.

Colman: “Fadi – a local guide – is taking Danny to experience Bethlehem’s version of the rush hour at 5 a.m. when thousands of labourers queue to get to work on the other side in Israel.”

She subsequently (12:20) promotes several highly partisan and questionable claims:

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.”

Viewers then hear an unverifiable account from a person identified as Amin Jebrein but are not told that gates in the anti-terrorist fence allow farmers access to their crops, that land owners receive compensation for any land used for the fence’s construction or that they have the legal right of appeal.

Jebrein: “They came to my land and they put a fence before my land and they take all my land inside the wall. They take me to the prison and I stay for one year because I am terrorist because I fight them, you know. And I lost my land, lost my life, lost my study. But I hope next year when you come that this will have gone>”

Boyle: “No wall”.

Jeberin: “Inshallah.”

Boyle: “Inshallah.”

Boyle goes on:

Boyle: “You can see the guys going to work. You know, it’s almost like their heads were down so they didn’t see the indignity they were having to go through to pass through this thing.”

Viewers then see Boyle compare the anti-terrorist fence to the Berlin Wall, claiming that it is “double the height” and “so tall compared to that” but with no mention made of the fact that the height of the concrete sections is specifically intended to thwart sniper attacks.

Only nearly a quarter of a way into this programme (at 14:24) and long after the scene has already been amply set, do viewers hear the first – and last – brief mention of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

Boyle: “Obviously reading history and the background, obviously the wall was a response to suicide bombings and shocking acts of terror, really, where innocent people were blown up and a nation clearly reacts in an incredibly aggressive and dominant way to a force that they feel threatens them. So I can understand – although I personally don’t…it’s not a solution that I think works ultimately – nor as I think it is a solution that is fair for any nation to impose upon itself or a community within itself. I find that very, very, very difficult.”

Referring to the part of the nativity story in which Joseph has to go to Bethlehem for a census, Boyle then compares that journey to those of the Palestinian workers just featured, making no mention of Joseph’s religion and ethnicity or the fact that Bethlehem was a Jewish town at the time.

At 17:24 viewers hear an inaccurate – and contradictory – statement:

Colman: “The Church of the Nativity [in Bethlehem] might be cut off from the world by walls and watchtowers but it still gets over a million tourists a year.”

Later on (20:45) another entirely unsupported and evidence free claim is made:

Colman: “The olive tree is hugely important to Palestinian culture but thousands of families have seen their olive groves enclosed by the wall and uprooted.”

The programme’s focus then turns to another location and that will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

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Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

h/t LV, BF

Over the years we have often seen BBC produced content in which the Christmas season was exploited for the promotion of a chosen politicised narrative and this year, it transpires, will be no exception.

On December 17th at 21:00 BBC Two will screen an hour-long programme titled “Alternativity” which combines the Christmas theme with a much promoted BBC favourite – Banksy.

“This exciting arts documentary film offers an alternative take on the nativity story. The unique, hour-long film follows the production of a contemporary one-off performance of the nativity play quite unlike any other.”

The BBC News website informs us that:

“Director Danny Boyle has teamed up with Banksy to stage an alternative nativity play at the artist’s Bethlehem hotel.

The Alternativity was staged in the car park of the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in the occupied West Bank. The process was filmed for a BBC Two documentary. […]

BBC Two controller Patrick Holland said the programme would show “a challenging and provocative” version of the story. […]

Patrick Holland said: “It is brilliant for BBC Two to be working with Danny Boyle, Banksy and the creative team who together are making this alternative nativity.

“It promises to be a challenging and provocative exploration of a story that speaks to young and old alike.””

Readers are also told that:

“Banksy created a promotional image for the documentary showing a drone watching over the nativity scene.

He also put up two new artworks ahead of the event. One said “Peace on Earth” next to a twinkling star, which doubled as an asterisk. Below was the same asterisk and the words “Terms and conditions apply”.

The other artwork was painted on the wall and showed two cherubic angels trying to prise two panels apart with a crowbar.”

The article employs a formula frequently evident in BBC content: the anti-terrorist fence – constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers – is described as “controversial”, but no mention whatsoever is made of the terrorism that caused it to be built.

“The anonymous street artist opened The Walled Off Hotel in March, boasting the “worst view in the world” – next to the controversial barrier Israel has built in and around the West Bank.”

While in the past we have witnessed the BBC repeatedly providing uncritical PR for Banksy’s anti-Israel agitprop, we now see that the corporation has elected to take an active role in the promotion of such politically motivated propaganda by using licence fee funding to commission this ‘documentary’.  

Can readers recall any other examples of public funds being used by the ‘impartial’ BBC to amplify a political activist’s delegitimisation of a particular country?

Related Articles:

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