Sunday morning political propaganda on BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio Scotland has a programme called “Sunday Morning with…” which is described as providing listeners with “Two hours of music and stimulating conversation from a faith and ethical perspective”.

The August 11th edition of that programme included an item billed in its synopsis thus:

“Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson live in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. They’re both writers and campaign for Palestinian civil and political rights. They talk to Sally about their writing and their life together.”

The hook for that item was the couple’s participation in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with links to a site selling tickets provided on the programme’s webpage and those links promoted by presenter Sally Magnusson at the end of the item.

However what listeners mostly heard throughout the twelve-minute item (from 1:08:30 here) was political propaganda which went totally unchallenged by the presenter even though – as the synopsis and her introduction showed – the BBC is well aware of the fact that both interviewees are political campaigners.

Although the BBC Academy’s style guide on Israel and the Palestinians clearly states that “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today” and “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” because “it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”, listeners heard both Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson repeatedly refer to “Palestine” with no comment from Magnusson.

“You know in Palestine we don’t get rain from April until November…”

“Well we met in Palestine…”

“I came to Palestine…”

Having asked Johnson about what she termed their “intifada wedding” – because it took place in 1988 – Magnusson went on:

Magnusson: “And just remind us; the, you know, the intifada – of which there have been more than one of course – tell us…tell us about…about that.”

Unsurprisingly, listeners heard whitewashed and romanticised accounts of those two periods of intense Palestinian violence.

Johnson: “Well the first intifada which was mass civil resistance, pretty much led by the young but involving everybody. The second intifada was violence-racked: a very difficult period and a very difficult time, a very difficult kind of struggle. So if it’s the first intifada we probably go back to, sometimes perhaps with maybe too much nostalgia but also with all the lessons we learned.”

Shehadeh: “There was so much hope during the first intifada that we were building a new society, that we were coming to an end of the conflict through negotiations and indeed the first intifada did lead to the negotiations. But unfortunately the outcome of these negotiations was not good and we’re still suffering that terrible outcome.”

With no clarification of the fact that the premeditated second intifada put paid to any positive outcome to those negotiations, listeners next heard Magnusson claim that Ramallah – which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 – is “occupied”.

Magnusson: “And indeed your latest book, Raja, ‘Going Home’, is a kind of homage to Ramallah after fifty years of Israeli occupation and a reflection on what it’s meant.”

The nineteen-year-long Jordanian occupation of Ramallah was of course not mentioned in the conversation but listeners did hear that the scarcity of gardens in the city can be blamed on Israel, despite the city having been under PA control for nearly a quarter of a century.

Shehadeh: “…Ramallah used to be very attractive with houses with gardens. Almost every house had a garden around it and now having a garden is a great luxury and there are no open spaces because of the restrictions that the Israelis have put. It’s very crowded and people build high up – high rises – rather than having houses that are surrounded by open space and a garden.”

Listeners later heard Magnusson opine that “home of course has been a complicated and agonising matter for you, as for every Palestinian, over the years…” before going on to ask Johnson about her book’s claim that “the lives of animals help us to understand what’s happening to the humans in the West Bank”.

Johnson: “…we used to walk in the valleys near Ramallah and one of the heart-lifting sights was always a mountain gazelle picking her way up the olive groves. Those gazelles are largely gone and they are now endangered; on the red list of endangered species. But what I think we share is both a common life and a common fate. We share a frightening loss of habitat because in the 61% of the West Bank that is Area C and under Israeli control and the home of a hundred settlements, the shepherds and their flocks and the villages that they live in are not…it’s not their own development. It’s not Palestinian development. It is restrictions because of a land grab. Of a grab of water, grab of grazing land. And a desire to get the Palestinians out.”

The mountain gazelle (which suffered from reduced numbers in the mid-1980s due to foot and mouth disease) is not on the WWF 2019 list of endangered species but it does appear on a “red list” drawn up by an organisation called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The factors cited by the scientist who recommended the gazelle’s inclusion on that list four years ago include construction, paving of roads and erection of fences as well as growth in the number of predators and feral dogs. Those factors are of course not limited to what the three participants in this item call the West Bank: the gazelle’s numbers have also fallen elsewhere.

Magnusson made no effort to challenge her interviewee’s equally tendentious claims of “a land grab”, “grab of water” and “a desire to get the Palestinians out”.

Listeners next heard Shehadeh complain about rising urbanisation during the past two and a half decades.

Shehadeh: “We were so fortunate until the mid-90s to be able to leave our home and just immediately be walking in the hills away from the noise of cars and people and take long walks as we like without encountering any difficulties and any settlements. And this is mainly gone now. If we want to walk we have to take the car to a distant place to start a walk and then we often encounter settlers and settlements and problems and it’s not the same as it used to be so we had a golden period in the 70s and 80s that we often reminisce about…”

In fact the Israeli communities in the vicinity of Ramallah – for example Beit El, Psagot and Kochav Ya’akov – were established during that “golden period” of the 70s and 80s and – as the BBC well knows – construction of new communities did not take place after the Oslo Accords were signed.

Magnusson then gave the cue for some overt political comment:

Magnusson: “What’s your sense of the political situation now and where might it be heading next?”

Shehadeh: “It’s a very difficult time now because of, you know, the American government is giving Israel a carte blanche to do whatever it wants and the Israeli government, which is dominated by settlers, is taking that licence to grab as much land as it can and destroy as much of the landscape and the beauty of the landscape by building more and more settlements.”

Not only is the currently inactive cabinet not “dominated by settlers” but Shehadeh’s allegations of ‘land grabs’ and “building more and more settlements” – along with a subsequent claim that Israel makes “attempts at making [Palestinian] people leave” – are patently false.

Magnusson however again failed to make any effort whatsoever to challenge those blatant falsehoods and closed the item shortly afterwards with yet another misleading reference to “fifty years of occupation”.

In short, BBC Radio Scotland audiences heard twelve minutes of entirely predictable yet totally unquestioned political propaganda which not only failed to “help people understand” the subject matter but actively hindered that BBC obligation.

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Four reports from BBC Scotland tell false story about ‘Israeli discrimination’

Back in September the BBC News website misrepresented a domestic Israeli story about a budget disagreement between the Ministry of Education and institutions in the private schools sector. As was noted here at the time:Christian schools story

“So the take-away message in this article is very clear: readers are given to understand […] that there is discrimination against Christian Arabs in Israel in the form of lower funding for their schools in comparison to Jewish schools.”

As we also documented, the story in fact has nothing to do with discrimination.

“This story actually began in May 2013 when the Ministry of Education announced across the board budget cuts. Some of those cuts were made to the budgets of state schools and in addition, the Ministry of Education informed approximately 250 other schools of cuts to certain clauses of funding. Those schools are not state schools: they are private institutions categorized as ‘recognised but not official’ and they include, for example, some Jewish religious schools, some Christian schools, some Muslim schools and some schools from the Anthroposophic (Waldorf) and Democratic streams. In 2014 a petition from a number of those schools was heard by the Supreme Court – details of that case can be found here (Hebrew).

Whilst one can of course debate the issue of those budget cuts to the non-state school sector, what is clear is that they were made to private schools of many differing types in accordance with their classification and not – as overwhelmingly implied in this BBC article – because of the religion or ethnicity of their pupils.

In other words, the BBC has misrepresented this story in order to promote the false impression of discrimination against Christian Arabs by the State of Israel.”

Three months on, BBC Scotland has resurrected that inaccurate claim in a series of well-promoted reports by Fiona Walker.BBC Scotland written

An article which appeared on the Scotland and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on December 18th under the title “The Christian school in Israel described as ‘an oasis’” (and by the way, that description comes from an official of the organisation running the school) informs readers that: [all emphasis added]

“Father Abdel Masih F Fahim represents Christian Schools in Israel. […]

Fr Abdel says funding to Christian schools from the Israeli government has been cut from 75% to 29% in recent years. He describes that as discrimination against Christians.

Fr Abdel is in talks with the Ministry of Education but says even 75% is discriminatory against 100% given to state schools.”

Further comment from the Middle East secretary for the Church of Scotland, Kenny Roger, is supplied:

“Although discussions with the Israeli government are showing signs of hope, he says he feels Christians are being marginalised.”

This report includes a response to those claims from the Israeli government – although one which BBC audiences would be likely to have difficulty understanding unless they had prior knowledge of the Israeli education system.

“The Israeli Ministry of Education said: “The Tabeetha school is under the status of a ‘recognised but not official’ institute, and therefore it is funded like all other schools in Israel that are recognised but unofficial, meaning up to 75%.

“High-schools are funded like all other high-schools in Israel, at a rate of 100%.””BBC Scotland filmed

However, a filmed version of Walker’s report – apparently shown on BBC 2 and also posted on the BBC News website’s Scotland page under the title “Israel’s last Scottish faith school teaching tolerance” – did not include a response from the Israeli Ministry of Education.

“But there are concerns for the future. The funding the school receives from the Israeli government has been cut dramatically. The Church sees that as discrimination against Christians.”

“We invited the Israeli government to respond but haven’t received a reply.”

Obviously a reply was received because it appears in the written version of the report published on the same day as the filmed item.

Two audio versions of Fiona Walker’s report were broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme on December 18th (at 01:42:00 here) and on December 20th (at 01:30:56 here).

In the earlier programme listeners heard presenter Gary Roberts state in his introduction that “the school has become embroiled in religious regional politics” and Walker repeated that inaccurate messaging.

FW: “Tabeetha has become embroiled in the religious politics too. There have been Christian-run schools in the area for four centuries but the funding the school gets from the Israeli government has been cut drastically over recent years. Discussions with the government are ongoing but Kenny Roger at the Church of Scotland says their actions amount to discrimination against Christians.”

Listeners then hear Rogers say:

We are being marginalized. Whether the word is discrimination, whether the word is marginalized, at the end of the day the Christian schools were not being given and are not being given the same funding as the other schools…”

With regard to the school’s multi-cultural ethos, Rogers goes on to claim that “by the funding difficulties, the message we get [from the Israeli government] is that doesn’t matter”.

Walker also tells listeners to this report that “we invited the Israeli government to respond but haven’t received a reply” even though the written version of the report published on the same day includes that reply.BBC Scotland audio 2

In the much longer version of the report broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on December 20th the Israeli government response appears right at the end of the item. In the introduction to the item listeners are told that:

“The school has also become embroiled in the region’s politics with questions over funding causing staff to strike at the start of the academic year.”

They later hear versions of the same messaging found in the three previous reports.

Walker: “…there’s also a funding issue and it’s not just Tabeetha school which is affected.”

Fr. Abdel Masih Fahim: “The Israeli government gives every recognized school money to teach the official curriculum. That has historically been 75% of the costs but that has changed. […] Every year they cut some budget until we arrive at 29% of the right of the student. I see it like discrimination and not equal. So we are looking for equality with other students in the official schools in the system, in the rights of the teachers, in the rights of the schools and in the budget.”

Kenny Roger: “Whether the word is discrimination, whether the word is marginalized, at the end of the day the Christian schools are not being given the same funding as the other schools and that therefore causes a problem […] And so I think by the funding difficulties we still face the message we get [from the Israeli government] is that [multicultural ethos] doesn’t matter.”

Fr. Fahim: “We are in a Jewish state – what it means? Jewish state is only for Jewish people? Or Jewish state for everybody – Israeli state, Israeli…eh….Israeli….eh….country. So Jewish state it means Jewish can be here. And all others – Christians and Muslims – will be guests. But they are [unintelligible] from here; they are native of this land.”

FW: “So what message do you think the Israeli government is giving about their treatment of Christians and multi-faith organisations?”

Fr Fahim: “I was feeling that since we are minority we are treated like that.”

There are plenty of additional issues arising from these four reports including repeated evidence-free claims about discrimination against the Church of Scotland’s pupils at a choral event at the Presidential residence and a youth being apprehended for wearing a gold necklace. Kenny Roger’s promotion of the inaccurate notion of “1967 borders” in the second audio report is not challenged by Walker and neither are the simplistic attempts to portray Zionism and the Balfour Declaration as the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict by a Church of Scotland official.

The producers of this programme apparently did not find it inappropriate to promote the opinions of the same official – BDS supporter Rev. Páraic Réamonn – as he twice laid out his vision for a foreign country with more than a whiff of offensive and anachronistic British colonialism.

“Within the walls of the school we try to model the kind of community that we would like to see in this country. We would like to see Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, living at peace with each other in a way that is fair and equitable and honest. But when the kids go out of the school or when they finish school they find themselves in a society that isn’t like that.”

Remarkably, whilst all four of these reports heavily promote the Church of Scotland and its views, at no point are BBC audiences told of that church’s political agenda relating to Israel and Judaism or made aware of the past controversies arising from that agenda.

But the central issue with all these four reports is that they blatantly misrepresent a disagreement about funding in order to promote the false – and politically motivated – notion of deliberate discrimination against Christians by the Israeli government.  Clearly readers, viewers and listeners to these four reports need to be provided with a swift correction to the inaccurate impressions they have been fed.

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Themes in BBC reporting on the Paris terror attacks

As we noted here the other day, BBC reporting on the Paris terror attacks has been notable for its tendency to avoid of any meaningful discussion of the actual issue of Islamist extremism and instead, audience attentions have been deflected towards a variety of other themes.

Some BBC content amplified the erroneous notion that Charlie Hebdo is a racist magazine. For example, this clip – broadcast on Radio 5 live’s Breakfast programme on January 11th – was also promoted separately on social media.

Themes CH 1

In the January 9th edition of the BBC World Service’s ‘The World This Week’ (available as a podcast here) presenter Emily Buchanan was joined by French journalists Agnes Poirier and Nabila Ramdani. Buchanan’s introduction to the item indicates that she was well aware of the fact that just hours before her broadcast, four people had been killed in a terror attack on a Jewish target.

“The funeral bells of Notre Dame Cathedral tolled in the rain for the twelve people shot dead in and near the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; gunned down on Wednesday by men shouting Islamist slogans. The attack was, they shouted, revenge for the magazine’s insults to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The killings sent shock waves around France and beyond. [….] France went on maximum alert. The security forces identified the suspects as two brothers of Algerian descent who had a long history of links to extremist groups. After a two-day man hunt police eventually ran them to ground at a print works outside Paris. The brothers died in a hail of bullets. A hostage they’d taken survived. Meanwhile, in an apparently linked attack, another gunman who had already killed a policewoman took more hostages inside a kosher supermarket. In a dramatic simultaneous assault, he too died but so did at least four of his hostages, though a number survived.”

Nevertheless, Buchanan’s first question/statement to Ramdani was:

“And Nabila Ramdani; the impact on the Muslim community must be profound.”

There was no discussion in the programme of the impact on the Jewish community which had lost four of its members just hours earlier. Buchanan went on to provide Ramdani with an opening for promotion of the notion of Charlie Hebdo as a ‘racist’ publication.

Buchanan: “But Nabila, I mean, amongst many in the Muslim community those cartoons were seen as very offensive weren’t they? And I mean some people may even have said that they were racist.”

Ramdani used the cue to tell listeners that:

“It had faced criticisms in the past for dressing up racism as satire. There was a fair amount of racism lurking behind the magazine.”

In response to Agnes Poirier’s attempt to refute that labelling, Ramdani went on to make the baseless claim that:

“Islam was particularly what Charlie Hebdo had it in for…”

Obviously the focus on this misleading theme contributed nothing to informed audience understanding of the magazine itself or the real motives behind the terror attack.

Another theme heavily promoted in BBC content was that of the terror attacks being attributable to radicalization prompted by socio-economic factors and alienation. One example of that came in a programme which perhaps flies under the radar of many readers – BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Sunday Morning’. The January 11th edition of that show – presented by Ricky Ross – included discussion of the Paris terror attacks (from 01:01:10 here) with Nabila Ramdani once again and also with Alison Phipps – Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow and a member of the Kairos Document supporting Iona Community.Themes CH 2

That item is too long to transcribe here in full but notably its focus was on the attack against Charlie Hebdo, with no specific mention of the targeting of the Jewish supermarket two days before this broadcast and hence Nabila Ramdani was able to tell listeners that “the element of surprise came because Paris has been remarkably free of terrorist incidents over the past, you know, so many decades…”.

The context of antisemitic attacks and incitement in Paris and elsewhere in France was hence concealed from listeners. Audiences did however get a hefty dose of misguided PC messaging from Alison Phipps, who equated the Paris attacks with the 1996 Dunblane attack in Scotland and the Breivik attacks in Norway.

“I think the problem here is the problem of violence and the problem of violence produced out of despair and anger and fear. I think it’s easy to move into debates about a clash of civilisations or religions but actually to me that feels intellectually a bit lazy really….”

“We see violence occurring in the context of Europe and this being not something that’s coming particularly out of any religious motivation or civilization motivation but people who are despairing and resorting to violence and they’re committing crimes as a result.”

“I think …that when people feel threatened and they’re despairing, when people feel as though they’re assaulted and attacked, they tend to resort to more violent means…”

Another theme promoted in this programme and in other BBC content was spurious linkage between the Paris attacks and events elsewhere in the world with Ricky Ross talking about “people who maybe have been angered by the events of the war in Iraq, perhaps the invasion of Afghanistan and also perhaps of drone strikes and so on….”

In an article titled “France divided despite uplifting rallies” which appeared on the BBC News website on January 11th, Hugh Schofield chose to highlight the following sentiments attributed to anonymous members of the French Muslim community, but failed to provide readers with any factual answers to the questions posed.

“Over and again they express their anger at what they see as double standards:

Why so much fuss over 17 dead when thousands have died in Gaza and Syria?

Why is it all right for Charlie Hebdo to mock Islam when the controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala is prosecuted for mocking Jews? Why is one defined as “inciting hatred” and not the other?”

In a report from January 10th titled “Young French Muslims fear attack after Paris shootings” produced for Newsbeat – which caters for younger audiences – Duncan Crawford quoted one of his interviewees as saying:

“The problem is 12 people are dead. All the media talk about it. But in Iraq, in Syria, and in Palestine, every day thousands of people are dead, and no one talks about it. That’s the real problem.”

No attempt was made to provide the BBC’s younger audiences with information which would enable them to put that statement into its correct context.

When major events such as last week’s terror attacks in Paris take place, it is obviously the task of the media to help the general public determine the facts of the event and its context as soon as possible so that they can reach informed opinions. The BBC is of course obligated to precisely such priorities by its public purposes and yet its commitment to building “a global understanding of international issues” did not prevent avoidance of any serious reporting on the real issues behind these attacks.

The concurrent smoke and mirrors promotion of themes such as ‘racist’ cartoons, poverty, despair, alienation and disaffection do not contribute to audience understanding of the underlying issues faced by European society in general – and members of the Muslim communities battling radicalisation in particular – any more than the promotion of the theme of ‘Gaza’ helps them understand why a Jewish supermarket was the target of one of these terror attacks.