Examining BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of the WhatsApp story

Earlier this week we saw how the BBC News website promoted Paul Danahar’s narrative driven speculations concerning the WhatsApp security flaw story.

On the same day that Danahar’s article appeared – May 14th – the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted over twelve and a half of its 53 minutes to the same story.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that lead item (from 00:12 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “We begin today with WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service owned by Facebook used by 1.5 billion people. Well it turns out that encryption is not fail-safe after all. Hackers have been able to remotely install surveillance software on phones and other devices using a major vulnerability in the platform. WhatsApp said the attack targeted a select number of users and was orchestrated by an advanced cyber actor. They say they fixed the vulnerability on Friday and urged their users to update their apps as an added precaution. This is quite a complicated story with potentially far-reaching consequences. We’re going to try and unpick it for you. The surveillance software called Pegasus, developed by an Israeli company called NSO Group, has been identified as the software which has breached the encryption of WhatsApp. Let’s start with the technology then and speak to our technology correspondent Chris Fox who joins me in the studio.”

Chris Fox began by explaining the technical details of the story, including the fact that the spyware targeted WhatsApp messages at either end – not their encryption as claimed by Iqbal. In response to a request from Iqbal to “tell us about Pegasus, this software that’s been developed by this company NSO”, Fox clarified that – in contrast to the claim made by Iqbal in her introduction:

03:18 Fox: “We don’t know for sure that it was Pegasus involved in this attack. What we do know is that there was a flaw in WhatsApp that could let something like that in and that flaw has been closed but exactly what the software was is not clear because WhatsApp hasn’t said.”

That did not stop Iqbal from continuing to promote linkage between this story and Israel.

04:42 Iqbal: “Now human rights groups are anxious about this kind of surveillance software, obviously. Amnesty International has filed a petition in an Israeli district court asking to revoke the defence export licence of that cyber surveillance company NSO Group. The petitioners who filed to revoke that export licence claim the firm’s Pegasus software has been used in the past and may still be in use for the surveillance of human rights activists of Amnesty International and also other groups. But what evidence do groups like Amnesty have? I asked Danna Ingleton, deputy director of technology for Amnesty International, what evidence they had that will make a strong case for revoking this license.”

The responses given by Ingleton to Iqbal’s questions were the same as statements she made in an affidavit presented as part of the law suit filed with the Tel Aviv district court by Amnesty International and others the day before this programme was aired. Ingleton told of a colleague (who declines to be named) being sent a message on WhatsApp which Amnesty International believes was linked to an attempt to install spyware on his or her phone. In response to a question from Iqbal about “what’s happened” in such cases, Ingleton spoke of a “chilling effect” also presented in her affidavit.

At 08:38 Iqbal moved on to another interviewee.

Iqbal: “Let’s take a look now at how this technology has become what some people have described as a trophy weapon in the rivalries between various countries.”

Those “some people” would appear to be the Financial Times.

Iqbal: “I’m joined in the studio by now by Thomas Brewster: security, surveillance and privacy reporter for Forbes. Let’s start by getting you to outline a little bit more about what NSO Group is and what they do. We’ve heard that of course they do…ahm…use this Pegasus software to…give it [sic] to countries to prevent terrorist attacks, infiltrate drug cartels etc. But just give us a broader picture of who they are.”

Brewster: “If you think about NSO Group as one of many Israeli surveillance companies who are very, very talented at getting into people’s smartphones…”

Later on Iqbal interrupted Brewster to ask:

Iqbal: “Is it significant that these companies are in Israel or this particular one is in Israel?”

Brewster: “Well I mean Israel…the reason why Israel has this kind of cadre of businessmen who are very, very good at creating these kinds of companies and this kind of technology is because, you know, they come out of a country where they have to go into service. And if you’re technically very smart you get put in, you know, eh…either unit 8200 which is the kind of…eh….GCHQ, NSA equivalent or you go into Mossad and do technical things there or you’re a part of the IDF technology division, you know, there’s all…”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “The Israeli Defense Force.”

Brewster: “Exactly, yeah. All these incredibly talented units and you come out of those units and you either set up a consumer technology business, you set up a cyber security business or, like these handful of people, you set up a surveillance company that, you know, is bypassing cyber security.”

Iqbal: “And is it the case that this kind of software is used in terms of geo-politics in a region like the Middle East?”

Brewster: “If you’re able to do it like they did with WhatsApp today, very, very hard to trace back to who the actual owner of the product is. You know you can take guesses and a lot of them are geo-political guesses, you know…”

The signposting in this long item is of course amply evident. Despite Chris Fox having clarified near the beginning that “[w]e don’t know for sure that it was Pegasus involved in this attack”, rather than ‘unpicking’ the “complicated story” as promised in her introduction, Iqbal simply pursued her Israel theme for more than nine and a half additional minutes.

The day after this item was aired to audiences around the world Thomas Brewster made a discovery.

Those following the Israeli media would have already known in February that the NSO Group had been acquired by the London-based firm Novalpina Capital, whose above letter can be found here.

Remarkably though, ‘Newshour’ listeners heard nothing at all about that British connection to the company the BBC has chosen to portray as being linked to this story.

Related Articles:

BBC News website showcases Paul Danahar’s Middle East narrative

Odd claim from BBC Technology appears – and disappears – on Wikipedia

 

 

Reviewing BBC reporting on social media incitement in Europe and Israel

In October 2015 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder which underwent extensive editing during the ten days following its original publication and is currently available online under the headline “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?“.backgrounder

As was noted here at the time, the backgrounder failed to provide BBC audiences with a comprehensive view of its purported subject matter.

“The question posed in its headline is addressed in a relatively small section of the report (fewer than 200 words) which actually does little to inform readers of the scale and significance of the role of incitement spread via social media in fueling the current wave of terror, of the kind of content appearing on such platforms or of the use of social media by official Palestinian groups other than Hamas – including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.” 

Moreover, incitement to violence and glorification of terrorism on official social media accounts belonging to Fatah was downplayed in another section of the backgrounder: [emphasis added]

“The stabbing attacks seem to be spontaneous and although they have been praised by militant groups and supporters of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on social media, Mr Abbas has said Palestinians are not interested in a further escalation.”

In July 2016 the BBC published two articles relating to the topic of Palestinian incitement of terrorism against Israelis on Facebook: “Israel angered by Facebook hatred rules“ and “Facebook sued by Israeli group over Palestinian attacks“. The first article opened with the following interestingly punctuated statement:FB art technology

“Government ministers in Israel have accused Facebook of failing to tackle “inciteful” posts against the country on the social network.”

In the second of those reports the BBC found it appropriate to amplify a statement from Hamas:

“Hamas called the lawsuit an Israeli attempt to blackmail Facebook. […]

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Israel of trying to turn it [Facebook] into a spy tool against Palestinians. […]

“The real test for the owners of Facebook is to reject this pressure,” he said.”

Despite quoting a report by the Quartet which “identified “the spreading of incitement to violence on social media” by Palestinians as a key issue” (an aspect of the report downplayed in previous BBC reporting), the second article nevertheless used the frequently seen qualifying ‘Israel says’ formula to describe the links between incitement on social media and acts of violence.

“Israel says Palestinian incitement on social media has fuelled a wave of attacks since October, which have killed 35 Israelis and four people of other nationalities.

In October 2016, listeners to a programme broadcast on the BBC World Service relating to the Twitter hashtag ‘Facebook Censors Palestine’ were told:

“And this is really the problem: narrative. With two completely opposing views on events, what Israelis see as inciting violence, the Palestinians see as telling the truth and vice versa.”

To date – notwithstanding recognition of the issue by the Quartet and Facebook – the BBC has yet to provide its audiences with information which would broaden their understanding of the connection between official and unofficial Palestinian incitement and terrorism.

In contrast, on December 6th 2016 BBC Technology produced an article titled “EU criticises tech firms for slow action on hate speech“.eu-social-media

“Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are falling short of a commitment to tackle hate speech quickly, research suggests.

The European Commission looked into whether the tech giants were meeting a pledge to remove hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported. […]

The pledge was made in May when the firms signed up to a “code of conduct” brokered by the Commission.”

Notably, the BBC did not find it necessary to amplify statements made by those posting online hate speech and incitement in Europe suggesting that the monitoring and removal of such posts amounts to “a spy tool”.

In the link directing readers to the EU’s press release concerning the “code of conduct”, BBC audiences find the following:

“Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said, “The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred. […]

Following the EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in October 2015 on ‘Tolerance and respect: preventing and combating Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe’, the Commission initiated a dialogue with IT companies, in cooperation with Member States and civil society, to see how best to tackle illegal online hate speech which spreads violence and hate.

The recent terror attacks and the use of social media by terrorist groups to radicalise young people have given more urgency to tackling this issue.”

Ms Jourova is also quoted twice in the body of the article itself:

‘”The last weeks and months have shown that social media companies need to live up to their important role and take up their share of responsibility when it comes to phenomena like online radicalisation, illegal hate speech or fake news,” said Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova in a statement. […]

“It is our duty to protect people in Europe from incitement to hatred and violence online,” said Ms Jourova. “While IT Companies are moving in the right direction, the first results show that the IT companies will need to do more to make it a success.”‘

Notably, the BBC did not find it necessary to qualify the EU’s statements describing such social media posts as incitement or to question the EU’s linkage between online hate speech and violence. Indeed, the caption to the image illustrating the article informs readers that:

“Terror attacks in Europe led the Commission to seek support from tech firms in tackling hate speech”

Neither did this report find it appropriate to portray racist posts on social media as “narrative” or to suggest to audiences that hate speech might be seen as “telling the truth”.

While Israel and the EU are both trying to tackle the problem of online hate speech and incitement to violence in similar ways, we see that the BBC’s approach to the story differs according to geography. 

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s ‘explanation’ of the current wave of terror

Poor BBC reporting on Palestinian incitement again mars audience understanding

BBC still portraying incitement as an ‘Israel says’ story

BBC Trending presents Palestinian incitement as ‘narrative’

BBC still portraying incitement as an ‘Israel says’ story

Back in October 2015 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder titled “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?” which actually did very little to inform audiences of the scale and significance of the incitement spread via social media, the kind of content appearing on such platforms or the use of social media by official Palestinian groups other than Hamas – including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party – for incitement and the glorification of terrorism.backgrounder 

BBC coverage of a report produced by the Quartet at the beginning of July 2016, in which Palestinian incitement was identified as one of several factors ‘driving’ the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, played down that issue, preferring to focus audience attentions on the topic of ‘settlements’.

Also in July, BBC Technology produced a report titled “Israel angered by Facebook hatred rules” and incitement on social media was the topic of an additional article published later the same month under the title “Facebook sued by Israeli group over Palestinian attacks“.

Although BBC audiences had not been provided with any serious, comprehensive reporting on the subject of Palestinian incitement and the link between social media and the wave of terrorism against Israelis which emerged in the autumn of 2015, as was noted here at the time:

‘Nevertheless, the BBC found it appropriate to include amplification of the response of a terrorist organisation, which has long used social media for the propagation of terrorism, in its report.

“Hamas called the lawsuit an Israeli attempt to blackmail Facebook. […]

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Israel of trying to turn it into a spy tool against Palestinians.

He said some Israeli politicians and soldiers had “expressed pride at the killing of Palestinians” on Facebook and other social media.

“The real test for the owners of Facebook is to reject this pressure,” he said.”‘FB art technology

However, Facebook obviously takes the subject seriously and so senior officials from the company recently visited Israel to discuss the issue of incitement. Ha’aretz reported that:

“Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Monday that Facebook and YouTube had been complying in recent months with up to 95% of Israel’s requests for taking down content that the government says incites Palestinian violence. […]

Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, both of whom have been at the forefront of a campaign to force social media companies to crack down on incitement, met with Facebook executives visiting Israel on Monday.

The meeting comes amid growing concerns in Israel about so-called lone-wolf terrorists who are unaffiliated with formal organizations but are encouraged to acts of violence over the social media.

Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday reported that Shaked and Erdan had proposed to the Facebook executives that the company treat words like “intifada,” “stabbing,” “Nazis” and expressions such as “death to Jews” and “death to Arabs” as grounds for removing content. They also called for the same policy toward videos inciting viewers to stabbing attacks or containing anti-Semitic caricatures.”

According to Globes:

“Facebook said, “The Facebook delegation’s visit to Israel is part of the company’s “ongoing dialogue with policymakers and experts around the world to keep terrorist content off our platform and support counter-speech initiatives. Online extremism can only be tackled with a strong partnership between policymakers, civil society, academia and companies, and this is true in Israel and around the world. We had constructive discussions about these important issues and look forward to a continued dialogue and cooperation.””

There has to date been no follow-up reporting from the BBC concerning the visit of Facebook executives to Israel.

As recently as last Friday, BBC audiences were still being told that: [emphasis added]

Israel says Palestinian incitement has fuelled the attacks. The Palestinian leadership has blamed frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation.”

Despite the fact that the Quartet has said the same thing and Facebook obviously agrees, the BBC has yet to provide its audiences with information which would broaden their understanding of the connection between official and unofficial Palestinian incitement and the violence which first surged a year ago. 

 

Odd claim from BBC Technology appears – and disappears – on Wikipedia

On August 26th an article by the BBC’s North America technology reporter Dave Lee appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Who are the hackers who cracked the iPhone?“.Dave Lee iphone art

In that article readers find a decidedly bizarre description of the purpose of Unit 8200 of the Israeli army’s Intelligence Corps together with an unsupported assertion. [emphasis added]

“According to the Surveillance Industry Index (SII), the NSO Group was founded in 2010 and is based in Herzliya, an attractive city north of Tel Aviv that is known as being a cluster of tech start-ups. The group was likely funded by the elite 8200 Intelligence Unit, an Israeli military-funded scheme for start-ups.”

Lee does not provide any evidence to back up his odd claim that the NSO group – or indeed any other start-up – was “likely funded” by the IDF. Numerous local media reports refer to the company having recruited private investors when it was launched in 2009.

Nevertheless, Dave Lee’s unsupported claim quickly found its way into Wikipedia’s entry on NSO Group.

NSO Wiki

NSO Wiki refs

Wikipedia has since wisely removed that assertion from its entry but it does remain in place in the BBC News website’s article. 

Poor BBC reporting on Palestinian incitement again mars audience understanding

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC has made little serious effort to inform its audiences on the issue of the part played by social media in fuelling the wave of terrorism seen in Israel during the past nine months.

In October 2015 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder headlined “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?” which did very little to inform readers of the scale and significance of the incitement spread via social media, of the kind of content appearing on such platforms or of the use of social media by official Palestinian groups other than Hamas – including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party – for incitement and the glorification of terrorism. 

Against that background, BBC audiences recently found two articles on the corporation’s website relating to the topic of Palestinian incitement of terrorism against Israelis on Facebook.FB art technology

On July 4th BBC Technology published a report headlined “Israel angered by Facebook hatred rules“.

“Government ministers in Israel have accused Facebook of failing to tackle “inciteful” posts against the country on the social network.

Public security minister Gilad Erdan said Facebook had set “a very high bar for removing inciteful content”.

Justice minister Ayelet Shaked wants social media companies to pre-emptively remove content which Israel considers to be a security threat.

Facebook said it worked closely with Israel to tackle threatening content.

Mrs Shaked has complained that threatening content must be manually reported by the website’s users before any action can be taken.

“We want the companies… to remove posts by terrorist groups and incitement to terrorism without us having to flag each individual post, in just the same manner, for example, that they today do not allow posts and pages with child pornography,” she told Israel’s Army Radio.”

The issue of incitement to terrorism, antisemitism and hate speech on social media was of course recognised long before the wave of terror began in October 2015, with the problematic fact that Facebook relies on members of the public to flag up offensive posts having been previously raised at the 2015 Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. As the BBC’s article correctly notes, Israel is of course not the only country to have concerns about such issues and the UK is no exception.  However, Israel does face one rather unique situation which the BBC’s article does not explain:

“Defending his legislation, Erdan said European countries such as France and Germany already have similar laws in place, and Facebook complies with them. Yet, according to a spokesman for the minister, Facebook recently agreed to remove just 23 out of 74 pages brought to its attention by Israel for spreading Palestinian incitement. “Their policy of removing [content] is very, very, very strict and the bar is set very high,” the spokesman told The Times of Israel.

Facebook also does not recognize Israeli control in the West Bank, the spokesman added. “More than that, if someone writes something problematic and they live in Judea and Samaria, they [Facebook] won’t cooperate with us and they say it’s outside of Israel and therefore they can’t cooperate,” he said. Facebook declined to comment on this allegation.”

On July 11th visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article titled “Facebook sued by Israeli group over Palestinian attacks“.FB art Shurat haDin

“An Israeli rights group is suing Facebook for $1bn on behalf of families of victims of Palestinian attacks.

The Shurat Hadin group says Facebook violates the US Anti-Terrorism Act by allowing militant groups such as Hamas a platform for spreading violence.”

Later on in the article, readers were told that:

“A report on the Israel-Palestinian conflict last week by the Quartet group of international mediators identified “the spreading of incitement to violence on social media” by Palestinians as a key issue.

“Hamas and other radical factions are responsible for the most explicit and widespread forms of incitement. These groups use media outlets to glorify terrorism and openly call for violence against Jews, including instructing viewers on how to carry out stabbings,” the report said.”

Nevertheless, the BBC found it appropriate to include amplification of the response of a terrorist organisation, which has long used social media for the propagation of terrorism, in its report.

“Hamas called the lawsuit an Israeli attempt to blackmail Facebook. […]

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Israel of trying to turn it into a spy tool against Palestinians.

He said some Israeli politicians and soldiers had “expressed pride at the killing of Palestinians” on Facebook and other social media.

“The real test for the owners of Facebook is to reject this pressure,” he said.”

And readers were told that:

Israel says Palestinian incitement on social media has fuelled a wave of attacks since October, which have killed 35 Israelis and four people of other nationalities.” [emphasis added]

Obviously audiences’ understanding of the context to these two reports (and others) would have been greatly enhanced had they previously been adequately informed of the scale and nature of incitement on Palestinian social media and the use of such platforms by official Palestinian groups and bodies as well as individuals. That of course has not been the case and so the corporation’s funding public continues to lack key facts in a developing story the BBC has had over nine months to tell in its own words – but has not.

Related Articles:

BBC backgrounder manipulates audience perceptions of wave of terror in Israel

Revisiting the BBC’s ‘explanation’ of the current wave of terror

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

BBC’s account of Quartet report exposes the holes in its own narrative

BBC Technology report on Facebook satellite plans omits Israeli aspect

When it comes to reporting on Israel-related topics, BBC Technology is usually one of the corporation’s better departments. It therefore came as something of a surprise to see that in his October 6th report titled “Facebook plans satellite ‘in 2016′“, BBC Technology’s North America reporter Dave Lee neglected to provide readers with a rather relevant piece of information concerning that story.FB satellite art

Lee has clearly read the announcement on the topic put out by Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“Facebook is to launch a satellite that will provide internet access to remote parts of Africa, the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has announced.

In partnership with French-based provider Eutelsat, Facebook hope the first satellite will be launched in 2016.

“We’re going to keep working to connect the entire world – even if that means looking beyond our planet,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.”

But that announcement also includes information about the satellite itself – obviously a crucial part of the project.

“As part of our collaboration with Eutelsat, a new satellite called AMOS-6 is going to provide internet coverage to large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The AMOS-6 satellite is under construction now and will launch in 2016 into a geostationary orbit that will cover large parts of West, East and Southern Africa.”

As the Times of Israel and others have reported, the AMOS-6 satellite is produced in Israel.

“European satellite operator Eutelsat Communications and social media giant Facebook said Monday they are working jointly to deliver satellite broadband Internet to connectivity-hungry sub-Saharan Africa using an Israeli satellite.

The firms revealed they have reached a multi-year agreement with satellite communication firm Spacecom to use the entire broadband payload of the AMOS-6 satellite due to come on stream in the second half of next year and provide coverage for large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa, after identifying “pent-up demand for connectivity.”

The multi-million dollar AMOS-6 satellite, built by the Israel Aerospace Industries, will be ready for launch in 2016, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.”

Oddly, that information did not appear in the BBC’s report on the story.

 

BBC Click drifts from technology into ME politics

June 6th saw the appearance of a report titled “Could Ramallah become an Arab World tech hub?” in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on its Technology page. A similar filmed report on the same topic, also byClick PA BBC Click’s Jen Copestake and titled “Meeting the West Bank’s tech start-ups“, appeared in addition on the website’s Technology page.

Both these reports are offshoots of part two of the series by BBC Click previously mentioned here. Unfortunately – and in stark contrast to BBC Technology’s usually good reporting from the region – this second episode (aired on the BBC News channel and on BBC Two) ventured beyond the topic of technology into pastures political.

In the written version of her report, Copestake states:

“Pinch Point, a gaming company, has just created a video game called Sperm Mania.

Beyond the shock value of the title, CEO Khaled Abu AlKheir sees a story in the game that reflects their lives under occupation: the sperm have an extremely difficult journey to fertilise an egg, with only one in 300 million succeeding.

“Everything we do is faced with challenges so always have to think outside the box, whether it’s a service or a game,” says Mr Abu AlKheir.” [emphasis added]

She continues with an unexplained and opaque reference to “sanctions”, despite the fact that the economic sanctions imposed on the PA by the Quartet and Israel in January 2006 after the terrorist organisation Hamas’ win of the PLC elections, came to an end seven years ago, in June 2007, with the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip.

“In the West Bank, it is a different story. In Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the occupied territories, Palestinians are hopeful that investing in tech start-ups will help lift them out of a struggling economy stifled by sanctions.”

Later on, readers are told that:

“Growing up in Yata, Mr Shreateh’s school did not have the best computer lab. He says his school relied on foreign aid donations to buy computers.”

Notably, the topic of government investment in computer education and tech start-ups (which is related, of course, to the subject of the PA’s financial priorities that include spending 6% of its budget on payments to convicted terrorists and their families) is not part of Copestake’s story, but her report does include a curious statement which could lead readers to form the inaccurate impression that residents of the PA controlled areas do not have passports. The PA has been issuing passports since 1995.

” “This is what is good in technology, it breaks the borders. A person with a laptop can work in the worst cases, he can work from his home and interact with the global community,” says Husni Abu Samrah.

“Without the passport and despite the occupation. It is limitless,’ he adds.”

The report also states:

“The separation barrier dividing Israel and the occupied territories is the most obvious obstacle, but there are other major hurdles to technological development.”

As has been the case in much recent BBC reporting, the anti-terrorist fence is misrepresented as a structure intended to divide between two areas and its real aim – the prevention of terror attacks – is erased from the picture presented to BBC audiences. Quite how or why that fence is supposed to be an “obstacle” to the development of the tech industry in PA-controlled regions is not clarified. Next, Copestake presents readers with a simplistic and inaccurate view of another supposed “hurdle”.Click PA 2

“Israel controls bandwidth in the occupied territories, and at the moment will not release access to the 3G network to Palestinian mobile companies.

The issue was highlighted on a recent trip to the West Bank by US President Barack Obama. Signs were put up around Ramallah telling him to leave his ubiquitous smartphone at home, as he would not be able to access a fast mobile network.”

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO (Article 36, Annex III), a joint technical committee on telecommunications (JTC) was established. Some of that agreement’s clauses provide insight into the sort of issues that committee was established to address; not least that of potentially life-threatening interference with communications at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport – an issue with which the BBC is familiar.

“5. Both sides shall refrain from any action that interferes with the communication and broadcasting systems and infrastructures of the other side.

Specifically, the Palestinian side shall ensure that only those frequencies and channels specified in Schedule 5: List of Approved Frequencies (herein – “Schedule 5”) and Schedule 6: List of Approved TV Channels and the Location of Transmitters (herein – “Schedule 6″) shall be used and that it shall not disturb or interfere with Israeli radio communication activity, and Israel shall ensure that there shall be no disturbance of or interference with the said frequencies and channels.”

Since the PA’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas, the JTC’s operations have been suspended but prior to that, meetings were held between the two sides as the Ministry of Communications explained when BBC Watch enquired about the topic of 3G technology.  

“The Israeli and Palestinian sides discussed several communication matters during the meetings of the Joint Technical Committee (JTC), attempting to come up with mutually agreed-upon solutions. Those matters also include the assignment of 3G frequencies.”

In fact, Israel proposed to the committee a plan which would facilitate the entry of operative 3G technology to the PA-controlled areas. No response was received from the Palestinian side.

It is not of course the case that there is no 3G technology available in PA-controlled areas. Users can already make use of roving technology provided by Israeli suppliers and, as is the case with some Israeli companies such as Hot Mobile and Golan Telecom, potential Palestinian suppliers would not need to have their own physical infrastructure in order to provide 3G service to their customers but could roam on existing ones, thereby reducing the number of antennae.

The 3G issue is of course not just a technical one, but a subject which – like water – has been politicized in order to advance a specific narrative. Regrettably, on this topic and others noted above, Jen Copestake did not ask the necessary questions in order to bring to BBC audiences the facts behind the politicized narrative she amplifies in her reports. 

 

 

BBC Click reports from Israel

Hats off to the BBC’s technology reporters – and specifically this time the BBC Click team – who have once again demonstrated howClick 31 5 news from Israel can be reported accurately, impartially and interestingly.

A special episode of Click (which appears on BBC News and BBC World News) broadcast on May 31st focused on the Israeli technology scene and included items on an unmanned flying ambulance, a device to enable a smartphone to be used as a thermal imaging camera and a hand-held cancer detector. Readers in the UK can view the whole show on BBC iPlayer and those elsewhere can view a preview here and see a filmed report on one of the items on the BBC News website’s technology page here.

What is missing from these two BBC Technology reports?

On May 9th an article appeared in the Technology section of the BBC News website under the title “Keepod: Can a $7 stick provide billions computer access?“. Its writer, Dan Simmons, also produced a filmed version of the report  titled “Keepod ‘magic drives’ put Nairobi’s children online” which appeared on the BBC World News programme ‘Click‘ on May 10th and 11th.Keepod filmed

Both reports are about a company called Keepod which has invented a USB flash drive with its own operating system, circumventing the need for a computer with a hard disk and storing all the user’s files for use on any available computer.

The only very round-about clue to the fact that Keepod is an Israeli start-up in the report’s written version is the following caption to one of the photographs used to illustrate it.

“Keepod is Hebrew for the word hedgehog. It is also a play on words, as it joins the English word “keep” with the Hebrew word “od”, meaning “everything”.”

‘Od’ actually means ‘more’ in Hebrew – not ‘everything’.

Keepod written pic

In the report’s filmed version, no mention at all is made of the fact that Keepod is an Israeli company and in neither report is the fact that the USB flash drive is an Israeli invention noted.

 

BBC science and technology reporters continue to lead on accuracy and impartiality

Showing once again that some of the best BBC reporting on Israel comes from the corporation’s science and technology correspondents, here are a few recent reports which have appeared on the BBC News website.Phone battery story

On April 2nd a written report by science reporter Melissa Hogenboom on a study of the effects of oxytocin on the behaviour of members of groups, carried out by a researcher from Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, appeared on the ‘Science & Environment’ page of the BBC News website.

On April 8th a written report on an Israeli start-up company which is in the process of developing a mobile phone battery capable of full charging in thirty seconds appeared in the BBC News website’s ‘Technology’ section.

The next day, a filmed report on the same topic from a BBC news programme also appeared on the ‘Technology’ page of the website.

What a pity it is that the same standards of interesting, pertinent, accurate and impartial reporting are so hard to come by on Israel-related topics with a political component.