BBC News maintains its silence on the UNRWA ethical abuses story

A week has passed since revelations concerning alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees emerged.

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

The BBC continues to maintain ‘radio silence’ on that issue and – although it did take the time to inform audiences that “[l]ast year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949 [sic]” two days after that story broke – it did not apparently consider the fact that Switzerland and the Netherlands subsequently suspended their funding to the agency worth reporting.

Since then Belgium has followed suit.

BBC reporting in August 2018

“Belgium has temporarily suspended its funding to UNRWA, following reports of a UN investigation into ethical misconduct among its senior staff, according to Israel’s Embassy in Belgium.

The embassy tweeted about the suspension on Friday, quoting from Belgian Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, who stated, “If the accusations are true, it’s completely unacceptable.””

In short – three countries suspend their funding to a UN agency in the wake of an ethics report revealing alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at its highest levels and yet the BBC does not consider that its audiences need to know about that story.

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Revisiting a BBC News website story from 2014

Back in May 2014 the BBC News website reported a story from Belgium involving a politician and a banned rally that the corporation had difficulty describing accurately to its audience.

As was noted here at the time:

“The BBC report ‘balances’ its reporting of statements made by Belgian officials and an anti-racist organization on the subject of the convention by quoting a Facebook post from its organiser.

“Writing on his Facebook page, Laurent Louis said it was laughable that his movement “Debout Les Belges!” (Stand up, Belgians!) was seen as anti-Semitic, simply because its members had adopted Dieudonne’s trademark “quenelle” gesture.”

However, the BBC refrains from informing audiences that Louis’ repeated use of the quenelle is just the tip of the iceberg of his history of antisemtism and extremism, which includes making that gesture in the Belgian parliament, Holocaust denial and analogies and accusing Zionists of having “set up and financed” the Holocaust. Last year Louis was photographed at a pro-Assad rally trampling an Israeli flag and holding a portrait of Bashar al Assad and a Hizballah flag, telling Syrian TV that “Europe is being used in the conflict [against Syria] as a tool in the hands of Israel, the rogue state”.”

The following year Laurent Louis was convicted of Holocaust denial by a Belgian court and barred from running for office for six years. Following an appeal, Louis (who subsequently paid a visit to Hizballah) had his sentence changed.

“A former lawmaker in Belgium convicted of Holocaust denial in 2015 was handed an unusual sentence this week: The Brussels Court of Appeal ordered him to visit one Nazi concentration camp a year for the next five years and write about his experiences, according to the former lawmaker and local news reports. […]

Mr. Laurent [Louis] was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and fined over $20,000 at his 2015 trial, which centered on online statements he made that questioned the number of Jews killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.”

However, all anyone searching for information about the European MP convicted of Holocaust denial on the BBC News website will find is amplification of Louis’ denials of antisemitic activity along with a tepid and unhelpful ‘explanation’ of the quenelle gesture.

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BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism 

 

 

BBC’s director of news discusses antisemitism – up to a point

On November 5th BBC World Service radio broadcast an edition of the programme ‘On Background’ which included (from 34:20 here) an item described in the synopsis as “author Howard Jacobson with the BBC’s Kevin Connolly on anti-Semitism in Europe”.on-background-5-11

The programme has several notable aspects, one of which is the fact that it is co-presented by the BBC’s director of news.

“BBC News’ James Harding and Zanny Minton Beddoes from the Economist dig a little deeper into some of the big stories of the week.”

The item begins with Kevin Connolly revisiting the May 2014 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man were murdered. Notably – in light of the BBC’s record – the incident is accurately described on two occasions as a “terrorist attack”. However, the identity of the suspected attacker and his apparent Islamist motives are not mentioned at all in Connolly’s report.

Given the chosen starting point of the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, listeners familiar with its background would perhaps have been rather surprised by the item’s focus on the unrelated topic of Christian antisemitism in Europe.

