BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

For almost two years the BBC News website has been using maps credited to UNOCHA and/or the political NGO B’tselem which purport to inform audiences about the geo-political status of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, those maps describe the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City along with many other locations of pre-1948 Jewish habitation as ‘Israeli settlements’ and – as regular readers are aware – the BBC consistently steers its audience towards the view that such neighbourhoods and communities “are considered illegal under international law”.

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

Among the inaccurate features on those maps is the portrayal of the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus as “Israeli settlements”.

Map as it appeared on the BBC News website between February – September 2017

The Hebrew University (established in 1925) and Hadassah Hospital (established in 1938) were both built on land purchased by Jews in 1914 and the Mount Scopus enclave remained Israeli territory throughout the 19 year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem. Interestingly, B’tselem’s own map does not mark Mount Scopus as a ‘settlement’.

Map produced by B’tselem

Earlier this month BBC Watch submitted a complaint raising that specific topic and others (including the portrayal of the Jewish Quarter as a ‘settlement’), as well as the general issue of the compromise of impartiality caused by the use of partisan maps sourced from a foreign funded political NGO engaged in lawfare against Israel.

The response received includes the following:

“We have rectified our map of the area of the Hebrew University/Mount Scopus. The source map had incorrectly identified it as an Israeli settlement and we have now corrected this.

The issue of Israeli settlements and East Jerusalem is obviously contentious and given the different political positions held on the matter, no map can be considered strictly neutral.

The BTselem map corresponds with the position of the UN, which considers the Jewish Quarter a settlement in occupied territory, as it does all the Jewish communities beyond the pre-1967 ceasefire line, and for this reason we do not consider it a breach of the guidelines on impartiality.”

In other words, the BBC would have us believe that its impartiality is not compromised by the use of maps that it admits are not “strictly neutral” which it sourced from an interested party because they reflect the non-legally binding position of a body which is neither a legislature nor a court. Moreover, the BBC makes no effort to meet its editorial guidelines on impartiality by providing its audiences with maps reflecting any alternative views.

The amended map now looks like this:

After amendment

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Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’ 

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BBC WS acknowledges inaccurate claim in history show

Last month we noted that listeners to an edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘The History Hour’ had been told by its presenter Max Pearson that:

“Just the phrase ‘tension in the Middle East’ has become shorthand for referencing the decades of mistrust between Jews and Arabs following the creation of the State of Israel, carved – as it was – out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians. Giving the Jewish people of the world a homeland was supposed to be the answer to one problem but it created another.” [emphasis added]

Along with a member of the public, BBC Watch submitted a complaint regarding that inaccurate and materially misleading statement and has now received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint about an edition of History in which you claim that the presenter made a factual error when introducing a piece about the Camp David summit in 2000 which was attended by president Clinton, the then Israeli PM Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yaser Arafat. I forwarded your complaint to the editor of the programme Kirsty Reid. Below is her reply…

Thank you for your email.  I am sorry you feel that the edition of the History Hour that went out on August 7th, was factually incorrect against Israel.  That was certainly not our intent – and I am very sorry that you got that impression. I have listened again to the programme and can see that the assertion that Israel was ‘carved out of land which had belonged to Palestinians’ should have been worded differently. I have spoken to the presenter to make sure we are more careful with our language in future. 

Kirsty Reid

Editor

Witness

I hope the above allays the concerns you have raised.”

Although no action has been taken to inform those who listened to the programme that Pearson’s statement is inaccurate, the relevant episode is currently unavailable online.  

BBC’s double standards on terror get OFCOM rubber stamp

An issue which many members of the public find objectionable and offensive is the fact that while the BBC consistently refuses to use the word terror in its reports on violent attacks against Israelis, its reports on comparable attacks in other locations (especially Europe and North America) do use such language.  

Back in April we noted a reply received from the BBC Complaints Unit by a member of the public who had submitted a Stage 1a complaint concerning that double standard in the language employed when reporting terrorism.

“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.”

Unsatisfied with that response, the complainant submitted a stage 1b complaint which was also rejected. Mr Turner then approached the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) which similarly rejected the complaint.

Using the system which came into effect in April, Mr Turner then approached OFCOM which ruled that the issue he raised is not “substantive”.

“Thank you for contacting us about material published on the BBC’s website, specifically the headlines ‘London attack: Four dead in Westminster terror attack’ and ‘Jerusalem lorry attack: Four Israeli soldiers killed’.

I understand that you are not satisfied with the final response you have received from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit and have referred your complaint to Ofcom for its opinion.

All complaints received by Ofcom are assessed to see if they raise a significant issue which should be considered further. Not all complaints will be pursued by Ofcom. Further information about Ofcom’s role and how we consider BBC online material complaints under our procedures is available on our website: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/ofcom-and-the-bbc/bbc-online-material

We have carefully reviewed the material you are concerned about, your complaint and the BBC’s final response to you on it.

Ofcom considers that your complaint does not raise a substantive issue under the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines that requires our further consideration. We will therefore not be pursuing your complaint.”

Mr Turner wrote back to OFCOM’s Standards Team ask for an explanation of the rationale underpinning that ruling and received a reply including the following:

“Ofcom has considered your complaint and the BBC’s response to it, and our view is that this matter does not raise a substantive issue under the relevant editorial guidelines and therefore does not warrant further consideration by Ofcom.

The BBC’s response clearly sets out its editorial policy on Terrorism: Language when Reporting Terrorism. In our view the use of the term “terror attack” in the headline of the article relating to the incident in Westminster does not meet the threshold of being a substantive issue that requires further consideration by Ofcom because the body of the article makes clear that the Prime Minister had declared the attacker to be a “terrorist” and the matter was being dealt with by counter-terrorism police. Furthermore, the BBC’s Stage 1a response clearly sets out the reasons why they may report incidents like these differently in different contexts.”

Mr Turner then wrote back again, pointing out the many discrepancies in the BBC’s Stage 1a response that was deemed acceptable by OFCOM.

“In your response you stated that the BBC’s use of the term terrorism to describe the attack in London was legitimate because the UK authorities had used that term […]

However, the Israeli government also uses such terminology when attacks take place in Israel but in those cases the BBC does not describe the incidents as ‘terrorism’ in its own words.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ clearly state that:

“When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.” […]

Hence, if the BBC is going to use the word terror on the basis that officials in one country have described the incident as such, consistency demands that such a policy should obviously also apply in other countries.

Moreover, in the past the BBC has justified its use of the word terrorists to describe Jewish attackers using precisely the same argument:

https://bbcwatch.org/2016/02/17/bbc-complaints-clarifies-discrepancies-in-terminology-when-reporting-terrorism/

However, Palestinian or Arab perpetrators are never described in those terms: a clear consistency failure.

You also stated that:

“…the BBC’s Stage 1a response clearly sets out the reasons why they may report incidents like these differently in different contexts.”

However, those ‘reasons’ do not hold water: UK forces are involved in the military campaign against ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria and the London terrorists cited that involvement as a motive for their attacks. Additionally, as noted above, 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 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, is obviously flawed. Terrorism is a means – regardless of the ends it aims to achieve.

The BBC’s inconsistency on the use of the word terror shows that the corporation’s basic approach to the topic does not distinguish between method and aims, means and ends. The result of that is that the description of the means is adjusted according to the perceived cause.

Until BBC editors do indeed begin to separate the means from the ends, it will of course be impossible for the corporation to present a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism, to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality and to fulfil its purpose to educate and inform. 

I find it disturbing that OFCOM would not consider that to be “a substantive issue that requires further consideration”. Might I respectfully request, on the basis of the above points, that you reconsider this appeal, otherwise we allow the BBC to display a clear double standard in its reporting on terrorism: one in Israel – and a quite different policy anywhere else in the world – in breach of its own editorial guidelines.”

OFCOM’s reply to that letter included the following:

“Following the further points you made, we have looked into this matter again. However, it remains our view that your complaint about the articles headlined ‘London attack: Four dead in Westminster terror attack’ and ‘Jerusalem lorry attack: Four Israeli soldiers killed’ does not raise a substantive issue that requires further consideration, and this is our final response in relation to this complaint.”

So as we see, the double standards repeatedly evident in the language used by the BBC when reporting on terrorism in Israel and in other locations now have the OFCOM rubber stamp.   

