Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

The US administration’s announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 prompted an exceptionally large number of BBC reports on all its various platforms.

In six of the twenty-two written reports on the story (see here) that appeared on the BBC News website throughout December, no historical background was given at all. In eight of those articles audiences were given ‘background information’ on the city of Jerusalem that eliminated its history prior to June 1967 – for example:

Israel occupied the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries, including Israel’s closest ally the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 4/12/17

And:

Israel occupied the east of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 22/12/17

Seven of the 22 articles made a cursory reference to the Jordanian occupation that existed before June 1967 but failed to clarify its context or even its duration:

Israel occupied the sector, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. [emphasis added] BBC News website, 5/12/17

One report mentioned Jordan but failed to explain that it occupied parts of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

Israel annexed the sector from Jordan after the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 6/12/17

Of the twelve filmed reports relating to the story which appeared on the BBC News website during December, only one – which, significantly, was presented as a backgrounder: “Yolande Knell explains why the city is so important” – gave any historical information. Knell told BBC audiences that:

“Most Israelis see Jerusalem as their “eternal, undivided capital”. Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured east Jerusalem, including the Old City, and it later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

As we see, Knell’s ‘backgrounder’ made no mention whatsoever of Jordan’s nineteen-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem and the fact that the later Jordanian annexation was unrecognised by the international community.

Like all the BBC’s numerous reports, this ‘backgrounder’ too failed to note the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. The belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, was completely ignored, as was the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders. Israel’s warning to Jordan not to participate in the Six Day War was also eliminated from all the BBC’s accounts of events.

A radio report by Yolande Knell aired on BBC Radio 4 on December 23rd likewise failed to inform BBC audiences of those significant factors.

“But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognised…”

In response to a complaint from a member of the public about the lack of historical context in that programme, BBC Complaints claimed that:

“It is important to note that the aim of Yolande’s report was to offer insight to the listeners of the local reaction of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In this five minute report it would not be possible to give the full context and history of the city of Jerusalem.

In relation to what Yolande said about the annexing of East Jerusalem by Israel, she said it was during “a war with it’s [sic] Arab neighbours 50 years ago”. […]

The BBC have [sic] of course explored the subject of the 1967 war in detail, for example in:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39960461

That link leads to a long article by Jeremy Bowen that appeared on the BBC News website in June 2017 and in which no attempt was made to explain Jerusalem’s pre-1948 history – including its Jewish majority – and the topic of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent unrecognised annexation of parts of the city was ignored.

There is of course nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information that would enhance their understanding of the background to stories concerning Jerusalem.

But while that practice has been in evidence for years, the failure to provide even one accurate, impartial and comprehensive account of the relevant history of the city which was the topic of dozens of BBC reports on multiple platforms in one month alone is obviously remarkable.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in BBC WS Jerusalem history backgrounder

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

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BBC R4 airs partisan portrayal of Jenin masked as ‘entertainment’

h/t BF

BBC Radio 4’s entertainment programme ‘Loose Ends’ aired an edition on February 3rd which included a conversation (from 21:05 here) with a guest described by co-presenter Nikki Bedi as “comedian and activist Mark Thomas”.

The purpose of the item was obviously to promote BBC regular Mark Thomas’ latest project which, like some of his previous ones, relates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bedi: “But the indefatigable Mark is at it again – raising social and political issues in a funny and thought-provoking piece of theatre. It’s called ‘Showtime from the Front Line’ and let’s talk about the genesis for the show, Mark, because you spent a month at the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied territories – that’s north of the West Bank – and you were trying to set up a comedy club there.”

Thomas began by using the term Palestine to describe a location the BBC’s style guide says should not be described as such and describing a structure that is over 95% fence as a “wall”.

Thomas: “Well what happened was I went to Palestine in 2009 and I walked the length of the Israeli wall in the West Bank. And one of the first places I went to was Jenin which is – as you say – it’s in the north, it’s a rural area, it’s quite poor compared to the rest of the West Bank. And it’s very conservative but it’s very fierce and it’s very proud of its rebelliousness.”

Of course the majority of Radio 4 listeners would not be able to fill in the blanks left by Thomas’ euphemisms and so they would not understand that by “very conservative” he presumably means dominated by Islamist factions such as Hamas. Neither would they be likely to know that “fierce” and “rebelliousness” apparently refer to Jenin’s long history as a place from which countless terror attacks against civilians have been launched, including the Matza Restaurant attack, the 823 bus bombing, the Megiddo junction attack and the Maxim Restaurant attack. Notably, the hundreds of people murdered and wounded in those attacks and many others did not get even a cursory mention in this item.

