BBC Complaints: BBC programme is not BBC output

Yesterday we noted an item aired on the March 30th edition of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Outside Source’ in which audiences were given inaccurate information concerning courts in Israel and partial information concerning measures taken to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those issues, the receipt of which was acknowledged on the same day.

The following day, however, we received this response from the BBC Complaints team:

“Many thanks for taking the time to contact us. The role of this department is to respond to comment, query or criticism concerning programmes on any of the BBC’s national, regional and local television or radio services.

We also deal with issues related to BBC’s policy. As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you. If you wish to contact us in the future then we would ask that you please refer to BBC programmes, broadcasts, policy or output in your complaint.” [emphasis added]

As noted above ‘Outside Source’ is aired on the BBC News Channel. That platform is described by the BBC itself as “Britain’s most-watched news channel, delivering breaking news and analysis all day, every day”.

The BBC’s complaints webform includes the option of submitting a complaint concerning the BBC News channel. A later drop-down menu also includes the programme ‘Outside Source’ itself. 

A video of the programme was uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. The programme’s presenter circulated that video on her Twitter account – where she describes herself as a BBC presenter.

The programme appeared with the BBC logo on screen.

Nevertheless, the outsourced BBC Complaints system claimed that “As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you”.

While members of the general public may understandably have been put off by such a reply, BBC Watch of course submitted a second (Stage 1b) complaint which included the above information. We have now received the following:

One can of course but wonder about the overall efficiency of a publicly funded complaints system which sends replies “issued in error”. 

Related Articles:

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BBC complaints procedure consultation reminder

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

BBC Complaints response invokes non-existent “pre-1967 borders”

As readers may recall, the January 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ included a report (which is still available online) concerning the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that included several misleading statements.

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC reporter Aleem Maqbool told listeners that “They [the Palestinians] have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital” and spoke of “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access”.

As noted here at the time, Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggested to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” was also misleading to listeners: none of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

In addition the programme’s newsreader told listeners that “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war”. 

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that long report which included a reminder that – as stated in the BBC Academy style guide’s entry for ‘Green Line’ – no such “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” and that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

On February 18th we received the following response to that complaint. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for contacting us about the midnight news bulletin on Radio 4 on Wednesday 29th January.

We have spoken to senior staff about your concerns.

Aleem Maqbool’s line in his report, “the return of occupied East Jerusalem”, was referring to the point that Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it. He was not suggesting that this part of the city had previously been under Palestinian control – he did not, for example, say “return to them” but “the return of.”

The newsreader’s introduction to the report said “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war.” The phrase “its borders” refers to Jordan (which is the subject of this sentence) not to the Palestinians and it did not imply that a Palestinian state was in existence then.

The sentence in the report that said “Palestinians no longer have a border with Jordan” was referring to the Trump plan, under which the proposed state would not have a border with Jordan, as it would if there were a two state solution based on a return to the pre-1967 borders, a long-held Palestinian position.

In addition, the reason for talking about the border was to reinforce the point that without the Jordan Valley, any proposed West Bank State becomes an island (or group of islands) within Israel.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint which includes yet another reminder to the BBC that – as its own style guide states – the 1949 ceasefire lines are not “borders”.

 

BBC Complaints invokes ‘common parlance in the media’

As documented previously, on January 28th listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio repeatedly heard Husam Zomlot described as “the Palestinian ambassador to the UK” and “the Palestinian ambassador to London”.

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that the BBC had corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title in 2018 and that although the UK does not currently recognise a Palestinian state, by referring to Mr Zomlot as an ambassador the BBC suggests that it does and therefore misleads audiences.

On February 6th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the Today programme and Newshour, both broadcast on Tuesday 28th January.

We have spoken with senior staff about your concerns. We acknowledge the point that Husam Zomlot is not strictly speaking an ambassador, although the phrase is in common parlance in the media. We will remind editors of his actual title, but it is clear from our wider reporting that the UK does not recognise Palestine as a state.”

In other words the BBC is obviously not concerned by the fact that members of the public who access any of those three programmes during the time they are still available online will be misled by the misrepresentation of Zomlot’s title because it is “common parlance in the media” – which apparently takes precedence over BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy.  

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Throughout 2019 BBC Watch prompted the following corrections to BBC content on various platforms:

January:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim concerning Israel’s Christian population.

After second complaint, BBC clarifies inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian population

BBC adds missing link following further complaint

February:

The BBC Sport website amended a misrepresentation of a statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.

BBC Watch prompts correction to BBC Sport report

The BBC News website amended claims concerning Lebanese casualties during the Second Lebanon War in three reports.

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

March:

The BBC News website corrected a report concerning the mixed prayer area at the Western Wall.

BBC News website corrects Western Wall report following complaints

April:

BBC Radio 4 apologised for breaching the corporation’s own style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC apologises for ‘unfortunate oversight’

The BBC News website amended a misleading headline in a profile of Benny Gantz.

BBC News amends errors in election candidate profile

The BBC News website corrected three articles in which it was claimed that the Gaza Strip is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

May:

The BBC News website removed a video in which a false Hamas claim concerning the death of a baby and a pregnant woman in the Gaza Strip was amplified.

Islamic Jihad unravels BBC amplification of Hamas claim

The BBC News website corrected a mistranslation in an article about vultures in the Golan Heights.

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of the Jewish day of rest.

BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

The BBC Arabic website removed a Nazi analogy.

BBC Watch prompts removal of Nazi analogy from BBC Arabic website

June:

The BBC News website removed an inaccurate claim concerning water from a profile of the Golan Heights.

BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

The BBC News website belatedly amended a claim concerning women’s rights in Iran.

Over four months on BBC News amends claims about women’s rights in Iran

The BBC News website corrected a false claim concerning Israel’s extradition policy.

BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

July:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate quote from the US Ambassador to Israel.

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

September:

BBC World Service radio re-edited a programme in which it was claimed that there is a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip.

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

The BBC News website corrected a report in which Binyamin Netanyahu was described as Israel’s president.

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

October:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor.

BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

November:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of an Israeli politician.

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

December:

The BBC News website corrected a misrepresentation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

The BBC’s ‘Newsround’ amended a photo feature which breached the corporation’s style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Once again this year we saw inconsistent use of footnotes to inform audiences of amendments to BBC News website reports and the continued absence of a corrections page on that platform means that those who read reports when they are first published – and are unlikely to revisit them at a later date – all too often remain unaware that information they were given was inaccurate.

Likewise, we saw at least one case this year in which the BBC failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on “Correcting Mistakes”.

A significant proportion of the complaints submitted by BBC Watch in 2019 did not receive a response in the time frame set by the BBC itself and in some cases a response was not received at all. In August we received a communication from the BBC World Service which included:

“…apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…”

As we have previously stated:

“Regrettably, in the two and a half years since OFCOM became the BBC’s external regulator BBC Watch has been unable to discern any meaningful improvement in the BBC’s handling of complaints which, in contrast to OFCOM’s opinion, we consider to be far too slow in comparison to other media outlets, cumbersome and lacking transparency.”

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BBC Arabic does stealth ‘clean-up’ after CAMERA Arabic complaint

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

In late October we posted a report by CAMERA Arabic concerning BBC Arabic’s promotion of an “educational” project by environmental engineer Omar Asi: an Israel-free, child-friendly map of “Palestine” from the river to the sea:

BBC Arabic radio promotes Israel-free map of ‘Palestine’ for children

During Asi’s interview with the BBC Arabic radio show “Dardasha Layliya”:

  1. He elaborated on several of the areas of “Palestine” featured on his map including Jaffa and the Negev, both of which are internationally recognised as Israeli territory.
  2. He spoke disapprovingly of the geographical education children from the “interior of Palestine” (i.e. Israeli Arabs) are getting, namely the fact they are being exposed to “maps of Israel” rather than “maps of Palestine”.
  3. He revealed that the map contains a reference to the autobiography of a Hamas mass-murderer Abdullah Barghouthi, currently imprisoned in Israel. Barghouthi is a bomb-maker who was given 67 consecutive life sentences for his part in the murder of 66 Israelis in numerous suicide bombings during the early 2000s.
  4. He expressed his conviction that the illustrations of places on the map would prompt children to find out more about stories behind them which relate to the Palestinian national struggle.
  5. He received full and complete support for his campaign from the show’s host Heba ‘Abd al-Baqi who wished him and his team the best of luck and stated he was calling “from Palestine”. At no point during the interview did Abd al-Baqi challenge, criticise or contextualise Asi’s ideas.

In conclusion, this BBC Arabic radio item normalised the negation of Israel’s right to exist within any borders and denied the right of Israeli Jews to live peacefully while exerting their right of self-determination in their homeland. Asi’s mention of Abdullah Barghouthi also mainstreamed implied support for terrorism against Israeli civilians.

All of the above is a breach of BBC’s editorial guidelines regarding impartiality and offensive speech, as well as a breach of BBC’s style guide regarding the use of the term “Palestine”.

In late November, not long after a CAMERA Arabic submitted a complaint about the item to the BBC, it was mysteriously removed from BBC Arabic’s Soundcloud channel and Facebook webpage. Notably, the other two items aired in the same programme on October 24th still appear on both the Soundcloud channel and the Facebook webpage (the first link leads to the opening item of the show which includes a short description of the map item – the second of the three – at 0:40). 

Although CAMERA Arabic has yet to receive any response to the complaint submitted in November, it would appear that somebody at BBC Arabic took action to hide evidence that this embarrassing item had existed in the first place.

 

BBC Complaints contradicts BBC News website article

Last month we noted that in a report by Aleem Maqbool which was aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on November 18th listeners were told that the announcement made by the US Secretary of State concerning the US administration’s change of position regarding Israeli communities in areas that came under Israeli control during the Six Day War “breaks four decades of State Department policy”. [emphasis added]

Listeners also heard Maqbool say that:

“…the timing has surprised some people because, you know, many Palestinians will feel – even over those four decades during which the United States did consider the building of settlements inconsistent with international law, it never really stopped those settlements expanding at a rapid rate to the point now where some of them are as big as cities.”

