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.  

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one

On January 8th the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired (not for the first time) a televised interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar on the BBC World News channel and on the BBC News channel.  An audio version of the same interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio and a clip from the interview was promoted separately.

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of the Islamist movement Hamas. Donald Trump broke with long established diplomatic convention by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His recent tweets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been music to the ears of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So what do the Palestinians do now? Hamas controls Gaza and has been at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for more than a decade. Are the Palestinians staring defeat in the face?”

One noteworthy aspect of that programme was Stephen Sackur’s presentation of terrorism as a matter of conflicting narratives.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “My guest today was one of the co-founders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Mahmoud Zahar became used to the rigours of violent conflict with Israel. He was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed. But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands. To Palestinians he is one player in a prolonged internecine struggle between Fatah – the organisation led for so long by Yasser Arafat – and Hamas.”

And [from 04:56 in the audio version]:

Sackur: “The truth is, since that decision taken by Trump in December on Jerusalem we’ve seen – what? – a dozen or so rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel. The Israelis have responded by targeting weapons dumps. The truth is everything that you talk about in terms of violent military resistance plays into Israel’s hands. It allows them to characterise you yet again as terrorists out to kill Israeli citizens.”

Sackur’s presentation of course would not have surprised anyone familiar with the BBC’s long history of promoting the ‘one man’s terrorist’ narrative that fails to distinguish between means and ends and results in inconsistent BBC reporting on terrorism in differing locations.

Another notable point was Sackur’s adoption of Hamas’ own terminology and his breach [from 20:09] of the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” which, as noted here recently on two occasions, instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

Sackur: “Is the resistance in Palestine now in the hands of ordinary people – young people particularly – not with veteran leaders like you?”

Viewers and listeners may have noticed that during this interview some of the messaging they have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

For example, the BBC’s long-standing and repeated claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied even though Israel withdrew from the territory over twelve years ago was contradicted by Zahar [from 04:00].

Zahar: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

In September of last year the BBC began reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ and produced a considerable amount of content promoting that topic. However, Zahar dismissed the claim of ‘reconciliation’ proposed by Sackur [from 09:02].

Sackur: “I mean you in Hamas, as of October 2017 – just a few months ago – are committed to a reconciliation agreement with Fatah which is supposed to lead to a reunification of the administration in Gaza and supposed to see Fatah and PA – Palestinian Authority – forces take security control in Gaza. Are you suggesting to me that that deal is now completely off?”

Zahar: “First of all I’d like to address that it’s not a reconciliation. This is a misleading name actually. We in Cairo on 2011 agreed to have a deal and agreement in Cairo. This agreement includes the most important point is to run election for the ministerial level, for the legislative council and for the national council level. And we are dead sure that we are going to win this election. At that time we are going to change the attitude of this authority from cooperating with Israel to the degree as we did with the Israeli in 2005. For this reason we are…”

Sackur [interrupts] “We don’t have time for a long history lesson but the bottom line is just a few months ago you were prepared to talk about a deal with Fatah and Fatah insisted part of that deal would be that you would accept Palestinian Authority security control in Gaza and Hamas would ultimately have to give up its weapons. Are you prepared, in Hamas, as part of a national deal, to give up your weapons?”

Zahar: “It’s not a national deal. It’s between Fatah and other national factions but the Palestinian people in the refugee camps, more than six million people outside, they’ve not shared it. I’m speaking about what is the substantial core of this deal you describe in the last few months. It was implementation of the agreement in Cairo 2011. It’s not a reconciliation.”

Another interesting point arising from this interviewee is the discovery that the BBC does know the purpose of the cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas and other terror organisations – despite its ambiguous description of their purpose in the past.

Sackur: [11:43] “…you’re not prepared – are you? – to give up your weapons based control of the Gaza Strip and your continued determination to fire rockets into Israel and dig tunnels under your territory into Israeli territory in order to conduct terrorist operations inside Israel.”

