BBC’s ‘rationale’ for its double standards on terror crumbles again

As readers may recall, in April (following a complaint from a member of the public) the BBC Complaints department supplied a new ‘explanation’ for the double standards seen in its reporting of terror attacks in different locations.

The complainant pointed out that while the corporation’s reporting on the attack in London on March 22nd rightly included use of the term ‘terror’ (as have subsequent reports on the more recent attacks in Manchester and London), BBC coverage of attacks by Palestinians in Israel does not describe those incidents as terrorism and the term is only seen in quotes – usually from Israeli officials.

The BBC’s response included the following ‘rationale’:

“Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.”

That argument is of course rendered ridiculous by the fact that the UK is part of the international coalition involved in the “continuing conflict” against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and another demonstration of the vacuous nature of that response from BBC Complaints recently came to light.

Like many other media organisations, over the last three years the BBC has on several occasions reported on Iranian involvement in “direct physical combat” with ISIS – for example:

‘Iranian attack jets deployed’ to help Iraq fight Isis

Iran jets bomb Islamic State targets in Iraq – Pentagon

What is Iran’s role in Iraqi fight against IS?

Tikrit: Iran key in fight to wrest city from IS

Iran ‘sending troops’ to fight Islamic State in Iraq

One would therefore expect that – given the BBC’s declared rule of thumb quoted above – its reporting on the attacks in Tehran on June 7th would not have included the term ‘terrorist’. Not so:

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

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

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror 

Following complaint, BBC corrects inaccuracy in Trump-Abbas meeting report

Earlier this month we noted that a BBC News website report concerning the Palestinian president’s visit to the White House informed readers that:

“On Wednesday, the US president stressed there would be no lasting peace unless both nations found a way to stop incitement of violence.”

However, the official transcript of the meeting showed that – in contrast to the BBC’s claim – the American president’s remarks did not refer to “both nations”:

“But there cannot be lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violate – and violence and hate.  There’s such hatred.  But hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.  All children of God must be taught to value and respect human life, and condemn all of those who target the innocent.”

Mr Noru Tsalic submitted a complaint to the BBC on that topic (including a link to the transcript) and after two weeks, he received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that US President Donald Trump has said there is “a very good chance” of a Middle East peace deal, during talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39791715)

You’re right and we’ve since amended this line in the piece to now refer to how:

On Wednesday, the US president stressed there would be no lasting peace unless Palestinian leaders spoke out against incitement to violence.

We’ve also added a correction note to the bottom of the article explaining this change.

Please accept our apologies for the inclusion of this error and thank you once again for taking the time and trouble to make us aware of it.”

The footnote appended to the report reads as follows:

The absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that it is highly unlikely that those who read the original article with the inaccurate claim that remained in situ for two weeks would have seen that amendment and footnote.

One must again ponder the question of why an organisation committed by its charter to standards of accuracy continues to refrain from taking the very simple step of introducing a dedicated corrections page in order to relieve members of its audience of any misleading impressions they may have received from its online news output, prevent the waste of resources on unnecessary complaints and increase its transparency. 

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

Back in March we noted that a report on the BBC Arabic website included an inaccurate description of nine victims of a Hamas terror attack that took place nearly fifteen years ago.

“In paragraph 15 of that report the victims of the 2002 Meron Junction terror attack are described as “nine Jewish settlers”.

Four of the nine people murdered in the attack were not Jewish. None of them lived in what the BBC would term ‘settlements’.

This is not the first time that BBC Arabic has portrayed Israeli victims of terror attacks to its audiences as “Jewish settlers” regardless of their ethnicity and place of residence. Clearly that description is neither accurate nor impartial.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue. Having failed to receive a reply during the designated time period, we sent a second complaint. The response received from BBC Complaints reads as follows:

As recently as February of this year BBC Watch had another complaint upheld concerning the use of partisan language in a report published on the BBC Arabic website. In his response to that complaint the editor of the BBC Arabic Service stated:

“We apologise for this editorial mistake which we take very seriously and will be addressing it formally with the journalist responsible for publishing the article.”

Whether or not the same journalist is responsible for both these articles is unclear but it is certainly obvious that BBC Arabic (which is of course part funded by British taxpayers through FCO grants) has yet to satisfactorily address the issue of the use of inaccurate and politically partisan language by its Arabic-speaking employees. 

Related Articles:

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

As readers no doubt recall, when a vehicular and stabbing attack took place in London last month, the BBC made appropriate use of the word terror in its reports on the story.

In contrast, the word terror is consistently absent from reports concerning similar acts of terrorism that take place in Israel.

A member of the corporation’s funding public, Mr Neil Turner, wrote to the BBC to ask them to explain that lack of consistency in the use of the term terror. The reply he received includes the following (emphasis added):

“Thank you for getting in touch about our report on the attack carried out on Westminster Bridge in London and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

The BBC sets out clear parameters on how terms such as “terrorist” might be used:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidance/terrorism-language/guidance-full

Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.

