Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2019

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), the Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2019 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’ or ‘peace activists’, those inherently agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are obviously not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards.

When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. One of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’ in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which, since their overhaul in July 2019, states:

“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]

However, throughout 2019 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs and their representatives.

The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not adequately clarified. In other cases NGO activity or statements get BBC exposure without proper disclosure.

For example in June, Yolande Knell reported a demonstration at a gay pride event but gave no information concerning the NGO behind it. In July Tom Bateman cited an “anti-occupation group” without clarifying that he was apparently referring to the political NGO ‘Yesh Din’. In December the BBC showcased three Gaza residents without informing audiences of their links to the NGO ‘Euromed’.

More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content appeared prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.

The NGO ‘Medecins Sans Frontiers’ featured in several BBC reports relating to health services in the Gaza Strip:

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

More context-free BBC reporting on Gaza health services

BBC Radio 1 ‘Newsbeat’ Gaza special – part two

Also while reporting on the Gaza Strip, the BBC promoted data sourced from a press release put out by the local branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – a highly politicised and partisan organisation that has in the past used dubious methodology to produce reports on Palestinian casualties.

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

BBC audiences saw uncritical amplification of statements from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in reporting on the Airbnb story:

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

In May the BBC promoted a legal case launched by Amnesty International:

Examining BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of the WhatsApp story

Similarly – and unsurprisingly – the BBC provided uncritical amplification for Human Rights Watch’s campaign concerning the decision not to renew one of its staff’s work visa:

A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part two

In February the BBC reframed a story with the help of the NGO ‘Hotline for Refugees and Migrants’:

BBC reframes a story about a man denied entry by his own country

Also in February, BBC Arabic produced a tri-lingual feature on Hebron which was made in collaboration with ‘Breaking the Silence’, ‘Palestinian Human Rights Defenders’ and B’tselem.

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part one

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part two

In July ‘Breaking the Silence’ was described merely as an “advocacy group” in the introduction to an interview with one of its members:

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

The BBC saw fit to solicit election commentary from B’tselem in September:

BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

Partisan maps produced by B’tselem were once again used in BBC News website content throughout 2019.

In April the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher showcased ‘If Not Now’ and ‘J Street’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ messaging reflects that of anti-Israel group

The following month BBC audiences heard analysis from the ‘International Crisis Group’:

BBC WS radio’s ‘context’: falsehoods about counter terrorism measures

Also in May, the BBC promoted an anti-Israel event organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

BBC’s ‘Newsbeat’ amplifies the BDS campaign yet again

In June BBC Radio 4 promoted a story based on a trip organised by ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’:

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

In July BBC audiences heard commentary from ‘Peace Now’:

Political messaging eclipses context in BBC WS Fourth of July report

A BBC Radio 4 programme aired the same month showcased ‘Combatants for Peace’ and ‘Hand in Hand’:

BBC Radio 4 listeners are told of ‘Palestinian air’

In July and August the BBC News website published, removed and then reinstated a video about the NGO ‘Muntada Al-Jensaneya’.

Several BBC reports produced in August cited ‘Miftah’ but failed to provide anywhere near adequate information concerning that NGO and others related to the same story.

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood

BBC WS radio listeners get Ashrawi’s unchallenged propaganda

Also in August, the BBC widely promoted a report it admitted was based on a petition from ‘HaMoked’ in which the NGO ‘Addameer’ was featured.

Partisan report on detained Palestinian ‘children’ from BBC’s Gender and Identity correspondent

BBC World Service radio’s OS promotes narrative over fact

The BBC continued to promote that video even after links between ‘Addameer’ and a terror cell had been exposed.

In November the BBC News website amplified a campaign by ‘Emek Shaveh’.

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

Not for the first time the most widely promoted local NGOs in 2019 were B’tselem and ‘Breaking the Silence’. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent. 

As in previous years, the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Despite the amendments made to those guidelines in July 2019, audiences heard nothing at all about the funding of any of the NGOs featured in its content.

The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences – along with BBC commentators – remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes overwhelmingly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is serially and consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

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

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

 

Another BBC item promotes falsehoods about Israel’s anti-terrorist fence

On January 3rd BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ re-ran an hour-long programme first aired in November 2019 under the title “Build the Wall!”.

“On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Katy Long asks why political leaders are celebrating the occasion while building new border walls of their own.

From the United States, where ‘build the wall’ has become a symbol of the Trump presidency, to Norway, India and South Africa, dozens of walls have gone up since 1989, with many more being built, planned or imagined. In this programme, Katy tells the modern history of border walls to ask why they are being built, and why now, when new virtual technologies increasingly offer alternatives to concrete barriers.

