BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy

As readers may recall, on July 29th BBC audiences saw and heard several reports on various platforms by BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim relating to the release of Ahed Tamimi from prison.

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part one

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part two

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part three

In an additional item – a news bulletin aired on the BBC News Channel on the same day – viewers heard the following: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Ben Brown: “A Palestinian teenager has been freed from an Israeli prison after serving an eight month sentence for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier.  Ahed Tamimi was 16 at the time of the incident and the footage of it happening went viral around the world.  Her sentence was widely condemned, as children are protected by international law from imprisonment.  I’ve been talking about this to the BBC Arabic Service’s Nida Ibrahim, who saw the teenager being released.”

Nida Ibrahim: “As you know, children are not allowed to be tried under international law however children living under the Israeli occupation; Palestinian children living under the Israeli occupation, are facing trials under military courts in Israel.  This has caused many, this has caused an outcry, many human rights organisations have criticised that sentence by Israel and many say that this case is shedding light on the case of many Palestinian minors.”

Ben Brown also made a similar claim in another TV programme on the same day:

Brown: “This isn’t a one-off case, is it? Children are often tried in military courts and imprisoned in adult jails. It’s against international law. What is Israel’s explanation for that?”

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning that highlighted claim (and other aspects of the report), pointing out that it is inaccurate to claim that it is against international law to try or imprison children under the age of 18.

Having received an unsatisfactory response to his first complaint, Mr Franklin filed a second and in the subsequent response BBC Complaints acknowledged that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not prohibit the trial or imprisonment of under-18s.

“We agree, however, that we should not have implied that children are protected from imprisonment itself by international law. We should have made it clear that the Convention says children should be arrested, detained or imprisoned only as a last resort and for the shortest time possible.”

Mr Franklin submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). In its reply the ECU acknowledged that there is a “question” regarding “the extent to which this [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] can be described as “international law”” and ruled that:

“…the reference to the CRC (what we understood was meant by “international law”) did not accurately describe its terms, in that the convention does not proscribe the trial or imprisonment of children. We are therefore upholding this part of your complaint.”

The ECU has now published its findings.


One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part one

Those watching the BBC World News television channel on the morning of July 29th saw a filmed report by BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim in the English language about the release of Ahed Tamimi from prison. Ibrahim’s report is remarkable for its one-sided portrayal of that story and its wider background.

[emphasis in italics in the original]

Ibrahim: “…we’ve seen the father hugging his child and we’ve seen the mother who was actually in prison and was released with Ahed chanting slogans, remembering their cousin who was killed by Israeli fire in June in the village of Nabi Saleh where we are standing right now. Upon her release Ahed has come to this house over there which is the house of Izz al-Din al Tamimi – the cousin who was killed in June. She has paid her condolences to the family over there before leaving this actual place to go to Ramallah.”

BBC viewers around the world were not informed that Tamimi and others initiated the June 6th violent rioting that led to his death.

“Soldiers had entered the village to arrest a suspect, according to the IDF. A group of more than 10 Palestinians threw stones at them and the army responded with riot dispersal methods.

According to the army, Tamimi threw a stone that hit a solider in the head. That soldier responded by firing at Tamimi, who was then treated medically at the scene before being declared dead.”

Neither were they informed that a terror faction claimed him as one of its members:

“The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) issued a death notice for him which claimed al-Tamimi joined the organization in 2014. He was imprisoned in Israel twice, once for six months and once for a year, on the grounds of membership in the DFLP’s youth organization and participating in “resistance” [i.e., terrorist] activities.”

Ibrahim went on to recount that Tamimi was expected to “visit the grave of the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat before heading back to the village of Nabi Saleh where she is expected to hold a presser”. Viewers then heard the programme presenter  – apparently Ben Brown – come up with the following questionable pronunciation on “international law”.

Presenter: “This isn’t a one-off case, is it? Children are often tried in military courts and imprisoned in adult jails. It’s against international law. What is Israel’s explanation for that?”

Of course if Palestinians accused of security offences were tried in Israeli civil courts, the BBC would be the first to be jumping up and down shouting ‘annexation!’ because that would mean that Israeli sovereignty had been extended to Judea & Samaria.

Unable to give a coherent fact-based answer to that question, Nida Ibrahim proceeded to tell BBC audiences – wrongly – that the reason is “deterrence”.

Ibrahim: “As you know Palestinians live under Israeli occupation and this means that even minors are being tried in military courts – not in civil courts like their Israeli counterparts or like even settlers in the West Bank. Israel definitely says that this is a form of deterrence. They want to deter more Palestinians from doing these acts. Many Israelis have argued that the image of the Israeli army has been…ah….ah…hurt really badly by the slap of Ahed Tamimi which went viral on social media. So it’s seen as an act of preventing more Palestinians from pursuing this act and of course they are saying that there are many Palestinians who might see Ahed as a heroine and they might try to imitate her. She’s…remember she celebrated her 17th birthday in jail so she’s still young. She has a lot upcoming for her and she might be inspiring many Palestinians like her.”

