BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

As documented here last month, readers of a BBC News website report headlined “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” which was published on June 16th were told that:

“US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the settlement “well deserved, but much appreciated”.” [emphasis added]

In fact, Ambassador Friedman said:

“I want to thank you for the extraordinary gesture that you and the State of Israel are making to the president of the United States,” […] “It is well deserved, but it is much appreciated, and we look forward to work[ing] with you and with the government of Israel to continue to strengthen the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate representation which included a link to the ambassador’s actual statement. A week later we were informed that “it may take a little longer before we can reply”. Two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a reply which included the following:

“Thank you for writing in with your feedback about the BBC News story “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48656431).

I note your concerns about how Ambassador Friedman’s quote was described […]

We have looked at the quote, and would agree that a change is required to make the meaning clearer. The line now reads: “Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the move “well deserved, but much appreciated”.”

However, no footnote was added to the report to inform readers of that amendment.

The continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that those who read that article between June 16th and July 2nd, when that amendment was made, remain unaware of the fact that they were given inaccurate information.

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BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

Earlier this week we noted that readers of a report by Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield which was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page on June 20th were inaccurately informed that Israel “refuses to extradite its nationals”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue which included a link to the relevant legislation and examples of extradition cases from recent months. Two days later we received a response from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our feature article entitled The fake French minister in a silicone mask who stole millions (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48510027).

You raise a fair point and it was inaccurate to say that Israel “refuses” to extradite its nationals.

After further investigation it’s our understanding that Israel does extradite its citizens, but not often.

We have amended the article to make that clear and added a correction note at the bottom of the article outlining this change.”

The relevant paragraph now reads:

“In 2015, Chikli was found guilty of scamming money out of French corporations by pretending to be their chief executive. But by this time he was living in Israel, which doesn’t often extradite its nationals.”

The footnote reads:

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

An article by the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson which appeared in the ‘features’ section of BBC News website’s Middle East page on February 1st 2019 under the title “The plane journey that set Iran’s revolution in motion” told readers that:

“Today, Iran is a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women’s dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women’s rights in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia.

Iranian women run businesses, own property, drive cars and play an important part in politics.

The present government is probably more liberal than any other since the revolution.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The World Economic Forum publishes an annual ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ which ranks countries in terms of women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. The 2018 report put Iran in slot 142 out of 149, with Saudi Arabia one place higher. Despite Simpson’s claim that “Iranian women…play an important part in politics”, the WEF’s sub-index on political empowerment ranks Iran 141 out of 149. Saudi Arabia is ranked 127th. […]

This is by no means the first time that the BBC has whitewashed the specific issue of women’s rights in Iran as well as the general picture of human rights in that country. But this is not some junior reporter dashing off a report: this is the BBC’s highly paid world affairs editor – no less – writing a feature, with time to check facts in order to avoid misleading audiences.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that article on February 6th. On February 15th BBC Complaints informed us that it “had referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On March 6th we received another e-mail from BBC Complaints informing us that – as is all too often the case – “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On June 17th – over four months after the complaint was originally made – we received an e-mail from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our feature article entitled The plane journey that set Iran’s revolution in motion (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47043561).

You appear never to have received a response to your complaint, submitted in early February, and we would like to apologise for the long and regrettable delay in writing back to you.

After consider [sic] your points in more detail we have amended this paragraph to now explain that:

Today, Iran appears a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women’s dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women’s freedom of movement in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia with its male guardianship system.

In my experience, Iranian women have more belief that they can run businesses, own property, drive cars- and play an important part in politics, despite figures to the contrary.

We have also added a note of clarification at the bottom of the article outlining these changes.”

That footnote reads:

The BBC claims that: [emphasis added]

“We aim to deal with your complaint fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by our Royal Charter to have a complaints framework which provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure we are meeting our obligations and fixing problems.”

And:

“If you complain in writing we post or email over 90% of our replies within 2 weeks.”

In April 2018 the BBC once again renewed its contract with the private company to which it outsources the first two stages of its complaints system.  

Obviously a complaints system which takes over four months to come up with a response is neither “timely” nor “effective” and the continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that audience members who read Simpson’s article when it was first published remain unaware of the changes made to it.

Related Articles:

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BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

Back in March we noted that the BBC’s online profile of the Golan Heights informed readers that:

“The area [Golan Heights] is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.” [emphasis added]

As noted here at the time, that highlighted claim is inaccurate.

“A document produced by the Knesset Research and Information Center last year shows that three main natural sources – one of which is the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) basin – currently together provide just 40% of Israel’s water. […]

With the Sea of Galilee being only one of the three main natural sources which together currently provide just 40% of Israel’s water supply and the Golan Heights being only one of several severely reduced sources of water to the lake, the BBC’s claim that a third of Israel’s water supply comes from the Golan Heights is clearly inaccurate and misleading.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that topic (including a link to the relevant document) on March 26th. On April 3rd we received notification 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 April 22nd we were informed that BBC Complaints had “not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

Nearly three months after the complaint was originally submitted – on June 14th – we received another communication – this time from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our Golan Heights profile (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14724842) and I’m sorry for the long delay in writing back to you.

