BBC ignores a good news story from Gaza

Last year the BBC World Service’s business department produced a series of highly politicised reports concerning the economy in the Gaza Strip.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Notably, the BBC appears to be less interested in reporting some recent good news on the Gaza economic front.

“The Coca-Cola Company inaugurated its first bottling plant in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a facility which will eventually employ 270 people and indirectly support hundreds of households. […]

The new plant currently employs 120 workers, spans more than 15,000 square meters and contains a single bottling line capable of filling up to 36,000 bottles per hour. Over the next three years the company plans to introduce a second line and expand the number of workers to 270.”

The plant also provides additional employment opportunities:

“Expectations were high in the Gaza Strip in the months leading up to the opening of the plant not only because it meant an end to the import of coke products through border crossings, but also because of the 120 direct jobs and 1,200 indirect jobs the plant brings to workers, suppliers and distributors.”

To date there has been no BBC reporting on that story. 

BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

As readers may be aware, the BBC recently announced the expansion of its foreign language services.ws-expansion

“The BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services as part of its biggest expansion “since the 1940s”, the corporation has announced. […]

The new languages will be Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

The first new services are expected to launch in 2017.”

With that announcement meaning that the BBC will be broadcasting in forty foreign languages,  the longstanding issue of the accuracy and impartiality of content produced by the BBC’s foreign language services is obviously of interest.

The BBC World Service Operating Licence published in November 2016 does not clarify the mechanism by which adherence to the four relevant BBC public purposes or compliance with editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality are to be ensured for broadcasts in foreign languages although the licence does state that:

“As far as is relevant, the editorial standards that apply to the BBC’s UK Public Services apply equally to the BBC’s international services.”

The BBC World Service webpage directs members of the public wishing to make complaints to the general online complaints form. However, in our experience when complaints have been made about foreign language reports (for example, this one in Persian), the BBC complaints department has declared itself unable to deal with the complaint and suggested contacting the department which produced the programme.

With OFCOM set to take over later stage handling of complaints from the BBC next year, the issue of the technical ability to handle complaints concerning foreign language content at both early and advanced stages is clearly one which needs to be addressed and clarified to members of the BBC’s funding public.

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Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

BBC double standards on disputed territories

At the beginning of November the BBC World Service produced two items concerning a decades-old conflict involving an invasion, disputed territory, thousands of people living in refugee camps and more than twenty years of failed negotiations.Witness W sahara audio

However, BBC audiences did not hear the words ‘occupied’ or ‘illegal under international law’ as they so frequently do in content relating to Israel. In fact, what they did hear in those two programmes was a nostalgic and sympathetic portrayal of Morocco’s ‘Green March’ into Western Sahara in 1975.

The audio version of that episode of ‘Witness’ uses the term “disputed territory” in its synopsis.

“In November 1975, King Hassan the Second ordered hundreds of thousands of Moroccans to march into disputed territory in the desert. He wanted to claim the colony of Spanish Sahara for Morocco. The Green March led to a diplomatic victory for the King, but sparked a guerrilla war and decades of instability in the region. Witness speaks to a Moroccan who was on the march.”

The synopsis to the filmed version of the same programme uses the same term.Witness W Sahara filmed

“Forty years ago, the King of Morocco ordered hundreds of thousands of Moroccans to march into the Sahara desert to claim an area of disputed territory from Spain. The Green March, as it became known, was instigated in part to boost King Hassan the Second’s faltering support at home and sparked a long guerrilla war.
Moroccan TV journalist, Seddik Maaninou, was on the march and spoke to Witness about a turning point in North African history.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide entry for Western Sahara describes it as “[d]isputed territory administered by Morocco” and readers will not find terms such as ‘occupied’ or ‘international law’ in the corporation’s profile of Western Sahara.

