Is a BBC WS claim about Israeli politicians true?

The August 16th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 48:53 here) in which the BBC managed to shoehorn Israel into its coverage of last weekend’s shocking incidents in Virginia, USA.

Presenter Owen Bennett-Jones told worldwide listeners that:

“Video of the white supremacists in Charlottesville clearly shows them chanting openly antisemitic slogans, with organisers amongst other things complaining that President Trump allowed his daughter to marry a Jewish man.

While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said. So why is that?”

The issue of whether or not it is appropriate for politicians from any country to comment on the internal affairs of another state is not discussed in this item and listeners are not given an answer to the question of why Bennett-Jones singled out Israeli politicians rather than those in any other nation. But is the claim regarding Israeli politicians made by Bennett-Jones accurate?

Earlier on the same day that this item was broadcast, the Times of Israel published an article titled “Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march“.

““There aren’t two sides,” Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said in a Wednesday statement.

“When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.” […]

Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and No. 2 in the opposition Zionist Union faction, also rejected Trump’s assertion.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period,” she said in a Wednesday statement. […]

…Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked […] urged that the neo-Nazis face prosecution.

“The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted,” she said Tuesday. Allowing them to march violently through American streets “was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state does not have to tolerate such phenomena.”

On Sunday [Naftali] Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and called on US leaders to denounce its “displays of anti-Semitism.”

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” he added.”

In addition to those decidedly not “muted” statements, the Israeli prime minister put out a tweet condemning the racism and, despite members of the Knesset currently being on holiday, a number of other politicians from a range of parties likewise made their views on the matter clear – including Michael Oren, Zahava Galon, Revital Swid, Ksenia Svetlova, Manuel Trachtenburg, Avi Gabbai, Yehuda Glick, Yitzhak Herzog, Dov Hanin, Shelly Yechimovich, Amir Peretz, Meirav Michaeli, Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin, Miki Rosental, Nachman Shai, Itzik Shmuli and Tamar Zandberg – who even went on American TV two days before this ‘Newshour’ programme was aired to talk about the issue.

And yet, the BBC apparently came to the bizarre conclusion that it was accurate to describe the responses from those Israeli politicians and others as “muted”.

Another interesting aspect of this item comes in Bennett-Jones’ introduction of his interviewee. [emphasis added]

“Ruthie Blum is a Trump voter living in Tel Aviv and a conservative commentator too with a number of publications including the Jerusalem Post.”

Seeing as in the past the BBC has on countless occasions failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by refraining from clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees,  that detailed introduction is noteworthy.

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

In October 2015 the BBC News website allocated just forty-two words to coverage of a terror attack in which four people were wounded near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel.

On August 7th 2017 the BBC News website devoted two hundred and ninety-eight words to amplification of statements made by a political NGO concerning a court ruling revoking the citizenship of the terrorist who committed that attack.

Titled “Israel decision to revoke attacker’s citizenship condemned” and illustrated with an unrelated image, the article opens with a description of the attack which predictably does not make use of the word terror because the BBC refuses to employ that term itself when reporting on attacks against Israelis.

“Human rights groups have criticised a decision by an Israeli court to remove the citizenship of an Israeli Arab who attacked people with a car and a knife.

It is thought to be the first time a judge has implemented a 2008 law under which perpetrators of “terrorist activities” can lose their citizenship.”

Later on in the report the word terrorism does appear in direct and indirect quotes.

“In his decision, Judge Avraham Elyakim of Haifa district court said victims’ right to life took precedence over “those who choose to violate the trust of the state of Israel and carry out acts of terrorism in its territory”.”

“The removal of citizenship for terrorism had been applied by Israel in rare instances prior to the 2008 law but the latest case could pave the way for similar rulings in the future, local media said.”

The report does not inform readers of an additional part of the court’s ruling:

“The court ruled that after Zayoud’s citizenship is revoked in October he will be given a temporary status, as exists in citizenship laws, and that it will be extended from time to time at the discretion of the interior minister after he has completed his sentence.”

As is made clear by its headline, the main aim of this article is amplification of statements from what the BBC coyly describes as “rights groups”.