 

 

 

After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

Back in May an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ was broadcast from Manchester following a terror attack in the city the previous day. As was noted here at the time, during a discussion about “tensions that have riven the city in the past”, listeners heard presenter Ritula Shah refer to “Jewish riots in the 1940s”.

Contrary to that claim, records show that in early August 1947, during a bank holiday, rioting against Jews took place over a number of days in Manchester, Salford and additional towns and cities.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint about that error, requesting that audiences be relieved of the inaccurate impression of a seventy year-old event in the history of their own country by means of an on-air clarification in the same programme. The response received was unsatisfactory.

“I understand you found presenter Ritula Shah made an inaccurate comments about Jewish riots in the 1940s in Manchester.

Firstly, I’m sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I know people appreciate a prompt response and unfortunately we’ve taken longer to reply than usual – please accept our apologies.

I appreciate your comments and this was a discussion about the tensions in cities across Britain that have occurred throughout recent history. Please be assured it is never our intention to mislead our listeners Ritula was trying to provide some context to this discussion and was discussing how different communities in Manchester have at one time been divided.”

A second complaint was submitted and in its reply, BBC Complaints acknowledged the error but declined to take any corrective action.

“It’s clear you remain unhappy with Ritula Shah’s reference to the riots in 1947. Ms Shah had intended to refer to anti-Jewish riots in reference to the events in Manchester and elsewhere that year. This was a live interview and we accept that she could have been clearer in making this reference.

However the general point was, that despite the earlier comments made by a contributor that Manchester is a ‘tolerant’ city, there is a history of tension towards ethnic minority communities.

We’ve noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC’s standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply. Opinions can vary widely about the BBC’s output, but may not necessarily imply a breach of our standards or public service obligations.

For this reason we do not feel we can add more to our reply or answer further questions or points. We realise you may be disappointed but have explained why we are not able to take your complaint further.”

BBC Watch then submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit to which we have yet to receive a reply. However, eight days later the following communication was received from BBC Complaints:

“Thanks again for raising your concerns with us about ‘The World Tonight’ as broadcast on May 23.

As part of your complaint we referred the reference to the programme’s editor. As a result of this, we’ve now published a statement on the Corrections and Clarifications page below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/helpandfeedback/corrections_clarifications

We hope this helps resolve the matter to your satisfaction. Should you have any remaining concerns, the ECU can consider these as part of any appeal you wish to pursue.”

The published statement reads as follows: 

While that statement is obviously welcome, the likelihood that the listeners who were misled by the original inaccurate claim almost three months ago will see it is of course minimal.

This should have been a very simple issue to resolve. A genuine error was made and listeners to ‘The World Tonight’ could and should have been informed of that fact shortly afterwards. Instead, it took nearly three months of repeated communication to extract a simple correction that most members of the BBC’s audience will not see.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ inverts history in Manchester 

Have your say on the BBC complaints system

Earlier this year we noted the apparent intention of the new BBC Board to hold a public consultation concerning the corporation’s complaints system.

That public consultation is now underway and members of the public can make submissions until August 16th.

“The BBC aims to resolve complaints fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by the Charter to have a complaints framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems.

Since April the BBC has operated with an interim Complaints Framework, published on the BBC’s complaints website. The Framework reflects the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

The Framework sets out the BBC’s approach and the procedures for handling different types of complaints, from editorial to regulatory, so that everyone who wants to make a complaint – whether as an individual or on behalf of an organisation – knows what to expect.

As the Charter requires the BBC to publicly consult on the Framework before it is finalised, we have opened a consultation which will run until mid-August.”

The interim Complaints Framework is available here.

Guidance for those wishing to make a submission is available here and includes the following:

“Specifically we are seeking views on whether they [the draft framework and procedures]:

  • Seem readily available, easy to understand and accessible.
  • Make clear and give sufficient information to those who complain what they can expect from the BBC and how to appeal, including whether they are clear on timeframes.
  • Make clear the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom and the circumstances under which complaints can be referred to Ofcom (or to other relevant bodies) by complainants.
  • Seem fair to those who might wish to make a complaint.
  • Seem proportionate, balancing the cost to licence fee payers of handling complaints with the need to give people who complain a proper hearing.”

Those wishing to make a submission should send it by email to:

bbc.complaintsframework2017@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

BBC Corporate Affairs, Room 5045, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

Related Articles:

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OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes 

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