BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

Earlier this month we noted that an article written by the BBC’s Middle East editor on the subject of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon had avoided the issue of protests against Iranian intervention in those countries.

An item aired in the November 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The World This Week’ – titled “Iran in the crosshairs” – did relate to that issue, but from a remarkable viewpoint.

“There’s growing pushback against Iranian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon. Iran is being seen by some as the kind of interfering foreign state it often criticises.”

Presenter Caroline Wyatt introduced that lead item with the erroneous claim that Iran had fulfilled its JCPOA obligations concerning the Fordow nuclear plant. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Wyatt: “Iran turned the nuclear screw this week, bringing back into operation nuclear equipment it shut down under the terms of the nuclear deal agreed with Western powers in 2015 but which President Trump later walked away from. But was this a warning or a sign of weakness? The security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said this week that Iran was winning the struggle for strategic influence in the Middle East. But is that starting to change? Protests in Lebanon and Iraq against their political elites have focused much of their criticism on Iran with the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Karbala coming under attack. So I asked Kasra Naji of BBC Persian how worried is Iran that it may now be in the process of losing the power and influence it’s acquired in Iraq and Lebanon.”

That IISS report was the subject of an article which appeared on the BBC News website on November 7th.

Kasra Naji gave listeners a highly sanitised view of the Iranian regime’s decades-old activities in other countries.

Naji: “Well I think Iran is very worried. I think Iran is concerned particularly about what’s going on in Iraq. Iraq is next door and the demands of those people on the streets of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq are not all that different to the demands of the Iranians within Iran. It could easily come this side of the border so they’re watchful of that. Over the years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 Iran has invested heavily in setting up political parties, militias, its proxies, its political influence and that is suddenly in danger. If not danger, the prestige of Iran in the region and in Iraq is under serious question today and that doesn’t look good for Iran at all. And in Lebanon also Hizballah has been a major component of Iran’s influence in the region. Iran looks at southern Lebanon as basically a province of Iran. And they don’t want to see that coming under threat.”

Remarkably, neither Wyatt nor Naji bothered to explain to listeners what “the demands of those people on the streets” actually are. Neither did they make any effort to inform audiences even in passing that over 300 Iraqi protesters are reported to have been killed by security forces which allegedly include Iranian-backed militias and that rather than merely ‘worrying’ about the situation in Iraq as suggested by Naji, the Iranian regime is taking an active role in events there.

Both Wyatt and Naji seemed intent on framing objections to Iranian intervention in neighbouring countries as something recent.

Wyatt: “According to one commentator in Iraq, the shoes are out again so the public discontent is growing. Isn’t Iran now in danger of being seen as just the kind of regime that it likes to criticise?”

Naji: “That’s right. That’s another danger of all this. Iran is suddenly seen as a usurping power, a foreign power trying to influence events within those countries, particularly within Iraq.”

After an equally superficial discussion of Iran’s involvement in Syria, the conversation turned to Iran’s recent nuclear activities with Wyatt asking “so why is it continuing to risk more sanctions?”.

Naji: “Because it doesn’t have any other choice. It’s come under heavy pressure of US sanctions and they are crippling Iran’s economy. […] So what they’re trying to do is to put pressure on the Europeans particularly and say ‘listen, if you don’t come up and save this deal and do your part of the deal – your commitments in the deal – then there’s no point in staying in this agreement. It’s a cry for help. It’s like saying that we cannot continue like this; come and help us, save this deal, otherwise this deal is going to collapse.”

BBC World Service listeners were not informed what those allegedly unfulfilled European “commitments” supposedly entail before Wyatt closed with a final question about the opinions of “ordinary Iranians” on the nuclear issue and Naji’s reply failing to inform audiences that those opinions carry little weight as far as the Iranian regime is concerned.  

Obviously this item presented BBC audiences with a decidedly one-sided view of the story which focused on framing Iran as being “in the crosshairs” rather than the Lebanese and Iraqi people actually being attacked by its proxy militias on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad.

Related Articles:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns





BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

h/t AS, RS

The April 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ – presented by Sarah Montague – included an item (from 33:34 here) that used Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations as a hook on which to hang the promotion of a political narrative and a campaign.

Montague began by inaccurately claiming that the day of the broadcast was the day upon which Israel was founded according to the Hebrew calendar. In fact, the date of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is the 5th of Iyar, which this year fell on Friday, April 20th.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Montague: “In the Hebrew calendar it was 70 years ago today that Israel was first founded. To mark the establishment of the Jewish state there will be 70 hours of celebrations in the country. Going by the Western calendar, the date of independence was May the 14th in 1948 and as in every year since then, Palestinians will mark that same event, which they call ‘al Nakba’ – the day of catastrophe – as a time of mourning and anger. Our correspondent Caroline Wyatt’s been looking back to 1948 and talking to a Palestinian writer and an Israeli Rabbi who both live in the UK about what the creation of Israel means to them today.”

Caroline Wyatt found it appropriate to open her item began with an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs”. She apparently failed to recognise the irony of a newsreel that described the same British authorities which had actively prevented Jews in both the pre and post-war eras from reaching safety in Mandate Palestine as the representatives of “law and order”.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order.”

Wyatt: “This was the drama of Palestine as Pathé News headlined its war report in January 1948. It was the year after the newly formed United Nations accepted the idea of partitioning Palestine. One zone for the Jews, to be known as Israel, and the other zone for the Arabs who formed the majority of the population there at the time. It was a plan accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but rejected by Arab leaders, so the fighting continued.”

Archive recording: “In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Wyatt: “The last of the British soldiers that had been there under the British mandate that administered Palestine for a quarter of a century withdrew from the region on May the 14th 1948 – the day before the mandate was due to expire.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion preparing to read out the declaration of independence – an event which Wyatt inaccurately claimed took place “at midnight” when in fact it took place at 4 p.m. so as not to run into Shabbat.

Wyatt: “At midnight that same day David Ben Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the State of Israel. For many Jews it was the culmination of over two thousand years of hope – and the beginning of 70 years of struggle of the Palestinian people. Professor Eugene Rogan is the director of St Antony’s College Middle East Centre at Oxford University.”

BBC audiences are of course familiar with the style of commentary on the Middle East advanced by Eugene Rogan but nevertheless his promotion of the falsehood that there had been an entity called the “State of Palestine” before May 14th 1948 is remarkable.

Rogan: “The founding of Israel meant very different things to the different stakeholders in the Middle East. For partisans of the Zionist movement it was the realisation of a generation’s old aspiration: to establish a statehood for the Jewish people. Coming in the aftermath of the Holocaust, it seemed to vindicate the greatest of hopes at a time when the Jewish people had suffered their worst of catastrophes. But of course for the Palestinian Arab people, the creation of the State of Israel came at the expense of their homeland: the State of Palestine as it had been ruled under British mandate since 1920. And so for them, rather than this being a moment of joy or triumph, it was a moment of their catastrophe and they’ve called it that ever since. They refer to it as the Nakba – the Arabic word for catastrophe.”

Listeners next heard from another academic who has also been a BBC contributor in the past and whose resume includes having been an advisor to Yasser Arafat – although that was not clarified.

Khalidi: “I’m Ahmad Samih Khalidi. I come from an ancient Jerusalemite Arab family. I was born and lived in exile. I am a writer and commentator. Currently I’m associated with St Anthony’s College at Oxford. I am myself a product of the Nakba. I was born in 1948 and my whole life of course has been determined by this experience, as has that of all my contemporaries, my family and everyone, really, who I relate to on a daily basis.”

Wyatt: “Ahmad Khalidi has spent much of his adult life involved in trying to help find a peaceful resolution for this one land claimed by two peoples.”

Khalidi: “This was an entity that had taken over my homeland, dispossessed my people, so there was an ongoing struggle and Israel was seen as an aggressive state that had dispossessed the people of Palestine and was bent on expanding its presence in the region. Later as I grew up it became more apparent to me that this was something that I personally had to do something about.”

After an ostensibly ‘neutral’ academic and a Palestinian voice, Wyatt introduced her ‘balance’ – an American-born, UK resident interviewee who has a “complex” relationship with Israel.

Wyatt: “So what about those for whom Israel has been a refuge? In north London I go to a deli – Falafel Feast – to meet an Orthodox Rabbi, Natan Levy, who’s known in the UK for fasting over Ramadan – an attempt to bring about greater understanding between Muslims and Jews. He says his relationship with Israel has long been a complex one.”

Levy: “When I was growing up in America we had family members that had the trauma – not just the history – but the trauma of the Holocaust was really real. My mum had a bag packed for us; each of the children had a bag packed at the front door. Just in case something should go horribly wrong we could grab our bags and our passports and run to Israel, the Holy Land, that was always seen – even before I’d ever been there – as the place of safety. We all have Israeli passports and my oldest daughter was born there.”

Wyatt: “Yet Natan Levy’s attitude towards Israel has changed over time.”

Levy: “So for my yeshiva – the place where I learned to be a Rabbi – was actually in the West Bank. There I guess you would say I was a settler with the ideologies that went along with being a settler. This land is all ours, promised in the Torah – in the Old Testament – and slowly I came to realise; we were on top of the hill and at the bottom of the hill was a Palestinian farm that had also been there for generation upon generation. And bit by bit it seemed like everyone was in a sort of prison. Everyone was kept separate. The fences were too big and eventually we began a bit of conversation with the people at the bottom and their story, like ours, was filled with longing and hope and deep trauma. And the more I spoke to them, the harder it was to justify being on top of the hill and having a fence between us.”

Levy studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion – an area in which Jews had purchased land and built communities years before the arrival of the British-backed invading Jordanian army in 1948. Radio 4 listeners were of course not informed of those narrative-spoiling facts and similarly Wyatt did not bother to clarify the role of Palestinian terror in her portrayal of ‘growing fences’.  

Wyatt: “Over the years the fences in Israel have grown, while hopes of a deeper dialogue on peace have withered. Ahmed Khalidi describes himself now as deeply pessimistic about the prospects.”

Khalidi: “The outlines of a two-state solution have slipped away. I think this one-state reality has now taken over. It’s becoming more deeply entrenched. I’m not suggesting that there is some kind of ideal solution out there that will emerge from this one-state reality. In fact one of my concerns is that the one-state reality may end up as a one-state nightmare. But if we don’t have partition and we can’t have a genuine one-state reality in which the two sides can live together, then we’re going to have a state of perpetual conflict.”

The item ended with that unchallenged and unquestioned promotion from ‘one-stater’ Ahmad Khalidi and no clarification was provided to BBC audiences to explain that what the Oxford academic is in fact touting is the demise of the Jewish state.

And not only did BBC Radio 4 find it appropriate to provide a stage for promotion of the campaign to end to Jewish self-determination on the very day that it was being celebrated, but the same item was also broadcast to BBC World Service listeners (from 45:05 here) in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day.


BBC reports on Jordan Rift Valley mine clearance lack essential context

h/t MD

On May 15th and 16th two reports – one filmed and one written – relating to the same story were published on the BBC News website.

The filmed report comes under the sensationalist title “The most dangerous church in the world“. If BBC audiences had until now perhaps thought that the most dangerous places in the world for Christians might be in Iraq or Syria, this report tells them that:

“This is one of the most sacred sites in the Christian world…and the most dangerous.”

Of course visitors to Qasr al Yahud in the Jordan Rift Valley who heed the fencing and signs warning them of landmines in the vicinity of the nearby derelict monasteries are in no danger whatsoever.

The report continues:

“It’s thought Jesus was baptized here at Qasr el Yahud. More than 300,000 pilgrims travel here each year. A few hundred meters away stand these abandoned churches. They were built over 1,000 years ago.”

Whilst the monastery of St John the Baptist was indeed first constructed in the Byzantine era and the current structure has foundations said to date back to the 12th century, most of the monasteries at the site were constructed in the 1930s during the time of the British Mandate.Qasr al Yahud filmed Israeli soldiers

Viewers are then told:

“But in the 1960s Israeli soldiers planted mines and booby traps in the area. The churches have been left empty ever since.”

In contrast with reports on the same story from other media organisations, no effort is made by the BBC to provide audiences with the relevant context which would enable their understanding of the background to that statement and prevent any misunderstanding of the reasons behind Israel’s mining of the area.

The Telegraph, for example, tells its readers that:

“Israeli forces laid around 2,600 anti-tank mines in long strings to prevent Jordanian armored units from crossing the River Jordan. The area is also scattered with more than a thousand anti-personnel mines which are not much bigger than an apple but can easily blow off a person’s legs. 

To stop Palestinian fighters from hiding in the churches, Israeli soldiers built their own improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rigged the buildings. No one knows how many of the bombs are still active. Added to the mix are mortar shells, artillery rounds and other unexploded ordinance still lying around from the [1967] fighting.”

The Times of Israel writes:

“Qasr al-Yehud, the site where many Christian traditions believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, will soon be cleared of some 4,000 landmines and other ordnance left over from the 1967 war and its aftermath. […]

Israel mined the area along the Jordan River following the Six Day War in a bid to prevent Jordanian tanks and infantry, as well as Palestinian fedayeen guerrilla fighters and terrorists, from infiltrating into Israeli-held territory and attacking Israeli settlements.”

And the Wall Street Journal reports:

“After that conflict [1967], Israeli officials say military documents show that the army placed antitank mines on flat ground to deter armored vehicles from crossing the Jordan River.

Following skirmishes between Palestine Liberation Organization operatives and the Jordanian army and Israeli soldiers post-1967, Israel also placed antipersonnel mines on the site and booby-traps in the buildings to ensure they couldn’t be used as staging areas for attacks on Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The area became a buffer zone in fighting between Israeli and Palestinian and Jordanian operatives, said Michael Heiman, technology and standards manager at the Israel National Mine Action Authority which is part of the defense ministry.”

Viewers of this report were also told that:

“The plan is for it to become a national park with free access to all religions.”

Qasr al Yahud is in fact already a national park which has – literally – “free access” for all.

So did the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt do any better in her written report (titled “New hope for Holy Land’s minefield churches“) on the same story? Not really.Qasr al Yahud written

In addition to misrepresenting the majority of the structures as having been built considerably earlier than is the case, Wyatt also failed to provide adequate explanation of why the area was mined after (rather than “during”, as stated) the Six Day War.

“For almost 50 years, the churches – built in Byzantine times but later booby-trapped, mined and pockmarked by artillery fire – have been crumbling gently in the middle of a minefield.

It was laid mainly by Israeli troops during the 1967 War, when Israel captured the land west of the River Jordan, known today as the occupied West Bank.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC content, Wyatt’s history begins in June 1967 and so BBC audiences hear nothing of the 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of the area concerned or what preceded it. They are, however, encouraged to believe that the correct terminology for that part of Area C (the future of which is to be determined in final status negotiations according to the Oslo Accords signed by the Palestinians) is “the occupied West Bank”.

In addition to those filmed and written reports, Wyatt also produced an audio report (from 08:10 here) for the May 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Neither she nor presenter Razia Iqbal gave listeners an accurate picture of the factors which prompted the mining of the area.

Qasr al Yahud

Qasr al Yahud

RI: “The seven churches on the site – Orthodox and Catholic – have been inaccessible to the public since 1967 when Israel fought Jordan, Syria and Egypt in the Six Day War.”

CW: “And on my left you can see several of the churches here that have been inaccessible now since 1967 and you can see the level of fighting there was around here.”

Later Wyatt told listeners that one of her interviewees “has been liaising with Israeli veterans […] to find out more about the booby traps they laid in this area…” but once again no mention was made of the Palestinian terrorists who were the reason for that action. Listeners did however hear some politicised messaging.

Wyatt: “The Palestinian Mine Action Center has signed up to the project but, as its head Brigadier Juma Abduljabber explains, Palestinians will not be doing the hands-on de-mining work itself.”

Abduljabber voice-over: “We have Palestinian experts who are able to demine. We have a full staff who were trained in Jericho and Jordan. But, as you know, in Palestine there is the occupation and Israel refuses to allow Palestinians to de-mine those fields.”

A November 2015 report from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor states that while the Palestinian Mine Action Center does indeed have trained staff, as of half a year ago at least, it still lacked the necessary equipment.

“PMAC also has a team of 30 that have been trained by UNMAS for demining but which is not yet equipped to do so.”

The same report clarifies that:

“Mine action is subject to the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, under which the West Bank is divided into three areas: Area A is under full Palestinian civilian and security control; Area B is under full Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control; and Area C (approximately 60% of the West Bank) where Israel has full control of security, planning, and construction.”

As noted above, Qasr al Yahud is located in Area C and hence under full Israeli control and responsibility. Rather than clarifying that point to listeners, Caroline Wyatt gave an unchallenged platform to a representative from a body set up and run by the Palestinian Authority – which is of course party to that 1995 Interim Agreement – to promote irrelevant propaganda concerning “the occupation” of an area the PA agreed would be subject to final status negotiations. 

Caroline Wyatt’s defence of BBC summer Gaza coverage lacks factual basis

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that, whilst speaking at a recent Limmud session on the topic of the BBC’s Middle East coverage, the corporation’s Religious Affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt stated:Caroline Wyatt

“Looking at the coverage of the Gaza conflict last summer, I think the people reporting it tried harder than I’ve seen before to use language that was not loaded. Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet and others are trying their best to report as impartially as they can. It’s a difficult one.”

The factual basis for Caroline Wyatt’s conclusions is unclear. The content produced, for example, by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen during and after his brief sojourn in the Gaza Strip in July 2014 included repeated promotion of the notion that Israel was carrying out ‘war crimes’, denial of Hamas’ use of human shields, promotion of the inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” and pontifications such as “it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer”. Surely even Caroline Wyatt would have to acknowledge that Bowen’s use of language is in fact highly “loaded”.

Israel defends Gaza military campaign  July 11th 2014, discussed here

Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100’ July 11th 2014, discussed here

Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya  July 12th 2014, discussed here and here

Jeremy Bowen: Israel and Hamas not ready for ceasefire  July 12th 2014, discussed here

Death toll mounts amid Gaza strikes  July 14th 2014, discussed here

Israel-Gaza conflict enters seventh day  July 14th 2014, discussed here

From Our Own Correspondent July 19th 2014, discussed here

Jeremy Bowen’s Gaza notebook: I saw no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields New Statesman, July 22nd 2014, discussed here

Wyatt’s claim that Bowen and his colleagues “are trying their best to report as impartially as they can” is contradicted by the former’s repeated – and highly offensive – allocation of grades for suffering.

“But it is wrong to suggest that Israeli civilians near Gaza suffer as much as Palestinians. It is much, much worse in Gaza.” (link to source)

“By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree.” (link to source)

Moreover, Wyatt’s claim that BBC correspondents “tried harder than I’ve seen before” is undermined by the fact that records show that five and a half years earlier – during Operation Cast Lead – Bowen was touting the exact same theme, sometimes in very similar language.

“The people of Gaza have been suffering terrible pain. When this is over, there is bound to be a proper investigation of some of the actions that Israel has carried out… It would be wrong to suggest that the experience of Israeli civilians in the areas that can be hit by rockets has been the same.” [Jeremy Bowen, 16th January 2009]

“…of course it is in no sense equal, the suffering is basically all on one side at the moment. I think where it is going at the moment, first of all Israel, the Israel narrative is as follows ok, its self defence any country would do it, and they are also questioning the casualty figures coming out of Gaza.” [Jeremy Bowen, BBC Today Radio 4 – 29/12/2008, 07.09am]

Clearly Caroline Wyatt has not studied the content produced by the BBC between July 8th and August 27th 2014 in depth. Had she done so, she would also be aware of the fact that BBC audiences were shown nearly three times more filmed reports from the Gaza Strip than from Israel and that within the first 24 hours of coverage, the BBC was already promoting the notion of ‘war crimes’ having been carried out by Israel, clearly indicating that impartial reporting was not a serious aspiration.

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