And:

“One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumim – cuts the West Bank in half.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those two inaccurate claims which included a link to a BBC News website report from the same day in which it was explained that:

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

On December 2nd we received a response telling us that BBC Complaints had “referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On December 21st BBC Complaints informed us that “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On December 30th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us The World Tonight on November 18. Firstly, we apologise for the delay in replying here – it’s taken longer than normal and we’re sorry for the undue delay. Your concerns about accuracy and impartiality were raised at the time and the programme team respond here as follows:

‘We stand by the assertion that President Trump’s policy is a significant change of a decades-long approach by the State Department to the issue of the legality of settlements in the West Bank.

Successive US administrations have largely avoided the expression of a public opinion on the issue of legality, although in 1980 the US voted for UN Security Council resolution 465 and in 2016 the US did not veto a UN resolution that declared Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[s] a flagrant violation under international law”.

With regards to Ma’ele [sic] Adumim and the settlements around Jerusalem: it is clear that their expansion has made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line, significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank.’”

UN SC resolution 465 dates from the time of the Carter presidency and the 2016 resolution (2334) from the end of the Obama administration. In other words, the BBC has chosen to ignore the interim thirty-six years during which – according to the BBC itself – “the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations”.

Obviously Israeli construction in Ma’ale Adumim or other locations has not “made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line” at all. That line remains as it was when drawn and is specifically defined in that agreement as being “agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

However Aleem Maqbool did not claim that construction in Ma’ale Adumim had had the effect of “significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank” – he claimed that it “cuts the West Bank in half”. That statement of course remains inaccurate, as does the claim that the US Secretary of State’s announcement “breaks four decades of State Department policy”.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

Political advocacy journalism distorts coverage of US policy on settlements  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

 

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Earlier this week we noted that a December 5th BBC ‘Newsround’ photo feature aimed at children aged 6 to 12 presented a photograph of a Christmas tree in Ramallah as having been taken “in Palestine”.

As we observed, the use of that terminology breaches the BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ and a complaint was submitted by BBC Watch on December 14th.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 17th we received an email from BBC Complaints claiming that they were “unable to reply”.

“Thank you for contacting us about the BBC News website.

We regret that at present we’re unable to reply, unless we receive the URL to the article mentioned in your complaint.

Please contact us as you did before and include the above case reference number so we can pick up where we’ve left off.”

The relevant URL was in fact included in our complaint, as shown in the screenshot below:

However by the time that superfluous email from BBC Complaints was sent, the photo feature concerned had been amended and it now carries the date stamp December 16th.

Instead of the original seven photographs – three (42.8%) of which portrayed Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas – the feature now carries eleven images: the original seven as well as additions from Belarus, Manchester, Moscow and El Salvador.

The caption to the photograph from Ramallah has been changed, with the word “Palestine” replaced by “the Middle East”.

However no footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences of the amendment.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 5th the BBC’s ‘Newsround’ website – which is aimed at children aged 6 to 12 – published a photo feature titled “Christmas trees from around the world”:

“It’s December so that means it’s almost Christmas! And of course it also means festive firs are being put up all over the world. Here are some of the best ones from 2019 so far.”

The item features seven captioned photographs taken in various locations: Lithuania, New York, Gaza, Prague, Ramallah, California and Bethlehem. In other words, three out of the seven images (42.8%) portray Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.

Moreover, the caption to the fifth image reads:

“Another great display in Palestine! Fireworks lit up the sky as Ramallah switched on the lights for their giant Christmas tree.”

That wording obviously suggests to readers that both Gaza (referring to a previous photo) and Ramallah are located in a country called Palestine.

The BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ states:

“…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.”

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint concerning that use of terminology which misleads the BBC’s younger audiences.

Related Articles:

Breaches of the BBC Academy ‘style guide’ continue

The BBC can only find Christmas trees in ‘Palestine’  David Collier 

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

Last week we noted the inaccurate portrayal of a resolution passed by the French parliament in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page.

BBC News misrepresents French parliament resolution

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report (including a link to the draft resolution passed by France’s National Assembly) and two days later we received a reply from the BBC News website:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the article and added a correction note at the bottom, advising readers of these changes.”

The original version of the report read as follows:

The amended version and the added footnote now read:

 

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

Earlier this week we noted that in an article published on the BBC News website on November 22nd, MK Gideon Sa’ar was inaccurately described as “the education minister”.

“Gideon Sa’ar has not been the Minister of Education for over six years. He held that post between March 31st 2009 and March 18th 2013 and since then there have been three other ministers.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to alert editors to that inaccuracy but over 24 hours later no reply had been received and no correction made. We therefore submitted a complaint on November 24th.

On November 25th we received a response from the BBC News website informing us that:

“This sentence was amended in the hours after publication, to now correctly refer to Gideon Saar as “The former education and interior minister…””

The amendment was in fact made at least two days after publication and no footnote has been added to inform audiences that they were previously given inaccurate information.

Before:

After:

Related Articles:

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