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

As already noted, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was again given over to the topic of the Gaza Strip.

The previous evening viewers of ‘News at Ten’ had seen Mishal Husain’s one-sided report on the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip – filmed a month earlier when she visited the territory – and the next morning Radio 4 listeners heard her present a total of over sixteen and a half minutes of similar content in two separate items, the second of which (from 2:09:59 here) included an interview with the Israeli ambassador to the UK and the recycling of an interview with an UNRWA official.

The first part of Husain’s introduction was previously discussed here. In line with BBC editorial policy throughout the past ten months, Husain continued to whitewash violent rioting, grenade, IED and shooting attacks as well as breaches of the border fence with her tepid portrayal of “protests”.

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

Husain: “2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. The United Nations says 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces over the course of the year. In the same period, says the UN, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and 137 injured. On the Palestinian side most of the deaths and injuries were connected to the weekly protests at the boundary fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Those protests are now in their tenth month and the number of injuries, including gunshots to the legs that often result in amputations, is causing an immense burden on Gaza’s already over-stretched medical facilities. Hospitals have been badly affected by the economic blockade maintained by Israel and on the other side by Egypt – they say for security reasons. That blockade, the lack of work, the collapsing economy of Gaza, was something we looked at when we reported from there last month. Here’s part of what Matthias Schmale, the most senior UN official in Gaza, told us.”

The counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip are not an “economic blockade” as claimed by Husain, who predictably avoided any explanation of the “security reasons” which brought about those measures.

Listeners then heard part of an item previously aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme and on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ on December 17th.

Schmale: “The disasters I have encountered were either natural – a tsunami, an earthquake – or man-made in terms of war. This is the first time I’m confronted with a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made as a result of the blockade. But if people had their own jobs and earned their own money, which they could have, we would not need to do this. Natural disasters are uncontrollable. This is controllable.”

Husain: “If there was a different security situation – Israel would say it’s not possible with the current reality, the current stance of Hamas towards it.”

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Once again listeners heard that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable [sic] safety” but with no mention made of the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip or the documented cases of Hamas’ abuse of travel permits issued to Gaza residents for terrorism purposes.

Husain: “Matthias Schmale speaking to me in an aid distribution centre in Gaza last month. And I’m joined in the studio by Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. […] Could you first answer that point from the UN? Why put an entire population of 2 million people into this basket of being a security risk to Israel?”

Despite Regev having detailed why Hamas is a “clear security risk” for Israel, Husain posed the same question again.

Husain: “Why put the entire population into the Hamas basket?”

Regev: “Well we don’t want to. We seek to differentiate. We don’t see the people of Gaza as our enemy. In many ways, like the people of southern Israel, they are the victims of Hamas violence.”

Husain: “You may not seek to but that is the effect of what the blockade does. It’s a blockade from the air, from the land, from the sea. Again, the point that the UN is making is that you could – the Israeli authorities could very easily allow at least some people to have work permits in Israel to go and earn a living for themselves and that income would make a significant difference to living conditions in Gaza.”

Husain of course skipped over ‘boring’ details such as the taxes that would potentially be paid to Hamas by such workers and the basic issue of the right of Israel to control its borders as any other country does.

Regev: “I think last year some 200,000 people crossed the borders between Israel and Gaza. Some 70% of that was for medical purposes but we are…we are interested in seeing the population go back and forth. From our point of view we want to see the people of Gaza have as normal as possible lives. The challenges…”

Husain [interrupts] “But that is not what’s happening.”

Regev: “The challenge is…that is a goal but at the same time we have to protect our people. And what does one do when you have a Hamas terrorist organisation that is committed to violence and terrorism. In this same last year – yes? – we had twelve hundred – one thousand two hundred – rockets, missiles, fired from Gaza into Israel. We had repeated attempts – as you reported* – to storm the border, to attack our people, to break into Israel, to enter our communities. You yourself interviewed Israelis on the border with Gaza who live in fear.”

Husain next made a thinly veiled reference to the notion of ‘collective punishment’.

Husain: “Indeed but overall you have been pretty successful – haven’t you? – in keeping people safe, in keeping Israeli civilians safe. What is happening in effect though through that is what arguably is the punishment of an entire people.”

Ambassador Regev then spoke about Hamas’ priorities, noting that “if they invested in schools and in hospitals, in the betterment of the life of the people in Gaza, it would be a totally different situation.”

Husain: “There is a considerable impact through the blockade on health facilities and that was shown…for example I did a report that ran last night on the ten o’clock news and you could see how medical facilities are suffering. Now I’m looking at an Israeli government list of the kinds of things that are prohibited in Gaza and they include significant things that would be incredibly important for the health care services. Scanning machines including X-ray machines are not allowed in Gaza. Instruments for physical and chemical analysis are not allowed in Gaza. Pumps intended for dirty water are not allowed in Gaza. Why are they not allowed?”

While we are not able to determine which list Husain was “looking at”, her claim that the items she cited are “prohibited” and “not allowed” does not hold water. The items mentioned by Husain appear on COGAT’s “List of “Dual Use” Items Requiring a Transfer License” which opens by stating that:

“The items delineated in this Decree are prohibited from transfer into the regions of Judea and Samaria, or the Gaza Strip, unless the relevant party has acquired a license.” [emphasis added]

In other words, those dual-use items and others can and do enter the Gaza Strip if the relevant permit is secured.

Given Husain’s claims, listeners could well have understood that there are no medical scanners or X-ray machines in the Gaza Strip. That of course is not the case.

“The spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced today, 19 July 2010, that the equipment for the USAID greenhouse project as well as medical equipment for Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were delivered to the Gaza Strip.

The medical equipment to Shifa Hospital includes a CT scanner and an X-ray machine donated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The transfer was coordinated by the Coordination & Liaison Administration in Gaza.”

A Reuters report from 2016 about the opening of a new hospital in the Gaza Strip includes the following:

“Umm Hashem, a mother bringing her 17-year-old daughter to the hospital to have a stomach problem examined, praised the new facility, saying it was long overdue.

“The best thing here is the X-ray machine,” she said, referring to the CT-scanner. “We used to go to Shifa hospital to get checked, but now we can do it here.””

In January 2018 the Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Sciences published a paper titled “Evaluation of advanced medical imaging services at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine”.

“Medical imaging services are the key tool to diagnose many diseases and have an important role in monitoring treatment and predicting outcome. The current study [was] conducted to evaluate advanced medical imaging services (CT and MRI) at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine.” 

So, while the situation of medical services in the Gaza Strip may be far from ideal, Mishal Husain’s promotion of the notion that scanners and X-rays are “prohibited” and “not allowed” is clearly inaccurate and materially misleading to listeners.

Regev then spoke about Hamas’ use of metal pipes for making rockets and the fact that dual-purpose items such as fertiliser and some types of medical equipment can be used for military purposes, stating:

“…as long as Hamas controls the hospitals – and they do – we have a problem with that sort of equipment going in. We have to protect our people.”

Husain: “Well some people who work in the hospitals are paid for by Hamas, some are paid for by the Palestinian Authority.”

Regev: “But they all live under the rule of Hamas.”

Husain: “The question is the impact of what you’re doing on the civilian population of Gaza. I mean for example there was a doctor who said to me that among the items that are considered dual use are the stains that are used for medical diagnosis. For example radiotherapy is barely available in Gaza. Chemotherapy is barely available in Gaza. The chances of a woman surviving breast cancer in Gaza after 5 years is half of the chance of an Israeli woman just across the boundary fence. This is the reality of the policies that you are pursuing and their impact.”

A relevant paper published in October 2018 states that:

“Five-year survival rates for breast cancer in Gaza are about 50%, compared with about 85% in the United States and Israel (including women referred to East Jerusalem). Part of this disparity is explained by a later stage at diagnosis, but limited therapeutic options also contribute.” 

