BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

As documented here last week, an article titled “Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day” which appeared on CBBC’s ‘Newsround’ website on November 30th misled the BBC’s younger audiences on Middle East geography.

“We don’t actually know a lot about St Andrew.

It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that’s now called Palestine, in the Middle East. […]

Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter, was also one of the disciples. They both lived in Galilee, where they were fishermen.”[emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that error on December 2nd and on December 10th received a reply stating that it “may take a little longer” to address the issue.

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning the same error on December 3rd and on December 8th received a reply which reads as follows:

“Thanks for contacting us regarding the following Newsround article ‘Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day’:

We note your comments and have reviewed the article, and please know that the sentence in question now reads:

“It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that is now part of Israel.””

The article has indeed been amended but no footnote has been added to advise those who read it during the first week after its publication that it included inaccurate information.



Related Articles:

BBC misleads young audiences on Middle East geography

BBC misleads young audiences on Middle East geography

h/t RC

Newsround – described as the BBC’s “news magazine keeping young viewers up to date with the latest stories and events happening at home and abroad” – produced an article titled “Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day” on November 30th.

In a section sub-headed “Who was Saint Andrew?” the corporation’s younger audience was told that:

“We don’t actually know a lot about St Andrew.

It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that’s now called Palestine, in the Middle East. […]

Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter, was also one of the disciples. They both lived in Galilee, where they were fishermen.”[emphasis added]

According to Christian tradition – including the Vatican – St Andrew was indeed born in the Galilee district, possibly in Bethsaida, and fished in the Sea of Galilee.

As the BBC surely knows, that area is of course not “now called Palestine” at all – it is in Israel.

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell politicises St George’s Day with promotion of PA propaganda


BBC still touting problematic backgrounder for children

The BBC News website’s recent article promoting Hamas claims concerning a man murdered last week in Tunisia (previously discussed here) included three links to ‘related articles’ presumably intended to enhance audience understanding of the story.


The second of those links – billed “A simple guide to the Gaza conflict” – leads to a backgrounder produced by the CBBC website’s ‘Newsround’ section for children between the ages of six and twelve. newsround-gaza 

Titled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“, that rather curious choice of ‘related article’ was originally published in November 2012 and was the subject of a complaint and a ruling by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit  in June 2013.

Despite having been amended numerous times, the backgrounder still includes misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information – as was documented here in 2014. At the time we noted that:

“Incidents such as the recent bout of conflict often prompt increased pondering of the topic of why so many educated people in Western countries exhibit a disturbing lack of factual knowledge with regard to Israel. With CBBC apparently reaching 34% of six to twelve year-olds weekly in the UK and its website having a million unique browsers a month, items such as this inaccurate and misleading ‘Newsround’ guide are clearly aiding to perpetuate that situation whilst failing young audience members and their licence fee-paying parents by neglecting  the BBC’s obligation to promote “understanding of international issues”. 

However, as we see, this problematic “guide” continues to be promoted to BBC audiences around the world.


The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part two

In addition to the written article about the newly released UN HRC report which appeared on the BBC News website on June 22nd, the corporation produced two filmed reports for BBC television news programmes, both of which also appeared on the website.

The first report – dated June 22nd and titled “Gaza conflict: ‘War crimes by both sides’ says United Nations” – is by Lyse Doucet and – like the UN commission which revealingly titled its report as being about the “Gaza conflict” of 2014 – Doucet’s opening lines negate the fact that hostilities took place in Israel too.

“The war last summer was the third in Gaza in six years. This one was the most protracted, most punishing, between Israeli forces who attacked Gaza and Palestinian armed groups who fired rockets and dug tunnels into Israel.”

The fact that Hamas initiated the hostilities and that the fighting was protracted because time and time again Hamas refused the ceasefires offered on numerous occasions is obviously not deemed need to know information for BBC viewers. Doucet continues:

“Now an independent inquiry says both sides may have committed war crimes.”

