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

 

 

 

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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?

 

BBC chooses not to report Hamas abuse of medical permits yet again

Readers may recall that just over a month ago listeners to BBC domestic radio’s news and current affairs station, Radio 4, were told by a presenter of the ‘Today’ show (which reaches 6.8 million listeners a week) that:

“The fact remains that healthcare restrictions are being used to dehumanise the Palestinian people…” 

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get distorted view of medical permits – part two

As was noted here at the time, the BBC has a history of ignoring stories (see ‘related articles’ below) which explain the need for security checks before permits are given to residents of the Gaza Strip to travel to or through Israel for the purpose of medical treatment. 

Last week another such story emerged when the Israel Security Agency announced the arrest of a Hamas explosives expert who had entered Israel with a humanitarian permit for medical treatment. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“Fadi Abu al-Sabah, a 35-year-old resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, was arrested in Taybeh by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police on May 18, 2019.

According to the Shin Bet, he was recruited to set up an explosive manufacturing laboratory in July 2018 by Ashraf Sabah, a 37-year-old Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip who had been released from prison in Israel in 2015 after serving 12 years in prison for his involvement in attacks against IDF forces along the Gaza Strip border and planning other terrorist attacks.
The agency said that he was first approached after Sabah heard that he was in the process of getting a humanitarian permit for medical treatment in the West Bank.

Fadi al-Sabah then secretly met with operatives from Hamas’s Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades and underwent “intensive military training” including training in how to manufacture explosives and explosive charges which he could then teach to Hamas operatives in the West Bank. […]

Al-Sabah “took advantage of the humanitarian permit he received from Israel to enter for medical treatment in Hebron, but in practice did not arrive at the hospital, but he joined forces with elements in Hebron in order to promote terrorist activities and carry out his mission,” the Shin Bet statement said.”

A truly impartial media organisation would of course make sure to report such stories in order to ensure that its audience had been given the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the subject.

Once again, however, the BBC has chosen to ignore a story about Hamas terrorists exploiting the humanitarian aid Israel provides to residents of the Gaza Strip and that not only means that audiences are not fully informed, but also that BBC employees such as Mishal Husain can continue to use their publicly funded platform to promote their chosen brand of journalistic activism unhindered by inconvenient truths.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC impartiality – a case study

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: (update: link to new version here

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

And:

“Across our output as a whole, we must be inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion.  We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts.  We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. […]

Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item.  Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output.”

The corporation’s coverage of the recent US initiated economic workshop in Bahrain provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage ahead of a debate in the UK Parliament on that topic on July 15th.

Between June 20th and June 26th 2019 various BBC departments put out content relating to the conference in Bahrain. Common threads running through that coverage included:

  • Heavy promotion of Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points both by BBC journalists and by means of interviews with Palestinians.
  • Promotion of the notion of ‘the Palestinians’ as a homogeneous entity under one leadership with no mention of the long-standing splits between Palestinian factions and the fact that the PA and PLO do not represent the Palestinians as a whole.
  • The absence of any mention of the fact that Hamas and additional factions reject the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
  • Exclusive promotion of the PLO’s interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.
  • Use of partial terminology such as “illegal settlements”.
  • The absence of any mention of the participation of Palestinian businessmen in the conference and subsequent events.
  • Downplaying – and in most cases, ignoring – Palestinian terrorism and its role in creating the need for counter-terrorism measures.

While the table below is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligation to “give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument” and to reflect “a breadth and diversity of opinion”.

As we see, the BBC chose to provide air-time to three times more Palestinian officials than Israeli officials and did not include any interviews with US officials in its coverage at all. Audiences saw or heard extensive and repeated comment from Palestinian civilians while just two Israeli voices were heard in a single item. Interviews were conducted with two representatives from US think tanks, one Saudi Arabian journalist and one inadequately presented UN official. 

[1] BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

[2] More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one & More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

[3] BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

[4] https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141985649131757569 & https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141986084525674496

[5] Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

[6] BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

[7] More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743663

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743429

[10] BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one & BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

[11] BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

[12] BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one & BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

Across a variety of BBC platforms, audiences were given a very specific and overwhelmingly one-sided view of the Bahrain economic workshop and the US peace initiative in general. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear “a breadth and diversity of opinion” at all. 

Whether or not the fact that BBC journalists were given a ‘briefing’ by a Palestinian Authority representative three days before coverage began (a BBC decision which in itself is detrimental to “perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”) had an effect on the chosen framing is of course difficult to determine but certainly the corporation’s coverage of the Bahrain economic workshop did not live up to its supposed standards of editorial impartiality. 

The purpose of those editorial standards is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports. 

Related Articles:

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

No BBC reporting on arrest of Bahrain workshop participant

 

BBC News uses third party link in place of ‘clear, precise language’

On June 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara admits misusing public funds” on its ‘Middle East’ page. An uninformative video with no commentary which was embedded into that report also appeared separately on the BBC News website under the title “Sara Netanyahu appears in court accused of misusing public funds”.

Readers of the report were informed that:

“The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted to misuse of state funds and will have to pay $15,000 (£11,910).

Sara Netanyahu was accused of spending $99,300 on outside catering while falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the PM’s residence.

She was charged with fraud and breach of trust last year.”

That last sentence is indeed accurate but those were not the charges to which Ms Netanyahu admitted in the plea bargain which settled the case.

The anonymous writer of the BBC’s report did not however bother to tell readers what the relevant charges were. In order to find that information, readers would have had to click on a link to a Jerusalem Post article presented as follows:

“She will have a criminal record though the charges she faced were reduced, the Jerusalem Post reported.”

The few who did bother to click on that link and read the long article would discover that:

“Under the deal, the prime minister’s wife has confessed to a reduced charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s error, in lieu of the original more serious charge of fraud, and incurs a fine of NIS 55,000, reduced from the original charge of NIS 359,000.”

Accurate representation of the charges is clearly a pretty basic requirement for any journalist reporting a legal story – and especially one bound by editorial standards of accuracy.

Readers can judge for themselves whether the inclusion of a link to a third party website and a vague reference to reduced charges meet the requirements to “do all we can to ensure due accuracy in all our output” and use” clear, precise language” which appear in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.