BBC News touts redundant analogy in report on Einstein document

Earlier this week a Jerusalem auction house sold a number of documents written by Albert Einstein.

“A letter penned by legendary physicist Albert Einstein discussing one of his groundbreaking theories sold in Jerusalem Tuesday for over $100,000 as part of trove of documents that went under the hammer.

The handwritten missive, sent in 1928 by Einstein from Berlin to a mathematician about the formalization of the “Third Stage of the Theory of Relativity,” was snapped up by an anonymous buyer for $103,700 (83,600 euros).”

The BBC News website published an article about that auction on its Europe and Middle East pages but for some reason chose to focus on one of the other documents. Readers of the BBC’s March 6th report “Albert Einstein note to young female scientist sells at auction” were told that:

“A note written by Albert Einstein in 1921 to an Italian scientist who had refused to meet him has sold for $6,100 (£4,300) at an auction in Jerusalem.

The Nobel-winning scientist, then 42, wrote to Elisabetta Piccini, a 22-year-old chemistry student.

Ms Piccini lived one floor above his sister, Maja, in Florence.

“Einstein was very interested in meeting her. [But] Ms Piccini was too shy to meet with such a famous person” Winner’s auction house said.

In the letter written in his native German, Einstein uses an idiom signalling affection.

“To the scientific researcher, at whose feet I slept and sat for two full days, as a friendly souvenir,” the note to Ms Piccini said.”

The auction house provides further background information which the BBC chose not to include in its report.

“In October 1921, Albert Einstein visited his sister, Maja, for a few days in Florence, Italy. He was already a prominent scientist at the time, worthy of receiving the Nobel Prize the following year. During his visit, he learned that one flight up from his sister’s apartment lived a young chemistry student, Elisabetta Piccini [March 19, 1899- June 18, 1990].

Elisabetta, daughter of famed Italian chemist, Augusto Firenze [1854-1905], was a researcher of physical chemistry at the University of Florence together with Prof. Luigi Mazza [1898-1978]. The next year they published a joint article in the framework of Italian national academics regarding the conductivity of nitrous sulfur. 

It’s very possible that the name of this young talented researcher was known within the physical chemistry community of researchers and Albert Einstein was very interested in meeting her. However, Elisabetta was introverted and too shy to meet with such a famous person. She refused to meet him.”

The BBC did, however choose to recycle a decidedly ridiculous statement appearing in an AP report from which this article is apparently taken.

“”You know nowadays the ‘Me Too’ campaign? Probably Einstein would have been in this campaign by leaving such a note to this lady,” Gal Wiener, chief executive of Winner’s, told the Associated Press news agency.”

Does the BBC really intend to suggest to its audiences that a sixteen-word note to a person Einstein never met is in any way comparable to the very serious issue of sexual assault and harassment that is the subject of the ‘Me Too’ campaign almost a century later?  

Advertisements

BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

Ever since its establishment the BBC has relied on news agencies as part of its newsgathering process.

“A wide variety of sources is used in the preparation of material – including BBC News, BBC World Service and a large number of internationally recognised news agencies. They include the Press Association, Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.”

However, unlike many other media outlets that use agency produced material, the BBC does not usually inform its audiences at the top of an article that the content was provided by an agency. Audiences hence have no way of knowing whether the information they receive does in fact come from the ‘trusted‘ BBC or from agencies which do not necessarily adhere to the corporation’s editorial guidelines.

Recently the BBC decided to end its contract with Associated Press.

“The BBC will end its association with international news agency Associated Press (AP) this week because of “financial pressures”, City A.M. has learned.

News staff have been informed that they will no longer be permitted to use AP video, pictures and wire copy from later this week.

Fran Unsworth, head of the World Service, today told staff in an email that the BBC was instead starting a “new relationship” with Agence France Presse. […]

On the AFP arrangement, Unsworth added:

From midnight on Friday we will subscribe to the full AFP newsroom video services for unrestricted use on BBC output – all platforms and any language. We already receive text wires from AFP and AFP stills via our contract with Getty Images, and we therefore know the high quality of their products. We also hope to work closely with AFP on other initiatives. The many other agency and partner broadcaster relationships we have around the world remain in place.”

Although AFP (Agence France Presse) is officially a commercial business independent of the French government, three of its fifteen board members are appointed by government ministers and two more come from government-owned media outlets.

As readers may recall, one of AFP’s local employees in the Middle East is also chairman of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate – which has instigated restrictions on foreign journalists and related boycotts. Late last year that same AFP employee, Nasser Abu Baker, unsuccessfully ran for a seat on Fatah’s revolutionary council.

One can only hope that the BBC’s new subscription to “full AFP services” does not ultimately mean that its funding public will be getting news from such an obviously compromised source.

Related Articles:

‘Rigorous Neutrality’?: Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate’s Nasser Abu Baker Moonlights For AFP  (CAMERA)

Corrupt State of Affairs at the International Federation of Journalists?  (Tamar Sternthal)

Agence France-Presse (CAMERA)

Reuters  (CAMERA)   

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

Source: ‘A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of the events known as the “Arab Spring”’ – June 2012

One might have perhaps thought that in the four years which have passed since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, BBC correspondents would have had the opportunity to garner enough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent them from repeating the same face value acceptance – and amplification – of its messaging as was seen in BBC coverage of the events at the time.Knell MB art

However, if the article titled “Muslim Brotherhood: From rapid rise to sharp decline” produced by Yolande Knell on April 13th is anything to go by, not only is that is definitely not the case, but Edward Mortimer’s description of Muslim Brotherhood statements being naively “accepted … at face value” by BBC “expert commentators” may be in need of review.

