Inaccuracy left unchallenged and unedited on BBC R4 ‘Any Questions?’

BBC Radio 4 describes its programme ‘Any Questions?’ thus: [emphasis added]

“Any Questions? is the flagship political panel programme that goes out live on Friday evenings at 8pm on BBC Radio 4 (repeated on Saturday afternoons at 1.10pm). It was first broadcast in October 1948 and its current chair is Jonathan Dimbleby. Each week Any Questions? visits a different part of the country with a diverse panel of four speakers who answer questions from the audience. The programme provides the opportunity for people to challenge leading politicians, policy makers, writers and thinkers.”

The programme’s web page offers audiences the possibility of listening to past episodes – currently 521 of them – going back over a decade.

One would hence assume that the BBC would ensure that any issues arising which were not taken care of by means of the live show’s broadcast delay would be ironed out before the repeat airing and certainly before the recording was added to the archive of past episodes.  

Such issues might include what the BBC’s editorial guidelines call “a Serious Incident in a Live Broadcast” such as “offensive comments” or “factual errors”.

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we may need to consider making an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Potentially offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype. If offensive comments are made when, for example, football fans chant racist abuse we should consider making an on-air apology for broadcasting the comments.”

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.”

The edition of ‘Any Questions?’ which was broadcast on August 23rd and repeated on August 24th included the following question (from 34:28 here) from a member of the audience:

“Should we understand and learn the lessons of history rather than attempting to pay for them?”

Presenter Ritula Shah explained the background to that question:

Shah: “This of course follows the announcement that the University of Glasgow’s agreed to spend £20 million in reparations after finding out it benefited by tens of millions of pounds from the slave trade…”

The third of the programme’s panellists to respond to the question (from 37:24) was the Conservative MEP for South East England Daniel Hannan.

Hannan: “…I think it’s important to look at and learn from things but it’s also important to remember the basis of modernity, the basis of post-enlightenment civilisation, which is that every individual is responsible for himself and that we shouldn’t define people through membership of a group. We should all ultimately stand in defence of our own actions. It’s striking to me that when…very often the kind of people who say ‘well, you know, we need to have reparations or we need to have kind of collective identity on these things’, when the same argument is made in the case of…I dunno…eh…Israel flattening a Palestinian village as a collective punishment, they are quite rightly the first to say ‘well hang on; you don’t do collective guilt. It’s banned by the Geneva Conventions’. And they’re right the second time. So we should never lose sight of the fact that everyone is ultimately responsible for himself.” [emphasis added]

Neither Ritula Shah nor anyone else challenged that highlighted offensive and factually inaccurate statement at the time that it was made. The BBC allowed it to remain in situ in the repeat broadcast and it appears in the archived version of the programme which will be available on demand for a very long time to come, thus leading the BBC’s funding public to wrongly believe that Israel ‘flattens’ Palestinian villages “as a collective punishment”. 

Once again we see just how seriously the BBC takes its own editorial guidelines.  

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BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

 

BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

BBC News website republishes deleted video report

Last month we documented the unexplained removal of a video from the BBC News website and other locations on the internet.

“On July 9th the BBC News website published a filmed report on its ‘Middle East’ page titled “Teaching Palestinians to talk about sex”. […]

That filmed report giving BBC audiences a rare glimpse of Palestinian society remained on the BBC News website’s Middle East page for three days and then disappeared, with no explanation given. […]

The video has also been removed from syndicated content…”

Over three weeks later, on August 6th, an edited version of the same video reappeared in the ‘Latest Updates’ section at the bottom of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the title “Shattering sex taboos in the Palestinian territories”. Its synopsis reads:

“A survey carried by the Arab Barometer for BBC News Arabic in 2018 and 2019 suggests that, across the Middle East and North Africa, people feel their right to freedom of expression is being squeezed.

It indicates that people feel 20% less free to express themselves today than when they were surveyed in 2013.

That also has an impact on sex education. But organisations like Muntada al-Jensaneya are breaking through the silence and finding safe spaces for people to learn about sexuality, helping to transform society’s attitude towards sexual rights and health.

Note: This is an updated version of the original published report.”