Thank you again for raising this matter.”

Once again we see that the BBC chooses to deliberately conflate means with ends, putting forward the obviously flawed argument that if a person commits an act of violence against civilians with the purpose of furthering a political or religious agenda in a country in which there is “an ongoing geopolitical conflict”, that is not terrorism but if he does the exact same in a country where there is no such ongoing conflict, it is.

The bottom falls out of that argument when we recall that the BBC did use the term ‘Jewish terrorists’ to describe the perpetrator/s of the arson attack in Duma, despite the existence of an “ongoing geopolitical conflict”.

The corporation’s complaints department also appears to have tried to find a way of dismissing the fact that UK forces are involved in the military campaign against jihadists in Iraq and Syria by means of use of the term “direct physical combat”. Notably, the BBC is apparently not inclined to promote the notion that those actions of a state fighting terrorism might be “considered as terrorist acts”.

While there appears to be no limit to the ‘creativity’ of BBC Complaints when challenged on the issue of the corporation’s double standards and lack of consistency when reporting acts of terror, audiences are of course likely to remain unimpressed by these repeatedly contorted excuses.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

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

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

  

 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “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”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

Readers may recall that on January 2nd the BBC Arabic website published a report on the death of Hilarion Capucci which included less than impartial terminology.bbc-arabic-capucci-art

“In the article’s second paragraph Jerusalem as a whole is described as “the occupied city of Jerusalem” and readers are told that Capucci “was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on charges of supporting the Palestinian resistance…”. [emphasis added]”

BBC Watch wrote to BBC Arabic on the subject but did not receive a reply. We therefore submitted a complaint which has been upheld.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint about an article published on the BBC Arabic Service website. I forwarded your comments to one of the editors in the Service, Mohamed Yehia. Below is his reply…   […] 

Thank you for your message. After looking into your complaint and reviewing the piece it referred to on our website, the BBC Arabic Service has decided to uphold all three points mentioned in the complaint regarding the language used to describe Jerusalem, the Israeli military and the PLO. We have made the necessary changes to bring the text in line with our editorial guidelines. We apologise for this editorial mistake which we take very seriously and will be addressing it formally with the journalist responsible for publishing the article.

Mohamed Yehia

Editor, BBC Arabic Service

I hope the above apology and correction of the article allays the concerns you have raised.”

The corrected article now reads:

“Capucci was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 1922 and was appointed bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the city of Jerusalem in 1965, and in 1974 he was arrested by Israeli security forces on charges of smuggling weapons from Beirut to the benefit of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in his own car.”

However, no footnote has been added to inform readers of the correction and it does not appear on the BBC’s page of “significant corrections“.

BBC corrects ‘angel of peace’ claim after two complaints

Last month we noted that a BBC News website article promoted inaccurate information which the BBC itself had already clarified twenty months earlier.

“The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.”

angel-of-peace-para

After having had one complaint on the matter rejected, Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a second complaint to the BBC to which he received a response that includes the following:abbas-us-embassy-art

“I’m sorry that our initial response did not address your concerns. After considering them further we’ve since amended this piece to now explain that:

Israeli relations with the Vatican were further strained after it was reported that Pope Francis described President Abbas as “an angel of peace” during the canonisation ceremony of two Palestinian nuns at the Vatican in 2015. The Vatican later clarified that this was an encouragement to Mr Abbas rather than a description of him.

We’ve also added correction note at the bottom of the article outlining this change.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and please accept our apologies both for the inclusion of this error and that it wasn’t recognised when you first complained.”

correction-angel-of-peace-art

footnote-angel-of-peace-art

The changes made to the article can be seen here.

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

Back in July the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint submitted by BBC Watch which had previously been twice rejected by the corporation’s complaints department. The complaint concerned the inaccurate claim that the book ‘Borderlife’ by Dorit Rabinyan had been ‘banned’ by an Israeli minister. 

Borderlife ECU

As was noted here at the time:Front Row 22 2

“During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.”

We can now report that the programme concerned has been edited and the recording available online no longer includes the inaccurate claim (previously from 27:03) that the book ‘Borderlife’ was ‘banned’ by the Israeli Minister for Culture. At the beginning of the recording an insert advises listeners of the edit and the webpage now includes a footnote with the URL of the ECU decision.

front-row-footnote

The action taken by the ‘Front Row’ team is of course welcome and appropriate: new listeners to the recording will now not be misled by inaccurate information. However, it remains highly unlikely that audience members who heard the original broadcast nearly seven months ago would at this juncture return to that webpage and see that a correction has been made.

Related Articles:

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

BBC responds to a complaint about inaccuracy with more inaccuracy

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld