Reviewing available BBC content about the Hebron Massacre

This coming weekend will mark ninety years since the Hebron Massacre in which sixty-seven Jews were killed and sixty wounded. That and subsequent violent events brought hundreds of years of Jewish life in Hebron to an end for nearly four decades.

Ten years ago the BBC published a report titled “Long shadow of 1929 Hebron massacre” which is still available online.

The background to the violence is presented as follows: 

“Hajj Yussef says problems with the Jewish community started in the mid-1920s, when more Jews began to arrive from abroad. They did not speak Arabic and they dressed differently. They were coming in their hundreds.”

The article closes with a quote from its main interviewee:

“Hajj Yussef believes today’s settlers have no right to live in Hebron at all.

“I have no problem living with the Jews, like we lived many years ago,” he says. “But today’s settlers are not Palestinian Jews, they came here from abroad. And I have a problem if the Jews live in my country as occupiers and settlers.””

In 2014 BBC Radio 4 aired a history programme (also still available online) which included an account of “an outbreak of rioting between the Muslim and Jewish population” which completely erased one key piece of context: the role played by the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini in inciting the violence.

BBC Radio 4 history programme misleads on Hebron massacre

Another BBC report relating to the Hebron Massacre which is still available to audiences is a 2018 edition of the BBC World Service radio religious programme ‘Heart and Soul’.

BBC WS radio programme on Hebron omits vital background

“…listeners heard an account of the 1929 Hebron Massacre which whitewashed the fact that “violence broke out” because of incitement by Arab leaders against Jews…”

While all three of those items available to any member of the BBC’s audience trying to find information on the topic stress that some Hebron residents did help their Jewish neighbours escape the 1929 massacre, notably less attention is paid to the still relevant issue of the incitement that was behind that and other mob violence. 

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Limited BBC coverage of latest Hizballah designation

The August 20th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 14:05 here) introduced by presenter James Menendez as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menendez: “…the government of Paraguay has announced it’s designating the Lebanese Shia Islamist organisation Hizballah as an international terrorist organisation. Its much bigger neighbour Argentina did so last month and there’s speculation that Brazil may be about to do the same, bringing all of them into line with the US, the UK and others.”

Along with the US and the UK, among the “others” which designate Hizballah in its entirety are Canada, Israel, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Japan, the UAE and Kosovo. The organisation is partly designated by Australia, New Zealand, France and the EU.

Menendez continued with a euphemistic description of the terror group’s dependency on Iran:

Menendez: “You may be wondering what Hizballah, with its close ties to Iran and violent opposition to Israel, is doing in South America and why some governments are taking action now. Well pressure from the Trump administration certainly seems to be a factor. Emanuele Ottolenghi has researched and has been in dialogue with White House officials on Hizballah’s influence in Latin America. He’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies – a neo-conservative think tank in Washington DC – that’s been advocating a much more hawkish approach to Iran and its proxies.”

Compare the adherence to BBC editorial guidelines stipulating that when introducing interviewees “[a]ppropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context” in that presentation to the one given late last month on the same BBC World Service radio programme:

“Nadav Weiman is a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces. Indeed he was with the special forces sniper team that operated in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He’s now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’.”

Ottolenghi began by providing background to the story:

Ottolenghi: “Hizballah has had a growing presence in Latin America for the past four decades and this presence is concentrated in a number of places, including especially the Tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay: a region that is notorious for illicit finance, money laundering, contraband, smuggling and trafficking of all sorts of goods. Hizballah has been pairing up in Latin America for a number of years with organised crime to provide illicit finance and logistical support to those nefarious activities. It plays an important role in the financing of Hizballah’s budget and in the process it has become a partner in crime for cartels and criminal syndicates across South America.”

Menendez is apparently unfamiliar with the topic of terror financing.

Menendez: “So the criminal activities…eh…illegal financing but not military activities per se.”

Ottolenghi: “Not necessarily, although Hizballah is behind two terror attacks in Latin America – one in 1992 and one in 1994, both in Buenos Aires – and a Hizballah operative was caught and arrested while preparing a terror attack in Peru in 2014.”

The case in Peru to which Ottolenghi referred is this one. The earlier cases are of course the attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA centre.  

Menendez: “And have governments in the region been, what, unable or unwilling to try and tackle this?”

Ottolenghi: “Governments in the region have been largely unwilling to recognise this presence as affiliated with Hizballah. They do know that members of the Shia Lebanese community are involved in illicit finance activities. They just do not wish to link this to terrorism and there is a variety of reasons for this, many of which are tied to domestic politics but also to some extent in the past have been connected to ideological stances of governments.”

Menendez: “So is that what’s changed then? That governments…that some governments – take Brazil for example; it’s shifted to the right. And is it also pressure from Washington – pressure from the United States to take action?”

Ottolenghi: “Both things are true. I think the shift to the right across the region has changed the discourse about the issue and certainly US pressure and increased attention to the problem. But also I think governments in the region are increasingly aware that they can no longer tolerate the presence of the pervasive and nefarious nature of organised crime in their own midst.”

Menendez then brought up the myth of separate ‘wings’ to the terror organisation.

Menendez: “The European Union still makes the distinction between Hizballah’s political and military wings and the military wing is a proscribed organisation but not the political wing. Could that have been part of it as well? That people didn’t necessarily group all of Hizballah into the same basket and see it as a terrorist organisation?”

Ottolenghi: “In some countries that’s definitely the case but as it goes in the European Union as well, the department of Hizballah that is largely involved in running overseas financial operations including illicit activities such as drug trafficking is part of the external security organisation of Hizballah which is, properly speaking, the military wing – so-called – of Hizballah. So actually…”

Menendez [interrupts] “Right, so it’s not…it’s not being used to fund political and social activities back in Lebanon then?”

Ottolenghi: “Well I mean the money goes largely to the same pot and so it’s hard to distinguish whether it goes to military or to other activities. And the social and charitable activities certainly are used also to prop up support and ensure loyalty to the goals of the movement.”

Menendez closed the item there. While listeners to BBC World Service radio heard a reasonable report on a story to which the BBC has only relatively recently begun to re-devote attention, no coverage of Paraguay’s decision to designate Hizballah has to date been seen on the BBC News website – the corporation’s “permanent public record”.

Those looking for further information on the terror group’s activities in Latin America in the BBC’s online profile of Hizballah will find nothing: that profile has not been updated for almost three and a half years and it provides no information on the more recent designations of the organisation, including that of the UK.  

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Argentina’s designation of Hizballah

Revisiting BBC reporting on Hizballah

 

BBC repeats uncritical promotion of ‘Gaza’ film

h/t AB

Earlier this month we documented the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme’s one-sided presentation of the Gaza Strip in an item concerning a new film about that location.

Gaza propaganda on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

The August 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update’ devoted over nine of its fifty-three minutes of airtime to a similar exercise.

“And a new documentary shows everyday life for those living in Gaza.”

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 43:38 here) using some bizarre linkage that included an unsupported assertion. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “Now, the Palestinian territories have been in the news over the past few days, partly because Israel denied permission for two US Congresswomen to visit them following pressure from President Trump. Israel did then allow Democrat Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib permission to make a humanitarian visit to her grandmother who lives in the occupied West Bank but she rejected that offer. She said she couldn’t comply with the oppressive conditions being imposed. Whatever your view on the political situation in the Holy Land, there is little debate that life for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is very tough. It’s only 25 miles long and seven miles wide but home to two million people, many of whom live in desperate poverty. A new documentary film has just been released called ‘Gaza; and it depicts ordinary life in the territory. [clip from film] And that’s the sound of children playing in the sea off the Gaza coast, the beaches of Gaza being some of the only open spaces available in a densely populated city. It’s the beginning of the film and earlier I spoke to the production manager Fadi Hussam Hannona in our Gaza bureau and first to the co-director of the film, Andrew McConnell.”

McConnell began by repeatedly promoting the claim that the film shows audiences aspects “that they don’t expect to see in Gaza”, and:

McConnell: “…it’s only later on that we bring in sort of the familiar imagery; that of protests and conflict.”

Turning to her second interviewee, Kesby commented on one part of the film.

Kesby: “…the young lad to begin with, he says he’s from an enormous family – I think he’s one of 14 children – and he says he quite enjoys sleeping down by the sea because there’s more room down there. It gives you a sense of just how densely populated and, I suppose, pressurised that area is.”

Hannona: “Listen Gaza has been used to an image of violence and destruction on the news. Yes, there is a conflict in Gaza but people here just want to live a normal life like you, like everyone. So we tried through our film ‘Gaza’ to show the other side of Gaza: the side where the normal people are suffering every day. And the Gaza Strip cannot be understood by only looking at the political and focusing on the conflict – no. It can be understood by living with the people. So we did that. Through our film, through our character, the audience will have a chance to spend hour and half with the normal people from Gaza and see how they live and think and worry. So we just want to be like everyone else. This is our message.”

Kesby of course refrained from reminding listeners that those “normal people” voted Hamas into power in four out of five Gaza constituencies in the 2006 election and that “everyone else” does not elect a terror organisation that dedicates itself to the destruction of a neighbouring country. Instead she went on to bring up another character from the film.

Kesby: “…ehm, there’s a young girl in the film who plays the cello.”

Hannona: “Yeah Karma she’s a young girl and I found this character, you know, we need to show the people on the world we have children. They need the right to live a normal life and Karma one of them. But Karma also she have problems. She can’t keep living under this situation, you know, every month, every two months, we have some problems in Gaza. We hear bombing, we are under siege, we can’t…we can’t leave Gaza, you know. You need to wait one year if you decide to leave to study or to attend a festival outside of Gaza. So they need their rights.”

Kesby made no effort to clarify to audiences that the Gaza Strip is not “under siege” or to provide the context of the terrorism perpetrated by numerous armed factions in the Gaza Strip. In fact the word ‘Hamas’ was not uttered even once by any of the three participants in the item.

Kesby: “Hmm…have you ever left Gaza?”

Hannona: “No, actually I…actually it was a chance for me last…in the beginning of this year to attend the world premiere of ‘Gaza’ documentary at Sundance Film Festival and we did everythingeverything – just one day before the day I was supposed to leave they closed the border between Gaza and Rafah.”

Kesby: “Wow.”

Hannona: “And I didn’t…I lost the chance.”

Kesby: “What a pity.”

Seeing as Hannona told that same story in his Radio 4 interview eleven days earlier, Kesby should have been able to inform listeners that “they” are the Egyptians, who closed their border crossing with the Gaza Strip in February due to Hamas’ take-over of the Rafah Crossing after Palestinian Authority staff had been withdrawn.

Kesby then asked McConnell how he and Hannona met and his answer included the following:

McConnell: “…we also returned back last year – 2018 – and the border protests had started and which has now become sort of a huge part of everyday life in Gaza and these continue to this day, over a year later. Many people have been killed. And we…so we managed to film a lot of that, especially on the 14th of May when the embassy was moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and that was one of the bloodiest days since the war in 2014 when over 60 people died.”