That is not “half the chance of an Israeli woman” as claimed by Husain.

Regev: “I think you’d find that a large part of the shortages in Gaza hospitals are because the Hamas regime refuses to invest in its own medical facilities for its own people and prefers to invest in violence: digging tunnels, building missiles and so forth. That is the fundamental problem. I agree that on some issues because of our concerns – and I think they’re legitimate – on dual-use items we do place restrictions but the overwhelming problems facing the Gaza medical system is because of Hamas’ own policies.”

Husain then changed the topic of conversation – as will be seen in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

A significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to what appears to have become one of its presenters’ pet topic – the Gaza Strip.

The previous evening viewers of ‘News at Ten’ had seen Mishal Husain’s one-sided report on the healthcare system in Gaza – filmed a month earlier when she visited the territory – and the next morning Radio 4 listeners heard her present a total of over sixteen and a half minutes of similar content in two separate items.

Those two items will be discussed in upcoming posts but first let’s take a look at statements made by Mishal Husain near the beginning of both those items – from 37:13 and 2:09:59 here.

37: 13 Husain: “The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period.”

2:09:59 Husain: “2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. The United Nations says 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces over the course of the year. In the same period, says the UN, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and 137 injured. On the Palestinian side most of the deaths and injuries were connected to the weekly protests at the boundary fence that separates Gaza from Israel.”

First let’s examine the source of that information. Although Husain uses the terms “UN” and “United Nations”, the data specifically comes from a press release put out by the local branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which, as regular readers know, is a highly politicised and partisan organisation that has in the past used highly dubious methodology to produce reports on casualties in the Gaza Strip.

That UNOCHA press release states that 23,000 (79%) of the 29,000 people described by Mishal Husain as “injured by Israeli forces” sustained their injuries “in the context of Gaza’s ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations by the fence”. As we see on UNOCHA’s own data base its definition of injured means:

“…people who were physically hurt in a relevant incident and received medical treatment at a clinic or hospital, or by paramedic personnel on the site of the incident. This includes people who received treatment due to suffocation [sic] by tear gas.”

And indeed, according to the break-down titled “Injuries by type of weapon” appearing on that data base, the most frequent cause of those injuries is defined as “Tear Gas (inhalation)”.

Another point arising from that data – but airbrushed away from audience view by Husain – is UNOCHA’s admittance that some of the casualties were terrorists.

“At least 28 of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in 2018 were members of armed groups in Gaza…”

The figure cited by UNOCHA is considerably lower than that claimed by Hamas. As was noted here in May 2018:

“On the day of the violent events that prompted so much BBC coverage – May 14th – the Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that three of those killed belonged to its terror organisation. The following afternoon – May 15th – Hamas put out a ‘martyrdom poster’ for ten members of its internal security apparatus also killed in the May 14th incidents.

On the afternoon of May 16th reports emerged concerning an interview given by Hamas’ Salah Bardawil to a local TV channel.

“A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group, bringing the total number of known members of terror groups among the fatalities up to 53.

“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.

Questioned about the figures by the presenter, Bardawil said they were “official.”

“I am giving you an official figure. 50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas,” he said.””

Just as the BBC overwhelmingly avoided reporting that information at the time, it continues to have no place in the narrative promoted by Mishal Husain.

A report published by the ITIC two days before this Radio 4 broadcast went on air identifies 150 out of 187 Palestinians killed during the ‘Great Return March’ rioting between March 30th 2018 and January 16th 2019 as being linked to terror organisations – i.e. 80%. Of those 150, ninety-six (52%) were affiliated with Hamas and 45 of those (i.e. 24% of all the fatalities) were operatives in Hamas’ military wing.

An additional piece of information in that UNOCHA press release likewise exposes the motivations behind Husain’s framing.  Again relating to “Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in 2018” the report states that:

“…another 15 were perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.”

