BBC Radio 4’s statistics programme on Holocaust denial in the UK

The lead item (from 00:28 here) in the February 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 statistics programme ‘More or Less’ related to the results of a survey published a few days earlier by Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust that was previously covered on the BBC News website.

“Is it true that one in 20 adults in Britain don’t believe the Holocaust took place? Those are the findings of a survey commissioned by The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. But Professor Peter Lynn of Essex University explains why the survey is unlikely to be accurate.”

Presenter Tim Harford introduced the item:

Harford: “Last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day; a day of solemn remembrance. But it was also a day of appalled surprise because a poll was published claiming that [recording] ‘as many as one in 20 adults in Britain don’t believe the Holocaust took place and 1 in 12 believe its scale had been exaggerated’.

One in 20 Britons: that would be about three million people not believing that the Holocaust happened. The survey said that many others were confused about the details.

So to clear up any uncertainty, at least here, the Holocaust is a name given to the genocidal murder of around 6 million Jews led by the German State under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government and part of an even bigger policy of systematic murder of a variety of targets including the Roma, disabled people, political prisoners and many others.

We’ve always known that a few people love to claim that this never happened or happened on a dramatically smaller scale – but as many as one in twenty?”

Programme producer Ruth Alexander subsequently brought in Peter Lynn, Professor of Survey Methodology at the University of Essex.

Alexander: “Now when Professor Lynn heard about the results of this survey, he raised an eyebrow.”

Lynn: “Yes, I was immediately sceptical that this sounded a bit…ehm…unlikely.”

Alexander: “The number sounds too big?”

Lynn: “Yes.”

With no identification of the additional experts cited, listeners were told that survey participants may have unintentionally stated that the Holocaust did not happen:

Alexander: “In fact, I’ve spoken to three other survey design experts – they all agree, there are some serious flaws with this study. Now it’s true that 5% of people surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the Holocaust never really happened. However, Professor Lynn thinks they may not all have done so deliberately.”

Lynn: “I guess the first thing that struck me was that the wording of the question about believing that the Holocaust happened seems to me to have some serious shortcomings and I think that may have caused some people to appear to agree that the Holocaust had never really happened when that wasn’t what they intended.”

Harford: “So the issue here is that people taking part in an online survey like this; they’re ticking boxes, maybe they’re not looking too closely; maybe they’re in a hurry, they’re distracted by what’s on TV; they’re thinking more about the shopping vouchers they might receive for doing the survey than what they’re actually agreeing or disagreeing with and some of them might make outrageous claims just for the fun of it.”

Later on listeners were told that the result may have come about by accident.

Lynn: “There is always a significant minority of respondents who take short cuts and I think that that could be the case here because the respondents here are presented with a series of statements. Now the first two items in this scale are firstly: ‘It is important to know about the Holocaust in today’s world’ and secondly: ‘More needs to be done to educate people about what happened during the Holocaust’. So, at that point you might be beginning to think, ah I can see a battery of statements about the Holocaust, seems like I’m the kind of person who tends to agree with them; I’ll just agree to the next few and assume that that represents my position.

But the item we’re talking about here, the third item ‘the Holocaust never really happened’ is worded the other way round – it’s what we call a reversed item – where if you believe that the Holocaust happened, you should now be disagreeing with the item. So you could easily fall into the trap of just assuming you agreed with all these items and, therefore, not giving a response to this third item that actually represents your true view.”

With the programme makers’ views of the intelligence of the British public abundantly clear, Harford continued:

Harford: “It seems like there is a lot of ignorance out there and clearly Holocaust denial is a real thing and it would be worth trying to measure how prevalent it is. So do we know of any other, perhaps more reliable, research that can give us a better sense of the true numbers?”

Alexander went on to cite a study conducted twenty-five years ago in the United States (which obviously has no bearing on the issue of Holocaust denial in Britain) and to quote yet more anonymous experts on Holocaust denial in an equally unrelated location.

Alexander: “…it turned out that the correct number of Holocaust Deniers in the US was more like 2% of the population. And experts have told me that studies in Europe have tended to give lower numbers still.”

Apparently the ‘More or Less’ team would have the BBC’s domestic listeners conclude that a study conducted a quarter of a century ago in a country with a different culture, education system and population make up is more likely to reflect the percentage of people in their own country who do not believe that the Holocaust happened than a survey recently conducted in the UK.

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Keeping Knell’s crystal ball gazing alive on BBC Radio 4

BBC domestic radio would not usually bother to report on closed primary elections held by one of tens of parties set to run in a foreign country’s general election that is two months away.  

That, however, is exactly what listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard on February 6th and to understand why, it is worth recalling Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell’s crystal ball gazing on the same radio station in late December 2018.