Katy will examine the complicated history of the Berlin Wall, and what it meant during the Cold War. She’ll examine border walls and border communities in Northern Ireland, the United States, South Africa and Israel, exploring what happens when walls are built – for good and ill – and whether it’s possible to take them down again. She’ll look at the difference between walls to keep people in, and keep them out, and whether the walls are really about safety, or certainty, or just about ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

Katy Long is not a BBC journalist. As readers may know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that:

“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.”

BBC audiences however are told nothing of Long’s affiliations and hear nothing about the “funding and particular viewpoints” of the think tank for which she works.

According to its webpage, the BBC Radio 4 programme will be available “for over a year” and so the substantial section relating to Israel – which begins at 43:55 – is worthy of examination. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Long: “And the closer I look the more it seems like border walls run along the hidden fault lines of our liberal democracies. They’re monuments of the political impossibility of balancing national sovereignty with ideas of universal freedom, human rights and equality. That’s certainly the case of Israel – a state that is now almost entirely surrounded by walls. Danny Tirza.”

Tirza: “In 2000 the government decided to construct a security barrier between the West Bank and Israel and that was the project that I was the head of.”

Israel is of course not “entirely surrounded by walls” – in most places the border is protected by a fence. Long began by casting doubt on the information her interviewee had yet to provide.

Long: “For Tirza, the architect of the West Bank security fence, the logic of the barrier is simple and can be measured in the number of Israeli lives he believes it has saved.”

Tirza: “From 2000 till the end of 2006 we had in Israel more than three thousand terror attacks. We lost in this period 1,562 people that were murdered by terror attacks from the West Bank to Israel. At that period we had from Gaza Strip only three terror attacks because Gaza Strip was already fenced before that. But from January 2007 till today we had from the West Bank to Israel only 50 terror attacks and we lost in this period 41 people. You can see the differences.”

Long proceeded to signpost that information from a contributor  – who is the former head of the Strategic Planning Unit of the Judea and Samaria Division, IDF Central Command (1994-2009), a former senior security adviser and negotiator in diplomatic talks with the Palestinian leadership and a former advisor to prime ministers, the president of Israel, defense ministers, the National Security Council, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, the IDF Planning Branch, and senior IDF commanders – as unreliable. She did not inform listeners by whom that information is “contested” or whether that claim has any merit.

Long: “The exact numbers here are contested and correlation is not always causation. But what is beyond dispute is that there’s been a dramatic drop in Israeli deaths from terrorism since the barrier was built. But from the other side of the wall, the story looks very different.”

The contributor chosen to present the view from “the other side of the wall” is a London-based Iranian-American academic whose frankly often ridiculous claims did not receive any questioning, challenge or signposting from Katy Long.

Khalili: “This wall functions more as an offensive measure rather than as a defensive one.”

Long: “Laleh Khalili is professor in Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.”

Khalili: “So what do I mean by this? I mean that it has a certain series of functions that are used to control populations. Not only are you controlling people’s movements but you’re also by cutting the territory into different segments – and I think that in part explains the shape of the wall in the West Bank – what you’re doing is you’re creating areas with variegated modes of military control in them so that people can be subjected to surveillance in those spaces, they can be subjected to control of movement but also, should there be for example demonstrations or protests or forms of mobilization, the wall actually functions as a military means to limit those protests. And the third function is land grab so some of the areas where we see the wall have really – the wall in the West Bank – have some really very odd contours. In those instances the wall actually functions as a kind of a means to grab a bit of land and annex it.”

Those claims are of course complete nonsense but listeners heard no challenge from Long, who went on to promote an inaccurate claim of her own.

Long: “The West Bank’s wall sits to the east of the pre-1967 borders meaning that about 10% of the West Bank is now on the Israeli side of the barrier and some Palestinian villages are entirely encircled by the fence.”

There is of course no such thing as “pre-1967 borders”: as the BBC’s own style guide recognises, the 1949 Armistice Line is not a border.

“In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.”

Moreover, Long’s claim that all of the anti-terrorist fence “sits to the east” of what she wrongly described as a border is untrue. She went on to promote pure conjecture as fact.  

Long: “This means that while the wall may have brought Israel temporary security, it will make negotiations for a lasting peace still more complicated.”

Tirza: “No, this line is not a border. The border had to be decided only on the table of the negotiation. So the line will change there because there are other concerns that we can deal with on the negotiation table. That’s not that line.”

Long: “How permanent are those walls?”

Tirza: “As I was the territorial expert in all the negotiations with the Palestinians, I want to be the one that will take off the fences around the West Bank. I love this area very much. I have so many friends on the other side so really I hope that they will come and there will be no need for the security fence and we can remove it and live normally and quietly with our neighbours the Palestinians.”

Long: “I was reading as I was preparing for this that on some of the concrete slabs there are holes at the top. Is that right?”