 

 

BBC webpage: Israel occupying ‘traditional Arab lands’ since 1948

BBC Editorial Guidelines concerning online content include the following:

“However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it. […]

Claims that an item is inaccurate, biased or seriously misleading must be properly investigated by the originating content team where possible. Such complaints may, at the complainant’s discretion, be referred through the BBC’s published complaints procedure up to the BBC Trust.”

Here is yet another example of a BBC webpage (headed “Education”) with no date stamp which is still available online and contains inaccurate and misleading content – in this case the claim that Israel occupied land in 1948.

“In 1948 the state of Israel was created in traditional Arab lands. Its existence was challenged by neighbouring countries and, in response to attacks by Arab neighbours, Israel secured its borders by occupying lands in which Palestinians had lived for generations.”

Ashrawi page

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Another BBC online content management fail

42+1 years on BBC still refrains from using the word terror

On May 27th the BBC World Service sent the following Tweet to its one hundred and ninety-four thousand followers.

WS Tweet Lod

The link promoted in that tweet leads to a filmed report which was actually first broadcast a year ago.  As was noted here then, the synopsis to that report about the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre makes no use of the words terror, terrorism or terrorists.

That observation still stands.

 

BBC congratulates itself on its accuracy and impartiality

On May 21st the BBC announced its latest audience figures.

“The figures – the BBC Global Audience Measure (GAM) – reveal that the BBC’s weekly global news audience, which is measured each year, has increased by 18m people, or 7 per cent since last year, to a record-breaking 283 million. This means that one in every 16 adults around the world uses BBC News. […]

The BBC World Service’s audience has increased by 10 per cent in its first year of licence fee funding and now stands at 210m, with the biggest boost coming from new World Service TV news bulletins in languages other than English.

The biggest growth for a single service comes for BBC World Service English, which has its highest-ever weekly reach with an audience of 52m, an increase of more than 25 per cent. The countries where the audience increases for World Service English have been highest are Nigeria, USA, Pakistan and Tanzania.”

The press release also states:BBC brick wall

“Fran Unsworth, Director of the BBC World Service Group, says: “These amazing figures demonstrate the importance and impact of the BBC around the world.

“In times of crisis and in countries lacking media freedom, people around the world turn to the BBC for trusted and accurate information.” [emphasis added]

In a separate blog post Ms Unsworth added:

“The Thai news-stream also highlights one of the founding principles of the BBC World Service – to bring impartial, accurate news to countries when they lack it – although our largest market remains the US. […]

We need to make the most of these opportunities while sticking to the values which make us the most trusted news organisation in the world.

And as we increase our impact and reach around the world, we also need to focus on places where people are lacking accurate impartial news.” [emphasis added]

Those laudable sentiments and aspirations are consistent with statements made by Fran Unsworth when she took on the role of director of the BBC World Service Group. Unfortunately, they do not take into account the fact that BBC World Service content – and not least BBC World Service radio programmes – do not by any stretch of the imagination always live up to those professed standards.

That means that when a BBC presenter exploits her position to advance the inaccurate and defamatory notion of “collective punishment” by Israel or when World Service radio broadcasts unchallenged Hamas propaganda or when US audiences are given inaccurate information about a ceasefire or when a senior BBC journalist promotes claims of a ‘massacre’ that never happened, millions more people are now being misled by shoddy, inaccurate and often cringingly transparent politically motivated reporting.

With the BBC’s growing influence must come a commensurate responsibility to justify the trust of audiences around the world by making accuracy and impartiality mean more than just slogans in a self-lauding press release.

Selective BBC reporting on explosions in Sudan implies Israeli involvement

In the early hours of May 6th confused reports began to emerge concerning explosions in Khartoum.

“The Hezbollah-affiliated television channel Al-Mayadeen and foreign media outlets quoted a message issued by the Sudanese army saying that Sudanese forces shot down an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle north of the capital of Khartoum overnight Tuesday. Sudanese citizens reported hearing loud explosions during the night. Officials in the Sudanese army arrived at the scene of the strike.

The Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper reported overnight Tuesday that “foreign planes” had struck a target in Omdurman, in the capital state of Khartoum, citing Sudanese military officials described as “credible”.

 According to the report, which has not been officially confirmed, a military source said that “members of the Air Defense Command in Sudan hit targets, with the assumption being that the strike was carried out by a warplane in the area of Wadi Seidna in the city of Omdurman.”

The Sudanese Army spokesman Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad said in an interview with Arabic-language Sky News Arabia news channel on Wednesday that the army’s Air Defense systems intercepted overnight Tuesday a “moving object that resembles a plane or a rocket’ in the area of the city of Omdurman.

 In contrast to reports in Arab media outlets, the spokesman denied the military facilities were targeted by a domestic or foreign source. He claimed that the Air Defense forces intercepted the object after finding it suspicious.

 According to the report, senior officials in the Sudanese army arrived at the scene of the strike but have yet to ascertain the target of the attack.”

Various media organisations ran the story – the details of which have still not been confirmed at the time of writing – with speculation of Israeli involvement being promoted despite the fact that the only apparent supporting ‘evidence’ was guesswork.

“Witnesses in Omdurman said they saw and heard large explosions at a military site near the city, which sits across the Nile River from the capital Khartoum, the Al-Araby news outlet reported.

Witnesses told the paper they thought the planes had come from Israel, which has been fingered for airstrikes in Sudan in the recent past.”

Whilst the BBC did not publish an article on the topic on its English language BBC News website, Twitter followers of its World Service Africa Editor Mary Harper received the following Tweet.

Harper Twitter

The attached link leads to the BBC News website’s live ‘Africa round-up’ page for May 6th where this item appeared:

Harper Sudan Africa live pge

No stand-alone report on the topic appeared on the website’s Africa or Middle East pages.

Additionally, followers of the BBC Arabic Twitter account received the Tweet below.

BBC Arabic tweet Sudan

The link in that Tweet leads to an article on the BBC Arabic website which also promotes the idea of IsraeliBBC Arabic art Sudan involvement in the incident despite – as noted by the Deputy Editor in Chief of the Sudan Tribune – there being no confirmation of that particular version of events or indeed any other.

One obvious question which arises is why the BBC considered this story suitable for publication on its Arabic language website but not on its English language equivalent.

Another notable point is that if the BBC is going to promote the notion that Israeli planes attacked “Sudanese military installations” despite the lack of any concrete evidence to support that claim, then obviously there is also a need to include factual information concerning the history of Iranian arms smuggling to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip via Sudan rather than just the standard ‘Israel says’-type mention at the end of the BBC Arabic report.

 

 

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

Barely a week after the mainstreaming of the antisemitic ‘Jewish lobby’ trope in a review of the papers on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show, another papers review – this time on the BBC News Channel – promoted the same trope and others on November 8th.

In addition to its being broadcast on television, the item was also posted on the BBC News website’s UK page the following day. The relevant section can be seen in the video below.BBC Papers on website

Presenter Tim Willcox’s guests are Nigel Nelson of the ‘Sunday People’ and former Lib Dem spin-doctor Jo Phillips who is introduced as “our political advisor”.

Asked by Willcox to explain the story appearing in the ‘Independent’ to viewers, Phillips says:

“…what you get is a lot of unnamed people…ahm…from sort of the Jewish lobby and obviously, you know, they’ve been very supportive of the Labour Party and they are abandoning ‘toxic’ Labour.”

Obviously as far as Phillips is concerned, any British Jew – identified or not – who contributes to a political party can automatically be categorised as a member of a supposed “Jewish lobby”. She goes on:

“But they’re not abandoning it because of Ed Miliband’s personal ratings according to this. This is because of what Ed Miliband actually said…ahm…in the summer; his aggressive condemnation of Israel’s attacks – disproportionate attacks and incursion into Gaza.”

Ms Phillips’ qualifications – legal or military – for judging whether or not Israeli attacks were “disproportionate” are of course highly debatable, but Willcox makes no effort to rectify the misleading impression given to viewers by Phillips’ employment of a loaded label without evidence-based justification.

Instead, Willcox bizarrely introduces into the conversation the equally evidence-free notion that Jewish donors to the Labour party will automatically be opposed to a proposed tax on high-value properties, thus tapping into the old stereotype of ‘rich Jews’.

“Yeah and a lot of these prominent Jewish…ah….ah….faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”

Phillips later adds:

“…but it is this terrible thing if, you know, you’re not supposed apparently to say anything anti-Israeli. Ahm…and if you attack Israeli political…ahm…policies or the government policies then, you know, this is what you get. Ahm…you know it seems to me that it’s totally hypocritical that on the one hand they [Labour] are now going to have to look perhaps to the unions to get some funding but will be accused of being in the unions’ pockets. But when he’s [Miliband] being brave and principled and standing up and saying, you know, this time Israel has gone too far, people take their money away…”

So, here we have the BBC once more promoting the age-old antisemitic trope that a “Jewish lobby” made up of rich Jews uses its power and financial clout to manipulate political policy. Moreover, viewers are fed the ridiculous idea that a British politician with a “brave” and “principled” stance is being punished by a wealthy ‘lobby’ (which obviously does not share the same characteristics) simply because “you’re not supposed to say anything anti-Israeli”.

This is just one more example of the growing phenomenon of BBC enablement of the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse. Broadcasting House: you have a very serious problem. 

 

On the BBC’s unwarranted use of legal terms during Operation Protective Edge

The following words will no doubt resonate with readers who have been following the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and have hence heard and read BBC employees and interviewees alike using the terms below on a disturbingly regular basis.EG

“War crimes. Disproportionate response. Collective punishment. Targeting civilians. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, these terms have been fired off at Israel with the same intensity and frequency as Hamas’ rockets. Arab government spokesmen constantly refer to Israel’s actions as “aggression.” In extreme cases, Israel is accused of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” “

Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation as a provider of accurate and impartial news, those loaded labels were liberally employed and promoted without evidence-based justification for their use and before any proper and professional investigations into the circumstances of the events described in that legal language had been carried out.

In a very interesting article in The Tower the writer of the above words, David Daoud, explains “Everything You Need to Know about International Law and the Gaza War” and it is well worth the long read. Another recent interesting article on a similar topic is titled “The Ethics of Protective Edge” and it was written by Professor Asa Kasher.

Throughout the seven weeks of conflict the BBC made remarkably little effort to explain to audiences the actual meaning of terms such as ‘disproportionate’, indiscriminate’,  ‘collective punishment’, ‘targeting civilians’ or ‘war crimes’ which were so frequently bandied about by its reporters and guests. One of the few efforts which were made came in the form of an eight-minute item (unfortunately no longer available) broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show on July 29th in which David Turns of Cranfield University spoke about the meaning of “disproportionate” in international law.

“There is a general misperception that if any civilians at all are killed, then that is automatically disproportionate. But what such people generally fail to say is what something is disproportionate to, and you’ve got to consider; the law requires consideration of the legitimate military objectives of the other side as well.”

Apparently though, there was no BBC memo informing its own employees that the indiscriminate and unwarranted use of such terms is both inappropriate for an organization professing to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, as well as misleading to audiences who would quite reasonably (but wrongly) assume that the BBC’s frequent employment of such language must mean that a legal justification for its use exists. Obviously too, BBC presenters and producers had not been issued with any sort of guidelines on the topic of the legal definitions of such labels and the resulting significance of their use by correspondents and interviewees whilst no proven justification was available.

That in itself speaks volumes about the BBC’s lack of commitment to impartial reporting of Operation Protective Edge and it is an issue on which the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs obviously needs to provide answers to the corporation’s funding public.  

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’: insights into presenter intervention on inaccurate claims

Readers may have seen this video doing the rounds on the internet. It is taken from the August 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Owen Bennett-Jones. The programme included two interviews; one with Israel’s Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett and one with Husam Zomlot who is the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s commission for international affairs, a former member of the PLO’s diplomatic mission in London, a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, a former UN employee and a member of the Oxford Research Group. He is also fairly frequently interviewed by the international media – including the BBC.Newshour 20 8 WS

These two interviews provide some interesting insight not just by way of the responses to Bennett-Jones’ questions, but also from the point of view of the wording of some of his own questions and statements and from observation of the occasions on which the presenter considers it essential to intervene in order to correct a mistaken impression given to listeners – and the many more frequent occasions on which he does not. The interviews can be found here, beginning at 31:59. Bennett-Jones’ questions to Naftali Bennett include the following revealing statements.

“Do you consider the land on which Palestinians are living – and have lived, of course, for centuries – to be Jewish land?”

Whilst some Palestinians may indeed have lived in Judea & Samaria “for centuries”, the UN’s definition of Palestinian refugees means that is by no means necessarily the case – but Owen Bennett-Jones makes no effort to clarify that point to listeners.

“Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” 

Later on, Bennett-Jones misleads audiences with the all too prevalent BBC myth of “’67 borders”.

“But your areas would be within the ’67 borders, would it? You’re not trying to make occupied land into Israeli and, are you?”

Later still, he appears to have fallen into the equally frequently seen double trap of ignoring the San Remo resolution and the Mandate for Palestine whilst at the same time pretending that the 1947 UN Partition Plan has some sort of legal significance.

“Yeah but the reason I asked you, you know, how you see the borders of Jewish land is that I think, you know, most people in the international community would think that the UN vote establishing Israel was the legitimate basis for Israel.”

Towards the end of his conversation with Naftali Bennet, Owen Bennett-Jones proposes the following theory for Western politicians’ approach to radical political Islam in the Middle East.

“Well there is an alternative interpretation of what they [Western politicians] think. They may think that peace in the Middle East – some sort of settlement in which the Palestinian people did have their aspirations fulfilled – would be a constructive start towards building a post-conflict society in which people could live together. They may think like that.”

Naftali Bennett’s reply is as follows:

“I can’t believe you’ve actually asked that. Do you think anything we do in Israel would affect ISIS, would affect Al Qaeda, al Nusra? Do you think these guys really want peace? Have you not been listening to them for the past year and a half? They’re talking about a Caliphate in the whole world and you have to face up and fight this sort of terror; not try and appease them and certainly not at the expense of Israel. Well I can tell you we’re not going to be the sacrificial lamb of the world in the hope of appeasing radical Islam. They kill reporters and behead them: that’s what we’re facing in this area. We expect the world’s support fighting these guys.”

Bennett-Jones then moves on to his next interviewee, Husam Zomlot, who appears to have a problem putting history in its correct sequence, although Bennett-Jones obviously does not see the need to interject. [emphasis added]

Zomlot: “If we go back to the biblical times and the biblical explanations, the map of the world, Owen, will be totally and utterly different – including England and most of Europe as you know. And if we go even further and go back to the Roman time, this is as you know and as you have just asked your…erm…your interviewer, nonsense to start with. I believe it all talks about a bunch of ideologues, purists, exclusivists [sic] brains and mind-sets in Israel right now that are calling the shots. And you have asked him all the right questions I have to say and he answered all the right answers in his own mind. He is not defending Israel proper. He is defending Israel’s expansion, Israel’s colonialism, Israel’s occupation, Israel’s siege. And in his mind, and he believes so, that we do not even deserve to have basic rights and therefore they are fabricating all these stories about beheading journalists somewhere in Iraq, about Palestine and the nation that has been….

Having quietly sat through inaccurate claims of Israeli “expansion”, “colonialism” and “siege”, Owen Bennett-Jones at that point sees the need to interrupt.

“Well hang on: that’s not…that’s not fabricated – that just happened.”

