BBC abandons independent verification in reporting on Gaza casualties

As long-time readers will be aware, during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 the BBC failed to independently verify casualty figures and civilian-combatant casualty ratios provided by the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip. Instead, its coverage during and since that conflict was based on data obtained from partial sources which it promoted to audiences without fact-checking.

Since then BBC journalists appear to have ceased trying to independently verify information provided by a terrorist organisation and instead adopt a qualifying ‘he said-she said’ approach which includes describing all Gaza Strip casualties as “Palestinians”, regardless of whether or not they belonged to terror groups.

Here are some examples from the first two days of BBC reporting on the recent events in Israel and the Gaza Strip. [emphasis in bold added]

November 12th 2019, BBC News website, ‘Israel kills top Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant in Gaza’:

“Israeli aircraft also targeted PIJ rocket-launching units in two separate strikes, according to the IDF. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry reported that three Palestinian men were killed in northern Gaza.”

November 12th 2019, BBC News website, ‘Israel-Gaza violence spirals after killing of top Palestinian militant’:

“Violence escalated after Israel killed PIJ commander Baha Abu al-Ata. Four more Palestinians were also killed. […]

Three Palestinians were killed in air strikes in northern Gaza, one of which targeted a group preparing to launch a rocket, Israel said.”

November 12th 2019, BBC World Service radio, ‘Global News Podcast’:

Tom Bateman [03:40]: “And inside the Gaza Strip, Israeli airstrikes have resumed. The latest is they targeted two people on a motorbike that Israel says were a rocket launching unit. One of those people has been killed…”

November 13th 2019: BBC Radio 4,Today’:

[0:34:39] Mishal Husain: “There are fears of a further escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza after 24 hours of violence in which a Palestinian commander was killed by Israel, rocket attacks from Gaza injured Israelis and Palestinians were killed in further Israeli strikes on the territory. […] Tom, first what do we know of those latest Israeli strikes and the Palestinians who died?”

Tom Bateman: “…Palestinian media reporting that one Palestinian has been killed in those strikes so that brings the total of Palestinians who’ve died over the last 24 hours, including Abu al Ata the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader that was targeted by the Israelis yesterday, that total number to eleven.”

[2:33:07] Mishal Husain: “…rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, injuring Israeli civilians and Israeli airstrikes have killed another 14 Palestinians.”

Tom Bateman: “By nightfall [on November 12th] health officials there had said in addition to al Ata and his wife, another 8 Palestinians had been killed. Israel said it targeted Islamic Jihad militant sites including people trying to launch rockets.”

Mishal Husain: “And the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says there’s now a total of 16 people who have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, including the Islamic Jihad commander and his wife.”

November 13th 2019, BBC World Service radio,Newshour’:

[09:19] Tim Franks: “More Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. At least 23 are reported to have died in the territory.”

November 13th 2019, BBC News website,Israel-Gaza fighting continues for second day after militant’s death’ – version 7:

“Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 26 Palestinians, including three children, had been killed by Israeli fire by Wednesday evening. […]

The IDF said “20 terrorists” were killed, most of them from Islamic Jihad.

The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas militants, said three children were among the 23 people killed in Israeli strikes on Wednesday.

PIJ said the dead included members of its military wing, the al-Quds Brigades. Khaled Faraj, a field commander, was killed in a strike in central Gaza.”

As we see, the BBC made no attempt in any of those reports to independently verify the claims of various parties. Neither was any effort made to inform audiences in its own words of how many of those killed in the Gaza Strip were members of terror groups – even when they had been identified as such by their own organisations.

The BBC cannot possibly claim that such an editorial policy contributes to meeting its public purpose remit of providing “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding” and offering  “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers” so that “audiences can engage fully with major… global issues”.

Related Articles:

BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

BBC Complaints defends its use of Hamas supplied casualty figures

BBC radio stations promote Hamas ‘health ministry’ propaganda

NPR covers up Islamic Jihad casualties (CAMERA) 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC provides a portrait of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander killed by Israel this week and initial analysis of Palestinian casualties in the subsequent conflict.

“An initial ITIC examination of the names of ten Palestinians who were killed during IDF attacks revealed the following: six were operatives in the PIJ’s military wing; three were operatives in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades/Nidal al-Amoudi Brigade (a network that splintered from Fatah) who apparently participated in the rocket fire at Israel; and one was a Fatah operative (it is unclear if he was a military operative).”

2) MEMRI has translated a speech made by a PIJ leader which, predictably, was not reported by the BBC.

“Khader Habib, a member of the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, said in a November 12, 2019 address that aired on Alghad TV (UAE/Egypt) that Israel will disappear and that Jerusalem and Palestine belong to the Palestinians. He promised that the Jihad against Israel will continue and that the mujahideen will slaughter the Zionists occupying Palestine unless they leave. The statements were made at the funeral of Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, who was killed by the IDF.”

3) The JCPA looks at Iran’s reaction to the killing of Abu al-Ata.

“The PIJ is the Palestinian organization closest to Iran and is heavily dependent on the financial and military aid that Tehran provides. The relationship between the PIJ and Iran is conducted mainly through the headquarters of the organization’s external leadership in Damascus, which holds contacts with the Gazan leadership. Unlike Hamas, which retains political and operational independence, the PIJ is more attentive to Iran’s agenda and to the directives that come from Tehran. The group declared a state of emergency in the wake of al-Ata’s killing.

In recent years, Tehran has supplied the PIJ with rockets, sniper rifles (Iranian-made AM-50 Sayyad-Hunter based on HS.50 rifles that the Austrian Steyr-Mannlicher company sold to the National Iranian Police) , and anti-tank missiles, all the while continuing to train its operatives in Syria and Iran in manufacturing and operating rockets, missiles small arms, and explosive devices (IEDs, EFPs).”

4) At the INSS, Ephraim Kam analyses ‘Iranian Stakes in Syria’.

“Against the backdrop of its military involvement in Syria, Iran has taken a series of steps since 2014 to reinforce its standing in Syria and Lebanon and enhance its military preparedness there, as well as that of its proxies – first and foremost Hezbollah. These steps are of two types. One consists of steps designed to influence Syria’s internal situation and bind it to Iran for the long term, including economic agreements on reconstruction, resettlement of Shiites in Syria, introduction of Iranian religious and cultural values into the country, and establishment of Syrian Shiite militias modelled on Hezbollah in Lebanon. These steps are of great importance to Israel because they entrench and empower Iran’s position close to Israel’s border.”

BBC Radio 4 tells listeners that Gaza rioters were ‘innocent civilians’

As we saw in a previous post, a BBC News website article uncritically amplified the findings of a UN Human Right Council inquiry into the ‘Great Return March’ while portraying violent rioting as “protests”, failing to explain the aim of the demand for ‘right of return’, refraining from noting the long-standing UNHRC bias against Israel, failing to clarify the inbuilt bias of the inquiry’s mandate, ignoring the fact that a significant proportion of those killed in the violent rioting have been shown to be linked to terror groups and promoting the false notion that under-18s, paramedics and journalists are exclusively ‘civilians’.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard reports on the same story – but were they any better?

The February 28th edition of ‘The World Tonight’ included a news bulletin (from 03:45 here) in which audiences were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Israel has rejected a UN report which found that the country may have committed crimes against humanity when its soldiers fired on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip last year. In nine months of demonstrations 189 people died including 35 children. Investigators said there could be no justification for killing children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics. The Israeli government described the document as a new record of hypocrisy and lies.”

In addition to failing to clarify that the report was commissioned by the partisan UNHRC, that portrayal once again frames violent rioting as “demonstrations” and the people taking part as “protesters”. As in the BBC’s written report, the investigators were blindly quoted with no clarification of the fact that some of those “children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics” have been shown to have links to terror groups.

Later on in the same programme (from 20:35), presenter James Coomarasamy interviewed one of the report’s authors in relation to what he began by describing as “a highly critical report by the Human Rights Council”.

Coomarasamy: “It examined the deaths last year of nearly 200 people who were shot by Israeli soldiers during protests along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossein is one of the report’s authors.”

Coomarasamy did not clarify to listeners that none of the report’s three authors have any expertise in military operations.

Following an overview from Hossein of the inquiry’s findings, Coomarasamy noted that:

22:14 Coomarasamy: “You call them civilian protests. You acknowledge though that there were militants among the protesters. They were organised by Hamas.”

Hossein: “We don’t actually say that the protests were purely organised by Hamas. We say that Hamas as a political body had involvement in the organising and that Hamas members did take part in the protests as well.”

Coomarasamy failed to challenge Hossein’s absurd claim of a distinction between ‘political’ Hamas and its ‘armed wing’.

Later on in the interview (23:50) Coomarasamy did raise the topic of UNHRC institutional bias against Israel but despite acknowledgement of that issue by former UN officials, presented it using the BBC’s favoured ‘Israel says’ formula.

Coomarasamy: “The Israeli government says that you have […] an obsessive hatred of Israel, essentially saying that you single out Israel for these kinds of investigations and other countries in the region simply do not get the same kind of scrutiny.”

Hossein responded with the claim that “we’ve carried out the task that was given to us”, to which Coomarasamy replied:

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that Israel gets singled out, that it gets far deeper and closer scrutiny than other countries in the region?”

Hossein: “We interpreted our mandate as being to look at all parties and to look at their responsibility in the context of the protests.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate predetermined that the ‘Great Return March’ events were “civilian protests” and instead moved on to the question of “what do you expect Israel to do with this?” to which Hossein replied:

Hossein: “We have said they should cease the killings of civilians. I cannot see why that is not an acceptable recommendation to make. Why is the killing of an 11 year-old or a 13 year-old or a 14 year-old or a double amputee or a paramedic or a journalist – why and in what context can that be justifiable?”

Rather than informing listeners of the numerous cases in which under-18s, journalists and paramedics have been shown to have links to terror organisations and asking Hossein why the commission ignored Hamas’ own statements regarding the affiliations of many of the dead, Coomarasamy closed the conversation there.

That crucial omission was likewise relevant in Coomarasamy’s subsequent interview with Israel’s representative at the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter. During that conversation Coomarasamy repeatedly promoted the UNHRC’s talking points.

Coomarasamy: “But in the context of what happened – the deaths for example of the children, of people in wheelchairs – how can you justify using live ammunition against them? Was it a mistake by the Israeli Defence Forces? Were they following the rules of engagement?”

Coomarasamy: “…but the question that this report is posing is why did Israeli soldiers fire live rounds at people who were identifiable as children. That must be a question that Israel needs to ask itself.”

Coomarasamy: “So are you disputing that children and people with disabilities were killed by fire from the Israeli forces?”

Coomarasamy: “Is Israel looking into those deaths though of the children and others – innocent civilians.”

As we see, Coomarasamy promoted the absurd notion that minors, people with disabilities (the UNHRC report includes one example of a deaf person, though how IDF forces were supposed to know that is not made clear), paramedics or people wearing ‘Press’ vests are automatically “innocent civilians” regardless of their affiliations or actions at the time.

Previously the same day Radio 4 listeners had heard another dose of unchallenged UNHRC messaging – although significantly, that body was not mentioned by name – in the ‘World at One’ news bulletin (from 05:14 here).

Newsreader: “A UN investigation into the deaths of nearly 200 Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip last year has concluded that war crimes may have been committed. 35 children were among the dead. Israel has rejected the report as a theatre of the absurd. Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.”

Foulkes: “The investigators say there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers and children even though they were clearly recognisable as such. Israel has always said its actions were a defence against terrorism but the UN report concludes the protests were civilian in nature with clearly stated political aims. The report does however criticise Hamas for failing to stop some of its supporters using incendiary balloons which caused fear and some damage to property in southern Israel.”

Once again we see uncritical and unquestioning amplification of the UNHRC report, including the term “war crimes” which, as NGO Monitor explains, is inapplicable given the legal framework selected by the commission.

“…according to the Commission, the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was not a “military” or “combat” situation and therefore human rights law was the appropriate standard. Therefore, its conclusion that “human rights violations may also constitute “war crimes” is baseless, since war crimes can only where the laws of war are applicable.”

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ has been highly unsatisfactory over the past eleven months, meaning that audiences come to this latest story without the background information necessary for its proper understanding. As we see, rather than try to make up for the serial failure to clarify that what it uniformly portrays as “protests” and “demonstrations” is actually violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts, the BBC elected to unquestioningly amplify the UNHRC report which dovetails with its own existing politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

The BBC’s ‘Great Return March’ great disappearing act

 

 

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

On February 28th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN” which opened as follows:

“Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes while responding to Palestinian protests on the Gaza border last year, UN human rights experts have said.

A commission of inquiry investigated the killing of 189 Palestinians between 30 March and 31 December 2018.

It found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognisable as such.

Israel’s acting foreign minister said it rejected the findings outright.”

As has been documented here over the past eleven months, the BBC’s reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting has uniformly portrayed the events as “protests” and “demonstrations” and has repeatedly downplayed or erased their violent nature. This latest report continued that framing.

“Palestinians have been taking part in protests along the border since last March as part of a campaign, dubbed “the Great March of Return”, in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

As has been the case in previous BBC reporting, no explanation of the significance of that “declared right” and the fact that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state was provided to readers.

Over the past eleven months we have also repeatedly documented the fact that the BBC has downplayed or erased Hamas’ role in initiating, organising and facilitating the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In this report, however, the BBC had no choice but reflect the UNHRC’s acknowledgement of Hamas’ role.

“The campaign has been organised by the militant Hamas movement – which dominates Gaza and is designated a terrorist group by Israel – and other groups.”

Hamas is of course also designated as a terrorist group in whole or in part by additional countries and bodies including the EU, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Japan and Canada.

Obviously this report could not be complete without provision of an overview of both the UNHRC’s longstanding anti-Israel bias and the one-sided mandate of the specific ‘investigation’ which led to the publication of the report which is its subject matter. The BBC however failed to provide readers with that crucial information.

“The commission of inquiry, which was set up by the UN Human Rights Council in May, said on Thursday that more than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by military snipers at designated protest sites over nine months.

It investigated the deaths of 189 Palestinians at the sites on official protest days and found that Israeli forces had killed 183 with live ammunition. Thirty-five of the fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists, the commission found. […]

Unless undertaken lawfully in self-defence, intentionally shooting a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.”

The BBC’s article continues to quote the UNHRC report and its authors at length, including the following:

“Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer and a member of the commission, said: “We are saying that they have intentionally shot children. They have intentionally shot people with disabilities. They have intentionally shot journalists.”

The BBC’s article made no effort to explain to audiences that the fact that some of the fatalities were children or “clearly marked paramedics” or “clearly marked journalists” does not exclude the possibility of links to terror organisations.

For example in May 2018 the BBC published a report in which it was claimed that “one paramedic was killed and several others were wounded on Monday as Israeli troops opened fire during the protests.” That same paramedic appeared in a poster released by Hamas showing some of its members killed on May 14th.

Journalists killed during the ‘Great Return March’ rioting have also been shown to have links to terror groups:

“An examination of Ahmed Abu Hussein’s identity revealed that in addition to being a media person, he was also a PFLP operative. The PFLP’s military wing issued formal death notices for him on its website. […]

According to Israeli security sources, Yasser Murtaja had served for years as an officer with the rank of captain in the Hamas security services in the Gaza Strip. The same sources added that he was an active operative in the security services and greatly assisted them in their activity on a daily basis.”

Among the under-18s killed were those with direct links to Hamas who were sent to sabotage the border fence while others – such as Ahmad al-Sha’ar [also al Shaer] who is named on page 9 of the UNHRC report – were terror operatives (see page 20 here).

In fact around 80% of those killed during the ‘Great Return March’ have been shown to be affiliated with terror factions – a fact totally ignored by the BBC in its unquestioning amplification of this UNHRC report.

Thus BBC audiences were denied the ability to judge for themselves the UNHRC’s preposterous claim that the violent rioting is “civilian in nature”.

“…it [the commission] concluded the demonstrations were “civilian in nature”, with clearly stated political aims, and that despite some acts of significant violence they did not constitute combat or military campaigns.”

So much for the BBC’s public purpose obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

Related Articles:

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

Why did the BBC News website erase an accurate statement?

Examining UNHRC statements uncritically amplified by BBC News

UK government’s UNHRC statement not newsworthy for the BBC

BBC radio audiences get whitewashed picture of youth participation in Gaza riots

BBC again amplifies Gaza claims from political activist medic

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ perpetuates framing of rioting and elections

As we have seen, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to two items relating to Israel and the Gaza Strip. The second of those items was discussed here:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

We have also looked at one aspect of presenter Mishal Husain’s introductions to both those items:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

The first item began (from 37:13 here) with an opaque reference to a new political party running in the upcoming general election in Israel – but without listeners being told even the party leader’s name – and yet more euphemistic portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests”.

Husain: “A former Israeli military chief has launched a bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections scheduled for April. They’ll come a year after weekly Palestinians protests at the boundary fence between Israel and Gaza began. The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period. Tom Bateman, our Middle East correspondent, is on the line from Jerusalem and in this coming election campaign, Tom, how much will relations with Palestinians and security feature?”

As BBC reporting on past Israeli elections shows, the corporation has repeatedly promoted the notion that the ‘peace process’ was the most important issue facing the Israeli electorate even when that was patently not the case.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

If this item is anything to go by, the BBC has obviously not abandoned that redundant framing. A prominent politics journalist at the Jerusalem Post notes that:

“The Palestinians, peace talks, and settlements seem to be almost entirely irrelevant to this election season.”

Bateman began by airbrushing Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip nearly 12 years ago and whitewashing the background to “the conflict between Israel and Hamas”.

Bateman: “Well it will play a role…ah…but I think that the degree to which it’s decisive or significant will very much depend on what happens really on the ground, particularly in relation to the conflict between Israel and Hamas which runs Gaza. And also in terms of the sort of rhetorical situation that you’ll hear Mr Netanyahu talk about a lot in terms of the most strategic threat that he sees which is from Iranian entrenchment, Iranian forces inside…ah…neighbouring Syria. Now on that front there’s been, you know, a significant move in the fact that President Trump has said that US troops will be withdrawn. That is very concerning for Israel but you’re not gonna hear it publicly from Mr Netanyahu who has made a relationship with President Trump key in a priority to his…ehm…diplomatic focus. In terms of what the polls are saying, well despite the situation that we’ve had with Mr Netanyahu; people in his right-wing coalition trying to portray him as being too weak when it comes to Gaza – the more hawkish elements of his cabinet and his defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned late last year over this – despite all that the polls still suggest his Likud party’s on course to be again the biggest party, could even gain seats and that it is likely then that he will be able to put together another right-wing coalition.”

Husain: “And on this point about the conflict with Hamas I mean those casualty figures, a big part of them is what’s been going on in Gaza and it…you know you might say it can’t go on like that, it’s not sustainable and yet it has for many months and we reported from there last month.”

Failing to clarify that “the health ministry in Gaza” is the same terror group behind the weekly violent rioting at the border, Bateman went on to make a context-free reference to an earlier incident.

Bateman: “Yeah and I think the protests at the fence every Friday show few signs of going away. Just last Friday another 14 year-old boy was shot and died later of his wounds according to the health ministry in Gaza. However, the numbers have reduced since the peak of the protests in the spring and summer of last year.”

What Bateman and Husain describe as “protests” included the following on that day:  

“About 13,000 Palestinians participated (10,000 last week). The demonstrators gathered at a number of locations along the border. During the events there was a high level of violence, which included burning tires as well as throwing stones, IEDs and hand grenades at IDF soldiers and at the security fence. In the northern Gaza Strip there were at least three attempts to break through the fence into Israeli territory. In one instance IDF forces fired shots at suspicious Palestinians who fled back into the Gaza Strip. One IDF soldier was slightly injured by a stone.”

Downplaying of the violence that has included hundreds of incidents of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “There’s been a series of military escalations between Hamas and Israel. Now whether or not that will flare up again I think could have a significant impact on the election process. It may conversely be inspired to some degree by the fact that there are elections in Israel. But what the Israeli prime minister or the tack he has chosen is to try to take a bit of political damage from his own right-wing…from the more hawkish elements and try to contain that situation. That is in the form of a very indirect arrangement brokered by the Egyptians, by the Qataris and by the UN in which the Israelis effectively asked for calm on the perimeter fence. In return Hamas – which is under significant pressure financially because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, because of sanctions by the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership too…eh…there are suitcases full of cash – millions of dollars – coming from Qatar into Gaza to pay civil servants’ salaries and also to prevent a collapse of the electricity supply in Gaza. Now that is being permitted by Benjamin Netanyahu. The third payment of $50 million was postponed last week which shows I think just how very fragile this sort of uneasy truce is.”

Bateman failed to inform listeners that those “civil servants” are employees of the Hamas terror organisation or that the reason for the postponement of that “third payment” was a rise in violence that included more rocket attacks that went unreported by the BBC.

While the BBC has not yet produced much reporting on the upcoming election in Israel its framing of that topic so far is just as inflexible and unhelpful to audiences as its framing of almost ten months of weekly violent rioting and border infiltrations which it persists in portraying as “protests”.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

A significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to what appears to have become one of its presenters’ pet topic – the Gaza Strip.

The previous evening viewers of ‘News at Ten’ had seen Mishal Husain’s one-sided report on the healthcare system in Gaza – filmed a month earlier when she visited the territory – and the next morning Radio 4 listeners heard her present a total of over sixteen and a half minutes of similar content in two separate items.

Those two items will be discussed in upcoming posts but first let’s take a look at statements made by Mishal Husain near the beginning of both those items – from 37:13 and 2:09:59 here.

37: 13 Husain: “The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period.”

2:09:59 Husain: “2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. The United Nations says 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces over the course of the year. In the same period, says the UN, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and 137 injured. On the Palestinian side most of the deaths and injuries were connected to the weekly protests at the boundary fence that separates Gaza from Israel.”

First let’s examine the source of that information. Although Husain uses the terms “UN” and “United Nations”, the data specifically comes from a press release put out by the local branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which, as regular readers know, is a highly politicised and partisan organisation that has in the past used highly dubious methodology to produce reports on casualties in the Gaza Strip.

That UNOCHA press release states that 23,000 (79%) of the 29,000 people described by Mishal Husain as “injured by Israeli forces” sustained their injuries “in the context of Gaza’s ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations by the fence”. As we see on UNOCHA’s own data base its definition of injured means:

“…people who were physically hurt in a relevant incident and received medical treatment at a clinic or hospital, or by paramedic personnel on the site of the incident. This includes people who received treatment due to suffocation [sic] by tear gas.”

And indeed, according to the break-down titled “Injuries by type of weapon” appearing on that data base, the most frequent cause of those injuries is defined as “Tear Gas (inhalation)”.

Another point arising from that data – but airbrushed away from audience view by Husain – is UNOCHA’s admittance that some of the casualties were terrorists.

“At least 28 of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in 2018 were members of armed groups in Gaza…”

The figure cited by UNOCHA is considerably lower than that claimed by Hamas. As was noted here in May 2018:

“On the day of the violent events that prompted so much BBC coverage – May 14th – the Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that three of those killed belonged to its terror organisation. The following afternoon – May 15th – Hamas put out a ‘martyrdom poster’ for ten members of its internal security apparatus also killed in the May 14th incidents.

On the afternoon of May 16th reports emerged concerning an interview given by Hamas’ Salah Bardawil to a local TV channel.

“A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group, bringing the total number of known members of terror groups among the fatalities up to 53.

“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.

Questioned about the figures by the presenter, Bardawil said they were “official.”

“I am giving you an official figure. 50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas,” he said.””

Just as the BBC overwhelmingly avoided reporting that information at the time, it continues to have no place in the narrative promoted by Mishal Husain.

A report published by the ITIC two days before this Radio 4 broadcast went on air identifies 150 out of 187 Palestinians killed during the ‘Great Return March’ rioting between March 30th 2018 and January 16th 2019 as being linked to terror organisations – i.e. 80%. Of those 150, ninety-six (52%) were affiliated with Hamas and 45 of those (i.e. 24% of all the fatalities) were operatives in Hamas’ military wing.

An additional piece of information in that UNOCHA press release likewise exposes the motivations behind Husain’s framing.  Again relating to “Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in 2018” the report states that:

“…another 15 were perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.”

In other words, while encouraging audiences to compare the number of Palestinians killed in “the worst year…since the Gaza conflict of 2014” with the number of Israelis killed “in the same period”, Husain airbrushed away the fact that some of the Palestinians killed were in the process of carrying out the very attacks in which some of those Israelis were murdered and concealed the fact that a high proportion of those killed during the ‘Great Return March’ were affiliated with the terrorist groups that instigated, organised, financed and facilitated that violent rioting.

The obviously significant connection between “the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014” and the fact that Palestinians chose in 2018 to engage in terrorism and weekly violent mass rioting has of course no place in the politically motivated framing advanced by Mishal Husain.

Related Articles:

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

The BBC’s monochrome framing of Gaza’s chronic utilities crisis

The common denominators in the BBC News website’s Gaza reporting

The BBC’s reporting of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios

h/t D

On August 10th the BBC Trust published the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output which was commissioned in 2015. The report, together with accompanying documents, is accessible here.BBC Trust

Titled “Making Sense of Statistics”, the report makes interesting reading, although it has a somewhat domestic focus. While it does not address the issue of the BBC’s presentation of casualty figures during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, some of its observations, conclusions and recommendations are pertinent to the corporation’s portrayal of that topic both at the time and since.

On page 17, the report addresses the topic of audience expectations.

“Audiences expect that numbers are accurate, factual and verified, that claims that are wrong or misleading are challenged, and that a range of evidence is used to put statistical claims into context. In other words, the BBC has to ensure that the public is informed accurately and impartially on the important issues of the day by helping audiences navigate through the statistical evidence and make sense of the numbers.

Regarding accuracy, there is a presumption of veracity – if a story contains a number, it must be true. Certainly, the audience research found that “adding statistics does increase the impression of accuracy”:

There is an assumption by the audience that figures quoted by the BBC will be accurate, factual and well verified and that the BBC sets out to be impartial in its use of statistics. Audience research report, Oxygen Brand Consulting”

As regular readers know, the BBC did not independently verify the casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios which it presented to its audiences during the 2014 conflict. Although there is no publicly available evidence of its having carried out any such verification since the conflict ended, it continues to quote and promote unverified data sourced from interested parties and has even defended its own use of statistics provided by a terrorist organisation.

Ironically, on page 30 of the report, readers find the following:

“We heard examples of the BBC choosing not to cover particular statistics which have either been sent to them in press releases or featured in other media coverage, due to concerns with the methodology behind them or the interpretations placed on them.”

Page 68 of the report states:

“In order to evaluate the importance or validity of a statistic, audiences often need to some extent to understand where it came from, who is using it and how it has been generated – in other words, the provenance of a statistic needs to be transparent. Good practice suggests that in order to achieve this, those descriptors should be routinely presented, although not necessarily as a full suite on every occasion. In some cases of course – such as a fleeting reference in an interview – it is not possible to give all this information. But where the story is the statistic, then transparency is vital for the audience as attribution can sometimes greatly affect the weight audiences give to particular figures. And yet, there appear to be occasions where statistics in BBC content are not clearly attributed, or where a link to the direct source (if in an online article) is not provided.”

Appendix 2 at the end of the report presents a hand-out provided at the end of BBC training sessions. The “10 Golden Rules” include:

“Taking a theory and trying to find statistics that fit it is a recipe for disaster, and one of the biggest causes of inaccuracy and misrepresentation. Make sure that whoever has provided the figures hasn’t fallen into that trap.”

“Check your source. Is it likely to be someone with a vested interest in interpreting findings in a particular way?”

Clearly those ‘golden rules’ were not followed when the BBC unquestioningly promoted data provided, via a third-party, by political NGOs engaged in lawfare against Israel.stats

On the one occasion that the BBC did provide its audiences with some good statistical analysis of the topic of casualty figures in August 2014, that article was subsequently altered and reframed to the point of being rendered meaningless.

On page 49 the report states:

“Providing context aids interpretation. But it is not always enough. It is important that, as well as communicating the statistics, journalists are also able to provide interpretations around the sometimes-complex subjects in which they appear […] in order to help audiences to understand the relevance of the figures. And these interpretations need to be based on a balanced assessment of the evidence in order to provide audiences with an impartial reading.”

Readers may recall that shortly after the 2014 conflict came to a close, the BBC News website published an article titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” about which we remarked:

“But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.”

On page 71 of the report an issue which will be familiar to many readers is discussed:

“And yet, we received evidence that there remains concern in some quarters over the speed in which the BBC issues corrections when it gets the numbers wrong and the transparency with which they inform audiences that changes have been made (for example to online articles).”

One can only hope that this review will prompt the BBC to take the subject of verification of data originating from political NGOs and terrorist groups much more seriously than it has done in the past and that the focus will from now on be placed on meeting audience expectations of provision of accurate, verified and impartial data rather than the promotion of deliberately politicised statistics.

Related Articles:

Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

BBC editorial policy hampers audiences understanding of Wallström remarks report

On January 15th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu: Swedish FM’s remarks ‘outrageous’“. Readers are told that:Wallstrom art

“Israel’s prime minister has denounced a call by Sweden’s foreign minister to investigate whether recent killings of Palestinians were “extrajudicial”.

Benjamin Netanyahu said Margot Wallstrom’s remarks were “outrageous… immoral and… stupid”.

Ms Wallstrom had called for “thorough and credible investigations” into the deaths.

Some 155 Palestinians – mostly attackers, Israel says – have been killed in unrest since October. […]

On Tuesday, Ms Wallstrom said it was “vital that there is a thorough, credible investigation into these deaths in order to clarify and bring about possible accountability”, according to Swedish media reports.” [emphasis added]

Leaving aside the embarrassingly uninformed nature of Margot Wallström’s latest insinuations about Israel, the remarkable thing about this BBC report is that those reading it have no way of knowing which of the two people quoted – Netanyahu or Wallström – is talking facts.

The reason for that is because – as has been noted here previously on numerous occasions – for more than three months the BBC has consistently avoided telling its audiences in its own words that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties during that time were killed whilst carrying out terror attacks or engaged in violent rioting. Instead, BBC reports have invariably used qualifying terms such as “Israel says” or “were said by Israel to be attackers”.

The question that therefore arises is does the BBC employ similar qualifying language when covering the shooting of attackers in other countries or is that editorial policy reserved for use when reporting about Israel?

In October of 2015 the BBC reported a story from Margot Wallström’s native Sweden.

“A masked man armed with a sword has killed a pupil and a teacher at a school in Sweden.

The suspect, clad in black, apparently posed for photos with students ahead of the attack, in the western town of Trollhattan.

Two further victims, a pupil and a teacher, are seriously injured. The attacker was shot by police and has died of his injuries. He was 21 and resident in Trollhattan, police said.”

No qualifying “Sweden says” there.World at One

On January 7th the BBC covered an attack on a police station in Paris. BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ carried a report by Hugh Schofield (from 21:53 here, h/t HG) which includes the following statements: [emphasis added]

“He ran at the police station shouting Allahu Akbar and was not surprisingly stopped in his tracks by the guards – who now have semi-automatic weapons. They shot him and he fell and died subsequently. […]

There was this report that he was carrying some kind of suicide belt or something that looked like a suicide belt. […] I think it’ll be interesting to see whether there was a deliberate attempt to make it look as if he had one or not. It doesn’t really alter the essence of the affair which is that a man with a meat cleaver attacked a police station and was – not surprisingly, given these times – shot dead.”

No qualifying “said by France to be an attacker” there – and in the BBC’s written report on the incident, Schofield clearly signposted the attack for BBC audiences.

Schofield insert report Paris 7 1

So apparently – in contrast to Israel, where the BBC selectively avoids the use of the word ‘terror’, there are no issues surrounding the use of the word when reporting from France. Apparently too, the BBC does not feel the need to portray information supplied by the Swedish and French authorities in qualifying terms which signal to audiences that there is room for doubt as to whether the person shot was actually carrying out an attack.

And whilst the BBC obviously finds it appropriate to amplify Margot Wallström’s insinuation that the shooting of terrorists in the act in Israel might be considered “extrajudicial”, in Paris terrorists are “not surprisingly” shot whilst carrying out attacks.

Related Articles:

Are BBC News reports on Palestinian deaths accurate and impartial?

Is a BBC documentary about Hamas’ child soldiers upcoming?

The video below shows footage taken at a youth camp for 15 to 21 year-olds recently organized in the Gaza Strip by Hamas’ Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades.

Among the few Western media outlets which reported that story were the Washington Post and the Telegraph.  However, a tweet from Lyse Doucet suggests that the BBC is also going to cover the topic at some point.

Doucet tweet Hamas camp

Whether or not this is part of the documentary on children in the Gaza Strip about which Doucet was interviewed by the Guardian last September is not clear. It will however be interesting to see whether the opportunity is used to inform BBC audiences about Hamas’ use of child soldiers – including during the most recent conflict – and whether or not it will be clarified that one of the UN conventions signed by the Palestinian Authority in April 2014 was the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, according to which no soldier should be under the age of 18.  

BBC Complaints defends its use of Hamas supplied casualty figures

We have previously discussed two aspects of a response received by a reader from the BBC Complaints department here and here.

The third (and final, readers will no doubt be relieved to know) part of that response related to the issue of the BBC’s reporting of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip during the recent conflict.Complaint pic

“We dispute the suggestion that using numbers provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza and the UN on the death toll in Gaza indicates a pro-Palestinian bias.

The Health Ministry in Gaza is in touch with all the hospitals in Gaza. The Ministry is where all deaths are registered. It is the key source of information on deaths in the conflict for all news organisations and for other external organisations, including foreign embassies. Israeli authorities simply do not have access to hospitals and morgues in Gaza to provide such reporting. When the BBC reports death tolls they are clearly attributed to the Health Ministry, so the source has been clear in our coverage. Generally, during the conflict the Health Ministry itself did not make claims as to what number of those killed were civilians or combatants. They were collating information coming in from their morgues and passing on quickly to the media a number of times each day.

The UN has made claims as to the number of Palestinians killed and the number of those who are civilians. The BBC reports these numbers attributed to the UN which is of course an internationally recognised organisation. The UN has a large staff in Gaza who compile these reports. The question of who has officials in Gaza collating such reports is important. Some Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes when the IDF would have had surveillance of the aftermath of the strike from the air. However, many people have been killed by sustained artillery assault on certain areas which caused death from shrapnel fire, buildings collapsing and other factors. The BBC’s approach to reporting these numbers is common to the rest of the media.

We have, however, at a number of stages during the conflict broadcast interviews with Israeli officials who questioned the accuracy of the UN figures produced, and suggested that in future they may be revised downwards as has sometimes happened in previous conflicts. It’s also worth noting that Israel has not provided evidence as to why their figures on civilian casualties differed so significantly from the figures produced by UN officials on the ground in Gaza.”

The claim that “[w]hen the BBC reports death tolls they are clearly attributed to the Health Ministry, so the source has been clear in our coverage” is true in so far as it goes. However, those reports consistently failed to sufficiently clarify to BBC audiences that “the Health Ministry” is run by the same terrorist organization engaged in conflict with Israel and hence not an impartial or reliable source.

The claim that “[g]enerally, during the conflict the Health Ministry itself did not make claims as to what number of those killed were civilians or combatants” avoids recognition of the fact that the Gaza Health Ministry’s policy of identifying all casualties as civilians was a deliberate one designed to influence public opinion. Throughout its reporting on the conflict the BBC refrained from informing audiences of the very relevant issue of the instructions put out by Hamas’ Interior Ministry specifically ordering all parties to describe all casualties as ‘civilians’. The BBC also adopted the Hamas stance according to which all casualties were the result of Israeli actions and consistently ignored issues such as casualties resulting from misfired missiles or booby-trapped buildings.

The statement “[t]he UN has made claims as to the number of Palestinians killed and the number of those who are civilians. The BBC reports these numbers attributed to the UN which is of course an internationally recognised organization” clearly indicates that the BBC not only ignores the very relevant topic of the bias of UN bodies themselves, but also the political motivations of the sources of the figures quoted by the UN.

As was noted here at the time, UN statistics were compiled from a variety of primary and secondary sources and the BBC’s claim that “[t]he UN has a large staff in Gaza who compile these reports” is not supported by the information BBC Watch received from the UN itself.

“Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselemthe PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.”

The statement “[t]he question of who has officials in Gaza collating such reports is important” is undoubtedly true – although not in the manner intended in this response. The fact that the UN relies on local NGOs concurrently engaged in lawfare against Israel is a highly relevant factor in the assessment of the reliability of those claims.

Notably, this response completely avoids the topic of the BBC’s failure to independently verify the statistics it quoted and promoted and the fact that at no point did the BBC attempt to put the figures it quoted into their correct context.

The response states:

“The BBC’s approach to reporting these numbers is common to the rest of the media.”

“The rest of the media”, however, is not bound by the same editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality relevant to BBC coverage.

The statement “[i]t’s also worth noting that Israel has not provided evidence as to why their figures on civilian casualties differed so significantly from the figures produced by UN officials on the ground in Gaza” is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the BBC has made no such demand for “evidence” from the Hamas Health Ministry or the political NGOs which supply figures to the UN.

As the work of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre has shown, examination of the lists of names provided by those bodies reveals instances in which names were recorded more than once and cases in which the ages of casualties were misrepresented. As ‘Elder of Ziyon’ has demonstrated, many of those described by sources used by the BBC (particularly the PCHR) as ‘civilian casualties’ have turned out to be terrorists.

This response from the BBC Complaints department is clearly also unsatisfactory in that it completely fails to acknowledge the very relevant topic of manipulation of civilian casualty figures by Hamas and its supporters as part of their propaganda war aimed at garnering Western public opinion. The BBC’s promotion and amplification of Hamas-supplied figures, its failure to independently verify casualty statistics and civilian/combatant ratios and its documented capitulation to political pressure from interested parties on the topic of casualty figures is all evidence of its adoption of a specific politically motivated narrative.

No wonder, therefore, that complaints have been made on this subject but – as is amply clear from the official response above – the self-regulating BBC is incapable of providing an  appropriately impartial response to complaints from its funding public, resorting instead to attempted self-justification of its editorial policies.