So in addition to a context-free story about a member of the Tamimi clan “killed in June” and some dubious messaging concerning “international law”, viewers also got a hefty dose of one-sided glorification of Ahed Tamimi’s violent actions from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim. But as we will see in part two of this post, that was not Ibrahim’s only English language filmed report of the day.

Related Articles:

BBC News one-sided reporting of Ahed Tamimi story persists

BBC gives one-dimensional view of shortages in Gaza hospitals

The BBC has taken it upon itself to promote the theme of shortages in hospitals in the Gaza Strip – with little or no context. 

Here are just a few examples:

 An interview from November 18th with a WHO representative titled “Gaza medical supplies ‘running low’ – World Health Organisation” broadcast on BBC Television News.

A report by Ben Brown – also broadcast on BBC Television News on November 18th – in which he says:

“But there have been warnings from the World Health Organisation that the hospitals in Gaza are becoming overwhelmed and beginning to run out of supplies and really struggling to cope.”

From the same date – an entire report, headlined Gaza crisis: Every hospital ward is full by Wyre Davies, also broadcast on BBC Television News. 

Davies says:

“We’ve been down to the main hospital in Gaza – Shifa Hospital – on many occasions. I was there a couple of days ago and every single ward was full and the emergency rooms were…every half hour or so they were bringing in the victims of Israeli air strikes ..erm.. and at the time they said they could cope but the problem of course is that the longer these attacks go on, the fewer supplies they have and of course if the attacks escalate into a full ground invasion there will be significantly more casualties. There have been 50, 52, Palestinian deaths in Gaza from the fighting over the last 4 or 5 days – half of these are civilians – but if there was to be a ground invasion, that will certainly increase. …one significant development today in terms of aid and other materials getting in – the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza has been opened again this morning and that has allowed in …erm…several trucks containing aid and other basic equipment. So hopefully the hospitals and the aid agencies will be able to get their hands on some of that aid.”

Like his colleague Jon Donnison, Davies does not make it clear to audiences that the information he is repeating – both in terms of situations in hospitals and casualty numbers and causation – is coming from Hamas sources.

He also fails to mention the circumstances surrounding the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing through which supplies enter the Gaza Strip. In reality, it is the very same Hamas which is providing information to Davies about shortages in hospitals which, together with its affiliates, is also firing rockets at the border crossing and repeatedly forcing its closure. 

Another related point which Davies fails to address completely is the fact that Palestinian patients from Gaza continue throughout the hostilities to enter Israel through the Erez Crossing for medical treatment. 

Here is the Kerem Shalom crossing on November 18th:

On November 19th, replacement parts for a CT scanner were transported into the Gaza Strip via Erez Crossing.

On November 19th, fourteen Palestinians and their accompaniers travelled into Israel for medical care.

On November 20th, 118 truck-loads of medical and other supplies were scheduled to enter the Gaza Strip via Kerem Shalom, but the crossing had to be closed due to rocket fire. 

The problem of shortages in hospitals in the Gaza Strip did not, however begin with the current round of hostilities. The lack of communication and coordination between the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has for significant time been affecting both supplies to Gaza hospitals and the ability of patients to travel for medical treatment elsewhere.

Here is some relevant context:

The restricted medical supplies in Gaza are marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment (out of a defined 700), including a shortage of surgical and anesthetic equipment.

There is an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

Medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza since there are issues with nonpayment.

All the requests for medical supplies (equipment and medicine) submitted by the international community to the Gaza CLA [The Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza] have been approved for entry into Gaza.

 On average medical supply requests (medicines and light equipment) are approved within a span of 24-72 hours. Coordination of approved medical supplies is completed within one working day after the organization submits the intended day of import. 

Since September 2012, international organizations, in coordination with the Gaza CLA, have imported 32 trucks of drugs and medical supplies through Kerem Shalom Crossing. This has included spare parts for dialysis machines, helium for MRI machines, and three fully ambulances. An additional five loads of medicine were imported into Gaza through the Erez Crossing through special coordination. 

Since the beginning of Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’:

Gaza hospitals are reported to be at 80% capacity, only slightly higher than intake then during routine periods.

On November 17th the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories updated Hassin el Alshich [Gaza Health Ministry] that, despite the problematic security situation and the ongoing rocket fire, it would be possible to transfer medical supplies into Gaza.

It is misleading – as well as inaccurate – when the BBC chooses to present to its viewers with a one-dimensional picture of the situation in Gaza hospitals as though all their problems were directly attributable to Israel’s actions when that is clearly not the case – either from the point of view of Hamas’ prevention of supplies arriving by rocket fire on the crossings or from the wider view of Hamas’ role in initiating the conflict. 

BBC reporter under Hamas fire: BBC-headed FPA silent

As we know, on November 18th 2012, the Foreign Press Association – headed by Paul Danahar of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau – put out a statement which included the following:

“The resolution states that the UNSC “Unanimously adopting resolution 1738 (2006), the Council recalled, without prejudice to the war correspondents’ right to the status of prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention, that journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such” ” [emphasis added]

Here is footage taken on the same day as the FPA statement was issued and titled by the BBC itself “Israel-Gaza conflict: BBC presenter under rocket fire”.

Apart from the fact that the BBC’s Health & Safety department might want to improve risk assessments by instructing reporters to familiarize themselves with the protocols of behaviour in the event of rocket attacks (clue: standing outside in an open space and talking is not one of them), it is remarkable that neither the BBC nor the FPA apparently feels the need to issue a statement on the deliberate targeting of civilians (which, as we now know, includes journalists) by Hamas. 

After all, that does contravene the Protocol on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts. 

BBC’s Ben Brown covers events in Israel – by talking about Gaza

Here is the BBC’s Ben Brown – located in Ashkelon – interviewing the IDF’s Foreign Media Spokesperson Lt Col Avital Leibovich on November 16th 2012 for BBC television news. 

As was the case when Brown interviewed another IDF officer the previous day in Kiryat Malachi, he seems remarkably disinterested in reporting what is going on in the places in which he is located, constantly shifting the conversation to events in the Gaza Strip.

Brown says to Lt Col Leibovich:

“Tell us about your operation in Gaza. Already we’ve had twenty one, I think, killed in Gaza, some of them civilians. How much longer is it going to continue?”

Note that Brown makes no mention of those people killed in Israel, despite having been present at the scene only the day before.

He later goes on to say:

“You say it’s an unacceptable situation, but surely it’s an unacceptable situation for Palestinians – families, women, children – living in Gaza to have Israeli air-strikes continuing there?”

The BBC may have reporters currently in both Israel and the Gaza Strip, but that – as can be seen by this example – does not guarantee balanced coverage of the events in both places. 

However, one BBC News programme managed to find an Ashkelon resident to interview via Skype. 

The presenter seemed to be no less interested in expressing his own views than in hearing his interviewee’s experiences of life under rocket fire.

“Do you support what your Prime Minister is doing?”

“But why are you convinced this will work? Israel has taken severe military action in Gaza before and the rockets kept coming. Why do you believe this will make your lives safer and calmer?”

Speaking of BBC reporters currently on the ground in Israel, readers may be interested to know that Katya Adler is back.

Probably few will have forgotten some of her previous work.

BBC reports (sort of) from Kiryat Malachi

On November 15th the BBC finally ventured out and made its way to the region of Israel under rocket fire. In this interview, which appears to have been broadcast on television news, the BBC’s Ben Brown interviews an officer from the Home Front Command about the tragic incident in which three people were killed in Kiryat Malachi by a direct missile hit on an apartment block. 

But Ben Brown’s interest in Israelis killed, injured or constantly menaced by rocket attacks soon wanes. Only one minute and 45 seconds into the interview, he launches into the following diatribe:

“I mean people are clearly terrified here – you can’t blame them – erm –but people equally, Palestinians, are terrified inside Gaza when they see your war planes coming in carrying out air-strikes and killing people. We know that the Hamas military leader was killed yesterday, but there were children killed as well.”

There’s ‘BBC reporting from Israel’ for you.  

But Ben Brown wasn’t the only BBC journalist in Kiryat Malachi that day. Yolande Knell of the BBC Jerusalem Bureau was also there, although BBC Radio 4 did appear to think she was somewhere else as its ‘Today’ programme presenter described her as being “on the Israeli – Gaza border” – which is in fact some 33 kilometers away from Kiryat Malachi. 

But that report from Israel – which can be listened to here – did not shed much light on what it is like for Israeli civilians under rocket fire either. In fact it rapidly turned into yet another BBC story about a BBC journalist: a report on Yolande Knell under incoming rocket fire.

Knell’s description of the ‘Colour Red’ alert is bizarre to say the least for a woman whose profession deals with words: [emphasis added]

“..the sirens sort of usually indicate that there are rockets coming in from Gaza..”

During part of Operation Cast Lead in 2009 I happened to be in the UK and of course followed the news on the BBC closely. I often remarked then that any BBC viewer who is not familiar with Israel must believe that only politicians, government spokesmen and army personnel live there – because I never saw an ordinary Israeli citizen interviewed by the BBC.

Old habits seem to die hard: two BBC reports from a town in which three people were killed only hours earlier and not one ordinary Israeli voice is given air-time.