Tirza: “That’s right. We call it the hole of hope. That it will be very easy to come with a crane and to take it off and remove it.”

Listeners then heard a recording, apparently from a news report, followed by the repetition of the false claim that Israel is “encircled with walls”:

“It’s a project shrouded in secrecy and there are plenty of denials today that this barrier is even being built.”

Long: “But despite Tirza’s hope that one day, when there is peace, the walls in the West Bank can come down, Israel is still building new barriers. Today the entire state is encircled with walls physically reinforcing the sense of the state existing under siege – a sense which has informed so much of Israeli politics in recent years.”

BBC audiences did not get to hear anything about the relevant issues of ISIS in the Sinai, Iranian-backed terror groups in the Gaza Strip or the terror group Hizballah in Lebanon and the Syrian Golan at that point or any other in the programme.

Apparently confusing the border with Egypt with that of the Gaza Strip – and making absolutely no mention of cross-border attack tunnels – Long went on:

Long: “On the border with Egypt a new barrier is being built. Not just up but also down underground, as Christian Fraser reported.”

The recording of Fraser’s report continued:

Fraser: “Sources say the new barrier is made of super strength steel that extends 80 meters below the surface. They believe it is manufactured in the United States. From descriptions it appears to fit together like a jigsaw and they say it’s been tested to ensure it’s bomb proof, it can’t be cut, it can’t be melted. In short, it sounds almost impenetrable.”

Long: “Ultimately, so much depends on where you’re standing when you look at Israel’s walls. For Israelis the fences are tolerable, even welcome, because they are held to keep terror out and because for most Israelis they are out of sight, out of mind.”

What evidence Long has to support that dubious claim is unclear. She went on:

Long: “For Palestinians, especially in overcrowded Gaza where nearly 2 million people live on just 350 square kilometers of land, they are hated as an assault on basic freedom because the walls limit everyday lives by keeping people in. Laleh Khalili explains.”

Khalili: “In Gaza the wall is so all-encompassing, in some ways so incredibly difficult to penetrate, that in fact it acts as a kind of a very large-scale prison. People often use that terminology to define…to describe Gaza as a large open-air prison but in fact the walls that surround it, at least on the land side, feels like anybody who’s in Gaza is stuck there.”

That ‘open air prison’ propaganda got no challenge from Long and listeners were not told that the Gaza Strip has a land border with Egypt or that thousands of people travel out of the territory every month. Of course the crucially relevant topic of the terrorism perpetrated by factions in the Gaza Strip did not even get one word of mention.

Long then joined some agenda-revealing dots for her listeners.

Long: “It’s tempting, standing here on the US border with Mexico, to talk about the many links between the barriers in Israel and the increased border enforcements here under President Trump. To point to the Israeli companies competing for contracts or the advice that Danny Tirza has given to the US Sheriff’s Association. To think about the increasing militarisation of this border between allies.”

As we see, the BBC is apparently quite happy for a programme which includes numerous inaccuracies to remain available on its platform for “over a year”.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC WS programme on anti-terrorist fence promotes inaccurate information

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Throughout 2019 BBC Watch prompted the following corrections to BBC content on various platforms:

January:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim concerning Israel’s Christian population.

After second complaint, BBC clarifies inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian population

BBC adds missing link following further complaint

February:

The BBC Sport website amended a misrepresentation of a statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.

BBC Watch prompts correction to BBC Sport report

The BBC News website amended claims concerning Lebanese casualties during the Second Lebanon War in three reports.

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

March:

The BBC News website corrected a report concerning the mixed prayer area at the Western Wall.

BBC News website corrects Western Wall report following complaints

April:

BBC Radio 4 apologised for breaching the corporation’s own style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC apologises for ‘unfortunate oversight’

The BBC News website amended a misleading headline in a profile of Benny Gantz.

BBC News amends errors in election candidate profile

The BBC News website corrected three articles in which it was claimed that the Gaza Strip is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

May:

The BBC News website removed a video in which a false Hamas claim concerning the death of a baby and a pregnant woman in the Gaza Strip was amplified.

Islamic Jihad unravels BBC amplification of Hamas claim

The BBC News website corrected a mistranslation in an article about vultures in the Golan Heights.

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of the Jewish day of rest.

BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

The BBC Arabic website removed a Nazi analogy.

BBC Watch prompts removal of Nazi analogy from BBC Arabic website

June:

The BBC News website removed an inaccurate claim concerning water from a profile of the Golan Heights.

BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

The BBC News website belatedly amended a claim concerning women’s rights in Iran.

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

The BBC News website corrected a false claim concerning Israel’s extradition policy.

BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

July:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate quote from the US Ambassador to Israel.

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

September:

BBC World Service radio re-edited a programme in which it was claimed that there is a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip.

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

The BBC News website corrected a report in which Binyamin Netanyahu was described as Israel’s president.

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

October:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor.

BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

November:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of an Israeli politician.

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

December:

The BBC News website corrected a misrepresentation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

The BBC’s ‘Newsround’ amended a photo feature which breached the corporation’s style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Once again this year we saw inconsistent use of footnotes to inform audiences of amendments to BBC News website reports and the continued absence of a corrections page on that platform means that those who read reports when they are first published – and are unlikely to revisit them at a later date – all too often remain unaware that information they were given was inaccurate.

Likewise, we saw at least one case this year in which the BBC failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on “Correcting Mistakes”.

A significant proportion of the complaints submitted by BBC Watch in 2019 did not receive a response in the time frame set by the BBC itself and in some cases a response was not received at all. In August we received a communication from the BBC World Service which included:

“…apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…”

As we have previously stated:

“Regrettably, in the two and a half years since OFCOM became the BBC’s external regulator BBC Watch has been unable to discern any meaningful improvement in the BBC’s handling of complaints which, in contrast to OFCOM’s opinion, we consider to be far too slow in comparison to other media outlets, cumbersome and lacking transparency.”

Related Articles:

OFCOM reports on the BBC complaints procedure

BBC Arabic does stealth ‘clean-up’ after CAMERA Arabic complaint

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

In late October we posted a report by CAMERA Arabic concerning BBC Arabic’s promotion of an “educational” project by environmental engineer Omar Asi: an Israel-free, child-friendly map of “Palestine” from the river to the sea:

BBC Arabic radio promotes Israel-free map of ‘Palestine’ for children

During Asi’s interview with the BBC Arabic radio show “Dardasha Layliya”:

  1. He elaborated on several of the areas of “Palestine” featured on his map including Jaffa and the Negev, both of which are internationally recognised as Israeli territory.
  2. He spoke disapprovingly of the geographical education children from the “interior of Palestine” (i.e. Israeli Arabs) are getting, namely the fact they are being exposed to “maps of Israel” rather than “maps of Palestine”.
  3. He revealed that the map contains a reference to the autobiography of a Hamas mass-murderer Abdullah Barghouthi, currently imprisoned in Israel. Barghouthi is a bomb-maker who was given 67 consecutive life sentences for his part in the murder of 66 Israelis in numerous suicide bombings during the early 2000s.
  4. He expressed his conviction that the illustrations of places on the map would prompt children to find out more about stories behind them which relate to the Palestinian national struggle.
  5. He received full and complete support for his campaign from the show’s host Heba ‘Abd al-Baqi who wished him and his team the best of luck and stated he was calling “from Palestine”. At no point during the interview did Abd al-Baqi challenge, criticise or contextualise Asi’s ideas.

In conclusion, this BBC Arabic radio item normalised the negation of Israel’s right to exist within any borders and denied the right of Israeli Jews to live peacefully while exerting their right of self-determination in their homeland. Asi’s mention of Abdullah Barghouthi also mainstreamed implied support for terrorism against Israeli civilians.

All of the above is a breach of BBC’s editorial guidelines regarding impartiality and offensive speech, as well as a breach of BBC’s style guide regarding the use of the term “Palestine”.

In late November, not long after a CAMERA Arabic submitted a complaint about the item to the BBC, it was mysteriously removed from BBC Arabic’s Soundcloud channel and Facebook webpage. Notably, the other two items aired in the same programme on October 24th still appear on both the Soundcloud channel and the Facebook webpage (the first link leads to the opening item of the show which includes a short description of the map item – the second of the three – at 0:40). 

Although CAMERA Arabic has yet to receive any response to the complaint submitted in November, it would appear that somebody at BBC Arabic took action to hide evidence that this embarrassing item had existed in the first place.

 

BBC WS radio misrepresents the IHRA definition of antisemitism

h/t SG

The December 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “The allegiance edition” – included an item (from 08:56 here) described in its synopsis as follows:

“Also, we look into President Trump’s latest executive order, which relies on a controversial definition of anti-Semitism…” [emphasis added]

The working definition of antisemitism which the BBC World Service found fit to portray as “controversial” is that produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which has been adopted by governments and bodies around the world.

Presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) chose to introduce the item with an unexplained reference to ‘allegiance’ which might well be considered inappropriate given the subject matter of antisemitism.

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

Hills: “In these divided times there are still some things we agree on. Few people, for example, would not agree that antisemitism is bad and that we should do something about it. But the agreement ends there because as soon as you start asking people what is antisemitism, who is guilty of it and what to do about it, that’s when you run into disagreements and in some cases allegiance comes into question. This became clear after President Trump signed his latest executive order. Our own Rupa Shenoy has more.”

Rupa Shenoy – also of PRI – began with a superficial description of the executive order signed on December 11th which is ostensibly the subject matter of her report.

Shenoy: “Hanukkah came early at the White House as President Trump recounted what he’d done for the Jewish people and said he was adding to that legacy by signing a powerful executive order.”

Recording Trump: “This action makes clear that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination applies to institutions that traffic in antisemitic hate.”

Shenoy: “He noted that Congress and the previous administration had tried to do something similar but those efforts stalled.”

Recording Trump: “But this year there’s no roadblock because I’m doing it myself. It’s much easier.”

Shenoy: “And Trump made the intent of his order clear.”

Recording Trump: “This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject antisemitism. It’s very simple.”

Shenoy: “The order recommends that universities define antisemitism with this specific language as -quote – a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews including – quote – rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism. Ken Stern helped craft that definition originally for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”

Ken Stern did not ‘help craft’ the IHRA definition. He did help write – along with some eight others – its predecessor for a now defunct EU agency called The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Seeing as Stern has repeatedly voiced his opinion that the IHRC is not suitable for use on campuses because he regards them as a special ‘free speech’ environment, the views he expresses in this report do not come as much of a surprise.

Stern: “It was never intended as something to police speech on campus.”

Shenoy: “Because he says there’s no similar definition of racism for example. And Stern says the Department of Education has made clear that Title VI already covers Jewish students.”

Stern: “Jewish students are being targeted regardless if they’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, simply because they’re Jewish. That’s something that’s actionable and a concern. But the use of this definition is part of a long-standing pattern to try to curtail political speech about Israel.”

Shenoy then brought in a second voice supporting the same view – but failed to meet BBC editorial guideline requirements to inform audiences of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of her contributor and the organisation she currently represents.  

Shenoy: “Others have come to the same conclusion about Trump’s executive order. Lara Friedman is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

Friedman: “What it says is when it comes to criticising Israel, Jews equal Israel, Israel equals Jews. If you are on campus and you only talk about Israel and you’re criticising Israel, you are by definition antisemitic. Under the definition offered here the Palestinian historic and lived narrative becomes antisemitism.”

Shenoy: “She says the order’s goal is to send a message to university administrators and organisers.”

Friedman: “We are watching you and we will make your life miserable; cost you time, there’ll be reputational costs, all of that. You could lose your federal funding if you dare cross the line so don’t even go near the line.”

Shenoy: “Friedman says Trump’s executive order is aimed at campus protests across the country that Trump sees as connected to a larger worldwide movement to boycott Israel called BDS. That’s short for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

As is inevitably the case in BBC content, audiences did not receive any sort of explanation concerning the BDS campaign – including the particularly relevant fact that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.

Recording Trump: “And as president I want to be very clear. My administration vigorously condemns the BDS campaign against Israel.”

Shenoy: “This is Trump earlier this week [actually December 8th] at the Israeli-American Council’s national summit in Florida.”

Recording Trump: “But sadly BDS has also made disturbing headway on American college campuses – you know that, don’t you? Here with us today is Adela Cojab, a recent graduate of New York University who courageously stood for Israel in the face of hostility and bigotry…”

Shenoy: “Adela Cojab got on stage and told the audience she was suing NYU because it failed to protect Jewish students from harassment. Now she tells me she feels validated by the presidential order.”

Cojab: “By signing this order he just expanded the definition of protected groups and it includes Jewish students of course. And that tells Jewish students everywhere that what they’re going through isn’t normal, it’s not OK. And it just clarifies that they can stand up.”

Shenoy: “And Cojab pushes back against the argument that the executive order will stifle free speech.”

Cojab: “I think that the process can very much not be antisemitic. I criticise Israel openly because I have thoughts but there’s a difference between criticising Israel and Israeli policy and Israeli administration and criticising Israel’s right to exist. Because when you say that you’re anti-Zionist you’re saying that you’re against Israel’s right to exist, which is destroying Israel.”

Having apparently brought in Cojab to balance the two voices already heard, Shenoy then promoted a third view opposing the executive order. She did not however bother to clarify to listeners that her interviewee is a member of ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ (SJP) which is one of the main proponents of BDS on US campuses.

Shenoy: “And creating a hostile environment for students, she says. For their part many campus activists for Palestinian rights say they’re not backing down. Nick Galloway is a graduate student at the University of Maryland who’s participated in demonstrations for years.”

Galloway: “They can’t stop us from getting together and fighting for justice and fighting for BDS.”

Shenoy: “He says Trump’s executive order might intimidate some Palestinian or Muslim students on campus from protesting. But Galloway adds that it also might invite a backlash.”

Galloway: “It’s going to strengthen the resolve of student organisers to [unintelligible] that.”

Shenoy: “But the divisions over Israel, Zionism, Palestinian rights and free speech aren’t going away any time soon. Trump’s executive order will have to play out on college campuses and likely court rooms across the country.”

To sum up, BBC audiences heard three voices opposing the US president’s executive order and just one in favour. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines they were not informed of the agendas of the organisations with which two of those voices are associated and neither were they given any relevant background information concerning the BDS campaign which they support.

Most egregiously, listeners were told that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is “controversial” and that its adoption means that people who “talk about Israel” and criticise Israel “are by definition antisemitic”. That of course is completely false. As Dave Rich of the CST has pointed out, the IHRA definition does not “repress” freedom of speech at all.

“The IHRA definition does no such thing, stating plainly that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.’ This leaves room for the full range of rational, evidence-based opposition to Israeli laws, policies and actions. It doesn’t allow for the kind of obsessive, irrational hatred that depicts Israel as a Nazi state of unparalleled cruelty that needs to be wiped off the map, or that sees “Zionist” conspiracies behind everything from 9/11 to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and for good reason: because, as the IHRA definition recognises, antisemitism sometimes includes ‘the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’”

If the BBC’s partners at PRI are not capable of portraying the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in a manner that meets BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, that content should obviously not be rebroadcast on ‘Boston Calling’.

Related Articles:

Guardian op-ed: presidential order on antisemitism only supported by right-wing Jews (UK Media Watch) 

 

Revisiting the BBC’s promotion of Amnesty International

The recent publication of a report concerning Amnesty International by David Collier provides an opportunity to revisit the issue of the BBC’s promotion of that NGO.

Throughout 2018 Amnesty International was the second most quoted and promoted foreign NGO in BBC reporting on Israel and the Palestinians. Coverage of the arrest and trial of Ahed Tamimi included quotes from Amnesty International and even promoted a link to the NGO’s related campaign webpage. A BBC News website live webpage covering the ‘Great Return March’ featured quotes from Amnesty International and the organisation was quoted in a BBC Sport report about a cycle race and later the same month in another report.

That editorial policy was also evident in earlier years – for example:

BBC’s Connolly ‘contextualises’ Hamas torture and execution (spoiler – it’s Israel’s fault)

BBC amplification of Amnesty’s lawfare agenda again compromises impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ amplifies Israel delegitimising lawfare campaign

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Amnesty International’s Gaza report

BBC lends its shoulder to Amnesty’s cart of politically motivated defamation – part one

BBC lends its shoulder to Amnesty’s cart of politically motivated defamation – part two

BBC website now promoting flawed Amnesty report as a ‘related story’

BBC uses photo of exploited child to promote anti-Israel propaganda

Although BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality have long stipulated that audiences should be provided with information concerning the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of contributors – including charities – in over seven years of monitoring we have never been able to document the BBC’s provision of such information in relation to Amnesty International.

Related Articles:

No BBC coverage of Amnesty International’s antisemitism vote

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include the following in the section concerning ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’:

“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.”

Hizballah was designated in its entirety by the UK earlier this year and so we must presume that an interview with the terrorist organisation’s deputy leader by Jeremy Bowen that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 6th (as well as a longer filmed version which was promoted by BBC News) was approved in advance by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.

The question that therefore arises is of what journalistic value was that specially approved interview? Did it provide BBC audiences with “a range and depth of analysis and content” which could not otherwise be achieved and did it contribute to their being better “informed citizens”?

‘Today’ co-presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:36:22 here) with a pinch of Iranian propaganda.

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

Husain: “Protests in Iraq, Lebanon and in Iran where Iranian state television has said that those killed by security forces during last month’s mass protests against the petrol price rise were thugs and rioters. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen joins us now. What’s your reading of those protests, Jeremy?”

Bowen: “Well Mishal, you know, what’s interesting is that there are others who say that they weren’t thugs and rioters but they were protesting and they started protesting as well against the regime and that is why the security forces opened fire in the way that they did and killed so many people. Now it’s clear that the Iranians have got a big set of problems at the moment. Ah…the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home. Maximum pressure as Trump calls them, American sanctions and also what’s important for them is they project power through their allies and in Iraq and Lebanon where there’ve been demonstrations – and those are generally regarded as Iranian allies – many people there see Iran as part of their problems.”

It is not clear what Bowen intended to communicate with that reference to “the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home” and his description of Lebanon – rather than Hizballah – as an Iranian ally clearly does not enhance audience understanding of the topic.

Bowen: “It’s really hard for us to try and work out what’s going in Iran [laughs] partly because they won’t let us in there. Ahm…so one good way of doing it is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah who are in Lebanon and they are Iranian proteges but they’re very powerful as well. One of Israel’s big enemies along with Iran itself. Now I’ve just come back from Beirut and while I was there I talked to the deputy leader of Hizballah who’s a man called Naim Qassem. He’s late 60s, he wears robes, he’s got a white turban, gives the impression of being very shrewd actually, and intelligent and strong views about the region. And he doesn’t talk much so it was a good opportunity to talk about the Middle East and they’re uncomfortable about what’s happening. They like the status quo. So anyway I started off by asking Naim Qassem of Hizballah about the crisis in Lebanon.”

Obviously any interview with a representative of a terrorist organisation needs to be very carefully edited and presented so that audiences can put its inevitable propaganda into the appropriate context. Bowen’s sartorially focused introductory portrayal of Qassem clearly did not provide any meaningful background information about the terror group’s record or agenda. Neither were listeners given sufficient information about the current political crisis in Lebanon before they were exposed to Qassem’s allegations.  

Qassem [voiceover]: “Of course the situation in Lebanon is very dangerous. Consequently you can see how the economic situation is collapsing. And you can see how people are suffering from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. We cannot accept things to continue like this. So for this reason we said very clearly that the government has to be formed in order to put an end to this collapse and decline. And unfortunately there are some who are trying to cause damage to Lebanon and especially the United States. And every two or three days the US Secretary of State Pompeo makes statements and says he doesn’t want to see Hizballah in the government. And Hizballah is part of the people. So let America put a stop to its meddling.”

Bowen: “Now Secretary Pompeo in the US, like the British government, regard your organisation as a terrorist organisation. That’s why he says the things that he says.”

Qassem: “What concerns us is how our people view us. We as Hizballah in the minds of our people, we are a resistance that liberated the land. A party which serves the interests of the people and also serves for a better future for the people. And because America and Britain support Israel which is an occupying power, a power of aggression, a criminal power, they are taking political stance against Hizballah. If they label us as terrorists this doesn’t mean that their designation is right. We consider America to be the leading terrorist entity because it does not serve the interests of the people. The same goes for Britain as well.”

Bowen made no effort to inform listeners of the real background to the designation of Hizballah by the US, the UK and other nations and bodies or to provide factual information concerning the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Hizballah, including their military entrenchment in Syria.

Bowen: “You’re part of a coalition led by Iran that faces off against Israel and by implication against the United States as well. Iran is in real trouble at the moment, isn’t it? There are anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq, there is feeling against Iran in this country and there’ve been big demonstration inside…demonstrations inside Iran itself. Your friends in Iran are in trouble, aren’t they?”

Qassem: “First of all we don’t deny that we are part of an axis led by Iran because Iran advocates the causes of the people’s rights and also supports the resistance. It believes in justice. It believes in the liberation of Palestine. Now, when it comes to the problems within Iran because of the decision to increase the price of gasoline, this is a domestic matter related to Iran.”

Audiences should of course have been informed at this point that in Hizballah-speak “the liberation of Palestine” means the annihilation of Israel.

Bowen: “Now with your allies in Iran you have amassed an enormous arsenal of rockets and missiles including guided missiles that presumably you’d use in a war with Israel. Under what circumstances would you use that arsenal of weapons?”

Qassem: “We are a resistance and we are defending. If Israel were to launch an aggression or attack us, we will respond. And so we don’t have any plans when it comes to initiating any confrontation with Israel. But we are determined to respond to Israel if it were to attack. Israel understands this language only. It won’t be deterred except if we are strong.”

Bowen made no effort to counter that propaganda by, for example, reminding listeners that it was Hizballah which initiated the 2006 conflict and Hizballah which just a year ago had its cross-border tunnels exposed and destroyed. Neither did he bother to clarify the background to any hypothetical attack on Iran’s “nuclear facilities”.

Bowen: “What if Israel or the US attacked Iran; attacked its nuclear facilities? Would you then use your weapons against Israel?”

Qassem: “I don’t know what could happen but what I do know is that any aggression of such scale could ignite the whole region. And those who initiated the aggression will take a big responsibility and also take responsibility for very large-scale reactions. My estimation is that war with Israel is unlikely at this stage. The balance of deterrence is what contributes to the absence of war because they are not convinced of what the results would be if a war were to take place.”

The interview ended there with a laconic statement from co-presenter Martha Kearney.

Kearney: “And that report was by Jeremy Bowen.”

In his introduction Bowen claimed that “one good way” to try to “work out” what is going on in Iran “is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah”. Whether or not that was also the rationale given when approval was sought to interview a senior figure in “an organisation […] designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary” is of course unknown but obviously this interview contributed nothing at all to that supposed aim.

In fact all audiences heard was over four minutes of barely challenged propaganda from the number two in a notorious terrorist organisation: propaganda that they could just as easily have found on Hizballah’s own media channels – and without paying a licence fee.

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC again ignores its own editorial guidelines in London terror reports

BBC reporting on the fatal stabbing attack in London on the afternoon of November 29th once again highlighted the corporation’s double standards on terrorism.

The BBC’s current editorial guidelines on ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ (which came into effect in mid-July 2019) state: [emphasis added]

“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.”

As has been the case when terror attacks have taken place in the UK in the past, those guidelines were appropriately disregarded in some of the corporation’s reporting on the November 29th incident. For example:

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As regular readers know, the BBC has reported countless fatal attacks against Israelis using knives or other methods without using the words terror, terrorism or terrorist.

In April of this year BBC News’ editorial director stated:

“On the issue of terror and terrorism our guidance is clear. There is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist. If we use the word we want to attribute it…”

 “There is no agreed definition of what a terrorist is. It is disputed.”

“We want to be consistent.”

The BBC is however anything but consistent in the language used in its reporting on terrorism in different locations. While the corporation does use the word terror in reports on attacks in Western Europe or attacks against British tourists, it time and time again fails to employ the same terminology in its reporting on attacks against Israelis.

As we have noted here in the past, that double standard is evidence of precisely the type of “value judgements” which the BBC claims that its above editorial guideline is designed to prevent.

Related Articles:

BBC reports on Kiryat Arba attack without using the word terror

Another fatal terror attack; another miserable BBC News headline

BBC claims attacks on Israelis in Judea & Samaria are “rare”

BBC News flunks headline of report on Jerusalem terror attack

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

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

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

BBC senior editor defends double standards on terrorism

 

 

 

Reviewing the impartiality of BBC radio reports on the Pompeo statement

Earlier this week we reviewed inaccurate claims made in reports aired on BBC radio stations about a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part two

BBC WS radio materially misleads listeners with ’40 years’ spin

Some of those reports included recorded statements from or interviews with people other than BBC journalists and the overall picture indicates that audiences did not get a balanced view of the story.

November 19th, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 01:38 here)

Erekat: “Once the Trump administration decide to undermine international law, once they become an administration that’s pro Israel’s occupation, pro Israel war crimes, this is constitute a major threat to international peace and security.”

November 19th, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newsday’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 06:09 here)

Erekat: “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes and the statement of Mr Pompeo is absolutely rejected and must be condemned because once superpowers, once the Trump administration decide to undermine international law, this is constitute a a major threat to international peace and security and this is turning the international community from the rules of international law, the rules of solving conflict by peaceful means, into the rules of the jungle.”

Interview with Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post (from 07:29 here)

Interview with Palestinian journalist and former PA spokesperson Nour Odeh (from 06:23 here)

November 19th, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 14:06 here)

Erekat: “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes and the statement of Mr Pompeo the Secretary of State of the United States is absolutely rejected and must be condemned and this is turning the international community from the rules of international law, the rules of solving conflict by peaceful means, into the rules of the jungle.”

Interview with Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi (from 34:07 here)

In short, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard comment from one side only – the PLO’s side – while listeners to BBC World Service radio heard four times more comment from the Palestinian side than from the Israeli side.

Apparently the BBC believes that meets its obligation to ‘due impartiality’.

 

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

On the afternoon of November 6th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report is illustrated with an image credited to You Tube and captioned “The Old City of Jerusalem is a Unesco World Heritage site” but readers are not informed that it is in fact a “screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley”.

The report opens with a description of the plan which includes clear framing. [emphasis added]

“A controversial plan to build a cable car network in Jerusalem’s Old City to transport visitors to one of Judaism’s holiest sites has been approved by Israel’s housing cabinet.

The cable cars will ferry up to 3,000 people an hour about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s government says the project will reduce traffic congestion.”

It then quickly moves on to present the views of various opponents, including a link to a campaigning video.

“But opponents say it will damage the area’s historic landscape.

They intend to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to stop it.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working to defend cultural heritage, has previously warned that the cable car network will alter the skyline of the Old City – a Unesco World Heritage site – and have a detrimental impact on Palestinian residents of the Silwan area living under the proposed route.

It has also alleged that the project “serves a highly political agenda” and that it was “fast-tracked” through the planning process.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: [emphasis added]

“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.”

Readers are however told nothing of that foreign funded political NGO’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” before the report moves on to promote a link to an as yet uncorrected BBC backgrounder from 2014 and highlight additional objections.

“The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government – the custodian of the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – have also expressed concern about the impact on the Old City.”

Readers then see an edited version of a problematic video made by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell in 2017 and at the end of the report they are told that:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC reporting, while the corporation adopts and uses PLO approved language such as “occupied East Jerusalem”, audiences are told nothing of the Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or of the fact that until June 1967 – as shown in Article 24 of the original PLO charter from 1964 – the Palestinians specifically stated that they had no claim to territory occupied at the time by Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The result is that, as usual, BBC audiences are fed a politically partisan account which deliberately omits relevant context.

Related Articles:

BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem