BBC News website audiences misled by recycled delayed mail story

h/t Tomer Ilan

As was noted here last year when the BBC began working with the AFP news agency:

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

On August 14th AFP published a report by Hossam Ezzedine about delayed post addressed to people living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas. That report was picked up by numerous other media outlets including the BBC which, on August 15th, published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

The only indication that the story was sourced from an agency came in two indirect quotes from AFP:

“An official told AFP it would take another two weeks to sort and deliver.”

“The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“Packages, letters and even a wheelchair intended for Palestinians have arrived in the occupied West Bank after Israel released years of undelivered mail.

The post, which includes internet orders that never arrived, had been held in Jordan since 2010 and was released under a one-time agreement.”

The explanation for the delay given to BBC audiences is as follows:

“Ramadan Ghazawi, who works at the post office in Jericho, said the items appeared to have been blocked on security or administrative grounds. 

Israel controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Allam Moussa accused Israel of having failed to implement a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 that would have allowed international mail to enter the Palestinian Territories without first going through the Israeli postal service.

The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

So what is the real background to this story?

The 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. However, Arab countries which do not recognise Israel refuse to send postal items to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority via the Israel Postal Authority. In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve that problem.

“The [Israeli] Communications Ministry and the corresponding PA bureau are reportedly close to finalizing an agreement which would allow the Palestinians to receive mail from other Arab countries.

 Arab nations will not use the Israel Postal Service, which currently supplies the PA with international mail services. Israel is interested in signing the agreement in order to ease communications between Palestinian and their families abroad. […]

Yigal Levi, the Communications Ministry’s director of postal services, met with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmood Diwan several days ago and the two agreed to form a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services.”

In September 2016 a memorandum of understanding was signed.

“Until now, Israeli conducted global postal affairs for the Palestinians, including financial transactions. Mail would come first to Israel, which then transferred it to local Palestinian post offices in the West Bank and Gaza.

That system changed on Sunday, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed a memorandum of understanding to give the Palestinians postal rights. […]

“The MOU is designed to gradually regulate direct transfer of mail from around the world to the Palestinian Authority through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge,” COGAT said.”

As Ha’aretz reported, work on that issue continues.

““About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is therefore no direct mail transfer at this time,” COGAT said in a statement.

“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan,” the statement concluded.

Hussein Sawafta, director of the Palestinian postal service, said that Israel held up the mail because it was not properly addressed to the Israeli postal service. Sawafta said the mail was released last week and workers are now sorting through mounds of letters and packages.” [emphasis added]

As we see, readers were by no means provided with the full background to this story (not least the relevant issue of the refusal by Arab countries to use the existing system) and the BBC’s report amplified inaccurate claims from Palestinian Authority Communications Minister regarding the 2016 memorandum of understanding which mistakenly led audiences to believe that Israel is exclusively to blame for the fact that the delivery of items including “even a wheelchair” was delayed.

BBC News also posted the report on Facebook and some of the responses allowed to remain standing on that BBC account included – not for the first time – offensive statements, comments “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and antisemitic Nazi analogies. For example:

Moreover, the day after the BBC News website recycled that misleading AFP article, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman went to Jericho to report on the same story for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:06 here). Bateman’s report indicates that the BBC is aware of the fact that efforts had been made in the past to reach an agreement whereby not all post destined for PA controlled areas would have to come through the Israeli postal system (although he did not bother to inform listeners that the context was the refusal of Arab countries to use the Israeli postal services) and that the BBC also knows that past understandings have not yet “been implemented or not implemented in full”.

Significantly, however, the BBC did not bother to update its online report with that information.

 

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Weekend long read

Earlier this week we noted that the BBC’s coverage of the new Israeli NGO transparency law did not provide audiences with the range of accurate and impartial information needed for proper understanding of the issue. Among the issues arising was the report’s lack of any mention of similar legislation in other countries. At the Tablet, Professor Eugene Kontorovich discusses that topic.Weekend Read

“A major talking point of the law’s critics is that it has “no democratic parallel,” and that it puts Israel in the category of non-democratic regimes like Russia, and even sets it on the road to fascism. But if these claims are true, there is little hope for democracy in the U.S., which has had similar rules for decades, and imposed new ones a few years ago without a peep of international objection.”

We have often remarked here on the BBC’s absurd tendency to promote the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the Middle East conflict (it even has a sparse webpage with that title composed of material exclusively from the last Gaza conflict) and the concurrent practice of labelling reports about that particular conflict “Mid-East crisis” or “Middle East crisis“. The Times of Israel has an interesting interview with Shadi Hamid of Brookings which relates to that issue.

“In conversation with The Times of Israel, the expert explains that he believes that even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were somehow miraculously resolved tomorrow with a two-state solution, the Middle East would still be “a bloody dangerous place.”

“It feels like Israel-Palestine has almost become an afterthought for how we talk about the Middle East nowadays,” says Hamid. “It isn’t the central conflict in the region. Many of us thought it was, particularly in the pre-Arab Spring period.”

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the key to resolving the ongoing problems, or making peace, in the Middle East,” he concludes.”

The UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism had produced a guide titled “Recognising Antisemitism” which some BBC journalists and other employees might find helpful.

BBC WS WHYS initiates discussion of the apartheid trope, moderation fails

The August 18th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ included an item about “the Israeli columnist who’s decided it’s time to call Israel an ‘apartheid’ society”. We will be discussing that programme in a future article but in this one we will take a look at the related post on the ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook account on the same day.

As a reminder – the BBC uses social media and discussion boards as part of its interpretation of the public purpose remit titled ‘Global Outlook’, according to which it will “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

“BBC Trust: “The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.””

The WHYS Facebook post the following question:”Apartheid”: right or wrong word?

WHYS FB main

Obviously anticipating the type of offensive comments not infrequently seen when Israel-related topics appear on such BBC discussion boards (see examples in the related articles below), the first comment on that post was posted by WHYS itself:

WHYS FB warning

Below are examples of some of the comments the WHYS moderators apparently did not consider “abusive or inappropriate” seeing as they were left standing on the thread.

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‘Powerful’ and ‘influential’ Jews:

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‘Ethnic cleansing’:

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Promoting the elimination of Israel:

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Nazi analogy:

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WHYS FB c20

‘Jews are pigs’:

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WHYS FB C4

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Special demands of the BBC’s Jewish journalists:

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Nazi analogy:

WHYS FB c7

Nazi analogy:

WHYS FB c9

Once again we see that defamatory falsehoods, racial abuse and antisemitic tropes pass BBC ‘moderation’ with no problem at all. Perhaps the BBC would like to explain to its funding public how that can be considered as contributing to its mission of ‘informing conversation and debate’. 

Related Articles:

BBC WS WHYS Facebook moderation fails again

Nazi analogies and ‘apartheid’ defamation on BBC World ‘Have Your Say’ Facebook account

BBC’s WHYS promotes Gaza interviewee with a penchant for antisemitic imagery

Antisemitism on BBC WS ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism

 

BBC continues to mainstream antisemitic discourse on its discussion boards

One of the BBC Trust’s specified priorities – originating from its interpretation of the public purpose remit entitled “Global Outlook” – is to:

“Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

The Trust expands:

“”The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.”

The primary nature of linear broadcasting will remain the same as it is today, and even in the digital age BBC Global News will be providing content for mass consumption.

The nature of digital technology also means improved opportunities to connect with audiences – and BBC Global News will consider carefully the various access needs of its diverse audiences and continue to seek ways to give voice to its many listeners, viewers and users. From emails read out by presenters, to questions put to world leaders, to chatrooms and websites where people can debate and engage in dialogue free from fear and censorship, the BBC will make space available to support free speech and informed democracy.”

However, as we have seen on all too many occasions, the practical manifestation of that aspiration not infrequently turns BBC discussion boards and Facebook pages into places where “free speech and informed democracy” are usurped by conspiracy theory, racist tropes and politically motivated defamation and delegitimisation. 

On March 3rd the BBC News website decided to open its article titled “Netanyahu’s ‘chutzpah’ rocks Capitol and riles Obama” to comments from the public – with 338 responses. The next day an additional and related article headlined “Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’” was also opened to the public and it garnered 642 comments.

Even after moderation per the “house rules” which urge commenters to “keep your contributions civil, tasteful and relevant”, the comments sections of those two articles were replete with postings which were irrelevant to the topic of the two articles. Many of the comments were defamatory, promoted inaccurate information and propagated Nazi analogies along with tropes such as the ‘apartheid’ trope, the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope, the ‘dual loyalty’ trope and the ‘Jewish power’ trope. Below are just a few examples.

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The provision of a space for the spread of such ideas obviously does nothing to support “informed democracy” or “debate” but it does contribute to the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse and misinformed delegitimisation of Israel.

Shockingly, the BBC continues to fail to take this issue seriously.

BBC WS WHYS Facebook moderation fails again

The BBC Trust’s interpretation of one of its public purposes as laid down in the corporation’s Royal Charter makes it a priority for the BBC to “enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

BBC Trust: “The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.”

One means of meeting that goal is the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say” which also runs its own Facebook page. As we have sadly had occasion to note here before (see related articles below), despite the existence of ‘house rules’ applicable to that discussion board and despite the use of moderators, it is not unusual to find offensive comments on the WHYS Facebook wall.

On January 13th WHYS Facebook invited the general public to comment on the topic of the post-attack edition of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

WHYS Facebook post cartoons

Clearly the decision to open that topic to discussion would necessitate particularly stringent and effective moderation. Nevertheless, among the hundreds of comments left on that BBC discussion board were more than a few threatening and inciting violence and others promoting malicious conspiracy theories, defamation and other offensive content. 

A few examples are shown below.

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WHYS J c

WHYS J d

WHYS J e

WHYS J h WHYS J i WHYS J j

Once again we see that the BBC is failing to make any serious attempt to address this issue.

