BBC Radio 4’s double standards on response to terrorism

Veteran BBC journalist Peter Taylor recently produced written and audio reports relating to his long career reporting terrorism.

The BBC News website’s UK page published an article titled “Peter Taylor: How has terror changed in 50 years?” on March 31st, the majority of which relates to Northern Ireland.

The April 1st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ programme was titled “Reporting Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines” and its synopsis reads as follows:

“Peter Taylor reflects on his 50 year career reporting terrorism.

When Peter Taylor stepped nervously onto a plane in 1967, bound for the Middle East, he had no idea it was to be the start of a journalistic mission he would still be pursuing fifty years later.

At the time “terrorism” was barely in our vocabulary. In the hundred or so documentaries he has made on the subject since then, Peter has tried to get behind the headlines to understand and explain a phenomenon which has grown to affect us all.

Peter has reported the escalation of terrorism from the IRA and its Loyalist counterparts to Al Qaeda and the so called Islamic State. He has met the victims of terror, those involved in perpetrating terrorist acts and members of the intelligence services tasked with stopping them.

Revisiting his own extraordinary archive has given Peter the chance to reflect on the evolution of terrorism and to recall some of his most memorable interviews.

“There are moments when the interviews are chilling, moments when they’re shocking and at other points they provoked a sharp intake of breath – surprising me by how prophetic they were.””

Significantly, Taylor made no attempt to define terrorism during that almost one hour-long programme, telling listeners at one point that it is “open to different definitions”.

However, at 05:31 minutes into the programme, Taylor did provide listeners with the sole example of what he termed ‘state terrorism’.

“Terrorism can mean different things to different people; it isn’t black and white. States allegedly resort to it too, as Israel did to avenge the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes died following an attack by Palestinians from a shadowy group known as Black September. In revenge, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, covertly assassinated those suspected of involvement in the attack. […]

The Mossad assassinated at least eleven of its targets. Since then, Palestinian attacks on Israelis have continued and Israel has continued to retaliate with targeted killings; a tactic more recently replicated in Western drone strikes against IS and Al Qaeda.”

However, when Taylor later (at 21:07) described a British response to terror attacks he did not categorise it as ‘state terror’.

“In the wake of Brighton and other IRA atrocities, the Brits hit back. The SAS was the cutting edge. Between 1983 and 1992 they shot dead 28 IRA suspects.”

As we know, the BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements” and so it comes as no surprise to see the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre described – as usual – without that word being used.

However, the BBC is clearly nowhere near as reluctant to make a “value judgement” concerning Israel’s response to acts of terrorism – but, notably, refrains from describing its own government’s very similar actions in the same terms.

Related Articles:

BBC still won’t call Munich Olympics massacre perpetrators terrorists

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

 

A wasted opportunity: BBC R4’s ‘Media and the Middle East’

As we noted here a few days ago, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Archive on 4’ broadcast an edition titled “Media and the Middle East” on September 13th, presented by John Lloyd. On September 15th a written article by Lloyd appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “How the Western media’s Middle East coverage has changed“.Archive on 4

Those who had anticipated hearing answers to the questions posed in the radio programme’s synopsis would have been largely disappointed.

A significant proportion of the programme is made up of archive material from the BBC and others: a glimpse of how the subject was reported in yesteryear. Unfortunately, quite a few of those ‘historical’ parts of the programme are accompanied by inaccurate and misleading statements.

For example, after a segment from a Movietone News feature, Lloyd tells listeners:

“Its coverage of Palestine in the years before Israel became a state described as criminals the armed Jewish guerilla groups dedicated to ridding the country of British soldiers. Groups like the Stern Gang and the Irgun used the terror tactics of bombs and assassinations against the army deployed to keep the peace in Palestine, for which the British then had the mandate.”

Similarly, in his written article Lloyd states:

“In the closing years of World War Two and in the three years after it, the Jewish Irgun and Stern gangs who sought to force the British out of Palestine carried out a series of bloody attacks on British soldiers and officials.

Jews were labelled by the British as “terrorists”.”

John Lloyd might be interested to learn that they still are: for a fee of £195, educators can purchase a video from the BBC on the topic of “Early Israeli Terrorism“. But of course what is really important here is that Lloyd misrepresents the purpose of the mandate with which Britain was entrusted. The aim of that mandate was not to “keep the peace”, but to establish a Jewish homeland in accordance with the San Remo declaration and the League of Nations directive. That was a mandate, it transpired, the British had no intention of fulfilling – as was apparent from British actions such as the restrictions imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine (though never on Arab immigration), even as persecution of Jews in Europe escalated and reached its unprecedented climax.

