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

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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.  

Blatant political messaging in BBC report on Cairo donor conference

The second of the BBC News website’s reports on last weekend’s donor conference in Cairo was a report currently headlined “Donors pledge $5.4bn for Palestinians at Cairo summit” which underwent numerous changes after its initial appearance on October 12th.Cairo conf art

The article’s most notable feature is its repeated promotion of a specific theme.

“Earlier the Palestinian and Egyptian presidents called on Israel to commit to a long-term peace initiative.

Mahmoud Abbas and Abdul Fattah al-Sisi urged Israel to give up land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and accept a fair solution for Palestinian refugees in exchange for full recognition.” […]

“He [John Kerrry] added that anything other than a long-term commitment to peace would be a “band-aid fix”.

At the opening of the conference, President Sisi urged “the Israelis, both the people and the government” to put an end to the conflict.

“We should turn this moment into a real starting point to achieve a peace that secures stability and flourishing and renders the dream of coexistence a reality,” he said.” […]

“Announcing the UK’s $32m donation in Cairo, International Development Minister Desmond Swayne said the international community could not continue to pick up the pieces of the conflict indefinitely.

“It is critical that reconstruction efforts now form part of a process of meaningful political change,” he said.”

However, despite the repeated amplification of that theme, at no point in the article does the BBC bother to inform readers that the terrorist organization which still controls the Gaza Strip, which is party to the current PA unity government and to which the incumbent President of the PA has already stated that he will cede control in the event of its victory in the supposedly upcoming elections, not only opposes holding negotiations in order to reach a peace agreement with Israel, but rejects the very existence of the Jewish state.

Likewise, the related and highly relevant topic of the failure of the Palestinian unity government to disarm Hamas in accordance with existing agreements with Israel  – by which it declared it would stand (and yet failed to do so) when that government was inaugurated in June – is not introduced into this article.

Instead, BBC audiences are fed the following trite version of events:

“The Gaza Strip, sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, has been a recurring flashpoint in the Israel-Palestinian conflict for years.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled its troops and settlers out in 2005.

Israel considered this the end of the occupation, though the UN continues to regard Gaza as part of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel exercises control over most of Gaza’s borders, waters and airspace, while Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border.”

As we see, the elephant-in-the-room issue of Palestinian terrorism is completely ignored in this account, with the BBC clearly trying to promote the politically motivated myth of an ‘occupation’ of the Gaza Strip which has not existed for nine years. As has been the case on numerous previous occasions, the BBC misleadingly proposes that Israeli control over “Gaza’s borders, waters and airspace” is evidence of continuing ‘occupation’ but deliberately refrains from informing audiences that the representatives of the Palestinian people were party to the creation of that arrangement when they signed the Oslo Accords and further confirmed it when they signed the later Agreement on Movement and Access in November 2005 following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

An additional notable factor in this report is its continued promotion of casualty figures which have still not been independently verified by the BBC and with no transparency regarding the partisan nature and political background of their sources.

“The seven-week Gaza conflict, which ended in a truce on 26 August, killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, the UN says, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.”

Cairo conf art graphic

As has been the case in all BBC reports to date, no effort is made to inform audiences of the existence of other estimates of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio in the Gaza Strip. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, which has so far carried out detailed examination of 42% of the casualties named by Palestinian sources has so far identified 49.8% of those names as terrorists and 50.2% as civilians. Yet again, no attempt is made by the BBC to inform audiences of how the civilian/combatant casualty ratio in Gaza compares to that of other conflicts.

This report – ostensibly a news item – once again demonstrates that the BBC’s practical interpretation of its obligation to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” is shaped by the political messaging it aspires to promote rather than by any genuine commitment to accurate and impartial reporting of events and the provision of all relevant information which would allow audiences to fully and comprehensively understand the issues at stake. 

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

On September 1st the BBC News website published a feature titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” which has since become a frequent appendage to numerous other articles published on the website’s Middle East page. As we know, the BBC has stated that its online content is intended to act as “historical records” and hence the accuracy and impartiality of that content is of prime importance.Toll of Operations art

This particular feature opens with the following words:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

The UN says the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilian. But figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price.”

Once again we see the BBC quoting “the UN” as though that body were impeccably objective, but with no effort made to inform audiences with regard to the very significant issue of the background to those UN statements and the political motivations involved.

The feature then goes on to address the topic of casualties in three conflicts in reverse chronological order. First comes a section titled “2014: Operation Protective Edge” in which readers are told that:

“The overwhelming majority of those killed were Palestinians.

The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences, for example, of the ongoing analysis being carried out by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which, after examination of some 35% of the named casualties, so far indicates that the ratio of combatants to civilians stands at 49% to 51% respectively.

The section goes on to present graphics including one complied on the basis of information provided, inter alia, by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and “Al Akhbar” – an anti-Israel Lebanese online media organization considered by some to be pro-Hizballah. It further includes ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s head of statistics who – as readers may recall – was forced to radically amend a previous article on the topic of casualties in the Gaza Strip due to outside pressure from politically motivated organisations.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The section goes on to state that “[s]atellite images released by the United Nations show how a section of Shijaia [sic] neighbourhood in Gaza City has been razed by attacks since 8 July” but no attempt is made to provide BBC audiences with the all-important context behind those images by informing them of the military installations deliberately placed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in that neighbourhood.

The feature then moves on to a section titled “2012: Operation Pillar of Defense” in which readers are informed that:

“Israel’s previous major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

Prior to the operation, there had been spates of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

In other words, the BBC continues its now well-entrenched practice of downplaying the months of terror attacks which preceded – and caused – Operation Pillar of Defense. Casualty figures promoted in that section come from one source alone:

“An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.”

Detailed examination of the names of casualties by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre put the ratio of combatants to civilians at 60:40 compared to B’Tselem’s 52% civilian casualty rate.

The feature’s third and final section is titled “2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead” and it opens with the (apparently copy pasted) claim that:

The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. Around 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including an estimated 759 civilians, according to B’Tselem. Reports say this included 344 children and 110 women.” [emphasis added]

The section goes on to promote two more politically motivated NGOs and to advance the myth of the use of white phosphorous as a weapon during Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel’s military had put the overall Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom it said 295 were “uninvolved” civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 Palestinians died, 926 of whom were civilians.

An Amnesty International report into the operation said lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care.” It also condemned the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.”

No mention is made of the fact that Hamas’ Fathi Hamad admitted in a 2010 interview that around half the casualties in that operation were terrorists, thus negating the inaccurate claims made by the PCHR still being promoted by the BBC.

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.

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

Now let us remind ourselves of the BBC’s opening statement in this feature:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.”

That statement would lead any reasonable reader to believe that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge was somehow exceptional enough to prompt “international concern and condemnation”. The BBC’s editorial decision to omit from this feature any comparison to other conflicts means that audiences are unable to put that statement into its correct perspective and are hence likely to be misled.

Of course that editorial decision will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who closely followed BBC coverage of Operation Protective Edge throughout its duration because one dominant theme discernible throughout that coverage was the inaccurate portrayal of the conflict as an Israeli attack upon the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The feature tells readers that:  

“…figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price”

Indeed the price paid by Gaza’s civilian population for the actions of terrorist organisations embedded in their midst is a “heavy” and regrettable one. However – in contrast to the impression this anonymously written feature deliberately attempts to create – it is nevertheless no heavier than that paid by civilian populations in conflict zones elsewhere in the world. The BBC’s decision not to inform its audiences of that fact can only be attributed to political motivations being allowed to trump editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

BBC News website continues to promote inaccurate feature on casualties

The BBC News website’s presentation of its recent report on Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UNGA (discussed here) included several ‘related articles’ offered to readers both on the Middle East homepage and in the article itself as complimentary information on the topic. Among those articles was one originally published on August 8th under the title “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives“.

Abbas UNGA linked art 2

Not only is that feature long out of date but – as we pointed out here when it originally appeared – it is also inaccurate on the topic of Israeli casualties with both its text and a graphic claiming to inform readers “where people were killed” presenting incorrect information.

“The article also includes some glaring inaccuracies with regard to Israeli casualties.

“Meanwhile, two Israeli civilians died in Haifa and near the Erez border crossing into northern Gaza; and a Thai farm worker was killed in Ashkelon.”

In fact, the locations of casualties in Israel from missile fire by terrorists in the Gaza Strip are as follows:

Jul 15, 2014 – Dror Hanin, 37, of Beit Aryeh was killed near the Erez Crossing after suffering a direct hit from a mortar fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, while delivering food to soldiers there.

Jul 19, 2014 – Ouda Lafi al-Waj, 32, was killed and three members of his family were injured, when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a small Bedouin settlement near Dimona.

Jul 23, 2014 – Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, from Nan’s Pua district in Thailand was killed by a mortar fired from Gaza while working in a greenhouse in one of the Israeli communities in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

Dimona is nowhere near Haifa and the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council (Hof Ashkelon) is not the city of Ashkelon.”

Although this feature has remained available to BBC audiences online since its original publication nearly two months ago, no effort has been made to correct its inaccuracies. The editorial process which lies behind the continued promotion of a feature which is both so obviously out of date and incorrect must surely be called into question.

BBC’s summary graphic continues to mislead on Gaza casualty ratios

It would appear that the graphic below (which appeared in a recent BBC News website article titled “Gaza conflict: Israeli PM Netanyahu says war was ‘victory’“) can be said to represent the BBC’s summing up of Operation Protective Edge.

Graphic Op PE

As we see, the BBC is still promoting statistics and civilian/combatant casualty ratios provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and UN OCHA which relies on information provided by political NGOs.

“UN estimates 70% of deaths are civilians”

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre has now published the fourth part of its analysis of casualties in the Gaza Strip (previous chapters can be found  herehere and here) and has so far examined a total of 667 names.

“Weighting the findings of the current examination and the findings of the three previous examinations (detailed in the previous documents) yields the following results:

273 of those killed were terrorist operatives(65 + 66 + 71 + 71).

316 of those killed were non-involved civilians (76 + 93 + 66 + 81).

The identity of 78 people who were killed is unknown at this stage (34 + 26 + 15 + 3). Therefore, it is not possible to determine whether they were terrorist operatives or non-involved civilians.

Of the 589 dead who could be identified on the three lists that were examined, terrorist operatives constitute approximately 46% of the names. Non-involved civilians constitute approximately 54% of the names. This ratio may vary as the ITIC continues to examine the names of those killed.”

As we also see, there is still no evidence to suggest that the BBC has independently verified the statistics it quotes and promotes and BBC audiences have still not been informed of that lack of independent verification or of the political backdrop to the figures cited.

Readers may be interested to know of the existence of a petition to try to persuade the BBC to correct its obviously problematic policy.

Notable too is the fact that at no point during its last seven weeks of coverage of the conflict has the BBC attempted to put the topic of civilian/combatant casualty ratios in Gaza into their broader context. Audiences in the UK and other Western countries have not been informed how those ratios compare to other conflicts in which their own armed forces were involved. Some interesting thoughts on that topic and many others come from former BBC journalist Richard Miron.

“Israel must be held to account not in comparison to elsewhere in the Middle East but rather to other Western armies operating under similar conditions. And yet in reading and watching the coverage out of Gaza it seems the media held Israel to an altogether different standard. Civilian casualties were often portrayed as the consequence of deliberate Israeli vengefulness and bloodletting.

I have seen for myself how Western armies operate during conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere, and tragically there is no such thing as a clean conflict. I still have the photos I took in an Afghan village of what remained after a US air strike destroyed a family compound killing about fifty civilians in pursuit of one Al Qaeda operative. While there has been some questioning by the media over the extent of civilian casualties (numbering in their tens of thousands) in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has been muted by comparison to Gaza. […]

[…] the (Western) media must also account for itself and for its own conduct including apparent omissions and failures in the reporting of the conflict. It must question where reporting may have ended and emoting began, if it held Israel to a standard apart from all others, and why it allowed Hamas a free pass in controlling the flow of information. “

Read the whole piece here.

Related Articles:

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

BBC content continues to mislead on Gaza casualties