Thomas went on to recount his 2009 visit to the theatre in Jenin and his meeting with the person who ran it at the time – Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Thomas: “…it’s very volatile, the relationship of the theatre with the camp because there’s all sorts of politics that go on there.”

Interestingly, he refrained from informing Radio 4 listeners that Mer-Khamis was later murdered by a Palestinian.

Nikki Bedi then asked Thomas to describe the Jenin refugee camp.

Bedi: “When you talk about a camp, by the way, can you just give us a picture because I think a lot of people will assume that they’re…they’re living in, you know, structures that could be blown away. And how large…

Thomas [interrupts] “Well they can be blown away and they were in 2002 when the Israeli army came in. But they are buildings. Basically people fled from Haifa and they came to Jenin and they set up there and it’s a really…it’s thousands and thousands of people living in this incredibly dense sort of urban…it’s incredible to be there. It’s just…it’s not like any place I’ve ever been to before.”

Thomas is of course referring in that highlighted sentence to Operation Defensive Shield which was launched in late March 2002 following a series of terror attacks. During that operation the IDF acted in the Jenin refugee camp due to it being a prime base for terrorism. Thomas of course did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that terrorists had booby-trapped part of the camp and so the buildings that were “blown away” (less than 10% of the total) were just as likely to have been damaged by Palestinian actions as by Israeli ones.

After talking about the comedy course he ran in Jenin, Thomas turned to the topic of his two fellow actors in the current show.

Thomas: “And what they have to say is hugely complex. We’re talking about people who lived through the second Intifada, who’ve had their homes destroyed, you know…”

The programme’s other presenter, Clive Anderson, then asked:

Anderson: “Are you worried about going into such a complex area? I mean even the terminology of what the country is called…whether it’s, you know, West Bank…”

Thomas [interrupts] “You called it a country, Clive, that’s…that’s a letter of complaint.”

Anderson: “Well exactly. Country, West Bank, whether it’s occupied territory, Palestinians – they’re all areas where somebody’s going ‘oh wait a minute: that’s slightly the wrong terminology’.”

Thomas: “I look at it very, very simply that people confuse Israel and Palestine as a conflict and it’s not a conflict. It’s a military occupation. They’re two very different things. So it’s quite clear for me.”

With no effort made to inform audiences of the history of the area concerned – including its occupation and unrecognised annexation by Jordan, the somewhat obsequious conversation continued:

Bedi: “But you then introduce really cleverly – with great humour, wit, but also in an edifying way – parts of these guys’ history that we wouldn’t know. I mean you make us think of refugees in a different way. What do you want to say?”

Thomas: “What I want to do is confound people’s ideas of what refugees are and to make people challenge their own ideas about how their relationship is with places like Palestine, with people who are refugees…”

While listeners would not of course expect to hear anything other than context-free and partisan messaging from veteran political activist Mark Thomas, they would have expected the two BBC presenters to provide the missing information and context in order to mitigate the severely warped view fed to listeners under the guise of ‘entertainment’.

However, audiences heard nothing of the Jenin refugee camp’s role as a major hub for terror, nothing of the fact that it was established in 1953 while Jordan occupied the area or how that occupation came about and nothing of the fact that the people portrayed as ‘refugees’ have actually been living under Palestinian Authority rule since 1996.

We do however see in this item the continuation of a recent trend in BBC content in which guidance appearing the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” is ignored:

“…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.”

That trend has been apparent on at least three previous occasions (see here, here, and here) since late December and apparently BBC presenters such as Clive Anderson are not sufficiently aware of – or attentive to – the BBC’s own guidelines concerning the use of appropriate terminology in order to adhere to supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

BBC R4 ‘Today’ impartiality fail in item on Polish Holocaust bill

h/t GB

The February 2nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included an item (from 02:33:57 here) about the controversial ‘Holocaust complicity’ bill that is currently making its way through the Polish political system.

Listeners may well have been astounded to hear presenter Nick Robinson’s portrayal of the number of people who lost their lives in Nazi camps located in Poland in his introduction. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Robinson: “Hundreds of thousands died during the Holocaust in Polish death camps. I could be imprisoned in Poland for simply uttering those words if a law voted for in the Polish senate is enacted into law. Poland’s prime minister says it’s to lift a slur on his people and his country and to put the blame where it really belongs: on the Nazis. Israel’s prime minister has warned Poles not to try to change history. We’re joined now by Wojciech Roszkowski. He is professor of history at the institute of political studies at the Polish Academy of Science and also by Konstanty Gebert who is a columnist with Gazeta Wyborcza.”

As regular readers are aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The bill that is the subject matter of this item is being advanced by Poland’s ruling ‘Law & Justice’ party (PiS). Listeners should therefore have been informed that the person they heard defending it  – who was twice described by Nick Robinson only as a “professor of history” – is not just an academic: for five years he was (as the BBC itself reported in 2007) a member of the European Parliament (MEP) on behalf of the political party that is currently promoting the controversial legislation.  

Related Articles:

BBC ignores its own previous reporting in coverage of Polish bill

 

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2017

As has often been noted here, for years the BBC has reported stories relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) without adequately clarifying to its audiences that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

So did BBC audiences see any improvement in 2017?

In February BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious” debate programme ‘The Big Questions’ aired a discussion billed “should we trade with Israel now settlements are recognised?” which included contributors from controversial organisations that support the BDS anti-Israel campaign – without audiences being informed of that fact.

In March the BBC News website reported a story about a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign denied entry to Israel but – despite the obvious relevance to the story – failed to inform audiences what the BDS campaign aspires to achieve.

In April BBC Two audiences were given an airbrushed account of the aim of the BDS campaign and visitors to the BBC News website were told that it is “a human rights organisation”.

In May the BBC News website recycled the myth that BDS is a “human rights” campaign and later the same month failed to mention the role of a BDS group in bringing about the banning of a film in Lebanon .

In June listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard gross misrepresentation of the BDS campaign’s aims:

“…the end goal is always hopefully to get a peaceful resolution where Israelis and Palestinians and all Arab countries are living in peace; are living in justice.”

In October the BBC News website recycled two reports from 2015 – both featuring a prominent BDS campaigner – as ‘explanatory’ items.

In November listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the Palestinian representative in the UK bemoaning the fact that the British government does not support BDS as part of the corporation’s Balfour Declaration centenary programming and in December BBC World Service radio audiences heard Mustafa Barghouti promoting the BDS campaign.  

BDS campaigners and supporters showcased by the BBC in 2017 without audiences being told of their links to that campaign and without explanation of its political agenda include Ahdaf Soueif, the UJFP, Diana Buttu, Omar Baddar, Stephen Kinnock and Saree Makdisi. 

One story in particular received generous coverage from the BBC throughout much of 2017. In February visitors to both the BBC Music website and the BBC News website were told of “Controversy over Radiohead gig in Israel” in a report that promoted a fictional “industry boycott” and mythical “industry rules” while providing a link to a (misspelled) website which is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

In July readers of the BBC News website saw another article about the Radiohead show in Tel Aviv that failed to clarify the BDS campaign’s aims and BBC World Service radio audiences also heard a report on the same subject. In September BBC Radio 5 live returned to the story, once again without clarification of what the BDS campaign aspires to achieve.

On no occasion throughout 2017 were audiences told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism. That obviously hinders the ability of audiences to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its appropriate context and affects their view of criticism of the campaign from other sources.

In contrast, as we see above, the BBC continues to provide a generous platform for supporters of the BDS campaign – identified as such or not – to promote their messaging.

 

 

 

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.

For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.

Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.

In September a BBC World Service history show featured an interviewee without mentioning her significant connection to Medical Aid for Palestinians and related anti-Israel activism. In October the same programme featured a sole interviewee whose connections to the NGO Euro-Med Rights were not revealed to audiences.

Interestingly, when BBC radio 5 live recently conducted an interview concerning a UK domestic story with a political activist who was inadequately introduced, the corporation acknowledged that “we should’ve established and made clear on air this contributor was a political activist”. 

On other occasions, while contributors’ connections to NGOs were clarified, the political agenda of the organisations concerned was not.

In October, when an interviewee from the Amos Trust appeared on BBC Radio 4, the NGO was inadequately described as “a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza” with no mention made of its anti-Israel activities.

A TV debate concerning the BDS campaign that was aired in February included representatives of War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with no background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both those organisations provided to viewers.

In September the BBC World Service interviewed the director of ‘Forward Thinking’ which was described as a “mediation group” while listeners heard no clarification of the relevant issue of the interviewee’s “particular viewpoint” on Hamas.

Audiences also saw cases in which BBC presenters amplified unsubstantiated allegations made by political NGOs during interviews with Israelis. In June, for example, while interviewing Moshe Ya’alon, Stephen Sackur invoked Human Rights Watch and Breaking the Silence.

In November Andrew Marr employed the same tactic during an interview with the Israeli prime minister, amplifying allegations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International without informing viewers of the political agendas of those NGOs.

BBC audiences also saw Human Rights Watch quoted and promoted in various reports throughout the year including:

BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

Additional NGOs promoted by the BBC without disclosure of their political agenda include Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (see here) and UJFP.