Likewise, Lloyd completely ignores events such as the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936 and even the post-Partition Plan violence of 1947, taking listeners to 1949 by means of an archive broadcast which states:

“Nearly a million harmless Arab villagers have been made homeless as a result of war in the Holy Land.”

The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur war are not presented with any better context and listeners hear Lloyd claim that:

“In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for an attempted assassination of the country’s ambassador in London by a Palestinian dissident group.”

The fact that by June 1982 Israeli civilians all over the Galilee had been under Katyusha fire from Palestinian terrorists in southern Lebanon for months and 29 people had been killed and over 300 injured in PLO attacks since July the previous year despite a supposed ceasefire is not imparted to BBC audiences.

The first intifada is described by Lloyd in the anodyne terms of “an escalating campaign of disobedience” with no mention of violence from the Palestinian side. The post-Oslo campaign of terrorism is completely ignored and the peace process is described as having been “broken” by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin rather than by Arafat’s decision to launch the second Intifada. Moreover, Lloyd uses an archive clip obviously from the autumn of 2000 which repeats one of the BBC’s most egregious – and most widely promoted – falsehoods.

“The violence was sparked off three days ago when the right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited one of Islam’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.”

So as we see from the examples above, one very serious problem with this programme is that its attempt to use historic events as a means by which to explain the shifts in the media’s approach to Israel are hampered by the fact that Lloyd is unable to step outside the often incorrect accepted BBC narratives relating to those events and even amplifies them further. If one perhaps thought that basing a theory of changes in media attitudes as having resulted from Israeli actions would necessarily involve getting the history right, one would obviously be mistaken. 

With the help of his guests – heavily tipped in favour of the Palestinian narrative by number – Lloyd lays out a theory according to which Western media reporting from 1948 to 1967 was dominated by a colonialist attitude which, according to Daoud Kuttab, meant that Palestinians were sold short by Western journalists because they were not represented as a nation. Of course one very significant factor in that discussion should have been the fact that whilst Palestinians lived under Egyptian and Jordanian control for those 19 years, neither they nor their Arab rulers made any move to establish a Palestinian nation-state or to promote Palestinian nationhood. The reasons for that are well documented, but they do not fit into the narrative this programme seeks to promote.

According to another of Lloyd’s guests, David Cesarani, the “watershed in media coverage and perceptions of Israel” came in 1982 as a result of the first Lebanon war. Cesarani claims that from then on, Israel was no longer seen as a “plucky little state” and that instead it turned into “the bullying regional superpower, crushing relentlessly the Palestinian people – dispossessed refugees – turning all the might of a modern military force on people who could barely fight back”. Of course that simplistic theory only works if – as Lloyd takes care to do – one isolates the Palestinian issue and ignores the fact that actually it is just one aspect of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

That framing is reinforced by Chris Doyle of CAABU:

“Now I think in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian issue it is a question of the Palestinians being David to the Israeli Goliath and this is something that is not always there in the framing of the coverage: the permanent reminder – as I believe is necessary – that it is a question of an occupying power and an occupied people and that the Palestinians have very, very few options.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of this programme from this listener’s point of view was the way in which it promoted the inaccurate and ridiculous notion that Jewish self-determination can legitimately be defined as colonialism. Anton la Guardia of the Economist told audiences that “in a sense Palestine is the last great anti-colonial struggle” and later – as part of the programme’s effort to answer the question “why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does?” – promoted the theory that:

“To some extent your position on Palestine defines your political position on other things – in part because of this question of colonialism and the Palestinian struggle.” 

Lloyd made no attempt to clarify to audiences the illegitimacy of the colonial analogy, which was also used by other guests. Moreover, no effort was made to examine the effects of factors prevalent in Western society as part of a possible answer to the question of why so many people who know precious little about the Middle East express such strong opinions on the topic. Lloyd written

The fact, for example, that whilst Europeans have for several decades now regarded the model of European ‘unity’ and the sidelining of national identities as the best means to ensure peace on their continent certainly affects the way in which they view a people whose answer to the horrors of World War Two was to go and build a nation state. The fact that fewer and fewer of those expressing an opinion – including journalists – on the topic of Israel’s military conflicts have actually lived through war themselves, seen their loved ones go off to battle, been attacked by missiles or suicide bombers or experienced anything even approaching an existential threat is also a factor which needs to be taken into account.