Referring to his Jewish interviewees from Belgium, Connolly tells audiences:

“Their view is – to some extent because of the Holocaust – that Christian tradition of antisemitism in Europe has been fixed, in inverted commas, by education or by a sense of what is or what is not socially acceptable. But they worry now that new minorities coming into Europe bringing with them the attitudes, for example, of the Middle East or of North Africa, will give antisemitism a new vitality on the continent and will revisit an ancient problem in a modern way.”

Presenter James Harding’s response to that is to ask:

“But is there any evidence […] that antisemitism within a Christian tradition still exists in Europe?”

Later on, following a description of manifestations of antisemitism by Howard Jacobson, Harding responds by saying:

“But Howard Jacobson – wouldn’t there be people listening to you now, particularly Muslim listeners, who’d say consider Islamophobia in Europe; consider the plight of Muslims who are facing much more critical commentary and, frankly, much more hostility across Europe.”

The issue raised by Connolly’s Belgian interviewees in fact receives no serious discussion throughout the item.

Another interesting point about the item is the absence of any introspection on the part of the BBC’s director of news concerning content produced by his own organisation which has amplified the kind of tropes described by his expert guest Howard Jacobson.

Jacobson [46:28]: “And here we get onto the very thorny problem of Israel because in my view – which has got nothing to do with defending Israel at all: the politics of Israel; we can leave that out. But I do think that Israel has enabled a vocabulary of antisemitism to surface and express itself again. I’m not just talking about how we feel about individual Israeli policy. We will find descriptions of what’s happened in Israel that are too close to comfort to medieval tropes about what Jews were like. You will hear people saying Israel is supported by a ‘Jewish lobby’ or there’s an immense amount of money supporting Israel politics or when it comes to Israel, the Jewish lobby is the tail wagging the American dog. So these are all old ways of talking about the Jews that go all the way back to things that were said in Mein Kampf but they now have another…another battle ground if you like.”

Readers may recall that the ‘tail wagging the dog’ theme was promoted by a senior BBC correspondent in September 2013 and that amplification of the notion of a powerful ‘Jewish lobby’ has regrettably been an all too frequent feature of BBC content – for example here, here and here.

Later on in the discussion, Jacobson refers to the Livingstone Formulation.

“I’ll tell you what’s a real problem here: every time you say look, there seems to be an antisemitism problem here, you’re met with a blank wall – I find it quite impertinent actually; I find it insolent – that says all you’re trying to do is stop criticism of Israel. That is such a mantra now, you’ve no idea. In any argument now about the issue of antisemitism, it’s silenced by people who say that they are being silenced: ‘you’re only saying I’m an antisemite to stop me talking; to stop me criticising Israel’. It’s entirely untrue. Criticise Israel all you like but they must see that every time they say that, they are silencing those who say there is a problem with antisemitism.”

As regulars readers know, the BBC has itself frequently promoted the Livingstone Formulation in its own content – including in a backgrounder supposedly designed to help audiences understand the ‘difference’ between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Antisemitism is a subject with which the BBC has been visibly struggling for a long time. That struggle manifests itself both as the frequent failure to report accurately (or sometimes, the failure to report at all) on stories involving antisemitism and the failure to adequately address the issue of antisemitism in its own content and on its message boards.

It is therefore all the more regrettable that a programme which claims to ‘dig deeper’ hosted by such a prominent figure as the BBC’s director of news did not actually deliver.

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BBC News website flip-flops on description of Brussels attacks as terrorism – part two

In part one of this post we documented the changes made to the BBC News website’s main report on the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22nd and the way in which the term ‘terror’ was removed from its later versions.  

Another article which appears to have undergone a similar editing process is titled “In pictures: Brussels blasts“. The current version of that report opens:Brussels In Pictures

“Scores of people have been killed and wounded in attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station during the morning rush hour.

There has been heightened security in the Belgian capital since it emerged that several of the men behind last November’s Paris attacks had come from Brussels.”

