BBC content again featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published its annual report (available here) on the topic of Antisemitic Discourse in Britain for the year 2015.

The section of that report documenting reactions to the 2015 terror attacks at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris and the Synagogue in Copenhagen includes:

“…examples show[ing] a range of mainstream media and political responses to the Paris attacks […]. They include cases where hostility to Israel appeared to dictate reactions to the killings of French Jews.”

One of those examples (p 31) is described as follows:

“On 11 January, Tim Willcox of BBC News interviewed a French-Israeli woman attending a rally in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks. She expressed concern about persecution of Jews, saying “the situation is going back to the days of the 1930s in Europe”, whereupon Willcox stated:

“Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well”.

Willcox’s response sparked an angry reaction from many commentators. For example, historian Simon Schama tweeted “Appalling of @BBCTimWillcox to imply any and all JEWS (not Israelis) responsible for treatment of Palestinians by hectoring lady in Paris”. Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen commented:

“…Of course, Willcox would never say such a thing after the murder of Muslims, and rightly so. He was interviewing an elderly Jewish lady, who was trying to mourn Jews killed for no other reason than they were Jews in a Paris supermarket.

Change the religion – make it Judaism, to be precise. Change Islamism to Israel, and the most grotesque apologies for murder become acceptable; standard even. Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined.”

On 12 January, Willcox tweeted a bland apology: “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question…it was entirely unintentional”.”Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints concerning that broadcast, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision. In June 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its rejection of appeals against that decision. 

In short, both the BBC and OFCOM dismissed complaints concerning a statement which Britain’s leading authority on antisemitism categorises as antisemitic discourse, with OFCOM stating that it had:

“…“carefully assessed complaints about alleged antisemitic comments” and “decided not to take the issue forward for further investigation.”

It explained: “While the comments clearly had the potential to cause offence, Ofcom considered a range of factors, including the live nature of this coverage and the need for an appropriate degree of freedom of expression, especially in news coverage of such a significant event.””

As OFCOM prepares to take on its new role as final adjudicator of complaints concerning BBC content, this worrying example once again highlights the need for both it and the BBC to work according to the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the British government.

Related Articles:

BBC programme flagged up in CST report on Antisemitic Discourse

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (CAMERA) 

BBC Trust rejects appeals on Willcox ‘Jewish hands’ complaints

Eighteen months after the original broadcast, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee has now published its findings concerning complaints about remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris after the terror attacks at the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hypercacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision.

On June 16th 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published the outcome of appeals against that decision. A summary can be found on page 4 and the full decision is on page 11 here.

Unsurprisingly, the ESC rejected all the appeals and the convoluted ‘rationale’ behind that decision raises issues in itself. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“Given the apology by [the presenter] at the time, it is clear we accept that the question itself was somewhat clumsy, and the phrase ‘Jewish hands’ might not have been chosen in a scripted context, given the specific point behind the question was about Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. We note the earlier findings that this phrase, while clumsy and insufficiently specific, was not a breach of the BBC’s guidelines given the regular conflation of Israel and Jewish by critics of Israel’s policies, and the use by some of the phrase ‘Jewish state’ to describe Israel.” […]

The Committee did not uphold the points of appeal, for the following reasons:

  • whilst some of the audience clearly found it both harmful and offensive to conflate Jewish and Israeli, the perspective was clearly attributed to critics of Israel
  • it was posited neither as the presenter’s view nor as a valid position. The presenter’s remarks were positing a reason the perpetrators might have used or others might use to try to justify or legitimise their actions in making Jews a target of the attack. The Committee did not accept the suggestion that the presenter had been seeking to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel
  • while it is abhorrent to murder Parisian Jews as a response to the actions of the State of Israel, and the actions of the State of Israel cannot be used to excuse or legitimise the events in Paris or to connect Parisian Jews to the State, it is evidently a justification used by those who perpetrate such acts of violence
  • physical attacks in Paris on Jewish people and their institutions during the war in Gaza a few months prior to the January massacres are evidence that the presenter’s observation was factually based
  • there have been comments by Jewish community leaders in France and the UK acknowledging that the war in Gaza was the motivation for anti-Semitic attacks […]
  • the conflation of Jewish and Israeli was duly accurate and editorially justified in this particular instance: it was clearly attributed, well-sourced, based on sound evidence, and was adequate and appropriate to the output.The Committee acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject matter and the genuine offence felt by some listeners. However, Trustees considered it important to note that the Editorial Guidelines permit the legitimate use of challenging material and allow reporters and presenters, where appropriate, to raise difficult issues in accordance with generally accepted standards. Trustees considered that, although the presenter had acknowledged that some viewers may have been offended by his choice of language, for which he had apologised promptly, given all the circumstances, his phraseology did not breach the Harm and Offence Guidelines.The Committee concluded that the BBC had demonstrated a clear editorial purpose in positing a connection between Jews “being the targets now” and “many critics of Israel’s policy” who would “suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands”.”

In other words, the BBC Trust appears to be claiming that because anti-Israel activists – and murderous antisemites – use the terms ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish’ interchangeably, it is legitimate for it to adopt the same language and that the use of such language is legitimate according to its editorial guidelines. One can of course only speculate whether or not the BBC would find it similarly appropriate to adopt and amplify the language of ‘justification’ used by those perpetrating acts of violence against, for example, the gay community.

The ESC likewise rejected appeals concerning the inadequacy of Willcox’s Twitter apology and the absence of any apology broadcast on the station which aired the remarks.

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“It is important to note that far from failing to recognise the issue, action was taken soon after the interview took place with [the presenter] accepting that the question he posed had been poorly phrased. He gave a clear apology the following morning via the social media network Twitter… This apology was also provided to media organisations by the BBC Press Office.”

The Committed noted the decision of the Editorial Complaints Unit at Stage 2 that the Twitter apology was sufficient because the presenter’s comments did not constitute a serious breach of editorial standards which would require a formal public correction and apology.

The Committee concluded that as the presenter’s comments had not breached the Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, the Twitter apology for the poor phrasing and its wider circulation in the media via the BBC Press Office, was adequate and appropriate.”BBC Trust

Notably, this is not the first time that the self-regulating BBC Trust has rejected appeals concerning remarks made by this reporter, despite their having been flagged up by expert bodies dealing with antisemitism: the CST and the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

It is of course also remarkable that the BBC Trust (along with OFCOM, as cited in this document) is apparently convinced that it possesses the authority and expertise to make judgements what is – or in this case, what is not – antisemitic discourse. And that despite the fact that both OFCOM and the BBC have yet to inform their funding public which accepted definition of antisemitism – if any – they use as the basis for such decisions. 

 

 

 

 

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

In April 2015, listeners to an item about the plight of Christians in the Middle East broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were told by the corporation’s Middle East editor that:

“…Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing.”

Members of the public who complained to the BBC received a Stage 1 template response which claimed that “he was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.”

One member of the public who was not satisfied by that response took his complaint to Stage 2 where it was rejected by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). The gentleman then appealed against that decision to the BBC Trust and when that appeal was also rejected, requested that the Trustees review the decision not to proceed with his appeal. The Editorial Standards Committee decided that the appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration and the details of that decision and the previous ones were published by the ESC last month.

The document (pages 48 – 52 inclusive here) shows that from Stage 2 onwards, BBC staff handling this complaint relied on information sourced from three remarkable sources.

Complaint Bowen 1

Complaint Bowen 2

All three of those organisations are campaigning bodies with a clear political agenda.

Founded in 2005, the Institute for Middle East Understanding is a US-based organisation with a mission to “offer journalists and editors quick access to information about Palestine and the Palestinians, as well as expert sources — both in the U.S. and in the Middle East”. IMEU promotes the BDS campaign against Israel and produces characteristically one-sided ‘reports’ and ‘fact sheets’ which – inter alia – promote the ‘apartheid’ trope and the notion of “official and unofficial discrimination” against Christians.

Sabeel is an organisation known not only for its promotion of the ‘one-state solution’ (i.e. the elimination of Israel as the Jewish state) but also for the employment of ‘liberation theology’ and supersessionism in its anti-Israel campaigning

Kairos – or Kairos Palestine – “is an NGO that promotes the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy [see here]. It calls for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel and denies the Jewish religious and historical connection to any part of the Land of Israel.” Kairos Palestine describes terrorism against Israelis as “legal resistance”.

So as we see, the BBC’s approach to a complaint about inaccurate portrayal of Israel was to consult and adopt information from sources which are actively engaged in anti-Israel campaigning and delegitimisation.

In our submission to the DCMS consultation on the BBC charter review we noted that:

“Whilst the BBC recognizes the fact that “some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation”, it frequently uses contributions from academics with a record of anti-Israel political campaigning and even consults with such sources when dealing with complaints. Clearly the BBC needs to ensure that all ‘experts’ consulted are neutral and impartial.” [emphasis added]

As this example shows, that problem is obviously not limited to consultation with campaigning academics but also includes campaigning political NGOs. As long as that clearly unsatisfactory practice continues, the BBC Complaints system can only maintain its dismal reputation.  

 

BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

A complaint concerning a BBC programme which was flagged up in the CST’s report on Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2014 has been rejected by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee.BBC Papers on website

A link to the original programme can be found below:

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

The BBC’s initial – and not dissimilar – response to complaints about the programme is documented here:

BBC doubles down on presenter’s ‘mansion tax’ comment

The ESC’s full decision can be found on pages 17 to 23 inclusive here with a summary appearing on pages 6 and 7. Whilst the full text of the original complaint is not available, some of the content of the decision appears – to put it politely – to have missed the point.

“The Committee concluded that:

 A reference by the presenter to ‘Jewish faces’ was not anti-Semitic in the context of a discussion about prominent Jewish people (donors to the Labour party). The presenter had been struggling for a phrase to sum up the group of people they were discussing in the heat of the live discussion, and had come up with Jewish “faces”. Trustees noted that the word “face” or “faces” was in common use as a synonym for a prominent person or people. Trustees considered it was clear that this was the meaning the presenter had intended the audience to take and that the potentially offensive meaning understood by the complainant, suggestive of a negative stereotype of Jewish facial features, would not have been intended; nor would the majority of the audience have interpreted it in that sense.”

The real significance of this ruling, however, is found in the fact that the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee obviously considers itself to have sufficient authority, knowledge and expertise to determine what is – or in this case, what is not – antisemitism even though one of Britain’s leading expert bodies on that form of racism has classified the programme concerned as an example of antisemitic discourse.

 

 

A Polish reporter’s account of the human shields the BBC refused to see

Last year the BBC Complaints department responded to complaints concerning the lack of BBC coverage of terrorist missile fire from the Gaza Strip by claiming that “it was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out” and by citing a filmed report by Orla Guerin from August 12th 2014 as support for the claim that it did in fact report “on allegations that Hamas and other militants put Palestinian civilian lives at risk by operating from residential areas, as well as launching rockets near schools and hospitals”.BBC Trust

Earlier this year the BBC Trust’s ESC produced a decidedly tortured and self-contradicting verdict rejecting complaints from members of the public about a statement made by Orla Guerin in that same filmed report from Gaza in which she said that there was “no evidence” to support the claim that civilians in the Gaza Strip were being used as human shields.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz recently published an article by Polish Radio’s foreign correspondent Wojciech Cegielski in which he recounts some of his own experiences whilst in the Gaza Strip last summer.

“Yes, Israel bombed Palestinian houses in Gaza. But Hamas is also to blame for its cruel and selfish game against its own people. I do not have hard evidence, but for me, spending a month in the middle of this hell, it was obvious that they were breaking international rules of war and worst of all, were not afraid to use their own citizens as living shields.

The first incident happened late in the evening. I was in the bathroom when I’ve heard a loud rocket noise and my Spanish colleague, a journalist who was renting a flat with me near the Gaza beach, started to scream. He wanted to light a cigarette and came to one of the open windows. The moment he was using his lighter, he saw a fireball in front of his eyes and lost his hearing.

From what our neighbors told us later, a man drove up in a pickup to our tiny street. He placed a rocket launcher outside and fired. But the rocket failed to go upwards and flew along the street at ground level for a long time before destroying a building. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt or killed.

When we calmed down, we started to analyze the situation. It became obvious that the man or his supervisor wanted the Israel Defense Forces to destroy civilian houses, which our tiny street was full of. Whoever it was, Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam or others, they knew that the IDF can strike back at the same place from which the rocket was fired. Fortunately for us, the rocket missed its target in Israel.

The second story happened in the middle of the day. I was sitting with other journalists in a cafe outside one of the hotels near the beach. During wartime, these hotels are occupied by foreign press and some NGOs. Every hotel is full and in its cafes many journalists spend their time discussing, writing, editing stories or just recharging the phones. Suddenly I saw a man firing a rocket from between the hotels. It was obvious that we journalists became a target. If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the “cruel Zionist regime killing innocent and free press.”

For me, provoking is also creating living shields.”

Mr Cegielski’s testimony joins the many others provided by foreign reporters who were working in the Gaza Strip at the same time as unprecedented numbers of BBC journalists. Curiously, the BBC would have us believe that its own staff somehow failed to witness what so many others have already described and it continues to clutch at a definition of human shields which does not stand up to scrutiny.

What connects Hamas supplied casualty figures to the BBC’s expedited complaints procedure?

Readers who have studied the BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) will no doubt have noticed that the first three items relate to appeals – all ultimately unsuccessful – made by members of the public affected by the application of the BBC’s expedited complaints procedure.BBC Trust

An explanation of that procedure can be found in our previous post “The Catch 22 clause in the BBC’s complaints procedure“. As noted there, one scenario under which the BBC can limit a member of the public’s access to the BBC complaints system is when the corporation deems that a complainant has a history of making complaints which “are shown on investigation to have no reasonable prospect of success”.

An additional scenario which allows for the application of the expedited complaints procedure is the failure of appeals:

“(e) after rejection of the complaint at an earlier stage (eg Stage 1), are persistently and repeatedly appealed unsuccessfully to the next stage (eg Stage 2).”

As has been noted here before:

“Of course the body which rules whether or not a complaint has a “reasonable prospect of success” and which rejects or accepts an appeal is none other than the self-regulating BBC itself.”

Another document produced by the BBC Trust’s ESC provides a summary of “Complaints closed at stage 1b and complainants subject to the Expedited Complaints Procedure” between February 2013 and September 2014.

There we see for example that among the “complaints closed at stage 1b” in July 2014 (16% of a total of 954 complaints) was one questioning the accuracy of the BBC’s “description of Hamas as militant”. In September 2014 “complaints closed at stage 1b” (10% of a total of 912 complaints) included three questioning the accuracy of Hamas casualty figures promoted by the BBC.

As readers are no doubt well aware, there is nothing to suggest that the BBC carried out any kind of independent verification of the casualty figures promoted by Hamas both directly and indirectly (via the UN) either whilst last summer’s conflict was ongoing or after it ended. The corporation has refrained from reporting on the results of investigations which show the unreliability of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio presented by Hamas at the time as part of its publicly declared strategy and has even defended its use of statistics supplied by the terrorist organization.

Whilst it is not possible to determine from this document which of the complaints “closed at stage 1b” by the BBC were made by members of the public to whom the expedited complaints procedure was applied, we can at least ascertain that in theory, a complainant who questioned the BBC’s use of Hamas provided casualty figures could have been deemed to have made a complaint which has “no reasonable prospect of success” and thus become a candidate for application of that procedure.

This example once more highlights the fact that the concept of stakeholders in an organisation they are obliged to fund by law being subjected to limitations on complaints on the basis of arbitrary decisions made by that same self-regulating organisation is one which is worthy of public debate – particularly as the renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016 approaches.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints defends its use of Hamas supplied casualty figures

 

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

The BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) includes the result of requests for appeals concerning complaints made about a filmed report by Orla Guerin which was broadcast in August 2014 – available from page 84 here.BBC Trust

The requests for appeals were not granted and the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s response concerning one aspect of those requests is particularly worthy of note. Summarising the original complaints, the ESC states:

“A second point of complaint concerned the reporter’s assertion that there was no evidence for Israel’s claim that Palestinian militants were using their own civilians as human shields. Complainants said there was abundant evidence.”

Summarising the appeal stage, the ESC notes that complainants stated that:

“…the report inaccurately stated that “there was no evidence of the use of human shields” by Palestinian militants when there was evidence at the time of broadcast; the reporter would have been aware of it and chose to ignore it.”

Orla Guerin’s report was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on August 12th and appeared on the BBC News website on August 13th – i.e. well over a month after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.Guerin ISM report

The ESC states:

“The [Senior Editorial Complaints] Adviser then considered the second issue raised by the complaint, that the highlighted sentence in the following section of commentary was inaccurate:

REPORTER: While there are growing claims against Israel, it claims that civilians here have been used as human shields – but so far there’s been no evidence of that. During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time – but you can see that just across the road, there are people living in these apartments. These images were filmed by Indian TV just up the road. They appear to show militants firing rockets near their hotel (Captions “Hamas team assembles rocket under tent” and “Hamas rocket fired from residential area”).”

In fact, Guerin said:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” [emphasis in bold added]

The ESC continues:

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response. She noted that the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit] had addressed this point:

“I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ in this context – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context, given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they had done to put civilian lives at risk.”

She also noted and agreed with the ECU’s statement in response to the script line that there was “no evidence” to support claims that Hamas had used human shields:

 “To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.”

The Adviser considered, however, that the issue for her to consider was whether the choice of wording would have misled the audience on a material fact. She noted the broader context in which the sentence appeared. She noted the following extract from the ECU finding to one of the complainants:

“Given the explicit references to rockets fired from civilian areas and the inclusion of this footage I can see no prospect of audiences believing that this was not happening or that the actions of Hamas were not putting civilians at risk – which seems to me to be the central charge against them. I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they could be proven to have done to put civilian lives at risk, I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context.” […]

The Adviser concluded that the audience would have been likely to have understood that there was a case for Hamas to answer in relation to the allegation that it was using civilians as human shields and that taking the section as a whole, the reporter had gone as far as she was able, with the facts that she was able to verify.

The Adviser decided neither point of complaint would have a reasonable prospect of success and the complaint should not proceed to appeal.”

In other words, one the one hand the BBC is claiming that despite Orla Guerin’s categorical statement that there was no evidence of Hamas using human shields, audiences were not misled and would have understood that in fact it was doing just that because she went on to show footage of a residential area from which missiles had been fired. On the other hand the BBC is also claiming that it is not sure that the residents of areas from which missiles were fired were actually human shields because it thinks there is a dispute regarding the definition of human shields. Obviously any reasonable viewer would have interpreted Guerin’s sequence of commentary as supporting that interpretation of the definition of human shields as applying only to people who have been actively and forcibly placed in a certain location.

The ESC then notes that:

“Two of the complainants to the consolidated appeal requested that the Trustees review the Adviser’s decision not to proceed.”

The ESC’s decision was as follows:

“The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ reference to international law. However, Trustees considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields”.

The Committee observed that the complaints, whilst clearly made in good faith, were predicated on testing the content by isolating a single sentence rather than considering the report overall and by a misinterpretation of what the reporter had actually said. It noted, for example, the section of commentary which followed:

“During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time. But you can see that just across the road there are people living in these apartments.”

The Committee agreed that the subsequent sequences offered further clarification and would have accurately informed the audience that, even without actual evidence of civilians being coerced, there was substantial circumstantial evidence that Hamas had a case to answer.

The Committee therefore agreed with the Adviser that the complaint would not have a reasonable prospect of success were it to proceed to appeal.”

As we see, assorted BBC bodies state that the definition of human shields is unclear and appear to adopt a stance according to which if civilians have not been coerced, they are not acting as human shields. Those claims, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

“The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations.[…]

It can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Likewise, as pointed out by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson:

“In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441). […]

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows:

The perpetrator moved or otherwise took advantage of the location of one or more civilians or other persons protected under the international law of armed conflict.

The perpetrator intended to shield a military objective from attack or shield, favour or impede military operations.

In order to fulfil the required actus reus in Element 1 of the crime, it is not necessary to force civilians to relocate close to a military objective. The mere placement of military assets in the vicinity of civilians fulfils this requirement. [emphasis added]

Since the actus reus of this crime is rather broad, it seems that great emphasis is placed on the mens rea. Thus, in order to be considered a crime of using human shields, the actus reus must be performed with the intention to “shield a military objective from attack or shield, favor or impede military operations.” Additionally, this crime does not require any result; rather, it focuses solely on the acts and intention of the belligerent fearing an attack.”

Whilst the ESC notes that it “considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields””, it does not acknowledge that by the time Orla Guerin produced her report, there was in fact ample evidence of that practice [see also related articles below].

“It is widely reported that the acts of Hamas clearly fall within the actus reus of the crime, through the placement of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military assets in civilian homesmosqueshospitals and schools. While this practice has been the focus of widespread condemnation (see here a statement by the US Secretary of State), Hamas has openly and explicitly endorsed this policy. For example, a Hamas spokesperson called on Palestinians in Gaza to “oppose the Israeli occupation with their bodies alone,” explaining that this was an effective way to thwart Israel’s attacks. This was followed by other, similar statements, such as this one by Hamas’s Interior Minister. These are all examples of the ways in which Hamas “took advantage of the location of one or more civilians.” The particular intent behind these acts is also easily established. In these statements, Hamas officials admit openly and explicitly that their intention is to use the civilian population in Gaza in order to shield their rockets and operatives.”

Neither does the ESC examine the relevant question of why the BBC had not only failed to report adequately on the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields throughout the month of conflict which preceded Guerin’s report, but in some cases had broadcast content which even denied the phenomenon – a practice which one BBC editor also continued outside his organization.

The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

BBC fails again to report Hamas order to civilians to act as human shields

BBC’s Bowen tries to persuade TV audiences that Hamas does not use human shields

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

The return of the template BBC response to complaints

BBC WS presenter: filmed evidence of Hamas’ misuse of hospitals is ‘rumours on the internet’

Indian TV network shows what the BBC does not

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

This anniversary week of the Six Day War we have been looking at some of the portrayals of that event which appear when a member of the public conducts an internet search for BBC produced content on the subject: see here and here.

Another item which appears on the first page of search results is Jeremy Bowen’s 2007 article titled “How 1967 defined the Middle East“. As readers may recall, the original version of that article was the subject of complaints to the BBC and the Editorial Standards Committee’s subsequent findings – which can be viewed here – upheld and partially upheld a range of specific points – much to Jeremy Bowen’s continuing chagrin.

Today, at the bottom of that article’s current version, readers will find the following footnote:

JB 67 am footnote

Readers might therefore reasonably assume that the article as it now stands is both accurate and impartial and so it is worth taking a look at the changes which were made to it, supposedly in order to bring it in line with the ESC’s rulings. Below are screenshots of the original article (on the left) and the amended version (on the right). Changes in wording are underlined in red and the screenshots can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The article’s introduction has been amended to clarify that this is Bowen’s “own assessment”, presumably in light of the ESC’s decision to uphold one complaint on the grounds of impartiality and partly uphold the other complaint on the same grounds (see pages 14 and 8 respectively here).

JB 67 both a 1

The next amendment makes little difference to Bowen’s ensuing claim and, although it arguably does inform readers that there are additional views beyond the one promoted by the BBC’s Middle East editor, such views are still not presented.

JB 67 both b

JB 67 both c

The next amendment presumably relates to the upholding of both complaints (pages 13 and 5 here) with regard to the accuracy of Bowen’s following statement.

“The statement that, “the Israeli generals…had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel’s independence war of 1948 for most of their careers.”

  • that, although the Middle East Editor stated that he had meant it to be understood that he was referring to the capture of East Jerusalem, it would have been impossible for a reader of the article to know which “unfinished business” had been meant; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy with regard to the use of “clear, precise language” in this respect.”

JB 67 both d 1

Two additional amendments reflect the ESC’s upholding of complaints of breaches of accuracy on two further points.

“The reference to Zionism’s “innate instinct to push out the frontier”

  • that this statement had been unqualified and, as a result it had not been clear and precise; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy in this respect.”

And:

“The statement that the Israeli settlement of occupied land was in defiance of”everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own”

  • that use of the word “everyone” had been imprecise and that it would have been simple to qualify this term;
  • that, particularly when writing about the Middle East, the BBC has to be careful about its use of “clear, precise language”;
  • that this sort of generalisation should have been picked up by BBC Online’s editorial processes; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy”

JB 67 both e 1

JB 67 both f

With regard to the points raised in the ESC report on the issue of impartiality, it is distinctly obvious that the amendments made to the article do little to correct that breach of editorial guidelines as upheld by the ESC.

“Impartiality

  • that the article was on the news section of the BBC website and that, although it dealt with a historical subject, the legacy affects the Middle East today and is a matter of political controversy;
  • that this was a piece by the Middle East Editor, under his by-line;
  • that this was not a “personal view” under the guidelines and that the personal view guidelines did not apply;
  • that the article should be duly accurate and impartial in its own right;
  • that, although it was possible on the web to create a series of articles providing alternative views, linked to allow exploration of the range of views, there was no suggestion that this article was part of such a series;
  • that a “professional judgement” on a matter of opinion regarding a highly controversial subject should be contextualised to indicate that other views exist;
  • that the author of the article should have done more to explain that there were alternative views on the subject which had some weight;
  • that readers might come away from the article thinking that the interpretation offered was the only sensible view of the war;
  • that it was not necessary for equal space be given to the other arguments, but that the existence of alternative theses should have been more clearly signposted; and
  • that the article had breached the guideline on impartiality.”

Nevertheless, not only does this problematic article – albeit with minor cosmetic amendments – remain on the BBC website seven years after its initial publication and more than five years after the ESC’s rulings, but also still available via a link in the article is Bowen’s four-part radio series from 2007 on the same topic which promotes many of the same inaccuracies as the original article (as well as additional ones) and has not been amended in light of the ESC’s findings.

This material continues to be used as a basis for additional BBC material produced by Bowen and his colleagues. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s presentation of current Israel-related issues more often than not frames issues such as the status of Jerusalem using a selective account of history which commences in June 1967. That practice in itself obviously compromises the BBC’s ability to produce accurate and impartial content, but the problem is further compounded by the fact that – as this article clearly demonstrates – the person ultimately responsible for all BBC Middle East content is dedicated to the promotion of a politically motivated version of the events of June 1967 which paints Israel as a premeditating, expansionist aggressor. 

 

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?

Readers no doubt remember that in the summer of 2012 the BBC’s Sports department produced a profile of Israel on its dedicated Olympics webpage which claimed that Israel has no capital city whilst listing “East Jerusalem” as the capital of “Palestine”.BBC olympics

After much public outcry, changes were made to the webpage and Jerusalem was listed as Israel’s “seat of government“, with “East Jerusalem” becoming the “seat of intended government” for “Palestine” according to the BBC.

Complaints were also made regarding the amended version of the webpage and in March 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its January 2013 findings regarding appeals made (but not upheld) following those complaints (see page 34 onwards here).

A year later, in March 2014, the ESC published its January 2014 findings regarding yet another request for appeal on the same topic (see page 49 onwards here).

But the story does not end there. Via the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem (who was recently featured – in one case without identification of her PSC ties as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines – in several BBC reports) writing at Electronic Intifada, we learn that two Hamas-linked anti-Israel lobbying groups are still pursuing the issue of Israel’s capital city.

“At the end of 2013, PSC [Palestine Solidarity Campaign] and FoA [Friends of Al Aqsa] made a direct request to the BBC asking that it release these documents under a Freedom of Information request. The aim was to find out how and why the BBC Trust had made a decision that referencing Jerusalem as Israeli was not in breach of its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, and what had influenced the Trust’s decision.PSC and Hamas

This request was rejected by the BBC, leading to last week’s appeal to the commissioner, which is the next stage in the Freedom of Information process.

In the appeal, both organizations set out the background to the request. PSC had challenged the BBC in 2012 and 2013 over reporting on its online pages and radio broadcasting, where Jerusalem was called an “Israeli city,” and no distinction was made between East Jerusalem — which is considered by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory — and West Jerusalem.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign website also carries the story, claiming that:

“…East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory by the UN and the international community, including the UK government. West Jerusalem is considered to be under de facto Israeli control only, but not under Israeli sovereignty.”Ismail Patel

The fact that this is a transparently political campaign being run by two Hamas-linked organisations which have no other raison d’etre than professional anti-Israel campaigning and have taken part in delegitimisation projects such as the 2010 flotilla and the 2012 ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ (see here and here) is patently obvious – and predictable.

Whilst the BBC has so far not succumbed to this pressure to take a political stance from what Jeremy Bowen is unlikely to describe in future interviews to British papers as ‘full-time anti-Israeli lobbyists’, one particular section of the ESC’s two publications regarding the complaints is especially worthy of note.

In both of the above documents produced by the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee (page 39 here and page 51 here) it is stated that:

“The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Yes, you read that correctly: the highest BBC body charged with ensuring the corporation’s adherence to editorial standards (including those of accuracy and impartiality) claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – aka UN GA resolution 181– has some sort of relevance or validity and based upon that gross misinterpretation, presumes to dictate that a city in which there has been a Jewish majority since the nineteenth century “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.

Despite what the members of the BBC Trust’s ESC may choose to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known (although apparently not in the higher corridors of the BBC) the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.

 “Resolution 181 has no legal ramifications – that is, Resolution 181 recognized the Jewish right to statehood, but its validity as a potentially legal and binding document was never consummated. Like the proposals that preceded it, Resolution 181’s validity hinged on acceptance by both parties of the General Assembly’s recommendation.

Cambridge Professor, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, a renowned expert on international law, clarified that from a legal standpoint, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution had no legislative character to vest territorial rights in either Jews or Arabs. In a monograph relating to one of the most complex aspects of the territorial issue, the status of Jerusalem, Judge, Sir Lauterpacht wrote that any binding force the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda, [In Latin: treaties must be honored – the first principle of international law] that is, from agreement of the parties at variance to the proposed plan.”

In any case, the corpus separatum proposal had a sell-by date: the proposal was only intended to last for ten years, after which a referendum of the city’s residents was to be held to determine its status. As Sir Elihu Lauterpacht pointed out in the monograph mentioned above: [emphasis added]

“The role of the U.N. in relation to the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places is limited. In particular, the General Assembly has no power of disposition over Jerusalem and no right to lay down regulations for the Holy Places. The Security Council, of course, retains its powers under Chapter VII of the Charter in relation to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, but these powers do not extend to the adoption of any general position regarding the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.”

Further, as Dr Dore Gold points out in his book “The Fight for Jerusalem” (p. 134): [emphasis added]

“The UN took upon itself certain commitments with respect to Jerusalem as a result of the passage of Resolution 181. It pledged “to ensure that peace and order reign in Jerusalem” and that it would “promote the security, well-being and any constructive measures of development for the residents.” It empowered the newly created UN Trusteeship Council to draft and approve a detailed statute for UN administration of the Holy City. This was a necessary legal step for the UN to assume the responsibilities of the British Mandate after its termination.

But no Jerusalem statute was adopted. On May 14, 1948, the UN General Assembly convened in a special session to determine whether to assume formal responsibility for Jerusalem as the Partition Plan had proposed. The UN determined that it would have to take action before the Mandate expired on May 15. But the UN failed to adopt any proposal giving it legal responsibility for Jerusalem that would enable it to become the effective successor to the British Mandate as the General Assembly had envisioned.”

The issue of the BBC’s stubborn refusal to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city is one which comes up with tedious regularity on these pages and others. At least now we have gained some insight into the type of historic illiteracy which lies behind that misconstrued thinking. Perhaps fewer cosy chats between “senior BBC executives” and members of the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel lobby in the UK would help the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee to get a better grip of the historical and geographical facts.