Section 3 (Accuracy) of the new editorial guidelines published by the BBC last month includes a clause titled ‘Correcting Mistakes’.

“3.3.28 We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct such mistakes quickly, clearly and appropriately. Inaccuracy may lead to a complaint of unfairness. An effective way of correcting a serious factual error is saying what was wrong as well as putting it right

Mistakes in on-demand and online content

Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.  

In online text content, any mistake that alters the editorial meaning should normally be corrected and we should be transparent about what was wrong.” [emphasis added]

Informing audiences that “[t]his is an updated version of the original published report” without clarifying why it was updated, why that took so long and what it was about the original film that “was wrong” obviously does not meet standards of transparency and does not help those who watched the original report during the time it was online.

Related Articles:

BBC News website fails on transparency

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – July 2019

 

 

 

How BBC management of online content works

The new BBC editorial guidelines include a section titled “Managing Online Content” which states:

“13.3.22 At the time that editorial content is posted online, the editorial managers responsible for its creation should decide on a strategy for its management over time. They should consider how frequently pages need to be updated or how they are to be treated if they are not to be updated.”

That decidedly vague and inconsistent instruction leads to situations such as the following:

On July 17th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘UK’ page headlined “Twelve arrested in Ayia Napa ‘over alleged rape of British woman’” which opened by telling readers that:

“Twelve Israelis have been arrested in Ayia Napa in Cyprus over an alleged rape of a British woman, reports say.”

On July 18th the BBC News website published another report on its ‘UK’ and ‘Middle East’ pages headlined “Ayia Napa: Twelve in court after ‘British woman raped’” in which readers were informed that:

“Twelve Israelis have appeared in court in Cyprus over the alleged rape of a 19-year-old British woman.”

On July 28th the BBC News website published a third report on its ‘UK’ and ‘Middle East’ pages titled “British woman arrested over ‘false rape claim’ in Ayia Napa”.

“A British woman who alleged she was raped in Cyprus has been arrested on suspicion of making a false allegation, according to news agencies.

The 12 Israelis arrested over the alleged attack, which was said to have taken place on 17 July in Ayia Napa, have all been released.”

However, the editorial managers responsible for the creation of those first two articles have not bothered to update them with a link to the third report, meaning that anyone accessing the content published on either July 17th or July 18th – for example via the ‘tourism’ tag which only appears on the second report – would remain unaware of the significant later development in the story.

It is surely obvious that best practice would be for the BBC to uniformly ensure that any developments in stories concerning alleged crimes should be added to earlier reports as a link under the “more on this story” heading at the bottom of the article in order to avoid inaccurate and misleading information becoming part of the “permanent public record”.

BBC WS radio fails to adhere to new editorial guidelines in partisan ‘Great Return March’ report

h/t ED

The closing item in the July 25th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 45:03 here) as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “The Israeli army has instructed its snipers to shoot at the ankles of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border in an effort to reduce deaths. A senior Israeli officer said that the policy of shooting above the knees had led to many being killed. The health authorities in Gaza say that nearly 300 Palestinians have died on the border since the weekly protests began more than a year ago. Over twenty thousand people have been injured. The demonstrations have seen Palestinians massing and marching towards the barrier that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. We’ve spent the day trying – and failing – to get an interview or even a statement from the Israeli army.”

As we see, almost sixteen months on the BBC is still inaccurately portraying the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests” and “demonstrations” and the participants as “protesters”, while concealing the hundreds of incidents such as shooting attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks, petrol bomb attacks, arson attacks and infiltration attempts which have taken place during those so-called “protests”.  

The fact that around 80% of the fatalities have been shown to have links to terrorist organisations continues to be ignored by the BBC, as does the fact that the “health authorities” it quotes are part of the same terrorist organisation facilitating, organising and financing the violent rioting. Franks made no effort to clarify that more than half of the 20,000 people he described as injured actually suffered temporarily from tear gas inhalation. Neither did his description of IDF “policy” give listeners an accurate account: the actual rules of engagement include firing at the lower half of the body – not just “above the knees” as claimed by Franks.

Franks then introduced the one and only interviewee heard throughout the entire seven minute and 42 second item.

Franks: “Nadav Weiman is a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces. Indeed he was with the special forces sniper team that operated in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He’s now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’. What does he make of the news that there’d been a change in the rules of engagement?”

The new BBC editorial guidelines which came into force ten days before this item was aired include the following:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, listeners were told nothing about the highly relevant topic of the political agenda and funding of what Franks blandly described as an “advocacy group” without explaining what it ‘advocates’ for and why. Neither were they told anything of the former Nahal reconnaissance unit soldier’s own record of reliability before the item continued on a less than ideal phone line, in less than ideal English.  

Weiman: “I think it’s quite crazy that for at least a year and three or four months since the right of return marches started to happen and we sent our snipers to stop them, we at ‘Breaking the Silence’ and other organisation and international organisation questioned about those rules of engagement; shooting at unarmed protesters approaching the fence. And everybody in Israel and the IDF told that we have to do it for security, it’s a necessity. And then suddenly this message comes out – barely talked about in Israel – it means one thing: that the IDF admits that the rules of engagement that IDF snipers got on the Gaza Strip border were wrong, were wrong, were absolutely wrong. And it means that we have over 100 Palestinian families that lost their loved ones and the IDF’s answer to that is that we made a mistake. And we have almost the same number of IDF snipers nineteen, twenty years old that they have that image in their head of that bullet hitting that Palestinian man because shooting in Gaza like happen in the last year or so, it’s 60, 70, 80 meters, it is midday. And when a sniper shoot at that kind of a distance in midday you see everything. You see the impact.”

The ‘Great Return March’ events did not just ‘start to happen’: they were planned in advance by a collection of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip and others but Franks made no effort to clarify that to audiences or to challenge the misleading and inaccurate portrayal of the participants as “unarmed protesters”. Weiman’s claim that the story is “barely talked about in Israel” is worth noting because Franks expanded on that claim later in the item.

Franks: “But are you saying that at that sort of range…because I imagine that hitting a target below the knee, particularly one that might well be moving, is difficult and if you are fearing that you’re needing to use that level of force because there is some sort of imminent danger, presumably that just is considerably more tricky than aiming at a – to put it crudely – a greater body area.”

Weiman: “Yes and no because first of all, you know, [in] sniping course and in the army they tell you that a legitimate target is an armed [unintelligible] soldier, an armed Palestinian militant. But then our soldiers are getting a command that the legitimate target is an unarmed man or woman or child approaching the fence. And it’s not endangering Israel: it’s endangering our control over the Palestinian territories and within it the Gaza Strip. First of all that’s confusing and a moving target; yes it’s hard but again those kinds of conditions – midday – it is not that hard for a professional sniper. Me and my team when we shot people in our army service it was 400, 500 meters. That kind of a distance midday with the bullet that you have as a sniper that has a lot more gunpowder, that does a lot more damage, it means that the bullet goes right through the man that you’re shooting at. The entry wound would be like a centimetre but the exit wound would be the size of a fist. So yes, when you shoot to the legs of a man standing 60 meters away from you the injury is very severe and I’m guessing that’s why the IDF changed the rules of engagement. And again stopping a human being so close to you – this is an unarmed protester – so again, live ammunition is the last resort, not the first one.”

Again Franks made no effort to challenge the myth of the “unarmed protester” and neither did he bother to clarify to listeners that Israel does not “control” the Gaza Strip because a complete withdrawal was carried out fourteen years ago.

Franks: “We’ve heard though earlier this year, even before this came out, from the head of the Israeli military’s southern command, the man who’s in charge of the area that includes the Gaza border, Major General Herzi Halevi, saying he wishes that there were, as he put it, better non-lethal weapons which he could use in order to secure the boundary, the border, with Gaza. He says he doesn’t have those and although you say that some of the people who’ve been hit are unarmed protesters, I imagine that one of the arguments that’s been used is that just in the  great crush of people who were moving towards the separation zone between Israel and Gaza, there is a fear that they could provide cover for others who do have more lethal intent.”

Franks is referring to remarks made by Maj Gen Herzi Halevi in May of this year. He did not however bother to inform audiences of additional statements made by the officer at the time.

“Halevi said the Israel Defense Forces maintains strict rules of engagement for soldiers, requiring approval of senior commanders before a shot can be fired, and performs investigations into every bullet fired.

“We don’t have results on every bullet because of the tough conditions [on the border],” he said, referring to the thick smoke, masses of people and general confusion.

“But we have not — I’m not saying not yet, I’m saying not — found even one incident of a soldier [just] deciding to shoot into the crowd, even on tough days,” Halevi said.

According to Halevi, the IDF has made use of the less-lethal weapons already at its disposal, contacted foreign countries to look into purchasing their equipment and attempted to develop new tools to respond to the riots.

These included rubber bullets, which were found to have an insufficient range; a foul-smelling spray known as the Skunk, which didn’t work well in the open fields along the border; and most recently a truck with a high-powered speaker to be used against rioters, which has not been found to be sufficiently effective.

The tear gas, which Israel continues to use along the border, is found to often be ineffective as the breeze coming from the Mediterranean blows it back into Israel.”

That information – as well as the knowledge that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – would have helped listeners put Weiman’s subsequent claims into their correct context.

Weiman: “I’ve got to say Herzi Halevi is right. An army has [a] couple of tools in its toolbox and it’s basically violent intimidation – that’s a military occupation. This is what it means. So my criticism is not against the IDF; it’s against the policy of our government. Governments for the past 52 years decided to control the Gaza Strip by military force which means basically that you don’t have a military solution to a political problem. The IDF is not equipped to stop the protests on the fence. The IDF is equipped to be a stand up army when needs to which means the solution to these kinds of problems is not supposed to be in Herzi Halevi hands. It’s supposed to be in the hand of our government and the people of Israel that’s giving the mandate to that kind of a government. And I’ve got to say that the IDF actually has other tools that they can do. You know we have a siege on Gaza since 2007. You know we are giving IDF soldiers the order to take those firearms and to go over there but there are other non-lethal means in the hands of the IDF.”

Franks did not bother to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “a siege” on the Gaza Strip before he went on to pick up on a claim made by Weiman near the beginning of the interview.

Franks: “This change in the rules of engagement came out a few days ago from the military reporter for Israel’s public radio station, Carmela Menashe. It didn’t get a huge amount of take-up and only belatedly did it get really any kind of attention as far as I’m aware in the Israeli media. I wonder how far that suggests to you that, I mean, although you’ve been speaking very passionately about it, whether this really registers across much of Israel.”

Carmela Menashe Tweeted about that story on July 22nd. On the same day the same information appeared in reports at Ma’ariv, Channel 13 and others following what appears to have been a tour for military journalists of a counter-terrorism training facility. The Jerusalem Post published similar report on July 25th. Channel 13 correspondent Or Heller reported that a senior officer responsible for training snipers deployed to the border with the Gaza Strip told the journalists that in relation to the conclusions drawn from investigations into the incidents along the Gaza border:

“Their [the snipers’] aim is not to kill but to wound and so one of the conclusions reached was about the direction of fire – in the beginning we told the snipers to shoot at the leg and when we saw that could result in death we told them to shoot under the knee. Later on we refined the order to hit the ankle.”

In other words, not only is this item’s claim of a change to the rules of engagement somewhat exaggerated – a more accurate description would be a refinement of orders in relation to a specific location within the general framework of the rules of engagement – but Franks’ claim that the story was not widely reported and only “belatedly” got attention in the Israeli media is completely inaccurate.

Weiman then went on to give an inaccurate portrayal of Israeli society and the Israeli media: in fact barely a day goes by without multiple media reports concerning the Gaza Strip.

Weiman: “After so much time people in Israel are not interested in what is happening over there because Gaza used to be and now and will be our back yard that Israelis don’t want to listen what is going on over there. And I think that the fact that you are interviewing me at the moment is important, you know, because we’re not talking about it in Israel. The international audience should hear about it as well. I wish the journalists inside Israel would do the same thing because this is a burning issue on the table of our government and the responsibility lies on the shoulder of every Israeli about what we’re sending our kids to do over there, our soldiers to do over there. And I’ve got to say it doesn’t really shock me that it didn’t reach the media in Israel because Gaza is such a volatile issue [in] the Israeli society that a lot of people prefer not to touch it.”

Franks closed that long item with yet another totally unsatisfactory portrayal of the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Franks: “Nadav Weiman, formerly with the Israeli Defence Forces, eh…now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’.”

Although the BBC has regularly provided platforms to ‘Breaking the Silence’ in the past, given Franks’ adoption of its PR talking points, his failure to challenge any of Weiman’s inaccuracies and falsehoods and the absence of any mention whatsoever of the words ‘Hamas’ and ‘terrorism’ throughout, one can only wonder whether this sympathetic interview was the result of the BBC contacting that political NGO or the other way round. Either way, BBC World Service radio listeners heard a totally partisan item replete with crucial omission which actively misled them on the topic of the ‘Great Return March’ and more. 

Related Articles:

Breaking the Silence and the British Media (CAMERA)

Breaking the Silence gets failing grade in Channel 10’s fact-check  (CAMERA)

Hamas official contradicts BBC’s ‘permanent archive’ messaging

Among the many BBC reports concerning the second Intifada which remain online and accessible to this day is one dated May 8th 2002 and carrying the interestingly punctuated headline “Arafat orders end to ‘terrorist’ attacks” in which readers are told that:

“Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has ordered his security forces to prevent “all terrorist operations” against Israelis after a suicide bomber killed 15 people and himself in an attack near Tel Aviv.

Mr Arafat condemned the attack as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon flew back to Israel for an emergency cabinet meeting after cutting short a visit to the United States. […]

Amid growing expectations of Israeli reprisals, the Palestinian leader said he was ordering “the security forces to confront and prevent all terrorist operations against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian group”.

He said he was committed to the US-led fight against terrorism and appealed to the international community to help his forces “implement my order”.

Mr Arafat later appeared on Palestinian television and reiterated his call.”

Such framing is not limited to that specific report. In an article published the following month the BBC’s Martin Asser told audiences that:

“The Palestinian Authority leadership has frequently condemned the tactic of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians as a means of combating Israel’s occupation, saying such attacks harm the Palestinian cause, not help it.”

In a backgrounder published in February 2003 the BBC told its audiences that:

“The [Israeli] government accuses Mr Arafat of failing to contain militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad which carry out many of the attacks. But analysts are now increasingly arguing that Mr Arafat is in no position to control them.”

A 2003 profile of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade informed readers that:

“Mr Arafat’s tacit backing for the brigade has also allowed Israeli officials to paint him as backing terrorism.”

Yasser Arafat’s actual role in instigating and directing the terror war known as the second Intifada has long been acknowledged by numerous Palestinian figures. The latest among them is Hamas’ Hassan Yousef who recently gave an interview which was translated by MEMRI.

“Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas in the West Bank, said in a July 12, 2019 interview on Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-Gaza) that Hamas in the West Bank had been in constant communication with the office of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza during the Second Intifada. Yousef said that his Ramallah office had been Hamas’ “door” to the Palestinian Authority, and he explained that whenever Hamas wanted something from Yasser Arafat, he was the person who passed it on to him. Yousef said that Hamas in the West Bank would comply with Arafat’s requests regarding operations during the Intifada, and he claimed that Palestinian national ties were at their peak during this time. Yousef also explained that Hamas had played a key role in the Second Intifada, saying that it met with the PA’s Force 17 and with other PA bodies in order to coordinate and plan operations. He added that every Palestinian city had national elements from Fatah and Islamic elements from Hamas that coordinated during the Intifada.” [emphasis added]

Like many additional second Intifada era BBC reports, those cited above – and others – were never subsequently labelled as carrying inaccurate and misleading information.

According to the BBC:

“The Editorial Guidelines state, “The archive of the BBC’s online content is a permanent public record and its existence is in the public interest. The online archive particularly news reports, should not normally be removed or amended.” To do so risks erasing the past and altering history.”

It is in fact the BBC which is “altering history” by maintaining an online archive which promotes inaccurate accounts of events without that fact being flagged up to users.

Related Articles:

Not fit for purpose: BBC backgrounder on second Intifada

BBC second Intifada backgrounders: ‘Sharon started it’

Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

Another lethal narrative on the BBC website

 

 

UK Parliament debate on BBC impartiality

Last month we noted an online discussion on the topic of BBC impartiality on the House of Commons petitions committee’s Facebook page ahead of a debate in Parliament on July 15th in response to a petition on that issue. 

The transcript of that debate is available here and a video can be found here.

With regard to impartiality, the overall tone of the debate can be summed up in the opening remarks of MP Helen Jones (Lab. Warrington North).

“As we have previously debated the licence fee, and with it a number of accusations of bias, I do not propose to spend much time on it this afternoon, because lots of people want to speak. But let me be clear: as Harold Wilson said, public inquiries take minutes and last for years, and they seldom solve anything—certainly nothing as subjective as perceived bias. Although the BBC sometimes gets things wrong, as any organisation does, I do not believe it is inherently biased in its news and coverage of current affairs. Indeed, we ought to remember that the BBC’s news coverage is looked at around the world as a beacon of straightforward, unbiased news reporting. As a country, we ought to be proud of that.”

The the topic of the BBC’s plan to cut free TV licences to over-75s did garner more response from participating MPs. However, one might well say that the concluding claim that “this House has considered” the issue of BBC impartiality is decidedly far-fetched.  

Related Articles:

BBC impartiality – a case study

BBC News website fails on transparency

The BBC’s Guidance document on the “Removal of BBC online content” includes the following:

“The Editorial Guidelines state, “The archive of the BBC’s online content is a permanent public record and its existence is in the public interest. The online archive particularly news reports, should not normally be removed or amended.” To do so risks erasing the past and altering history.”

And:

“The Editorial Guidelines also state, “Where there is an expectation that content, from a name to a whole programme, is made available permanently, it should only be removed in exceptional circumstances.””

Under the sub-heading “Transparency” the same Guidance states:

“We risk losing trust if we remove pages, programmes or clips, or make significant amendments to our online content, which change the editorial meaning, without telling our users.

So we should be transparent at the point a user accesses content, if it has been removed either permanently or temporarily, edited or amended since first publication or is subject to a correction or upheld finding, unless there are legal or editorial reasons not to.”

On July 9th the BBC News website published a filmed report on its ‘Middle East’ page titled “Teaching Palestinians to talk about sex”.

BBC News website Middle East page 9/7/19

The report told BBC audiences about the work of Safa Tamish of the NGO ‘Muntada Al-Jensaneya’ – aka ‘The Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education and Health‎’. A Jerusalem Post report on the film included the following:

“I remember in one of the workshops, a man was really furious. He stood up and shouted: ‘How does your husband allow you to talk about such topics in front of men?’ Tamish said, adding that she starting laughing while understanding his concerns. “Our topic is a difficult one; people don’t welcome us with open arms.”

BBC audiences were not informed that Ms Tamish’s husband is the BDS campaign acolyte Omar Barghouti or that her organisation ran a controversial publicity campaign in 2009. Ms Tamish – a resident of the Israeli town of Acco – has expressed support for the anti-Israel BDS campaign.   

That filmed report giving BBC audiences a rare glimpse of Palestinian society remained on the BBC News website’s Middle East page for three days and then disappeared, with no explanation given.

Its URL now leads BBC audiences to the following:

The video has also been removed from syndicated content – see for example here and here.

BBC audiences have not been informed of the “exceptional circumstances” which led to the video’s removal. So much for “transparency” – and a decidedly unfortunate start for the BBC’s newly revised Editorial Guidelines.

Update:

BBC News website republishes deleted video report

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

Back in October 2018 the BBC announced a public consultation on the topic of its Editorial Guidelines.

BBC Watch made a submission to that consultation and on July 8th we were informed that, following approval by the BBC Board, the revised Editorial Guidelines – available here – have been published and that they “will formally come into effect for all new output from Monday 15 July 2019”.

While much of the revised guidelines will seem familiar to those acquainted with the previous ones, there are nevertheless some points worthy of note.

Section 3 – Accuracy – includes a clause titled ‘Correcting Mistakes’.

“3.3.28 We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct such mistakes quickly, clearly and appropriately. Inaccuracy may lead to a complaint of unfairness. An effective way of correcting a serious factual error is saying what was wrong as well as putting it right. 

Mistakes in on-demand and online content

Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.  

In online text content, any mistake that alters the editorial meaning should normally be corrected and we should be transparent about what was wrong.” [emphasis added]

In relation to online content, BBC Watch pointed out in our submission to the consultation that:

“The addition of footnotes to clarify that a correction has been made is sporadic and lacks consistency. This procedure needs a serious review and overhaul: the purpose of a correction is, after all, to ensure that audiences get the correct information.  The BBC should be doing much more to ensure that is the case and improve its transparency.”

Section 4 – Impartiality – includes a clause headed ‘News, Current Affairs and Factual Output’.

“4.3.11 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 opinions 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 on such matters publicly, including in any BBC-branded output or on personal blogs and social media.” [emphasis added]

The same section also has a clause titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’.

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]

The word funding did not appear in the draft proposal presented for consultation.

Section 11 – War, Terror and Emergencies – includes a clause titled ‘Accuracy and Impartiality’ which states:

“We should make it clear if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information under duress, and explain, wherever possible, the conditions under which we are operating.”

That section was worded slightly differently in the draft proposal presented for consultation and in our submission BBC Watch related to it as follows:

“b) Section 11.3 Accuracy and Impartiality:

“We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating.”

This important clause would benefit from the addition of the words ‘and conditions’ after ‘rules’ – especially in relation to reporting from areas under the control of terror organisations such as the Gaza Strip.”

The same clause goes on:

“Reporters and correspondents must be aware that comments they make on social media accounts that relate to their BBC work may be perceived as having the same weight as a BBC report, so should bear in mind the requirement for due accuracy and impartiality at all times.”

Section 11 gives instructions on ‘Use of Language’ which are very similar to the previous ones.

“11.3.5 Our reporting of possible acts of terror should be timely and responsible, bearing in mind our requirement for due accuracy and impartiality. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We should not use the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.

11.3.6 The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as ‘bomber’, ‘attacker’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’ and ‘militant’. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

BBC Watch’s submission noted that:

“It is obviously futile to reuse the same editorial guidelines which BBC journalists have been openly – and rightly – breaching for years in reports on terrorism in Europe and the UK. The issue of continuity in reporting acts of terror wherever they occur is clearly a major point which this draft guideline does not adequately address.”

One area in which the revised guidelines are somewhat clearer than the previous ones is ‘Conflicts of Interest’ and the accompanying guidance document on ‘Social Media’ is also relevant.

“All BBC activity on social media, whether it is ‘official’ BBC use or the personal use by BBC staff is subject to the Editorial Guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way that our on platform content is. […]

Social media platforms provide an invaluable opportunity for both BBC output and staff to share content and engage with others in an informal environment. But just as everything we do on our own platforms is informed by the Editorial Guidelines, so is all our activity on social media platforms – whether it is in a ‘professional’ or ‘personal’ or capacity. […]

Disclaimers written in biographies such as ‘my views not the BBC’s’ provide no defence against personal expressions of opinion on social media that may conflict with BBC guidelines.

Individuals involved in the production or presentation of any output in News or other factual areas that regularly deal with a range of public policy issues have a particular responsibility to avoid damaging the BBC’s impartiality.” [emphasis added]

Although these revised Editorial Guidelines clearly reflect an effort to make them more user-friendly and concise, as we pointed out in our submission:

“While the periodic revision and updating of editorial guidelines is obviously necessary, there is little point in expending so much publicly-funded effort if the end product is not adhered to by BBC staff and enforced by the BBC itself. Sadly, our experience shows that is all too often not the case.”  

Whether or not the new guidelines will indeed be effective of course remains to be seen.

Related Articles:

Why the new BBC editorial guidelines may not mean less terror showcasing

Are BBC guidelines on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ about to get worse?