Last year the BBC amply covered the story of the Hamas policy document published in May with some reports inaccurately describing it as a ‘new’ charter signalling a different approach from the terror group and Yolande Knell, for example, telling BBC audiences that “it really drops its long-standing call for an outright destruction of Israel”. However, when Sackur brought up that topic, Zahar put paid to that claim from Knell.

Sackur [from 18:27] “…in May of 2017 your movement came out with a new policy document. For the first time they…you in Hamas said that you would accept a solution which gave the Palestinians a state on the ’67 lines and it looked as though – with a new leader Mr Haniyah in place – it looked as though Hamas was beginning to search for a way to play a role in the peace process; to become – if I may say so – more moderate. Have you walked away from that now? Are you not interested in being more moderate anymore?”

Zahar: “I’m sorry to understand from you because we are speaking about establishment of an independent state in the area for occupied ’67 but this is the continuation of our argument. But we are not going to denounce a square meter of our land which is Palestine.”

Throughout the interview Zahar was permitted to promote inaccurate claims unchallenged by Sackur, as we will see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Selective BBC framing of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ continues

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

 

 

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis

Late last month we noted the use of terminology that breaches the BBC’s own style guide in the synopsis to a music programme aired on BBC Radio 4.

Although the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank”, BBC audiences were told that:

“For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America whilst in Palestine, for ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh it’s a song that inspires him to work towards a better life.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and received a response including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘Soul Music’.

I understand you were unhappy with the use of the word ‘Palestine’ in the synopsis for the 27 December episode on the programme’s section of our website.

Having consulted with the programme’s production team and senior editorial staff at BBC Radio 4, we have now amended this to ‘Palestinian Territories’.

We would like to thank you for brining [sic] this to our attention.”

The amended part of the synopsis now reads:

“‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh finds the song inspires him to work towards a better life in the Palestinian Territories.”

Related Articles:

Radio 4 programme synopsis breaches BBC’s own style guide

Radio 5 live item promotes apartheid analogy, breaches style guide

As regular readers will be aware, the editorial approach taken by the BBC when reporting stories relating to the BDS campaign against Israel is to avoid informing audiences exactly what that campaign is really all about and in particular, that it seeks to bring about an end to Jewish self-determination by means of delegitimisation. In the past the BBC has claimed that, notwithstanding its frequent amplification of the campaign, it is not its job to provide audiences with that information and has taken to bizarrely describing that campaign to eradicate the Jewish state as a “human rights group”.

It therefore did not come as much of a surprise to see that an item broadcast on January 1st on BBC Radio 5 live adopted the same editorial approach. However, the item – aired on a show called ‘Phil Williams’ – also included additional issues.

In a slot (from 01:37:17 here) relating to the “top arts, entertainment and culture stories of the week”, presenter Adrian Goldberg discussed the cancellation of a concert in Tel Aviv by the New Zealand singer Lorde following pressure from anti-Israel activists – and one reaction to her decision in particular – with guests Emma Bullimore and entertainment journalist Alex James.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Goldberg: “…we’re going to talk about Lorde tonight as well because she’s become the subject of a full-page advert in the Washington Post. A celebrity rabbi in the United States has taken her to task for cancelling a gig in Israel and called her a bigot. And there’s been quite a lot of pressure on artists who’ve chosen to play gigs in Israel over the last few years to pull out of them. Some have given way to pressure like Lorde has. Others have refused to give way.”

Alex James then told listeners that the twenty-one year-old singer – whom he described as “such a young artist” – “has admitted at this point to not making the right call”. He went on:

James: “…the decision was made just a week after it [the concert] was announced that the right decision was to cancel the show. She said ‘I’m not too proud to admit that I didn’t make the right call on this one’.”

In other words, listeners were told three times in a matter of minutes that the “right” decision was not to appear in Israel.

The conversation then turned to the topic of musicians who have not given in to pressure from the BDS campaign such as Radiohead and Nick Cave before Emma Bullimore again raised the subject of the “right” decision.

Bullimore: “and I think it’s really interesting that she has decided to say, you know, I made the incorrect call. You know she could very easily let her managers deal with it, let her promoters deal with it but she obviously wants to say ‘no – this was the wrong thing and I’m backing away’.”

Goldberg: “And when we said the wrong decision, as in the wrong decision she accepts or she believes was to have accepted the gig in the first place.”

Bullimore: “Exactly”.

Goldberg then went on to promote an apartheid analogy of the kind regularly used by the BDS campaign.

Goldberg: “Yeah. But so this…this ad now in the Washington Post. There’s a guy called Shmuley Boteach. I confess I’ve never heard of him before but he’s called her a bigot for pulling out and he said that she’s joined what he describes as a global antisemitic boycott of Israel. Now…eh…older listeners will remember that there was a cultural boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era and the South African government and its supporters didn’t really come out and defend the country in the way that supporters of Israel have done and will do and that’s the other side of this – isn’t there? – is that people who chose to boycott Israel in this way are accused of being antisemitic.”

With listeners having received no information whatsoever concerning the aims and ideologies of the BDS campaign (and not least the fact that it seeks to eradicate self-determination for Jews alone) they would of course be unable to judge for themselves whether or not there is reason to describe it as antisemitic.

After Alex James had noted that the advert under discussion pointed out that the singer had agreed to appear in Russia (but without clarifying that it mentioned human rights abuses in Russia and in Syria), listeners heard from Emma Bullimore.

Bullimore: “Well also we’re saying…also we’re saying that this celebrity rabbi has done this before – not a musician but Barak Obama’s security advisor. So he likes to take out full-page ads. That seems to be his way of, you know, having a pop back and he’s quite notorious. He’s often…his views are often talked about on this issue in America. So, you know, he hasn’t just come out of nowhere. This is someone who likes…who likes to make a big deal out of things, shall we say.”

While one can of course agree or disagree with Boteach’s methods, it is notable that his was the sole response to Lorde’s decision to cancel her show that was presented to Radio 5 live listeners. Goldberg than went on:

Goldberg: “Yeah. Lorde’s…I mean she’s 21. I accept that’s pretty young but she’s quite a conscious artist though, isn’t she? You know it’s hard that [sic] she would have been unaware of the controversy around playing in Israel before this. Whether or not people agree with it will be down to their personal view of the State of Israel and its occupation of Palestine. But you know it’s not something that she could have been completely oblivious to I don’t think.”

As pointed out here only recently, the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” – published on the recommendation of the BBC Governors’ independent panel report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2006 – instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”. […]

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, 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.” [emphasis added]

As we see, in addition to that breach of both the style guide and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, listeners to this item also heard a gratuitous and baseless comparison of Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa and were repeatedly told that the singer concerned had made the “right” call by giving in to pressure from supporters of a campaign that neither Goldberg nor his guests made any effort whatsoever to explain properly.

So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.  

Related Articles:

One-sided BBC background recycles BDS falsehoods

More mainstreaming of BDS on BBC Radio 5 live

BBC Music promotes falsehoods and BDS campaign website

BBC Music again covers a BDS story without explaining that campaign’s agenda

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ picks up the baton of BDS campaign amplification

 

 

 

PLO recommended terminology continues to appear in BBC content

As noted in earlier posts (see here, here and here), listeners to BBC World Service radio recently saw the return of a practice that was documented on these pages just over a year ago. The reappearance of that practice has not however been limited to that particular BBC platform: it has also been seen in reporting on the BBC News website.

The background to the story is as follows:

The BBC Academy’s style guide includes instruction for the corporation’s producers and journalists on the correct terminology to be used when reporting on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Temple Mount – both words capped. Note that the area in Jerusalem that translates from Hebrew as the Temple Mount should also be described, though not necessarily in the first four pars, as known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (ie lower case ‘al’, followed by a hyphen – and never ‘the al-Haram al-Sharif’, which is tautological). The Arabic translates as the Noble Sanctuary.” [emphasis in the original]

That guideline was generally followed in the past but in late 2014, audiences began to see the employment of different terminology by some BBC journalists. The term ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – or even just ‘al Aqsa Mosque’ – was employed to describe what the BBC previously called Haram al Sharif with increasing frequency from November 2014 onward. 