Kesby made no effort to clarify to audiences that those so-called “protests” are in fact weekly episodes of premeditated violent rioting organised by terror groups and that fifty-three of the sixty-two people killed that day were claimed by terrorist organisations. Instead she continued her innocuous questioning.

Kesby: “And was it quite challenging to strike the right balance between reflecting ordinary live people, you know, getting married, going about their normal lives, trying to educate their children, trying to enjoy themselves and this constant pressure and…and, you know, elements of violence and threat that people live under?”

Towards the end of the item listeners heard three times – twice from Hannona himself and once from Kesby – that he has not seen the film “because there’s no cinema in Gaza”. Seeing as that talking point also arose in the earlier ‘Today’ interview, Kesby should have been able to inform listeners that the reason there is no longer a cinema in Gaza is because it is ruled by an extremist Islamist terror organisation.

And so for the second time BBC audiences heard uncritical, unchallenging and uninformative promotion of this film in an item which only served to hinder their understanding of a complex topic.

BBC WS radio listeners get Ashrawi’s unchallenged propaganda

The lead item in the August 15th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was described thus:

“Israel is blocking two US Democratic lawmakers, who are prominent critics of the Israeli government, from visiting.”

Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 00:10 here) as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “And we begin today with that decision by Israel – supported by President Trump – to bar entry to two US Democratic Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who had been planning to visit the Palestinian territories. But Israel has said they won’t be allowed in because of their support for the international movement that urges a boycott of Israel, known as BDS. In 2017 Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support a boycott. Newshour has repeatedly asked the Israeli government for an interview. They’ve instead given us a statement. ‘Congressmen Tlaib and Omar’, the statement says, ‘are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress. Only a few days ago we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy’. Well in a moment we’ll be speaking to an Israeli journalist but first let’s get the reaction of Hanan Ashrawi, who would have been hosting the two Congresswomen in the Palestinian territories.”

Listeners were not informed that Ashrawi is a member of the PLO executive committee as well as the founder of ‘Miftah’ – the controversial NGO that organised and part sponsored the proposed trip. Neither were BBC audiences told that the person “who would have been hosting the two Congresswomen” was herself denied a visa to the United States earlier this year.

Ashrawi: “I think this is absolutely preposterous and unacceptable. I mean they are denying entry to representatives of another country; I mean their ally, the US. These are Congresswomen who are coming to Palestine, not to Israel. They are coming to reach out to the Palestinian people, to see how things are on the ground and the reality of the occupation. And now Israel gives itself the right to bar them from coming to Palestine, to ban them from entering and the same time to impose a blackout on Palestinian realities in order for them not to find out the truth. This is not acceptable and I believe that this is as affront to the American people and to the representatives themselves. But unfortunately Donald Trump, the president, [laughs] was inciting against them and he was telling the Israelis not to allow them in.”

In fact the Congresswomen’s itinerary included a day two tour of “Al-Aqsa mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and other historic sites” in the Israeli capital Jerusalem. Marshall made no effort to clarify to listeners that, as the BBC itself states, “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today” despite Ashrawi’s repeated references to that non-existent entity.

Likewise making no effort to inform audiences of the fact that the BDS campaign promotes the so-called ‘right of return’ for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees (which would lead to the elimination of the Jewish state and thereby deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination) Marshall went on:  

Marshall: “But Israel would argue that it has a 2017 law that bars foreigners from entering the country who support a boycott of Israel and they [Ashrawi laughs] would argue that that is what these two Congresswomen have been doing.”

Israel of course does not have to “argue” that Omar and Tlaib support the BDS campaign: they have made that quite clear themselves.

Listeners next heard a series of plainly ridiculous claims from Ashrawi concerning Israel and the 2017 amendment to the ‘Entry to Israel law’ which enables Israel to deny entry to people who advocate for a campaign that the BBC serially refuses to accurately portray to its audiences.

Ashrawi: “Well the thing is, Israel cannot tolerate dissent or differences of opinion. There are many people who…who adopt this. There are many people who think that Israel should be held accountable. This is something that is universally acceptable so Israel cannot legislate in order to violate international law and human rights. And Israel now thinks that not only is it above the law and it can do whatever it wants with the occupation, it wants to enjoy full impunity and it wants to punish those who want to hold Israel accountable and act in accordance with their conscience.”

Making no effort to challenge Ashrawi’s propaganda, Marshall continued:

Marshall: “Is this another reason for the Palestinians not to engage with the Trump administration?”

Listeners then heard similarly unchallenged misrepresentation of ‘international law’ from the literature graduate Ashrawi.

Ashrawi: [laughs] “I can’t think we need another reason. I think that the Trump administration has taken illegal, unilateral measures on the issues of Jerusalem, on the issues of refugees, on the issues of funding the Palestinians, on the issue of punishing the most vulnerable segments of our population and of course while refusing the two-state solution, the ’67 borders, by refusing to acknowledge the fact of the occupation itself. So they have effectively violated every aspect of international law pertaining to the Palestinian question. So in a sense I mean there’s nothing left to do other than incite against their own nationals, against the representatives of the American people. An American president is telling a foreign country not to admit members of his own Congress [laughs]. I mean this lacks any sense of logic or political responsibility or respect for his own people even. Certainly we said the moment that they decide to treat us as equals and to respect international law, then of course we are willing to talk to them. But since they are violating the law and violating our rights, there is no reason to engage.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that the US administration has not ‘refused’ the two-state solution and that there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, Marshall closed that completely unchallenged propaganda rant.