However, that second paragraph originally read:

“There has been heightened tension and security in the Belgian capital since it emerged that several of the men behind last November’s terror attacks in Paris had come from the city. Just days ago, a man suspected of involvement in the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in Brussels after four months on the run.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the BBC edited the word terror out of that reference to attacks it accurately described at the time (for example here, here and here) and subsequently (for example here and here) as terrorism.

On March 23rd the BBC News website published a report titled “Brussels attacks: Belgium mourns amid hunt for suspect” which was promoted on the BBC News (World) Twitter account.

Tweet BBC News replacement

However, minutes before that Tweet went out, the same article had been promoted in an earlier one which was apparently deleted.

Tweet BBC News deleted 2

The BBC of course knows full well that the premeditated and coordinated attacks in Brussels were acts of terrorism and that the people who executed them are terrorists. That fact is still reflected in some of its many reports on the events but the removal of the word terror from other reports indicates once again that the corporation has real difficulty distinguishing between the means and ends of violent attacks on civilians and that its inconsistent employment of the term terror hinges on political judgements.Brussels terror 1

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on War, Terror and Emergencies state:

“We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.”

As its reporting on the Brussels attacks shows, the BBC is not achieving consistency even within coverage of one story. Some of its journalists appropriately employed the term terror whilst other members of its staff were busy expunging that word from coverage. Until the corporation is capable of coming up with a uniform approach to reporting acts of terrorism wherever – and by whom – they are perpetrated, its reputation for objectivity and accuracy will obviously remain compromised.

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BBC News website flip-flops on description of Brussels attacks as terrorism – part one

The March 22nd terror attacks at the airport and on the metro in Brussels in which over thirty people were murdered and hundreds wounded were of course covered in depth on the BBC News website and in particular on its Europe page. The website’s main article on that day went through numerous understandable changes as events unfolded and information came to light.

Originally titled “Brussels Zaventem airport rocked by two explosions”, the article now appears under the headline “Brussels attacks: Zaventem and Maelbeek bombs kill many” but the journey between those two headlines highlights some interesting editorial decisions.

The original headline was later changed to read “Brussels Zaventem airport blasts cause casualties” and still later to “Brussels Zaventem airport and metro explosions ‘kill at least 13′” and then “Brussels explosions: Airport and metro hit with ‘at least 13 killed'”.

Brussels main art 1

[Source]

Around four hours after the first attacks took place the headline was amended to read “Brussels explosions: Many dead in airport and metro terror attacks” and the article’s opening paragraph also used the term “terrorist attacks”.

“Many people have been killed or seriously injured in terrorist attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station, Belgium’s PM says.”

Brussels main art 2

[Source]

The next two versions of the report carried the same headline and opening paragraph and at around the same time the BBC News website’s Europe page also used the word terror in its main headline.

Brussels attacks terror Europe page

Just under two hours later, that headline was again amended to read “Brussels attacks: At least 26 dead at Zaventem and Maelbeek” but the opening paragraph still informed readers that terror attacks had taken place.

“At least 26 people have been killed or seriously injured in terrorist attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station.”

Final version

Final version

Subsequently the headline was again updated to “Brussels attacks: At least 31 dead at Zaventem and Maelbeek” and the word ‘terrorist’ was removed from the opening paragraph.

“At least 31 people have been killed and many seriously injured in attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station.”

None of the five subsequent versions of the article used the word terror in either the headline or the opening paragraph.

So as we see, despite having at some point been accurately able to identify and name the horrific events in Brussels as terror attacks, BBC editors later went out of their way to expunge that description from the website’s main report. As we shall see in part two of this post, that article was not the only one affected by that editorial policy.

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism

The December 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ came from Brussels, where presenter Rabiya Limbada met with members of Belgium’s Jewish community. The programme (available for a limited period of time here) is titled “Is anti-semitism on the rise in Europe?” and its synopsis states:WHYS prog page

“World Have Your Say is live in Belgium’s captial [sic] Brussels looking at anti-Semitism in Europe. Is it on the rise? If it is, what’s causing it?”

The first half of the programme was devoted mostly to the topic of the personal experiences of members of the panel whilst the second part addressed the issue of the causes of rising antisemitism in Europe. Among the factors identified were the conflation of Jews and Israelis (blaming European Jews for perceived Israeli wrongdoings), the demonization of Jews and the rise of hate speech on the internet.

As usual, the programme’s host invited listeners to comment on the topic under discussion on the WHYS Facebook wall. Given the subject matter, one might perhaps have expected that a particular effort would have been made this time around to avoid the appearance of antisemitic comments, defamation, demonisation and hate speech – as has been the case on that programme’s Facebook wall (as well as other BBC discussion boards) in the past.

Here are some examples of comments left standing after moderation.

WHYS 1

 

WHYS 2

WHYS 3

WHYS 4

WHYS 5

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WHYS 7

WHYS 8

WHYS 9

As we remarked here only a month ago in connection with the same programme:

“The BBC’s casual acceptance of antisemitic comments on the public discussion boards intended to meet its remit to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” is an increasingly worrying aspect of the corporation’s interpretation of that particular “public purpose” as defined in its constitutional document.”

Clearly the BBC’s moderation mechanism is not fit for purpose. So far, it is not apparent that any action is being taken by the BBC on this issue.

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BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

On May 4th the Europe page of the BBC News website featured an article with the interestingly punctuated title of “Belgium ban for ‘anti-Semitic’ meeting in Anderlecht“.Laurent Louis art

That choice of punctuation is of course BBC code for ‘some people say it’s antisemitic but we’re not sure’.

The report relates to the cancelling by the Belgian authorities of a proposed convention, promoted as the “First European Congress of Dissent”, in Anderlecht, Belgium. The event, which was organized by Belgian MP Laurent Louis, was supposed to have included appearances by several figures from the French far-right, including – as the BBC article notes – Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and Alain Sorel, whom the BBC forgot to mention despite having promoted him on Newsnight and Radio 4 as recently as four months ago.

The BBC article includes repetitions of its now five month-old tepid portrayal of the ‘quenelle’ gesture, even devoting a side-box to the topic with a link to an article which was already problematic when first published last December. Notably, whilst quoting the Football Association (not exactly the most qualified authority one could choose to quote on the subject of antisemitism), the BBC continues to ignore the views of professionals who specialise in the topic.

“Described as an inverted Nazi salute, the quenelle is claimed by Dieudonne to be an anti-establishment symbol.

Earlier this year, French footballer Nicolas Anelka was fined and banned by the Football Association for using the sign during a televised match. An independent FA panel decided the gesture was “strongly associated with anti-Semitism”.”

side box quenelle

The BBC report ‘balances’ its reporting of statements made by Belgian officials and an anti-racist organization on the subject of the convention by quoting a Facebook post from its organiser.

“Writing on his Facebook page, Laurent Louis said it was laughable that his movement “Debout Les Belges!” (Stand up, Belgians!) was seen as anti-Semitic, simply because its members had adopted Dieudonne’s trademark “quenelle” gesture.”

However, the BBC refrains from informing audiences that Louis’ repeated use of the quenelle is just the tip of the iceberg of his history of antisemtism and extremism, which includes making that gesture in the Belgian parliament, Holocaust denial and analogies and accusing Zionists of having “set up and financed” the Holocaust. Last year Louis was photographed at a pro-Assad rally trampling an Israeli flag and holding a portrait of Bashar al Assad and a Hizballah flag, telling Syrian TV that “Europe is being used in the conflict [against Syria] as a tool in the hands of Israel, the rogue state”.

Laurent Louis with Hizb flag

So, once again, the BBC whitewashes and downplays the antisemitism of European extremists and continues to promote to BBC audiences the notion that an antisemitic gesture might actually be something else.

Not only is it abundantly clear that this policy fails to meet the BBC’s obligation to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”, but it is also remarkable that with regard to antisemitism specifically, the BBC appears to be extraordinarily and inexplicably reluctant to accept the principle that the targets of such racism should play any part in defining it.

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