Related Articles:

Nazi analogies and ‘apartheid’ defamation on BBC World ‘Have Your Say’ Facebook account

BBC’s WHYS promotes Gaza interviewee with a penchant for antisemitic imagery

Antisemitism on BBC WS ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism

Unsatisfactory comments moderation on BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog

The ‘House Rules’ for BBC blogs include the following:BBC Online

“Comments on our blogs are checked by a team of trained moderators to make the blogs a safe and enjoyable place to be, and ensure that they meet the House Rules. […]

The blog author or host does not usually moderate the content of the boards, although it is their job to keep the discussions relevant to the topic and within the BBC’s guidelines. They may close off-topic or other rule-breaking discussions, and sometimes make a decision on comments that have been referred to them by the moderators. They may also alert the moderators to rule-breaking comments that they see in the course of their work.”

And:

“At the BBC, we allow as much freedom as possible to have relevant discussions on our blogs. However, we are also responsible for making sure that these discussions stay polite, safe and relevant and do not violate any laws or the BBC editorial policies. This is why we have a set of House Rules that we ask everyone to follow. Moderators only remove messages that break these House Rules.

Moderation is necessary so all users can participate in online communities without fear of intimidation by other users or being subjected to offensive content.”

Hot on the heels of its previously published article in which the manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was given an unchallenged platform from which to defend his presentation of ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’, the BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog ran a piece by Anthony Zurcher titled “Free speech, ‘psychological rape’ and the Death of Klinghoffer” on October 23rd.

The item was opened to comments and some of them – which have passed moderation and hence can be assumed to have been judged as not breaching ‘House Rules’ (which include defamation) or “BBC editorial policies” (which include accuracy), “relevant to the topic” and not “offensive” – can be seen below.

The ‘ethnic cleansing’ canard passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 1

The false description of a military operation against terrorism as ‘terrorism’ was also allowed: 

Zurcher comment 2

The antisemitic ‘Jews controlling the media’ trope passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 3

The antisemitic act of holding Jews responsible for (falsely described) Israeli actions was deemed within ‘house rules’:

Zurcher comment 4

As was the false claim that any criticism of Israel is branded antisemitism:

Zurcher comment 5The well-worn canard of illegal use of white phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead is promoted using a link to a media outlet associated with the Iranian regime:

Zurcher comment 6

The inaccurate claim that all the casualties in this summer’s conflict were ‘innocent’ is promoted:

Zurcher comment 7Of course this is far from the first time that the moderation of comments on BBC blogs and articles has been unsatisfactory and failed to adhere to the BBC’s own rules.

Conspiracy theory and anti-Muslim bigotry on BBC comments board

Among the plethora of coverage on the subject of Syria appearing on the BBC News website recently was an August 29th article by the BBC’s North America Editor Mark Mardell titled “Obama’s canny, democratic move“.

The article was opened for comments, with over 900 having been posted by the time of writing. Although a significant number of them were moderated due to their having breached the BBC’s ‘house rules’, below are some examples of comments – from bizarre to bigoted – which were left standing.

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Related articles:

BBC opens comments on Obama visit article, quotes flotilla organiser

Does the BBC’s Mardell think the language spoken in Israel is called “Israeli”?

Antisemitic trope on BBC comments board – again

Nazi analogies on BBC comments board

Does the BBC’s Mardell think the language spoken in Israel is called “Israeli”?

One of the BBC journalists flown in to Israel especially for the occasion of the visit by President Obama was the North America Editor, Mark Mardell. On March 22nd Mardell produced an article entitled “Obama plays a Long Game in the Middle East” in which he gave his summing up of the presidential visit. 

Mardell art 1

Mardell spends a considerable part of the article advancing his own rather flowery interpretations – psychological and otherwise – of Obama’s words and actions during the trip, but one rather bizarre sentence stands out.

“Before the visit, several American commentators urged him to learn to speak Israeli – now his fluency is almost frightening.” [emphasis added]

Readers of the article can either choose to despair over the fact that a senior BBC journalist does not know the name of the language spoken in Israel or to wonder why – if Mardell was intending to say that Obama had been urged to learn to understand the Israeli viewpoint and how to communicate effectively with the Israeli people – he did not manage to make that clear either by better choice of wording or by means of appropriate punctuation.

Whichever interpretation of that sentence – literal or figurative – one elects to adopt, Obama’s “fluency” is obviously seriously over-exaggerated by Mardell, particularly in light of the fact that the President chose not to address the Israeli people as a whole through their elected representatives, but instead played safe by speaking to a carefully selected audience which excluded certain sectors of the public in advance.  

As for the rather bizarre – and unexplained – use of the words “almost frightening”, one can only speculate as to what would scare a BBC correspondent so much about the possibility of a US President being able to communicate with the people of another country. 

Mardell’s article – which appeared in both the Middle East and US & Canada sections of the BBC News website was opened for comments by the BBC. Once again, a lack of appropriate moderation on that thread meant that the BBC made itself complicit in the spread of antisemitic discourse. 

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