Revisiting the BBC’s amplification of an NGO’s PR

The Guardian reports that the head of Oxfam GB has described the NGO’s 2014 campaign against the Israeli company SodaStream as having ‘backfired’.

“In a candid presentation to an audience of charity professionals on 14 December, Goldring said Oxfam had made high-stakes misjudgments […] in the row over the involvement of its then celebrity ambassador, Scarlett Johansson with a company operating in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.

The Johansson furore had cost Oxfam America “literally thousands” of donors, Goldring revealed. […]

In the Johansson case, after a protracted stand-off, the actor ended her eight-year association with Oxfam over its criticism of her for endorsing fizzy drinks company SodaStream, which at the time had a factory in an Israeli settlement.

Goldring […] told a seminar on campaigning for less popular causes that in mishandling the Johansson affair, Oxfam turned what should have been a point of principle into “something of a PR disaster”.

Oxfam’s error, said Goldring, was letting the controversy drag on so that Johansson could eventually seize the initiative. “The judgment was when to be proactive, when to be forceful, and when to be balanced and reflective,” he said. “We got that wrong.”Today Connolly

As readers may recall, the BBC also played a very “proactive” role at the time, promoting Oxfam’s PR messaging (together with that of fellow BDS campaigners, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) on a variety of platforms including the BBC News website, BBC Radio 4 and BBC television channels.

BBC News recycles second-hand SodaStream slur, fails to explain BDS

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

BBC displays its campaigning colours in SodaStream story coverage 

Oxfam’s Ben Phillips on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’

BBC One serves up BDS at Breakfast

As was noted here at the time:

“As its coverage of this story shows, the BBC has abandoned its role as a provider of news and information regarding the anti-Israel BDS movement and emphatically tied its colours to the campaigning mast.”

 

 

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part two

As was documented in part one of this post, on September 7th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard a rare explanation of why some forms of anti-Zionism are antisemitism from professor of history and Holocaust studies Yehuda Bauer.oz-clip

The following week, on September 13th, viewers of BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ saw Israeli author Amos Oz make the same point in an interview with Kirsty Wark.

A clip from the programme was also posted on the BBC News website and a written article about the interview appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘World’ page on September 14th under the title “Amos Oz: Saying Israel should not exist is anti-Semitic“.

“One of Israel’s great living writers, Amos Oz, says people who say Israel should not exist are anti-Semitic.

Speaking in an interview with BBC Newsnight, he said strong criticism of Israel is legitimate, but to argue there should be no Israel “that’s where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism”.” […]

“In recent months, the Labour Party in the UK has been embroiled in a row over anti-Semitism, and whether the party has a problem on the issue.

Oz told Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark: “I can tell you exactly where I draw the line. If people call Israel nasty, I to some degree agree. If people call Israel the devil incarnated, I think they are obsessed – they are mad. But this is still legitimate.”

“But if they carry on saying that therefore there should be no Israel, that’s where anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism, because none of them ever said after Hitler that Germany should cease to exist, or after Stalin that there should be no Russia.”

“Saying that Israel should cease to exist, or should not have come into being, this is crossing the line.””

One can of course disagree with some of the analogies chosen by Amos Oz but nevertheless, it is worth noting that BBC audiences rarely see the connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism explained and that in contemporary Britain it is far from rare to hear people “saying that Israel should cease to exist”.oz-written

The subject of BDS was also raised in the ‘Newsnight’ interview and in the written article.

“In February 2015, hundreds of UK artists signed a letter announcing they would take part in a cultural boycott of Israel. They said they would not accept professional invitations to Israel, or take any funding from organisations linked to the government.

Other prominent artists – including writer JK Rowling and historian Simon Schama – later criticised the move as “divisive and discriminatory”.

Oz told Newsnight he believes cultural boycotts of Israel are counter-productive.”

As has been documented here on many occasions, despite its frequent promotion of the BDS campaign the BBC has to date failed to inform its audiences of its full agenda and that it is in fact one of those voices “saying that there should be no Israel”.  Hence, BBC audiences would be unlikely to understand the link between the BDS campaign and the form of antisemitism explained by Amoz Oz – and earlier by Yehuda Bauer – in these two rare interviews.

Regrettably, the BBC did not make the most of the opportunity to clarify that point to its audiences and thereby contribute to meeting its remit of building “a global understanding of international issues”.

Related articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part one

BBC programme with mistranslated Arabic nominated for award

Courtesy of the Jewish Chronicle we learn that Lyse Doucet’s programme ‘Children of the Gaza War’ which was broadcast by the BBC last summer has been nominated for a BAFTA award.Doucet doc

“A BBC documentary which substituted the word “Israeli” for “Jews” in its translation of interviews with Palestinians has been nominated for a Bafta.

Children of the Gaza War, which aired on BBC2 in July, followed journalist Lyse Doucet as she spoke to children in Israel and Gaza in the wake of the 50-day war. […]

At the time of its airing, Ms Doucet stood by the decision to translate “yahud” as “Israeli” in subtitles on her hour-long documentary.

The correct translation for “yahud” from Arabic to English is “Jew”.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent said that Gazan translators had advised her that Palestinian children interviewed on the programme who refer to “the Jews” actually meant Israelis.”

As readers may recall that mistranslation of the Arabic word ‘Yahud’ was not the first to be broadcast – and defended – by the BBC. In October 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee wrote the following in relation to a similar case:

“The Committee considered that the decision to translate the girl’s words as “an Israeli” was an appropriate exercise of editorial judgement. In taking this view the Committee emphasised that no interpretation of the Editorial Guidelines requires content producers to make direct word-for-word translations without also taking account of relevant context.” [emphasis added]

Complaints from members of the public concerning Doucet’s programme were similarly dismissed – even though the BBC had shown that it was capable of providing audiences with an accurate translation of the same word in different circumstancesMistranslation was however not the only issue arising from Doucet’s programme.

The programme was heavily promoted by the BBC at the time, including on the BBC News Facebook account. That post prompted a high volume of comments – including many offensive and antisemitic ones which were left standing by the BBC

BBC Two’s ‘Inside Obama’s White House’: unchallenging and uncritical

BBC Two has been showing a series titled ‘Inside Obama’s White House’ and the third episode of that programme – already shown on March 29th and to be broadcast again tonight at 23:15 local time – addresses the topic of the US president’s record in the Middle East.

Obama prog ME

The synopsis to that episode – titled “Don’t Screw It Up” – reads as follows:Obama prog synopsis

“Episode three explores how Barack Obama set out to end George Bush’s wars in the Middle East and reset relations with the rest of the world. In Cairo he speaks to the Arab world, calling democracy a human right. Two years later when protest erupts in Tahrir Square, the president is torn between secretary of state Hillary Clinton and defense secretary Robert Gates, who believe Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak provides regional stability, and his young advisors, who are in tune with the promise of the Arab Spring. Before long, a similar test arises in Libya, Hillary Clinton changes her position to back military intervention and Obama agrees to join allies in airstrikes against Colonel Gaddafi.

In Syria, when shocking evidence shows the use of chemical weapons, Obama decides to bomb. But when the British Parliament votes against intervention, he decides he needs the backing of a reluctant Congress. Foreign secretary William Hague explains why the British parliament voted against intervention in 2013 and President Obama explains why he then decided to seek the backing of Congress.

This episode also explores how Obama scored a big win when he negotiated a secret deal to end the nuclear threat from Iran – behind the backs of his closest allies. Secretary of state John Kerry tells how he worked through the night, with President Obama on the phone, to secure the outlines of the deal.”

Given the BBC’s record of uncritical promotion of the US administration’s view of the negotiations with Iran and the resulting JCPOA, it is hardly surprising to see that issue presented in this programme as a “triumph”.  Remarkably, Middle East perspectives of Obama’s decisions relating to the region do not get a platform in this programme and perhaps most notably the US president’s spin concerning his retreat from his self-imposed ‘red lines’ in Syria goes unchallenged.

Previous episodes are available to viewers in the UK on iPlayer here.

 

BBC interviewee selected to comment on antisemitism story convicted of antisemitism

In early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story portrayed as follows by ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonne” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.Newsnight Soral

On Radio 4 Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonne has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

Paxman: “I began by asking him what on earth it [the quenelle gesture] meant.”

Alain Soral: “It’s a gesture against the system, against the powers that be in France. It has only recently become – since it’s a gesture that’s been around for almost ten years – only recently the most powerful Jewish organization in France, the CRIF, decreed that it was an anti-Semitic gesture. So basically, their idea is that an anti-system gesture is an anti-Semitic one. So at the end of the day, is that simply an improper accusation? Or is there a deep link between the system of domination that Mr Dieudonne is fighting against and the organized Jewish community? Well that’s the question.”

Paxman: “But you don’t deny that Mr Dieudonne is an anti-Semite, do you?”

AS: “The problem is that this word has become a word used to scare people. A long time ago Dieudonne had a partner – a young Jew called Eli Simoun – but all of these accusations started arriving the day he did a sketch on Israeli settlers. So today we have a very powerful Zionist lobby in France which treats anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its vision of the world and to its politics as antisemitic.”

Although the BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion, the news that Soral has now been convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism should surely prompt some belated self-examination of the editorial decisions made in the run-up to the airing of that interview.

Related Articles:

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ joins ‘Newsnight’ in breach of editorial guidelines

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism

BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

The drip drip of politicised geography on BBC Two

Throughout this month BBC Two has been showing a series titled ‘Immortal Egypt’ presented by Egyptologist Professor Joann Fletcher of York University. The fourth and final episode opened with footage of Fletcher in Alexandria, telling audiences that:

“This is about as far north in Egypt as it’s possible to get because out there is the Mediterranean. To my west is Libya; to my east – Palestine and Arabia….”

Libya does indeed of course lie to the west of Egypt but to its east, Egypt has borders with the Gaza Strip and a country called Israel – which the BBC has apparently found fit to inaccurately rebrand as ‘Palestine’.

 

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ gives a stage to Galloway’s conspiracy theories

Following the publication on January 21st of the results of the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the producers of BBC Two’s flagship current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ apparently reached the bizarre conclusion that their mission of providing audiences with “comprehensive coverage of the day’s important national and international news stories” could best be met by bringing George Galloway into the studio.

During that interview, Galloway made the following statement:

“Look, I know Plutonium [sic] 210. I was at Yasser Arafat’s bedside in France when he died from Polonium 210, so I know how foul a murder this was.”

Despite the fact that the conspiracy theories concerning Arafat’s supposed poisoning with Polonium were laid to rest months ago, presenter Evan Davis made no effort to relieve viewers of the inaccurate impression created by Galloway.

At one point during the conversation with Galloway, Evan Davis remarked:

“Well we can be sceptical and we can be super sceptical and then we can end up as conspiracy theorists.”

Did the ‘Newsnight’ production team’s pre-broadcast research really fail to turn up the fact that on the topic under discussion (and many others) the man they invited to contribute has long been situated in that latter category – as shown, for example, in one of his appearances (apparently from 2013) on the Iranian regime’s ‘Press TV’?

Yes; that is the caliber of populist commentator the ‘Newsnight’ production team apparently thought could contribute to meeting their remit of enhancing UK audiences’ understanding of international issues.

Related Articles:

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC News gets Israel’s capital city right – and then ‘corrects’

The saga of the BBC’s persistent refusal to tell its audiences that the capital city of Israel is Jerusalem is of course already long. Its most recent chapter began with a television report broadcast on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ on October 14th.

As seen in the video below, diplomatic correspondent Mark Urban rightly referred to Jerusalem as “Israel’s capital” towards the end of the report (6:57).

Two days later, the following announcement appeared on the BBC’s online ‘corrections & clarifications’ page.

Urban report 14 10

The BBC is not the first UK media organization to publish such a ‘correction’.  

Those following the link in that announcement will find the following:

“The BBC does not call Jerusalem the ‘capital’ of Israel, though of course BBC journalists can report that Israel claims it as such. If you need a phrase you can call it Israel’s ‘seat of government’, and you can also report that all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv. This position was endorsed by the findings of a BBC Trust complaints hearing published in February 2013.”

Those wishing to understand why the BBC refuses to call even the parts of Jerusalem which were not occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 the capital of Israel can find the background to that policy decision here.

““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”.”

On the scale of pomposity it is rather difficult to decide which is more jarring: the BBC’s belief that it is qualified to dictate what is – or is not – the sovereign territory and the capital city of a foreign country or the corporation’s no less bizarre belief that it has both the authority and expertise to decide what is – and is not – antisemitism. 

BBC’s ME editor fails to deliver in ‘Newsnight’ item on Jerusalem terror attacks

h/t @SussexFriends

October 13th (a day designated in advance as one of the proverbial ‘Days of Rage’ by Hamas and other Palestinian groups) saw two major terror attacks in Jerusalem and two stabbing attacks in Ra’anana – which was inaccurately described by the BBC as being “in the north of the country” (as well as “near Tel Aviv”) in a written report on the incident which appeared on the BBC News website.

Raanana stabbing

In the later BBC News website report on the Jerusalem attacks, audiences were told that the neighbourhood of East Talpiot is a “Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem” whilst in fact the area was defined as ‘no-man’s land’ under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Bus attack East Talpiot

BBC audiences saw the 1949 Armistice Lines bizarrely portrayed as the “pre-1967 ceasefire line” in a map inserted into the report and as ever, no effort was made to inform readers that the Armistice Agreement specifically defined the ceasefire line as not constituting a border.

bus attack East Talpiot map

On the evening of October 13th, an item concerning the day’s events was broadcast on the flagship BBC Two news programme ‘Newsnight’, with presenter Evan Davis speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor.

As readers may recall, the rationale given for the creation of the post of ‘Middle East editor’ a decade ago is as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

However, in this interview Jeremy Bowen actively hindered the provision of analysis and context which would have helped audiences comprehend the day’s events and their wider background.

Evan Davis’ introduction to the item included a presentation of the first Intifada which once again misled audiences by stating that the violence was directed exclusively at soldiers and erasing Israeli civilian casualties from the picture.  

Davis: “Well, they’re using the word Intifada again on the West Bank and in Israel. Attacks by Palestinians on Israeli Jews have increased in recent days – from the sporadic to the frequent. The first Intifada ran from 1987 to 1993 and mainly consisted of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails…ah…at Israeli troops. The second Intifada ran from 2000 to 2003 and involved suicide bombings and gun battles. Is the current wave of violence a third Intifada?”

Downplaying the pre-issued call for a ‘Day of Rage’ and the incitement and encouragement of violence that obviously produces, Davis went on:

“Well today was labelled a ‘Day of Rage’ by Palestinian groups. Attacks came thick and fast. This was the scene in central Jerusalem where a Palestinian ran his car into a queue at a bus stop, crushing some bystanders, attacking others with a meat cleaver. In a separate attack a sixty year-old Rabbi was killed while riding a bus. He was buried by his grieving community shortly afterwards.”

One might have thought that the BBC would at least have made an effort to report those details accurately. In fact Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky was murdered in the first attack described by Davis in Makor Baruch and not in the scantily portrayed attack on the bus in East Talpiot in which two other people were also murdered and fifteen wounded. Davis continued:

“Anger is building in Gaza and on the West Bank where parts of Bethlehem have resembled a battle ground. Ah…just before we came on air I spoke to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and I asked him if these Palestinian attacks are just the work of individuals or if there’s something more organized going on.”

Despite Hamas having rushed to clarify its association with one of the two terrorists who carried out the attack on the bus in East Talpiot and despite information concerning the fact that the second perpetrator of that attack was affiliated with Fatah and the terrorist who attacked Rabbi Krishevsky and others was the cousin of one of the terrorists who carried out the Har Nof attacks last year already being in the public domain by the time Bowen went on air, ‘Newsnight’ viewers heard the following uninformative reply from Bowen.

“There’s obviously a lot of people talking about what’s going on. Everybody is aware of what’s happening. It doesn’t seem to be organised. Eh…and I think the seemingly random nature of it is a major reason why the Israelis are finding it hard to combat it; to come up with an answer.”

Jeremy Bowen obviously had no intention of clarifying to viewers that a declaration of a ‘Day of Rage’ is an organized call to Palestinians to commit acts of violence. Davis then asked:

“I mean, what about average opinion in the Palestinian community – communities? Do they feel they are heroes or do they feel these people are just stirring up trouble inappropriately? What is the mood?”

That question of course presented Bowen with an ideal opportunity to inform BBC audiences about the incitement and glorification of the terrorists by Hamas, Fatah, the PLO, Palestinian Authority officials and related media outlets and the effects of those factors on the mood on the Palestinian street. He could, for example, have mentioned the martyrdom posters bearing Fatah insignia and Mahmoud Abbas’ photograph. He could have reported Abbas’ statement that “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God” and his remarks about Jews’ “dirty feet”.

But the man whose job description specifically obliges him to provide BBC audiences with analysis and context side-stepped that question, instead framing of the story to focus audience attention on a politically partisan narrative which erases the religiously themed incitement fueling this latest wave of terror from audience view.

“I think there’s a lot of worry, actually, about where this is going. I think that there is…err….there’s a lot of anger and rage at the continuing occupation and the fact is that the underlying context of all the violence that really ever happens here to do with the conflict is the conflict itself and the almost fifty year occupation of the Palestinian territories by the Israelis and that generates a sense of hopelessness, of hatred and – in some people as well – murderous rage. But among the Palestinians I’ve spoken to on this trip since I’ve been here, there’s a lot of worry about just where this is going.”

No less obvious framing appeared towards the end of the item when Bowen promoted the notion of equivalence between Israeli victims of terrorism murdered whilst going about their everyday business and Palestinians engaged in violent rioting.  

“The British have put out a statement today saying that…err…condemning, of course, the Palestinian attacks but also saying to the Israelis show restraint in terms of dealing with demonstrations because there have been a lot of people killed as well – including children – on the Palestinian side as the Israelis moved to…err…to err…respond to the kind of things that have been going on.”

Once again, BBC audiences have been sold short by the man whose job it is to ensure that they have the background information and context necessary for them to understand events in the Middle East.

BBC Two, BBC News give platforms to extremists

At the beginning of this month the BBC Two programme ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ – billed as “the BBC’s new daily news and current affairs programme” – presented a series of reports by Catrin Nye on the subject of ‘radicals’.Nye film 2

Those filmed reports were also promoted separately on the BBC News website, along with a written article by Nye titled “What should we do about radicals?” in which the filmed reports are again embedded. Interestingly, Catrin Nye’s definition of radicals holding “views that many consider offensive” appears to be limited to the far right and Islamist extremists, with no representation whatsoever from the far left of the political spectrum in any of her reports.

One of those featured in Nye’s series of films is Haitham al Haddad. In the synopsis to the version of the film appearing on the website, al Haddad is described as follows:

“Islamic scholar Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad openly criticises homosexuality. He has been called a bigot, a hate preacher and has had talks at a number of UK universities postponed or cancelled.

“I am just vocal about anything I disagree with. My view about homosexuality is clearly stated in the Koran. If the media had a fair presentation of my views it would just not single out those points,” he says.”

In the film itself Nye also tells viewers that al Haddad believes that “leaving Islam is punishable by death in the right circumstances” and that “Sunni Muslims shouldn’t marry Shias” but fails to mention that, among other things, Haitham al Haddad is also a proponent of female genital mutilation, sees nothing wrong with violence against women and promotes antisemitism and conspiracy theories.Nye film 1

Nye’s challenges to al Haddad (and her other interviewees) are on the whole very tame.

“Do you think you get an unfair deal?”

“Do you think you should be allowed to say everything you say, in public?”

The result is that he and other extremists get a largely unhindered platform from which to present themselves as ‘misunderstood’ and even victims.

The bottom line messaging in this series of reports is that extremist ideas should be weakened through public debate. One can of course debate the merits of that approach in general, including the question of whether there is in fact a debate to be had with people who reject basic democratic principles such as equal rights for women, members of the LGBT community and people of all colour and race.

And one can also ponder the question of whether the BBC, committed as it is by its public purpose remit to “sustaining citizenship and civil society” and with editorial guidelines on impartiality which state that achieving due impartiality does not require “detachment from fundamental democratic principles”, should be obliged to present more robust challenge to views such as those promoted by Haitham al Haddad if it elects to broadcast them on a publicly funded platform.

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