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

BBC News website reporting on the so-called ‘Great Return March’ commenced on March 30th, peaked in May and has continued at a lesser intensity since then.

While during the first four months of reporting visitors to the website did not see any reporting from the Gaza Strip that was not specifically related to those events or other security-related issues, in the four months between August and November 2018, some more generalised reporting from Gaza appeared on the BBC News website.

Interestingly, all those reports included at least one of two specific themes. [emphasis added]

August 2018:

Gaza’s history-making female runner“, 15/8/18, discussed here

“I’m still training but because of the siege I cannot go outside the Gaza Strip. I cannot compete in international races.” […] “For the past four years no athlete from Gaza has been able to take part in any event outside.”

Bullet shatters Palestinian cyclist’s Asian Games dream”, 28/8/18, discussed here

“Alaa’s dream was to represent Palestine at the Asian Games. But an Israeli bullet put an end to his dream. On 30 March, Alaa was taking part in what has been called “The Great March of Return” at the Gaza-Israel frontier. The protest campaign expresses support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

September 2018:

Gaza’s abandoned airport in ruins”, 12/9/18, discussed here

“The airport was destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada. The International Civil Aviation Organisation condemned the destruction of the airport and urged Israel to allow it to reopen. Gaza currently has no functioning airports.”

Gaza family: ‘Our children suffer to get a bottle of water’”, 27/9/18, discussed here

“There are fresh warnings about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where there are severe water and power shortages.

A new World Bank report says the economy is in “free fall”.

Meanwhile, deadly protests have resumed along the Gaza-Israel border and the situation “could explode any minute”, according to Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.”

October 2018:

Gaza: Coding in a conflict zone“, 1/10/18

“For more than a decade, since the Islamist movement Hamas took full control, Gaza has been kept under a tight blockade by Israel and Egypt, for what they say is their own security. There are controls on goods allowed in and out and on travel.” […]

“The protests began with a demand for Palestinians to return to their ancestral land that now lies in Israel, but many believe they have been fuelled by the desperate situation.”

How coding is helping young Gazans find work“, 6/10/18

“Over a decade ago, a blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt was tightened, when the militant group, Hamas, took full control. Today, the local economy is broken and it’s difficult to get a permit to travel.”

“These young people are working their way around Gaza’s blockade.”

Gaza grenade collector: ‘We’re planting life from death’“, 20/10/18, discussed here

“This is the border between Gaza and Israel. Palestinians have been protesting since March 2018 in support of the declared right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

 “Gaza protest image likened to famous Delacroix painting”, 25/10/18, discussed here

“Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting weekly along the border with Israel since March. The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

November 2018:

What is ‘Green Cake’ and why did this woman invent it?“, 2/11/18, discussed here

“[concrete blocks for building]…are usually made from cement, sand and gravel (or aggregate). But all that has to come from Israel which tightly restricts imports on security grounds.”

Gaza Strip’s only concert grand piano makes music again“, 21/11/18, discussed here

“Gaza is blockaded by Israel and Egypt, who cite security concerns.”

As we see four of those ten reports concerning the Gaza Strip which appeared on the BBC News website between August and November inclusive included references to the so-called ‘right of return – but without any explanation the true significance of that Palestinian demand.

Seven of the ten reports included portrayal of counter-terrorism measures in terms of restrictions (actual or not) on movement of people or goods and/or shortages perceived (rightly or not) to result from those measures, but without any proper explanation of the terrorism which made them necessary.

As the JCPA noted one month after the ‘Great Return March’ rioting had begun: [emphasis added]

“Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official and member of the Hamas political bureau, defined the three main objectives of the return marches in Gaza: inculcating the right of return among the Palestinian people and the younger generation, thereby giving a focus to the struggle against the “occupation;” torpedoing the “deal of the century,” President Trump’s diplomatic plan for resolving the Middle East conflict; and breaking the embargo on the Gaza Strip.”

Remarkably, all BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip throughout the past four months has amplified themes relating to at least one of those objectives.

 

 

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BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – October 2018

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during October 2018 shows that throughout the month a total of 330 incidents took place: 95 in Judea & Samaria, 14 in Jerusalem and 221 in the Gaza Strip sector.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 80 attacks with petrol bombs, 15 attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), eight arson attacks, two shooting attacks and four stabbing attacks.

Incidents recorded in the Gaza Strip sector included 141 attacks with petrol bombs, 39 attacks using IEDs and twenty-five grenade attacks. Sixteen separate incidents of rocket or mortar fire – a total of forty-six launches – took place during October.

The murder of two Israeli civilians and the wounding of another in a terror attack at the Barkan industrial park on October 7th was reported on the BBC News website well over 24 hours later – with the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ used, as usual, only in quotes from Israeli officials.

A member of the security forces and a civilian were wounded in a stabbing attack on October 11th which did not receive any BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw no coverage of missile attacks on October 17th and October 24th. A barrage of attacks on October 26th/ 27th was similarly ignored at the time and only briefly mentioned in a later report.

Original version

The ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip was the topic of one BBC Trending report published on the BBC News website in which audiences were told nothing of grenade and IED attacks which took place.

“Demonstrators burnt tyres and threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and live fire. Gaza’s health ministry said 32 Palestinians were wounded.” [emphasis added]

Another article that was first published on October 28th (and discussed here) presented an IED attack as an Israeli claim.

In short, visitors to the BBC News website during October saw belated coverage of one fatal terror attack and one out of three separate incidents of rocket attacks as well as qualified reporting of one IED attack: i.e. 4.5% of the 330 terror incidents which took place.

Since the beginning of 2018 the BBC has reported 17.6% of the terror attacks that have actually taken place and 90.9% of the resulting fatalities.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – September 2018

Rocket attack on Be’er Sheva home ignored by BBC

BBC News again yawns at missile attacks on southern Israel

Romanticising violence on the BBC News website

Why did the BBC News website erase an accurate statement?

Romanticising violence on the BBC News website

On October 25th an article by Chris Bell titled “Gaza protest image likened to famous Delacroix painting” appeared on the BBC Trending blog and the ‘Middle East’ page of the BBC News website.

Readers were told that:

“It’s a picture which has spawned thousands of words online.

Captured by photojournalist Mustafa Hassona, a bare-chested Palestinian holding a large flag wields a sling over his head in Gaza on Monday.

It was snapped amid violent protests on a beach close to the border with Israel. Demonstrators burnt tyres and threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and live fire. Gaza’s health ministry said 32 Palestinians were wounded.” [emphasis added]

Readers did not discover until towards the end of the article that “Gaza’s health ministry” is run by the same terror group that organises and facilitates the violent rioting now in its seventh month.

Neither were they informed that in addition to burning tyres and throwing stones, the rioters on that beach on October 22nd engaged in additional activities which – had Bell bothered to mention them – would have helped audiences understand why the use of live fire was necessary.

“On October 22, 2018, the 13th mini-flotilla sailed towards Israel’s naval border. About 20 small boats set sail from the Beit Lahia shore. The mini-flotilla was accompanied by a demonstration on the beach, in which about 5,000 Gazans participated. During the demonstration rioters threw IEDs and hand grenades at IDF forces. Several rioters tried to approach the security fence but returned to the Gaza Strip. The ministry of health in the Gaza Strip reported that about twenty people had been injured in the demonstrations north of Beit Lahia.”

Later on in the article, readers saw more downplaying of the violent nature of the ‘Great Return March’ events:

“Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting weekly along the border with Israel since March. The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the intention of the demand for the so-called ‘right of return’ is the elimination of the Jewish state.

With regard to the photograph itself, readers were told that:

“The image has been shared widely, with many social media users likening it to Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of the 1830 Paris uprising – Liberty Leading the People.”

While Delacroix’s painting portrayed French protesters rising up against their monarch, the subject of this photograph was not demonstrating against his own corrupt and inept rulers. Bell made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that the Gaza Strip has not been under Israeli control for over thirteen years and so the comparison made by “many social media users” is clearly redundant. Moreover, his narrative framing continued: 

“Where some saw biblical symbolism of a David versus Goliath struggle, others viewed the stylish image as glorification of violence.”

Nevertheless, as we see, the BBC did indeed consider it appropriate to provide amplification to the politically motivated romanticisation of an image of a person participating in violent rioting encouraged, organised and facilitated by a terror group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

On the morning of July 22nd the IDF announced the completion of the overnight evacuation of 800 Syrian ‘White Helmets’ personnel and their families from southern Syria, through Israel and into Jordan.

“The evacuation took place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Golan Heights and where the civil defense team was trapped. […]

The evacuees arrived at the border with Israel, and the IDF opened the gates and let them through. Medical treatment was provided to those in need, and the evacuees were provided with food and water.

The humanitarian workers and their families then boarded a fleet of buses that was already waiting for them at the site. The army and police blocked roads in the area, allowing the convoy to pass unimpeded.”

After the story broke, the BBC News website quickly produced a report titled “Syria conflict: Israel evacuates ‘White Helmets’” which appeared on its main homepage as well as its ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

In that report BBC audiences were told that:

“The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.

They say they are non-partisan but supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, and his ally Russia, allege links to jihadist groups.”

And again, in a sub-section headed “Who are the White Helmets?”:

“Say they are neutral and have no political affiliation but have been accused of links to jihadist groups by the Syrian government and its Russian allies”

That propaganda has indeed been vigorously promoted by the Assad regime, Russia and their sympathisers.  However, it has also been exposed and debunked – as the Guardian reported in December 2017.

“The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s army with airstrikes bombarding opposition-held areas. Almost immediately, Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik started falsely claiming that Isis was the only target and throwing doubt on the bombings of infrastructure and civilian sites.

The same propaganda machine scooped up fringe anti-American activists, bloggers and researchers who believe the White Helmets are terrorists, giving them a platform on state TV and amplifying their articles through social media.”

In April of this year BBC Trending produced a report titled “Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories” which includes a whole section on conspiracy theories relating to the ‘White Helmets’.

“The Sarah Abdallah account is, according to a recent study by the online research firm Graphika, one of the most influential social media accounts in the online conversation about Syria, and specifically in pushing misinformation about a 2017 chemical weapons attack and the Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are widely known as the “White Helmets”. […]

Graphika found 20 million messages about the White Helmets, split between tweets in support and in opposition. Among the opponents, Kelly says, Sarah Abdallah was “by far the most influential”, followed by Vanessa Beeley.

The firm found that Sarah Abdallah’s account was primarily followed by a number of different interest clusters: supporters of pro-Palestinian causes, Russians and Russian allies, white nationalists and those from the extremist alt-right, conservative American Trump supporters, far-right groups in Europe and conspiracy theorists.

These groups were instrumental in making the hashtag #SyriaHoax trend after the chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.”

Nevertheless, three months on BBC News is still amplifying the propaganda of the Syrian and Russian regimes concerning the ‘White Helmets’ – and that despite the corporation’s obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news…of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Judging by many of the replies to a Tweet relating to the story sent by the British Foreign Secretary, the BBC News website’s longstanding habit of promoting false balance in the name of ‘impartiality’ by repeatedly amplifying any and every propaganda put out by the Assad regime and its Russian ally is certainly not contributing to meeting that particular ‘public purpose’.

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Looking behind a BBC News website tag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 Related Articles:

Tepid BBC report on Lebanese Olympic team’s bigoted agitprop

BBC Sport reports snub to Israeli judoka – but gets his name wrong

BBC Sport whitewashes Islamist bigotry with a euphemism

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

BBC Trending recycles a previously published BDS falsehood

On May 10th an article credited to Lamia Estatie appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the BBC Trending blog. At the bottom of the article readers are told that it was produced “By the UGC [user-generated content – Ed.] and Social News team; Additional reporting by BBC Monitoring in Cairo”.

Titled “Arabs call for Pizza Hut boycott after prisoner ad“, the article relates to a story that emerged on the same day.

“Arabs on social are calling for a boycott of the popular pizza chain and franchise after one of its Israel branches posted a Facebook advert said to “mock” Palestinian hunger strikers.

Pizza Hut has apologised for the now deleted post, saying it was “completely inappropriate and does not reflect the values of our brand” and added that “the relationship with the agency that posted it was terminated”.

Israeli prison authorities had earlier released an [sic] video of Marwan Barghouti – who is leading a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons – allegedly secretly eating cookies. Mr Barghouti’s wife has said the prison service footage was “fake”.

But Pizza Hut used a screen grab of the video with a Photoshopped pizza box in the cell. The post in Hebrew read: “Barghouti, if you are going to break your strike, isn’t pizza the better choice?””

Nowhere throughout the entire article are BBC audiences informed that Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences for his role in lethal terror attacks and neither are they told that additional “Palestinian hunger strikers” are also serving time for acts of terror. As in previous BBC reports concerning the ‘hunger strike’ (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences are not told what the “jail conditions” that the prisoners are supposedly protesting actually are or what they are demanding. Neither are readers given any insight into the political background of the strike.

“Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have been refusing food since 17 April to protest against Israeli jail conditions, relying on an intake of saltwater.” 

“Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour has said that more than 6,500 Palestinians are imprisoned or arbitrarily detained by Israel.”

Another noteworthy aspect of this article comes in the following paragraph:

“The BDS – or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – is a self-described human rights organisations [sic] which supports a boycott of Israel as a form of pressure. Support for the campaign has grown on UK university campuses and has been criticised by some Jewish students.” [emphasis added]

The link in that paragraph leads to an article by Jon Ironmonger that appeared on the BBC News website on April 27th and was discussed here. There too BBC audiences were inaccurately led to believe that the BDS campaign is a “human rights” group.

“The BDS – which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – describes itself as a human rights organisation and criticises Israel for its human rights record.

It says it stands for “freedom, justice and equality”, saying it is “inclusive and categorically opposes as a matter of principle all forms of racism” – including anti-Semitism.”” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“Had audiences been told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism, they would have been able to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its correct context.”

As we once again see from this latest BBC Trending article, when inaccurate information is promoted by the BBC it not only misleads the corporation’s funding public, but also its own staff. The result is that myths such as the claim that the BDS movement promotes human rights are recycled and spread even further.

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BBC’s Knell tells audiences that convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’

Omissions in the BBC’s report on terrorist’s ‘hunger strike’ nosh

 

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 Trending presents Palestinian incitement as ‘narrative’

As has been documented here on countless occasions throughout the last year, the BBC’s coverage of the incitement and glorification of terrorism which fuelled the surge in Palestinian attacks that began in October 2015 – and of the role played by social media in particular – has done very little to meet the corporation’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding of that issue.

Last month we noted that the BBC had refrained from reporting on the visit to Israel by Facebook executives for discussions on the incitement to violence frequently seen on its platform and so it was particularly interesting to see that visit employed in an item which appeared in the ‘BBC Trending’ programme on BBC World Service radio on October 2nd.bbc-trending-2-10

The item relates to the very brief closure of Facebook accounts associated with two Palestinian online news outlets last month. As the Times of Israel reported at the time:

“Facebook pages of a number of editors of Quds News Network were suspended for several hours last Friday, a campaigner said, in what the social media giant later called a “mistake.”

Pages linked to the Shehab News Agency were also disabled, an editor there said.

Quds has 5.2 million likes on Facebook, while Shehab has 6.35 million.

The Arabic versions of the online newspapers are supportive of the Hamas terror group and have been accused of incitement to violence against Israelis.

“The pages were removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate,” Facebook said in a statement.

“Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong. We’re very sorry about this mistake.””

BBC Trending presenter Mike Wendling introduced that item (from 09:41 here) as follows:

“Our next story looks at the hashtag ‘Facebook Censors Palestine’ [#FBCensorsPalestine – Ed.] which appeared last weekend. Kate Lamble is still with us. Kate – explain.”

Lamble: “Yes the hashtag has now been used over 120 thousand times on Twitter this week and it’s all part of a campaign run by Palestinian journalists to highlight recent decisions by the social media giant. You see, Facebook plays a key role in the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestine, with both sides using it as a way to get their point across and drum up international support.”

Lamble – who clearly chooses to ignore the fact that the BBC Academy’s style guide instructs “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – goes on: 

“But over the last year, Israel has become more and more concerned that some people have been using the network to incite violence and glorify stabbing attacks, which have become more common.”

Listeners are not told that the violence has in no way been confined to “stabbing attacks” or who has been perpetrating the violence.

Wendling: “And Kate; Facebook specifically prohibits inciting violence. It’s right there in its terms and conditions – right – so if a post is brought to their attention and they think it violates those terms – it incites violence – they’ll delete it.”

Lamble: “Yeah and it’s that spotlight on online activity that really sets the scene for why this #FBCensorsPalestine campaign was started. Raja Abdulhaq is one of the co-founders of the Quds News Network which is based in Ramallah and has over 5 million likes. Last week they woke up to realise that their Facebook page had a bit of a problem.”

Abdulhaq: “So basically the online editors – at least four of them – their accounts were suspended. So once we started looking around we realised that at least two more networks had the same issue. There’s no way it’s a coincidence, especially after there is a big push from the Israeli government to shut down Palestinian inciting for violence online.”

Failing to clarify that the whole episode lasted no more than a few hours, Lamble goes on:

Lamble: “Now it’s worth saying that Facebook have since apologised and called their actions a mistake but that’s not enough for Raja; he’s still on the campaign trail because he’s convinced that Facebook have somehow agreed to help Israel target content on the platform that they’re unhappy with – including news providers.”

Wendling: “How does the evidence stack up? Is there anything to support that view?”

Lamble: “Well we do know that earlier this year two Israeli ministers announced that they were trying to pass laws to make it illegal to incite violence online and at the beginning of September – less than two weeks before the #FBCensorsPalestine campaign was launched – those same ministers met with Facebook officials.”

Wendling: “Hmm…I wonder what they discussed.”

Lamble: “Yes – well we approached the Israeli government for comment but they didn’t respond. Facebook also haven’t commented on what happened in those meetings and simply say they regularly meet with leaders across the world. But afterwards Israeli newspapers ran headlines claiming that the company had agreed to run joint groups with the country to tackle the issue. Now that obviously worried Palestinians who were concerned that Facebook’s approach would become more biased.”

Wendling: “OK, so I guess there’s this context here and I suppose a little bit of circumstantial evidence for what the Palestinian campaigners believe.”

Lamble: “Yeah – context but not really solid evidence that Facebook might be working with Israel. But if the suggestion is that Palestinian journalists had their accounts unfairly closed because of an over-zealous Israeli campaign against violent content, we have to look at what they were actually publishing. Here’s Raja again.”

Abdulhaq: “The problem here is that Israel and Facebook looking at this without contextualising. When we go to a family and when they talk about their right to resist the occupation, we’re not in any way endorsing or not endorsing. We’re just reporting what the people on the ground are saying.”

Quds News Network Facebook page - Photo credit: Times of Israel

Quds News Network Facebook page – Photo credit: Times of Israel

Lamble: “I mean you say that you just report the facts but it’s not a neutral news service. At the very least it does use inflammatory language: it talks about martyrs, it puts Israel in quote marks, it published a cartoon of a woman in Arabic dress threatening a tank with a knife. Your cover photo is two people in Palestinian scarves throwing stones. Do you not understand at all that some of that content might contribute to this impression?”

quds-news-pic

From Quds News Network

Abdulhaq: “No, absolutely not. We are not in a position to do or to have call of action material. And when it comes to martyrdom, this is the terminology that is used in our culture. When you call a martyr it’s not a call to action that we’re telling people to go and kill yourself or kill somebody else. We’re just saying, based on our narrative.”

Interestingly, when one of Abdulhaq’s colleagues gave an interview to AP a year ago, he was very clear about the fact that his outlet aims to do far more than “just reporting”.

“The Quds News Network, which operates one of the most prominent Palestinian Facebook news sites, has about 3.7 million Facebook followers and says it relies on a network of some 300 stringers throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It breaks news so rapidly that it tends to beat out traditional Palestinian media outlets — even providing those outlets with video and photos.

The site says it is independent, but has a reputation for being affiliated with Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group. Another active Facebook site, run by the Shehab News Network, has about 4.2 million followers and is regarded by Palestinians as being linked with Hamas. Both militant groups oppose Israel’s right to exist, and have killed scores of Israelis in suicide bombings and shootings over the years.

“Our message is twofold. Number one is to support the resistance . second, expose the aggressive acts of the Israeli occupation,” said Ahmed Yousef, 25, an editor at Quds News Network. Sitting in a baklava shop on a recent afternoon, he coordinated coverage with other editors in a Facebook chat group on his cell phone.

Yousef said his site does not encourage violence, but only reflects the attitude of the streets. “During this uprising we have to match the mood of the people,” he said.”

Lamble goes on to give listeners her take-away messaging:

“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.”

Wendling: “So Facebook weighing in on the issue. I mean, you know, even if they managed to do it in a completely impartial manner it could be seen as biased by people on either side.”

Lamble: “Yeah, but if we try and figure out if Facebook are being impartial or not, there’s one other issue to take into account. As well as any potential governmental pressure, Facebook is also currently being sued by Shurat HaDin – an Israeli law centre which represents victims of terrorism – for not doing enough to curb online incitement posted by Palestinians.”

Wendling: “‘For not doing enough’…so I mean that’s exactly the opposite of what the Palestinians are accusing Facebook.”

Lamble: “Yeah. I did warn you [giggles] it was slightly complicated. Here’s Nitsana Darshan-Leitner who’s involved in that case.”

Darshan-Leitner: “We basically have two lawsuits against Facebook. One is an injunction: asking the court to compel Facebook to delete all pages that call to kill Jews or incitement to acts of terrorism against Israelis and Jews. The other lawsuit is a monetary lawsuit for $1 bn against Facebook for aiding and abetting terrorism. Facebook is allowing Hamas and other terror organisations to use their platform to spread the ideology and to fundraise and the Anti-terrorism Act does not allow any American company to provide them any type of material support.”

Apparently uninterested in the fact that proscribed terror groups are using Facebook, Lamble changes the subject to introduce false equivalence:

“Do you accept that content which incites violence also comes from Israelis against Palestinians and a lot of that is currently present online?”

Darshan-Leitner: “I’m sure there are calls that call to kill Palestinians. We ourselves did an experiment where we created two identical pages: one page called to kill Palestinians and the other called to kill Israelis. And after two days we asked for Facebook to take both pages down. Facebook immediately took down the page that called to kill Palestinians but left the page that called to kill Israelis standing.”

Lamble: “But are you claiming that those calls against Palestinians and against Israelis are being treated differently?”

Darshan-Leitner: “Absolutely – hundred percent.”

Wendling: “So there we have an equally passionate claim that Facebook are discriminating – this time against Israelis.”

Lamble: “And for what it’s worth, Facebook say both of the pages Nitsana described were eventually taken down and I’ve read about almost an exact same experiment being repeated with the opposite result.”

Wendling: “OK. [laughs] So is Facebook just stuck in the middle of these two warring factions, being attacked from all sides? Or have they opened themselves up to claims that they might have been irresponsible in meeting Israeli ministers but not the Palestinian authorities who tackle online hate speech?”

That latter statement obviously exposes the dire level of Wendling’s understanding of the issue on which he is supposedly informing BBC audiences. There are of course no “Palestinian authorities who tackle online hate speech” and had the BBC done a better job of reporting on incitement and glorification of terrorism throughout the past year, he would perhaps know that official Palestinian bodies – including the PA and Fatah – have themselves regularly used Facebook and other social media platforms (as well as more traditional outlets) to incite violence and glorify acts of terrorism.

Lamble closes the item:

“Well at the moment it seems like Facebook are walking a very thin tightrope of neutrality but they’re trying to please everyone. They’re meeting with the Israeli government to show that they’re listening to their concerns and they’ve also told us they want Palestinians to know their voices will be as safe on Facebook as every other community. It obviously depends where you stand on the political spectrum when deciding whether that’s a successful balancing act.”

Clearly this item once again does little to help BBC audiences understand the gravity of the issue of Palestinian incitement and indeed actively hinders that aim by misleadingly presenting the subject as being about “narrative” and portraying efforts to combat the spread of incitement as “bias”. It does however provide amplification for a campaign run by some Palestinians (apparently with connections to terror groups and ideologies which BBC Trending was obviously not interested in investigating) which is clearly designed to hamper Facebook’s efforts to clamp down on the incitement that they and others have long spread unhindered.

Related Articles:

Poor BBC reporting on Palestinian incitement again mars audience understanding

BBC still portraying incitement as an ‘Israel says’ story

Facebook Allows Hamas News Agency to Operate Freely, But What about The Algemeiner?  (CAMERA) 

 

 

BBC Trending ignores antisemitic Tweets from featured selfie snapper

On May 18th BBC Trending published an article titled “Muslim woman’s cheeky selfie with anti-Islam group goes viral“.Trending art belgium

“When hijab-wearing Zakia Belkhiri saw members of a far-right anti-Islam group protesting outside an Islamic lifestyle event she was attending in Belgium she responded like a true Millennial.

The 22-year-old took out her phone and snapped a series of selfies with members of Vlaams Belang – a far-right nationalist group who some have described as “openly anti-Muslim”. […] 

Ms Belkhiri told BBC Trending that she took the photos “to show that things can be different. And that we can live together, not next to each other but with each other.” […]

She also added that she doesn’t think a selfie can be a form of protest; “this wasn’t a protest at all, this was just to share joy and peace.””

The article’s author seemed to be particularly captivated by the story, which was also promoted by additional media outlets.

Trending author belgium selfie

However, some social media users pointed out that Ms Belkhiri’s Twitter account included messaging (since deleted) rather less representative of “joy and peace” or coexistence.

Belgium selfie story Trending 2012 tweet

There has to date been no response from BBC Trending.

Update:

BBC Trending has now published a follow-up article titled  “Anti-Semitic statements of ‘joy and peace’ selfie star“.

BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) the question that BBC Trending found it appropriate to ask visitors to the Middle East page on the corporation’s website was “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?“.Saudi women on ME pge

In the text accompanying that video report, readers are told that what they know about the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia (including, apparently, its 2015 ranking by the World Economic Forum at 134 out of 145 countries) is a “stereotype”.

“Life for women in the Arab kingdom is often painted as one of repression, after all they are forbidden from driving and are restricted by male guardianship laws which deprive them of their independence.

And BBC Trending has covered several stories that have gone viral that show how these restrictions affect women’s lives.

But many of these stories also show how women are using social media to make their voices heard, challenging not only their own society but also the stereotype the world has of them.

So for the “Saudis on Social” series we asked Saudi women, if they are really that oppressed?”

In the video the BBC’s Mai Norman tells audiences that:

“When it comes to Saudi women, well, most of the world has a certain image: unequal and can’t even drive. But many Saudi women say that’s just a stereotype; it’s not the full picture.”

How the term “many Saudi women” is quantified or sourced is not revealed to audiences and neither – crucially – are the basic standpoints and beliefs of the report’s contributors. Viewers see an interview with a woman presented as Samer al Morgan who tells them that:

“The Saudi woman is completely different. There are many different types of women. I’m one of these women who doesn’t fit the image portrayed by western media.”

The speaker is apparently Saudi journalist Samer al Mogren and one has to wonder about BBC Trending’s framing of her words given the fact that in 2008 she recounted her own experiences at a major newspaper.

“Mogren worked for four years at the Saudi daily Al-Watan, enjoying a top-notch position where she supervised both men and women at the paper’s social affairs desk. Late last year, the editorial board changed hands, and from that point her skills were called into question. “I was totally marginalized,” she says. “I wasn’t consulted as an editor; I’d go home at six or seven in the evening after writing out the pages only to find that when the paper came out the next day, nothing I’d done was published. “I started to witness real discrimination against women. Women weren’t wanted there, except for a handful who were needed for administrative work. If there was a woman who was capable of making a decision, it wasn’t welcome.” Loath to capitulate to the whims of her new boss, Mogren decided to leave her job while she was ahead. “If I’d stayed there I’d have been buried,” she says. During her field work as a journalist, Mogren has interviewed countless Saudi women and documented their plight as second-class citizens in Saudi society. Mogren, who has since begun contributing to the Kuwaiti Awan, has revealed some horrific stories of violence against Saudi women and hopes to raise more awareness about this issue around the world, in particular in the Arab world.”

Norman goes on:Saudi women Trending

“So we’ve been asking Saudi women themselves: are women in the kingdom really that oppressed?”

Viewers then see Nourah al Shaaban – presented as an “executive director” of an unnamed organization say:

“As a Saudi woman I never felt oppressed in any means. We have in our parliament more than 30 women.”

Norman explains:

“She’s referring to the recent and long-awaited move to allow women the right to vote and take part in parliamentary elections.”

In fact, as the BBC itself reported, the December 2015 elections were for municipal councils “with few powers” rather than for a parliament as most viewers would understand the term. Many female candidates – apparently including women’s rights campaigners – were barred and those that did run were not allowed to address male voters face to face. Polling stations were segregated and the female candidates won approximately 1% of the contested seats.

Norman continues:

“So do they have a point? More women in Saudi Arabia graduate from university than men. Contrary to popular belief women in Saudi Arabia can work and in fact have found prominence in different fields.”

As Freedom House points out:

“More than half of the country’s university students are now female, although they do not enjoy equal access to classes and facilities.”

According to the World Bank, women made up a mere 20% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce in 2014 and the percentage of women holding ministerial level positions was zero.

The video does go on to highlight the issues of the extensive requirement for male guardians and domestic violence – described by Freedom House as follows:

“Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to drive cars and must obtain permission from a male guardian in order to travel within or outside of the country. According to interpretations of Sharia in Saudi Arabia, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. Moreover, Saudi women seeking access to the courts must be represented by a male. The religious police enforce a strict policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to ensure compliance with conservative standards of dress in public. Same-sex marriage is not legal. All sexual activity outside of marriage, including same-sex activity, is criminalized, and the death penalty can be applied in certain circumstances. A 2013 law defines and criminalizes domestic abuse, prescribing fines and up to a year in prison for perpetrators. However, according to analysis by Human Rights Watch, the law lacks clarity on enforcement mechanisms.”

The report closes with the following messaging – again including the foggy term “many women”:

“Clearly when it comes to rights there are still many battles to fight. However many women in Saudi Arabia say that labelling them as victims only makes those battles harder to fight.”

Obviously there are women in Saudi Arabia fighting the uphill battle for equal rights and some small gains have been made. However, this report fails to clarify to audiences that many of the issues facing Saudi women (and human rights campaigners in general) are rooted in the country’s legal system which is based on interpretations of Sharia law.

This report’s attempt to create linkage between the way in which the situation of Saudi Arabian women is portrayed in the Western media and their ability to make progress in changing laws created under that male-dominated legal system clearly does not hold any water.

Then again, neither does the preposterous question posed repeatedly in this report’s title and subsequent content or its whitewashing of parts of the subject matter through inaccurate and selective representation of the situation of women in a non-democratic theocracy in which they cannot even decide how to dress or open a bank account without male permission.

If anyone – including Saudi women – was expecting the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” to make the most of International Women’s Day to inform its audiences of the issues faced by women in one of the worst places on earth for gender equality, they will have been sorely disappointed.

Related Articles:

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

Mission creep in BBC Trending report on Egyptian graduate’s speech about Israel

How the BBC whitewashed the issue of women’s rights in Iran