BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners. 


Inflammatory political comment in BBC Proms broadcast

One of Britain’s best-loved institutions is, without doubt, the annual BBC-presented Henry Wood Promenade Concerts – better and fondly known as the Proms. But even that cultural oasis is not immune to political posturing. 

Last year a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was disrupted by anti-Israel campaigners resulting in a Radio 3 live broadcast of the concert being pulled by the BBC. 

This year – as we learn from the IPT blog – is sadly no better.

“Violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy and his quartet performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons last Thursday at the Royal Albert Hall. They were joined by the Palestine Strings in a concert broadcast live as part of the BBC Proms series. The Palestine Strings are comprised of young students attending the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.”

Delightful. However, during the performance Kennedy told the audience:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experience in this night of music tonight that, given equality, and getting rid of apartheid, gives beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.” [emphasis added]

 Kennedy’s inflammatory comment has not been pulled by Radio 3. In fact the concert is available here with Kennedy’s remarks appearing at around 1:20:26. As the IPT blog notes:

“Moreover, the BBC has aired the broadcast on BBC [Radio] 3 with the comments intact, and plans to rebroadcast the concert in its entirety on BBC on Aug. 23, thus exposing an even wider unsuspecting audience tuning in to hear Kennedy’s music.”

And that was not the only occasion upon which the BBC has of late provided a platform for Nigel Kennedy’s political posturing. On August 3rd he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ where he said (at 1:02:27 in the recording in the link):

“These problems of apartheid in Israel at the moment are extreme. You know, people not able to get onto their orange groves, people not able to get education, not able to get medical supplies.”

The best presenter Richard Coles could come up with in response to those dishonest fabrications was: Saturday Live

“There are always two sides to those arguments and they will always fight…”

“Two sides” to a blatant lie, Reverend?

To remind ourselves of the BBC’s own guidelines on the subject of live output:

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

As Baroness Deech remarked:

Baroness Deech tweets

One of course hopes that ahead the scheduled August 23rd broadcast the BBC will have the forethought to remove Kennedy’s inflammatory comment which is clearly in breach of BBC editorial guidelines, but perhaps readers might like to give them a nudge – just in case. 


The Jewish Chronicle reports that the BBC has confirmed that Kennedy’s comments will be edited out of the scheduled August 23rd broadcast of the concert. 


Shlomo Sand on BBC Radio Three

It did not begin well. Philip Dodd’s introduction to the BBC Radio Three ‘Night Waves’ programme of February 19th 2013 (available here), in which he interviewed Shlomo Sand, went like this: 

“Also, an interview with a man who’s received death threats in his own country for denying the Jewish people are a people or have any right to feel morally superior.”

That is a very unfortunate choice of wording. If Dodd was trying to suggest that his interviewee thinks that the Jewish people feel “morally superior” (to whom, exactly, and according to what evidence?), then he should have made that clearer. Otherwise, the impression audiences receive from that throwaway phrase – which is not qualified or clarified later in the programme – is that Jews do think themselves “morally superior” – just as most of them think that they are a people – and issue death threats to those who disagree. 

The introduction continues with a recording of Sand himself saying:

“It has to be clear: we came there. They didn’t come there – we came. My parents came there. You pushed us out from Europe and threw us on the backs of the Palestinians. This is the reality. This is history.”

The interview itself begins from around 25:00 in the link above. Dodd did challenge Sand on key issues relating mostly to Leftist thought including the subject of nationalism and homeland as well as Sand’s use of what Dodd rightly termed “a classic sort of Leninist phrase” – “the masses”.  Dodd also made a pretty good job of clarifying Sand’s realistic status within Israeli society: a somewhat totalitarian product of an introverted, elitist academia for whom the country ends with the Tel Aviv municipal boundaries. 

“You’re a city man. You’re a Tel Aviv man; not an Israeli.”

Unfortunately, Dodd did not appear to be sufficiently informed (or perhaps inclined) so as to be able to challenge even the worst of Sand’s misrepresentations about Israel itself. Sand’s obviously false  claim that the Palestinian “resistance” understood in the 80s that “Israel cannot vanish” and that it accepts “the principle of the existence of Israel” passed unremarked, as did his claim that “Iran is not a menace”.

Also unchallenged was Sand’s bizarre claim regarding Jerusalem:

“All these buildings, all these walls are Islamic. There is not a [sic] Jewish architecture. I was looking at it and say [sic] how come they call it the Jewish city and it is a Muslim city. Physically it’s Arab – it’s not Jewish.”

The overall tone of this interview was obviously defined by the fact that Dodd elected to relate to the subject as though he was discussing an academic work with its author rather than a politically motivated polemic with a man who has jump-started what would have otherwise been a fairly obscure academic career by tapping into the flourishing market for anti-Israel propaganda created by Israelis. 

Dodd chose not to explore the broader subject of the motivations of the echo chamber in which Sand’s polemics are smash hits. He ignored the fact that Sand chuckles all the way to the bank after having sold the pseudo-intellectual ammunition for further attacks on the “masses” he so despises, but which pay his professor’s salary. Had he elected to explore those aspects of Sand’s book, this interview might have been interesting – and perhaps met Dodd’s own description of it as “spirited”.  


BBC Radio 3 to host Shlomo Sand

On February 19th 2013 at 22:00 GMT BBC Radio Three’s Night Waves programme will feature Philip Dodd hosting the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand.  

According to the programme’s synopsis, the subject under discussion will be Sand’s latest book – published last year – entitled ‘The Invention of the Land of Israel’. 

Sand on Night Waves

It will be interesting to see whether Dodd picks up on the opportunist motives behind this latest volume of activist history by Sand – a historian of France and Europe rather than the ancient period – and whether he informs his audience of the political use made of Sand’s books by anti-Israel campaigners.