Knell has no comment to add on the use of the phrase “democratic process” by a supporter of an organization which states that its intention is to create a state ruled by religious law which discriminates against women, non-Muslim minorities and others.

“On Saturday, a court confirmed death sentences on the group’s General Guide, Mohammed Badie, and others for planning attacks against the state.

But another man, Ahmed, insists they have done nothing wrong.

“God willing, we’ll see the democratic process get back on track soon,” he says.”

Neither does Knell make any effort to explain the reasoning behind her promotion of the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole is ‘relatively moderate’.

“Yet many in Egypt accept the clampdown on the Brotherhood, believing it failed its test in power, and across the entire region the fate of this relatively moderate Islamist organisation has undergone a dramatic turnaround.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines the political sense of moderate as “not radical or excessively right- or left-wing”. The aim of running a state ruled by Sharia law cannot accurately be described as anything other than radical and right-wing and of course there is little evidence of ‘moderation’ on the part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the movement’s Qatar-based  ‘spiritual guide’ Yusuf al Qaradawi.

‘Moderate’ political organisations obviously do not support terrorism or cultivate links with its perpetrators – but a journalist who uses the makeover term “political faction” to describe a terrorist group which just months ago launched thousands of missiles at civilians will obviously be oblivious to that nuance.

“Not far away, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas – which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood – is also suffering from the organisation’s demise.

Its leaders were treated like VIPs in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s brief reign.

But in February, a court in Cairo joined Israel, the United States, the European Union and others in pronouncing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the political faction, ordinary people feel more isolated than ever. […]

Across Gaza, the green flags of Hamas still flutter defiantly above the mangled metal and rubble of homes destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Knell’s take-away message to readers comes right at the end of her article:

“But throughout much of the Middle East, there is a sense that times are changing.

And what worries many is that just as the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of Islamist groups in the region, is in decline, so fanatical ones – like Islamic State – are gaining momentum.

The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Yolande Knell does not reveal to her readers the identities of the worried “many” who apparently believe that the political aspirations of young Middle Eastern Muslims are to be found exclusively on a scale lying between ‘moderate’ Islamists and ‘fanatical’ ones and hence promote the highly debatable claim-cum-threat that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood could “swell the ranks of the extremists”.

However, a clue to the potential source – and background motivations – of that claim promoted and amplified by Knell comes in the form of a report published by Associated Press about the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan which appeared almost a month before Knell’s article saw the light of day. Interestingly, the two pieces show some curious similarities.

In a section of her article about the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Yolande Knell writes:

“A new, officially licensed branch defines itself as strictly Jordanian, saying it has cut ties to the regional movement, so it is not identified as militant.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The new, officially licensed Brotherhood offshoot defines itself as a strictly Jordanian group, saying it cut ties with the regional movement to avoid being branded as militant.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The legal status of the other, larger faction is less clear, but it is keeping its links to the wider Brotherhood.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The larger Brotherhood faction, still loyal to the regional movement, alleged the government engineered the division to weaken the group.[…] The status of the second faction now remains unclear.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Readers of the AP report were informed that:

“In Jordan, some warned that the government’s apparent divide-and-control policy could backfire by pushing more Brotherhood supporters into the ranks of extremists like the Islamic State group, seen as the main threat to the country’s stability.”

And:

“Some warn the government crackdown could radicalize Brotherhood supporters and help swell the ranks of the Islamic State group.”

In other words, Yolande Knell’s supposedly impartial take-away message to Western audiences on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have come straight (or perhaps via AP) from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood horse’s mouth.

So much for ‘standard-setting’ journalism.

Related Articles:

The BBC and the Brotherhood

Must read article by former BBC journalist

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC parrots Ha’aretz editorial bemoaning demise of Israeli democracy

Would the BBC entertain the idea of implying that the United Kingdom, France or Sweden are not proper democracies because Christian religious holidays are also national holidays in those countries? Would it have anything at all to say about the status of Eid al Fitr or Eid al Adha as national holidays in Egypt, Qatar or Morocco?

Obviously not, so consider this line (which, like much of the rest of the piece, appears to have been taken from an AP article by Tia Goldenberg) from an October 4th report titled “Jerusalem court rejects Israel nationality petition” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website:

“Jewish religious holidays are also national holidays in Israel.”

That, of course, is an undisputed fact and indeed one would not expect otherwise in the world’s only Jewish state, just as one would not expect Christian festivals not to be national holidays in predominantly Christian countries or Islamic festivals not to be national holidays in mainly Muslim states.  

But the significance of the use of that statement comes in the context of the article as a whole, which seeks to present a recent Supreme Court decision as a sign of Israel’s undemocratic and discriminatory nature – featuring selected quotes from a predictably ‘the sky is falling’ style editorial which appeared in Ha’aretz in order to do so.

The BBC’s notably superficial and uninformative article will of course mean nothing to the vast majority of visitors to the BBC website.  Nevertheless, it presents an apparently not-to-be-missed opportunity to present Israel as some unenlightened, religiously motivated, discriminatory backwater – just as long as one avoids providing audiences with the full context of the long debate surrounding this issue and the details of the reasoning behind the court’s decision. And that is precisely what the BBC has done.