You raise a fair point and we’ve since removed the reference to the area supplying a “third of Israel’s water supply”.”

The amended paragraph now reads:

“The area is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River.”

No explanation was provided as to why it took nearly three months for the inaccurate claim to be removed and no footnote was added to the profile to inform BBC audiences that they were previously misinformed.

The continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that readers who previously read that profile remain unaware that they were given inaccurate information.

BBC Watch prompts removal of Nazi analogy from BBC Arabic website

As documented here last week, on May 15th the BBC Arabic website published an article about a demonstration which had taken place a few days earlier in London.

“In a sub section titled “British sympathisers” readers were told that “[t]he British capital London witnessed a mass demonstration last Saturday to commemorate the anniversary and highlight the suffering of Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip”. No information was given concerning the organisers of that demonstration or the fact that its speakers included a Hamas-linked professional activist.

Readers were then told that an unnamed member of staff from BBC Trending […] had met some of the demonstration’s participants in order to understand why they “give up on a day of relaxation and good times with the family to engage in political action…”.”

Five participants were interviewed and their context-free and often inaccurate claims and statements were uncritically amplified by the BBC – including an antisemitic Nazi analogy from an interviewee named as ‘Jay’.

“I was very sympathetic to the victims of the Holocaust and I visited the Jerusalem Museum [sic] to know more about them, however the fact that the Israelis commit violent acts that bear the same level of atrocity against the Palestinians is beyond my comprehension” [translation CAMERA Arabic, emphasis added]

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism includes:

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue and the reply we received includes the following:

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint in which you claim that we ‘promoted anti-Semitism’ in an article published by the BBC Arabic service.

I forwarded your email to the editors of the Arabic service…

In reply – we try, as much as possible, to cover all different angles of Arab-Israeli conflict which simultaneously doesn’t necessarily mean that angles have to be crammed into every story. At the beginning of the article in question we did mention how the two sides view and celebrate/mourn this day. This story focused on one angle due to the nature of the event, the interviewees taking part in the event and the related trend on Arabic social media. In short – our view is that any objective assessment of the coverage of Arab-Israeli conflict on the Arabic site should be based on the entirety of the coverage across different medium: TV, Online & Radio, and not judged by one single article.    

Turning specifically to the allegation of ‘promoting antisemitism’, the accurate of the quote in question is: “I was, and still, very sympathetic to the victims of the Holocaust and I have visited Herzl Museum in Jerusalem to know more about them, but now I fail to comprehend the fact that Israelis are practicing violent acts on the same level of atrocity to the Palestinians”.

We don’t accept the complaint that it ‘promotes antisemitism.’ Our aim is to reflect the world as we find it and this quote was the strongly held view of the contributor, which we reported accurately. However, we have removed the quote as it does, in our view represent, an overblown comparison on the part of contributor. [emphasis added]

I hope the above clarifies the matter.”

The quote was indeed removed from the article on May 29th – two weeks after its initial publication – but with nothing added to inform readers of that fact.

Once again we see that, in addition to ignoring recommendations concerning the spelling of the word, the BBC apparently believes itself to have both the authority and the expertise to make pronunciations on what is – or is not – antisemitism. 

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism – such as that published by the IHRA over three years ago – in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms.

And sadly, that need is still embarrassingly obvious.

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BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

1) As recorded here last week, a report published on the BBC News website on May 10th claimed – supposedly quoting an Israeli news site – that in the Golan Heights vultures have allegedly been poisoned by farmers “whose herds are threatened by the birds”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that vultures are scavengers which do not threaten livestock and that the BBC had mistranslated the Hebrew language report which in fact referred to “predators” – in this case, mainly wolves.

The BBC acknowledged that error in its response to our complaint.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that eight vultures on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – about half the birds’ population there – have been poisoned to death, Israeli officials say (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48232078).

You raise a fair point and we’ve since amended the penultimate paragraph to now explain that the herds are threatened by “predators”.”

The article was amended three days after its initial publication.

2) On May 16th the BBC News website posted a podcast produced by BBC Ouch and titled “The rising stars of Eurovision who pulled out of the final” on its ‘Middle East’ and ‘Entertainment & Arts’ pages. The synopsis to that report originally stated:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday – the Jewish holy day of rest.”

The following day BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website and Tweeted BBC Ouch.

The synopsis was subsequently amended and now it reads:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday night – the start of the Jewish Sabbath, the holy day of rest.”

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BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

Earlier in the week we noted that BBC Watch had submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning inaccurate portrayals of control of the Gaza Strip in three separate items of content.

We have now received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that more than 40 animals have been moved out of “terrible conditions” in a Gaza Strip zoo to a reserve in Jordan, a welfare group has announced (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47848430).

