Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.

Advertisements

BBC R4 and WS inaccurate on Western Wall yet again

On September 8th the BBC promoted a radio report as follows on Twitter:

tweet-promoting-crossing-continents-8-9

In fact, David Baker’s radio report “Torah & Tech in Israel” – which was broadcast both on ‘Crossing Continents’ on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment’ on September 8th  – is far more interesting and nuanced than that Tweet suggests.crossing-continents-8-9

“Can you learn to code if you have spent your life studying religious texts? Can you be part of the fast-paced, secular world of technology and start-ups if you are from a conservative religious community? Israel has been called the ‘Startup Nation’, with a flourishing technology sector playing a big role in the country’s economy. But one group who have not traditionally been involved are ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Haredim. They often live apart from mainstream Israeli society and adhere to strict religious laws covering everything from diet to dress and technology. Many men don’t work or serve in the army, spending their lives studying the Torah, subsidised by the government. It is a way of life that leaves many Haredim in poverty, and other Israelis resenting picking up the tab. But in recent years, the ultra-orthodox have been increasingly joining the high-tech world, working in big international tech companies and founding their own start-ups. David Baker travels to Israel to meet the new breed of high-tech Haredim, and find out how they reconcile taking part in the ‘Startup Nation’ with traditional Torah life.”

Unfortunately, that otherwise accurate and impartial report is marred by a rather basic – but for some reason not uncommon – inaccuracy in its introduction.

“This is the Wailing Wall and it’s Tisha B’Av: a day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. And thousands of Jews have gathered here to remember the destruction of the Jewish Temple in this very place 2,000 years ago. There are many here pushing up against these stones. This is the wall that was the original Temple which was destroyed here in 70 AD.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here before:

“The term ‘Wailing Wall’ is of course a British invention, appearing in nineteenth century English travel literature and employed by the British after their conquest of Jerusalem in 1917. It is not used by Israelis or Jews: the much older place-name HaKotel HaMa’aravi – translated as the Western Wall – is the one used by the people for whom the site has cultural and religious significance. And yet, despite the fact that the BBC is conscientious about employing place-names such as Mumbai and Beijing rather than the old Anglicised terms Bombay or Peking, it continues to promote the anachronistic term ‘Wailing Wall’ even in its style guide.

“Western Wall – (in Jerusalem) avoid ‘Wailing Wall’ except after a first reference – eg: The man attacked tourists near the Western Wall (the so-called Wailing Wall).””

And – as noted last year in an article documenting inaccuracies in a filmed guide to Judaism provided to journalists by the BBC Academy:

“Standing in front of the Western Wall, Buchanan tells viewers:

“This is the remains of the outer wall of the Jewish Second Temple, built by King Herod the Great.”

No – that is a retaining wall of the Temple Mount plaza: not a remnant of the Temple itself.”

It is perhaps not surprising that journalists, producers and editors making content for the BBC repeatedly promote inaccurate information when one of their references on this topic is in itself inaccurate. The BBC Academy has however done nothing to correct the inaccuracies in its filmed guide to Judaism.

Related Articles:

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

Thumbs up for BBC News’ Temple Mount archaeology report

BBC fails to report the conclusion to a story it covered four years ago

Back in 2011 the BBC devoted substantial coverage to what it described in an edition of the World Service radio programme ‘Assignment’ as “The Mystery of Dirar Abu Sisi“.Assignment Abu Sisi 2011

Additional content on the same topic included:

Palestinian ‘abducted’ in Ukraine due in Israel court” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website, 29/3/2011

“His friends and relatives reject Israeli reports that the engineer is affiliated to militant groups in the Gaza Strip and are calling on the Ukraine authorities to intervene.”

‘Abducted’ Palestinian engineer appears in Israel court” – BBC News website, 31/3/2011

“Mr Abu Sisi accuses Israel of “kidnapping him for no reason”.”

“On Thursday, the Palestinian ambassador in Kiev, Mohammed al-Assad, called Israel’s arrest “an international crime that must be punished”.”

‘Abducted’ Palestinian Dirar Abu Sisi on Hamas charges” – BBC News website, 4/4/2011

“Mr Abu Sisi’s lawyer says the charges against him are untrue and they will seek to have the case dismissed.

Mr Abu Sisi, the manager at Gaza’s main power plant, has accused Israel of kidnapping him “for no reason”. He and his family have denied any links with Hamas.”

Israel, Ukraine and the mysterious case of Dirar Abu Sisi” – Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC News website, 25/8/2011

“His lawyers, and his wife, say he has nothing to do with Hamas, and knows nothing about rocket technology.”

The Mystery of Dirar Abu Sisi” – ‘Crossing Continents’, BBC Radio 4, 29/8/2011

“So who is Dirar Abu Sisi? Did he really study rocket science at a Ukrainian military academy, as the Israeli indictment claims? Is he a senior Hamas operative? Or is he an innocent victim of mistaken identity?”

The ‘mystery’ of Abu Sisi came to an end in March 2015 when he was convicted after admitting the charges against him.

“The Be’er Sheva District Court convicted Dirar Abu Sisi, known in the Shin Bet security service as the “father of the rockets,” in a plea bargain arrangement. Abu Sisi, an engineer, is said to have been responsible for extending the range of Hamas’s Kassam rockets. […]

Abu Sisi has been under arrest in Israel for four years, As the commander of the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, he was a senior partner in the production of missiles and mortars of various types, and of developing and extending the range of rockets used to fire into Israel.

Abu Sisi was convicted on Thursday after he admitted to the charges, according to the updated indictment from which many of the original charges of attempted murder were dropped, while those of belonging to an unauthorized organization, planning to commit murder, producing weapons, activity in a terror organization and other weapons charges all remained.

According to the indictment served by attorney Moraz Gez of the Southern District prosecution, after Operation Cast Lead, “Abu Sisi was appointed by Mohammed Deif and Ahmed Jabari to set up a military academy. In this role he built a program that would serve as the basis for establishing such a military academy and that trains to this day the command level of Hamas for the purpose of hostile activity against Israel. Abu Sisi has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from a military academy in Ukraine, and in the past even specialized in control mechanisms for Scud missiles. During his studies in Ukraine he acquired great experience in the field of developing and controlling missiles. In his interrogation he recounted his part in Hamas’ array of missiles and the improvements he introduced in the organization’s ability to launch missiles.””

This week Dirar Abu Sisi was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Curiously – particularly considering the fact that all the above content is still available online and hence potentially subject to editorial complaints – the BBC has not found it necessary to provide audiences with any follow-up reporting on the story it covered so extensively four years ago and thereby relieve them of the mistaken impressions received across that coverage. 

Helen Grady does real journalism on BBC WS ‘Assignment’

Last month we noted here the miserable decision by the BBC 2 ‘Newsnight’ production team to provide a platform to Alain Soral (described in this recent article by the Independent’s John Lichfield as “a virulently anti-semitic French intellectual, light years to the right of the Marine Le Pen and the National Front”) as part of its coverage of the quenelle/Anelka/Dieudonne story.

Newsnight’s tepid and misleading description of Soral as a “writer and film-maker” and the unhindered airing of his antisemitic conspiracy theories did nothing to enhance audience understanding of the issues at hand. 

Hence, it is all the more refreshing to be able to note a recent BBC World Service programme in the ‘Assignment’ series which actually does provide a lot of background material which will help BBC audiences reach informed opinions. Helen Grady’s interesting and informative report – titled “Dieudonne: France’s Most Dangerous Comedian?” – makes fascinating listening for anyone trying to understand the popularity of Dieudonne and how that phenomenon fits into the picture of contemporary politics and antisemitism in France. It is available here or here on BBC iPlayer. 

Assignment BBC WS

Related Articles:

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism

BBC blames torture of African migrants in Sinai on Egypt-Israel peace treaty

An article entitled “Sinai torture for Eritreans kidnapped by traffickers” by Mike Thomson appeared in both the Africa and Middle East sections of the BBC News website on March 6th 2013. An audio version of the same article was broadcast on the BBC World Service in the programme ‘Assignment’ on March 7th and can be heard here.

Assignment - Sinai

In the written version of the article, Thomson states:

“Hostage victims are often taken to the largely lawless, desert area of north Sinai, where their kidnappers can operate with near impunity.

In 2012, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that a “criminal network” of smugglers and traffickers was “taking profit of the desperate situation of many Eritreans”.

Egyptian security forces do operate in this region but only in limited numbers because of a long-standing peace agreement with neighbouring Israel.” [emphasis added]

In the audio version, at 16:52, Thomson informs listeners:

“What is clear though is that not enough is being done to combat the kidnap trade in Sinai. But I’m told this is at least partly because of a long-standing agreement with neighbouring Israel which limits the size of Egypt’s security forces in the region. And in one incident alone last year, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were shot dead by supposed Islamist militants there.” [emphasis added]

The agreement to which Thomson refers is of course the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, although he does not make that fact clear. Under the terms of that treaty, the Sinai Peninsula was divided into zones with varying degrees of demilitarization. File:Sinai MFO.PNG

In Zone A, Egypt is permitted to hold a mechanized infantry division with a total of 22,000 troops. In Zone B, Egypt is permitted four border security battalions to support the civilian police in the area. In Zone C the Egyptian police and the Multinational Force and Observers operate and MFO camps and outposts are situated in this zone. In Zone D, Israel is allowed to keep four infantry battalions. Thus, as we see, the Egyptian army does have a presence in the majority of the peninsula and the Egyptian police is present in the entire area. The treaty also provides for changes in troop numbers through coordination with both parties.  

It is left unclear in Thomson’s report who the person or persons are who “told” him that Egypt is unable to combat the kidnapping and human trafficking trade due to the restrictions in the peace treaty to which Egypt agreed, but it is clear that Thomson elected to include that misleading information in his reports without checking its accuracy. 

Obviously, with the migrants from Eritrea entering Egypt several hundred miles south of the Sinai from the border with Sudan, the Egyptian authorities have the ability to prevent them from arriving in Sinai at all. An Eritrean migrant I interviewed last year told me how he made the journey:

“He told me that he left Eritrea on foot and crossed into Ethiopia, despite the fact that continuing tensions between the two countries mean that had he been caught by the Eritrean authorities trying to leave, he would have been liable for one to two years of imprisonment. 

From Ethiopia, Ambesagir crossed into Sudan on foot. It was at that point that he abandoned the clothes and belongings he had brought with him, being unable to carry his luggage on the ten-day walk northwards. He and his group of 54 people then travelled by bus to the Nile, where they caught a boat which took them into Egypt. There the journey continued on foot, walking day and night without food or water. One member of the group died along the way. “

Thomson also fails to address the subject of Egypt’s long history of turning a blind eye to the various permutations of the smuggling activities (including weapons destined for Gaza and drugs destined for Israel) of the Sinai Bedouin over the years and the fact that until that August 2012 terror attack in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, it consistently kept troop levels in Sinai lower than those permitted under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement. He also ignores the fact that when it has considered it to be in its interest to do so, Egypt has deployed troops in Sinai in excess of the agreed numbers without prior consultation as required under the terms of the peace treaty. 

“More than a year ago, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to maintain seven military battalions and six companies in Sinai, including tank units, in addition to the forces permitted by the peace treaty itself. Before the August 5 terrorist attack, Egypt had not stationed the full complement of troops in Sinai that it was permitted. “

In a January 2012 report on the Sinai published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Ehud Ya’ari explained (p 13):

“According to the signed Military Protocol between Egypt and Israel, the army is permitted to keep 22,000 soldiers in the Sinai, limited to Zone A, the westernmost portion of the peninsula. But during most periods, the Egyptian army has stationed only 70–80 percent of that number in the area. The military has never established a separate command headquarters for the Sinai forces. Each of the rotating four brigades remains under direct control of its divisional operations room west of the Suez. At all times, each brigade belongs to a different first-echelon division of either the Third or second Army. And during the revolution, some of these forces were withdrawn to the mainland and have yet to return. Moreover, when Israel consented to allowing Egyptian troops into Zones B and C in central and eastern Sinai, Cairo deployed the limited battalions already stationed in the peninsula instead of bringing in reinforcements from the mainland. Israel also agreed to allow twenty Egyptian tanks into Zones B and C, but Cairo abstained from sending them.

This attitude reflects the military’s limited interest in the Sinai, despite constant domestic criticism of treaty restrictions on Egypt’s ability to exercise sovereignty over the entire peninsula. Since the army was not prepared to oversee the Sinai, it had no incentive to commit even the number of units allowed by the Military Protocol. The army, in short, perceived its role to be purely defensive, occupying itself with routine training for crossing the Suez while keeping as much distance as possible from Bedouin affairs.” […]

“Regarding Bedouin smuggling activity into Israel, the general thrust of Cairo’s policy was—and remains—not to interfere. Even when caught, Bedouin drug smugglers headed for Israel have received much lighter sentences than those carrying drugs into Egypt.

This attitude may help explain Egypt’s relative tolerance of the latest Bedouin business endeavor: guiding massive numbers of illegal African immigrants into Israel.”

Rather than blindly repeating the inaccurate information he was “told” by an either uninformed or interested party, Thomson should have checked the accuracy of that claim before including it in his report. His obvious failure to do so means that his assertion that the failure to deal with the kidnapping and torture of African migrants in Sinai is related to the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty becomes nothing more than a gratuitous and misleading inaccuracy which prevents audiences from understanding the real factors at play.