In other words, while encouraging audiences to compare the number of Palestinians killed in “the worst year…since the Gaza conflict of 2014” with the number of Israelis killed “in the same period”, Husain airbrushed away the fact that some of the Palestinians killed were in the process of carrying out the very attacks in which some of those Israelis were murdered and concealed the fact that a high proportion of those killed during the ‘Great Return March’ were affiliated with the terrorist groups that instigated, organised, financed and facilitated that violent rioting.

The obviously significant connection between “the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014” and the fact that Palestinians chose in 2018 to engage in terrorism and weekly violent mass rioting has of course no place in the politically motivated framing advanced by Mishal Husain.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past BBC interviewee on antisemitism gets jail term for antisemitic incitement

Long-time readers may recall that five years ago both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as a ‘free speech’ issue:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

That ‘Newsnight’ report included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”. BBC audiences were told nothing of Soral’s far-Right affiliations and record of antisemitism before they heard him whitewashing the antisemitism of his “close friend” by means of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

In April 2017 Soral was featured in an article about the French elections on the BBC News website with readers told that “what makes him so controversial are the anti-Semitic views he is accused of peddling – under the guise of “anti-Zionism” – on his hugely successful website” and that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.”

Last week the man the BBC found it appropriate to interview on the subject of antisemitism was sentenced to a year in prison.

“A French court on Thursday sentenced far-right Holocaust denier Alain Soral to one year in prison for insulting a magistrate and making anti-Semitic comments on his website.

On the site, which is called “Equality and Reconciliation,” Soral wrote that Jews “are manipulative, domineering and hateful.”

Soral, 60, has been convicted multiple times of incitement to hatred over a constant stream of anti-Semitic comments over the years.”

While this latest conviction will come as no surprise to those familiar with Soral, five years on it is still unclear how BBC editors could have been so uninformed as to consider the airing of his antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his “close friend” to be any kind of contribution to audience understanding of antisemitism.

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

Last week we noted the unsatisfactory response we received from BBC Complaints concerning an inaccurate claim made in the December 26th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’.

Listeners to that programme were told by presenter Jonny Dymond that:

“More than 200 million Christians are at risk of persecution around the world – a number that has risen sharply over the past few decades according to the Foreign Office. In Christianity’s home – the Middle East – the numbers speak for themselves. Four fifths of Iraq’s Christians have fled or been killed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories as those following other religions have grown sharply in number, the Christian population has shrunk. Today the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review into the persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they get from the UK.” [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

As stated BBC Watch submitted a second complaint and the reply received (also by complainant Mr Stephen Franklin) includes the following:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.
 
It was our intention to say that the figures within the region have been in decline over the last few decades, which is accurate, but on reflection we can see that that [sic] the way the script was worded meant listeners could have understood that we were referring to the present day state of Israel.
 
We have added a clarification to our Correction and Clarifications page to acknowledge the point: https://www.bbc.co.uk/helpandfeedback/corrections_clarifications

That clarification reads as follows:

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

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

Last month the BBC aired reports from the Gaza Strip presented by Radio 4’s Mishal Husain which included multiple references to issues concerning water, electricity and sewage.

As was noted here at the time:

“…listeners heard that “more than 90% of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water” and that “the desalination system in Gaza has broken down” because of “electricity”. No effort was made to clarify the full background to those statements or to explain that – as the BBC knows – the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip (and resulting problems with water and sewage) has nothing to do with “the blockade”.”

The portrayal of those issues focused mainly on framing them as being primarily attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures while no effort was made to explain the role of Hamas terrorism in bringing about those measures. The effects of Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare, its chronic mismanagement of services and utilities and infrastructure and the influence of the Hamas-Fatah split on the situation in the Gaza Strip were not adequately explained in the BBC’s reporting.

Like other BBC reporters before her, Mishal Husain did not bother to clarify that the “shortage of clean water” in the Gaza Strip is the result of years of over-pumping.

“The coastal aquifer, which is located under the coastal plain of Israel and the Gaza Strip, is the only source of natural water in Gaza. Due to rapid population growth, which in the last decade increased from nearly 1.5 million in 2007 to more than 2 million today, the demand for water in the Gaza Strip has surged. The increased water needs alongside the scarcity of alternative sources of water have led to the extreme over use of the aquifer. While the renewable extraction rate for Gaza’s underground aquifer is about 60 million cubic meters of rain water annually, Palestinians in Gaza have been drawing an estimated 200 million cubic meters a year for over a decade, leading to the infiltration of sea-water into the aquifer, and therefore raising the levels of salinity far beyond WHO health regulations.”

Neither were BBC audiences informed of the effects of Hamas’ failure to address the issue of sewage treatment.

“Gaza’s groundwater has also been extensively contaminated by sewage. The discharge of untreated sewage generated by the two million inhabitants into shallow ponds – which eventually percolates into the aquifer – has caused alarming levels of Nitrate (NO3).”

The chronic electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip, which was exacerbated in 2017 by the Palestinian Authority’s dispute with Hamas, also contributed to the problem.

“Wastewater plants are not fully operating, resulting in more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw or poorly treated sewage being discharged into the sea on a daily basis.”

Notably BBC audiences have heard nothing whatsoever about the health and environmental hazards created by the increased draining of sewage from neighbourhoods in the northern Gaza Strip since summer 2017 into a stream which crosses into Israeli territory. That practice continues and an additional hazard has emerged.

“Due to the dire economic situation in Gaza, the wastewater plant cannot undergo the needed treatments, prompting Palestinians living in the northern neighborhoods of the Strip—Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia—to drain sewage into Nahal Hanun, which crosses Israel and empties into the sea, polluting the groundwater in the process.

In order to stop wastewater flow and reduce the environmental damage, the [Israeli] Water Authority has recently set up a pumping station near the Erez border crossing, which effectively made Israel responsible for water purification of the northern Gaza Strip. Before the Israeli intervention, the moshavim and kibbutzim near the border—Netiv HaAsara, Erez, Yad Mordechai, and Zikim—suffered from a continuous onslaught of mosquitoes and flies. […]

As well as that, massive piles of trash have accumulated in the area bordering the Eshkol Regional Council after three giant landfills were set up along the border fence, leaving the locals to cope with a putrid and toxic smell being carried by the wind across the border. 

The landfills are derelict as dry and wet waste gets mixed up and subsequently burned, increasing the environmental impact.”

BBC reporting on the subject of shortages of water and electricity in the Gaza Strip and the related issue of inadequate sewage treatment nevertheless continues to adhere to the type of framing seen in an edition of ‘Hardtalk’ aired on multiple BBC platforms in November 2018 in which presenter Stephen Sackur told the Israeli minister being interviewed: [emphasis added]

“…you’re saying that Israel’s besieging tactics in Gaza – the fact that Gaza doesn’t really have power supplies that work, it doesn’t have clean water, it has a jobless rate of 60% or more – you’re saying all of this isn’t tough enough; that Israel should be hammering Gaza harder. Is that it?”

Although BBC audiences have long been steered towards the inaccurate view that (as also claimed by Hamas) all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures, while the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in creating and exacerbating the crisis are downplayed or airbrushed from the story, that framing clearly does not meet the BBC’s obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”. 

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

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An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

On January 13th the IDF announced that with the discovery of a sixth tunnel, it had completed the mission to expose the tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror organisation Hizballah which passed under the international border, infiltrating Israeli territory.

“The tunnel, which had been dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), was the most important one detected since the operation began in December, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

According to him, the stairs were built in the tunnel which contained “railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting equipment and ladders to enter Israeli territory. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel.”

With the latest tunnel discovered and its destruction in the coming days, he added, “the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated.” […]

While the military announced the end of the operation, it noted that it “is simultaneously monitoring several locations where Hezbollah is digging underground structures which have yet to cross into Israel.””

With Operation Northern Shield now coming to an end, this is an appropriate time to review the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of that story throughout the six weeks of the mission.

The story of an internationally recognised terrorist group tunneling under an international border into a neighbouring country with the intention of carrying out a large-scale attack actually got remarkably little BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports throughout the six-week operation:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

Listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard two reports on the same days:

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels December 4th 2018

Razia Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”

Razia Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701 December 19th 2018

The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audiences heard one report the day after the story broke:

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701 December 5th 2018

Ritula Shah: “UN Security Council 1701, by the way, called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hizballah back in 2006.”

Ritula Shah: “Mr Netanyahu’s critics argue that he’s using the discovery of the tunnels to bolster his image at a time when his governing coalition is faltering and he faces mounting legal problems.”

In addition to Razia Iqbal’s unwarranted questioning of the purpose of the tunnels and the promotion by both her and Ritula Shah of the baseless notion that the operation was motivated by political considerations, audiences saw three main characteristics throughout the BBC’s reporting on this story.

In all but the first BBC News website report – where the information was added later – audiences were not given an accurate portrayal of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by numerous countries and bodies. The subject of Iran’s funding and supplying of the terror organisation was grossly downplayed in the two written articles and ignored in the three audio reports.

In all of the reports the crucially relevant topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 was either completely ignored or inadequately presented. Not one of the five BBC reports gave audiences an accurate explanation of that resolution or how it has been repeatedly violated by Hizballah for over twelve years. Moreover, in the second BBC WS radio report listeners were inaccurately led to believe that the only violation of that resolution comes in the form of tunnels that cross into Israeli territory.

Relatedly, BBC audiences were not given the full picture of the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to identify cross-border tunnels dug over a significant period of time literally under its nose and its serial failure to prevent violations of the UNSC resolution. In the second BBC WS radio report a UNIFIL spokesman’s statements went unchallenged.

Martin Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Not only was it suggested to audiences in forty percent of the BBC’s reporting that Operation Northern Shield was actually a cynical politically motivated exercise but the corporation failed throughout six whole weeks to produce even one item which would provide its funding public with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of the story of a complex operation which, had it been managed and executed less efficiently, could have sparked a major conflict.

Related Articles:

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More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

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A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

 

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

In late December we noted that listeners to an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ had been told by presenter Jonny Dymond that:

“More than 200 million Christians are at risk of persecution around the world – a number that has risen sharply over the past few decades according to the Foreign Office. In Christianity’s home – the Middle East – the numbers speak for themselves. Four fifths of Iraq’s Christians have fled or been killed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories as those following other religions have grown sharply in number, the Christian population has shrunk. Today the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review into the persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they get from the UK.” [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Dymond’s inaccurate claim that “in Israel…the Christian population has shrunk” which, nine days later, we were informed would take more time to address. Nearly two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a response from BBC Complaints which includes the following:

“We understand you feel Jonny Dymond falsely stated that the Christian population has shrunk in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The information was clearly flagged up as being Israel and the Palestinian Territories because they are and were the best comparable figures to use to make a comparison between now and pre- Second World War – there was prior to the Declaration (and War) of Independence no administrative unit known as ‘Israel’, only the combined territory of the Ottoman and Mandate units known generally as Palestine, subdivided at times, what is now bits of Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel.

To get as long as possible time frame on the Christian decline in the region that was the administrative unit we chose.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint clarifying that the original one related solely to Dymond’s statement concerning Israel, that the time frame presented was “the past few decades” rather than “between now and pre- Second World Warand that seeing as listeners would have reasonably understood that Dymond was referring to Israel rather than “Ottoman and Mandate units” which were not mentioned at all, a correction is still in order.   

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2018

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 reporting on that topic in 2018?

The year opened with listeners to BBC Radio 5 live on January 1st hearing a gratuitous and baseless comparison of Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa and being repeatedly told that a singer had made the “right” call by giving in to pressure from supporters of a campaign that the BBC presenter made no effort whatsoever to the explain properly.

Radio 5 live item promotes apartheid analogy, breaches style guide

A week later listeners to BBC World Service heard an item which dealt specifically with the subject of the BDS campaign, but once again the BBC did not provide audiences with the clear picture of its aims that they have lacked for years. Rather, in addition to providing an inaccurate definition of the campaign’s goals himself, the presenter allowed his interviewee to promote inaccurate statements and claims with no challenge.

BDS campaigner’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC World Service

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

In April the BBC News website published a report about an Irish BDS supporter in which it used the ‘Israel says’ formula to preface an explanation of the BDS campaign and the subject’s links to it.

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

In May listeners to BBC World Service radio heard promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences – and the ‘apartheid trope from a Palestinian interviewee.

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

Also in May the BBC News website published a report concerning an employee of a political NGO involved in boycott activities, 25% of which was given over to sympathetic statements.

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

The same month listeners to BBC Radio Ulster heard BDS messaging from a studio guest.

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

In early June the BBC News website failed to adequately portray the role played by BDS campaigners’ threats in the cancellation of a football match.

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

In August the BBC News website reported a business story while avoiding any mention of its own amplification of a related BDS campaign four years earlier.

BBC News website’s SodaStream report sidesteps its own previous reporting

In September the BBC News website reported the cancellation of a singer’s performance in Israel and once again made use of the ‘Israel says’ formula.

BBC’s BDS campaign reporting failures continue

Later the same month the BBC News website published a report that included promotion of the ‘apartheid’ smear and amplification of the BDS campaign.

BBC News continues to mainstream BDS and the ‘apartheid’ smear

A BBC News website report published in October erased the participation of BDS campaigners from an account of a ‘tolerance rally’.

Looking beyond the BBC Berlin correspondent’s framing

In November the BBC News website produced inadequate reporting about a boycott campaign initiated by political NGOs.

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Later the same month listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard an inadequate report on Quaker support for the BDS campaign.

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ highlights Quaker hypocrisy but still fails listeners

Once again on no occasion throughout 2018 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.

The fact that on two occasions in 2018 we saw the BBC News website telling readers that “Israel says the BDS movement opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism” does not mean that the story has been reported accurately and impartially.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2017

 

 

 

No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

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

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

Related Articles:

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

Reviewing the sourcing of BBC Radio 4 December 26 news bulletins

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on December 26th heard some interestingly sourced news bulletins concerning an alleged Israeli attack on sites in Syria late on the evening of December 25th. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Among the headlines at the start of BBC Radio 4’s December 26th “Midnight News” programme was:

Israel has attacked a weapons site in Syria and says it’s intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards its territory.”

There was however no confirmation at that stage of that highlighted claim.

Later on (from 02:31 here) listeners were told that:

Newsreader: “Syria says its air defences have intercepted missiles fired by Israeli aircraft close to the capital Damascus but it acknowledged that an arms dump had been hit. Youssef Taha has more details.”

Taha: “A Syrian military official said that most of the missiles were brought down before they reached their targets but he acknowledged that a weapons dump near Damascus was hit. Video footage shown on state media showed an object moving over the city being intercepted and then the sound of a loud explosion followed by a burst of artillery shelling. Israel confirmed the attack and said it later activated its air defence system to bring down a Syrian missile. Israel has on numerous occasions targeted Iranian and Hizballah sites in Syria that it regards as threats to its own security. An Israeli army spokesman said there were no injuries among Israeli troops and no damage.”

Contrary to the claim from Youssef Taha that “Israel confirmed the attack”, at that stage – a few minutes after midnight UK time on December 26th – Israel had not confirmed anything of the sort and in fact no official statement has been made to date. The only Israeli announcement at that stage concerned the activation of an aerial defence system “in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria“.

As we see Taha’s newsgathering was based entirely on unverified claims made by the Syrian military and Syrian state media – neither of which is renowned for its honesty and accuracy.

Despite the absence of official confirmation from Israel, later that morning listeners to a news bulletin broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were likewise told that (from 02:53 here):

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked an arms depot near Damascus. It said it had also intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards Israeli territory. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

The IDF statement did not actually include the word ‘intercepted’ in either Hebrew or English but Knell went on to repeat that claim.

Knell: “Syrian air defences shot down missiles fired by Israeli war planes from Lebanese air space according to the official Syrian news agency. But it says that an arms depot was damaged by an Israeli strike. The Israeli military declined to comment on the report but said that Israel’s aerial defence system had intercepted a rocket launched from Syria. Israel has previously carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah, the Iranian backed Lebanese militant group.”

Once again BBC newsgathering consisted of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media and the same unreliable source was quoted in a news bulletin aired in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ (from 04:22 here) on the afternoon of the same day.

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked a weapons storage site near the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian state media says three soldiers were injured. Reports say that two suspicious cargo planes bound for Iran had taken off from Damascus just before the airstrikes. The Israeli military hasn’t commented but says its air defences intercepted a missile fired from Syria last night. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying over southern Lebanon fired missiles at targets near Damascus according to the official Syrian state news agency. It says most were shot down but an arms depot was damaged. Israeli media say that 2 Iranian planes bound for Tehran left Damascus airport just before and at around the time of the airstrikes. Reports have previously linked their airlines to weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. The Israeli military has only confirmed that its air defences intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria after the time of the reported air raids. Israel has previously said it struck some 200 targets in Syria over the past 2 years, saying it acts to stop Iranian entrenchment and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah.”

A news bulletin in the radio 4 programme ‘PM’ (from 03:19 here) on the afternoon of the same day promoted claims from a source which – like official Syrian media and the Syrian military – had been shown to have repeatedly lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in recent years.

Newsreader: “Russia says that 2 passenger planes were directly threatened last night by Israeli airstrikes on Syria. The defence ministry in Moscow said that the endangered flights had been landing in Damascus and Beirut. Israeli war planes damaged an arms depot near Damascus and wounded three soldiers. Israel hasn’t commented.”

On the evening of December 26th the same unverified claim was amplified in a news bulletin aired in the Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 03:20 here).

Newsreader: “Russia says an Israeli missile strike on targets in Syria last night directly threatened 2 civilian planes. The Russian foreign ministry described the attack as a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty. In the past Israel has acknowledged carrying out 200 missile strikes in Syria over 2 years with the aim of stopping Iran entrenching itself in the country and preventing advanced weapons reaching the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Kell.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying in Lebanese air space targeted an arms storage site near Damascus according to the official Syrian news agency. Russia’s defence ministry says 14 of the 16 missiles they fired were shot down and that Israel’s actions threatened 2 passenger planes, one landing in Beirut and the other in the Syrian capital. Israel’s military hasn’t commented on the reports but said that its air defences had intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria. Relations between Israel and Russia became strained in September when Syria shot down a Russian military plane during an Israeli airstrike, killing 15 people on board. Afterwards Russia announced that it had delivered its advanced S300 air defence system to Syria despite Israel and the US urging it not to.”

Late on the evening of December 26th the AP news agency published what it said was confirmation of the strikes in Syria – and a response to the Russian claims – from an anonymous “Israeli security official”.

However as we see, the BBC’s presentation of the story during the first 24 hours after it broke was primarily based on statements put out by official Syrian and Russian sources which the BBC repeated unquestioningly without independent verification.

Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news bulletins.

Related Articles:

BBC News recycles seven month-old misinformation

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

BBC News website promotes an ‘Israeli attack’ that wasn’t

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda