Examining the rationale behind BBC policy on Israel’s capital

Over the years we have documented numerous examples of the BBC’s refusal to call Jerusalem Israel’s capital city.

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

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

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in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded.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

In other words the BBC erroneously claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – i.e. UN GA resolution 181 – has some sort of contemporary relevance or validity and on that basis dictates that all of Jerusalem “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.

Despite what the now defunct BBC Trust may have chosen to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan outright and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.

But let’s take a closer look at the BBC’s rationale. While the corporation claims that UN GA resolution 181 “calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum” it does not acknowledge that the proposed corpus separatum actually included other places too.

In other words, if the BBC cannot describe Jerusalem as Israeli territory because the city was included in a proposal which never got off the ground, then logically it should not be describing places such as Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Abu Dis and Bethlehem as ‘Palestinian’ because they too were included in that same proposal.

But is that the case in BBC reporting? Here are a few examples: [emphasis added]

In December 2018 listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard that St Nicholas Day “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala”.

In March 2018 Radio 4 listeners heard a drama called “The Bethlehem Murders” which they were told was “Crime fiction set in Palestine” and in which the narrator was introduced as “a teacher in the city of Bethlehem in Palestine”. Another character was portrayed as living in “Beit Jala – a Palestinian Christian town”.

In November 2015 the BBC’s Lyse Doucet reported from a location she described as “a Palestinian village…the city of Beit Jala – very close to Bethlehem”.

A May 2013 report from Abu Dis by Yolande Knell told BBC audiences of “Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem”. 

In December 2012 Kevin Conolly informed BBC audiences that “Christians are…even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem”.

So as we see, not only is the ‘rationale’ behind the BBC editorial policy of not accurately informing its audiences where Israel’s capital is located totally misguided, it is not even applied uniformly and impartially. More double standards from the self-declared “provider of news that you can trust”.

Related Articles:

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

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

BBC WS misleads on Israel’s capital city yet again

 

 

 

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BBC’s preferred terminology hinders audience understanding

The April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ included an item by Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 37:30 here) about a dog shelter in Beit Sahour which has been the topic of reports by other media outlets in the past.

Beit Sahour is located in Area A and has been under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995. However that relevant fact was not mentioned at all throughout the item, which was introduced by presenter Jo Fidgen using the term ‘occupied West Bank’.

Fidgen: “On nearly every street in the occupied West Bank you see stray dogs wandering about or scrapping or lounging in the sun. From time to time they’re hit by cars or abused by humans. And then what? There are vets in the West Bank but many of the surgeries are poorly equipped and anyway they’re more geared up for treating farm animals than pets. But one Palestinian woman has made it her mission to look after them. Our reported Yolande Knell went to the West Bank dog shelter to meet her.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide recognises that the geo-political divisions in the region are “complicated”:

“…the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority […]. These are complicated to work out because of the division of the West Bank into three areas…” 

One would therefore have thought that following Fidgen’s use of the unhelpful broad brush term ‘occupied West Bank’, listeners would be given a more precise description of the location of the story they were hearing – but that was not the case.

Knell: “We’re on a patch of wasteland at the edge of Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem.”

Knell: “Just give us an idea of the problem here in the Palestinian areas…”

That meant that when listeners later heard the answer to a question posed by Knell to her interviewee, they had no idea that the “government” to which she referred is the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “What needs to be done here to change attitudes towards animal welfare?”

Babish: “It needs time, it needs also the government to support this.”

The same BBC Academy style guide recognises the political implications of the term ‘occupied West Bank’:

“It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.” 

Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC chooses to use that particular terminology – together with the fact that it more often than not fails to adequately clarify to audiences that the vast majority of the Palestinian population in what it terms the ‘occupied West Bank’ lives under the rule of the Palestinian Authority – does not contribute to audience understanding of stories such as this.

Another aspect of this report may also have confused listeners.

Babish: “Basically I go to Israeli clinics and hospitals because they have the medical labs, they have x-rays, they have efficient doctors. Here we lack all of these so that’s why I take the dogs over there.”

Knell: “Every week Diana goes to Israel to try and find homes for her dogs.”

BBC audiences have of course been told for years that Palestinians suffer from “major constrictions on freedom of movement“, that “freedom of movement is also restricted by hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles“, that “Israeli troops have also […] severely restricted the movement of Palestinian civilians” and of “the challenges of mobility in the West Bank“.

Now however they suddenly hear about a Palestinian woman who not only goes to Israel “every week” but also takes sick and injured dogs with her for treatment. Obviously BBC audience understanding would benefit from less simplistic portrayals of that topic too.

Related Articles:

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

 

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

December 9th marked thirty years since the beginning of the first Intifada and on December 20th the BBC News website published a filmed report on that topic made by Eloise Dicker and Nida Ibrahim and headlined “‘It was an uprising from the heart’“.

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour became iconic and the woman’s identity remained a mystery, until now.

Thirty years on, she has spoken to the BBC about the photograph.”

Whether or not that photograph can really be described as “iconic” – i.e. widely recognised – is of course debatable. BBC audiences are told that:

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone was taken almost 30 years ago but the woman’s identity was not known. The stone was aimed at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour, a village in the occupied West Bank.”

The woman – Micheline Awwad – then identifies herself in the photograph.

Awwad: “This is Micheline. It’s me. Of course it’s me.”

Viewers are then told that:

“In 1987, Palestinians began an “intifada”, or uprising, against Israeli rule. It lasted until 1993. Violent clashes led to the deaths of around 1,400 Palestinians and 271 Israelis.”

Although those statistics are credited to B’tselem, a look at the political NGO’s website shows that the total figures it gives for Palestinian casualties between December 9th 1987 and December 31st 1993 are lower by 196 than the number presented by the BBC. The subject of the nearly one thousand Palestinians killed by other Palestinians in those years did not make it into this BBC film.

The film goes on to give more statistics credited to B’tselem, with the number of Israelis killed during the second Intifada lower than those provided by official sources.

“There was a second intifada in 2000. Around 3,392 Palestinians and 996 Israelis were killed.”

The film then returns to Awwad.

Awwad: “I was wearing a black skirt and top, a yellow scarf and yellow heels. There was a special Mass at the church. Otherwise I wouldn’t have worn that outfit for a protest. When I saw the Israeli army approaching young men and confronting them, I followed the young men. When I started running – I couldn’t run with those shoes – I took them off and carried them. I didn’t know someone was taking a picture. It was an uprising from the heart. Young men and women passionately took to the streets. But not anymore. Young men and women today don’t want this.”

The BBC then inserts the following:

“There were calls for another intifada after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want the east of the city to be a capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Notably, viewers were not told that there were also “calls for another intifada” on numerous other prior occasions too. The film closes:

Awwad: “I have two sons. If, God forbid, one of them gets injured and dies, I’ll be heartbroken for life. Let my son stay at home – I’ll go out. Of course I would go out.”

“Micheline Awwad now works in a hotel. She doesn’t have the yellow heels any longer.”

In addition to the wording in this film, its visuals are also worthy of note. Throughout much of the film viewers see close-up shots of Awwad. However, they also see seven different images of photographs taken during the first Intifada – four of which show women in passive poses. None of the images including men – one of which features a priest – depict Palestinian acts of violence. Israeli soldiers with truncheons and guns are however shown in three of the images.

In the past the BBC has promoted the myth that the first Intifada was ‘non-violent’ (see ‘related articles’ below) and has completely erased Israeli casualties from its accounts. While it is therefore good to see those casualties finally acknowledged, this film nevertheless perpetuates the BBC’s long-standing romanticisation of type of Palestinian violence all too often euphemistically portrayed (if at all) as ‘protest’.

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada

Romanticising rocks and stones: BBC on the first Intifada

 

 

More inaccuracies and political propaganda from the BBC’s Lyse Doucet

h/t: DK

In addition to the filmed report she recently produced in Beit Sahour, the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet also recorded an audio report on the same topic in the same location. That report – which includes different but no less egregious inaccuracies and political propaganda than the filmed version – was broadcast on the November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour” and can be found from 45:09 here.Doucet Newshour 24 11

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item using a dose of the kind of equivalence seen all too frequently in BBC reporting:

“He is not promising a recipe for peace but, on his first visit to Israel and the West Bank in a year, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he is trying to find ways to restore calm. Today he condemned the recent wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians on Israelis as ‘acts of terrorism’. Well, tensions remain high between Israelis and Palestinians and the lives of young people on both sides are being affected. Two and a half years ago two Danish activists and a Palestinian basketball player started a group of runners. What began as a Palestinian marathon has grown into a global event that’s as much about proclaiming rights as it is about athletic prowess. Newshour’s Lyse Doucet went to meet the co-founder of the Right to Movement in the West Bank city of Beit Sahour.” [emphasis added]

As was the case in her filmed report, Doucet interviews George Zeidan without making any attempt to conform to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by telling listeners of the political agenda behind the organization he represents.

Zeidan: “My name is George Zeidan and right now we’re walking on the place where we found[ed] the Right to Movement group.”

Doucet: “And we’re walking along a dirt road and it’s taking us through olive groves and some terraced fields: absolutely beautiful countryside here in the West Bank. And it…but it’s very much reflecting of the political situation. This is a Palestinian village…the city of Beit Jala – very close to Bethlehem. And here on this hilltop is a Jewish settlement.”

Zeidan: “The settlement of Har Gilo. It’s an old….quite an old settlement on the Palestinian territory.  It’s very important for us to emphasise on the importance of our right to movement on our own property. And we believe that this land’s our own property. This is what the United Nations and the international world has given us. So we’re not asking for anything else.”

Doucet fails to relieve listeners of the inaccurate and materially misleading impression that the United Nations “has given” that particular portion of territory – or any other – to the Palestinians. She goes on to provide Zeidan with the cue for promotion of more political propaganda.

Doucet: “But you’ve stopped running here – why?”

Zeidan: “With the current…the current unstable situation…we don’t feel that it’s the best idea to take a risk and come here very close to a settlement. So we just try to stay away from this issue.”

Later on in the report Doucet promotes more political propaganda using a cue from another one of the people she describes as “running for exercise, running to make a statement about their right to move here”.

Woman: “My story is to destroy the wall.”

Doucet: “The wall that Israel erected to separate off Israeli…Israel from Palestinian areas – they say to stop suicide bombings.”

Apparently the BBC’s chief international correspondent has no qualms about deliberately misrepresenting the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence.

Listeners later hear another woman claim that the Palestinian terrorists who have carried out the recent attacks against Israelis are “doing it because they’re seeing, like, their families being stabbed or killed or hurt by them”.

The item closes with George Zeidan saying:

“It will be better if we soon can run from Bethlehem to Jerusalem without being stopped on a checkpoint. So that’s what we look forward to.”

Doucet’s narrative has no room for clarification to BBC audiences of the fact that checkpoints did not exist anywhere in the area before the Palestinians decided to launch the terror war known as the second Intifada fifteen years ago.

Once again Lyse Doucet has produced a report which does nothing to contribute to the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “understanding of international issues” but which is a vehicle for the amplification of opportunistic political propaganda by both herself and members of an inadequately presented NGO.

It is precisely reports such as these which undermine the BBC’s reputation as an accurate and impartial broadcaster and it is especially disturbing to see such a senior BBC correspondent engaged in blatantly political reporting. 

Political propaganda from the BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Beit Sahour

On November 24th two loosely sports-themed filmed reports – apparently also shown on BBC television news programmes – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Knell Krav Maga

One – titled “Israeli form of self-defence ‘on rise’” – is by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell and its synopsis reads as follows:

“Following a recent increase in knife attacks by Palestinians, there has been a dramatic rise in Israelis taking self-defence lessons.

Many study Krav Maga, an Israeli method developed for the military and incorporating different fighting techniques.

Our Middle East Correspondent, Yolande Knell, went along to a class.”

To her credit, Knell managed to keep politics out of her report – which is a lot more than can be said for her colleague Lyse Doucet who used her report – titled “The Palestinian runners pounding the pavements” – to promote blatant political messaging and inaccurate information.

The synopsis of that report reads:

“As tensions remain high between Israelis and Palestinians, lives of young people on both sides of the divide are being affected.

Three years ago two Danish aid workers and a Palestinian basketball player founded a running group.

What began as a Palestinian marathon has grown into a global running club which is as much about rights as it is about running.

Lyse Doucet met the Palestinian co-founder of the Right to Movement in the West Bank city of Beit Sahour.”

Doucet’s interviewee is George Zeidan who – like one of those “Danish aid workers” mentioned in the synopsis – used to be employed by the political NGO DanChurchAid.Doucet Beit Sahour

As was the case when her colleague Jon Donnison showcased ‘Right to Movement’ over two years ago, Doucet makes no attempt to provide BBC audiences with an impartial portrayal of the political agenda of the organization she highlights and promotes. Hence, viewers hear the following from George Zeidan – with no effort made by Doucet to inform them that Beit Sahour has been under the full control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades.

“Any runner outside Palestine have to just put on his running shoes and tie his shoes and go out to run. To me if I want to do this I take several other steps that I have to plan. I have to plan which street I’m going, when, and that’s because of the Israeli occupation.”

Doucet also adds her own inaccuracies to the cocktail:

“Pounding crowded streets in the city of Beit Sahour wouldn’t be any runner’s first choice. But these runners say they haven’t much choice; not when tensions are now running so high in an area surrounded by Israeli checkpoints and Jewish settlements.” [emphasis added]

Beit Sahour lies to the east of Bethlehem and to the north of a number of Palestinian villages located in PA controlled Area A or in Area B. It is not “surrounded” by either “Israeli checkpoints” or “Jewish settlements” at all.

And – despite the fact that in the last two months 21 people have been killed and 189 wounded in 74 stabbings, 10 shooting attacks and 12 car rammings by Palestinian terrorists – Doucet gives her interviewee a platform from which to tell BBC audiences who they should view as really being under “continuous threat”.

“We’re running here every Saturday for three years. But nowadays, with the current issues between Palestinians and Israelis and the continuous threat from the Israeli soldiers to be….for a Palestinian to be attacked….we just not comfortable and safe to be here.”

Doucet refrains from clarifying to viewers that no Palestinian has been “attacked” by Israeli soldiers for jogging and hence the “threat” is obviously a figment of her interviewee’s political agenda. Her subsequent claims regarding a “dirt track” which supposedly “lies on privately owned Palestinian land” but is “under Israeli military control” are of course impossible to substantiate given the absence of exact coordinates but she fails to clarify that the division of territory into Areas A, B and C came about under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people.

Doucet’s supposed nod to ‘impartiality’ in this report comes in the form of the following statement:

“You say that you’re worried about the settlers but now the Israelis are worried about the Palestinians because of the stabbings. They say they’re the ones who are threatened.”

That statement is in fact merely a cue for her interviewee to introduce his own political statement:

“I’m more concerned that the Palestinians are under occupation.”

Doucet’s conclusion to the report is as follows:

“They take to the streets to say they’re telling a different story. But the old story here of conflict and confrontation is far louder and never seems to end.”

Those closing words reinforce the underlying theme seen in this report and much of the BBC’s other coverage over the last two months: the injection of the false notion of equivalence into the story of the current wave of terrorism against Israelis.

Here we have two filmed reports supposedly telling different sides of the same story. But whilst Yolande Knell’s report tells of Israelis trying to augment their personal security during a wave of terror attacks by taking self-defence classes, Doucet’s report is nothing more than the provision of a platform for opportunistic political propaganda which does nothing to contribute to the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “understanding of international issues”.  

 Related Articles:

BBC’s Donnison promotes Bethlehem Marathon as non-political event

BBC deems parts of Israeli right of reply statement “irrelevant”

Bethlehem Marathon: the bit the BBC did not report