So how and why did that deviation from the BBC’s recommended terminology come about? The change in language first appeared in November 2014. At the beginning of that month – on November 5th – the PLO put out a “media advisory” document (since removed from its website) informing foreign journalists of its “[c]oncern over the use of the inaccurate term “Temple Mount” to refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem”. That directive is of course part and parcel of the tactic of negation of Jewish history in Jerusalem used by the PLO and others.

Since the July 14th terror attack at Lions Gate, visitors to the BBC News website have seen the term “al Aqsa mosque compound” used in a third of the reports relating to Temple Mount that were published between July 14th and July 28th.

1) “Jerusalem holy site security row explained” 20/7/17, Yolande Knell (discussed here):

Knell: “Now the gate to the al Aqsa mosque compound is open once again but to reach it you have to pass through one of those metal detectors.” [emphasis added]

In written reports, BBC audiences saw both the use of terminology that more or less complies with the BBC Academy’s style guide as well as language that complies with the PLO’s instructions to foreign journalists.

2) “Jerusalem: Israel installs security cameras near holy site” 23/7/17:

“Tensions over the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have surged in recent days, with further deaths.

The site in Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and holiest site in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.” [emphasis added]

3) “Jerusalem holy site tensions ‘must ease by Friday’ ” 24/7/17:

“Nikolay Mladenov urged a rapid solution to the current crisis over the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. […]

The site in Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and holiest site in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.” [emphasis added]

4) “Israel removes flashpoint metal detectors at Jerusalem holy site” 25/7/17:

“It followed the killing on 14 July of two Israeli policemen by Israeli-Arab gunmen, who police say had hidden their weapons on the hilltop site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. […]

The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and holiest site in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.” [emphasis added]

5) “Palestinian-Israeli contact to stay frozen, says Abbas” 25/7/17:

“Both sides are under pressure from the international community to resolve the row over the holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. […]

The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and holiest site in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.” [emphasis added]

6) “Jerusalem holy site measures fail to halt clashes”  28/7/17:

“Palestinians returned to the hilltop site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and Jews as the Temple Mount on Thursday after Islamic authorities lifted a two-week boycott called in protest at new Israeli security measures there. […]

Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and the holiest place in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven, according to Islamic tradition.” [emphasis added]

The above-mentioned instructions in the BBC Academy’s style guide remain unchanged. However, as we see, journalists on the ground have returned to the practice of promoting the politically partisan, PLO recommended, term “al Aqsa mosque compound” – thereby compromising the BBC’s reputation as an impartial media organisation.

Related Articles:

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

BBC’s ME correspondents revert to partisan terminology for Temple Mount – part one

BBC’s ME correspondents revert to partisan terminology for Temple Mount – part two

BBC WS passes up the chance to tell listeners about PA incitement

 

 

BBC Academy touts Jeremy Bowen Gaza report as model journalism

Under the heading “Journalism Skills Reporting”, the BBC Academy published a video of a report produced by Jeremy Bowen in 2009 as an example of best practice when “Describing the scene”.academy-bowen

“At its most basic, journalism is about telling people what you’ve found out, what’s around you, and what you can see. You’re there – the audience isn’t. Some of the most powerful reporting is cast in this mould.

It’s tempting, especially when you’re reporting from an extraordinary scene, to overload your audience with how you feel about the events whose aftermath you’re witnessing.

It’s also easy to leap to considering the causes or context. Sometimes that’s important; often it gets in the way.

Watch Jeremy Bowen as he reports from a bomb site in Gaza in 2009. His commentary on what he sees as he walks around the room is cool, clear, dispassionate, and powerful.”

Like the BBC Academy’s portrayal of the circumstances in which the report was made, Bowen’s commentary is completely devoid of the context behind that story.

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army. […] The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish – who had worked before at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis – was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days. In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets.”

While the BBC Academy apparently holds the view that “context […] often… gets in the way”, it is difficult to see how BBC journalists can fulfil the corporation’s remit of building “understanding of international issues” if context is deemed an optional extra.

Related Articles:

Context erased from BBC report concerning 2009 Gaza incident

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

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

If you happened to be a BBC journalist looking for information about an unfamiliar faith, the place to go would be the BBC Academy’s Subject Guide on Religion. There you would find the following introductory statement:

“Attitudes to religion are influenced by understanding – and it’s a journalist’s job to inform. So it’s important to be aware of the principles behind the world’s religions. In this section of the BBC Academy website, some of the BBC’s most experienced commentators […] guide you through the basics.”

One of the eight items on that page is former BBC religious affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan’s guide to Judaism which consists of text and a ten and a half-minute video. At the end of that video Buchanan tells her colleagues:Academy Judaism

“A knowledge of the history and of the different practices within Judaism is essential if journalists are going to report accurately any story connected with the Jewish faith.”

Indeed – and one might therefore expect Buchanan’s filmed guide to pay particular attention to the accuracy of its presentation of Judaism and Jews. So how does it fare?

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.

Buchanan goes on:

“The Western Wall is the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”

Misleading: the holiest place in Judaism is Temple Mount but Jews do not pray there under the terms of the status quo. The Western Wall is the closest site to Temple Mount where Jews are currently permitted to pray.  

“It’s also called the Wailing Wall because for centuries Jews have come here to lament the destruction of their Temple.”

The anachronistic term “Wailing Wall” is of course an English invention which is not used by those for whom the site has cultural and religious significance.

With regard to the Temple, viewers are also told that:

“Inside used to be the Ark of the Covenant: scrolls containing the Ten Commandments which the prophet Moses brought to Israel after the exodus from Egypt.”

The Ark of the Covenant is of course viewed as an object in itself, the Ten Commandments are said to have been inscribed on stone tablets rather than scrolls and Moses did not enter Israel.

Footage of worshippers laying Tefillin is accompanied by the statement “from the age of 13 men wrap this black tape around their arms….” and the Torah is confusingly described as “the first five books of the Christian bible”. [emphasis added]

There is also no shortage of dubious political commentary in this film. Despite the fact that Israel’s first Knesset included sixteen representatives from the United Religious Front, viewers are told that:

“Israel was created in 1948 by Jewish nationalists who were not, in the main, religious. But in the years since then the influence of religious Jews in politics has grown.”

As is usually the case in BBC content, the terms of the Mandate for Palestine and the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem are erased, with history hence conveniently beginning after the Six Day War.

“….Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war….”

“This then inspired Jewish settlers to move into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza…” [emphasis added]

Those “Jewish settlers” are portrayed as a homogeneous group, with the kibbutz movement erased from history:

“The settlement movement, driven by religious Zionists, came to dominate the Israeli Right and became the most dynamic movement in the politics of the Jewish state.”

British Jews too find themselves subject to some dubious labelling:

“The more Orthodox communities are finding their numbers growing because of their higher birth rate while more moderate Jews are seeing their numbers drop as some marry out of the faith.”

Near the beginning of the film viewers are told that;

“There are 12 million Jewish people in the world – most of them here in Israel and in America and the former Soviet Union.”

The former Soviet Union actually has fewer Jews today than France, the UK or Canada. Buchanan then goes on to promote the following stereotype:

“The numbers are small compared to the other major faiths but Jewish people exert considerable political and cultural influence.”

Towards the end of the film, viewers are told that:

“The so-called Jewish lobby in the United States has done much to keep America’s loyalty to Israel unshaken. It’s also teamed up with the Christian Right to find a common goal in opposing Islamic influence in the Holy Land.”

This film is supposed to be a reference item for BBC journalists, designed to help them produce accurate, impartial and informative content. It is therefore little wonder that we see, for example, repeated inaccuracies concerning the Western Wall and Temple Mount in BBC reporting or that promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope has become such a regular feature of BBC content.