BBC ME editor makes Gaza Strip ventilators disappear

On March 30th the BBC announced that:

“Some of BBC News’ best-known voices are reading their favourite poems of comfort and hope as part of a series on Radio 4’s Today programme.”

On April 3rd it was the turn of the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen (from 2:28:42 here) and, as he himself Tweeted, he used that opportunity to bring up the Gaza Strip.

Bowen: “And, you know, I’m going to be as cheerful as possible because this is a very hard time and is miserable for so many and people are dying. But you know we’re gonna get through it. Ahm…there have been some comparisons made with this fight against the virus and a war and I think that’s valid, without the bullets. Now a reason why this is so shocking is because usually in this country and in most other developed countries we have pretty secure – most of us – and stable lives and in wars that mass security gets taken away. I’ve seen it all over the world many times and that’s what the virus is doing. Now it’s not a competition of course but many people around the world never have that kind of safety and security that usually we’re used to. Untimely death is always part of it for them. And so think about all that and the fact that, you know, we have the NHS and many countries don’t and figures I’ve seen lately: 40 ventilators in Gaza for 2 million people, 3 ventilators in the Central African Republic for 5 million. So it’s a time to count our blessings I suppose is what I’m saying.” [emphasis in italics in the original]

As of the day on which those statements by Bowen were aired, over 3,600 people had died of Covid 19 in the UK. In the Gaza Strip there had been no fatalities.

On March 13th and 14th listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio were told by a World Health Organisation representative that there are “between 50 to 60 ventilators” in the Gaza Strip.

On March 25th BBC Radio 4 listeners were informed by a doctor in the Gaza Strip that “throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units”.

On March 26th listeners to BBC World Service radio heard the UNRWA director in the Gaza Strip say “what I’ve been told is we have at maximum 60 ICU beds”.

On March 31st listeners to the same radio station heard from an Oxfam representative that “the number of ICU beds are hardly 87 if we count the private and the public hospitals”. 

So with the BBC having reported for weeks that there are between 50 and 87 ventilators in the Gaza Strip (the head of the regional WHO mission says 87 – i.e. 43.5/million people), where did Bowen get the considerably lower number of 40? That is unclear because he refrained from providing a source for the claim he promoted on prime-time BBC radio.

In mid-March it was reported that NHS Scotland had about 190 “Level 3 Intensive Care Unit beds with ventilatory support in addition to other organ support” for that country’s population of 5.5 million – i.e. 34.5/million. While efforts have been made to improve that ratio, ITV reports that in the Hebrides, where three cases of Coronavirus have been diagnosed:

“There are no Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds with ventilators on the islands, it’s a long, long way to the nearest hospital, and any medical evacuation to the mainland could be weather-dependent.”

Nevertheless, Jeremy Bowen thought it appropriate to promote his unsupported chosen political narrative while telling the BBC’s domestic audiences to count their blessings.

BBC R4 sidelines editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality

BBC Radio 4 has been running a series called ‘Eighteen’ which it describes as follows:

“Eighteen explores the lives, dreams and creative world of six brilliant young artists from the fields of visual art, folk music, slam poetry, opera, contemporary dance and punk rock.

Their stories take us from a teenage Icelandic punk band to an Aboriginal Australian contemporary dancer, from an award-winning Nigerian slam poet to a Palestinian visual artist, and from a South African opera student to a transgender Scottish folk musician.

Presented in immersive binaural stereo, these are the tales of remarkable young people at the dawn of their careers. Told largely through personal testimony and sound montage, Eighteen offers a unique opportunity to hear their voices and stories without mediation – as the intoxicating soundscapes of Cape Town, Lagos, Glasgow and Reykjavik create an intimate portrait of their world.”

The third episode of the series, aired on March 31st, includes an artist called Malak Mattar (06:00 to 12:00 and 16:25 to 24:30)

“Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the young Palestinian artist Malak Mattar (20) is preparing for an exhibition in Holland – and thinking about life back home on the Gaza Strip.”

The fact that the producer of this series, Steven Rajam, chose to present it “without mediation” means that no effort was made to provide objective background information (such as the rocket attacks and cross-border tunnels which prompted the 2014 conflict) relating to statements heard by listeners such as the following:

“I had this art professor who was coming to my show and he told me Malak it’s good but it’s sad. You are only 15, why so sad? I say why would I be happy? I survived three wars and I’m not yet 16 years old.”

