The BBC’s response to a complaint about Christians in Israel

In late December we noted that listeners to an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ had been told by presenter Jonny Dymond that:

“More than 200 million Christians are at risk of persecution around the world – a number that has risen sharply over the past few decades according to the Foreign Office. In Christianity’s home – the Middle East – the numbers speak for themselves. Four fifths of Iraq’s Christians have fled or been killed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories as those following other religions have grown sharply in number, the Christian population has shrunk. Today the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review into the persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they get from the UK.” [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Dymond’s inaccurate claim that “in Israel…the Christian population has shrunk” which, nine days later, we were informed would take more time to address. Nearly two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a response from BBC Complaints which includes the following:

“We understand you feel Jonny Dymond falsely stated that the Christian population has shrunk in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The information was clearly flagged up as being Israel and the Palestinian Territories because they are and were the best comparable figures to use to make a comparison between now and pre- Second World War – there was prior to the Declaration (and War) of Independence no administrative unit known as ‘Israel’, only the combined territory of the Ottoman and Mandate units known generally as Palestine, subdivided at times, what is now bits of Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel.

To get as long as possible time frame on the Christian decline in the region that was the administrative unit we chose.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint clarifying that the original one related solely to Dymond’s statement concerning Israel, that the time frame presented was “the past few decades” rather than “between now and pre- Second World Warand that seeing as listeners would have reasonably understood that Dymond was referring to Israel rather than “Ottoman and Mandate units” which were not mentioned at all, a correction is still in order.   

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BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy

As readers may recall, on July 29th BBC audiences saw and heard several reports on various platforms by BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim relating to the release of Ahed Tamimi from prison.

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part one

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part two

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part three

In an additional item – a news bulletin aired on the BBC News Channel on the same day – viewers heard the following: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Ben Brown: “A Palestinian teenager has been freed from an Israeli prison after serving an eight month sentence for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier.  Ahed Tamimi was 16 at the time of the incident and the footage of it happening went viral around the world.  Her sentence was widely condemned, as children are protected by international law from imprisonment.  I’ve been talking about this to the BBC Arabic Service’s Nida Ibrahim, who saw the teenager being released.”

Nida Ibrahim: “As you know, children are not allowed to be tried under international law however children living under the Israeli occupation; Palestinian children living under the Israeli occupation, are facing trials under military courts in Israel.  This has caused many, this has caused an outcry, many human rights organisations have criticised that sentence by Israel and many say that this case is shedding light on the case of many Palestinian minors.”

Ben Brown also made a similar claim in another TV programme on the same day:

Brown: “This isn’t a one-off case, is it? Children are often tried in military courts and imprisoned in adult jails. It’s against international law. What is Israel’s explanation for that?”

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning that highlighted claim (and other aspects of the report), pointing out that it is inaccurate to claim that it is against international law to try or imprison children under the age of 18.

Having received an unsatisfactory response to his first complaint, Mr Franklin filed a second and in the subsequent response BBC Complaints acknowledged that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not prohibit the trial or imprisonment of under-18s.

“We agree, however, that we should not have implied that children are protected from imprisonment itself by international law. We should have made it clear that the Convention says children should be arrested, detained or imprisoned only as a last resort and for the shortest time possible.”

Mr Franklin submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). In its reply the ECU acknowledged that there is a “question” regarding “the extent to which this [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] can be described as “international law”” and ruled that:

“…the reference to the CRC (what we understood was meant by “international law”) did not accurately describe its terms, in that the convention does not proscribe the trial or imprisonment of children. We are therefore upholding this part of your complaint.”

The ECU has now published its findings.

 

BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

As documented here last week, an article titled “Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day” which appeared on CBBC’s ‘Newsround’ website on November 30th misled the BBC’s younger audiences on Middle East geography.

“We don’t actually know a lot about St Andrew.

It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that’s now called Palestine, in the Middle East. […]

Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter, was also one of the disciples. They both lived in Galilee, where they were fishermen.”[emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that error on December 2nd and on December 10th received a reply stating that it “may take a little longer” to address the issue.

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning the same error on December 3rd and on December 8th received a reply which reads as follows:

“Thanks for contacting us regarding the following Newsround article ‘Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day’:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/20556587

We note your comments and have reviewed the article, and please know that the sentence in question now reads:

“It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that is now part of Israel.””

The article has indeed been amended but no footnote has been added to advise those who read it during the first week after its publication that it included inaccurate information.

Before

After

Related Articles:

BBC misleads young audiences on Middle East geography

BBC issues correction to inaccurate Jerusalem elections claim

As documented here at the beginning of the month, an audio report concerning the municipal elections in Jerusalem that was aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme and in two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on October 30th included the inaccurate claim that for the first time, a Palestinian candidate was running for a seat on the city council.

BBC erases crucial background from report on Jerusalem election

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate claim, pointing out that even Palestinian sources acknowledge that this is far from the first time that an Arab resident of Jerusalem has been on the ballot paper.

The response we received includes the following:

“Thanks for getting in touch about our report on October 30.

We looked into this for you and appreciate you raising the matter with us. You’re correct about a precedent lying elsewhere, so we’ve published a correction in line with our complaints framework:

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

Many thanks once again for bringing this to our attention.”

The correction reads as follows:

 

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part two

As recently documented here:

“In late June we noted the appearance of an inaccurate and misleading map on the BBC News website.

“An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

[…] the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.”

Similar versions of the same map appeared in at least five additional BBC News website reports.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue and on July 30th we received a response informing us that more time would be needed to address the points raised. On August 18th we received a further communication informing us that the time frame for addressing the complaint had run out.”

However, on October 26th BBC Watch received a communication from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about the maps contained within several articles on the BBC News website and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

After considering your point further we have replaced the maps in question.

We hope you will find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The replacement map now appears as follows in five reports published on the BBC News website between June 27th and July 12th 2018: see here, here, here, here and here.

In another article dating from July 22nd, the inaccurate map has been replaced by a different one.

None of the six amended articles includes a footnote to advise visitors to the BBC News website who accessed those reports during the past three to four months that the map has been amended due to inaccuracy.

Related Articles:

BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

 

 

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

On February 8th 2017 the BBC News website published an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?“ which was discussed here at the time.

The original version of that article included a map:

Several days later – sometime between February 12th and February 15th 2017 – changes were made to that map:

In July 2018 the BBC News website linked to Marcus’ 2017 article as ‘related reading’.  

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning the inaccurate map in which he pointed out that:

Kibbutz Gadot

“In the map about half way down the page it shows a triangular area to the west of the River Jordan which is shown in yellow as “occupied by Israel”.  (It is the area just to the right of where it says “River Jordan”.)  This area has been internationally recognised as being a part of Israel since the 1949 armistice agreement.  It was a demilitarised zone (DMZ) from 1949 to 1967, but still a part of Israel.  In the middle of that zone was Kibbutz Gadot, which came under frequent bombardment by Syrian forces on the Golan Heights between 1949 and 1967.  The armistice agreement by which that area became a DMZ was superseded on May 31st 1974 by the Israel Syria disengagement agreement, which created a new DMZ, which is shown on your map as the UNDOF area.”

Mr Franklin’s initial complaint was rejected by the BBC and so he submitted a second one on July 27th, to which he received a reply on October 25th.

“Thank you for getting in touch again about our feature article entitled ‘Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38891358) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the map.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The amended map now appears as follows:

No footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences who read that article anytime during the last twenty and a half months that they had been presented with an inaccurate map.

BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

As documented here in July, the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel suspends fuel deliveries to Gaza over arson attacks” on the 17th of that month in which readers were initially given an accurate portrayal of the story.

“Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons.

No fuel will enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday, but food and medicine deliveries will still be permitted.” [emphasis added]

However in contrast, the caption to a photograph featured later on in the report and a quote from a political NGO informed BBC audiences of “the closure of Kerem Shalom” and the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those inaccurate representations of the situation, pointing out that – as the BBC obviously was aware – the Kerem Shalom crossing had not been closed or shut down.

On July 26th we received a response from BBC Complaints informing us that it would take more time to reply. On August 14th we received another response stating that BBC Complaints had not been able to reply within the accepted time-frame and referring us to OFCOM. On September 18th we received an additional response.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44858637) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

To hopefully address your complaint now, after considering your points in more detail we have amended the caption of the third photo to now explain that:

An Israeli NGO said the measures could have disastrous implications for Gazans

However we do not consider that the paragraph which refers to a statement from Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha needs changed for the reasons you’ve outlined.

In particular they do not say that the crossing has been “shut down” but refer to the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline…” which implies ongoing activity in a story about the tightening of restrictions.”

Apparently BBC Complaints would have us believe that audiences would not understand the phrase “shutting down” as meaning closing or ceasing operations.

BBC News website amends delayed post article headline following complaint

Readers may recall that on August 15th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” which – as noted here at the time – failed to provide readers with the full story.

Original headline

“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.”

Five days after the report’s initial appearance, the BBC News website added a paragraph and a footnote:

“Update 20 August 2018: The article has been updated to make reference to the 2008 postal agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Meanwhile, Mr Stephen Franklin had submitted a complaint concerning the inaccurate claim in the report’s headline that Israel had “blocked” Palestinian mail. The initial response to that complaint, received on August 22nd, stated:

Mr Franklin submitted a second complaint, pointing out that the arrangements concerning postal services to the Palestinian Authority were not “imposed” but had actually been agreed within the framework of the Oslo Accords and that the delayed mail was held in Jordan rather than Israel.

Over a month later, on September 26th, Mr Franklin received another response.

The re-headlined article now carries two footnotes:

Amended headline

Obviously the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website means that those who read the original version this article on August 15th remain unaware of the significant changes subsequently made.

 

 

 

 

BBC ECU publishes ‘Alternativity’ complaint finding

In July the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) informed BBC Watch that it had upheld one of the three points made in a complaint concerning a BBC Two Christmas 2017 programme titled ‘Alternativity‘.

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

As noted at the time:

“According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.”

Two months later – and over nine months after the complaint was originally submitted – that finding now appears on the BBC News website.

 

BBC Complaints says it would not be ‘appropriate’ to correct an inaccuracy

As readers may recall, last month BBC Radio 4 chose to feature a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh in its ‘Book of the Week’ programme.

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

Among the many issues arising in those five programmes, one factual inaccuracy stood out in particular.

“…in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and has now received the following reply.

If – despite BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy which state that even in factually based drama “we should ensure it does not distort the known facts” – the BBC is of the view that “[i]t wouldn’t be appropriate for us to edit it”, then the obvious conclusion is that the corporation needs to be more careful with its choice of material and that politically motivated polemics that intentionally distort facts and materially mislead BBC audiences are clearly not the best choice for Radio 4’s “[s]erialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”.