We have since amended the article to now explain that:

Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank have been ruled separately since 2007, when deadly clashes broke between Hamas and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas won parliamentary elections the previous year, and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from the enclave.

We have also added a correction note at the bottom outlining this change.

You also raise a fair point about our Palestinian territories profile and we have also since updated the profile and its timeline.

Thank you once again for taking the time and trouble to point this out.”

The footnote added to the April 8th article reads:

The BBC’s Palestinian territories profile previously told audiences that:

“The two PNA areas were then run by the separate factions – the West Bank by Fatah, and Gaza by Hamas – until a government of national unity assumed control of Gaza public institutions in October 2017.” [emphasis added]

That has now been amended to read:

“In October 2017, the rivals signed a reconciliation deal that was meant to see Hamas hand over administrative control of Gaza to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, but disputes over disarmament have stalled any progress.”

The profile’s timeline previously read:

“2017 October – Hamas lets the Ramallah-based unity government take over public institutions in Gaza as part of a reconciliation process between the two rival administrations.”

That has also been amended:

“2017 October – Hamas signs a reconciliation deal intended to administrative control [sic] of Gaza transferred to the Palestinian Authority, but disputes stalled the deal’s implementation.”

While those long overdue corrections are of course welcome, the fact that BBC audiences were for 18 months inaccurately told that the Gaza Strip was under the control of a Palestinian unity government which did not exist is obviously cause for concern for a media outlet which likes to tout itself as “a provider of news that you can trust”.

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BBC amends inaccurate claim about Entebbe hijacking

As documented here last week, a March 27th BBC News website report titled “Entebbe pilot Michel Bacos who stayed with hostages dies” informed readers that:

“The passengers were eventually split up. The non-Israelis were flown to Paris while the 94 Israeli passengers were held hostage.

Alongside the hostages were the Air France crew of 12.”

As noted here at the time, that portrayal of the “split up” of passengers is not accurate. The BBC’s own Raffi Berg accurately reported in June 2016 that:

“On the third day, the hijackers began calling people’s names and ordering them into a second, smaller, squalid room.

It became clear they were separating the Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish passengers from the rest, immediately evoking the horrors of the Nazi selections in World War Two when Jews were picked out to be sent to their deaths.”

Following a complaint from Mr Stephen Franklin (and others) the article was amended ten days after its initial publication and the above passage now reads:

“The passengers were eventually split up. The non-Israelis were flown to Paris while the 94 remaining passengers were forced to stay. The hijackers held all the Israeli passengers hostage as well two religious Jewish couples from the US and Belgium, according to eyewitness Ilan Hartuv.

Alongside the hostages were the Air France crew of 12.”

A footnote has also been appended to the article.

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BBC News amends errors in election candidate profile

An article originally titled “Benny Gantz: The ex-Israeli general challenging Netanyahu” appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of April 5th.

As BBC Watch pointed out in an email to the BBC News website and in a Tweet, that headline was misleading:

Shortly afterwards the headline was amended to read “Benny Gantz: The Israeli ex-military chief challenging Netanyahu”.

The article originally stated:

“The 51-year-old retired lieutenant-general is a newcomer to politics who formed the centrist Blue and White alliance in February, promising to unite a country that had “lost its way”.

Mr Gantz was born in 1959 in Kfar Ahim, a co-operative farmers’ village in central Israel founded by immigrants.”

A Twitter user posed an obvious question:

The BBC News website subsequently amended that error too.

 

BBC apologises for ‘unfortunate oversight’

Last week we documented a breach of the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” during a BBC Radio 4 news bulletin broadcast on March 25th.

BBC R4 newsreader refers to a state the BBC knows does not exist

During that bulletin newsreader Zeb Soanes told BBC audiences:

“Mr Netanyahu cut short his visit to Washington because of escalating violence between Israel and Palestine. [emphasis added]

As we observed at the time:

“There is of course no point in having a style guide if journalists, presenters and producers – particularly it would seem at BBC Radio 4 – ignore its guidance. Given that the style guide correctly states “there is no independent state of Palestine today”, there is obviously no reason whatsoever for BBC staff to be promoting the inaccurate impression that such a state exists – and even more so when they are in fact referring to a terror organisation that violently seized power from the representatives of the Palestinians recognised by the international community.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that issue and has received the following response:

“Thanks for contacting us regarding a Radio 4 bulletin on 25 March.

We discussed your concerns with the Radio 4 News team – this occurred within our hourly BBC News Radio 4 bulletin, rather than The World Tonight itself.

You’re right that this didn’t meet our established style – it was an unfortunate oversight on this occasion. We took action to ensure it was not repeated and reminded staff immediately of our approach as outlined in our guidelines.

We regret any instance where the incorrect terminology is used and appreciate you taking the time to raise this here.”

Despite that welcome action, with no correction issued BBC audiences however remain under the inaccurate impression created by that use of incorrect terminology.

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