“The day I started painting was actually during the 51 days attack on Gaza Strip in 2014.”

“Malak is of her time and of her generation, brought up in confinement…”

“…the more I travel the more it actually makes me feel so sad that I can’t see anything to indicate my country on the screen that shows people’s destination. What does that mean if I can’t go home?”

The result is BBC Radio 4 listeners were provided with a picture made up of subjective and politicised statements which they were unable to place in their correct context because accuracy and impartiality were sidelined in this programme in favour of “personal testimony…without mediation”.

 

Examining BBC reports on Corona-related cell phone tracking

On March 17th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard the following report in a news bulletin (from 2:08:05 here):

Newsreader: “Israel’s government has approved measures for its security agencies to use mobile phone data to track the location of suspected Coronavirus patients. The move has led to criticism from civil rights groups. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The emergency measures allow the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, to harvest information, including location data, from the mobile phones of confirmed Coronavirus patients and those suspected of having the disease. The regulations were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval. The mobile phone data showing an individual’s movements will be passed to the Ministry of Health to alert others who they may have come into contact with and will also be used to enforce quarantine regulations. Israel has more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus. Civil rights groups called the move dangerous. The government said it was trying to strike a balance between health needs and people’s rights.”

On the same day the BBC News website published an article headlined “Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers”. Written by BBC Technology cyber-security reporter Joe Tidy, the report includes analysis from Tom Bateman.

“The Israeli government has approved emergency measures for its security agencies to track the mobile-phone data of people with suspected coronavirus.

The new powers will be used to enforce quarantine and warn those who may have come into contact with infected people.

The temporary laws were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”.

Such powers are usually reserved for counter-terrorism operations.”

On March 29th listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 37:10 here) by Krassi Twigg of BBC Monitoring about “fears that some countries are seeing new levels of intrusion which could have a damaging effect on societies”.

The report mentioned South Korea, Italy, France and (from 40:57) Israel.

Twigg: “…and Israel has ordered its domestic security agency to track the mobile phone data of suspected Coronavirus cases. The Shin Bet normally uses such surveillance methods on Palestinians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis. Joel Greenberg, BBC Monitoring’s Israel specialist, said the use of these methods against [sic] Israeli citizens has been hugely controversial.”

Greenberg: “Critics of the policy have challenged it in the Supreme Court and they argue that it’s a dangerous invasion of privacy by the government. The government has said that the use of mobile phone tracking will be strictly limited to the battle against the Coronavirus but still the critics say that there may be no going back. Once the Shin Bet has begun tracking the cell phones of ordinary Israelis, the policy may be used again.”

The story is however by no means as simple as those three BBC reports spread over a period of twelve days tell audiences. Only in the written report was it made it clear that “Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the new powers will last for 30 days only”.

The chain of events actually began two days before the BBC picked up the story, on March 15th, as reported by the Times of Israel.

“The government on Sunday approved a proposal to allow the Shin Bet security service to perform mass surveillance on Israelis’ phones without requiring a court order in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting major concerns of privacy and civil liberty violations.

The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee. […]

In recent weeks authorities in Taiwan and Singapore, among other countries, have used cellular phone data to ensure that citizens were abiding by required quarantine orders.

Those tools — the Israel Police and Health Ministry already have similar means at their disposal — are not what was approved by the government Sunday.

Instead, the Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters (6.6 feet) of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.

“The information will be given only to the Health Ministry, to specific people with security clearances, and it will be erased immediately after it is used,” a senior Justice Ministry official told Channel 13 news.”

However the Knesset subcommittee did not vote on the matter and on March 19th the Supreme Court ruled that the tracking could not continue for more than five days without Knesset oversight.

“In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice said Thursday that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament fails to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.”

Following a request from the State Prosecutor and the re-establishment of the subcommittee, the Supreme Court lifted the injunction on March 24th on condition that legislation concerning the surveillance measures would be put in place.

“The High Court warned that if the legislation was not advanced in the coming weeks, it would once again be forced to intervene.

The judges noted that, given the additional government restrictions expected to be approved to further curb movement, the surveillance should be used as little as possible to minimize privacy violations.”

Especially given that, as the BBC has reported, the UK is also considering the employment of technological measures to combat the pandemic, one would have expected BBC journalists – including BBC Monitoring’s “Israel specialist” – to be able to report the story more accurately and with at least some mention of the safeguards put in place rather than focusing primarily on the speculative claims promoted by inadequately presented political NGOs such as ACRI and Adalah.  

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip has suffered from shortages of medical equipment and supplies for many years because of the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA which is responsible for healthcare both in the areas under its control and the Gaza Strip.

Throughout that time the BBC has repeatedly steered its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for that chronic shortage of medical supplies by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

As we noted here in 2014 when Yolande Knell did precisely that, there is not – and never has been – any restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip with the exception of items classed as dual use equipment which has the potential to be used for terrorism. 

“The long-standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza emanates primarily from a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatment for patients outside of Gaza.

The healthcare system in Gaza is marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment and an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza due to issues of non-payment.

COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] works to facilitate the transfer of medication and medical supplies both through the international community and the private sector, however shortages remain.”

Throughout 2019 COGAT coordinated the entry of 800 truckloads of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote the false narrative according to which the sorry state of affairs in the Gaza healthcare system is attributable to Israel – a narrative also promoted by Hamas.

The March 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item promoting an appeal put out by the United Nations.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 07:29 here).

Iqbal: “Life in some of the wealthiest countries in the world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate and in that respect a leveller. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly adversely affect those who already have so little and to address that, today the United Nations has launched a $2 billion funding drive to help vulnerable countries fight Covid 19. The UN says all of humanity is at risk. In countries already affected by conflict, natural disasters or climate change, the death toll from the virus will be higher.”

Later in that item Iqbal interviewed Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of UNOCHA. Before that, however, she sought to illustrate the points made in her introduction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “The warning comes from [sic] after the confirmation of two cases in the densely populated Gaza region – where a decade-long blockade has devastated the health services – and the first case in Syria reported on Sunday. What are the additional challenges facing crisis zones when trying to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus and are they certain to get the help they need? A short time ago I spoke to Khamis Elessy, a doctor in Gaza.”

Listeners were not informed that in addition to being a doctor, Elessy is also an associate professor at the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza. Several hours after this interview his opening statement concerning two cases of Covid 19 in the Gaza Strip was no longer accurate.

Elessy: “Thanks God that we only have 2 cases confirmed out of 155 cases so we’re assisted. And those two cases were not from Gaza. They come from Pakistan. The healthcare system is barely coping with ordinary cases. Around 40% of essential drugs are lacking inside Gaza. Many of the equipments need spare parts and need repair. Throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units. But if we think of best scenario for Corona outbreak, we have to think of at least 100 beds so we need to add another 50 beds. They are not available here in Gaza because we don’t have factories or respirators, ventilators and other [unintelligible] of core equipment and we don’t have the medicines like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and other things that are needed. So far the two cases which were diagnosed inside Gaza their condition is stable, they’re in good health so far. And we hope that we will not have any other cases and maybe for the first time we have something out of the siege. Maybe this gave us one advantage that we’re not open to the rest of the world and that’s why there is no regular flow of people into Gaza and out of Gaza.”

Of course Iqbal had already told listeners that the counter-terrorism measures employed by Egypt and Israel are responsible for ‘devastating’ the health services in the Gaza Strip and so it was unsurprising to see that audiences received no information whatsoever concerning the real cause of the lack of essential medicines. Equally predictable was Iqbal’s failure to challenge Elessy’s promotion of the false notion of a “siege”.  

Turning to the much favoured BBC theme of population density, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “I wonder though if you could reflect for us on the possibility of the outbreak affecting Gaza in a bigger way. Do you think, Doctor, that it would be possible to self-isolate in a densely-populated area?”

Elessy: “No, no because unfortunately all families here belong to an extended family class. So the parents living in the same home, their sons, their grandsons. So you see in the same building around 80 or 70 people living in the same building. So self-isolation is difficult, it is impossible and this is actually the scary scenario if, God forbid, we have a huge number of cases that is infected and we need to isolate them, we can’t isolate them.”

Interestingly, in the interview with Mark Lowcock which followed on from this he noted that in relation to weak health systems:

Lowcock: “Gaza in fact is a little bit better than some of the other places we’re talking about like Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.”

The BBC however chose not to interview a doctor from any of those places but did use the opportunity to once again promote the false and entirely context-free notion (in a programme which will remain available for over a year) that the problems affecting the Gaza Strip’s healthcare services are attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Following the election in Israel at the beginning of March we documented the BBC’s provision of brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map, with the exception of one list.

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

As efforts to form a coalition government proceed, that practice continues.

Listeners to a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th heard a report from Tom Bateman (from 2:09:05 here) about the president of Israel having tasked the leader of the Blue & White party with forming a government after he received the most endorsements from members of the Knesset.

Newsreader: “Benny Gantz, the main political rival to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been given the chance to form a government after winning the support of two key parties. There have been three inconclusive elections in Israel in the last 12 months. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The backing for Benny Gantz is a blow to Benjamin Netanyahu but it does little to break the deadlock that has paralysed Israeli politics. Most MPs supported Mr Gantz for the first go at putting together a coalition but their appetite to dislodge Mr Netanyahu is all some of them really agree on. The groups backing Mr Gantz include the Arab Israeli parties who won record support in the election and a nationalist, hawkish former defence minister who turned on Mr Netanyahu a year ago. The under pressure prime minister is seeking, among other options, to forge an emergency government to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.”

In other words, while BBC audiences heard Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party – described as “nationalist, hawkish”, no political categorisation was given for the Joint Arab List.

A written report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days” and with the tag “Coronavirus pandemic”. There readers found the following:

“The election on 2 March was Israel’s third in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.

This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Mr Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see that while the BBC apparently thinks it useful to provide audiences with tools to navigate the Israeli political map, it does not provide any such signposting regarding the Joint Arab List. Instead, that list is portrayed as “representing Israel’s Arab minority” – the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Information about the politics and ideologies of the four parties that make up the Joint Arab List is however crucial for members of the BBC’s audience who wish to understand both this story about Gantz trying to form a coalition government and another alternative apparently on the table but not adequately explained by the BBC – an emergency government. As Haviv Retting Gur notes at the Times of Israel:

“The Arab factions united in the Joint List are a diverse collection of liberals, Islamists, progressives and ultra-nationalists. Most are openly anti-Zionist and some have expressed proud and open support for ruthless terrorists responsible for some of the most infamous atrocities ever inflicted on Israelis. […]

One signal of a political faction’s seriousness can be found in its willingness to soberly prioritize its many goals and to sacrifice less-important ones for those that matter more. That may sound obvious, but a party like Balad, one of the four factions that make up the Joint List, had proved over the years that it could not look past its obeisance to radical Palestinian nationalism. Its members have joined the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, praised a murderer of Israeli children, and even spied for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.”

So while the BBC is capable of identifying “religious” parties allied to the Likud and describes Yisrael Beitenu as “nationalist”, it refrains from informing its audiences that, for example, one of the parties making up the Joint Arab List (Ra’am) is also a religious group and another (Balad) is no less nationalist.

Another point worthy of note in this BBC report concerns the following statements:

“Meanwhile, Mr Gantz also criticised what he said were “the illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice”.

Mr Netanyahu had been due in court on Tuesday to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. But the hearing has now been postponed until at least 24 May because of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Readers trying to make up their own minds about that statement from Gantz would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 breaches editorial guidelines concerning contributors’ affiliations

h/t SG

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality include a section concerning ‘contributors’ affiliations’ which states:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Obviously one of the basic requirements when introducing a contributor to BBC content is to provide his or her full name, as well as the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” described in that section of the editorial guidelines so that audiences can judge the relevance of the contribution for themselves.

In late January BBC Radio 4 ran a five-part series called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” which will remain available online for a year.

“The school history text book has always been a potential minefield. Every nation setting its histories before its children makes choices. The textbook is frequently used as a primer for the story of the nation when young minds are often unlikely to question or even pay attention to a story that may go on to shape their understanding of their place as citizens so what do we want children to make of their own national past? Should we even teach them a history of the nation? Are facts and dates the stuff of critical understanding? Historian Priya Atwal explores the global issues in telling textbook national history from Lebanon to Japan to Northern Ireland & India as she explores history’s many uses as pedagogy and sometimes propaganda.”

In the first episode listeners heard from a variety of contributors who were introduced using their full name and with details of their professional background or relevance to the topic provided in all cases – except one.

02:14 Atwal: “But it’s never just the epic heft of history that is problematic in the telling of a national story for the classroom. Here’s Aviv [phonetic] remembering the Israeli story he was taught.”

Aviv: “Hardly any discussion; either reading from the book or just talking about what was written in the chapters in the book. The history of the State of Israel is a project and it’s bound up in the project of the creation of the myth of Israel. So the whole Palestinian narrative did not exist. History was a justifier and it was not taught in a way that had multiple sides. It was taught as a truth.” [emphasis in italics in the original]

So who is Aviv? What are his expertise, affiliations and “particular viewpoints”? And – beyond the fact that his statements obviously fit in nicely with Priya Atwal’s agenda – how accurate and representative is his subjective account?

Radio 4 listeners will never know because once again the BBC chose to ignore the very editorial guidelines which are meant to ensure that the corporation provides “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”.

They did, however, hear unquestioned amplification of the notion of “the project of the creation of the myth of Israel”.

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

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

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

 

 

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The March 6th edition of the BBC radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 16:48 here) which suggests that following the discovery of seven Coronavirus cases in Bethlehem on March 5th and the subsequent introduction of measures by the Palestinian Authority which included the closure of the Church of the Nativity, the BBC decided to send a reporter to that town.

Presenter Shaun Ley introduced the item. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ley: “Now, as governments try to contain the spread of Coronavirus, some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world are in place in Israel, where 21 cases gave been reported. So far, it’s closed its borders to more than ten countries, and ordered travellers recently arrived from places like France Germany and Spain to self-isolate for fourteen days. Yesterday the first cases were confirmed in the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem. Within hours the main checkpoint from there into Israel had been shut down. The prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he’s unafraid to take harsh measures to try to contain the virus. But how stringently are they being followed and is there a wider economic impact to consider? Our Middle East correspondent Anna Foster begins her report in Bethlehem.”

Anna Foster commenced with the debatable claim that the Church of the Nativity is “the world’s oldest church” and by promoting the notion that Bethlehem – which has been under exclusive PA control for nearly a quarter of a century – is “occupied”.

Foster: “The sight of the ancient wooden door being firmly locked made headlines. The world’s oldest church where Christians believe Jesus was born, forced to close its doors as Coronavirus reached the occupied territories. I watched as the final visitors scrambled to touch the metal star that marks the spot. Hand after hand rubbing it without any soap and water in sight.”

Foster spoke to some German tourists who did not seem to be paying particular attention to instructions concerning self-isolation before going on:

Foster: “In Israel tens of thousands of locals and tourists are now in self-quarantine. But if you’re on holiday and not following the Hebrew media, how do you find out if you’re affected and what you should be doing?”

Listeners were not told that there are numerous non-Hebrew media outlets in Israel reporting daily on that topic or that both the Ministry of Health and the ambulance service provide information and help lines in English and other languages. Instead, Foster asked a worker at a hotel in Jerusalem:

Foster: “Should you be trying to tell them more though, because the government would want you to pass that information on for them, wouldn’t they?”

Moving on to the Old City in Jerusalem, Foster noted the reduction in the number of tourists.

Foster: “Israel is proud of its proactive approach to containing Coronavirus but shop owners like Mohammed can already see the impact of keeping tourists away.”

When her interviewee complained that business was already in decline because of “the situations between the Israel and the Palestinians” Foster did not explain to listeners the effects of Palestinian terrorism and violence on the tourism industry.

As we see, listeners to this superficial report did not in fact find out why the Israeli government has implemented “some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world” or what steps are being taken to help sectors impacted by the situation.

Neither did they hear anything of the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has included the evacuation of tourists from PA controlled areas and the supply of testing kits and training.

“COGAT has been working in the past two weeks to assist the Palestinian Authority in curbing and preventing a coronavirus outbreak in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.  Under the stewardship of Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA. Furthermore, joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel were organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.

In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak.  The information published in Arabic is available to the entire Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.”

That information would of course have been far more useful to BBC audiences trying to understand how Israel is handling the situation than interviews with a couple of random tourist industry workers in Jerusalem.  

BBC promotes linkage between elections on two continents

Among the BBC News website’s generous coverage of the US administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal in late January was an article by Aleem Maqbool in which readers were told that:

“White Evangelical Christian Americans formed a strong voting block for Donald Trump in 2016, with around 80% voting for him.

Many Evangelical Christians believe that God promised the Holy Land to Jews and that their return to power across the whole territory will bring about the Second Coming of Christ.

But that is not only helping to shape policy because President Trump wants their votes again in November.

There are also Evangelicals within the Trump administration itself, like Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have reportedly been pushing for the kind of support for Israel’s expansionist aspirations as detailed in the new plan.

Those aspirations all but do away with the notion of having sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side, as previous US administrations had said they wanted.”

Readers were not provided with any context. For example AP reported in January that:

“Trump won a clear majority of white evangelical Protestant votes in 2016 […] [b]ut those evangelicals’ alignment with the Republican Party predated Trump and has risen steadily since 2009, according to data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.”

And:

“Trump has not greatly outperformed his GOP predecessors with white evangelicals”.

Neither did Maqbool’s monochrome portrayal provide any information concerning the prominence of the issue of Israel in comparison to other issues (such as abortion or social justice) among Evangelical voters.

Listeners to the March 2nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme however found that narrative repeated, along with the promotion of linkage to the election in Israel.

Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 46:47 here) with the inaccurate claim that the US proposal concerns only “the Palestinians”: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Israelis are voting today in their third general election in a year after neither prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor opposition leader Benny Gantz were able to form a government on the previous two occasions last year. This time Mr Netanyahu is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century on the Palestinians. And this is a vote that could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November as his stance on Israeli policies is linked to that of his Evangelical Christian supporters. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports.”

Bowen began his report at the archaeological site of Megiddo, claiming that: 

Bowen: “This place gives you an idea of the power and influence of Christian Evangelicals’ view of Israel has in the US. I can see one, two, three, maybe five groups of American pilgrims praying, reading the bible and who share this strong belief that America needs to support Israel because of the vital part it plays in their religious beliefs.”

He spoke to one of those tourists, Ray Armstrong.

Bowen: “Now Christian Evangelicals in the US have a strong interest in Israel, don’t you? You feel a strong affinity.”

Armstrong: “We do. So we are a large – at this time, for better, for worse – a large political influence.”

Bowen: “Now President Trump has been very forward in his support for Israel, recently in his Deal of the Century as he calls it [sic]. Do you think that’s the kind of thing that Evangelicals would support?”

Armstrong: “I think there will be those Evangelicals who will. I think we need to be thorough in our thinking. I think we need to understand consequences of our words. We just need to be careful in what we do and how we go about it.”

That rather vague response did not deter Bowen from continuing to tout his debatable hypothesis.

Bowen: “It is only about six months since the last election and this is the third time in a year but the Americans, by publishing Donald Trump’s plan, have made changes to the political landscape. It’s enabled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that this is a great deal for Israel and if you want it, vote for me; I’m the only person who can deliver it.”

Ignoring the obviously highly relevant fact that the US proposal was rejected by the Palestinians even before it was published, Bowen moved on to Shiloh where he promoted very dubious linkage between the beginning of construction of a school and the US proposal published in late January.

Bowen: “And it’s not just politics: the physical landscape of the place is changing, as it’s changed over many years, with the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land.”

Notably, throughout Bowen’s report BBC audiences were given no evidence to support Mishal Husain’s opening claim that the outcome of the March 2nd Israeli election “could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November”.

Bowen’s efforts to link the Israeli election to the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal (even though the election cycle began over a year before that proposal was published) were also evident in a filmed report aired on BBC television news programmes.

Bowen: “The prime minister is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century – an attempt to end the conflict on Israel’s terms. It allows Israel, in defiance of international law, to annex settlements built on land Palestinians want for a state.”

Viewers were also given an inaccurate and simplistic view of the background to the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Bowen: “And as ever, it’s come down to control of the land. That’s always been at the centre of the conflict, a century ago and today.”

In addition they heard Bowen (who only last October asserted that “there haven’t been all that many” Palestinian terror attacks “in recent years”) claim that US policies of the past three years are “sharpening the conflict on the ground” with no concrete evidence provided to support that allegation.

Bowen: “The big changes, political and diplomatic and especially President Trump’s out and out support for the Israeli government is sharpening the conflict on the ground and you can see it in places like this. Conflict is normal for yet another generation. The election won’t change that.”

The narrative the BBC has chosen to promote is very clear: the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan – which has been portrayed by Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues in a uniformly negative light since even before it was made public – is, according to the corporation’s Middle East editor, first and foremost the product of Trump’s dependence upon Evangelical Christian support to get re-elected in November, and has the added effect of aiding Netanyahu’s election campaign by creating “changes to the political landscape”.

On the Israeli front, that “highest calibre” analysis has yet to bear fruit, with Netanyahu’s party (after 99% of the votes were counted) having secured just one more seat in the Knesset than it did in April 2020 – nine months before the US plan was made public.

Related Articles:

How will the BBC cover Israel’s election?

BBC News promotes non-starter topic to advance Israel election narrative

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s promotion of an ‘epic novel’ and an appealing narrative

This week BBC Radio 4 has been airing a serialised reading of a book published on February 25th in ten episodes which will continue next week. The synopsis to the first episode describes the novel as follows:

“Colum McCann’s epic new novel of friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam and Rami inhabit a world of conflict that colours every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate. Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognise the loss that connects them and attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

In Apeirogon – named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides – Colum McCann creates an epic novel inspired by the real experiences of Palestinian Bassam Aramin and Israeli Rami Elhanan who, after each losing a child, came together to promote peace.”

Media interviews are of course a significant part of the marketing of any new novel and McCann gave a lengthy interview (from 00:18 here) to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ – presented by Mariella Frostrup – on February 23rd.

“Colum McCann tells Mariella about Apeirogon, his suitably multi-sided book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inspired by two fathers who have both lost their daughters. A soaring mixture of reportage, mythology, poetry and ornithology, among many other things, McCann makes the case for it as a “novel” with a universal message.”

Near the beginning of the interview Frostrup tells listeners that:

“The two bereaved fathers came together through an organisation called Combatants for Peace, their experiences having made them less certain about the polarised world views they once both held in youth.”

Listeners are however told nothing about the agenda of that political NGO or the organisation with which the two men are currently associated.

In other interviews McCann has stated that before he spent a week in Israel and the Palestinian controlled territories in 2015 he was “completely ignorant of what was going on there” and at 11:29 listeners hear a little about his learning process, which apparently included consultation with “one of my great heroes” the political activist Raja Shehadeh and reading Mahmoud Darwish.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the interview concerns McCann’s view – exaggerated in the opinion of this reviewer – of the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think it is one of the central questions as to who we are and where we are and I think we all identify with it in some way, in a way that’s different to other conflicts. There’s something about Jerusalem, there’s something about that being the birthplace of so many things that we’re drawn to and confused by and we’re wondering why all this is happening.”

The Guardian’s review of the novel states:

“For all its grief, Apeirogon is a novel that buoys the heart. The friendship of Bassam and Rami is a thing of great and sustaining beauty. There’s a picture of the two of them, asleep together on a train in Germany, travelling from one speaking engagement to the next. They lean against each another, Rami – the older man – supporting the smaller Bassam as he sleeps. This, the novel suggests, is the solution to the conflict: something as simple and easy as friendship, as the acknowledgement of a shared experience, as love.” [emphasis added]

The reassuring notion that “something as simple as friendship” and “love” are the solution to the conflict of course avoids the basic fact that Smadar Elhanan was murdered – along with two other teenage girls who are not mentioned in this programme – by Hamas suicide bombers in an attack intended to kill human beings simply because of their Israeli identity.

The reduction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the tidy and appealing narrative promoted in McCann’s book perhaps explains why the BBC – itself no stranger to the promotion of simplistic narratives concerning that issue – decided to dedicate two weeks of radio broadcasts to a novel which frames that conflict in terms far more palatable and comfortable to its audiences than actually exist.