Knell’s predictions for the year ahead in the Middle East focused not on Syria, Iran, Yemen or the embattled Kurds but on a story much closer to her own office’s back yard.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Many of those themes were recycled in this latest report from Knell which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain (from 2:41:17 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Husain: “In Israel the Likud party of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been voting on its list of candidates to contest April’s general election. While it faces new competition, polls suggest that Mr Netanyahu is best placed to lead the next coalition government, putting him on course to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister this summer. But he might also become the first sitting Israeli leader to face a criminal trial. There’ll be a decision soon on possible corruption charges. He denies any wrongdoing. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports from Jerusalem.”

Knell: “There’s a big effort here in Jerusalem to put on a positive show as the Likud faithful vote for their preferred candidates in a primary election. But there’s no disguising that the upcoming general election is going to be tough for the party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s facing possible corruption charges and his most formidable political rival in years, a former general, Benny Gantz. Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”

Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Knell continued with portrayal of daily videos posted on Facebook as a television channel.

Knell “And as part of that battle, this week Mr Netanyahu launched Likud TV – his own channel to counter what he describes as fake news. He’s furious at the media coverage of three criminal investigations against him, calling it a witch hunt and insists he won’t step down. Before the election Israel’s attorney general has said he’ll announce whether he intends to prosecute. Guy Luria of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”

Luria: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”

Knell: “At a recent press event the BBC asked the prime minister about his legal predicament.”

Recording Netanyahu: “I believe nothing will come of it because there’s nothing in it. And it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect my support because people believe what I just said and they also believe that we’re doing the right things for the country.”

Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”

Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”

Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”

Knell: “If, as polls predict, Mr Netanyahu is set to win his fifth election, this summer he’ll take over from the founding father David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest ever serving prime minister. But he could also make another record: as the first sitting prime minister to fight criminal charges. The coming months will define his legacy.”

As we see, while this item used the previous day’s Likud primaries as a hook, BBC audiences actually heard nothing at all about the results.  Neither – once again – did they get any information about the policies of the party described by the BBC as “new competition” headed by a “formidable political rival” or news about any of the additional parties which have so far registered.

Rather, the BBC continues to focus audience attention on Yolande Knell’s speculations concerning an indictment which may or may not be issued and a court case which may or may not take place – all the while failing even to provide audiences with relevant factual background

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BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

The February 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item concerning Venezuela which presenter Ritula Shah brought to a close with a question (from 23:31 here) on a different topic to one of her interviewees – Chris Williamson – whom she had earlier introduced as a “Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn”.

The question related to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party held on the same evening.

Shah: “I want to ask you one more question. Labour MPs tonight have unanimously passed a motion calling for the party leadership to do more to tackle antisemitism and the MPs accuse the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who was at the meeting, of ignoring the demands and refusing to give the answers they wanted. You weren’t at that meeting, I know, but you have been at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure. I wonder what you make of tonight’s move.” [emphasis added]

Williamson: “Well I think it’s an incredibly unfair criticism of Jennie Formby. She’s done more than any previous general secretary to address a backlog of complaints, including antisemitism. She’s appointed an in-house counsel. She’s expanded the national constitutional committee that deals with serious…ehm…accusations of mis…of misdeeds and she’s increased staff to deal with this matter.”

Shah: “So you don’t think the MPs are justified?”

Williamson: “No absolutely not. I think it’s incredibly unfair. Jennie’s done more than anybody to deal with the cancer of antisemitism and we have to stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and racism and she’s done precisely that.”

The BBC’s domestic audience would of course have been better equipped to judge that predictable messaging from Williamson had they first been informed what Shah meant by “at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure”.

Williamson has not simply disagreed with allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party. In a 2017 interview with the Guardian:

“He said rows over Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and his approach to Venezuela were “proxy wars and bullshit”.

“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”

Williamson subsequently described reactions to those comments as “positively sinister” and in 2018 portrayed antisemitism related disciplinary actions within the Labour party as “ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way”.

While a person who publicly states that antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ and that concerns about racism in the Labour party are “smears” and “bullshit” may not have been the best choice of commentator on the meeting that was the topic of Shah’s question, clearly audience understanding of his comments would have been enhanced had his stance on the core issue been better clarified in line with the BBC editorial guideline concerning the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ airs second item in five days on Israel election video

As noted here earlier in the month, the BBC’s record of reporting on the past two Israeli general elections shows that it has serially ignored the economic and social issues which have been high up on the list of priorities for Israeli voters. A report from Tom Bateman which was aired in the January 30th edition of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme suggests that coverage of the election due to be held in April is unlikely break that mould.  

The subject of Bateman’s report is former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz who previously got an anonymous mention on the same programme on January 18th and whose campaign videos were mentioned in an ‘alternative news bulletin’ by John Simpson in the January 25th edition of ‘Today’.

The item (from 2:41:36 here) was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson.

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

Robinson: “Israelis go to the polls in the Spring to choose a new government. Last night the campaign launch took place on Tel Aviv of Benny Gantz – a former chief of the Israeli military who believes he can unseat Benjamin Netanyahu – now into his tenth year as prime minister. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

If his first term in office is taken into account, Netanyahu is actually well beyond hid “tenth year as prime minister”.

Bateman’s report began with sounds from an event held the previous evening and an inaccurate portrayal of the colour of IDF uniforms.

Bateman: “A man previously seen in khaki holding binoculars. Tonight it’s a suit, a microphone and an adoring crowd. Benny Gantz launched his campaign and a broadside at Benjamin Netanyahu who he suggested was like a king sowing incitement and division. Israeli elections are usually decided on the issue of security and so former generals ooze with potential political capital. But Benny Gantz’s story goes up against an incumbent prime minister seen by his base as Mr Security.”

Bateman then interviewed a man who was Gantz’s radio operator in the paratroopers brigade thirty years ago and his one question was:

Bateman: “As somebody who knows him well, can you give us a clue about his politics? What’s your impression?”

Voiceover: “My impression…eh…he…”

Bateman quickly stepped in:

Bateman: “The policies haven’t been pouring from Benny Gantz. Some observers have little to say other than the fact that he is tall with unusually blue eyes. Although even then he was out-polling most other parties.”

Listeners then heard some in part tongue-in-cheek commentary from Gil Hoffman – political correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.

Hoffman: “So because Israelis are voting on security, that gives anyone with a security record a great advantage and Gantz has one more added plus which is this lack of an opinion on anything. […] There will be efforts by Right-wing politicians to show that Gantz is not this security messiah but that he is a weak Leftist and prevent him from being this alternative to Netanyahu. They’ve just started and there are 72 days left.”

Bateman next turned to the same campaign video which ‘Today’ audiences had heard about just five days earlier.

Bateman: “So Gantz – trying to burnish a strongman image – released a video showing flattened buildings in Gaza when he was chief of staff in the war of 2014. It boasted of sending parts of the Strip back to the Stone Age and thirteen hundred terrorists killed. Human rights groups castigated the apparent disregard for civilian casualties. An Arab Israeli MP said he watched it and felt sick.”

Like Simpson before him, Bateman refrained from reminding listeners that the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza Strip based terror groups began because attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians escalated with 52 missiles fired during June 2014 and 237 missiles and dozens of mortars fired in the first week of July – eighty of them on July 7th 2014 alone. Also like Simpson, Bateman failed to clarify that the video he described as showing “flattened buildings in Gaza” in fact shows one specific neighbourhood in which the fighting was particularly fierce because of Hamas’ placement of military assets in civilian residential areas.

Bateman continued with commentary on ‘leadership’ from a soon to be former MK.

Bateman: “Hilik Bar, a Labour party MP, said Gantz had fallen into a populist trap – a clumsy imitation of the hawkish right.”

Bar: “If you will test his ideas one to one you will see that he is a Leftist. OK by the way he’s…”

Bateman [interrupts] “That’s become really a term of abuse. I mean the Right are using that as a way of attacking him.”

Bar: “People who are afraid to belong to the Left or to [be] called Leftist are either a coward or not leaders enough.”

Bateman closed his report with yet more military motifs.

Bateman: “As his launch packed up last night Gantz began his campaign on a battlefield strewn with political casualties. Many an Israeli general has tried to reach the top of government. Few have succeeded.”

Among Israel’s twelve different prime ministers to date – some of who served more than one term – three (along with one acting prime minister) have held the rank of general or above.

Of all the new political lists which have emerged since the announcement of the upcoming election, BBC audiences have so far heard only this very sketchy portrayal of this one party, with no reporting whatsoever on its stated policies. Interestingly, the fact that Gantz’s new party has teamed up with a party led by another former chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, did not make it into Bateman’s report.

So while BBC audiences have yet to hear any reporting on topics not connected to security and the ‘peace process’ which will be issues in the upcoming election, they did hear two reports concerning the same ‘Stone Age’ campaign video in the space of five days.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an interview with Deborah Lipstadt about the rise of antisemitism, during which presenter Martha Kearney found it appropriate to quote one of Jeremy Corbyn’s denials concerning the antisemitism evident in his party.

The January 26th edition of the same programme saw presenter Mishal Husain return to that interview with Lipstadt (from 1:50:36 here) in an item featuring a member of the UK Labour party. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Can an outlook that focuses on race and privilege prevent people recognising antisemitism? That was the suggestion made on the programme yesterday by the historian Deborah Lipstatdt […] Here’s what she said.”