And of course the fact that a simplistic and one-dimensional version of ‘the Palestinian cause’ (notably characterized by an astounding lack of interest in the basic rights of Palestinian women, gays and Christians) has become a fashion accessory-cum-political statement in Western society which is simultaneously nurtured and fed upon by the media (for example in programmes such as the BBC’s ‘World Have Your Say’) is also significant in terms of the style and content of coverage presented. Western society – including its media mirror – sanctifies the view according to which one does not need to have an understanding of a topic in order to express an opinion about it and all opinions are equally valid. That approach may be harmless when it comes to texting a vote for the perceived best dancer of the waltz in a televised reality show, but it takes on an entirely different meaning when uninformed and often prejudicial views on international affairs are amplified – unchallenged – on ‘have your say’ style current affairs programmes.  

An additional notable aspect of this programme was the platform given to Jeremy Bowen to promote his well-known frustrations with regard to what he perceives as organized campaigns of complaint regarding BBC coverage.

“And there would be phone calls sometimes which we’d try to deal with and of course there’d be letters. Almost all from supporters of Israel – 99% I’d say. […] Palestinians weren’t organized in the same sort of way.”

Lloyd too appears to have adopted the same view:

“Palestinians weren’t geared to complain as Israelis and the Jewish diaspora were.”

Of course as we know very well, veteran organisations such as CAABU and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – both of which have now been active for decades – are in fact extremely well-organized when it comes to orchestrating complaints campaigns and lobbying the BBC.

The programme’s brief coverage of this summer’s conflict failed to address relevant topics such as Hamas’ intimidation of foreign journalists and why hardly any footage was shown by Western media crews of terrorists in action, with the result being that most organisations falsely framed the subject as an Israeli war against the people of Gaza. Ethical questions such as should the BBC film in morgues and hospital wards in Gaza if it would not film similar footage in the UK were ignored. The fact that Israeli society does not accept the screening of graphic images of dead or injured people – and therefore no such images were filmed in Israel even though lethal events happened there – whilst Palestinian society has no such social taboos and hence graphic images were broadcast to Western audiences in abundance, raises professional questions this programme made no attempt to address.

Two separate segments of the radio programme related to Jon Snow of Channel 4’s decision to place his personal need to “bear witness” to what he saw in the Gaza Strip this summer above his obligations to journalistic ethics. Snow was of course far from the only journalist to adopt such an approach even though others – including BBC employees – may have been more subtle in expressing their self-indulgence. However, the programme made no attempt to explore the question of whether the industry’s acceptance of such an approach actually renders it insignificant. After all, if audiences are going to hear and read the personal views of Jon Snow or Orla Guerin in place of accurate and impartial reporting, they can just as well find similarly expressed personal opinions – for which they do not have to pay a licence fee – at thousands of other locations on the internet. 

All in all, this programme can be described as a wasted opportunity as far as its success in informing audiences about the issues it ostensibly set out to address is concerned. More worrying was the promotion (also in Lloyd’s written article) of historical inaccuracies, existing misleading BBC narratives and the language of anti-Israel propaganda. That aspect of these two items of BBC content suggests that objective examination of the media’s role in shaping public opinion on the Middle East and its adherence to the standards of journalism expected by the general public cannot effectively be carried out solely by members of a profession who have, in no small numbers, revealed over the past few months the existence of an organisational culture which allows personal politics to trump commitment to professional standards and obligations. 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

On Saturday September 13th at 20:00 UK time BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ will broadcast an episode titled “Media and the Middle East“. The synopsis reads as follows:Archive on 4

“The rockets and missiles fly, from Israel into Gaza, from Gaza into Israel. It’s the latest iteration of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours which has flared since the very founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Accompanying the conflict has been an unprecedented level of media coverage. And almost nothing is uncontested. Every sentence, every word of a news report is parsed for signs of bias by individuals and organisations dedicated to ensuring a fair deal for their point of view. Coverage is measured in minutes and seconds of airtime. Media organisations stand accused, by both sides, of prejudice, systemic bias and deliberate distortion.

Why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does? And why does it create such strong emotion, even among those with no connection to the region?

John Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, examines the evolution of coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the founding of Israel to the present day.

With contributions from journalists and those who monitor them, Lloyd asks why there is such focus both on the conflict itself and on those who report it. He traces the way reporting has developed from the early television age, through the introduction of 24-hour news channels to the inception of social media. And he examines the challenges of reporting fairly and accurately on a conflict in which every assertion is contested.”

John Lloyd is also a founder and director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (which readers may recall has been the recipient of BBC funding) and in addition he writes a blog at Reuters. Some of his recent entries relevant to the topic under discussion in the above programme can be seen here, here and here

Stealth political activism on BBC Radio 4

h/t OR

On December 14th BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of its programme ‘Archive on 4’ titled “Prisoners of Conscience Revisited”.

“Twenty five years ago, the film-maker Rex Bloomstein began producing human rights appeals for BBC television. ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ ran for five years and Bloomstein asked many high profile figures, including James Callaghan, Judi Dench and Tom Stoppard, to tell the stories of prisoners of conscience from all over the world.

More than sixty cases were featured – journalists, politicians, academics, writers, clerics as well as ordinary people – all imprisoned unjustly or for their beliefs.

Now Bloomstein revisits some of those stories and discovers what has happened since. When were the prisoners released? How did they recover? And what have they done since?”

The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time or, in the UK only, on BBC iPlayer

Archive on 4

Dotted among the stories from Malawi, Vietnam, Bahrain and Syria are two others which raise questions regarding the editorial decisions behind their inclusion in the programme.

Given that Israel is the only country in the Middle East categorized by Freedom House as ‘Free’, listeners might be somewhat puzzled to hear Rex Bloomstein say at 28:45:

“One part of the Middle East we could not ignore was Israel and Palestine.

 Listener puzzlement will only increase with the next sentence.

“Rabbi Julia Neuberger presented the case of Abie Natan – an Israeli peace activist.”

(Where the BBC Pronunciation Unit was when this programme or the original were recorded is unclear, but Abie Natan’s first name is not pronounced the same way as the first half of the title of the former British building society Abbey National.)

Listeners then hear the archive recording of Neuberger saying:

“His crime is that he went to talk to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Abie Natan is a remarkable eccentric who refuses to give up. He’s been fighting for peace in the Middle East ever since 1966.”

The programme goes on to describe Abie Natan’s well-documented activities, but what is important here is to remember that this programme bills itself as addressing the issue of people “imprisoned unjustly or for their beliefs”. 

In August 1986 an addition (proposed by Shimon Peres) was made to the anti-terrorism laws in Israel which made meeting with members of a terrorist organization – and specifically the PLO – either within Israel or abroad an offence. Six and a half years later, with the Oslo Accords just round the corner, that clause was annulled but when Abie Natan was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment as a result of his meetings with Yasser Arafat, the law was still in force, as Natan well knew, having gone on a forty-day hunger strike to protest it just months beforehand. Natan chose not to appeal against his sentence, but was released early due to the intervention of Israel’s president at the time, Haim Herzog.

Whatever one thinks of Abie Natan’s various campaigns, one thing is clear: he was not imprisoned for his “beliefs” or “unjustly”. He was imprisoned because he broke a law – knowingly and publicly – with which he disagreed, but which nevertheless was at the time the law. Bloomstein’s attempt to paint Natan as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ imprisoned by some dark regime is not only disingenuous, but revealingly completely airbrushes from the picture any mention of the PLO’s terrorism and the danger it presented to Israel at the time. Revealingly too, he has nothing to say apparently about the human rights of the victims of the terror organization with which Abie Natan chose to meet. 

But Bloomstein is by no means done. His next subject is introduced using an archive recording of Yehudi Menuhin saying dramatically:

“The story I’m about to tell you would be an indictment of the human race at any time. Perhaps you will understand why, as an old Jew, it saddens me particularly”.

Menuhin goes on:

“Dr Jad Ishaq is a Palestinian and the former Dean of the Faculty of Science at Bethlehem University on the West Bank. He has a PhD from the University of East Anglia.”

Bloomstein interjects:

“Yehudi Menuhin to me was the perfect choice to tell the story of Jad Ishaq, a Palestinian academic that we profiled in 1988.”

Jad Ishaq is then heard saying:

“It seems so far away twenty-five years ago.”

RB: “We managed to track down Dr Ishaq in Jerusalem.”

JI: “But still the memories of those days are imprinted in my brain.”

RB: “He began by telling me of the campaign of civil disobedience that led to his arrest during the intifada [background recording of voices chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’] – the Palestinian uprising in 1988.” 

JI: “We decided that it might be a good idea to try to go back to the land, to start planting their gardens to produce the necessary food needed to their families.”

The programme then cuts to archive recording of Menuhin saying:

“From a small shed Dr Ishaq gave advice about how to grow crops and vegetables, especially to the people who were out of work.”

JI: “This empowered people. They became very proud and this was a very strong message to tell them we do not want the occupation to continue. We want to have a free Palestine. We want you to be our good neighbours, but we don’t want you as our occupiers.”

Back to Menuhin:

“Dr Ishaq found himself subjected to growing military harassment. His phone was cut off, soldiers parked their jeeps outside his house and spent the night revving their engines and sounding their horns.”

JI: “We decided that we will have Israelis stay in Palestinian homes and the Israelis came to Beit Sahour – about 25 families – they stayed with 25 Palestinian families in Beit Sahour. We broke the bread together, we had dinner together.”

RB: “There were no violent protests?”

JI: “Nothing! Not one single stone to be thrown or any violent thing to happen, not to give the army the excuse to say that we are violent people.”

RB: “Why were you arrested? What happened?”

JI: “Well, there is a military order regime which says that you can put people up to six months for administrative detention – in other words without showing the charges implicating why they were arrested – and this was used against me and I was put in jail for six months.”

RB: “Why were you a danger to them?”

JI: “Because I think the reason is that demonising the Palestinians and labelling them as terrorists this is the easy thing to be able to justify actions against them, but when you have someone like me who hates even killing a fly and who adopts peaceful ways of expression…”

RB: “Yeah..”

JI:”..this is very dangerous because it undermines the Israeli propaganda machine that all Palestinians are genetically modified objects.”

RB: “You mean programmed for terrorism?”

JI: “Exactly.”

RB: “The six months Dr Ishaq spent in detention he told me changed his life.”

JI: “For me it was a learning experience. Remember before I was arrested I was the Dean of Science at Bethlehem University. In other words I was living in an ivory tower. I never got to know the grass-roots, the masses, the people. But in Ansar 3 I met people from all different backgrounds…”

RB: “Yeah…”

JI: “…and I came to realize that there is a big gap between the university and the street and it made me feel very close to the people.”

RB: “And since his release he has moved away from academia and dedicated his life to researching water, environment and agriculture to help increase self-reliance for the Palestinian people. I was encouraged that Dr Ishaq’s experience in prison had inspired him to work for human rights for his people…”

Notably, Bloomstein makes no attempt whatsoever to adequately inform audiences with regard to the strict rules governing administrative detention – also practiced in the UK, Ireland, the US and Australia – and his portrayal of the first Intifada as a benign “campaign of civil disobedience” of course conceals its violent nature and the fact that Israelis were killed in Molotov cocktail attacks, shootings, explosions and attacks with hand-grenades. Neither does he challenge Ishaq’s ridiculous portrayal of an “Israeli propaganda machine” which supposedly depicts Palestinians as “genetically modified objects”. And yet again, the human rights of the victims of terror do not appear to interest Rex Bloomstein.

Of course it is difficult to establish the exact grounds upon which Jad Ishaq was detained in the pre-internet days of 1988, but it is safe to assume that it was not the horticultural tips he dispensed to Palestinians from his “small shed” which were the reason for his arrest. 

In contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Bloomstein also neglects to tell the whole story behind Ishaq’s (also spelt Isaac) current day activities, avoiding making clear that he heads the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) – a politically motivated NGO which is:

“Among the leaders of the political warfare against Israel, seeking to further boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), false accusations of Israeli “apartheid” and “racism,” and support for a Palestinian “right of return”, which is inconsistent with two-state solution.” 

Then again, neither is Bloomstein upfront on the subject of his own political affiliations. But for those still wondering why the stories of Abie Natan and Jad Ishaq made it into this BBC programme on the subject of ‘prisoners of conscience’, perhaps the knowledge that Bloomstein is a signed up member of ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ will help clarify how this broadcast became a platform for stealth delegitimisation of Israel cloaked in the language of human rights. 

Upcoming BBC Radio 4 programme on TE Lawrence

Readers may like to have prior notice of an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Archive on 4’ due to be broadcast on Saturday December 8th at 20:00 GMT.

TEL

According to the programme’s synopsis:

“Allan Little examines the film and Lawrence’s own account of his desert campaign on which it was based, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He considers how they may be read in the light of the modern Middle East.

With archive of those who knew and served with Lawrence, recollections of his brother and his biographer, contributions from Arab scholars and Lawrence’s own words, Allan Little makes a case for Lawrence as a man of great foresight – both as the ‘father of guerrilla warfare’ and as a strategist who championed the Arab cause.

The programme includes recordings from Jordan, where a team of archaeologists from Bristol University is currently excavating the remains of The Great Arab Revolt and Lawrence’s part in it.”