“Israeli civil rights groups said the ruling set “a dangerous precedent”. […]

The court’s ruling was condemned by rights groups.

“The decision to revoke Mr Zayoud’s residence would render him stateless, in violation of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Sari Bashi of Human Rights watch.

“Citizenship is a precondition for a host of other rights, including the right to political participation and social and economic rights.””

Readers are not provided with any additional legal information beyond that simplistic portrayal and neither are they informed that numerous other countries have similar laws – as the BBC itself reported in relation to the UK only weeks ago:

“The 2014 Immigration Act granted the home secretary the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals or from immigrants who have become naturalised citizens and are now fighting overseas, even if that renders them stateless.”

As is usually the case, readers of this article find no mention of the obviously relevant issue of the political agenda of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the fact that it engages in lawfare and campaigning against Israel.

Human Rights Watch was the foreign NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC throughout 2016 and its reports, PR releases, campaigns and statements enjoyed similarly prominent amplification in previous years. Nevertheless, the BBC consistently fails to meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which 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.”

Obviously that condition was not met in this latest article and so once again we see the BBC providing leverage for politicised messaging concerning Israel from an interested party touted as a neutral-sounding ‘human rights group’, without the required full disclosure to audiences of that political NGO’s anti-Israel activities and campaigns.

BBC’s vehicular terrorism double standards on display again

Just one day after having refrained from describing a car ramming attack against Israelis as terror, BBC News did use that word in its reporting on a vehicular attack in Stockholm on April 7th.  

The BBC News website’s main report on the incident – “Stockholm lorry rams crowds, killing ‘at least four people’” – informed readers that:

“A lorry has smashed into a store in central Stockholm, killing at least four people.

At least a dozen people were also injured in the incident on Drottninggatan (Queen Street), one of the city’s major pedestrian streets, on Friday afternoon.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said it was a terror attack.”

Readers of that report were provided with analysis by the BBC’s security correspondent:

“I was in Stockholm yesterday, ironically at a security conference. I don’t think Sweden was prepared for something like this.

The last big terror incident they had was in 2010 when a failed suicide bomber blew himself up in a car in central Stockholm.”

The article also included an insert now titled “Timeline: Vehicle ramming attacks in Europe and the US” from which the scores of vehicular attacks against Israelis were of course excluded.

As noted here at the time, BBC reporting on those attacks in Nice, Berlin and London did use the term terror.

CNN produced a similar timeline of vehicular attacks in locations around the world but – in contrast to the BBC – it did include on its list the lorry attack in Jerusalem in January in which four people were murdered and sixteen injured.

Since August 2014 forty separate attacks using trucks, tractors, vans or cars have been perpetrated against Israelis, with images encouraging such attacks commonly appearing in incitement posted on social media. The use of vehicles to carry out terror attacks however goes back still further; what Europe has been seeing in the past nine months has been an all too familiar sight to Israelis for many years.

Many of those attackseven fatal ones – have been ignored by the BBC. Those that were reported have – in contrast to similar incidents on European soil – not been described as terror attacks in the corporation’s own words.

The reason for that double standard lies in the BBC’s failure to distinguish between method and aims, with the result being that when somebody deliberately drives a vehicle into a group of people, the corporation’s description of the attack as terror – or not – depends on the perceived aims and affiliations of the perpetrator.

It is high time for the supposedly impartial BBC to explain its now well-documented double standard when reporting vehicular (and other) attacks to its funding public. 

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting of vehicular attacks in France and Israel

BBC coverage of Berlin terror attack again highlights double standards

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ guidance on display again

No use of term ‘terror’ in BBC News report of vehicular attack on Israelis

 

BBC amplified NGO promotes another Israel delegitimisation campaign

Last October we noted Yolande Knell’s amplification of anti-Israel agitprop set up by the campaigning group Avaaz – and the glaring fact that audiences were at no point informed of the identity of the organisers, let alone given any information concerning their political agenda.

Our colleagues at Presspectiva recently reported on another Israel related campaign run by Avaaz.

“The activist network is now promoting a petition that went viral, calling for action against the destruction of a Palestinian community. The petition has the catchy headline: “They’re asking us for a miracle.”

At the time of writing, some 860,000 people have signed the petition aimed against the Israeli government. Every few seconds another person adds their name to this campaign.

The text informs its readers that:

‘Near the hilltops of the village of Bethany, 2000 years ago, it is said that Jesus Christ brought Lazarus back to life.Today those hilltops are home to an indigenous community who are about to be bulldozed into the ground. Their homes, land, and way of life completely wiped out.

But these brave families refuse to fade silently into the darkness. Instead, they are taking a huge risk, rising up against the bulldozers by nonviolently “sitting-in” their homes. They’re betting on a miracle: that their act of courage will inspire people around the world to help stop the bulldozers before they crush them.…’ […]

No matter how many times you reread the text, the lack of factual information stands out. While the petition is filled with pathos and a heart wrenching description of families facing eviction while waiting for a miracle to save them, it is devoid of any specifics explaining why the community is facing this tragedy. The context of where the community is situated or why it is facing such a brutal eviction is mysteriously left out. […]

The petition provides the reader with no concrete facts. Instead it relies on the emotive use of language. Bulldozers, destruction, miracle, inspiration — these are empty slogans and rallying cries. The people who sign the petition are voicing an amorphous objection to a vague and unspecified “destruction” of a Palestinian community of which they know nothing about.

Trying to give the story a Christian element — the mention of Lazarus and the use of the English name “Pope’s Mountain” as opposed to the common Arabic name — are cynical attempts to give the story a religious aspect that it simply does not have.”

The full article is available in English here or in Hebrew here.

As has been noted here before, as time goes by the mutually beneficial relationship between the traditional media and NGOs flourishes and expands, with more and more ‘news’ being sourced from agenda-driven organisations. But when political agendas and reporting meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability.

The very least the BBC should be doing is adhering to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by customarily and rigorously clarifying to audiences the political motivations of NGOs and campaigning groups in any content that promotes or amplifies their agenda.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s Wyre Davies plays wingman to anti-Israel NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

 

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ guidance on display again

As regular readers know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ instruct its journalists to avoid unattributed use of the term terrorist and urge consistency of terminology regardless of the story’s location.

“We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.

The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding.”

The corporation’s accompanying guide on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ similarly states:

“…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.”

Under the sub-heading ‘Value Judgements’ the same guidance states:

“The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words “terrorist” or “terrorist group” can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. For example, the bombing of a bus in London was carried out by “terrorists”, but the bombing of a bus in Israel was perpetrated by a “suicide bomber”. […]

Some will argue that certain events are so evidently acts of terror (and, therefore, perpetrated by “terrorists”) that those descriptions are reasonable, and non-judgemental. However, the language we choose to use in reporting one incident cannot be considered in isolation from our reporting of other stories. So to use the word in incidents which we may consider obvious creates difficulties for less clear-cut incidents.”

Fortunately, the BBC’s reporting of the terror attack in London on March 22nd did not comply with those guidelines; in multi-platform reports and on social media audiences were told in clear language what the story was about.

As was noted here (Reviewing BBC reporting of vehicular attacks in France and Israel) when a vehicular terror attack took place in Nice in July 2016, terror attacks using vehicles have not been afforded the same clarity of description by the BBC when perpetrated against Israelis.

When four people were murdered in a vehicular attack in Jerusalem in January 2017, the BBC did stick to its guideline of only using the word terror with attribution and avoiding the term itself.

Likewise, the BBC consistently refrains from using the word terror to describe stabbing attacks on Israeli civilians or members of the security forces.

When the BBC does manage to report terror attacks in London, Nice, Berlin, Brussels or Paris using appropriate language, its long-standing editorial policy of eschewing accurate terminology in coverage of Palestinian attacks on Israelis becomes even more discordant and the redundancy of its inconsistently applied guidelines and guidance is highlighted all the more.

Those guidelines are clearly in need of serious review if the BBC wants its audiences to believe that its reporting is impartial.

Related Articles:

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

The BBC, terrorism and ‘consistency’

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe  

BBC coverage of Berlin terror attack again highlights double standards

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

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.

Related Articles:

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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. 

Related Articles:

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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.

Related Articles:

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Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

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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