BBC Radio 4’s promotion of an ‘epic novel’ and an appealing narrative

This week BBC Radio 4 has been airing a serialised reading of a book published on February 25th in ten episodes which will continue next week. The synopsis to the first episode describes the novel as follows:

“Colum McCann’s epic new novel of friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam and Rami inhabit a world of conflict that colours every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate. Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognise the loss that connects them and attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

In Apeirogon – named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides – Colum McCann creates an epic novel inspired by the real experiences of Palestinian Bassam Aramin and Israeli Rami Elhanan who, after each losing a child, came together to promote peace.”

Media interviews are of course a significant part of the marketing of any new novel and McCann gave a lengthy interview (from 00:18 here) to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ – presented by Mariella Frostrup – on February 23rd.

“Colum McCann tells Mariella about Apeirogon, his suitably multi-sided book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inspired by two fathers who have both lost their daughters. A soaring mixture of reportage, mythology, poetry and ornithology, among many other things, McCann makes the case for it as a “novel” with a universal message.”

Near the beginning of the interview Frostrup tells listeners that:

“The two bereaved fathers came together through an organisation called Combatants for Peace, their experiences having made them less certain about the polarised world views they once both held in youth.”

Listeners are however told nothing about the agenda of that political NGO or the organisation with which the two men are currently associated.

In other interviews McCann has stated that before he spent a week in Israel and the Palestinian controlled territories in 2015 he was “completely ignorant of what was going on there” and at 11:29 listeners hear a little about his learning process, which apparently included consultation with “one of my great heroes” the political activist Raja Shehadeh and reading Mahmoud Darwish.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the interview concerns McCann’s view – exaggerated in the opinion of this reviewer – of the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think it is one of the central questions as to who we are and where we are and I think we all identify with it in some way, in a way that’s different to other conflicts. There’s something about Jerusalem, there’s something about that being the birthplace of so many things that we’re drawn to and confused by and we’re wondering why all this is happening.”

The Guardian’s review of the novel states:

“For all its grief, Apeirogon is a novel that buoys the heart. The friendship of Bassam and Rami is a thing of great and sustaining beauty. There’s a picture of the two of them, asleep together on a train in Germany, travelling from one speaking engagement to the next. They lean against each another, Rami – the older man – supporting the smaller Bassam as he sleeps. This, the novel suggests, is the solution to the conflict: something as simple and easy as friendship, as the acknowledgement of a shared experience, as love.” [emphasis added]

The reassuring notion that “something as simple as friendship” and “love” are the solution to the conflict of course avoids the basic fact that Smadar Elhanan was murdered – along with two other teenage girls who are not mentioned in this programme – by Hamas suicide bombers in an attack intended to kill human beings simply because of their Israeli identity.

The reduction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the tidy and appealing narrative promoted in McCann’s book perhaps explains why the BBC – itself no stranger to the promotion of simplistic narratives concerning that issue – decided to dedicate two weeks of radio broadcasts to a novel which frames that conflict in terms far more palatable and comfortable to its audiences than actually exist.

BBC News tells readers of Sadat’s “victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict”

Following the death of Hosni Mubarak on February 25th, the BBC News website published an article titled “Mubarak: Egyptian statesman of war and peace” on its Middle East page.

The article includes portrayals of chapters in Middle East history, some of which are notable for their inaccuracies and omissions.

“Mubarak was instrumental in planning the surprise attack on Israeli forces at the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The raid took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Mubarak became a national hero for the role the air force played in the initial thrust across the Suez Canal.

Russia and the United States came close to superpower conflict as they rushed to supply their respective allies. Israel repelled the invasion; but eventually ceded Sinai back to Egypt.”

Readers are not informed that Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula took place within the framework of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

“He [Mubarak] was not a noted supporter of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement – signed by President Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin.”

The Camp David Accords were signed in September 1978. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in March 1979.

“The treaty sharply divided the Arab world. Mubarak regretted Sadat’s failure to prevent relations with moderate allies deteriorating; and radical groups were inflamed at what they saw as a sell-out.

In October 1981, soldiers sympathetic to one such group assassinated Sadat during a parade commemorating his victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Egypt’s Sadat of course did not win a “victory” in the Yom Kippur war and that parade was actually to commemorate Operation Badr. Readers are not informed that the group responsible for Sadat’s assassination was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad

“Egypt – expelled from the Arab League in 1979 – was readmitted, and the organisation’s headquarters returned to its original home on the banks of the Nile.”

Readers are not told that – as stated in the BBC’s own timeline of the Arab League – Egypt was “suspended from the Arab League in the wake of President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel”.

Despite those omissions and inaccuracies – most notably the inversion of the outcome of the Yom Kippur war – readers scrolling to the bottom of the page find a link telling them “Why you can trust BBC News”.

BBC News website runs a headline portraying antisemitism as ‘just fun’

On January 27th the BBC News website published a report titled “Auschwitz 75 years on: Are anti-Semitic attacks rising?”. Attributed to the corporation’s ‘Reality Check team’, the article cites surveys and reports on antisemitic incidents from three European countries and from bodies including the Kantor Center.

Notably the BBC chose to erase the massive rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups against Israeli civilians which led to both Operation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge by describing those two defensive operations as “Israeli conflicts in Gaza”.   

“For example, the latest report from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center on anti-Semitism worldwide, found the number of major violent incidents in 2018 had been at a relatively high level. However, it was still well below the levels seen around the times of Israeli conflicts in Gaza in 2008-9 and 2014, for example.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, we see that just a month ago, the BBC was aware of the rise in antisemitism in Europe.  Consider then the way in which the same website elected to report the blatant antisemitism on display at the Aalst carnival in Belgium this past weekend.

On February 24th the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page published a 475-word report which it chose to headline “Belgian city of Aalst says anti-Semitic parade ‘just fun’”.

That messaging also opened the report:

“A Belgian city has defended as “just fun” a carnival featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews wearing huge fur hats, long fake noses and ant costumes.”

One hundred and fifty-four words were given over to promotion of the talking points of the spokesman for the city’s mayor, including the notion of antisemitism as “freedom of speech”.

“The Aalst mayor’s spokesman told the BBC “it’s our humour… just fun”. […]

“It’s our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want,” he said. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.””

One can only wonder whether the BBC would find it likewise appropriate to promote the notion of “freedom of speech” in relation to grossly offensive stereotypical portrayals of other religious and ethnic groups or, for example, the LGBT community.

The report ‘balanced’ that promotion of the city spokesman’s view with statements from three sources:

“Israel, Jewish groups and Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès were among many who strongly condemned the costumes in Sunday’s parade in Aalst.”

A total of 136 words were used to report the condemnations from all those sources.

In other words, the BBC decided to give more space to the defence of the display of antisemitism in Aalst than to those condemning it.

The report included a reference to a story which was ignored by the BBC at the time.

“The city drew much criticism for parading caricature Jews last year – so much so that it was dropped from Unesco’s cultural heritage list in December. After the outcry, Aalst itself had asked to be taken off the list.”

In fact, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage said it was withdrawing the carnival “over recurring repetition of racist and anti-Semitic representations” at the event. As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, this year’s event included “more and worse antisemitic tropes and themes than in the past”.

The BBC News website, however, chose to run a headline portraying that racism as “just fun”.

Related Articles:

BBC News passes on follow-up to story it reported in March

 

 

A third BBC report from Beit Ijza highlights omissions in previous two

As documented earlier this month, a filmed report by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau was published on the BBC News website and aired on the BBC News television channel on February 14th.

BBC’s Tom Bateman tells part of a story about a Palestinian house ‘in a cage’

We noted at the time that:

“In addition to failing to note the second Intifada terror war as the context for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence, Bateman does not bother to clarify that the land on which the ‘settlement’ – Giv’on HaHadasha – was built had been purchased by Jews long before the State of Israel came into being, that it had been the site of a Jordanian army camp after the 1948 Jordanian invasion and subsequent 19-year occupation or that claims by the Gharib family that they owned additional land were shown to be unsupported in several court cases.

Later on in the report Bateman interviews a resident of Giv’on HaHadasha. Pointing at the fence he asks her:

“What do you think when you see a Palestinian home behind all this?”

Ilanit Gohar replies: “He chose this, he chose this type of living” but BBC audiences would be incapable of understanding her reply because Bateman did not bother to inform them that the Gharib family refused an offer of compensation for relocation prior to the construction of the anti-terrorist fence in that area in 2008 and that their claims were rejected by the Supreme Court.”

Just over a week later, on February 22nd, an audio version of Bateman’s report was the lead item in that day’s edition – titled “A Family Fenced In” – of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. The synopsis reads:

“President Trump’s plan for peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories would allow Israel to apply its sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements as well as swathes of strategic land in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright saying it would create a “Swiss cheese state”. Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman spent time on two sides of a fence that separates an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian family with its own checkpoint.”

Presenter Kate Adie similarly introduced the item (from 00:31 here), failing to clarify that the “Palestinian leadership” had rejected the US plan long before they had seen its content. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “First; President Trump has a plan for peace for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Tensions are high as the American proposals would allow Israel to apply sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements – held as illegal under international law – as well as swathes of strategic land on the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright. Tom Bateman has been on both sides of the fence to take soundings.”

While Bateman may indeed have physically “been on both sides of the fence”, his report makes it very clear which side is the focus of his monologue and with which side listeners are supposed to sympathise.

Providing no context concerning the history of the area – including the highly relevant illegal Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 – Bateman commenced with some very obvious framing of the story which included further repetition of the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning the alleged ‘illegality’ of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

Bateman: “Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. Sa’adat Gharib was born over a decade later – a Palestinian boy growing up under Israeli occupation. He watched the territory around him close in. Now he lives in a house surrounded on all sides by a six-meter-high fence with a sliding metal gate. It was installed by the Israeli army, who he says can seal the family into their home at any time. On the map his family’s bungalow appears as a blip, an enclave. On the other side of the wire, an Israeli settlement that grew to dominate the land surrounding Sa’adat’s house.

We drove to see him on the second Friday after President Trump announced his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. At one checkpoint tyres burned and the smell of tear gas seeped into the car as soldiers confronted a Palestinian protest. Tensions have been rising. The Israelis and Americans have started joint work on a map of all the West Bank settlements ready for Israel to formally annex them. Most of the rest of the world opposes this. The settlements, illegal under international law, thread through the land the Palestinians want as their future country. Their leader calls the Trump plan’s design a Swiss cheese state. Israel’s prime minister says it’s the opportunity of the century.”

Listeners then heard Bateman paraphrasing statements from his interviewee which they later find out he knows not to be true.

Bateman: “On Sa’adat’s driveway the fence rises around us. We look at the homes of the Israeli settlement a few meters away on the other side. He tells me he feels under siege. ‘The settlers confiscated my land’ he says. ‘They haven’t left me air to breathe’. His father built the bungalow in the late 70s. Then, Israel declared the territory around the house state land. Swathes of the West Bank were treated in the same way. Israel adopted an old land law introduced in Palestine in the 19th century. That was when the ruling Ottoman sultan could declare public ownership of any lands he said hadn’t been used to grow crops or keep livestock. Israel used this as a legal basis in the 1980s to claim land for settlements. Sa’adat’s father challenged this at the Israeli courts, claiming ownership of the land around his house. He lost. The judges ruled much of the territory had been bought by Jewish owners in the 1920s.”

Bateman did not bother to inform Radio 4 audiences that the 1858 Ottoman Land Code was also used by the British during their time as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine or that had Israel not used that Ottoman law post-1967, it would be in breach of  Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations which refer to “respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country”.

Failing to inform listeners that the US proposal does not propose uprooting either Palestinian or Israeli residents of Judea & Samaria from their homes (and of course makes no claim of US ‘ownership’ of the land), Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Sa’adat aims to respond to the American plan by staying put. ‘Trump doesn’t own this land’ he says. But the settlers see his home at the edge of the Palestinian village of Beit Ijza as a potential breach in the sprawling separation barrier which cuts through the land here and disconnects the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. The network of walls and fences was built at the height of the Second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising – in the early 2000s and Israel maintains it was and remains essential for its security, to protect Israeli civilians from attack.”

Refraining from clarifying that “attack” actually means Palestinian terrorism and that it is that terrorism which made the checkpoint he later describes necessary, Bateman continued:  

Bateman: “The iron meshwork that surrounds Sa’adat’s home contains sensors that alert the army should anyone try to climb the fence and get into the settlement. The police can then monitor the feed from cameras trained on his property. As his children run towards us, I spot a love heart scrawled on his side of the wall. Sa’adat describes the feeling of being under surveillance 24 hours a day. ‘It’s like living in a prison’ he says before adding ‘actually, in a real prison there’s someone to feed you, to take care of you’.

We leave the enclave to go to the settlement. It’s a few meters away and should be a 30-second drive but it takes an hour and a half. We have to head through the city of Ramallah to a military checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem where Sa’adat and most Palestinians may not pass. It’s our only route from the lives of those Palestinians we visited to the Israelis next door.

Ilanit Gohar greets me in the settlement of Givon HaHadasha. The name means new Givon, named after a biblical city whose residents were said to have built the walls of Jerusalem. We walk this side of Sa’adat’s fence, peering through the wire at his house, a few meters – but a world – away. You can feel the impact of the Israeli security all around. A jeep rushes along a military road that tunnels under Sa’adat’s driveway. Israel’s security dominance also forms the core of President Trump’s plan. It says the proposed Palestinian state would be demilitarised while Israel would use blimps, drones and aerial equipment for the so-called early warning station inside Palestine to keep watch.”

In the closing lines of his report it emerged that Bateman also knows of the second court case involving the Gharib family.

Bateman: “Ilanit, a young lawyer and resident of the settlement, keeps walking – perhaps in range of some of the security cameras around Sa’adat’s house. ‘He chose to live like this’ she tells me, referring to an offer of compensation if the family moved. ‘It was ruled this land belongs to Israel and not to him’ said Ilanit. ‘We can’t move him, he won’t move us’ she says as she calls President Trump’s plan a historic breakthrough. Annexation is fabulous she tells me, not only for the residents of this settlement but for all the people of Israel.”

The main question arising from this audio report is if Tom Bateman knew about both the Ghraib family’s failure to prove in court ownership of part of the land they claimed and their later refusal to accept compensation for relocation (with the situation described in all three of his reports being the result), why did he fail to provide that information to BBC audiences who saw the two previous filmed reports and why did he wait over a week to include that information in his radio report for non-international BBC audiences?

 

 

Have your say: BBC launches consultation on complaints procedures

Yesterday the BBC launched a public consultation concerning two parts of its complaints procedure: editorial complaints and general complaints.

Editorial complaints are defined as those concerning a particular item broadcast or published while general complaints cover issues that fall outside the BBC’s other categories.

An explanation of the background to the consultation and the BBC’s proposed amendments to the complaints procedure can be found here.

The existing complaints framework can be found here.

The consultation will run until April 3rd 2020 and submissions can be sent by email to:

complaints.framework2020@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

 BBC Corporate Affairs,

Room 5045,

BBC Broadcasting House,

Portland Place,

London W1A 1AA.

BBC News report on PIJ attacks focuses on Israel’s response

On the morning of February 24th the BBC news website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report concerning a sequence of events that took place the previous day.

Those events were presented in reverse chronological order with the article’s headline  – “Israel says it struck Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza and Syria” – telling audiences only of the last episodes in the series of incidents.

The report’s first five paragraphs related to Israeli strikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip and Syria. The PIJ was presented as a “Palestinian militant group” (a euphemistic portrayal twice repeated later on in the report) despite the fact that it has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK government since 2001. Once again readers found unqualified BBC promotion of standard Syrian regime propaganda. [emphasis added]

“The Israeli military says it has launched air strikes against a Palestinian militant group in Gaza and Syria in response to rocket fire.

Israel’s military said it had struck Islamic Jihad targets in southern Damascus and the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

In a rare acknowledgement of a strike on Syria, the Israeli military said it targeted “a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity”.

Syria said its air defences shot down most of the Israeli missiles.

Four people were wounded in Gaza, health officials say, but there have been no immediate reports of fatalities from the Israeli strikes.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the nature of the PIJ targets in Syria (although a BBC Jerusalem correspondent knows what they were) or that at least two members of the terror group were killed in that strike. The Times of Israel reports:

“The IDF said its fighter jets targeted the main base of the Iran-backed terror group in Syria, which it said was used to develop new weapons and to manufacture “tens of kilograms of [ammonium perchlorate]” rocket fuel each month.

The military said the site, in the Damascus suburb of al-Adleyeh, was also used for training exercises for members of the organization “both from the Strip and on the northern front,” referring to Lebanon and Syria.”

The BBC’s report continued in reverse chronological order:

“The strikes were launched after southern Israel was hit by a barrage of at least 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday. There were no reports of casualties.”

The BBC’s portrayal of “at least 20 rockets” reduces by a third the number actually launched. As is more often than not the case, BBC audiences were told nothing of how those rocket attacks had affected local residents or of the related closure of schools, roads and railway lines on the day this article was published.

The article went on to portray events which preceded the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

“The hostilities began on Sunday morning, when Israel said it killed an Islamic Jihad member along its border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military said the the [sic] man was attempting to plant an explosive device.

A video shared widely on social media showed an Israeli bulldozer scooping up the body of the man, provoking anger among Palestinians.

Some Palestinians called for retaliation and hours later, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, setting off air raid sirens.”

The IDF released filmed evidence of the two PIJ terrorists planting the IED at the border fence but the BBC nevertheless chose to portray that event as something that ‘Israel says’ took place. While the BBC did tell readers of “a video” showing “an Israeli bulldozer”, they were not informed of the related fact that two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Neither were audiences informed that the mourning tent set up for the person the BBC chose to describe as “the man” included a photograph of him in military uniform carrying a weapon.  

The BBC found it appropriate to remind audiences of previous incidents:

“Violence between Israel and Islamic Jihad flared up last November, when an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group in Gaza.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians were seen earlier this month too, days after US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan.”

Audiences were not however informed of a much more recent incident in which Palestinian Islamic Jihad snipers opened fire at is Israeli forces.

To summarise: two Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists tried to plant a bomb intended to kill Israelis at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel but were thwarted. Additional PIJ terrorists then fired over 30 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians in ‘retaliation’. The Israeli army responded with strikes on the terror group’s military assets in the Gaza Strip (including a rocket launching squad) and in Syria. The following day the BBC News website published a report with a headline and first five paragraphs relating to the last chapter in that chain of events, while having produced no stand-alone reporting on the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians which had commenced eleven hours earlier and devoting one sole two-sentence paragraph to that topic in this report.

Related Articles:

BBC News again recycles Syrian regime propaganda

 

 

BBC Complaints response invokes non-existent “pre-1967 borders”

As readers may recall, the January 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ included a report (which is still available online) concerning the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that included several misleading statements.

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC reporter Aleem Maqbool told listeners that “They [the Palestinians] have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital” and spoke of “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access”.

As noted here at the time, Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggested to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” was also misleading to listeners: none of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

In addition the programme’s newsreader told listeners that “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war”. 

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that long report which included a reminder that – as stated in the BBC Academy style guide’s entry for ‘Green Line’ – no such “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” and that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

On February 18th we received the following response to that complaint. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for contacting us about the midnight news bulletin on Radio 4 on Wednesday 29th January.

We have spoken to senior staff about your concerns.

Aleem Maqbool’s line in his report, “the return of occupied East Jerusalem”, was referring to the point that Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it. He was not suggesting that this part of the city had previously been under Palestinian control – he did not, for example, say “return to them” but “the return of.”

The newsreader’s introduction to the report said “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war.” The phrase “its borders” refers to Jordan (which is the subject of this sentence) not to the Palestinians and it did not imply that a Palestinian state was in existence then.

The sentence in the report that said “Palestinians no longer have a border with Jordan” was referring to the Trump plan, under which the proposed state would not have a border with Jordan, as it would if there were a two state solution based on a return to the pre-1967 borders, a long-held Palestinian position.

In addition, the reason for talking about the border was to reinforce the point that without the Jordan Valley, any proposed West Bank State becomes an island (or group of islands) within Israel.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint which includes yet another reminder to the BBC that – as its own style guide states – the 1949 ceasefire lines are not “borders”.

 

BBC News uncritically amplifies Iranian regime claim on voter turnout

On February 21st the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report which is currently headlined “Iran elections: Hardliners set to sweep parliamentary polls”.

Readers of the latest version of that report are told that:

“Observers say authorities were hoping for a high voter turnout as a sign of support for the regime.

Voting was extended three times on Friday because of a “rush of voters”, state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying. The polls have now closed.”

Similar statements amplifying the Iranian regime’s claims of a “rush of voters” appeared in two earlier versions of the report.

Not only is there no evidence of the BBC having independently verified that claim before amplifying it, but reports from other sources suggest that turnout was in fact low, particularly in Tehran.

Radio Farda reported that:

“Officials in charge of holding Iran’s parliamentary elections have been making contradictory remarks about the the turnout which appears to be very low in at least several provinces.

For weeks Iranian officials have been saying that high voter turnout in the elections will prove the ineffectiveness of U.S. policies toward Iran so a higher turnout appears to be highly important to the regime.

Authorities sound concerned about the participation rate in today’s elections. Mahmoud Alavi, Intelligence Minister, expressed hope that by the end of the polls the number of participants in the election would reach “an acceptable level”. […]

Fars News Agency has claimed that on the basis of figures compiled by 6:00 pm the turnout is estimated to be 39 to 40 percent of the eligible voters at the national level and 30 percent for Tehran.”

AP reported that:

“By comparison, the 2016 parliamentary election saw 62% turnout. On Friday, election officials kept the polls open an extra five hours in an effort to boost turnout. Iran’s leadership and state media had urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.”

An article at the Jerusalem Post states:

“Iran kept its voting booths open late on election day Friday. Officials claimed it was so more people could vote, claiming there were long lines. But videos showed few people voting. It appears that turnout was low and the government kept the polls open late to beg people to come. ISNA media in Iran noted that turnout looked to be only 20% or 12 million of the 60 million who could have voted. If that number ends up as the official tally, it will have been a disaster for the regime.”

Iran expert Dr Raz Zimmt noted that according to unofficial figures, voter turnout appears to have been a little over 40% – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic revolution – and that in Tehran voter participation appears to stand at less than 30%.

In other words, there appears to be no justification for the BBC’s unquestioning amplification of the Iranian regime’s claims.

All versions of the report tell readers that:

“More than 7,000 candidates were vying for 290 seats in the parliament, known as the Majlis. It is part of Iran’s mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance, under which the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in the most important matters.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC squares that claim of “democratic…governance” with its own next paragraph is unclear.

“More than 16,000 contenders – including 90 mostly reformist members of the current Majlis – were disqualified from standing by the Guardian Council, a vetting committee loyal to Mr Khamenei.”

The BBC does not bother to explain to readers why the Guardian Council is “loyal to Mr Khamenei”.

The Atlantic Council explains:

“These are the most uncompetitive elections in years because the Guardian Council—a vetting body of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists appointed indirectly by him—has disqualified dozens of reformist candidates, including at least eighty sitting members of parliament. With the exception of the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in 1980, the Islamic Republic’s parliament has only ever allowed a narrow range of politicians to run for office. But this time the Guardian Council has gone much further, effectively expelling the reformist faction of the regime from the political realm.

On paper, running for parliament is open to all Iranians who are between the ages of 30 and 75 years old, hold at least a Masters degree or the equivalent, have finished their mandatory military service (for men), and have shown their commitment to Islam (with the exception of those running for the five seats reserved for religious minorities).”

That is not a “mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance” by any stretch of the imagination and indeed the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index rates Iran as an authoritarian regime ranked 151 out of 167 countries.

As usual (see ‘related articles’ below) this report promotes the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’ and uncritically amplifies Iranian regime propaganda concerning its nuclear programme.

“Foreign powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes.”

Once again the BBC’s coverage Iranian affairs falls embarrassingly short.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 5 live presenter tells listeners Iran is a ‘democracy’

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant

Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

BBC News coverage of Iranian election touts ‘moderate’ Rouhani yet again

BBC News again uncritically amplifies Iranian regime disinformation

BBC News ignores events that challenge its chosen ‘peace process’ narrative

As we recently observed, the BBC’s coverage of the launch of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposals once again provided no shortage of examples of the corporation’s one-dimensional portrayal of supposed Palestinian aspirations.

Does BBCsplaining of Palestinian aspirations stand up to scrutiny?

While BBC audiences are no doubt able to recite by heart the narrative according to which “the Palestinians want an independent state of their own, comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem”, they do not see any serious reporting on the topic of Palestinians who are opposed to the two-state solution.

This past week two stories emerged which did not – and will not – receive any BBC coverage because they contradict the chosen editorial line. The first of those stories concerns a meeting held in Tel Aviv.

“Palestinian factions have condemned the participation of Palestinian figures in a meeting organized by The Israeli Peace Parliament, a public unaffiliated forum whose members are former representatives of a variety of political parties and movements, including former ministers and members of the Knesset.

Friday’s meeting in Tel Aviv was held under the banner “Yes to Peace,” “No to Annexation” and “Two States for Two People.”

Twenty Palestinians participated in the meeting. Among them: former Palestinian Authority economy minister Bassem Khoury; former PA health ministers Fathi Abu Mughlieh and Sameeh al-Abed; former PA local governance minister Hussein al-A’raj; and former PA prisoners affairs minister Ashraf al-Ajrami. […]

Denouncing the gathering, Hamas said it was a “blow to all Palestinian positions rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the meeting was also a form of “normalization” with Israel that is rejected by all Palestinians. “These meetings encourage some parties in the region to normalize their relations with the Zionist entity,” Qassem said. “They also weaken the movement of solidarity with our Palestinian people.” […]

Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Ahmed al-Mudalal strongly condemned the meeting in Tel Aviv. “How can we convince the world to reject normalization [with Israel] when some of us are promoting it and involved in it?” he asked. “These meetings are intended to support Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century.’”

The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) denounced the meeting as a “stabbing of the Palestinian people.””

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh also reported that: 

“Anti-Israel groups, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, have also joined the “anti-normalization” drive.
After Friday’s meeting in Tel Aviv, several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, accused the Palestinian participants of engaging in normalization with Israel. Palestinian Facebook users published “black lists” of some of the participants and accused them of betraying the Palestinian people and cause by talking to Israelis.
A woman who attended the Israeli Peace Parliament gathering in Tel Aviv told the Post she has since received scores of hate messages from Palestinians who hurled abuse at her and called her a traitor. […]

The smear campaign on social-media platforms forced one of the Palestinian participants, Hamdallah Al-Hamdallah, mayor of the West Bank town of Anabta, to announce his resignation on his Facebook page. […]

On Monday, Bir Zeit University published a statement distancing itself from Bassem Khoury, a member of the university’s board of trustees who participated in the Tel Aviv meeting. The statement came after students protested against his participation in the “normalization meeting” with Israelis.
“The university affirms its clear policy of rejecting any form of normalization with the occupation,” the statement said.”

Opposition to ‘normalisation’ has of course long been a tenet of the anti-Israel BDS campaign but the BBC’s enduring record of superficial reporting on that campaign has avoided that topic.

The second story concerns the Palestinian Authority’s invitation of a group of Israeli journalists to briefings in Ramallah on February 16th.

“The attacks on Palestinian “normalizers” escalated on Sunday after Palestinians learned that Israeli journalists had been invited to Ramallah for meetings with PA officials.
Many Palestinians posted on social media a video of some of the journalists near Nelson Mandela Square in Ramallah. The Palestinians claimed the Israeli journalists were “Jewish settlers who had invaded Ramallah.”
As photos of the meetings between the journalists and the PA officials surfaced, dozens of Palestinians launched an online campaign denouncing normalization with Israel as “criminal and treachery.” […]

On Monday morning, unknown assailants hurled Molotov cocktails at a restaurant where senior PA official Mahmoud al-Habbash met with Israeli journalists on Sunday. Nobody was hurt and no damage was reported. The attack, however, served as yet another warning to Madani and other Palestinians engaged in all forms of dialogue with Israelis.”

As one of the participating Israeli journalists noted, the meeting was also condemned by senior PLO members Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi.

The fact that BBC audiences have heard nothing of these two stories comes as no surprise. The editorial policy which underlies the BBC’s frequent and ample coverage of ‘the peace process’ allows no room for the reporting of events which challenge its chosen narrative concerning Palestinian aspirations and its misleading portrayal of one unified and representative Palestinian voice that aspires to peace by means of a two-state solution. That means that the BBC is deliberately avoiding its obligation to provide audiences with information which would enhance their ability to understand and engage with the issue.  

More BBC News promotion of its politicised narrative on Jerusalem

A report headlined “Jerusalem: Jordan condemns Israeli Western Wall railway plan” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East page on February 18th.

The apparent purpose of the report is to inform BBC audiences of the objections of another country to plans to extend a railway in Jerusalem.  

“Jordan has condemned a decision by Israel to advance a plan to build a railway line and station underneath the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. […]

Jordan called the move a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.”

Readers were not informed by the BBC which particular “international law” relates to the construction of railways.

They did however see one-sided portrayal of parts of the city of Jerusalem, including a frequently used map sourced from the political NGO B’tselem.

“A 3km (2-mile) tunnel will lead to the Western Wall – one of Judaism’s holiest sites – in the city’s occupied east.”

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.” [emphasis added]

Predictably however, readers were not told that what the BBC chooses to call “East Jerusalem” was invaded and occupied by Jordan nineteen years earlier or that in June 1967 it was Jordan which opened the hostilities on that front. Neither were they provided with any significant background information concerning the Waqf and its status before being informed that:

“Jordan has special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – including the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – via an Islamic trust called the Waqf.”

The BBC is obliged under the terms of its Charter to “provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Its adoption and exclusive promotion of one-sided politicised narratives which deliberately omit relevant information cannot possibly be claimed to serve audiences in accordance with those obligations.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

A politicised BBC report on a new train line

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge