BBC News website amends a report with an inaccuracy

h/t C4T

This week marks twelve years since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in which over 8,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods when twenty-one communities were evacuated. All Israeli military personnel were redeployed outside the Gaza Strip and even the dead were exhumed and reburied elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the BBC still refers to the Gaza Strip as being “occupied” by Israel and an amendment made recently to a BBC News website article a week after it was originally published provides some insight into that practice. 

On July 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jerusalem holy site measures fail to halt clashes“, earlier versions of which informed readers that:

“Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza after weeks of friction over a Jerusalem holy site.

Violence erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City and across the occupied West Bank after the end of Muslim Friday prayers.”

However, that wording raised objections from Chris Doyle of CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding) who wrote to the BBC stating:

“We wish to address this article about the clashes in Jerusalem. This article starts off by stating that “Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.” We consider this inaccurate and biased.

The clear international legal position is that all the territories taken in 1967 are occupied, and that this includes East Jerusalem and indeed Gaza, as well the rest of the West Bank.” 

The BBC duly obliged and seven days after its original publication the article was amended – as explained in the BBC News website’s response to Doyle:

“We have now addressed this by rewording the first and second lines so they read:

“Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in the Occupied Territories after weeks of friction over a Jerusalem holy site. Violence erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City, across the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip after the end of Muslim Friday prayers.” […]

Lower down, for the benefit of readers who might be less familiar with the complexities of the issues, we have included a couple of lines of context explaining Gaza’s status in light of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal:

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war. The UN also still considers Gaza part of the Occupied Territories because of the control Israel exercises over its airspace, shared borders and coast despite pulling its troops and settlers out in 2005.”” [emphasis added]

But is that last sentence an accurate representation of the UN’s position?

In January 2012, responding to a question from UN Watch, the UN’s chief spokesperson explained why the UN still refers to the Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’ even though Hamas has said it is not and Israel disengaged from the area in 2005.

Spokesperson:  “Under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East peace process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The United Nations will accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view.”

Question:  “Can I follow up on that?  It is the legal definition of occupation and why is Gaza considered occupied?”

Spokesperson:  “Well, as I have just said, there are Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that cover this.  For example, there was a Security Council resolution adopted on 8 January 2009 — 1860 — and that stressed that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967.  And as you know, Security Council resolutions do have force in international law.

Furthermore, there is a resolution from the General Assembly from 20 December 2010, and while it noted the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, it also stressed, in quotes, “the need for respect and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.  So just to repeat that the United Nations will continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view on the matter.”

In other words – as clarified by Elder of Ziyon at the time:

“What the UN seems to be saying is that if part of the territory is occupied, then all of the territory is considered occupied, since there is are UN resolutions that declare the two territories are considered united.”

And:

“Note that the UN isn’t saying that Gaza is legally “occupied.” It is saying that Gaza must be referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” – it is arguing nomenclature, not law. The Hague Conventions makes it clear that occupied territory refers only to portions of territory under control of another party, not that an entire territory is either occupied or not if only part of it is. […] At no point does the UN respond to UN Watch anything about control of borders or airspace […].

In conclusion, the amendment made by the BBC News website to this article in response to a request from the lobby group CAABU inaccurately represents the reasoning behind the UN’s stance and also falls short of editorial guidelines on ‘due impartiality’ by failing to inform audiences of the existence of alternative opinions on the topic.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Gaza disengagement retrospective promotes narrative of equivalence

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’ 

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BBC promoted NGOs and a question in Parliament

Back in December we noted that our colleagues at CAMERA had secured corrections to inaccurate information appearing in an article published by Associated Press which was largely sourced from an employee of a political NGO previously quoted and promoted in BBC content.

“”They (Israelis) are trying to uproot us from Jerusalem, they are stealing the houses, the trees and the stones of the city,” laments Nura Sub-Laban, a Palestinian woman featured in The Associated Press article today by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh (“Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push“).

Set against the backdrop of the disputed “gold-topped Dome of the Rock,” AP’s account of the looming eviction of Sub-Laban from their home in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter reflects a narrative of supposed Jewish encroachment in the holy city at the expense of dispossessed Palestinians, blameless “victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law.” 

It is also fundamentally wrong, based as it is on a grossly misrepresented basic facts about the Sub-Laban case, initially ignoring critical essential information and falsely casting it as part “of a wider settlement campaign.””

The subject matter of that AP article cropped up again last week during Prime Minister’s Questions in the UK Parliament. The ‘BBC Parliament’ TV channel of course broadcast the February 24th session which included a question from the MP for Bradford East (available in the UK only from 29:22 here).

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): Last week, together with several of my hon. Friends, I visited Palestine, where we went to the home of Nora and her family, who have lived in the old city of East Jerusalem since 1953. Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years. There are many other cases like that. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that illegal settlements and constructions are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations? What are this Government doing to help prevent these infringements into Palestinian lives and land?”

Mr Hussain and additional Labour MPs did indeed visit the region earlier in February on a trip organized by the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). As readers may recall, MAP has been used by the BBC in the past as a source of information and a BBC reporter showcased one of its projects in 2014. CAABU’s director Chris Doyle and other representatives are frequent contributors to BBC content.

According to CAABU’s Joseph Willits, the part of the trip which involved a visit to the Sub Laban family was facilitated by the foreign funded political NGO Al Haq which is of course active in the ‘lawfare’ campaign against Israel and is from time to time promoted in BBC content.

“They are Nora Gheith Sub-Laban and her family in Jerusalem’s Old City who are battling an eviction because illegal settlers want to move into their home. They also face constant intimidation from settlers and the Israeli army. Thanks to Al-Haq Organisation for arranging these visits to see the impact of illegal settlements and the Wall that destroys lives, livelihoods, families, and a person’s psychological make up.”

Willits tweet Sub Laban

MAP described that visit as follows:

“On Thursday, the MPs met Palestinian communities living in the shadow of Israel’s 440km-long separation wall, and heard from the Gaith-Sub Laban family who have threatened [sic] with eviction from their home of 62 years in East Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly given the agendas of all the groups involved in organising this visit, the British parliamentarians were obviously not told the entire story.

“…the Sub-Labans were never the owners of the property, but rather enjoyed “protected tenant” status. That status can be lost if the tenant abandons the property without intention of returning – and it is irrelevant whether the tenant is Jewish or Palestinian. […]

…before the 1948 war, the building was “owned by a trust for Kollel Galicia, a group that collected funds in Eastern Europe for Jewish families in Jerusalem.” When Jordan occupied Jerusalem in 1948, the property fell under the control of the Jordanian administration and was rented to the Palestinian Sub-Laban family in 1953. Following the 1967 war, when Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the property was, according to the AP,

‘handed to an Israeli government department, the General Custodian. Palestinian residents were recognized as “protected tenants,” provided they continued to live in the apartments and pay rent to the Custodian.

[Ahmed] Sub-Laban said his family was forced out of the apartment between 1984 and 2001, but did not lose their protected tenancy during this period.’ […]

But the article’s underlying flaw is that initially nowhere did it state that at that point, in 2001, the family failed to move back into the property, which is the crux of the legal argument against them.

The magistrate court (34656-11-10) (in a decision upheld by the district court (28083-12-14) found that the family had not returned to the apartment in 2001. According to the court from 2001-2010 (when the property was transferred to the trust) the family did not live in the apartment. From 2010 until 2014, they had only “pretended” to live in the apartment.”

In other words, the claim made by Mr Hussain in Parliament that “Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years” is inaccurate not least because two  courts of law have established that she did not live in that rented apartment for thirty of those years. Naturally, Mr Hussain’s amplification of that political propaganda in Parliament was appreciated by his hosts.

Willits tweet 2

The problematic aspects of the relationship between the media and political NGOs have previously been raised on these pages.

“As time goes by the mutually beneficial relationship between the traditional media and NGOs flourishes and expands and news consumers find that more and more of their news comes or is sourced from agenda-driven organisations which make no claim to provide unbiased information and are not committed to journalistic standards.

When political agendas and reporting meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. Whilst the BBC – like many other media organisations – has addressed the topic of ‘citizen journalists’ providing user-generated content (UGC), much less attention is given to content sourced from NGOs.”

One result of the BBC’s unchallenged promotion of information provided by NGOs often portrayed as ‘human rights groups’  is the ensuing ‘halo effect’ which leads members of the public and politicians alike to refrain from critical examination of the facts behind claims made by campaigning groups with a clear political agenda – as, sadly, the above example shows only too well.

Related Articles:

British MP’s query on Jerusalem prompting David Cameron’s ‘shock’ is based on lie (UK Media Watch) 

BBC WS fails to disclose Iranian regime connections of ‘expert panel’ member

As we have had to point out here on numerous previous occasions, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that the affiliations of interviewees should be made clear to audiences. 

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.” [emphasis added]

In addition, the BBC’s previous ‘Key Terms’ guide stated:

“MIDDLE EAST EXPERT”
“Some “experts” may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another even if they have no overt affiliation. 

It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.

In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase “Middle East expert” implies the BBC thinks this person’s views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement – that’s fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase. 

Overall, we should seek a precise description – for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?”

In other words, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that BBC audiences are not misled by partisan opinions disguised as impartial expertise, but those safeguards cannot be effective if the BBC ignores them – as it has done on numerous occasions.  

On November 25th 2013 the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ hosted what its presenters termed a “panel of experts” in order to discuss the proposal that “the world is now a safer place” in the wake of the P5+1 deal signed with Iran. 

Newsday

Of the three panel members, only one – Chris Doyle – was introduced together with the name of his organization CAABU. Michael Goldfarb was described as an “American commentator in London”, with no mention made of the fact that he works for the Global Post and for BBC radio. Most egregiously, the founder of CASMII – Abbas Edalat – was introduced merely as someone who “campaigns against Iranian sanctions”.

CASMII (established in the UK in 2005 and in the US in 2006) is of course known for its connections to the Iranian regime and its lobbying activities on behalf of that regime. 

The ‘Newsday’ panel discussion is spread throughout the first hour of the programme (available here for a limited period of time), with Doyle and Goldfarb very much taking a back seat and Edalat dominating the discussion and exploiting in full the platform provided by the BBC for the amplification of undiluted Iranian propaganda both on the subject of the recent agreement and on wider regional issues. 

From 08:33 Edalat says: 

“Yes, the.. ah.. Iranian people see this as a historic victory for them, for their struggle, for their inalienable rights of …em…em…mastering the fuel cycle and having a home-based enrichment programme. And it reverses the 1953 coup [in] which the Iranian people struggled to nationalize their oil industry and it led to this coup. Now this whole thing is reversed and the West, headed by the US, has recognized Iran’s right under the NPT, including the home enrichment of uranium.”

When asked by presenter Shaimaa Khalil if it is “too soon to celebrate” Edalat answers:

“I don’t think so. I think the United States has had a lot of failed interventions – military interventions – in the region. It’s reached complete impasse. Until now it’s been listening to Israel and it’s now decided that it’s no longer in its interests to listen to Israel, so it’s seeking a rapprochement with Iran so that to get the support of Iran, to stabilize the region, to have a stable Afghanistan, to have a stable Iraq, to have a stable Syria and do away with terrorism and all these war zones in the region.”

The notion of a theocratic terror-financing regime which persecutes its own citizens as a ‘stabilising’ regional element is not challenged by Khalil.

From 24:30 Edalat really gets into his stride:

“There are actually two distinct points in that document [the Geneva P5+1 agreement] which assert that Iran can continue and will continue to enrich uranium. Both are for producing fuel rods for energy production, but also the important point here is that…emm…the world is a safer place now not because of any danger that at any time Iran had the desire to develop nuclear weapons. Iran never had that desire – Iran had never had a weapons – nuclear weapons – programme and there’s been a fatwa reiterated many times by Ayatollah Khamenei.”

As we have noted here before:

“There is of course much debate surrounding that unwritten fatwa […]. Readers may find this essay by a former BBC Persian analyst helpful in understanding the significance – or lack of it – of such a fatwa.”

In rising – almost hysterical – tones, Edalat goes on:

“The world is now a safer place because the deal on Sunday is a historic defeat for the war-mongers. It is a historic defeat for Israel, is a historic defeat for Saudi Arabia, a historic defeat for the neo-conservatives whose strategy was to use the Iranian nuclear programme as a pretext in a fabricated crisis that Israel prodded the West to put sanctions on Iran in the hope of a regime change in Iran. They wanted to duplicate, to have a repetition of the Iraqi scenario in Iran – a regime change – and that failed.”

Again, Edalat’s conspiracy theories are broadcast unchallenged by the BBC World Service presenter. 

At 36:23 listeners get an interesting glimpse into the Iranian regime’s view of the whole issue via Edalat’s words:

“Well actually Iran’s position has really never changed. I mean since 2003 Iran has repeatedly said that it wants its nuclear rights to be recognised and in return for the right to have a home-based enrichment [of] uranium it’s prepared to go well beyond its obligations to be transparent, to allow inspections of the IAEA – intrusive visits. So Iran’s position has not changed in the last ten years at all and I think this is what’s going to continue. It’s the US and its allies who have retreated from their 2005 position because in 2005 Iran, which only had 164 centrifuges, offered to keep these for research and development and implement and ratify the additional protocols that the EU3 under the pressure of the United States just rejected. So now Iran has got a thousand times more centrifuges. It has mastered the fuel cycle and therefore it’s won the game. I mean and it will continue to fight against these sanctions. The sanctions have been cracked and they will continue to crack and eventually I think there will be a complete rapprochement between the United States – a renormalization of relations.”

None of the other contributors make any effort to balance Edalat’s claim to the “right” to enrich uranium, thus leaving audiences with the distinct impression that such an undisputed right exists under the terms of the NPT.

At 51:00, in reply to the question of whether the Iranian nuclear programme can “come back on track” despite the Geneva agreement, Edalat says:

“Well there’s a fatwa in place in Iran against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction. When Iraq, with support from the West, used chemical weapons against Iran, Iran – although it had the capacity to develop chemical weapons and retaliate in kind – it refused to do so. So the track record of Iran is very clear. Iran is not going to go in that path. But I think there is a real fact that there is a nuclear threat against Israel and that nuclear threat against Israel comes from Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Because Israel, backed by its nuclear arsenal, has made – waged – aggression against its neighbours in a brutal way, treated Palestinians…and because of that nuclear arsenal has gone away with impunity, this aggression….”

At that point Edalat is finally interrupted by Goldfarb who says:

“Wait a second, that’s just ridiculous. I mean Israel and its neighbours have engaged in many wars. Its neighbours in the last twenty years have been propped up by Iran – long after the Arab armies had stood back and engaged in a diplomatic process, so that’s not entirely true.”

That, however, is the only counter to Edalat’s flow of regime propaganda.  

Edalat rounds off with yet another ‘gem’ in response to a question about the wider tensions in the Middle East:

“Well I think the sectarian tensions and conflict in the region has been promoted by Saudis in an unholy alliance with Israel actually. And this fact was only created – produced – because of the intervention of the United States in the region. Before that this [Sunni – Shiia] division did not exist at all. I think Iran can play a very constructive role because Iran has never taken an anti-Sunni position. Never.”

So there we have it: undiluted Iranian regime propaganda broadcast to tens of millions of listeners around the world by the ‘reputable’ BBC World Service in the guise of an “expert” opinion, and with complete abandonment of the editorial obligation to make the connections of that “expert” known to audiences.

Related articles:

The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

The unstated connections of a BBC R4 Middle East ‘expert’

Why does the Guardian get Middle East analysis wrong?

 

 

 

 

The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

On November 21st 2012, the programme ‘Newsround’ which is produced by the children’s section of the BBC – CBBC – put out an item entitled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“.  Whilst there is much to critique in the article itself – not least its ridiculously mistaken title – at the bottom of it, readers will notice this announcement:

Newsround correction

So what brought about such a speedy change in the wording of this article?

The answer to that question can be found of the website of CAABU – the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding – which, on November 22ndannounced that it had made a formal complaint regarding the ‘Newsround’ item of the previous day. 

CAABU complaint

On December 6th, the CAABU website announced that changes had been made to the item and provided a link to the BBC’s response of December 3rd to CAABU’s complaint.

Many BBC Watch readers will no doubt be amazed by the unusual alacrity of the BBC’s response to this complaint, but additional factors may go some way towards explaining it.

CAABU was established in 1967, just after the Six Day War, with the declared aim of being “prepared to stand up for Arab and Palestinian rights”, which it achieves, among other means, through extensive lobbying in the British parliament, by campaigning in British schools and through lobbying the media.  According to CAABU’s Director, Chris Doyle in an interview given to the Gulf News earlier this year:

“Caabu has a distinguished history of working to change the pro-Israeli atmosphere in British politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Much has changed since then, and the plight of the Palestinians is now widely recognised.

“Today, 70 per cent of the British public support Palestinian rights, which is a huge shift from 1967, when 20 years after the end of the Second World War there was still a lot of sympathy for Israel,” Doyle said.

Caabu’s core mission has been the crucial work of lobbying on key issues concerning British-Arab relations, such as Palestinian rights, making sure that the British government is constructive in its relations with other states based on international law and human rights, helping those countries that are en route to become democracies, and working with both media and schools.

“We talk to between 10,000 to 15,000 school children every year. We are the only organisation in Britain that gives children an opportunity to engage with the Arab World. Dr Amiee Shalan is the head of education, and she manages associate speakers who Caabu trains to speak to 16 to 17 year olds. We try to get them to look behind the headlines. We aim to get them thinking, and provoke them to have a different attitude on how they look to the region,” Doyle said.

A core function of Caabu is to lobby parliament. “At a time when so much is going on the Arab world, British politicians need an organisation which can synthesise everything into an easily understood coherent narrative, so that we can explain the main trends of what is happening in the region.

Caabu regularly takes delegations to the Arab world. It took 19 members of parliament to Palestine last year, and the members saw for themselves what it is like. They themselves felt the impact of the colonies, and the blockade of Gaza among other irritants.

“When they came back to Britain, they were angered and very concerned, and appalled at how the Palestinians are treated,” said Doyle, pointing out that this personal experience encourages them to speak out for Palestinian rights.”

In other words, CAABU is an integral and well-established part of the Arab lobby in the United Kingdom with no fewer than three MPs and two former MPs sitting on its executive committee. Some of those board members, however, can be rather coy about the organization they support and represent. 

Several months after the start of the unrest in Syria, commentators began remarking on CAABU’s sudden reinvention of itself as a supporter of the so-called ‘Syrian opposition’, after it apparently became clear even to CAABU that the Assad horse was the wrong one to back. In the framework of the ensuing damage control, CAABU board member and former MP Derek Wyatt posted three letters from fellow board members and staff on his blog. In one of those letters, CAABU co-chair Andy Love MP wrote:

 “Caabu has zero links to the British-Syrian Society nor desires any. “

The British Syrian Society was founded in 2003 by Fawas Akhras – the father in law of Bashar al Assad. His daughter – Asma al Assad – is reportedly a patron of the BSS, which also included among its ranks the Assad regime supporter Wafik Said. Until July 26th 2010, Rim Turkmani – wife of CAABU’s Director Chris Doyle – was a director of the British Syrian Society. 

Another director of the British Syrian Society (since March 23rd 2010 and to this day) is Shaza Shannan, who was also vice-chair of CAABU from February 2009 until April 5th 2012. According to the BSS website, Ms Shannan also works as a management consultant for the FCO-funded British Council and was also described as holding a position with that organization when, in 2010, she appeared together with Chris Doyle at an event at the London International Documentary Festival. 

“Shaza Shannan is currently the Head of Cultural Committee at British Syrian Society and the Vice Chair at CAABU – she organises events focussed on Middle Eastern issues. She is the Business Change Manager at British Council and also holds a position teaching arabic at SOAS.”

In 2007 Shannan organized a conference on the subject of the Golan Heights in London with the collaboration of the Syrian Media Centre in London (formerly headed by Ghayth Armanazi – also executive director of the British Syrian Society) and the Syrian Embassy. Among those attending was Fawaz Akhras and among the speakers was Jihad Makdissi – Syrian Embassy and Foreign Ministry spokesman from 1998 and until his reported defection at the beginning of December 2012. 

Here is CAABU in 2008 advertising via Google Groups  – on behalf of the British Syrian Society – a lecture by Brigid Keenan (more on her here). 

keenan event

In other words, CAABU co-chair Andy Love was not being frank when he claimed “zero links” to the BSS and – by extension – the Syrian regime. 

But what does all that have to do with the above mentioned complaint about the CBBC children’s programme ‘Newsround’? Well, another board member at CAABU is named Jonathan Fryer – an aspiring Lib Dem MEP, a lecturer at SOAS , a recent participant in the Arab League Conference on Palestine in Baghdad (together with his “chum” Craig Murray) and a past participant in the Doha Conference on Jerusalem.  A seasoned anti-Israel campaigner , he is also apparently the man Deborah Fink copies in to her e-mails of complaint about the sacking of Jenny Tonge. 

Fryer LDFOP 

In addition, Jonathan Fryer happens to be a journalist (apparently freelance) for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent programme. 

FOOC Fryer

Whilst Fryer’s dual role as CAABU board member and BBC journalist does not of course guarantee instant compliance with CAABU complaints, it certainly does not seem to be doing any harm. What is odd is that the fact that a board member of an organisation which frequently lobbies the BBC also does work for it – and that this does not appear to be perceived as a potentially problematic conflict of interests by the BBC itself.