BBC Radio 4’s double standards on response to terrorism

Veteran BBC journalist Peter Taylor recently produced written and audio reports relating to his long career reporting terrorism.

The BBC News website’s UK page published an article titled “Peter Taylor: How has terror changed in 50 years?” on March 31st, the majority of which relates to Northern Ireland.

The April 1st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ programme was titled “Reporting Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines” and its synopsis reads as follows:

“Peter Taylor reflects on his 50 year career reporting terrorism.

When Peter Taylor stepped nervously onto a plane in 1967, bound for the Middle East, he had no idea it was to be the start of a journalistic mission he would still be pursuing fifty years later.

At the time “terrorism” was barely in our vocabulary. In the hundred or so documentaries he has made on the subject since then, Peter has tried to get behind the headlines to understand and explain a phenomenon which has grown to affect us all.

Peter has reported the escalation of terrorism from the IRA and its Loyalist counterparts to Al Qaeda and the so called Islamic State. He has met the victims of terror, those involved in perpetrating terrorist acts and members of the intelligence services tasked with stopping them.

Revisiting his own extraordinary archive has given Peter the chance to reflect on the evolution of terrorism and to recall some of his most memorable interviews.

“There are moments when the interviews are chilling, moments when they’re shocking and at other points they provoked a sharp intake of breath – surprising me by how prophetic they were.””

Significantly, Taylor made no attempt to define terrorism during that almost one hour-long programme, telling listeners at one point that it is “open to different definitions”.

However, at 05:31 minutes into the programme, Taylor did provide listeners with the sole example of what he termed ‘state terrorism’.

“Terrorism can mean different things to different people; it isn’t black and white. States allegedly resort to it too, as Israel did to avenge the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes died following an attack by Palestinians from a shadowy group known as Black September. In revenge, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, covertly assassinated those suspected of involvement in the attack. […]

The Mossad assassinated at least eleven of its targets. Since then, Palestinian attacks on Israelis have continued and Israel has continued to retaliate with targeted killings; a tactic more recently replicated in Western drone strikes against IS and Al Qaeda.”

However, when Taylor later (at 21:07) described a British response to terror attacks he did not categorise it as ‘state terror’.

“In the wake of Brighton and other IRA atrocities, the Brits hit back. The SAS was the cutting edge. Between 1983 and 1992 they shot dead 28 IRA suspects.”

As we know, the BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements” and so it comes as no surprise to see the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre described – as usual – without that word being used.

However, the BBC is clearly nowhere near as reluctant to make a “value judgement” concerning Israel’s response to acts of terrorism – but, notably, refrains from describing its own government’s very similar actions in the same terms.

Related Articles:

BBC still won’t call Munich Olympics massacre perpetrators terrorists

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

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

 

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

BBC Radio 4 documentary on Syrian patients in Israel

Over two years have passed since the BBC last reported on the topic of sick and wounded Syrians receiving medical treatment in Israel.

On March 19th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour long documentary titled “Tim Samuels’ Sleepover: Inside the Israeli Hospital“.

“Tim Samuels spends twenty-four hours immersed in an extraordinary medical scene – Israeli doctors tending to Syrians who have been smuggled over the border for life-saving treatment into a country Syria is technically still at war with.

In the Ziv hospital in the northern Israeli town of Safed, Tim follows two doctors on their rounds as they treat Syrians – both civilians and fighters – who have been seriously wounded in their country’s civil war. Unable to get proper medical attention at home, they are amongst several thousand Syrians who have headed to the border and into Israel for treatment. Tim meets a Syrian man shot during conflict; once his leg has been repaired he intends to head back to rejoin the fight.

On the children’s ward, a mother who has brought her son for treatment describes how her trip to Israel must remain a secret – or she fears she could be killed when they return. On the Syrian border, Tim sees two badly wounded fighters smuggled into Israel by the IDF as they are rushed to Ziv for emergency attention.

In the hospital – staffed by Jewish, Muslim and Druze medics – the doctors talk about the psychological toll of treating the war wounded. A hospital social worker describes waking up repeatedly through the night at home to check that his young son wasn’t injured. The doctors at Ziv say they hope their work is at least a sliver of humanity in a dark region.

Tim explores what motivations might underpin Israel’s assistance to those coming from enemy territory – and how such an unusual situation, even by Middle Eastern standards, has come about.”

Although at times his search for alleged ulterior motives is over dominant and listeners were not informed that the Ziv hospital is just one of several institutions in Israel treating Syrian patients , Tim Samuels has managed to produce an interesting and objective report on a topic the BBC has not covered for quite some time.

 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

On March 3rd BBC audiences found reports on multiple platforms promoting what is repeatedly and openly defined by a BBC reporter as “a political statement”.

Visitors to the BBC News website found an article titled “Banksy decorates West Bank hotel with views of Israel’s wall” in which they were told that: [emphasis in bold added]banksy-hotel-written

“A hotel which prides itself on the “worst view in the world” is set to attract international attention – because it is a collaboration with the famous street artist Banksy.

The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem looks out on the concrete slabs of the controversial barrier Israel has built in and around the occupied West Bank.

Israel says it is needed to prevent terror attacks. Palestinians say it is a device to grab land and the International Court of Justice has called it illegal.

The rooms of the hotel are also filled with the anonymous artist’s work, much of which is about the conflict.

The owners say it will be a real, functioning hotel, opening on 20 March.

But the hotel is also part art gallery and part political statement.”

As is inevitably the case in BBC content relating to the anti-terrorist fence, readers are not informed that 95% of the structure as a whole is made of wire mesh or that the highlighted ICJ advisory opinion was marred by politicisation.  And of course while the article (together with the other reports on the same theme) includes the standard employment of the qualifying ‘Israel says’ formula to portray the structure’s purpose, the view presented to BBC audiences excludes any mention of the murders of hundreds of Israeli men, women and children by Palestinian terrorists that prompted the fence’s construction.banksy-hotel-written-last-pic 

The caption to the final image illustrating the article reads “The hotel will accept bookings from 11 March, nine days before its opening” and immediately below that readers are again informed that “The Walled Off Hotel opens on 20 March”. BBC editorial guidelines concerning advertising and “product prominence” state:

“…we must avoid any undue prominence which gives the impression that we are promoting or endorsing products, organisations or services”. 

In addition to that written report, visitors to the BBC News website found a filmed report also shown on BBC television programmes. Titled “Banksy hotel, The Walled Off, opens in Bethlehem“, the report is billed:banksy-hotel-filmed

“The hotel has the “worst view of any hotel in the world”, the street artist says, as it is next to Israel’s controversial wall.”

That report was produced by Alex Forsyth – a political correspondent for BBC News who has recently been based in Beirut and who apparently just happened to be 245 kilometers away in Bethlehem on the day that the PR media campaign for this “political statement” was launched. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Forsyth: “This is Banksy’s latest creation. It’s a hotel in Bethlehem. It’s called the Walled Off – which is a play on the famous Waldorf – and the reason for that is it’s situated just feet away from the barrier which separates the West Bank from Israel. More than just a business, this is a political statement by Banksy – a comment on what he sees as the plight of Palestinians. It’s come as a surprise to people living here. Nobody knew he was behind it until today and we can take a first glimpse at what he created so let’s take a little look inside.

This is the reception; it leads through to the lounge area. Everything in here was designed by Banksy. It’s taken some 14 months to create. He fully funded the project although he won’t say how much it’s cost. He describes it as the hotel with the worst view in the world and that is because if you look through the windows you can see the wall which is so nearby. Now that was built by the Israelis and they say it’s essential for their security and to prevent terror attacks. Many Palestinians feel that it encroaches on their freedom and if you look round this hotel you can see on the walls there are symbols of Banksy’s view on the situation here: his political comment. It’s not the first time he’s been to this area. He has painted on the wall itself in the past. Some have criticized him for that, saying he is normalising the wall and that shouldn’t be the case. His argument is that he’s raising awareness and the team behind this hotel are keen to stress that it employs local staff – some 45 people – and is run by a local Palestinian. There are 9 rooms, the prices start at $30 a night but they say this is not a money-making operation; instead this is about raising awareness.”

Even listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on March 3rd were not spared amplification of this latest agitprop stunt. Newsreader Corrie Corfield told audiences (from 26:46 here):banksy-hotel-r4-news

Corfield: “The British graffiti artist Banksy is opening a guest house on the occupied West Bank which he claims will be the hotel with the worst view in the world. The building in Bethlehem is a few feet from part of a wall that was built by the Israelis. Our correspondent Alex Forsyth paid it a visit.”

Forsyth: “From the self-playing grand piano to the Chesterfield sofas, the hotel’s lounge mirrors an English gentleman’s club. But the walls are adorned with images depicting Banksy’s view of the Palestinian plight: a collection of mock security cameras, images of angels wearing gas masks and Israeli soldiers pillow fighting with Palestinians. Entirely designed and funded by Bansky, this is a functioning and permanent guest house – not a temporary installation. Staffed by local Palestinians, prices range from £25 a night for a bunk bed in a bleak dormitory to hundreds for a stay in the plush presidential suite. From almost every room there’s a view of the wall: part of the West Bank barrier built by Israel, which says it’s essential for security. Deliberately situated just feet away, the Walled Off hotel is as much a political statement as a new business.”

Forsyth’s claim that the project is not a “temporary installation” is not supported by the hotel’s website.

banksy-hotel-website

The hotel’s website provides further insight into what the project is “raising awareness” about:

“Britain got its hands on Palestine in 1917 and the piano bar is themed as a colonial outpost from those heady days. It is equipped with languid ceiling fans, leather bound couches and an air of undeserved authority.”

As CNN reported, the press release which accompanied the PR campaign that the BBC elected to generously amplify also included a reference to contemporary British politics.

‘”It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started re-arranging the furniture – with chaotic results,” said Banksy in a press release handed out at the hotel’s opening.

“I don’t know why, but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences,” the statement read, referencing in one line Balfour and Brexit.’

The BBC, however, chose to focus audience attentions away from those UK related areas of “political comment”, preferring instead to promote the facile slogan “plight of the Palestinians”.

This is of course not the first time (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC has taken the editorial decision to promote and amplify what apparently passes as “political comment” on the Arab-Israeli conflict from a person not even prepared to identify himself to the general public.

It is also far from the first time that the BBC has promoted simplistic politicised commentary on the anti-terrorist fence while erasing its proven efficiency – and the hundreds of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists before its construction – from audience view.

This latest unquestioning self-conscription to a PR campaign promoting anonymous agitprop designed to delegitimise Israel of course further erodes the BBC’s claim of ‘impartiality’.

Related Articles:

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

BBC’s Knell returns to the Gaza rubble

In which BBC Radio 4 insists on describing a fence as a wall

 

 

In which BBC Radio 4 insists on describing a fence as a wall

As readers most likely know, 95% of the anti-terrorist fence constructed from 2002 onward in order to prevent terrorists from Palestinian Authority controlled areas reaching towns and cities in Israel is made out of wire mesh and the remaining 5% is constructed from concrete in order to prevent shooting attacks in sensitive locations.  

The BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs its staff to use the term ‘barrier’ to describe the structure.

“BBC journalists should try to avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute. 

The BBC uses the term ‘barrier’, ‘separation barrier’ or ‘West Bank barrier’ as an acceptable generic description to avoid the political connotations of ‘security fence’ (preferred by the Israeli government) or ‘apartheid wall’ (preferred by the Palestinians). 

The United Nations also uses the term ‘barrier’. It’s better to keep to this word unless you have sought the advice of the Middle East bureau.   

Of course, a reporter standing in front of a concrete section of the barrier might choose to say ‘this wall’ or use a more precise description in the light of what he or she is looking at.” 

Nevertheless, on February 27th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the anti-terrorist fence repeatedly and predominantly described as a “wall” during a forty-minute edition of ‘Start the Week‘ titled “‘Build That Wall’: Barriers and Crossings” (available here).start-the-week-feb-27

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“On Start the Week Kirsty Wark explores what it means to live either side of a wall, and whether barriers are built to repel or protect. Supporters of the US President urge him to ‘build a great wall’ along the Mexican border but the journalist Ed Vulliamy points out that there is already a wall and border guards, supported and funded by US Presidents for decades. And yet still drugs, guns, money and people continue to move north and south. Israel has been building its own separation barrier since the turn of the century, but Dorit Rabinyan is more interested in psychological barriers that drive Palestinians and Israelis apart. The map-maker Garrett Carr travels Ireland’s border to explore the smugglers, kings, peacemakers and terrorists who’ve criss-crossed this frontier, and asks what it will become when the United Kingdom leaves the EU. The historian Tom Holland looks back at the successes and failures of wall-building from Offa’s Dyke to Hadrian’s Wall and asks whether they work more as statements of power than as insurmountable barriers between people.”

Presenter Kirsty Wark introduced the programme as follows:

Wark: “Hello. Trump, Brexit: the talk is all about building walls and controlling borders. But there’s nothing new in that. Today we’re setting out to explore the real and the imaginary walls and borders that exist – some of them from almost two millennia – and what use they are. Do they keep people out, or in? Do they fulfil some visceral need to mark territory, to set us apart, to keep out the barbarians – whoever they may be? And what does it mean to live either side of the border?”

Israel’s anti-terrorist fence made its first appearance in the discussion at 09:42 with Wark describing a structure which is 95% wire mesh as looking like a “solid thing”.

Wark: “And just talking to you about that, Dorit, because the thing about the security barrier is that it is there, you can see it, separation barrier is there. It is a physical fact. People who look out on it – and although it’s got a lot of crossing points – it looks like a solid thing…”

Dorit Rabinyan then raised a point rarely heard by BBC audiences:

Rabinyan: “Yes, it’s actually a scar in the landscape. It’s really ugly and it’s nasty but we must agree, we must look on reality that the past 15 years that the wall is up and separating Israeli territories to the Palestinian territories, there’s a huge reduction on the number of terror attacks that we knew in the mid-90s and early years of millennium.”

Wark, however, chose to take the conversation in a different direction, ignoring the fact that around a million people cross the fence each month and that special gates provide access to Palestinian farmers:

Wark: “But when it went up, the idea was it was to be temporary.”

Rabinyan: “Yes.”

Wark: “And of course, when is the end of temporariness [sic]? Because although it stops terror attacks – as you would say – it also separates Palestinian farmers from their agricultural land. It separates families who are on this side because it is not a perfect thing, a wall. It’s got displaced people on both sides.”

Rabinyan: “This path that the wall goes through is decided only upon the Israeli government; it’s not agreed on with the Palestinians. That’s what makes it so high and what makes it into a barrier and not a border line. This not agreed, this is disputed by those Palestinians living nearby. But it’s actually based more or less on the ’67 lines.”

Wark: “On the ‘green line’?”

Rabinyan: “Yeah.”

The conversation moved on to extensive and often unrelated discussion of Rabinyan’s novel, towards the end of which (15:50) Wark even went so far as to impugn Rabinyan’s description of the structure as a fence.

Wark: “…but what absolutely separates you is this idea that there has to be this physical wall, this – as you call it – ugly scar, that Hilme [a character in the novel] thinks is for no good reason at all but your view, I think, through your character and also your own view is that in order to be good neighbours we need a wall rather than being bad enemies. And of course that is entirely disputed by the Palestinians.”

Rabinyan: “In Israel we don’t call it a wall; we call it a fence…”

Wark [interrupts]: “Yes, but it is a wall.”

Still later in the conversation, after Rabinyan described borders as being “something that protects you”, Wark opined:

Wark: “Is that possible when the two sides do not agree at all on the reason and the nature of the wall? Because, you know, if it is to protect you, it is not to protect the Palestinians…”

As readers may recall, Rabinyan’s novel has on several occasions been inaccurately described in previous BBC content as being ‘banned’ and Radio 4 had to edit a recording after a complaint from BBC Watch was upheld. The myth of the ‘banned’ book surfaced in this programme too – and was challenged – when Wark noted (from 18:16) that mixed Catholic and Protestant marriages were a “problem” in Northern Ireland and Garrett Carr responded:

Carr: “Yes, although such books…there were similar love stories told by Northern Irish writers but they were certainly never banned in schools; in fact they were encouraged.”

Rabinyan: “Thank you for defending me on this.”

Wark: “But of course Dorit’s book’s not been banned from the point of view of being…”

Carr: “Just not included on the curriculum.”

Wark: “Yes.”

Carr later promoted another myth – that of ‘1967 borders’ – while apparently not being aware of the fact that the 1949 Armistice line and the ‘green line’ are one and the same thing. 

Carr: “And I was struck – you could almost call it a cruelty for the Palestinians and the Israelis – that their nations are not framed in a way that seems like an important…seems like an important absence for people. That you need to know the shape of where you’re from and for both those peoples the edges of the country shimmer completely and there is that sense of not being located on the map and having…yes…your sense of nationhood framed cleanly. And even though Ireland’s border’s contested and probably always will be, it is still a clean line that actually hasn’t changed in a hundred years. […] Whereas Israel Palestine have been denied that. Their frame’s still more about…there’s the ’48 borders, ’67 borders, the green wall….ah the green line…and the wall.”

Discussing the US-Mexico border and the question of “what do people want”, Ed Vulliamy opined (21:25):

Vulliamy: “I mean maybe when you say what do people want, they want to see what the Israelis have built because that’s a real bloody wall and, you know, good enough for Banksy to have to do the wonders he does with it with his, with his…all the marvelous graffiti. I think that’s what people want.”

The fact that around a third of this programme was devoted to Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, together with the numerous additional references to it as a “wall” in spite of clear BBC guidance, leaves little doubt that listeners would have gone away with misleading and inaccurate impressions of a structure which is in fact 95% fence.

Related Articles:

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

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 recycles an evasive report by Kevin Connolly

At the beginning of November 2016 the BBC World Service radio programme “On Background” ran an episode that included an item supposedly about antisemitism in Europe. As was noted here at the time:

“The item begins with Kevin Connolly revisiting the May 2014 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man were murdered. Notably – in light of the BBC’s record – the incident is accurately described on two occasions as a “terrorist attack”. However, the identity of the suspected attacker and his apparent Islamist motives are not mentioned at all in Connolly’s report.

Given the chosen starting point of the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, listeners familiar with its background would perhaps have been rather surprised by the item’s focus on the unrelated topic of Christian antisemitism in Europe.”

For no obviously apparent reason, that report by Connolly was recycled four months later in the February 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’ which describes itself as discussing “the big stories of the week”.broadcasting-house-26-2

In the programme’s introduction listeners were told:

“Nearly three years on, we go back to the Jewish Museum in Brussels where four people were killed in a terror attack.”

They then heard a voice say:

“Today not only the Jew are afraid; everybody is afraid. Terrorism can attack everybody and today we have to help everybody to protect our society.”

Presenter Jane Garvey introduced the item itself (from 37:25 here) as follows:

“On the 24th of May 2014 a lone gunman walked into the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital, Brussels, and opened fire. Four people were killed. The chief suspect was arrested in France and extradited back to Belgium. Kevin Connolly has been looking back at the impact of this attack on the museum, which reopened in the autumn of 2014.”

After the sound of archive recordings of news bulletins concerning the attack, Kevin Connolly opened his somewhat amateurishly edited report. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Connolly: “We remember the scenes of terrorist attack like the Jewish Museum in Brussels just as they were at the moment when it all happened: intense and frozen like a flash photograph. For most of us, the sounds of daily life quickly surge back into the familiar streets and squares and wash away the horror. For the characters in the story though, at such a moment everything changes for ever. That’s how it feels now in the elegant streets and squares near the Jewish museum in Brussels where the cafés and antique shops are of course busy again two years after a lone attacker wandered in off the streets and opened fire.”

Listeners then heard a voice later identified as the museum’s director briefly telling how he was informed of the attack before Connolly went on to repeat a sentence heard only seconds earlier.

Connolly: “For the characters in the story though, at such a moment everything changes forever. Not just the dead and those who loved them but men like Philippe Blondin, the museum’s director who’d always believed that the absence of heavy security at the building sent a signal not of vulnerability but of openness.”

Connolly went on to interview the director of a Jewish community centre in Brussels, emphasising the employment of heavy security measures.

Connolly: “After every act of violence that makes the news and then fades from it, shock waves ripple outwards. At this Jewish community centre not far from the museum in Brussels there are soldiers on guard at the main entrance these days, double door entry systems, document checks and private guards inside.”

Connolly also spoke to another member of the community.

Connolly: “Philippe Markovitch [phonetic] – a lawyer and another leader of Belgium’s Jewish minority has thought deeply about the lessons of the attack on the Jewish museum too. He emphasises that this is not simply European history repeating itself; that in its modern form antisemitism is the prejudice of a minority – not the policy of a state – but that these days Jews are not alone in their vulnerability to terrorist attack.”

Connolly then told the story of how the Jewish museum’s director hid as a small child in Nazi-occupied France before telling listeners that:

Connolly: “Philippe believes that families like his that lived through the Holocaust in Europe had a tremendous joy and energy about them in the post-war years. And he applies in modern Brussels a lesson he learned in the Europe of the past: that the best response to adversity is to keep alive a sense of purpose.”

Connolly closed the item thus:

Connolly: “The Brussels attack has naturally faded from the headlines of course and from the streets of Sablon too but there are those whose lives it touched who still live with it every day and there are lessons it has to teach the rest of us – if we’re prepared to listen.”

Exactly what those “lessons” are supposed to be is unclear from Connolly’s cryptic commentary. However, one topic he and the BBC appear to be serially keen to avoid is the identity, ideology and motives of the terrorist who murdered four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, together with any serious discussion of the issue of contemporary Islamist antisemitism in Europe or examination of the question of why Jewish institutions and establishments such as the community centre he visited need to employ security measures that other groups in European society thankfully do not require.

Related Articles:

BBC’s director of news discusses antisemitism – up to a point

 

 

 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

This week BBC Radio 4 launches a new series of programmes titled “Neither There Nor Here“.

“David Dabydeen recalls five different stories of mass migration from around the world, exploring the forces that help and hinder integration.”

The first of those programmes – to be broadcast on Monday, February 27th at 13:45 UK time – is titled “A Troubled Homecoming” and it relates to the Ethiopian community in Israel.neither-there-nor-here-r4

“Writer, academic and diplomat David Dabydeen recalls five very different stories of mass migration from around the world.

They move in times of crisis, fleeing war or instability, poverty or corruption. And then they face a new challenge – how to find a way to survive and prosper in new, often unfamiliar environments.

David considers to what extent were these migrants were affected by the circumstances of their departure – by the violence they may have witnessed or the economic and political stresses they endured – and who bore the responsibility for their integration. Many different approaches have been tried, from large-scale mobilisation of official institutions to an almost total disengagement by the state. And the results are equally variable, suggesting that there are no easy solutions to this increasingly important dilemma. What does emerge clearly is that race, education and language all play a vital role.

In this first programme, we hear the story of the Ethiopian Jews. Persecuted in the 1980s, tens of thousands have been airlifted to Israel under that country’s Law of Return. Housing, healthcare and education were all provided under a meticulous assimilation plan. Yet Ethiopian Jews remain the most disadvantaged group within the Jewish population. Many have been victims of racism and tensions have boiled over, resulting in clashes in with the police.

Why has the homecoming to Israel been so troubled for the first generations of Ethiopians? And are there signs that younger members of the community are determined to improve their circumstances?”

The programme will be available here after broadcast. 

BBC avoidance of term ‘terrorist’ in Israel stories surfaces again

h/t ML

As we have seen in previous posts, the BBC’s description of the man killed by Elor Azaria in Hebron last March have ranged from “Palestinian attacker” through “wounded Palestinian” to simply non-existent. None of the BBC’s reports used the word terrorist.today-21-2

BBC Radio 4, however, came up with different terminology.

Listeners to the 06:30 news bulletin in the February 21st edition of the ‘Today’ programme heard the following report (from 32:49 here) from newsreader Kathy Clugston: [emphasis added]

“A military court in Israel is due to sentence a soldier for the killing of a wounded Palestinian fighter. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter last month in a case that’s caused division and strong feeling in Israel. He shot dead a man who was injured after he tried to kill members of the Israeli army.”

Once again we see that the BBC’s ineffectual editorial guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ (adherence to which is entirely subjective and selective), together with the chronic failure to differentiate between the aims and actions of perpetrators of politically motivated violence, prevent the BBC from presenting a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism which adheres to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.