Zomlot carries on:

“It happened somewhere else – in Iraq – as if they are fabricating also the story of the Holocaust that it happened in Europe. Not the story itself, but the reason why they are doing this and using so many other examples to justify their murder of a nation that has been in a quest for self-determination and basic rights; that’s what I mean.”

Bennett-Jones apparently sees no need to clarify his guest’s reference to “fabricating also the story of the Holocaust”. Zomlot himself – a PhD graduate from a London university and therefore presumably a person with a reasonable command of the English language – later claimed that his words were misconstrued and that Bennett-Jones’ introduction of another question prevented him from fully explaining his point.

OBJ: “Let’s just be clear about this. What he [Naftali Bennett] is saying is that Palestinians can live on that land but he is anxious that there will be a tax on the Jewish people so he doesn’t feel that it is appropriate or safe or sensible for the Jewish people to allow the Palestinians to have weapons and the ability to destroy Israel.”

HZ: “Yeah, but that’s like the chicken and the egg. What comes first? Does it…is it their occupation that provoke some of these acts or is it really that we Palestinians are violent by nature? That it’s our violence that provokes their occupation? And I beg to differ, sir, and I beg to say that it’s actually their military occupation, their siege, their colonisation, their daily theft of our resources and land and their daily murder of our families and babies and women. “

As a member of Fatah, Zomlot is no doubt well aware that his organisation came into being long before any “occupation” existed. Owen Bennett-Jones obviously did not see fit to enlighten listeners with that snippet of relevant information or with the fact that it was the combined violence perpetrated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan in June 1967 which brought about Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and Judea & Samaria.  Zomlot continues:

“So…eh…eh…eh…”

OBJ: “Yeah.”

HZ: “…if you really want to put the horse before the cart we can discuss till the morning. I believe your question was the right question: should they end their occupation, should they be in line with international consensus and international legitimacy and then we discuss security matters. Israel is dealing with the whole situation from a security point of view because they are not interested in the political issues.”

OBJ: “I think the point that the Israelis would make is that when they did pull out of Gaza and took some settlements out of Gaza, it didn’t solve any problems for them. It’s actually got worse.”

HZ: “Well of course because they pulled out of Gaza to lay siege on the people of Gaza for all these years and turn Gaza into the dark ages. There are no basic goods and commodities and that’s why the people of Gaza has to act in dignity and dig underneath to provide for their babies. So the Israelis haven’t left Gaza for a political breakthrough. They left Gaza to besiege it and to finish off their job in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

No effort is made by Owen Bennett-Jones to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate presentation; to point out that there is no such thing as a “siege” on Gaza, that “basic goods and commodities” are freely available there and that the reason for restrictions on Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip is the terrorism emanating from that territory and the weapons smuggled into it. Zomlot continues:

“And this is exactly what Bennett has just confirmed. My friend; what we are facing now is a situation whereby they call the shots in Israel. The deciders in Israel are not interested in a political solution. They want the land and they want the people of the land – the original people, the natives, the Palestinians – out.  Whether besieged in Gaza, whether cycled by walls in the West Bank, whether slowly driven out or even – if they can – another ethnic cleansing like they did in 1948.”

Not a peep is heard from Owen Bennett-Jones despite Zomlot’s inaccurate and defamatory claim of “ethnic cleansing”.

HZ: “This is the situation. They are using negotiations as a tactic, wars as a tactic. They are buying time as they did in Cairo only yesterday. They abruptly…”

OBJ: “OK.”

HZ: “…withdrew their delegation to continue – I believe – they have no interest in ending their occupation, period.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that the Israeli delegation left the negotiations in Cairo after Hamas broke the ceasefire the day before this interview on August 19th, Owen Bennett-Jones then closes the interview.

Revealingly, Zomlot’s assertion that the beheading of journalist James Foley was “fabricated” rightly produced a very swift reaction from Owen Bennett-Jones who obviously could not allow listeners to be misled by that inaccurate claim. Equally revealingly, none of Zomlot’s other no less inaccurate claims evoked any intervention from a BBC presenter charged with promoting audience understanding of international issues.