Recording Lipstadt: “…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice.”

Husain: “Well Michael Segalov is a journalist, member of the Labour party and is himself Jewish. […] What do you think of that view?”

This is not the first time that the BBC has brought in Segalov to comment on antisemitism in the party of which he is a member but without clarifying that he is a Corbyn supporter.

Segalov: “I think there is some truth in it. I don’t think that it is inherent to being progressive. I certainly don’t think misunderstanding what the Jewish community have been through is part of being progressive or on the Left. But I do think when – in particular in relation to Israel, which is obviously not what Jewish identity is all about but it’s part of it – it is possible to fall into a trap, which is understandable, of seeing Israel as a colonial state. And I think the reason that happens on the progressive Left more than it does elsewhere is because it’s only really on the Left that the lexicon is apparent. You don’t really see people on the Right talking critically about empire, about colonialism in a way the Left do. So I was trying to think of an analogy on the way here and to some extent I guess it’s like if you’re not trying to juggle you’re not going to drop anything – it’s that sort of issue there.”

Husain: “But what Deborah Lipstatdt was saying was actually something even more basic than that if you like. She is saying that if you see the world through this prism and she said – she was talking about ethnicity and class – but perhaps when you think about it in this way, that if you see…if your world view had a big focus on wealth and the inequality that results from imbalances in wealth and you perceive Jews as having wealth even though that is…depends on who you’re talking about, then you can find it difficult to see Jews as victims.”

Segalov: “Well no, I dispute that completely. I think it’s very important we say that those kind of prejudices such as seeing Jewish people as wealthy need to be dispelled. I don’t think it’s at all inherent to the idea that if you’re critical of wealth and power you’re suddenly antisemitic. I think making those connections is…”

Husain: “But that’s not what I said. I said could it mean that you are less likely to see Jews as people who can be victims?”

Segalov: “Only if you hold on to the view that Jewish people are wealthy and powerful which is…which is not fundamentally true. I do think there’s a bit more nuance to what Deborah said, as much as respect I have for her, in particular that I don’t think progressive people solely see inequality through the lens of either wealth or race. We see it through gender, you see it through sexuality, you see it through nationality and ethnicity and all different religious groups too. It’s all this identity politics idea. So I don’t think it’s as straightforward as to say that if you see the world through a lens of the powerful and the wealthy and the not so, that you’re ever going to fall into the trap of antisemitism.”

Husain: “But do you find yourself often having to make a point or urging people who have the same political views as you to see Jewish people in a different way from perhaps how they first see them?”

Segalov: “Not fairly regularly, no, no.”

Husain: “It does happen?”

Segalov: “Of course. I think they…we…antisemitism and misunderstandings of the Jewish community have been prevalent in Europe and this country and beyond for generations. And I certainly think at a time when Jewish people relatively in the UK and relatively in the US too, despite the administration over there, are safe and comfortable – a short period of time and long may it continue – it’s possible for younger people to not understand and appreciate the history that Jewish people have of marginalisation, oppression and discrimination. I don’t think it happens too often but of course there’s a risk.”

Husain made no effort to remind listeners (and her guest) that just four months ago 40% of British Jews said they would seriously consider leaving the UK if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister.

Husain: “Michael Segalov, thank you very much.”

Quite how the producers of this programme thought Segalov’s largely incoherent ramblings would contribute to BBC’s domestic audiences’ understanding of antisemitism in the UK Labour party is a mystery. Listeners were however told by a person introduced as Jewish that it is “understandable” if people perceive “Israel as a colonial state” and they heard multiple references to Jews, wealth and power.

Sadly, even just days ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, BBC Radio 4 could not come up with impartial and informative reporting on the antisemitism that blights its listeners’ society.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ discusses antisemitism ahead of HMD – part one

As Holocaust Memorial Day approached, on January 25th the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme aired a short interview (from 2:24:30 here) with Deborah Lipstadt concerning her new book.

The introduction to that item from presenter Martha Kearney included the following: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “Her new book looks at the rise of antisemitism in the past decade and maintains that it’s no longer just the far Right but those on the Left as well who are to blame.”

Having brought in her guest she went on:

Kearney: “Now just describe to us what you think lies behind this recent wave of antisemitism.”

Lipstadt: “Well as you said in the introduction I think right now it’s coming from the Right and from the Left and from a third source and that is Islamist Jihadist extremists. What lies behind it? I think a number of factors. First of all we’ve seen Right wing populist governments or Right wing political leaders, including in my own country, play on making divisions among people, play on making divisions against minorities which gins up this attit…plays into the antisemitism. On the Left I think it’s been brewing for a long time. We could trace roots of it back […] to the late […] USSR. But it’s been there but it’s taken on an added potency in recent years and is often used in connection to Israel.”

Kearney: “And you’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn in this context in your book.”

Lipstadt: “I have. I think Jeremy…I don’t know if Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite or not and I don’t think that’s the important question. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But what I do is look at his record over a very long time [….] and what I see is a man who doesn’t understand antisemitism or – worse yet – doesn’t take it seriously…”

Interrupting her guest, Kearney immediately jumped in with a quote which some BBC listeners have heard used before.

Kearney [interrupts] “Well you see he would dispute that and he’s written a number of articles and put out a number of statements and said, you know, for example ‘people who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand, you do not do it in my name’.”

Lipstadt: “Right, I know that. I think for Jeremy Corbyn and other progressives – not all progressives but people who…many people consider themselves progressives, their view of the world is refracted through a prism which has two facets. One factor is ethnicity and one is class. And they look at Jews and they see white people – quote unquote white people – who are privileged and therefore could not possibly be victims of prejudice. There’s an irony here of course because if you turn to the far Right, they don’t consider Jews white people [….]. And they say well therefore you could not possibly be a victim of prejudice. On top of this – and we hear this from Jeremy Corbyn and from others – I am a progressive, I have gotten my progressive values with my mother’s milk, they are inbred in me, it’s impossible, it’s just impossible, it’s oxymoronic for me to be prejudiced therefore you must be making this up. You must be doing this for some ulterior purpose. And they just refuse to take it seriously. I see it on campuses in the United States from the Left, I see it in the British Labour Party, I saw it in the women’s march in the United States – the leaders of the women’s march. You see it in many different places that they just don’t think antisemitism is a serious problem.”

Kearney closed the item at that point, with the BBC’s domestic listeners having heard nothing of substance on the topic of far-Right antisemitism in the UK or what Lipstadt termed “Islamist Jihadist extremists” and the highly relevant issue of links between that brand of antisemitism and the British Left.

While it was Kearney who raised the subject of the leader of the UK Labour party, she also found it necessary to challenge her expert guest’s observations by amplifying denials of Corbyn’s role in propagating antisemitism in a country in which 5% of adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, 8% say its scale is exaggerated and 64% cannot accurately state how many Jews were murdered.

As we shall see in part two of this post, the next day’s edition of the ‘Today’ programme returned to part of this interview with Deborah Lipstadt.

 

More inaccurate and context-free Gaza framing on BBC Radio 4

h/t DG

In recent weeks BBC audiences – and in particular listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme – have heard repeated misrepresentation of the chronic problems with utilities and services facing the population of the Gaza Strip.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

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

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

BBC audiences have repeatedly been steered towards the inaccurate view that (as also claimed by Hamas) the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are primarily attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures, while the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in creating and exacerbating the crisis have been downplayed or airbrushed from the story. The latest chapter in that serial misrepresentation came on January 25th when listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard an item introduced by presenter Nick Robinson at 47:13 minutes into the broadcast.

Robinson: “If you work on this programme you often hear the complaint that we and the news are so dominated by Brexit and Trump that the news agenda from abroad gets crowded out. […] Here’s our world affairs editor then, John Simpson, with an alternative news bulletin.”

That “alternative news bulletin” was also promoted separately as a podcast in which at 1:46 listeners heard the following: [emphasis added]

Simpson: “A brand new Israeli politician, Benny Gantz – a former military chief of staff who’s emerging as a major threat to the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – has produced a number of campaign videos praising Israel’s war against Palestinian militants. One shows aerial footage from 2014 of Gaza in ruins, saying that six thousand targets were destroyed. Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age, says the commentary approvingly.”

Simpson refrained from reminding listeners that the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza Strip based terror groups began because attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians escalated with 52 missiles fired during June 2014 and 237 missiles and dozens of mortars fired in the first week of July – eighty of them on July 7th 2014 alone. The video that Simpson describes as showing “aerial footage from 2014 of Gaza in ruins” does not in fact show “Gaza” as a whole but one specific neighbourhood in which the fighting was particularly fierce because of Hamas’ placement of military assets in civilian residential areas.  

Simpson continued:

Simpson: “That may be right in one particular aspect. An investigative report just out says that after more that 25,000 people in Gaza were injured by Israeli forces last year, doctors have been battling a superbug epidemic in Gaza which is disturbingly resistant to antibiotics.”

The ‘investigative report’ to which John Simpson refers was published on December 31st and – while devoid of any empirical evidence – its portrayal of the background to the state of the healthcare system presents an inaccurate picture.

“Gaza is a particularly fertile breeding ground for superbugs because its health system has been crippled by years of blockade and antibiotics are in short supply. Even though doctors know the protocols to prevent the rise of drug resistant bacteria, they do not have supplies to follow them.” [emphasis added]

As our colleagues at UK Media Watch pointed out when that report first appeared in the Guardian:

“The rest of the 1000 plus word piece follows this pattern of suggesting that Israel is largely to blame for the shortage of vital medicines in Gaza, a shortage that is putting the lives of countless Palestinians at risk. 

But, this is a lie. The import of antibiotics, and almost all other important medicines, are not in any way impacted by Israel’s blockade. As a CAMERA prompted correction at the NY Times noted, “the import of medicine” to Gaza “is not restricted” by Israel.

It’s actually the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority – and not Israel – that’s responsible for the purchase of medicines for Gaza. But, the PA, as part of the sanctions they imposed on Hamas in 2017 related to their ongoing political dispute, often fails to send such vital drugs to Gaza. The PA-imposed sanctions also includes a major reduction in Gaza’s overall healthcare budget, and a frequent refusal to issue permits to Gaza patients to receive medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank and Arab countries.

As the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported earlier in the year, “the escalation in internal Palestinian divisions in March 2017 led to a decline in deliveries from the West Bank and the gradual rise in the percentage of essential medicines at zero stock”. Even the pro-Palestinian NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) blamed the PA for the shortage of medicine and medical supplies.

In fact, even before Fatah’s sanctions against Hamas, the Islamist group was complaining that Ramallah was sending only a small fraction of the medicine to Gaza it was required to send under existing agreements.”

Following his context-free caricature of ‘militaristic’ Israel and his airbrushing of the fact that the vast majority of those “injured by Israeli forces” were engaged in violent rioting at the time, Simpson tried to create linkage between an alleged epidemic of resistant bacteria and Israeli actions and in order to do so, completely erased the Palestinian Authority and Hamas from his framing.

Apparently Radio 4’s “alternative news bulletin” means an alternative to factual, accurate and impartial reporting.  

 

 

 

BBC adds missing link following further complaint

When the BBC issued a clarification last week concerning an inaccurate portrayal of the Christian population in Israel in a BBC Radio 4 programme on December 26th we noted that:

“Unfortunately, however, despite that clarification the programme itself is currently still available online (from 07:24 here) in its original and inaccurate form and with no link provided to the clarification.”

BBC Watch submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) concerning that issue and has received the following reply:

“Thank you for your enquiry, involving the clarification concerning The World at One, broadcast on the 26th December 2018. The ECU have passed this along to our team to send you the response.
 
We would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have now added the link for the C&C site to the iPlayer page that hosts this edition of the programme:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0001r86

The updated page now appears thus:

Related Articles:

The BBC’s response to a complaint about Christians in Israel

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

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ perpetuates framing of rioting and elections

As we have seen, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to two items relating to Israel and the Gaza Strip. The second of those items was discussed here:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

We have also looked at one aspect of presenter Mishal Husain’s introductions to both those items:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

The first item began (from 37:13 here) with an opaque reference to a new political party running in the upcoming general election in Israel – but without listeners being told even the party leader’s name – and yet more euphemistic portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests”.

Husain: “A former Israeli military chief has launched a bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections scheduled for April. They’ll come a year after weekly Palestinians protests at the boundary fence between Israel and Gaza began. The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period. Tom Bateman, our Middle East correspondent, is on the line from Jerusalem and in this coming election campaign, Tom, how much will relations with Palestinians and security feature?”

As BBC reporting on past Israeli elections shows, the corporation has repeatedly promoted the notion that the ‘peace process’ was the most important issue facing the Israeli electorate even when that was patently not the case.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

If this item is anything to go by, the BBC has obviously not abandoned that redundant framing. A prominent politics journalist at the Jerusalem Post notes that:

“The Palestinians, peace talks, and settlements seem to be almost entirely irrelevant to this election season.”

Bateman began by airbrushing Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip nearly 12 years ago and whitewashing the background to “the conflict between Israel and Hamas”.

Bateman: “Well it will play a role…ah…but I think that the degree to which it’s decisive or significant will very much depend on what happens really on the ground, particularly in relation to the conflict between Israel and Hamas which runs Gaza. And also in terms of the sort of rhetorical situation that you’ll hear Mr Netanyahu talk about a lot in terms of the most strategic threat that he sees which is from Iranian entrenchment, Iranian forces inside…ah…neighbouring Syria. Now on that front there’s been, you know, a significant move in the fact that President Trump has said that US troops will be withdrawn. That is very concerning for Israel but you’re not gonna hear it publicly from Mr Netanyahu who has made a relationship with President Trump key in a priority to his…ehm…diplomatic focus. In terms of what the polls are saying, well despite the situation that we’ve had with Mr Netanyahu; people in his right-wing coalition trying to portray him as being too weak when it comes to Gaza – the more hawkish elements of his cabinet and his defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned late last year over this – despite all that the polls still suggest his Likud party’s on course to be again the biggest party, could even gain seats and that it is likely then that he will be able to put together another right-wing coalition.”

Husain: “And on this point about the conflict with Hamas I mean those casualty figures, a big part of them is what’s been going on in Gaza and it…you know you might say it can’t go on like that, it’s not sustainable and yet it has for many months and we reported from there last month.”

Failing to clarify that “the health ministry in Gaza” is the same terror group behind the weekly violent rioting at the border, Bateman went on to make a context-free reference to an earlier incident.

Bateman: “Yeah and I think the protests at the fence every Friday show few signs of going away. Just last Friday another 14 year-old boy was shot and died later of his wounds according to the health ministry in Gaza. However, the numbers have reduced since the peak of the protests in the spring and summer of last year.”

What Bateman and Husain describe as “protests” included the following on that day:  

“About 13,000 Palestinians participated (10,000 last week). The demonstrators gathered at a number of locations along the border. During the events there was a high level of violence, which included burning tires as well as throwing stones, IEDs and hand grenades at IDF soldiers and at the security fence. In the northern Gaza Strip there were at least three attempts to break through the fence into Israeli territory. In one instance IDF forces fired shots at suspicious Palestinians who fled back into the Gaza Strip. One IDF soldier was slightly injured by a stone.”

Downplaying of the violence that has included hundreds of incidents of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “There’s been a series of military escalations between Hamas and Israel. Now whether or not that will flare up again I think could have a significant impact on the election process. It may conversely be inspired to some degree by the fact that there are elections in Israel. But what the Israeli prime minister or the tack he has chosen is to try to take a bit of political damage from his own right-wing…from the more hawkish elements and try to contain that situation. That is in the form of a very indirect arrangement brokered by the Egyptians, by the Qataris and by the UN in which the Israelis effectively asked for calm on the perimeter fence. In return Hamas – which is under significant pressure financially because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, because of sanctions by the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership too…eh…there are suitcases full of cash – millions of dollars – coming from Qatar into Gaza to pay civil servants’ salaries and also to prevent a collapse of the electricity supply in Gaza. Now that is being permitted by Benjamin Netanyahu. The third payment of $50 million was postponed last week which shows I think just how very fragile this sort of uneasy truce is.”

Bateman failed to inform listeners that those “civil servants” are employees of the Hamas terror organisation or that the reason for the postponement of that “third payment” was a rise in violence that included more rocket attacks that went unreported by the BBC.

While the BBC has not yet produced much reporting on the upcoming election in Israel its framing of that topic so far is just as inflexible and unhelpful to audiences as its framing of almost ten months of weekly violent rioting and border infiltrations which it persists in portraying as “protests”.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

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

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first part of Mishal Husain’s BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme interview (from 2:09:59 here) with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, on January 18th focused on the topic of medical services in the Gaza Strip. Husain then changed the topic to the subject of the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting which she had previously euphemistically described as “protests”.

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

Husain: “Why do you use live ammunition against people who are inside the Gaza side of the boundary fence with Israel?”

Regev: “If people are storming the fence, trying to break through to our side of the border – as the leader of Hamas said, their goal is to tear down the fence, enter Israel and kill our people – then we will stop them. People are launching Molotov cocktails and people are shooting. If people are launching incendiary devices to burn our fields, burn our…”

Husain [interrupts]: “Yes but you’re saying quite a few different things ‘cos storming the fence…OK…let me just give you an example of someone who presumably was considered to be storming the fence. There are pictures of a 14 year-old called Othman Helles who, with a group of other boys – and it’s very clear that they’re a very young age, this was last summer – they go up to the fence. He puts his hand on the top of the fence and immediately there’s a bullet that hits him in the chest and he dies on the spot. Now it is apparent to anyone looking at those pictures – as it would have been to the Israeli soldier who fired that shot – that these were children. Why were they shot?”

Regev: “I think if you are trying to break down the fence, if you’re trying to – as Hamas itself declared – tear through the fence, go to those Israeli communities…”

Husain [interrupts]: “You put your hand on the top of a fence, you’re a child and you’re shot dead by an Israeli soldier.”

As Mishal Husain should be aware, her portrayal of that story does not align with the account of the same incident given by her colleague Tom Bateman to Radio 4 listeners in August 2018.

Bateman: “A BBC crew in Gaza was filming as Othman Helles, away from the fence, used a sling to throw a stone towards Israeli soldiers. A few people burned tyres. Later the 14 year-old walked alongside the fence, put a hand and a foot on it and pulled himself up about a foot off the ground. He was hit with a single shot to the chest. Nineteen of those killed since the end of March have been under the age of 18. The number of children with bullet wounds is more than 600 according to the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency [UN OCHA – Ed.] which bases its recent figures on those of Gaza’s health ministry [i.e. Hamas – Ed.].”

Husain of course did not bother to inform listeners that when Othman Helles tried to climb the border fence, Hamas had been deliberately using youths to sabotage the border fence throughout the weeks of violent rioting and that among those killed under the age of 18 were operatives of terror factions and others linked (e.g. by family) to such factions.

Regev: “First of all you’re talking about a combat situation where hundreds if not thousands of people brought in by Hamas, paid for by Hamas, are storming the border fence, trying to break it down. Countless incidents where they actually had broken through the fence with their wire cutters…”

BBC Radio 4’s self-appointed military expert interjected:

Husain [interrupts]: “Have you ever thought of arresting people?”

Regev: “We do arrest people when we can. We do arrest people when we can but I think if you look at the film from those violent riots at the border, it’s clearly orchestrated by Hamas, it’s clearly violent in intent. The goal – as articulated by Hamas itself – is to break in and kill our people.”

Husain: “But there are people being…there are people being shot dead far inside the fence. I mean I’ve been to the fence and I’ve seen…”

Regev: “So have I.”

Husain: “…there are women – you’ve been to one side. I’ve been to the other side where people are gathering. But there are women there. There are children there. There are people there who are just seeing what they’re doing and there are people far inside the fence who are sometimes hit by live ammunition but also by tear gas canisters. There was a 13 year-old who died from being hit on the head with a tear gas can.”

Regev: “Mishal, I’d like to ask you the following question: everyone who listens to this programme, everyone who knows anything knows that that is a war zone. So why are you busing women and children into a combat zone? And I’d ask one further question…”

With her ‘objectivity’ and ‘impartiality’ on full view Husain interrupted her interviewee yet again:

Husain [interrupts]: “It’s a combat zone though because you’re using live ammunition – that’s why it’s a combat zone.”

Regev: “It’s a combat zone because we are protecting our border against people who are trying to use explosives and other weapons to break in so as to kill our people.”

Husain: “So you don’t…when you hear about the children for example or the medics – there was a young medic who also died inside, inside the fence – when you hear about people like that who’ve paid for being at the fence with their lives, do you never have any kind of qualms about the policy that Israel’s pursuing?”

Regev: “I don’t want to see any innocent person caught up in the cross-fire between us and Hamas: I want to be clear about that. But I’d ask you the following question: in Gaza we pulled out. We redeployed behind the 1967 line which is from the international community’s point of view the recognised border. If we can’t defend that border, what border would you have us defend?”

Husain: “The question is how you defend it and the tactics that you chose to use to defend it.”

Regev: “We are preventing – so far successfully, thank goodness – people, terrorists, from entering our communities and killing our people. You spoke to the Israelis at the southern border who live in fear of terrorists coming across the border and killing them and their children. It is our obligation as a government to protect our people and we will do so.”

Husain did indeed speak to Israelis living near the Gaza border during her December visit but as readers may recall, her main interest – as expressed in 60% of her questions – was asking them about Palestinians.

Husain then changed the subject.

Husain [2:20:59]: “Let’s talk about another border: the border with…eh…in northern Israel – the border with Lebanon – where recently you found tunnels that you say have been dug by Hizballah. Ahm…given Hizballah’s links to Iran and the wider situation in the Middle East, how do you feel about President Trump – who Mr Netanyahu is so close to – deciding to pull US troops out of Syria and the…and also saying that Iranian leaders can do what they want in that country?”

After Mark Regev had answered that question and a subsequent one – “So does President Trump’s decision make Israel less safe?” – Husain closed the interview.

As we see Mishal Husain once again used this interview to advance her chosen narratives concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures while both promoting inaccurate claims and withholding crucial background information from BBC audiences.

We await with interest the ‘Today’ programme’s interview with the Egyptian ambassador to the UK on the topic of the effects of his country’s counter-terrorism measures on life in the Gaza Strip, the interview with the PLO envoy to the UK on the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s withholding of medicines, permits for medical treatment in Israel, salaries and funding for fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip and of course the interview with a Hamas representative on the topic of the group’s prioritisation of terrorism over social and health care, clean water supplies and sewage treatment for the citizens of the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

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

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

The BBC’s monochrome framing of Gaza’s chronic utilities crisis

The common denominators in the BBC News website’s Gaza reporting