BBC Asian Network’s eyebrow raising phone-in question

The BBC’s Asian Network radio station managed to raise some eyebrows on January 9th when it posted – and later deleted – a Tweet promoting a phone-in programme.

The synopsis to that programme – which was titled using the asylum seeker’s name Rahaf Al-Qunun – described the phone-in’s subject matter as follows:

“How do you feel about a Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Qasa is asking this after 18 year old Rahaf Al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia and defied her family by leaving Islam.”

Listeners to the programme heard an introduction from presenter Qasa Alom which included the following:

“How do you feel then about the 18 year-old Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Rahaf Al-Qunun is 18, she’s from Saudi and recently she began a journey to leave the country and try to make it to Australia and appeal for asylum because she doesn’t believe in Islam any more and felt like her life was in danger. The law in Saudi states that anyone who renounces Islam is punishable by death. Now the teenager was stopped in Thailand where she’s now staying at a Thai government shelter while the UN refugee agency assesses her case. […] She’s currently also refusing to see her family and claims her father and brother want to take her back to Saudi. So I want to know how do you feel about this situation? Do you think she’s brave for taking a stand for her principles? Regardless of whether you agree or not, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to leave their religion? Or do you think that this is a girl that’s only 18 years old and she needs to give her family a chance? And also you can remain anonymous about this.”

Yes, a publicly funded UK-wide BBC radio station really did offer listeners the opportunity to express anonymous opinions for or against the death sentence for apostates. That, however, may come as somewhat less of a surprise if one recalls that in 2017 the same radio station had to apologise for Tweeting the question “what is the right punishment for blasphemy?”. 

Related Articles:

BBC interviewees appear in report on extremism in UK charities

Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

BBC’s Saudi women’s rights reports fall short

 

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BBC Asia amplifies ludicrous conspiracy theory to millions

“BBC News aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism…”  

“… the BBC continues to be seen as the most trusted and objective international news provider.”

“The BBC operates the widest-reaching international newsgathering network of any broadcaster.”

“The BBC will continue to serve key less-developed markets in Africa and Asia, such as Nigeria and Bangladesh, as well as a number of information-poor language markets with a clear need for independent information.” 

“The BBC’s journalism for international audiences should share the same values as its journalism for UK audiences: accuracy, impartiality and independence. International audiences should value BBC news and current affairs for providing reliable and unbiased information of relevance, range and depth.” (source: “Public purposes: Global outlook“)

What happens when the media organisation with the biggest global outreach – one that supposedly provides trustworthy information to parts of the world where that is in short supply – decides that the amplification of ludicrous conspiracy theories to millions of consumers falls within its ‘standards’? This:

Balgladesh tweet BBC Asia

Bangladesh art

That headline appeared on the BBC News website’s Asia and Middle East pages on June 6th 2016. The only question is why the people responsible thought that its publication contributes in any way to fulfilling the obligations as laid out in the BBC’s public purpose remit.

 

Qaradawi fan invited to discuss extremism on BBC radio

The British Home Secretary’s plan to introduce measures to curb the media appearances of extremists was the subject of an item on a BBC Asian Network radio programme hosted by Nihal Arthanayake which was broadcast on October 1st.

Curiously, BBC producers apparently thought that a meaningful contribution to the debate on that topic could be made by a man introduced as “a social commentator” who has previously promoted the racist, misogynist and homophobic Yusuf Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding” on the BBC’s airwaves. And that, as is well known (although apparently not to BBC Asian Network producers), is just part of Mo Ansar’s repertoire.

“[Tom] Holland challenged the ‘expert’ to name the first Muslim philosopher to condemn slavery. Ansar did not know but came up with a Boko-Haramish defence of slavery in Muslim states: ‘If slaves are treated justly, with full rights, and no oppression whatsoever… why would anyone object, Tom?’

Like so many on the white far Right, Ansar has Jews on the brain. To him, David Miliband is the ‘Zionist Jew Miliband,’ while he will pass on his crackpot theory that Jesus was not a Jew to anyone who will listen.”

Existing BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality theoretically ensure that audiences  should at least be aware of any extremist ideologies held by interviewees before hearing or reading their contributions to BBC content. 

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

And – as readers are no doubt aware – the BBC’s ECU recommitted to that position a year ago.

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.”

The meaningless title “social commentator” cannot possibly be said to have adequately summarised the very relevant issue of the “standpoint” of this particular BBC interviewee.  

Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

As is of course to be expected, the horrific murder of one British charity worker by ISIS last weekend and the accompanying threat to behead another has been extensively covered by the UK media.Nye Jul 14 a

According to the Times:

“The security services are investigating whether kidnappers who abducted two Britons on aid missions to Syria were acting on insider tip-offs.

As part of efforts to build up a picture of the network around the British kidnap gang that has been executing westerners, MI5 and MI6 are trying to establish whether they had help in identifying victims. […]

It is thought unlikely that the gang, which could have as many as 20 western hostages, were able to conduct so many kidnappings without the help of informers on both sides of the border.”

The Daily Telegraph informs us that:

“Alan Henning was kidnapped within half an hour of entering Syria after he unwittingly became involved with a charity with links to alleged extremists, it has emerged.

Mr Henning, 47, now threatened with beheading by jihadists, ignored pleas from friends, colleagues and local guides not to cross the Syrian border, telling them he was determined to make sure the supplies he was carrying were delivered safely to the right people.

Mr Henning was driving an ambulance on behalf of Rochdale Aid 4 Syria, which raised money on behalf of Al-Fatiha Global, a registered charity currently under investigation by the Charity Commission after one of its leaders was photographed with his arms around two hooded fighters carrying machine guns. […]

There is no suggestion Mr Henning, a father of two from Eccles, Greater Manchester, knew of the apparent links between the charities and extremism. Al-Fatiha Global was only placed under investigation in March – three months after Mr Henning was kidnapped – after Adeel Ali, the son of one of its trustees, was pictured with gunmen on the front of The Sun newspaper.”

Among the BBC’s recent coverage of the issue is a filmed interview with Catrin Nye of the BBC Asian Network which was aired on BBC television news programmes on September 14th and also appears in a written report currently featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  Nye met Alan Henning whilst she was making several reports for numerous BBC platforms on the topic of British aid convoys to Syria. Henning’s later participation in one of those convoys led to his kidnapping in Syria in late December 2013.Nye Jul 14 b

As was noted here at the time, Catrin Nye’s numerous reports – aired in November and early December 2013 – refrained from addressing the topic of the extremist links of some of the charities and individual activists involved in organizing those convoys. Catrin Nye produced additional reports on the same subject in July 2014 which once again failed to adequately inform audiences of the convoys’ organisers links to extremists, even though one of the charities involved in previous trips was already under investigation by the Charity Commission when the report was being made. Nye’s latest interview likewise fails to inform viewers on the same issue.

Notable too is the fact that Orla Guerin produced a report from Gaza on August 13th which was based on the claims of an ISM activist with additional links to the same UK charity currently under investigation.

It is all too clear that BBC promotion of the activities of NGOs and charities without the required disclosure of their ideologies, political agendas and any extremist links not only breaches the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, but also goes against the wider interests of the British public in general. 

BBC coverage of UK aid convoy fails to meet editorial guidelines on impartiality

As was noted in the comments to one of our previous posts (thanks to Duvid), a recent article from the Gatestone Institute highlights the promotion of extremist charities by the BBC.

“BBC’s leading current affairs program, Newsnight recently broadcast an eight-minute film in which a BBC reporter accompanied a British “aid convoy” headed to the most dangerous parts of Syria. […]

During the broadcast, the BBC did not, however, reveal the names of the charities involved with the convoy. The Aid for Syria Convoy is, in fact, managed by charities that many might justifiably regard as “extremist”: One Nation, Al Fatiha Global and Aid4Syria.”

Readers can see that ‘Newsnight’ broadcast here.

In addition to being featured on the BBC’s flagship news programme, a version of Catrin Nye’s report also appeared on the BBC’s Asian Network.

Catrin Nye BBC Asian network

Filmed and written versions of the report were promoted on Twitter and appeared on the BBC News website’s UK and Middle East pages.

Catrin Nye filmed website

Catrin Nye ME pge

Catrin Nye written website

There was also coverage on the BBC’s local TV (featuring one of the people mentioned in the Gatestone Institute report), on BBC World News, on BBC World Service radio and on Radio 4.

Catrin Nye BBC WS radio

Aid for Syria on BBC World News

As promoted on the Facebook account of one of the charities and on Catrin Nye’s Twitter account, further programming is scheduled for this coming weekend.

Aid for Syria FB

That, by any standard, is a great deal of coverage of one story. But of course the point – as made in the Gatestone Institute article – is that the BBC is telling half a story: in all of the above content it fails to inform viewers, readers and listeners at home and abroad of what lies beyond the humanitarian aid aspects of these charities, thus once again failing to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. 

“4.4.14

We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”