BBC Watch prompts correction to BBC Sport report

As documented here last week, on January 27th  the BBC Sport website published an article titled “World Para Swimming Championships: Malaysia stripped of hosting 2019 event” which also appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ and ‘Asia’ pages.

The article originally presented the background to the story thus:

“Malaysia, which is a majority Muslim country, banned the athletes because of what Kuala Lumpur sees as Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians.

The Israeli foreign ministry condemned the decision and accused Malaysia of anti-Semitism.”

However, as noted here at the time, the foreign ministry’s statement actually referred to the antisemitism of Malaysia’s prime minister rather than the country as a whole:

“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit. Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia’s PM Mahathir [Mohamad]’s rabid anti-Semitism,” the ministry said in a statement. “We call upon the International Paralympic Committee to change this wrong decision or change the venue of the event.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and the response received reads as follows:

“Thank you for getting in touch about the BBC Sport article ‘World Para Swimming Championships: Malaysia stripped of hosting 2019 event’.

We’ve raised your concerns with the BBC Sport website editors, who have reviewed your complaint and the article in question. They have now changed the article, and sincerely apologise for the error.

Many thanks once again for bringing this to our attention.”

The inaccurate claim has now been removed from the relevant section of the report.

Before

After

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BBC Sport wakes up to Malaysia sports discrimination story

On January 27th BBC Sport reported on a development in a story it had previously ignored for over two weeks. As well as appearing on the BBC Sport website, the article titled “World Para Swimming Championships: Malaysia stripped of hosting 2019 event” was also published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ and ‘Asia’ pages.

“Malaysia has been stripped of hosting the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships for refusing to let Israelis compete, says the International Paralympic Committee. […]

“When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new championships host,” said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons.

“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination.””

BBC Sport reported the background to the story thus:

“Malaysia, which is a majority Muslim country, banned the athletes because of what Kuala Lumpur sees as Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians.

The Israeli foreign ministry condemned the decision and accused Malaysia of anti-Semitism.”

The foreign ministry’s statement actually referred to the antisemitism of Malaysia’s prime minister rather than the country as a whole:

“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit. Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia’s PM Mahathir [Mohamad]’s rabid anti-Semitism,” the ministry said in a statement. “We call upon the International Paralympic Committee to change this wrong decision or change the venue of the event.”

The BBC Sport report continued:

“Mahathir Mohamad – who gave an interview to the BBC’s HARDtalk programme in October – became the country’s new prime minister last May and has been criticised for holding anti-Semitic views.

Syed Saddiq, Malaysia’s minister of youth and sports, has defended his country’s decision.

He told the BBC last week that Malaysia would have “lost our moral conscience and moral compass” if hosting an international sporting event was “more important than safeguarding the interest of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are being mutilated [sic] time after time again”.”

A clip from that ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Syed Saddiq was embedded at the top of the BBC Sport report. The same clip had been promoted separately on the BBC News website four days earlier.

“Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Syed Saddiq, has defended his country’s decision to ban Israeli Paralympic swimmers from participating in the World Para Swimming Championships, due to be held in Malaysia in July.

He told BBC Hardtalk’s Shaun Ley: “If hosting an international event is more important than safeguarding the interest of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are being mutilated time after time again, if that is more important it means we have lost our moral conscience and moral compass.”

There has been an international outcry against Malaysia’s decision.”

In that promoted clip from the interview BBC audiences saw how Shaun Ley twice allowed Syed Saddiq to dodge the issue of the Malaysian prime minister’s use of Nazi analogy and antisemitic stereotypes and not only failed to challenge his guest’s distorted and context-free portrayals of Israeli actions but actually endorsed them.

Saddiq: “During [operations] Cast Lead, Protective Edge, Pillar of Defence tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians had their lives murdered, families taken away and continuing sanctions.”

Ley: “And plenty of countries condemn that and take action against it but they don’t stand against the opportunity for people of all communities, countries, to come together.”

Moreover, at the end of that interview, BBC audiences heard that Malaysia – a country which reelected a prime minister infamous for his antisemitism and which bans Israelis for no other reason that their nationality – is “progressive”.    

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BBC Sport ignores anti-Israel bigotry yet again

BBC Sport ignores anti-Israel bigotry yet again

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s sports department has a record of under-reporting both anti-Israel discrimination in international sporting events and efforts to combat such bigotry.

The latest story ignored by BBC Sport involves Israel’s paralympic swimmers.

“The International Paralympic Committee expressed disappointment Saturday after Malaysia said it would not allow Israeli swimmers to attend a competition in the country that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Malaysia is one of a number of Muslim-majority countries that has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, with entry to the country on an Israeli passport prohibited.

The city of Kuching in the eastern Sarawak state will host hundreds of swimmers from 70 countries from July 29th to August 4th.

But on Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Kuala Lumpur would deny visas to Israeli para swimmers seeking to attend the meet. […]

Israeli athletes are regularly banned from competing at international sporting events in Arab or Muslim countries, or forced to compete without displaying their national symbols. A number of incidents have led to reprimands from international governing bodies and promises to reform.”

The BBC News website’s ‘Malaysia’ page carries no coverage of that story and neither does the BBC Sport website’s ‘swimming’ page. As has been noted here on previous occasions the BBC Sport website usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport and indeed one of the stories currently at the top of its home page concerns two Indian cricketers and inappropriate comments concerning women.

 

Sporting body’s anti-discrimination results get no BBC coverage

Readers may recall that in October 2017 the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

Similarly, the BBC Sport website did not report on efforts made earlier this year by the International Judo Federation to bring an end to such discrimination.

Due to those efforts, the Israeli judo team is taking part in this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam under happily different conditions.

“Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Friday to accompany Israel’s national judo team at an international tournament where — for the first time in a Gulf country — they will be allowed to compete under their national flag.

Regev is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony for the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 on Saturday, where the Israeli national anthem will also be played for the team. […]

Regev is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE in an official capacity, as the countries have no official diplomatic relations.”

On October 28th (and again the next day) the Israeli national anthem was indeed heard in Abu Dhabi.

photo credit: IJF

“Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi on Sunday for the first time, after one of its athletes won gold.

A visibly moved Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was at the contest to support the Israeli team, presented the medals and hung the gold medallion around the neck of judoka Sagi Muki. […]

Muki beat Belgian competitor Matthias Casse to take first place in the under-81 kilogram category at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam.

Following the medal distribution, the tournament presenter announced, in English, “Ladies and gentleman, please rise for the national anthem of Israel” after which the “Hatikva” melody began playing. […]

It was…the first time an Israeli delegation participated there under its national flag, after the International Judo Federation warned UAE organizers the competition would be canceled unless all athletes were allowed to participate on an equal footing.”

Once again, however, no coverage of that story was to be found on the BBC Sport website home page or Judo page (even though a report about British competitors in the same tournament did appear) or on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

BBC Sport website Judo page, 29/10/18

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BBC Sport report amplifies bizarre Palestinian FA claims

As readers no doubt recall, back in June the BBC News website published a report on the cancellation of a friendly football match between Israel and Argentina which falsely promoted the notion of its linkage to events along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel while avoiding relevant background to the story that was seen in a report from a different BBC department.

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

Four weeks later, following communication from BBC Watch, some amendments were made to that report.

As was noted here at the time, the BBC did not produce any follow-up reporting on that story after FIFA announced that it had begun disciplinary proceedings against the Palestinian Football Association head, Jibril Rajoub, in relation to his call to Lionel Messi’s fans in “Arab states, Islamic states, in Asia, in Africa, and in states that are friends of the Palestinian people” to burn replica shirts and photographs “and renounce him”.

On August 24th FIFA announced the result of that disciplinary and the following day a report appeared on the BBC Sport website, initially under the rather confusing headline “Lionel Messi: Palestinian FA president Jibril Rajoub banned for ‘inciting hatred and violence’” and illustrated using an image showing political graffiti. The same report was also published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

Sixty-one of the report’s 298 words related to FIFA’s decision.

“Fifa has given the president of the Palestinian Football Association a 12-month suspension after he urged fans to burn Lionel Messi shirts and pictures.

Jibril Rajoub has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs (£15,826) for “inciting hatred and violence” with statements made before a friendly between Argentina and Israel. […]

Rajoub will not be able to attend football matches in any capacity.”

The background to the June cancellation was given in thirty-eight words – including a link to the BBC News website’s report on the story.

“The match was due to take place in June in Jerusalem but was then cancelled. […]

In June, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie had said he believed his country’s footballers “were not willing to play the game” against Israel.”

Once again BBC audiences were not provided with the context to Mr Faurie’s words.

“Faurie said players had received threats over playing the game and were uncomfortable with it going ahead.

He also cited jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood which had been displayed at a protest outside the team’s practice facility in Barcelona Tuesday as a cause for concern.”

The Palestinian Football Association’s reaction to the June cancellation was portrayed in forty-nine words and that of the Israel Football Association in forty-three words.

The report’s remaining 107 words – i.e. 35.7% of its content – were given over to uncritical amplification of some decidedly bizarre remarks from the Palestinian Football Association concerning its president’s suspension.

BBC audiences were not told what the phrase ‘”some settler extremist group” who “reside, illegally, in the Palestinian occupied territories”‘ is supposed to mean or what is its relevance to the story. Neither were they informed that what is opaquely described as ‘media statements made by Rajoub to a Lebanese media channel in 2013’ in fact refers to an interview with Al Mayadeen in which Rajoub said “We [the Palestinians] as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it this very morning”.

How the generous yet uncritical amplification of those statements from the Palestinian Football Association can be claimed to enhance audience understanding of the story is of course unclear.

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No BBC coverage of sports anti-discrimination move

Readers may recall that last October the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

The International Judo Federation subsequently took steps to end such discrimination.

“Based on experiences from previous years and in an attempt to take a firm and constructive stance in the fight against discrimination in sport, the International Judo Federation announces that it will suspend two of its events, namely the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix.

Prior to this decision and after carefully analysing the past situations involving the denial of participation in equal conditions of all IJF member federations – with their national insignia and anthem at the aforementioned events, and after repeated past interventions, the IJF officially requested the two organisers to provide a letter of guarantee signed by the government that all IJF member nations would have the right to participate in their events in equal conditions. […]

As no positive answer was received to date, although past the given deadline, the International Judo Federation’s Executive Committee decided to suspend both the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix until governmental guarantee is given to ensure free and equal participation of all nations at the said events.”

That story has been reported by a number of Israeli media organisations as well as by CNN and the BBC associate news agency AFP. Visitors to the BBC Sport website, however, found no mention of the IJF’s decision either on the main homepage or on the ‘Judo’ page and no mention of the story is found on the BBC News website’s Tunisia and UAE pages.

 

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Political messaging in BBC Sport report on bike race

On May 3rd a report by BBC Sport correspondent Tom Fordyce concerning the Giro d’Italia cycling race was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as well as on the BBC Sport website.

Titled “Giro d’Italia: Chris Froome in spotlight at start in Jerusalem“, the report included amplification of statements made in a press release put out by an NGO with a long record of anti-Israel campaigning that is frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC.

“Others see little more than a concerted effort to present an image of Israel to the world at odds with the reality. Amnesty International has accused Israel of trying to “sportwash” its reputation, as protests continue in the Gaza Strip that have so far led to the death of 35 Palestinian protestors.”

Obviously the ‘Great Return March’ events which Hamas and other terror groups have been staging weekly since the end of March have nothing whatsoever to do with the cycling race that is ostensibly the topic of this report but Fordyce nevertheless chose to amplify Amnesty International’s opportunistic false linkage and delegitimisation.

Moreover, the report also included ‘analysis’ from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which likewise encouraged sports fans to view the sporting event in a political light.

Yolande Knell’s promotion of the Old City of Jerusalem as “occupied territory” predictably fails to inform visitors to the BBC Sport website of the all-important context of the internationally rejected belligerent Jordanian occupation of that district and additional parts of Jerusalem. And so, once again, the BBC’s funding public got a dose of politically partisan messaging with its ‘news’.

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BBC muddies a story of anti-Israel bigotry in sport

On February 28th an article titled “Iran wrestling officials resign over Israel competition ban” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the BBC Sport website’s wrestling page. Readers found the following description of the story in the opening paragraph:

“The head of Iran’s wrestling federation has resigned after criticising authorities for letting players be punished because of the country’s ban on athletes competing against Israel.”

Which “authorities” did he criticise? That only becomes clear later on in the report.

“Wrestler Alireza Karimachiani was banned for six months after throwing a match to avoid an Israeli opponent last year.

Earlier this month, Mr Khadem criticised Iranian authorities for their stance on Israeli opponents, and called for a “fundamental solution” to the ongoing problem.

“Forcing an athlete to accept defeat or run around all night looking for a doctor’s note is not right,” he said.

He suggested he was forced from the post in a cryptic letter posted on the body’s website on Wednesday.”

What the BBC euphemistically describes as “the ongoing problem” is of course Iran’s practice of pressuring its sportspeople to avoiding competing against Israelis at international events. The BBC’s report describes that practice in typically tepid terms.

“Iran does not recognise the state of Israel. […]

Dozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israeli competitors since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.”

Coincidentally or not, the BBC’s report bears a strong resemblance to an AFP article published on the same day. However, the AFP report provides a more lucid account of the statements made by the head of Iran’s wrestling federation before he – voluntarily or not – quit his post.

“Khadem, argued that Iranians should openly admit they will not compete against Israelis rather than invent excuses, and accept the consequences.

“If we must continue with the policy of non-competition against the Zionist regime’s athletes, the responsibility cannot fall on the shoulders of the coach and the athlete,” he said on public radio, according to ISNA.

He said a “fundamental solution” needed to be reached by the Supreme Council for National Security.

“Forcing an athlete to accept defeat or run around all night looking for a doctor’s note is not right,” he added.

He had previously told ISNA that, if the country’s policy was to avoid Israeli rivals then it should “behave honestly and… accept the consequences”.”

Unlike the BBC report, the AFP article clarifies to readers that the Iranian policy of refusing to compete against Israelis does not comply with sporting rules.

“Dozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israelis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, either out of choice or under pressure from authorities.

But they have tended to lose earlier rounds, claim sickness or fail to show up, since an open refusal breaches international sporting regulations.”

Obviously the BBC could have done more to make this story comprehensible to audiences but instead, we once again see the corporation skirting around the issue of discrimination against Israelis in sport.  

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More tepid BBC coverage of anti-Israel bigotry in sport

The BBC’s track record on reporting anti-Israel bigotry in international sport is not particularly laudable. While some incidents are simply ignored, others get coverage that is often tepid and euphemistic.

That approach was again evident on November 27th in two BBC reports concerning an Iranian wrestler who was instructed by his coaches to lose a match so as to avoid meeting an Israeli in the next round of a championship.

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Tim Franks – included an item (from 18:51 here) on that story introduced as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Franks: “We’re often told that sport and politics don’t mix – or at least shouldn’t mix. But at the under-23 world championship of wrestling currently being held in Poland, there is intense speculation that sport and politics did collide and sport lost. Some Iranian wrestling fans on social media are claiming that their man deliberately lost a match on Saturday in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round. Houchang Chehabi is an Iranian-born professor of international relations at Boston University. What’s the evidence that the bout was thrown?”

Interviewer and interviewee then discussed a video showing the coach instructing the wrestler to lose the match.

Chehabi: “The evidence seems to be that he was told to do so.”

Franks: “Right. And…ehm…he was told to do so – what – midway through the bout.”

Chehabi: “Yes, apparently. That’s what the video seems to show.”

Despite the Iranian government and the Iranian wrestling federation having praised the wrestler’s “noble and heroic action”, Franks was apparently still not convinced.

Franks: “How plausible do you think it is that a coach would issue instructions like that because of fear of having to meet face-to-face, arm-to-arm, leg-to-leg an Israeli in the next round?

Chehabi: “Yes, well, that’s nothing new. Traditionally Iranian wrestlers simply did not show up when they had to fight an Israeli because the idea was that doing so would lend legitimacy to the Israeli state which the Islamic republic does not accept. So…ahm…under some circumstances obviously the Israeli athlete would be declared the winner and I can only guess that somebody decided that losing a real bout against a Russian was preferable to being declared the loser in a non-bout against an Israeli.”

After a conversation about the popularity of wrestling in Iran, listeners heard the claim that Iranians have been “deprived of medals”.  

Franks: “…I just wonder also now how much this might become a ‘thing’ in Iran: that a practitioner of a popular sport has been told – or appears to have been told – to lose in order not to run afoul of the authorities.

Chehabi: “Ahm…as I said this is really nothing new. Many Iranian athletes over the last 30 years have been deprived of medals because they refused to fight an Israeli. So whether they do it by not showing up or by losing the preliminary round, really at the end of the day it doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Franks: “But do you think wrestling fans…I mean clearly some are upset about it but do you think the majority would be thinking well, you know, it’s just one of those things?”

Chehabi: “Yeah, exactly. I would…I would go with that.”

Franks then appeared to bring up an ‘interesting’ way of avoiding such situations which – notably – did not involve the Iranians giving up their bigoted approach.

Franks: “And in terms of the Iranian sort of…trying to avoid this sort of thing in the future, have they ever tried to make appeals to the people who run world sport to avoid embarrassing clashes or do they realise that that is simply a power that they cannot wield?”

Chehabi: “Oh I’m sure that’s a power that they cannot wield. I mean some measures were taken by Arab countries: Israel a few decades ago was expelled from the Asian Games for instance. Until the 1970s Israel took part in the Asian Games and then Arab countries made sure that they could no longer do. But in the case of world championship, there’s no way one can exclude one country.”

Remarkably, the only explanation listeners to this item received regarding the political background relevant to this story was the tepid and euphemistic observation that “the Islamic Republic does not accept” Israel. Iran’s regular violent threats against Israel and its funding of terror groups dedicated to bringing about the country’s demise did not even get a mention in Franks’ portrayal of this story.

Also on November 27th the BBC News website published an article titled “Outrage as Iranian wrestler ‘forced’ to lose match” in the features section of its Middle East page. The same article – by BBC Trending – appeared on the ‘wrestling’ page of the BBC Sport website which, despite its usually displayed interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport, did not produce any coverage of this story itself.

The political background provided to readers of that article was similarly sketchy:

“Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events.”

The article also included a link to a fifteen month-old report by BBC Sport which – as pointed out here at the time – inaccurately named the Israeli judoka Or Sasson as ‘Os’. The same uncorrected  inaccuracy appeared again in this latest article.

“Also in the Rio Games, Egyptian Islam El Shehaby was booed by the crowd after refusing to shake hands with Israeli opponent Os Sasson.”

It is of course highly unlikely (one hopes) that BBC coverage of any story about sportspeople repeatedly encountering discrimination, bigotry and state-ordered boycotts because of their skin colour, gender or sexual orientation would be quite as lukewarm as is the corporation’s repeated portrayal of those concerning Israelis.

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BBC News and BBC Sport ignore Judo tournament anti-Israel bigotry

BBC News and BBC Sport ignore Judo tournament anti-Israel bigotry

A major Judo tournament organised by the International Judo Federation is taking place in Abu Dhabi between October 26th and 28th.

However – and not for the first time – members of the Israeli team taking part in that tournament have been barred from displaying the Israeli flag.

“The blue-and-white delegation to the final Grand Slam competition of the year is set to include 12 athletes, but Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponte was informed by the organizers that they won’t be able to have the Israel flag on their judo uniform, as they do in every other event across the world. Instead of having ISR (Israel) by their names on the scoreboard and on their backs, they will have to take part in the contest as representatives of the IJF (International Judo Federation). The national anthem will also not be played, should an Israeli win a gold medal.”

And on the competition’s first day that is exactly what happened.

“An Israeli judoka won a gold medal on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament, but had to sing his own private “Hatikvah” because the organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem.

He also had to celebrate his victory under the International Judo Federation’s flag, because the emirate banned the display of Israeli symbols.

Tournament organizers did not play Israel’s national anthem as Tal Flicker stood on the podium after receiving his medal in the men’s under-66 kilograms (145 pounds) category.

With the medal around his neck, Flicker sang his own “Hatikvah” while the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) anthem played in the background.”

The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.

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