BBC’s double standard terror terminology on view again

On the afternoon of February 21st the lead stories on BBC News website’s main homepage, World page and Middle East page were presented using the same headline:

“Israeli soldier gets 18 months for killing”

BBC News website homepage

BBC News website homepage

BBC News website 'World' page

BBC News website ‘World’ page

BBC News website 'Middle East' page

BBC News website ‘Middle East’ page

That headline failed to inform BBC audiences that the person killed was a terrorist and that information was likewise absent from the sub-heading on all three pages which told readers:

“Victim’s father calls sentence a “joke” in a case which split opinion in Israel on the use of force”

Although it is impossible to know how many of the people who read that headline clicked on the link to the article, those who did found a report which – in typical BBC style – refrains from using the terms terror, terrorist or terrorism in its portrayal of an Israel-related story. 

“An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across the country has been jailed for 18 months.” [emphasis added]

In contrast, visitors to regional pages of the UK section of BBC News website on the same day did find such terminology used in the headlines and text of domestic stories.

uk-terror-story-1

terror-uk-art-2

Once again we see that the claims concerning “consistency” and “impartiality” made in the BBC’s editorial guidelines concerning ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism‘ do not hold water.

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BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

In November 2004 the Telegraph published an editorial which opened as follows:

“Many listeners to the BBC were rightly outraged last week by the broadcast from its Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett, in which she cloyingly described how she wept as Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment.

She said: “When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning.” Almost as a footnote, she later admitted that an “ambivalence towards violence” was one of his failings.”

The BBC received a large volume of complaints concerning that item and in 2005 the BBC governors ruled that Barbara Plett’s report “breached the requirements of due impartiality”.

“The BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden has apologised for what she described as an “editorial misjudgement”.

She said it appeared Plett “unintentionally gave the impression of over-identifying with Yasser Arafat and his cause”.”

Twelve years on, a written version of that report by Barbara Plett is still available online in its original form.

plett-2004-art

At the bottom of the article this opaquely worded addendum appears:

plett-addendum

That, however, is apparently the sole action the BBC found it appropriate to take regarding a report deemed to lack due impartiality by the highest BBC authority at the time. 

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BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

As readers may be aware, the BBC recently announced the expansion of its foreign language services.ws-expansion

“The BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services as part of its biggest expansion “since the 1940s”, the corporation has announced. […]

The new languages will be Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

The first new services are expected to launch in 2017.”

With that announcement meaning that the BBC will be broadcasting in forty foreign languages,  the longstanding issue of the accuracy and impartiality of content produced by the BBC’s foreign language services is obviously of interest.

The BBC World Service Operating Licence published in November 2016 does not clarify the mechanism by which adherence to the four relevant BBC public purposes or compliance with editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality are to be ensured for broadcasts in foreign languages although the licence does state that:

“As far as is relevant, the editorial standards that apply to the BBC’s UK Public Services apply equally to the BBC’s international services.”

The BBC World Service webpage directs members of the public wishing to make complaints to the general online complaints form. However, in our experience when complaints have been made about foreign language reports (for example, this one in Persian), the BBC complaints department has declared itself unable to deal with the complaint and suggested contacting the department which produced the programme.

With OFCOM set to take over later stage handling of complaints from the BBC next year, the issue of the technical ability to handle complaints concerning foreign language content at both early and advanced stages is clearly one which needs to be addressed and clarified to members of the BBC’s funding public.

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OFCOM consultation concerning BBC accuracy and impartiality

Ahead of OFCOM assumption of new responsibilities relating to the BBC, the body has launched the first of a series of public consultations.ofcom

“Ofcom is carrying out a review of the suitability of the list of larger parties for the purposes of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code and rules on party political and referendum broadcasts (PPRB Rules). We are proposing to amend Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code and Ofcom’s PPRB Rules to remove the concept of the list of larger parties. Broadcasters and political parties will need to plan ahead for the various elections taking place in May 2017.

Ofcom is also currently preparing for its new responsibilities of regulating the BBC. This follows the publication on 15 September 2016 by the UK Government of the new draft Royal Charter and Framework Agreement for the BBC. In this document we also set out our proposed approach for regulating BBC editorial content in the areas of due impartiality, due accuracy, elections and referendums. Specifically, this will require amendments to: Section Five (due impartiality) of the Code; Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code; and Ofcom’s rules on party political and referendum broadcasts.

This document is the first of a series of consultation documents that Ofcom is publishing as it prepares for its new BBC duties. However, we consider it is appropriate to carry out our review of the suitability of the list of larger parties at the same time. This is an issue that will affect all Ofcom licensees as well as the BBC.”

Submissions should be made by January 16th 2017 at the above link (scroll down to the online form).

Details of the changes proposed by OFCOM can be found here (see Section 4).

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

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BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”

The BBC’s guidance on social networking states:

“Impartiality is a particular concern for those working in News and Current Affairs. Nothing should appear on their personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC. For example, News and Current Affairs staff should not:

  • advocate support for a particular political party;
  • express views for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate;
  • advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate.” [emphasis added]

A story which was not reported by the BBC but which was recently “an issue of current public controversy or debate” in Israel concerns the decision of the political NGO B’Tselem to participate in an informal session at the UN Security Council. As Ynet reported ahead of the session:

“The Palestinian delegation to the United Nations successfully initiated an informal meeting of the Security Council on Israeli settlements in the West Bank that is to be held on Friday and to be attended by representatives of B’Tselem.

According to the UN’s website, the “Arria-Formula meeting,” which is how Friday’s discussion has been defined, is a “very informal, confidential” meeting that enables “Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views.”

 It is believed that this meeting is the Palestinian delegation’s first step in a plan to have the Security Council issue a resolution against Israel regarding the settlements.

Friday’s meeting will take place at 10am EDT (5pm Israel time) and will be co-chaired by Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela. The meeting’s title is ‘illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and Two-State Solution.'”

Predictably, the participation of B’Tselem (which has received funding from UN bodies) in such an event created controversy, as did the actual messaging delivered by its director Hagai El-Ad to the forum. One Israeli politician declared his intention to weigh “the possibility of taking legal action against El-Ad to strip him of his Israeli citizenship”. That, of course, will not happen because not only was David Bitan subsequently advised that there is no legal basis for such action but parliamentarians from across the political spectrum – including his own party – publicly declared their opposition to any such move.  

Nevertheless, Bitan’s declaration did provide the opportunity for some PR posturing from B’Tselem’s director.

el-ad-tweet

And that second Tweet was given further amplification by BBC News producer “in Israel and the West Bank” Michael Shuval who went on to add his own commentary – notably and oddly, in English.

rt-shuval-btselem

shuval-tweet-2

Those Tweets clearly “advocate” a “particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate” and thus contradict the BBC’s guidance and compromise its impartiality. The fact that B’Tselem was the local political NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC throughout 2015 and 2014 makes that lack of impartiality even more worthy of note.

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BBC failure to adhere to editorial guidelines highlighted by ‘War on Want’ story

In an article titled “War on Want chief quits amid claims of anti-semitism” the Times informs us that:

John Hilary, 'War on Want' (photo: Twitter)

John Hilary, ‘War on Want’ (photo: Twitter)

“The head of a controversial charity is leaving without a job to go to amid investigations by the Charity Commission into the organisation’s “campaigning and political activities”.

John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, will step down next month after growing controversy about the charity’s work against Israel. War on Want funds Israeli Apartheid Week, an event at universities that Jewish Human Rights Watch has accused of “targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting anti-semitic speakers to campuses”. […]

British law says an organisation cannot be a charity if its purposes are political, but War on Want explicitly says it is a “political organisation” that believes in “justice, not charity”. […]

The Charity Commission said it had received complaints about War on Want, “particularly in respect of its campaigning and political activities”, and would be publishing an “operational case report” into the charity, a rare procedure that is carried out only when there is “significant public interest in the issues involved” or “lessons that other charities can learn” from it.”WoW 1

Readers who are familiar with the record of the self-described political NGO ‘War on Want’ will perhaps not be surprised by news of the Charity Commission’s investigation. It is however worth remembering that despite its long history of controversial activity, the BBC has engaged in fundraising from which that NGO has benefited, has provided a platform for the promotion of the political agenda of a member of its staff – sometimes without informing audiences of her affiliations as editorial guidelines demand – and earlier this year brought in John Hilary himself as a contributor to a debate on the issue of boycotts without adequate clarification of his organisation’s political agenda.

The BBC’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The ‘War on Want’ example once again highlights the need for consistent adherence to those guidelines, which are currently all too frequently ignored.

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A BBC story from August 2014 still in need of clarification

As was noted here two years ago:

“Between August 16th [2014] and August 20th inclusive the BBC News website’s Middle East page featured an article titled “Dutchman returns Holocaust medal after family deaths in Gaza“. The same article also appeared on the website’s Europe page, as did a filmed version of the report (also shown on television news) by the BBC’s correspondent in The Hague, Anna Holligan, under the headline “Dutchman returns Holocaust medal to Israeli embassy over Gaza deaths“.Anna Holligan report

The written version states:

“A Dutchman honoured by Israel for hiding a Jewish child during World War Two has handed back his medal after six of his relatives were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

Henk Zanoli, 91, wrote to the Israeli embassy in The Hague to say he could no longer hold the honour.

He said an Israeli F-16 had destroyed his great-niece’s home in Gaza, killing all inside, in the recent offensive. [….]

His great-niece is a Dutch diplomat who is married to Palestinian economist Ismail Ziadah, who was born in a refugee camp in central Gaza.

Mr Ziadah’s mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and nine-year-old nephew were all killed after their family home was hit by Israeli aircraft.””

We noted at the time that another person present in the apartment when the incident took place was a senior Hamas commander called Mohammed Mahmoud al-Maqadma. Some weeks later we noted that it had emerged that one of the Ziyadeh (Ziadah) brothers – also present in the building at the time – was also a member of Hamas’ Al Qassam brigades.

The Military Attorney General has now published the results of the investigation into that incident (section 2 here).

“In media reports it was alleged that on 20 July 2014, at around 14:00, seven members of the Ziyadeh family were killed as the result of an IDF attack on a building in Al-Bureij. The incident was subsequently referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination.

The factual findings collated by the FFA Mechanism and presented to the MAG indicate that on 20 July 2014, the IDF carried out an aerial strike on a structure that was being used as an active command and control center by the Hamas terror organization. The attack aimed to neutralize both the command and control center and the military operatives who were manning it, and who, according to information received in real-time, were involved in terror activity which threatened IDF forces operating in the area. It was further indicated, that the structure was also utilized by the military operative Mohammed Muqadama, a senior figure in Hamas’ military observation force.

In the course of the strike planning process it was assessed that the extent of the harm expected to result to civilians as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the significant military advantage that was anticipated to result from a strike on the military command and control center and the military operatives who were manning it. The strike was planned for execution by means of a precise munition, and in a way which would allow for the strike’s objective to be achieved, whilst limiting the potential for collateral damage to surrounding buildings. It was further found, that it would not have been possible to provide a warning prior to the strike on the building, as such a warning was expected to frustrate the objective of the attack.

As noted above, it is alleged that as a result of the strike seven people were killed. Findings indicated that among the casualties were three military operatives in the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organizations, who were members of the Ziyadeh family, as well as the senior military operative mentioned above, Mohammed Muqadama.

After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFA Mechanism, the MAG found that the targeting processes in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.

The decision to strike was taken by the competent authorities, and the objects of the attack were military targets – an active command and control center and military operatives affiliated with the Hamas terror organization. The attack complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated to result from it. This estimation was not unreasonable under the circumstances.” [emphasis added]

Both of Anna Holligan’s reports are still available online in their original form and the written report continues to amplify the following statement:

“Mr Zanoli, a retired lawyer, offered sharp criticism of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive, warning that such actions could lead to possible convictions of “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.”

This additional claim still appears in the article’s closing lines:

““Against this background it is particularly shocking and tragic that today, four generations on, our family is faced with the murder of our kin in Gaza. Murder carried out by the State of Israel,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Israeli ambassador Haim Davon.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines state that:

“However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it.” 

Clearly the BBC needs to take the long overdue action of adding footnotes to both those reports in order to clarify to visitors to its website that the three civilian Ziyadeh family casualties were brought about by the fact that terrorists – including three of their relatives – were using the family home as a command and control centre and that most of those killed in this legitimate military operation were terror operatives.

Particularly in light of the publication of the findings of the official investigation into this incident, the failure to clarify its circumstances in the content still available online potentially risks the waste of publicly provided resources on easily avoidable complaints to the BBC.

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Continuing to map the BBC’s inconsistent use of the term ‘terror’

On August 11th the BBC News website published an article about a thwarted terror attack in Canada under the headline “Canada police ‘kill suspect in anti-terror operation’“. Readers of that article were left in no doubt as to what the story was about. [all emphasis added]

“Police have shot dead a suspect in an anti-terror operation in the Canadian province of Ontario.” […]

“An earlier The RCMP statement said [sic] it had received “credible information of a potential terrorist threat”.” […]

“Mr Tailleur, who represented Driver in 2015 and early 2016, said his client had never indicated he would engage in terrorist activities.” […]

“The electronic tag was removed in February when he agreed to the terms of a court order limiting his activities because there were reasonable grounds to believe he might aid a terror group or terrorist activity.”

The article also included an insert titled “How do countries handle terror suspects?”.

Days earlier the BBC News website produced several reports about the terror attack on August 8th at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan in which scores of people were murdered.Quetta attack

Pakistan hospital bomb attack kills dozens in Quetta August 8th 2016

Quetta hospital bombing: Pakistan Taliban claim attack August 8th 2016

Quetta hospital bombing: ‘There were heaps of men lying over each other’  August 9th 2016

Quetta hospital bombing: Pakistan lawyers strike in protest August 9th 2016

In all of those reports, readers found the word ‘terrorists’ used just once – in the fourth article above – in the form of a direct quote at the end of the report.

“Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Quetta after the attack, and said “all state security institutions must respond with full might to decimate these terrorists”.”

In other words, while the BBC had no problem clarifying to its audiences that an attack which was fortunately prevented in Canada was terrorism, it refrained from describing an actual attack against civilians in Pakistan in the same terms.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines state: [emphasis added]

“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism. We recognise the existence and the reality of terrorism – at this point in the twenty first century we could hardly do otherwise. Moreover, we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.

We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services. We have learnt from the experience of covering such events in Northern Ireland as much as in Israel, Spain, Russia, Southern Africa or the many other places where violence divides communities, and where we seek to be seen as objective by all sides, that labels applied to groups can sometimes hinder rather than help.”

As Israelis already know only too well and as this example once again demonstrates, the only consistent thing about the BBC’s use of language when reporting terrorism is its inconsistency. 

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BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

On July 20th the BBC News website’s UK page published an article titled “Record number of EU terror attacks recorded in 2015“.EU terror attacks

“A record number of terrorist attacks were planned, foiled or carried out in European Union countries last year, with the UK reporting the highest number of attacks.

EU law enforcement agency Europol said there were 211 attacks in 2015, the highest since records began in 2006.”

However, later on readers are told that the number 211 also includes “planned” and “foiled” attacks:

“A spokeswoman for Europol said it did not have a breakdown of the number of terror attacks that had actually been carried out in the EU.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s 458 word article makes use of the word ‘terror’ four times (including in its headline). The words ‘terrorism’ is used six times – including twice in quotes – and the word ‘terrorist’ is used seven times, including four times in quotes.

In other words, the BBC rightly had no problem telling readers in its own words that citizens of EU countries were subjected to actual, planned and attempted terror attacks during 2015.

In contrast, as has been documented here on numerous occasions, the BBC does not tell its audiences in its own words that terrorism – on a significantly larger scale – exists in Israel (unless the perpetrators belong to a particular ethno-religious group) and it has an editorial policy of using the words ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ only in direct quotes; usually from Israeli officials. For example:

BBC reports on Kiryat Arba attack without using the word terror

What word is missing from BBC report on sentencing of Hamas terrorists?

BBC News reports Jerusalem bus bomb without using the word terror

BBC News revisits a 30 year-old terror attack – avoiding the term terror

The BBC’s editorial guidelines concerning “Language when Reporting Terrorism” state:

“There is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or terrorist act. The use of the word will frequently involve a value judgement.

As such, we should not change the word “terrorist” when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves.”

In this report the BBC clearly did not find it necessary to comply with that guideline, having used the words terror, terrorist and terrorism itself eleven times and on six additional occasions in quotes. And – despite the guideline’s claim of the absence of a consensus on terrorism – the article’s writer was apparently able to accept the definition of terrorism used in the Europol report which is its subject matter.

“The definition of the term ‘terrorist offences’ is indicated in Article 1 of the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism (2002/475/JHA)1 , which all EU Member States have implemented in their national legislation. This Framework Decision specifies that terrorist offences are intentional acts which, given their nature or context, may seriously damage a country or an international organisation when committed with the aim of:

  • seriously intimidating a population, or
  • unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing an act, or
  • seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”

In other words, when it comes to terrorism in Europe the BBC apparently has no problem with “value judgements”.

What this article shows us yet again is that those editorial guidelines on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” are not worth the virtual paper upon which they are written. When the BBC wants to use words such as ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, it does. When it wants to make “value judgements”, it does and in fact what dictates the BBC’s choice of terminology is “a political position” of precisely the type it purports to avoid.

Absurdly, the corporation would still have its funding public believe that its coverage of terrorism is consistent, accurate and impartial.

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Reviewing the BBC News website’s coverage of terror in Israel: October 2015 to March 2016

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Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

Over the past fourteen months we have documented several cases in which the BBC has amplified the messaging of what it labels an “Israeli activist group” but failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the agenda and ideology that lies behind the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.BtS written

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

BBC’s ME Editor gives unchallenged amplification to Palestinian defamation

What the BBC World Service edited out of a ‘Boston Calling’ report

Last week Channel 10’s investigative journalism programme ‘HaMakor’ presented an interesting report on ‘Breaking the Silence’ in which the issue of the reliability of the NGO’s ‘testimonies’ was examined.

Our colleague Gidon Shaviv has now translated the results of that investigation in an article titled “Breaking the Silence Gets Failing Grade in Channel 10’s Fact-Check“.

 The findings of Channel 10’s investigation show that the BBC’s repeated unquestioning and uncritical amplification of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is not conducive to meeting its public purposes and yet again underscore the urgent need for the corporation to adhere to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when quoting and promoting that – or any other – political NGO.