Material produced by the UN agency OCHA was promoted in BBC content without that organisation’s political stance being revealed and audiences saw a partisan map credited to UNOCHA and B’tselem used on numerous occasions throughout the year.

The political NGO Peace Now was frequently quoted and promoted (including links to its website) in reports concerning Israeli construction plans – see for example here, here and here – as well as in an amended backgrounder on the subject of ‘settlements’.

In April the BBC News website described Breaking the Silence and B’tselem as “human rights activists” without fully informing audiences of their records and political agenda.

B’tselem was by far the BBC’s most promoted NGO in 2017 with politically partisan maps it is credited as having produced either together with UNOCHA or on its own appearing in dozens of BBC News website reports and articles throughout the year, including the BBC’s backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

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

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

BBC audiences were on no occasion informed that the organisation from which that map is sourced engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS.

The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and some of them are even active in legal and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint” and – as in previous years – in 2017 audiences hence remained unaware of the fact that the homogeneous information they are receiving about Israel is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi

As was noted here last week, an article published on the BBC News website on January 1st failed to inform BBC audiences that, in addition to charges of assault and stone-throwing, Ahed Tamimi was also charged with incitement.

“Among the charges against Ahed were aggravated assault of a soldier, threatening a soldier, preventing soldiers from carrying out their duties, incitement, disturbing the public peace and stone throwing.

Regarding the incitement charge, the MAG [Military Attorney General] cited a statement given by Ahed to her mother, who was filming the December 15 incident on Facebook Live. Immediately following the squabble, Nariman asked her daughter what kind of message she wanted to convey to viewers.

“I hope that everyone will take part in the demonstrations as this is the only means to achieve the result,” she said. “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine, because [Donald] Trump made his declaration and [the Americans] need to take responsibility for any response that comes from us,” Ahed added, apparently referring to the US president’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine,” she concluded.”

That video can be seen here.

However, an item (from 17:55 here) broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on the same day – January 1st – shows that the BBC’s Yolande Knell was already aware of the charge of incitement.

After having told BBC audiences that Tamimi is a “star on social media”, seen as “a symbol of resistance”, “a Palestinian hero” and that she is “very brave, it seems”, Knell stated:

Knell: “Now there are 12 charges against Ahed Tamimi. She’s appeared before a military court. These relate to six different incidents. She’s charged with 5 counts of assaulting soldiers, also with throwing rocks, incitement to violence…”

Two days later, on January 3rd, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme also aired an item on the same subject. Presenter Carrie Gracie opened the item (from 02:32:15 here) by telling listeners that:

Gracie: “A 16 year-old Palestinian girl who has a history of protesting against Israel has been charged with assaulting Israeli soldiers near her home in the occupied West Bank and she has appeared in a military court.”

No mention of the additional charges of rock-throwing and incitement was made throughout the item, which included interviews with Israeli MK Dr Michael Oren and B’tselem’s research director Yael Stein. Neither were listeners told that Ahed Tamimi’s mother Nariman has collaborated (along with additional members of the family) with B’tselem’s ‘armed with cameras’ project.

On January 8th BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired yet another item (from 45:16 here) on the same topic. Presenter John Humphrys introduced it as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Humphrys: “Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers are almost daily occurrence in the occupied West Bank but since last month one case has been the subject of intense public debate. Ahed Tamimi, who is 16, was filmed slapping and kicking two soldiers outside her home. She has now been charged with five counts of assault. Today she’s going to appear at an Israeli military court for a remand hearing. As Yolande Knell reports, many Palestinians see her as a new hero of their nationalist struggle while Israeli politicians accuse her family of staging anti-Israeli propaganda.”

Listeners were not told that the video concerned was filmed and distributed by Ahed Tamimi’s mother. After describing the video, Knell again told listeners that:

Knell: “Last month Ahed was arrested. She’s been charged with assault.”

Listeners then heard from the girl’s lawyer, Gabi Lasky, who ascribed extra significance to the case.

Lasky: “Not only is this a regular criminal case in the occupied territories but it has a lot of weight on it regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Notably, that theme that was repeated by Knell when she later closed the report:

Knell: “Their case will be watched closely – not just for its legal outcome but for all that it’s seen to symbolise.”

After the interview with Lasky, Knell brought in a recording from a television programme in Hebrew.

Knell: “On Israel’s Channel 10 the presenter asks if the soldiers hit by Ahed were cowardly or showed exemplary restraint. A military expert points out that they were in her village to deal with Palestinians throwing stones. An Israeli peace activist explains how Ahed’s cousin had just been badly injured – shot in the face with a rubber bullet.”

So who is that “peace activist” and is he a reliable and objective source that can be unquestioningly amplified by the BBC?

The interviewee concerned is Yonatan (Jonathan) Pollak – a founder of ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’, a BDS campaign supporter and a regular participant in the weekly rioting in Nabi Saleh organised by Ahed Tamimi’s father.

Knell continued:

Knell: “But this isn’t the first time Ahed’s actions have sparked debate. Two years ago she was the blonde curly-haired child filmed biting an Israeli soldier trying to detain her brother. In an earlier video she threatens to punch a soldier.”

Knell of course did not bother to tell listeners that Tamimi’s then 12 year-old brother was throwing rocks at the time. She then went on to say:

Knell: “While Palestinians liken her [Ahed Tamimi] to Joan of Arc, Israel’s media calls her Shirley Temper.”

In fact the bizarre Joan of Arc comparison was first made by Israeli activist Uri Avinery in an article published in Ha’aretz.

Following an interview with Israeli MK Anat Berko, Knell went on to present Ahed Tamimi’s father Bassem – inserting the BBC’s standard partisan interpretation of ‘international law’ along the way.

Knell: “Making coffee at his home in Nabi Saleh in the hills north of Ramallah, I meet Ahed’s father – a political activist who’s been jailed by Israel many times. For years he’s organized protests in which villagers try to march towards land taken by an Israeli settlement. Settlements are considered illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

She continued:

Knell: “Usually the marches lead to clashes with Israeli soldiers. But Bassem Tamimi always allowed his daughter to join them and be filmed.”

Tamimi: “I am proud of my daughter. I am happy that she became the spirit and the example of the new generation for resistance.”

Knell: “Those criticising you say that these videos are like set-ups, you know, that they are staged.”

Tamimi: “Francis Bacon say how the other evaluate my method is their problem, it’s not mine. They said it’s a movie or it’s a theatre. How we can bring these soldier to our home to make this play?”

The answer to that question of course is – as Bassem Tamimi well knows – by organising violent rioting to which soldiers will have to respond but Yolande Knell refrained from pursuing that issue.

Knell’s final interviewee was Lt-Col (res) Maurice Hirsch and BBC audiences – who, significantly, have not seen the video in which Ahed Tamimi urged viewers to carry out “stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones” were told that her call is “alleged”.

Knell: “A few hundred Palestinian children are prosecuted in this system each year. Maurice Hirsch used to be the IDF chief prosecutor for the West Bank. He says the more serious charges against Ahed involved her alleged online call for more action to support the Palestinian cause – from protests to what she calls martyrdom operations.” [emphasis added]

Knell did not bother to tell listeners that “martyrdom operations” means suicide bombings even though that information is relevant to audience understanding of Maurice Hirsch’s comments.

Hirsch: “Many minors that come before the courts are suspected of committing predominantly violent crimes similar to that of Ahed. Attacking a soldier is a crime of violence but I think that’s really one of the sidelines of the indictment. One of the main counts of the indictment is really incitement – publicly calling for others to commit other terrorist attacks.”

While once again failing to clarify to listeners that Ahed Tamimi’s mother filmed the video concerned, Knell then told listeners that:

Knell: “The other women seen in this video are both charged with assault and her mother with incitement after it was live-streamed on her Facebook page.”

As we see the BBC’s promotion of this story is on the one hand generous and on the other hand inconsistent. Some reports have included mentions, to one degree or another, of the charge of incitement while others have whitewashed it – and additional relevant information – from the picture. Significantly, although the video footage of Ahed Tamimi urging others to carry out acts of violence is in the public domain, it has not been presented to BBC audiences.  

Related Articles:

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis

Late last month we noted the use of terminology that breaches the BBC’s own style guide in the synopsis to a music programme aired on BBC Radio 4.

Although the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank”, BBC audiences were told that:

“For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America whilst in Palestine, for ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh it’s a song that inspires him to work towards a better life.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and received a response including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘Soul Music’.

I understand you were unhappy with the use of the word ‘Palestine’ in the synopsis for the 27 December episode on the programme’s section of our website.

Having consulted with the programme’s production team and senior editorial staff at BBC Radio 4, we have now amended this to ‘Palestinian Territories’.

We would like to thank you for brining [sic] this to our attention.”

The amended part of the synopsis now reads:

“‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh finds the song inspires him to work towards a better life in the Palestinian Territories.”

Related Articles:

Radio 4 programme synopsis breaches BBC’s own style guide

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part three

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In part two we discussed BBC World Service radio’s reporting of that story and in this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC Radio 4, beginning with a programme aired before the vote took place. 

1) ‘PM‘, BBC Radio 4, 21/12/17, presented by Eddie Mair, from 05:22 here.

Mair: “During the campaign that got him elected president, Donald Trump said he wanted to stop sending aid to ‘countries that hate us’. Now he seems close to putting that idea into practice. The catalyst was his announcement that the US would relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Today the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote on a resolution that expresses great regret about the decision and urges other countries not to follow America’s decision to relocate. In advance of the debate the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned that the US would take note of countries which voted against America.”

Mair then quoted statements made by Haley and listeners heard a recording of the US president speaking on the same topic before a rather confused Nada Tawfik was brought in to report from the UN.

Tawfik: “This has been a week of high stakes diplomacy on the issue of Jerusalem. It began on Monday when the United States vetoed a draft Security Council resolution that essentially called on President Trump to reverse his decision and to…reverse his decision to move the capital of Israel…ah…to recognise Israel as the…Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to move the American embassy there. Arab and Muslim countries immediately requested an emergency session of the General Assembly to protest the veto and to put forward another resolution for all 103 [sic – 193] members of the General Assembly to vote on. President Trump and Ambassador Haley have tried to use American muscle rather than diplomacy to convince countries to vote their way.”

Tawfik also told listeners that:

“Here [at the UN], diplomats say […] that it’s clear that the US decision goes against international law and therefore countries should stand up at the UN General Assembly.”

Which countries those unidentified quoted diplomats represent was not revealed by Tawfik but nevertheless, she chose to unquestioningly promote the inaccurate notion that the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “goes against international law”.

In the same item listeners heard the recordings of the statements made by Nikki Haley and the Turkish foreign minister previously aired on BBC World Service programmes as well as a recording of Israel’s ambassador speaking at the UN GA. The item also included an interview with “an expert on international aid” – Cindy Wang – described as having worked at the US State Department under the previous US administration.

Radio 4 also covered the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

2) ‘The World Tonight’, BBC Radio 4, 21/12/17, presented by Shaun Ley, from 07:30 here.

Ley: “For Christians, Jews and Muslims alike it is a city of deep religious significance. Richard the Lionheart – England’s crusader king – dreamt of liberating Jerusalem during the Crusade but died without achieving his ambition. Palestinians maintain that East Jerusalem should be the capital of the State of Palestine, if such a state ever comes into existence. Israel – the Jewish state – has proclaimed that Jerusalem is its capital: a status not recognised by most of the nations of the world. So this result – today’s vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations – will have come as no surprise to the White House.”

Listeners heard the previously used recording of part of statements made by the US ambassador to the UN followed by the recording of remarks from the Turkish foreign minister also previously aired on other programmes which was introduced by Ley as follows:

Ley: “Turkey, traditionally a US ally, was one of the prime movers behind today’s motion. The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hit out against threats from President Trump to punish countries that support the resolution.”

In addition, listeners heard the first segment of the interview with the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the UN broadcast on ‘Newshour’ on the BBC World Service.

Ley then introduced his first guest.

Ley: “Well this evening Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has Tweeted that as a result of the overwhelming vote he expects President Trump to rescind what he called his unfortunate decision. Gulnur Aybet is professor of international relations at Yildiz Technical University – a senior advisor to the [Turkish] president. […] Your president says he expects it to be rescinded but in the end, today’s vote was a symbolic one: the motion has no authority to cause the Americans to change their policy. All it seems to do is sour relations with the US but actually change nothing.”

Aybet: “Well actually I mean the General Assembly vote is non-binding but at the same time, when you look at this it’s an overwhelming majority of various states from very different backgrounds. So you’ve got the entire Muslim states of the UN there. You’ve got the major economies of the world there and all the other permanent members of the UN Security Council. Now it’s really the first time that such a diverse range of states – and some very powerful ones – have actually taken a decision in an international institution against the United States in such an overwhelming way. I think it’s more than symbolic in the way that it challenges the US’ presence on the world arena.”

In response to Ley’s assertion that the UNGA vote “is endorsing a position the UN has had for 70 years” and that the motion will “simply add to the conflict”, Aybet responded as follows:

Aybet: “No, but what the American decision, taken by the Trump administration, is actually a violation of international law. And you mentioned that, you know, this is the status quo that’s happened and the United Nations in various resolutions – Security Council – has called these lands, including East Jerusalem, as occupied territories and required a respect for the special status of Jerusalem. So on one side there’s the international law which, you know, is there – you can’t deny that – and the United States has actually broken with that by making this decision – and which is why there is such an overwhelming response to it – but it’s also pitted the entire Muslim world against it and President Erdogan said this was an absolute red line and that’s precisely why Turkey as the chair of the OIC – the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation…”

Ley: [interrupts] “Pushed very hard to get this motion….”

Aybet: “Well they actually, Turkey…”

Ley: “Lobbied for it, encouraged it.”

Aybet: “…convened an emergency summit of the OIC. And it was the resolution that came out of that summit that laid the basis for this resolution.”

In response to Ley pointing out that both the US president and the US ambassador to the UN had clarified that the US announcement “does not preclude anything that might come out of peace talks”, the Turkish president’s advisor once again made inaccurate – but unchallenged – claims concerning the US announcement and international law.

Aybet:”How can you have a peace process when this decision violates international law on which the peace process is based and the two-state solution which is what the two…what the peace process is all about and the entire [sic] international community which have voted against this decision respects? And how can you have a peace process when you’ve pitted the entire Muslim world against this decision as well, you know?”

While Ley made no attempt to relieve listeners of the erroneous impression promoted by Aybet according to which the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital breaches international law, he did allow her the time to praise her employer’s “leadership […] that will not be forgotten”.

Ley’s second interviewee on the topic was retired US general and former vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane. During that conversation, Ley referred to Nikki Haley’s statement at the UN GA as “kind of almost cash for votes” and “tawdry”.

Like BBC World Service radio, Radio 4 focused extensively on what it chose to portray as “threats” made by the US Administration prior to the UN GA vote and failed to provide audiences with relevant context and historical background to the story. However, as we see, listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard inaccurate claims concerning ‘international law’ and the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in both these programmes.

All the relevant UN Security Council resolutions are non-binding (Chapter VI) and do not create any legal obligations. Neither do they relate to announcements concerning Jerusalem.  

Clearly BBC Radio 4 listeners were materially misled on this issue and corrections are in order.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part one

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?

 

Radio 4 programme synopsis breaches BBC’s own style guide

h/t EM

The BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” – published on the recommendation of the BBC Governors’ independent panel report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2006 – instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, 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.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

In the past we have seen that guidance ignored on several occasions and in recent months, more frequently.

On December 27th BBC Radio 4 twice aired an edition of the programme ‘Soul Music’ relating to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. In the synopsis to that programme, BBC audiences were told that:

“For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America whilst in Palestine, for ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh it’s a song that inspires him to work towards a better life.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to this programme about a song heard the following unrelated context-free politicised statements (from 06:17 here) from Ahmed al ‘Azzeh:

“My name is Ahmed al Azzar and I am a Palestinian refugee [who] lives in Bethlehem in the smallest camp. It’s about 200 meters length by 150 meters, where 2,000 people lives there. It is not as anyone would wish to live in.”

Listeners are of course not told that the Beit Jibrin (Azza) camp is located in Area A and has been under the full control of the Palestinian Authority for the past twenty-two years. Neither are they encouraged to ponder the question of why, after over two decades, the PA still keeps part of its population in such camps or why refugee status is inherited by Palestinians. Ahmed al Azzar’s record as a professional activist with an anti-Israel political NGO is not revealed to listeners.

In other words, in a programme supposedly about music, BBC Radio 4 audiences were given a dose of context-free political messaging from a selected interviewee and a geographical description that breaches BBC guidance.

BBC’s Knell deletes history in Jerusalem walkabout on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondentclaims to provide listeners with “insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world” but which of those was intended to apply to the item by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell that appeared in the programme’s December 23rd edition is unclear.

After all, no journalist can truly be said to have offered ‘insight’ and ‘analysis’ on the subject of Jerusalem if he or she refrains from providing audiences with the relevant context of the city’s historical background – not least that pertaining to the circumstances under which the city was divided for the only time in its history by a nineteen-year long Jordanian occupation.

Nevertheless (but, given the BBC’s record on that issue, not surprisingly) Yolande Knell did just that.

Programme presenter Kate Adie set the scene (from 06:52 here), ironically ignoring the issue of the BBC’s weighty contribution to the phenomenon she described in her opening sentence.

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

Adie: “Jerusalem has rarely been out of the news this month since Donald Trump announced that the US now recognises the ancient holy city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. This week a large majority at the UN General Assembly backed a resolution effectively calling on Washington to reverse its decision – despite threats from Mr Trump to cut off aid to those voting in favour. The international view has long been that any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement. But what do ordinary Israelis and Palestinians think of all this? Yolande Knell has been to the Old City where she found plenty of food for thought.”

Notably, Adie failed to inform listeners that the resolution passed at the UN GA is non-binding and of course refrained from mentioning the absurdities that lie behind “the international view”.

Having set the scene with descriptions of Hanukkah donuts and sahlab, Knell got down to business.

Knell: “But I’m here to get a taste of public opinion. The future of the city, with its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is one of the most intractable issues in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict. High up in the Tower of David – an ancient citadel – I find Ayelet with her sons who are off school for the Jewish holiday. She praises Mr Trump as bold and honest, although her mother Yirat [phonetic] exclaims, ‘generally speaking we don’t need his statements. We’ve known for three thousand years that Jerusalem is ours’. Most Israelis say the same. Religiously and culturally they see the city as their eternal, undivided capital. And since the creation of the modern state, Jerusalem has been Israel’s seat of government and home to its supreme court.”

Knell then described the Old City – which of course includes the ancient Jewish Quarter – as ‘East Jerusalem’ while making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the relevant topic of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from that part of Jerusalem (and others) as a result of Jordan’s belligerent invasion in 1948.

Knell: “But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognized – a fact that pains Yirat and Ayelet. They hope the new US decision will lead to what they call more important steps. ‘We have to come here to look at the place where the story of Hanukkah happened’ says Yirat as she points across the Old City rooftops. ‘Over there; that’s Temple Mount’.”

Knell went on to put history supported by archaeological evidence on a par with religious belief.

Knell: “The site where two biblical temples are believed to have stood is the holiest place on earth for Jews. But it’s also the third holiest site for Muslims who believe the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven from the spot under the gleaming Dome of the Rock next to al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslims can visit but can’t pray in the compound.”

She then paraphrased her next Israeli opinion:

Knell: “It’s awareness of all these religious sensitivities that worries Rob, a British Israeli who’s also climbed the tower with his children.”

After a brief description of the Hanukkah story, Knell repeated a practice that has previously been seen on numerous occasions in BBC coverage of this story in recent weeks. Rather than informing listeners of the US Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 and its reaffirmation in the Senate just months ago, she portrayed the US president as having ‘gone rogue’.

Knell: “Rob doesn’t dismiss the idea that Mr Trump’s pronouncement on Jerusalem – breaking with decades of previous US policy – could end up being a turning point in the Middle East peace process. But at the same time he sees the president as ‘a bit wacky’ and warns his gesture could provoke Arab extremists.”

Knell continued, following the standard BBC formula of amplifying Palestinian claims even after audiences have been told that Israeli claims are null and void because the ‘international community’ says that “any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement”. The BBC’s repeated employment of that formula of course suggests to its audiences that recognition of Jewish sovereignty represents a ‘change in the status of Jerusalem’ while Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem do not.  

Knell: “Palestinians have reacted furiously to the change in the US position. They still want East Jerusalem as the capital of their desired future state and say that Washington can no longer claim to act as an honest peace broker. There have been protests and clashes with Israeli security forces across the Palestinian territories.”

Knell then moved on to Damascus Gate, again describing the food on sale nearby before bringing in the Palestinian side of “public opinion”.

Knell: “I ask Nasser, who’s carrying his prayer mat on the way back from al Aqsa, for his reaction to recent events. ‘Trump’s a crazy man’ he sighs ‘he says he wants to make peace but he’ll just make war’. ‘Jerusalem’s in our hearts’ he goes on ‘this is our land, it’s an Arab city. What about the rights of Muslims and Christians?'”

Knell of course did not bother to inform audiences that only under Israeli rule have all three religions been able to visit and worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. She went on:

Knell: “Another Palestinian I speak to, Dahlia [phonetic], is a Christian tour organiser who says she can trace her family’s presence in Jerusalem for centuries. She tells me she was disgusted but not surprised by the US president’s declaration.”

Notably, we next learn that – despite having failed to produce any meaningful reporting on the topic over the last weeks – Yolande Knell is aware of the incitement to violence coming from PA officials and various Palestinian factions.

Knell: “But she admits that despite her expectation that all hell would break loose, so far there hasn’t been anything like the uprising that some leaders were calling for. Her fear now is that regional alliances are shifting and that despite recent shows of support at the UN, the Palestinian nationalist cause is no longer an international priority – even for some of its traditional backers in the Middle East.”

Knell closed her item:

Knell: “Returning along the winding streets takes me away from modern politics. I find myself listening to a guide recounting stories of prophets, kings and caliphs of ages past to awe-struck tourists. What’s not yet clear is the extent to which Donald Trump will go down as an important name in the long, rich history of this holy city.”

For over three weeks the BBC has been promoting a monochrome – and hyperbolic – portrait of the story of the US announcement concerning Jerusalem that fails to provide audiences with the historical background necessary for full understanding of the issue, whitewashes US legislation that has existed for over two decades and promotes a partisan narrative. This item from Yolande Knell made no effort to get beyond that template and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with anything remotely different to what they have been hearing repeatedly since early December.