Marshall: “That was senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.”

Despite the BBC being obliged to provide its funding public with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” its coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below) has been characterised by a complete failure to supply audiences with relevant information concerning the political NGO that organised the trip and the BDS campaign which the two Congresswomen support.

Although, given her record, it was patently obvious that BBC World Service radio listeners were not going to hear any objective or informative comment from Hanan Ashrawi, ‘Newshour’ producers nevertheless sought out her ‘contribution’ and Julian Marshall’s failure to question any of her numerous outlandish claims and statements ensured that the BBC once again failed to meet its public purpose.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood

 

Disparity in BBC LGBTQ Middle East reporting

Two months ago BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio aired reports by Yolande Knell relating to Pride events in Israel.

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports one pride march protest, erases another

BBC’s Yolande Knell recycles her Jerusalem pride report – with a little help

Listeners heard that:

“Although Israel is proud of its diversity […] today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route.” 

“As last month’s Eurovision Song Contest showed, Israel likes to demonstrate its diversity but the angry protests at today’s march also highlighted the deep social and religious differences that remain.”

“Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation – which it recently flaunted while hosting the Eurovision Song Contest – draws many same-sex Israeli couples to live here as well as lots of foreign visitors. […] But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

“In the Right-wing coalition governments of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties have had an influential role. They reject any proposed legislation which they see as condoning homosexuality, saying it defies Jewish law.”

Knell used a cameo of gay Arab Jerusalemites to amplify delegitimisation of Israel by means of accusations of ‘pinkwashing’.

“Now while the anthem of this march is all about celebrating diversity, you don’t see many Palestinian Jerusalemites here. One reason is the social taboo around homosexuality. But some accuse Israel of pinkwashing: highlighting gay rights at events like this while neglecting Palestinian rights.”

“There are also strong differences of opinion among gay Palestinians. Social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality mean they don’t have their own pride events so some with access to the Israeli parades embrace them, like an East Jerusalemite drag queen in a tight black dress and bright red lipstick. Others, like Zizou, choose to boycott. ‘Pride week just helps Israel pinkwash its image’ he complains, accusing the country of presenting itself as progressive, liberal and LGBT friendly to distract from its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Listeners heard nothing more about that “social taboo” or those “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality”.

In July the BBC News website published an article about a “Palestinian singer blurring gender lines” which failed to provide readers with any substantial information on the issue of the challenges faced by LGBTQ Palestinians living under Hamas or Palestinian Authority rule.

Also last month the BBC chose to ignore a story about the stabbing of a youth from the Arab Israeli town of Tamra outside a Tel Aviv LGBTQ hostel, allegedly by members of his family.

“…Hebrew media have already reported that the youth had moved to Tel Aviv to escape family pressures to adopt a religious lifestyle.

Security camera footage showed one of the suspects stabbing the boy several times before getting into a car and fleeing the scene.

According to Beit Dror [hostel] staff, the teenager identified the assailant as his brother before he collapsed to the ground.

Doctors at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said Sunday that they had managed to stabilize the youth’s condition, which was upgraded to moderate, after he underwent surgery.”

Another example of BBC self-censorship on the issue of gay rights in Palestinian society comes following the publication of an article by Khaled Abu Toameh.

“The Palestinian Authority banned members of the Palestinian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community from carrying out any activities in the West Bank.

The ban came after the grassroots group Al-Qaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (Arabic for “the bow”), which engages and supports Palestinians who identify as LGBTQ, was planning to hold a gathering for its members in Nablus at the end of the month. […]

Explaining the decision to ban the LGBTQ group from operating in PA-controlled areas, Luay Zreikat, spokesperson for the PA Police, said that such activities are “harmful to the higher values and ideals of Palestinian society.”

Zreikat said that the group’s activities were completely “unrelated to religions and Palestinian traditions and customs, especially in the city of Nablus.”

He accused unnamed “dubious parties” of working to “create discord and harm civic peace in Palestinian society.”

The PA police will chase those behind the LGBTQ group and see to it that they are brought to trial once they are arrested, Zreikat warned. He further appealed to Palestinians to report to the police about any person connected to the group.”

Although that story has received quite a lot of coverage in local and international media, Yolande Knell and her BBC colleagues in Ramallah have to date shown no interest in reporting it. 

Update: 

PA’s ban on LGBTQ group gets two minutes of BBC airtime

 

Revisiting a BBC correspondent’s claims on gay marriage in Israel

Back in June listeners to two BBC radio stations heard three different broadcasts from the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell about a gay pride march in Jerusalem.

June 6th 2019: BBC World Service radio ‘Newshour’ and BBC Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’

Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.” [emphasis added]

June 13th 2019: BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option.” [emphasis added]

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Knell did not bother to inform listeners that while civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”) for either heterosexual or homosexual couples, ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state.”

Our colleagues at CAMERA recently secured a correction on the same topic from the Reuters news agency.

“CAMERA has prompted correction of a Reuters article which incorrectly reported that gay marriage is illegal in Israel. […]

While the state does not recognize gay marriages performed in Israel, it is incorrect to describe such marriages as “illegal,” since the couple is not in violation of any Israeli law. There is no law against holding the ceremony in Israel, nor in maintaining marital life in the country. Ha-Aguda, a leading NGO which advocates for recognized same-sex marriage in the country, explains (CAMERA’s translations and bracketed notes):

‘…the State of Israel recognizes same sex couples as Yedu’im BeTzibur [lit. “known in public”, i.e. unregistered cohabitation in the form of common-law marriage]. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the State is now obligated to include couples who provide a recognized [i.e. foreign] marriage certificate in the Ministry of Interior’s registry. Another ruling forced the State to enable a divorce process to such couples’ – Ha-Aguda, Association of LGBTQ Equality in Israel (link in Hebrew)

Notably, Ha-Aguda does not characterize same-sex marriages carried out in Israel as “illegal.”

Gay marriages, like all marriages involving Jewish citizens which are performed outside the Rabbinate (including intermarriages, non-Orthodox weddings, and even traditional weddings carried out by a rabbi not recognized by the Rabbinate) are not recognized by the state, but are not illegal.”

Reuters swiftly corrected the inaccuracy as follows:

“Gay marriages are not against the law, but neither are they legally recognised as valid in the country of 9 million, although weddings performed abroad are recognised.”

Yolande Knell – please take note. 

BBC WS radio news confuses audiences with politicised terminology

h/t AB

Ahead of the fast of Tisha B’Av on August 10th/11th various Israeli media outlets reported that:

“The Muslim religious body that manages the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City has called for all other mosques in the area to shut Sunday to boost attendance at the flash point holy site in order to block Jewish visitors from going there on Tisha B’Av. […]

This year, the start of Eid al-Adha coincides with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the temples and other disasters in Jewish history.

In a statement, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein, former grand mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Sabri and senior Waqf official Abdel Azeem Sahlab announced that “all mosques in Jerusalem will be closed and that blessed Eid al-Adha prayers will take place in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

They said the move comes in response to the Israel Police’s decision to “evaluate” whether to allow Jews on the Temple Mount on Sunday. “The people of Jerusalem and its surroundings will stand together in the face of the ambitions of the settlers,” they added.”

On the morning of August 11th:

“Following a security assessment, police said non-Muslims would be barred from entering the Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers had arrived during the morning.

“In light of the amount of worshipers and the high potential for friction, it was decided not to allow visits to the Temple Mount at this stage,” a police statement said.”

Later in the day that decision was reversed but not before rioting began on Temple Mount.

“Israel on Sunday morning reversed its decision to bar Jews from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the biblical temples that once stood at the site. […]

A short time earlier, major clashes erupted between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount, where large numbers had gathered to mark Eid. […]

“At one point, thousands of worshippers who were at the Temple Mount crowded into the area of the Mugrabi Gate [the entrance to Temple Mount for non-Muslims] and began rioting, shouting for nationalist slogans and throwing stones, chairs and other objects at the officers,” the police said.

“In light of this, the district commander issued an order to disperse the rioters up using the crowd dispersal methods and restore public order.”

The Times of Israel reported that:

“At least 61 Muslim worshipers were injured in the clashes, according to the Red Crescent. At least four Israeli officers were also lightly to moderately wounded, police said.

The Palestinians had gathered near the Mughrabi Gate in “a peaceful manner” to protest the possibility of Israel allowing Jews to visit the Temple Mount during Eid al-Adha, a Waqf official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“It’s unacceptable that they be allowed to enter during our holiday,” the official said.”

No reporting of that premeditated demonstration of intolerance at a site holy to three religions appeared on the BBC News website. However the following day – August 12th – listeners to early morning BBC World Service radio news bulletins were informed that: [emphasis in bold added]

“Dozens of Palestinians and four Israeli police officers have been injured in clashes at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The Palestinians, who were celebrating the start of Eid al Adha, objected to the entry of worshippers marking a Jewish holiday at the same site.” (from 01:14 here)

And:

“Dozens of Palestinians and four Israeli police officers have been injured in clashes at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The Palestinians, who were celebrating the start of the Muslim Eid al Adha holiday, objected to the entry of Jewish worshippers who were marking the Tisha B’Av holiday.” (from 03:20 here)

Leaving aside that description of the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar as a “holiday”, we see that the BBC has returned to its past habit of complying with PLO instructions by naming the place its style guide says should be termed “Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif” as “the al Aqsa Mosque”.

Moreover, although under post-1967 agreements non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site during limited hours but are prohibited from praying there or displaying any religious symbols, the BBC nevertheless erroneously referred to “the entry of Jewish worshippers” – i.e. people participating in a religious ceremony – to the site.

That choice of terminology is even more bizarre given the BBC’s claim that those “Jewish worshippers” were “marking a Jewish holiday at the same site” – which according to the BBC is a mosque. 

As we see yet again, the BBC’s employment of politicised terminology rather than correct place names serves only to confuse its audiences.

Related Articles:

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

PLO recommended terminology continues to appear in BBC content

PLO terminology returns in BBC Jerusalem Day report

 

 

 

 

Half a story time with the BBC’s Middle East editor

The August 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“The humanitarian disaster in Syria continues to unfold but there’s little pressure from outside to stop the killing of civilians. Our correspondent considers the contradictions.”

And:

“Television footage from Idlib in northern Syria continues to provide distressing evidence of civilian suffering. But the world’s leading nations are unwilling or unable to intercede. Jeremy Bowen recalls his visits to the region in former, peaceful times but sees no end to the current violence.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:38 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Events in Idlib province in Syria in 2011 led to a devastating war and Idlib still remains a centre of resistance to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Civilians there are enduring appalling conditions as the Syrian army has driven rebel groups out of other towns and villages elsewhere in the country. Idlib is now the last major bolt-hole against Assad but, says Jeremy Bowen, that may not be for much longer.”

The following day – August 4th – a slightly different version of the same item was aired on BBC World Service radio’s version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As President Bashar al Assad’s forces advance on Idlib province, one of the last pockets of armed resistance to his regime in Syria, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen weighs up what is really at stake, and what course the civil war might take from here onwards.”

Presenter Anu Anand introduced the item (from 06:20 here) as follows:

Anand: “In recent weeks there’s been a surge of violence in the civil war still tearing away at the fabric of Syria and particularly at the country’s north-west and the province of Idlib. This is a part of the Middle East that’s seem millennia of human history and been witness to many an autocratic regime, to countless bloody conflicts and innumerable fighting forces. And since the protests broke out in the Spring of 2011 it’s always been a centre of resistance to the regime of Bashar al Assad. By 2017, as President Assad’s military drove rebel groups out of one urban centre after another elsewhere in Syria, Idlib became the last major bolt-hole for his opponents. But, as Jeremy Bowen explains, that may not be true for much longer.”

Both those introductions – including the highlighted sentences – fail to adequately clarify to listeners that the Assad regime methodically ensured that ‘evacuation agreements’ reached after fighting in other parts of the country often included the transportation of rebels and their families to Idlib province. For example in March 2018 in eastern Ghouta near Damascus:

“Fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to rebel-held Idlib province in two batches starting on Thursday, the Hezbollah military media unit said.”

In April 2018 civilians and rebel fighters from southern Damascus were also sent to Idlib and in July 2018 some 4,000 people were evacuated from south-west Syria to Idlib, with AP noting at the time that:

“The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement. More than half of Idlib’s population of two million is of displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military offensives and evacuations.”

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

“Backed by Russia, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have conquered swathes of territory in recent months. In a now-familiar pattern of evacuation agreements, they have effectively corralled fleeing civilians, moderate rebels and also hardline jihadis into the northern province. The battle Assad is expected to launch on Idlib will likely be one of the final showdowns against the embattled opposition, and possibly mark a bloody end to the civil war.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern for the nearly 3 million people trapped in Idlib. […]

The UN said this week it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for fighters and civilians. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned on Thursday that as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin. He said he feared the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime and al-Qaeda.” 

That important context – along with the fact that in September 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province – was likewise absent from the account given by Jeremy Bowen, which began with a description of his own family trip to the district in 2010 before going on:

Bowen: “Since the [Syrian] regime and its Russian allies launched an offensive against the province three months ago, 450 civilians have been killed. Idlib is the last big piece of land and major population centre they still haven’t recaptured. A few days ago, in a speech overflowing with frustration and anger, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that 440,000 people had been displaced within the Idlib enclave and the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century was in the making. ‘Are you going to shrug your shoulders?’ he asked them ‘or are you going to listen to the children of Idlib and do something about it?’. But the Security Council will not, cannot act. The five permanent members are deeply divided over Syria. The result is a deadlock that discredits an organisation that’s only as strong as the political will of its members.”

Bowen however stopped short of clarifying to audiences that his euphemistic portrayal of a “deeply divided” UN Security Council in fact means Russian vetoes – as reported by AP in June.

“Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. […]

The Security Council has struggled to speak with one voice on Syria in recent years. In one notable example, a 2017 Russian veto put an end to an initiative that determined accountability for chemical attacks in Syria. That effort was run jointly by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

“Russia has used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria.”

After reminiscing about another trip to the Idlib region in 2012, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “Turkey and Russia are the outside powers that matter in Idlib. The regime needs Russia’s power. Turkey wants a big say in the future of land just across its border and to destroy the power and national aspirations of Kurds who did the hard fighting on the ground against IS. And caught in the centre of it all are three million people in Idlib province. That includes tens of thousands of armed men loyal to a range of militias under an alliance led by a Salafist jihadist fighting group, some of whose leaders come from Al Qaeda. The regime and the Russians say they’re fighting terrorists. Many in the West would not disagree even as they deplore their methods.”

Just as was the case when he reported from Syria in 2015, Bowen made no effort to balance that promotion of a Syrian regime talking point by clarifying to BBC audiences that many more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes.

And so, once again, BBC audiences get a carefully framed story on Syria which omits relevant information essential for its proper understanding from the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.  

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BBC WS food programme: inaccurate, lacks context and promotes Hamas propaganda

h/t SG

When, in the summer of 2014, the BBC began describing the counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel along its border with the Gaza Strip as a “siege” we noted that the definition of that term is “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender” and commented:

“A besieging army does not ensure and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies to those it surrounds. It does not supply them with 50% of their electricity supply, with oil and diesel or with cooking gas. It does not help them export their produce and give their farmers agricultural training. It does not evacuate their sick and treat them […] in its own hospitals.”

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote that Hamas approved terminology and the latest example came in the August 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Food Chain’ (repeated on August 4th) which was titled ‘Food under siege’.

“When access to a city is blocked, food supplies quickly plummet, electricity and water become scarce, and people are forced to find new ways to feed themselves. Black markets thrive, and some may risk their lives to feed their families. But a dwindling food supply can also inspire creativity and compassion.

Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, the Gaza strip, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines.

A journalist tells us how it feels to eat abundantly in a café in the middle of a city where most are struggling to eat. An electrician explains why feeding cats in the middle of a war-zone felt like a statement of compassion and resistance. And a cook explains how to run a catering company when electricity, water and food are scarce.”

Presenter Emily Thomas opened the programme with a description of a siege and went on with some clear signposting. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Thomas: “Your home is surrounded. Enemy forces are camped outside the city. They’ve cut off electricity and water supplies and sealed off the main roads out. You can’t leave. Nothing and no-one is coming in. But you still have to eat. Could finding a way to eat well become the ultimate act of defiance? […] In this episode people who’ve lived under siege in Aleppo in Syria, Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia and the Gaza Strip are going to reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines where black markets can thrive and people may risk their lives to feed their families. We’ll hear that even as food supplies run out, creativity and compassion can flourish. How we eat behind siege lines can show our humanity and resilience.”

The first part of the programme related to Sarajevo and the last to Aleppo. In the middle (from 11:50) listeners heard a section which began with more inaccurate framing of the Gaza Strip as being ‘under siege’ from Thomas.

Thomas: “Preserving a food culture is perhaps more important than ever when living under siege.”

Voiceover: “We make a whole variety of regional foods and as well as Arabic dishes we make pastries, different kinds of bread, chicken and rice, couscous; everything you’d expect to find in Gaza.”

Thomas: “But how much variety would you expect when more than half of the population is classed as food insecure by the UN? This is Wada Younis [phonetic]: one of a group of women who runs a catering company in Gaza. […] More than half of the territory’s labour force are unemployed so customers are in short supply.”

After her interviewee had explained that her clientele includes “women who don’t have the time to cook at home” and people with “more money”, Thomas told listeners:

Thomas: “A blockade, which Israel says it’s imposed because of security concerns, has severely restricted imports and exports and the movement of people. Gazans are not allowed to farm in the mile-wide Israeli declared buffer zone on the border: an area with some of its best arable land. Add to that an intermittent power supply and almost every household relying on tanker trucks to deliver their water.”

Notably listeners heard no explanation of those “security concerns” and the words Hamas and terrorism did not cross the BBC presenter’s lips. The inconvenient fact that the Gaza Strip also has a land border with Egypt was likewise airbrushed from Thomas’ portrayal.

Imports to the Gaza Strip are of course not “severely restricted” unless they come under the category of weapons or dual-use goods that can be employed for terror purposes and obviously that does not include food. Even anti-Israel NGOs do not claim that the buffer zone (the width of which varies from place to place) is a mile – i.e. 1,609.34 meters – wide. Gaza’s “intermittent power supply” of course has nothing to do with Israeli counter terrorism measures and everything to do with internal Palestinian disputes. In fact Israel continues to supply more than half of the Gaza Strip’s electricity and about 10 million cubic meters of water a year: hardly the actions of a ‘besieging’ force.

Nevertheless, the BBC World Service is apparently quite happy for its audiences to be misled about the reasons for the chronic power shortages in the Gaza Strip because listeners next heard Younis repeat that falsehood.

Voiceover: “The siege causes loads of problems but the main one is electricity. Sometimes there’s no electricity and when we’re baking or preparing dishes it’s a real issue. And the other problem is the financial situation; people can’t afford much and they don’t all have incomes. Raw materials aren’t available and can be really expensive which means we can’t always make a profit. Sometimes we have to sell at cost price to keep our customers.”

Thomas: “Are there some ingredients it’s impossible to get hold of at all?”

Although Younis replied in the affirmative, the rest of her response showed that the real answer to that question is no.

Voiceover: “Yeah – the ingredients for desserts and cakes aren’t really available and if they are, they’re only in a few shops and are really expensive so we can’t afford to make them. And you just can’t get the kind of ovens we need in Gaza. You can only get them outside. And we often have to throw vegetables away because the electricity cuts out and the fridges go off.”

Thomas: “The electricity then poses a real problem. What about the water supply?”

Voiceover: “You can’t drink the water in Gaza or cook with it. It’s not clean. So we have to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking as well as for washing ingredients to avoid contamination.”

Making no effort to inform listeners why residents of the Gaza Strip face chronic shortages of electricity and clean water, Thomas summed up:

Thomas: “So the electricity supply is intermittent, the water supply is difficult too, you can’t get hold of all of the equipment and the ingredients that you need. It sounds really tough to be running a catering company.”

She later went on to claim that “food is limited” in the Gaza Strip.

Thomas: “Do you think that food and enjoyment of food and the sharing of food become more important when you’re living in the middle of a political situation like this and when food is limited?”

In her closing remarks (25:42) Thomas referred to “inhumane situations” despite the fact that no context to the measures imposed on the Gaza Strip in order to combat inhumane terrorism had been provided.

Thomas: “To me their story of food behind siege lines, like the others we’ve heard, shows not just people’s resilience but also the power of food to comfort and prove our humanity when we’re placed in the most inhumane situations.”

So why did the BBC World Service mislead its audiences by inaccurately framing the Gaza Strip as being ‘under siege’ in accordance with Hamas talking points and misinform them with regard to the background to the chronic problems with water and electricity supplies?

At the end of the interview with Wada Younis, listeners heard that it was set up by the BBC’s Gaza Strip office.

Thomas: “Many thanks to our colleague in Gaza Jihad Masharawi for arranging that interview.”

This is of course far from the first time the employees at the BBC’s Gaza office have amplified Hamas propaganda and neither is it the first time that Masharawi has been involved in producing BBC content that promotes the false notion that the Gaza Strip is ‘under siege’ by Israel.

How the BBC can possibly claim that this item meets editorial guidelines on either accuracy or impartiality is unclear.

Related Articles:

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BBC radio audiences get ‘the word’ and ‘theories’ instead of facts and analysis

On the same day that the BBC News website published a highly partial report on the topic of new Israeli building permits, listeners to the July 31st evening edition of  the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce the final item (from 48:49 here) with the claim that security cabinet approval for those permits came a day later than was actually the case.  

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now let’s hear about some developments in the Middle East because President Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner has been meeting Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. The meeting comes on the day when the Israeli government gave rare approval for the building of 700 Palestinian homes in a part of the occupied West Bank, along with permission for another 6,000 homes for Jewish settlers. The Palestinians bitterly oppose Jewish settlement building and they say this permission is simply another land seizure.”

Seeing as any building would likely take place within the boundaries of existing communities, that claim of a “land seizure” is clearly far fetched and Coomarasamy’s suggestion that the security cabinet approval stipulates the religion/ethnicity of potential residents is equally inaccurate. He went on:

Coomarasamy: “Omar Hajajrei [phonetic] lives in the affected area.”

Listeners were not informed who that interviewee is, to which organisation – if any – he belongs or what makes him qualified to comment on the topic besides his place of residence.

Voiceover translation from Arabic: “This is a lie and it’s only for the media. It’s an excuse to build settlements and to have a barrier of settlements around Jerusalem as you can see in front of us. There are around 1,500 residential units. They started six months ago and look how much they’ve built so far. They will build all around the mountain. It is a lie. Even if they will give permits, they will not give it the right way.”

Coomarasamy: “I’ve been discussing this decision with Raphael Ahren, a diplomatic correspondent of Times of Israel.”

The ‘analysis’ that listeners heard from Raphael Ahren commenced – and continued – with pure speculation.

Ahren: “It is quite unusual. Usually it’s not the security cabinet who debates and decides these issues. It doesn’t need security cabinet discussions. The word here in Israel is that Netanyahu decided to bring this topic up for discussion among the ministers so he can sort of share the blame. If people criticise them for it he can say ‘well all the ministers in the cabinet bear responsibility for that decision and it’s not just me’.”

Coomarasmay: Why might he have decided to go ahead with it?”

The answer to that question was no more evidence based.

Ahren: “Well nobody really knows. There are several theories going around. I’ll offer you two theories. One is that the American administration which is preparing to release its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan has asked him to do so.”

However Ahren then admitted that not only does he have nothing to support that speculation but it has actually been refuted.

Ahren: “This evening the US ambassador David Friedman and his people say that they made no such request and that they didn’t even hint at it. But sometimes, people say, you don’t even have to make an explicit request. Everybody knows that as the Trump administration releases its probably pro-Israel peace plan, it probably looks good to have this gesture for the Palestinians.”

Ahren then presented more evidence-free speculation:

Ahren: “The second reason I would offer had nothing to do with the Americans, had nothing to do with the forthcoming peace plan but rather with the fear of litigation in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. I heard reports tonight that the special prosecutor is in the final stages of her decision-making process whether to proceed from the currently ongoing preliminary examination in the situation in Palestine to a full-fledged investigation. According to that logic the settlements are a war crime and if then Israel only ever advances housing for Jewish residents but not for Palestinian residents of the West Bank it wouldn’t look good, it would kind of provoke her.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question the assertion that the ICC bases its decisions on whether or not it is ‘provoked’ and Ahren continued:

Ahren: “You might have heard even last week it made international headlines that Israel demolished illegal structures in the West Bank. I toured the West Bank today where settlement leaders have different opinions on this but some people are actually saying in a world where everything’s forbidden, everything’s allowed. If we never give permits for them to build we cannot expect them not to build and then it doesn’t look good if we only destroy and we don’t let them build.”

Coomarasamy: “If it is the first of the two theories you put forward and it is a bone, as you put it, to be thrown to the Palestinians, is it one that they’re likely to touch?”

Ahren: “Well yeah I mean of course they want to be a building for their people so it’s not something that they’re going to reject. I may say, some of these houses may already have been built and these permits are sort of coming retroactively. Palestinians, as I mentioned, do not get a lot of permits to build in the West Bank and there is natural growth of the Palestinian population there and therefore a lot of illegal structures are going on. These 700 permits might just be used sort of to legalise them after the fact.”

How the BBC can possibly claim that those unsupported speculations would help BBC audiences understand the story is of course unclear and listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Midnight News on August 1st (from 22:10 here) did little better.

Newsreader: “Israel has given rare approval for 700 Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank. It also said that 6,000 homes could be built for Jewish settlers. The announcement was made as President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner arrived in Jordan to drum up support for US attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Tom Bateman of course recited the BBC’s usual partial mantra on ‘international law’.

Bateman: “The government decision gives the go-ahead for a significant number of new homes in settlements – which are seen as illegal under international law – and is said to further extend Israeli presence in the occupied West Bank. But it is Israel’s approval for Palestinian homes that is unusual. It is not clear whether these would be 700 new constructions or merely legal consent for existing homes in what is known as Area C. Here, Israel has full control and builds new settlement houses but new Palestinian homes are frequently demolished as Israel virtually never gives them building permission.”

Bateman next amplified an obviously absurd Palestinian claim and presented listeners with yet another speculative theory.

Bateman: “The Palestinian leadership called the announcement piracy. The timing, with Mr Kushner’s visit to the region underway, may be significant. The White House’s faltering attempts to deliver what Mr Trump has called ‘the ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians is based on money and backing from Arab states. This may have been one way of trying to convince them to take part in the process and address the long-held criticism that the administration’s support is heavily weighted towards Israel.”

That, apparently, is what the BBC thinks it can pass off as “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”.

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