BBC News website audiences misled by recycled delayed mail story

h/t Tomer Ilan

As was noted here last year when the BBC began working with the AFP news agency:

“…unlike many other media outlets that use agency produced material, the BBC does not usually inform its audiences at the top of an article that the content was provided by an agency. Audiences hence have no way of knowing whether the information they receive does in fact come from the ‘trusted‘ BBC or from agencies which do not necessarily adhere to the corporation’s editorial guidelines.”

On August 14th AFP published a report by Hossam Ezzedine about delayed post addressed to people living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas. That report was picked up by numerous other media outlets including the BBC which, on August 15th, published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

The only indication that the story was sourced from an agency came in two indirect quotes from AFP:

“An official told AFP it would take another two weeks to sort and deliver.”

“The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“Packages, letters and even a wheelchair intended for Palestinians have arrived in the occupied West Bank after Israel released years of undelivered mail.

The post, which includes internet orders that never arrived, had been held in Jordan since 2010 and was released under a one-time agreement.”

The explanation for the delay given to BBC audiences is as follows:

“Ramadan Ghazawi, who works at the post office in Jericho, said the items appeared to have been blocked on security or administrative grounds. 

Israel controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Allam Moussa accused Israel of having failed to implement a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 that would have allowed international mail to enter the Palestinian Territories without first going through the Israeli postal service.

The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

So what is the real background to this story?

The 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. However, Arab countries which do not recognise Israel refuse to send postal items to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority via the Israel Postal Authority. In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve that problem.

“The [Israeli] Communications Ministry and the corresponding PA bureau are reportedly close to finalizing an agreement which would allow the Palestinians to receive mail from other Arab countries.

 Arab nations will not use the Israel Postal Service, which currently supplies the PA with international mail services. Israel is interested in signing the agreement in order to ease communications between Palestinian and their families abroad. […]

Yigal Levi, the Communications Ministry’s director of postal services, met with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmood Diwan several days ago and the two agreed to form a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services.”

In September 2016 a memorandum of understanding was signed.

“Until now, Israeli conducted global postal affairs for the Palestinians, including financial transactions. Mail would come first to Israel, which then transferred it to local Palestinian post offices in the West Bank and Gaza.

That system changed on Sunday, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed a memorandum of understanding to give the Palestinians postal rights. […]

“The MOU is designed to gradually regulate direct transfer of mail from around the world to the Palestinian Authority through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge,” COGAT said.”

As Ha’aretz reported, work on that issue continues.

““About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is therefore no direct mail transfer at this time,” COGAT said in a statement.

“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan,” the statement concluded.

Hussein Sawafta, director of the Palestinian postal service, said that Israel held up the mail because it was not properly addressed to the Israeli postal service. Sawafta said the mail was released last week and workers are now sorting through mounds of letters and packages.” [emphasis added]

As we see, readers were by no means provided with the full background to this story (not least the relevant issue of the refusal by Arab countries to use the existing system) and the BBC’s report amplified inaccurate claims from Palestinian Authority Communications Minister regarding the 2016 memorandum of understanding which mistakenly led audiences to believe that Israel is exclusively to blame for the fact that the delivery of items including “even a wheelchair” was delayed.

BBC News also posted the report on Facebook and some of the responses allowed to remain standing on that BBC account included – not for the first time – offensive statements, comments “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and antisemitic Nazi analogies. For example:

Moreover, the day after the BBC News website recycled that misleading AFP article, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman went to Jericho to report on the same story for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:06 here). Bateman’s report indicates that the BBC is aware of the fact that efforts had been made in the past to reach an agreement whereby not all post destined for PA controlled areas would have to come through the Israeli postal system (although he did not bother to inform listeners that the context was the refusal of Arab countries to use the Israeli postal services) and that the BBC also knows that past understandings have not yet “been implemented or not implemented in full”.

Significantly, however, the BBC did not bother to update its online report with that information.

 

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Compare and contrast: BBC News personalisation of victims of terror

Whilst stuck in early morning traffic on the way to Manchester airport last Monday I found myself listening to BBC Radio 5 live’s morning broadcast. The programme understandably focused mostly on the weekend’s terror attacks in Paris and one feature particularly notable to Israeli ears was the effort made to personalise and humanise the victims. 

Listeners were given a range of information which typically included names, ages, occupations, family statuses, places of birth and education and in some cases also heard of the reactions of loved ones. Such information of course enables the listener to get beyond mere casualty figures and goes some way towards helping audiences appreciate the individual personal tragedies of victims and their families.

A week on from the attacks, that trend continues to be a feature of BBC content, with an article titled “Paris attacks: Who were the victims?” appearing on the homepage and World page of the BBC News website on November 20th and the BBC News Twitter account promoting a Facebook post devoted to tributes to the victims.

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BBC News FB Paris victims

By way of contrast, the BBC’s descriptions of five victims of terror murdered in two separate attacks on November 19th in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion are notable for the paucity of personal details. TA & Gush attacks 19 11

“Five people have been killed in two attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank, officials say.

In the first attack, two Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian man at the entrance of a shop that serves as a synagogue in the city of Tel Aviv.

Later, a third Israeli, a Jewish American and a Palestinian were killed in an attack near a Jewish settlement.” […]

“One of the victims, a man in his 20s, was declared dead at the scene by the Magen David Adom ambulance service. The second was rushed to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.” […]

“Hours later, an attacker in a car opened fire at a busy junction and then crashed into a group of pedestrians, killing three people and injuring several others, the Israeli military said.

Two of the dead were identified as Jewish – an 18-year-old American tourist and a 50-year-old Israeli. The third was a Palestinian.”

Rabbi Aharon Yesayev, 32, from Tel Aviv, Reuven Aviram, 51, from Ramle, Ezra Schwartz, 18, of Sharon, Massachusetts, Yaakov Don, 49, from Alon Shvut, and Shadi Arafa, 40, from Hebron were not even named by the BBC in its report on the two incidents – even though that information was in the public domain by the time its final version was updated. Their photographs and personal stories are not featured in any dedicated BBC article or Facebook post.

Predictably, the BBC article on the attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion does not mention the word ‘terror’ whilst the article about the victims murdered in Paris opens with the words “Tributes have been paid to the 130 people who lost their lives in the Paris terror attacks”. Evidently the BBC’s two-tier system of reporting terror attacks is not only confined to the use of language.

Hate speech, lies and antisemitism on BBC News Facebook page

One of the BBC’s defined public purposes is titled ‘Global Outlook’ and the BBC Trust’s interpretation of that remit can be seen below.

global outlook

Details provided concerning clause b) – “Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” – include the following declarations of intent:

“BBC Trust: “The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.” […]

The nature of digital technology also means improved opportunities to connect with audiences – and BBC Global News will consider carefully the various access needs of its diverse audiences and continue to seek ways to give voice to its many listeners, viewers and users. From emails read out by presenters, to questions put to world leaders, to chatrooms and websites where people can debate and engage in dialogue free from fear and censorship, the BBC will make space available to support free speech and informed democracy.” [emphasis added]

The promotion of dialogue and free speech is of course a commendable aspiration but unfortunately, all too often BBC message boards become a forum for hate speech, dehumanization and delegitimisation – at least where Israelis are concerned.

A post promoting Lyse Doucet’s recent programme ‘Children of the Gaza War’ which appeared on the BBC News Facebook account on July 7th was viewed by over 450,000 people and generated over a thousand comments.   

Among the comments left standing by the BBC were several promoting the notion that Israel carried out ‘genocide’, ‘extermination’, ‘slaughter’, ‘rape’ and deliberately targets Muslims.

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Numerous comments called for the expulsion of Israelis from their country.

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Violence against Israelis and their supporters was advocated.

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Israel was accused of creating ISIS and compared to that group.

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Sderot was described as a ‘settlement’ on ‘occupied land’ in numerous comments.

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Antisemitic conflation between Jews and Israelis appeared.

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Antisemitic themes of ‘Jewish power’ were also left standing.

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Israelis were dehumanised.

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The BBC cannot possibly claim that this sort of display falls into the category of ‘informing conversation and debate’. Not only do many of the comments on that thread distort reality and promote falsehoods and conspiracy theories but others clearly spread antisemitic discourse and hate speech.

Regrettably – as has been documented here on numerous occasions – this is far from the first time that BBC Facebook pages have been allowed to become a forum for the promotion of delegitimisation, hate speech and even incitement to violence.

And once again the BBC’s failure to tackle this recurring issue suggests that it is apparently still unperturbed by that fact.

Related Articles:

BBC WS WHYS Facebook moderation fails again

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism

Antisemitism on BBC WS ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page

BBC’s WHYS promotes Gaza interviewee with a penchant for antisemitic imagery

Nazi analogies and ‘apartheid’ defamation on BBC World ‘Have Your Say’ Facebook account