As was the case in the BBC’s written report, Doucet makes no effort whatsoever to inform audiences of the inquiry’s ignominious beginnings or of the ensuing report’s many problematic aspects – not least its reliance on ‘evidence’ from anti-Israel activists and political NGOs engaged in lawfare against Israel. And so, with no critical analysis of the report’s value and validity offered to audiences, Doucet goes on to promote some cherry-picked quotes against a background graphic again featuring a literally one-sided picture.UN report Doucet filmed 22 6 main

“The purpose of this UN report was to gather testimony. It’s damning on both sides. On Israeli forces it says ‘impunity prevails across the board’. It also calls on Israel to break with its ‘lamentable track record of holding wrongdoers accountable’. And the attacks carried out by Palestinian militants were in its words ‘inherently indiscriminate’ and Palestinian authorities have also consistently failed to bring to justice those who violate international law.”

Doucet makes no effort to clarify to audiences that one of the report’s many shortcomings is its failure to acknowledge the fact that “Palestinian authorities” in the Gaza Strip are the exact same people carrying out the war crimes, targeting Israeli civilians and performing extra-judicial killings of political opponents.

After a clip showing the reaction of the Israeli prime minister, Doucet’s report shows Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad saying:

“I don’t know from where that they believe that Hamas focus on the civilians; that they target civilians. And I think they should blame Israel that they did not give them permission to enter Gaza and to make investigation in Gaza and to listen to people.”

Doucet makes no effort to inform viewers that Egypt too refused the commissioners entry to the Gaza Strip via its territory.

The impression audiences are intended to take away from this report is amply clear in Doucet’s closing remarks which dedicate ten words to a very sterile presentation of the Israeli side of the story and almost four times as many words to description of the Gazan side.

“Last summer Israelis lived with indiscriminate and constant rocket fire. And in Gaza we saw the huge price paid by civilians in the densely populated and impoverished territory. The report speaks of unprecedented devastation. Nearly one year on many Gazans still live in the rubble of their homes.”

Likewise, the links offered to visitors viewing this report on the BBC News website display a similar lack of impartiality.

UN report Doucet filmed 22 6 read more b

Audiences are offered the BBC’s uncritical and unchallenging written report on the same story, a BBC News report from May 2015 which amplified anonymous claims promoted by the inadequately presented political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ (a major contributor to the UN’s report), and another BBC News report from May 2015 which amplified a report by Amnesty International (also a significant contributor to the UN report) whilst ‘contextualising’ Hamas torture and execution. Most notably, audiences are also provided with a link to a seriously flawed ‘guide’ produced by CBBC (the BBC’s children’s department) which has still not been corrected since its publication last August.

The following day – June 23rd – viewers of BBC television news programmes saw another filmed report – this time by Yolande Knell and titled “Gaza conflict: War crimes on both sides, says UN” – which again included no critical analysis of the UN report whatsoever.UN report Knell filmed

Viewers found Knell using the standard ‘Israel says’ formula in her opening sentences – employed regularly by the BBC to communicate to audiences that it does not endorse the statements which follow.

“Over fifty days last summer the Gaza Strip was pummeled by Israeli airstrikes and shelling. Israel says it was targeting tunnels used by Palestinian militants and trying to stop them firing volleys of missiles at its towns and cities. Now a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council says it’s possible both sides committed war crimes. But Israel rejects the findings as biased. It says its actions in Gaza were meant to protect its civilians and its own inquiries found it acted lawfully.”

Like Doucet before her, Knell has nothing to tell viewers about why, when or how the report was commissioned or of the political agendas of some of the sources of the testimonies and information appearing in the report. Knell goes on to amplify the view of the terrorist organization which initiated the conflict:

“Today in Gaza the Hamas authorities said the report created a false equality between victims and their killers.

She goes on, failing to inform audiences of the political back story to the UN’s casualty figures which the BBC has been religiously quoting and promoting for almost a year.

“The war left widespread destruction across Gaza and some 2,200 Palestinians were killed. The UN says most were civilians but Israel disputes that. On the Israeli side 73 were killed – mostly soldiers.”

Knell then tells viewers that:

“The UN investigators weren’t able to come here to Gaza to see scenes like this for themselves and to meet the residents because Israel refused to cooperate with them.”

As was the case in the previous day’s written article and in Doucet’s filmed report, she fails to mention that Egypt also did not grant the commission entry – even though that fact is noted in the UN report.

“The commission repeatedly requested Israel to cooperate, including by granting it access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Regrettably, Israel did not respond to these requests. Subsequently, the commission learned from a press release that no such cooperation would be forthcoming. The Government of Egypt, when requested to facilitate entry into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, responded that it was not possible owing to the prevailing security situation.” (emphasis added.)

Knell then goes on to make the following opaque assertion:

“At the same time there’s been a lot of criticism over how Israel carried out its own inquiries into attacks that killed Palestinian civilians.”

How much is “a lot of criticism” and by whom it was levelled is not made clear to viewers. She continues:

“This was one of the most controversial incidents of the war. Four cousins aged 9 to 11 were killed by Israeli missiles while playing on the beach. The UN commissioners criticized the Israeli army’s inquiry which cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing.”

Indeed they did, but Knell does not attempt to make any critical examination of whether or not that criticism was relevant or justified – hardly surprising perhaps when one considers that the BBC only recently elected to pass up the opportunity to correct the misleading impressions it too propagated regarding that same incident.

Knell closes by narrowing down audience attention to possible war crimes in one location alone:

“It’s calm now on the Gaza beachfront – almost a year on from the fierce fighting. But with further investigations underway, the bitter debate about whether war crimes were committed here is set to continue.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s three reports on this topic have all been superficial, uncritical and unchallenging. Audiences have had no choice but to take the slivers of the report’s content selected by BBC journalists for amplification at face value and no attempt has been made to objectively inform them of the political background to the commission and its report. Likewise, no effort has been made to put the process and content of this report into its wider context of the effect it may have upon all Western armies fighting terrorists anywhere in the world. 



CBBC’s ‘Newsround’ once again misleads 6 to 12 year-olds about Israel

On August 27th the CBBC website’s ‘Newsround’ section (which is aimed at children between the ages of six and twelve) updated a page titled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“.CBBC

The page itself is not new; it was originally created in November 2012 and was the subject of a complaint and a ruling by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit  in June 2013. Nevertheless, the item still includes many problematic statements – not least in its title.

Neither the most recent conflict of July/August 2014 nor the one before it in November 2012 was rooted in a dispute “over Gaza”. The idiom ‘to fight over’ means “to fight a battle that decides who gets […] something”. Israel does not – as that title incorrectly suggests – want Gaza. Both those conflicts, like the one before them, began because of escalated attacks on Israel’s civilian population.  Neither was either conflict fought against “the Palestinians” but against Hamas and other terrorist organisations based in and acting from the Gaza Strip which perpetrate the attacks on Israeli communities. That same inaccuracy is repeated in the guide’s opening sentence.

“Israelis and Arabs have been fighting over Gaza on and off, for decades. It’s part of the wider Arab Israeli conflict.”

The item continues with an inaccurate description of events leading to the establishment of the State of Israel, erasing from view the Mandate for Palestine which preceded by 25 years the point in time bizarrely chosen by the BBC as the commencement of the story.

“After World War II and the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, more Jewish people wanted their own country.

They were given a large part of Palestine, which they considered their traditional home but the Arabs who already lived there and in neighbouring countries felt that was unfair and didn’t accept the new country.”

An inaccurate and highly sanitized representation of the fact that the nascent Israeli state was attacked by five Arab countries along with assorted irregulars and volunteers hours after it had declared independence conceals from readers which parties initiated the war and the fact that hostilities had actually begun six months beforehand. The fact that the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria are both areas designated as part of the Jewish homeland under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine is not made clear and neither is the very relevant issue of the lack of international recognition of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem.

“In 1948, the two sides went to war. When it ended, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and another area, the West Bank, by Jordan. They contained thousands of Palestinians who fled what was now the new Jewish home, Israel.”

Equally lacking is the guide’s description of the Six Day War and the failure to explain which parties initiated that conflict and what was their aim.

“But then, in 1967, after another war, Israel occupied these Palestinian areas and Israeli troops stayed there for years. Israelis hoped they might exchange the land they won for Arab countries recognising Israel’s right to exist and an end to the fighting.”

The wording of the next paragraph leads children to mistakenly believe that Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip came about through elections rather than a violent coup in which it ousted the Palestinian Authority and euphemises Hamas’ aim of bringing about the end of the Jewish state.

“Israel finally left Gaza in 2005 but soon after, a group called Hamas won elections and took control there. Much of the world calls Hamas a terrorist organisation. It refuses to recognise Israel as a country and wants Palestinians to be able to return to their old home – and will use violence to achieve its aims.”

Neither are readers informed of the fact that it was Hamas’ decision to escalate terrorism against Israeli civilians which made the implementation of border restrictions necessary.  

“Since then, Israel has held Gaza under a blockade, which means it controls its borders and limits who can get in and out.”

Children are also mistakenly led to believe that power cuts in the Gaza Strip are connected to border restrictions whilst in fact the real reason is the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, they are inaccurately informed that exports abroad are restricted and that “not many goods get into or out of Gaza” when in fact the only limits are on weapons and dual-purpose items which can be misappropriated for terrorism.

“Israel controls its coastline and all the entry and exit crossings into Israel. There is another crossing point into Egypt. There is no working airport. Because access is so restricted, not many goods get into or out of Gaza. Food is allowed in, but aid agencies say families are not eating as much meat or fresh vegetables and fruit as they used to. There are often power cuts.

Large numbers of people are unemployed because businesses can get very few of their products out of Gaza to sell, and people don’t have much money to buy things.”

The item fails to clarify to readers the differences between Palestinian refugees and those from any other country or that their exceptional hereditary refugee status is in fact the result of the decision by the Arab league countries to refuse to grant them equal status in the countries in which most of them were born. Jewish refugees from Arab lands do not appear in the picture presented by CBBC. 

“During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their homes and moved to neighbouring countries to become refugees.

More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees and their descendants, many living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They get help from the United Nations.”

Children are then informed that Israelis living under missile attack for almost a decade and a half have got used to it.

“Though the Palestinians don’t have an army, rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis living in border towns are used to having to take shelter and adapting their lives to deal with the rockets.”

The item continues with misrepresentation of casualty figures from three rounds of conflict.

“In the years since Israel withdrew its troops in 2005, Gaza has seen several Israeli offensives. Israel says these were aimed at putting a stop to rocket fire.

In 2008, Israel sent soldiers into Gaza. An estimated 1,300 people, many of them civilians, were killed in Gaza before a ceasefire was declared; 13 Israeli soldiers also died.”

Around 700 of the Gaza Strip casualties in Operation Cast Lead were terrorists and three of the 13 Israeli casualties inaccurately described by the BBC as all being soldiers were in fact civilians.

“In 2012, at least 167 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli operation. After eight days a ceasefire was declared with both sides promising to stop attacks.”

Around sixty percent of the Palestinian casualties in Operation Pillar of Defence were terrorists.

“Most recently in July 2014, authorities said over 2,200 people were killed – most of them Palestinians – and many more injured, during 50 days of violence. A ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hamas on 26 August.”

Whilst the data for casualties in Operation Protective Edge is as yet incomplete, 46% of the names examined so far have been shown to be terrorists.

The item closes with whitewashing of the PA decision to scupper the Oslo peace process, presenting the failure to reach a negotiated agreement as a matter dependent solely upon Israeli agreement.

“Other countries, particularly America, have worked hard to settle the fighting between the Arabs and Israelis but so far nothing has worked. Many people want Gaza and the West Bank to be turned into a new country – Palestine. Israel won’t agree to this unless it feels safe – and Hamas accepts its right to exist. The other sticking points are what will happen to Israelis who’ve settled in the West Bank, who will run Jerusalem and what will happen to the Palestinian refugees.”

This is unfortunately not the first time that an inaccurate presentation of Israel-related issues has been promoted by ‘Newsround’ to young children. There is of course a vast and crucial difference between “simplification appropriate for an item intended for children” (as cited in the ECU ruling on this item from June 2013) and the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information.

Incidents such as the recent bout of conflict often prompt increased pondering of the topic of why so many educated people in Western countries exhibit a disturbing lack of factual knowledge with regard to Israel. With CBBC apparently reaching 34% of six to twelve year-olds weekly in the UK and its website having a million unique browsers a month, items such as this inaccurate and misleading ‘Newsround’ guide are clearly aiding to perpetuate that situation whilst failing young audience members and their licence fee-paying parents by neglecting  the BBC’s obligation to promote “understanding of international issues”. 

Children’s BBC amplifies the language of terrorist propaganda to 6-12 year-olds

The CBBC (Children’s BBC) news programme ‘Newsround’ is aimed at six to twelve year-olds and, in addition to its television broadcasts, it also has a website.

On that website, young children can view an item from 2009 titled “Guide to Israel and the Palestinian territories” which in its ten different pages includes numerous accuracy and impartiality related issues – not least a distinctly inaccurate portrayal of the British mandate era which erases the Balfour Declaration, San Remo and the League of Nations from history as well as turning Jewish refugees from Arab lands into a group of people who simply moved house.Newsround main

“Before World War I, Palestine was a district ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans were defeated by Britain and her allies in the war.

After WWI, Britain took control of Palestine, but there was much trouble between the Arabs who lived there and Jews who wanted to live there too.

Jews have long historical and religious ties to the land dating back thousands of years. They believe it was promised to them by God.

In the early part of the 20th century thousands of Jews moved to the area before it became Israel to start new lives and set up new communities.

Many were escaping Europe and Russia as they were where they were being persecuted for being Jewish. Many more moved to Israel after the Holocaust, including from Arab countries.

After World War II, Britain decided to let the United Nations decide what to do with Palestine.”

In the section titled “What are the occupied territories?” children are fed the same one-sided political mantras used in other BBC News coverage and are informed that Jordan and Egypt merely “took control” of various regions whereas Israel “captured” them. [emphasis added]

“After the 1948 war, Jordan took control of the West Bank and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip.

The city of Jerusalem was split, with Jordan taking control of East Jerusalem while West Jerusalem was in Israel.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during another war in 1967.

Since then, Israel has set up many Jewish settlements – communities, some tiny, some as big as small towns – in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

These settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel does not agree with this.

Living under occupation

Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967.

Human rights groups have recorded widespread abuses by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians. For example, the Israeli army has put up lots of check points and roadblocks between villages and towns.

Palestinians say it makes it much harder to visit friends and family or get to work, school or hospital. Some Palestinians compare the restrictions on their lives to being in a prison.

The Israeli government says the checkpoints are to protect settlers and to prevent potential Palestinian suicide bombers from harming Israelis.Newsround 3

The Gaza Strip

Life for the many of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip is difficult.

It is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast and access to it is very limited. It is fenced in and Israel controls its coastline and all the entry and exit crossings into Israel. There is another crossing point into Egypt. There is no working airport.

Because access is so restricted, not many goods get into or out of Gaza.

Food is allowed in, but aid agencies say families are not eating as much meat or fresh vegetables and fruit as they used to. There are often power cuts.

Large numbers of people have lost their jobs because businesses can get very few of their products out of Gaza to sell, and people don’t have much money to buy things.

Israel withdrew all of its settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005.”

No connection is made between restricted access to the Gaza Strip and the terrorism which made those restrictions necessary. On the page titled “Fighting between Israelis and Palestinians” the terrorism of Fatah and other organisations comprising the PLO during the second Intifada is also erased and terrorism is attributed to ‘frustration’.

“In the 1960s, many Palestinians grew frustrated at not having their own state. They formed armed groups that attacked Israelis and Jewish people.

The leaders of some groups, like the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Fatah, have said they won’t hurt Israelis anymore.

Other groups, like Hamas, are still violent. They have fired rockets towards Israeli towns and sent Palestinian suicide bombers to kill Israelis.

Between 2000 and 2008 more than 1,000 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.”

On the page titled “Who are the Palestinian refugees?” children are presented with the following one-dimensional account:

“During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their homes and moved to neighbouring countries to become refugees.

More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees, many living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They get help from the United Nations.

What happens to these refugees is one of the big topics the two sides disagree on.”Newsround barrier

On the page headed “The barrier” a version of the standard impartiality-challenged BBC presentation of the anti-terrorist fence appears.  

“Israel is building a massive barrier in the West Bank. It is mostly a fence, but some of it is a concrete wall.

The Israeli government says the barrier helps prevent Palestinian suicide bombers travelling to Israeli cities to kill Israelis. It says it is only temporary and can be removed once a peace agreement is reached.

Palestinians say it is creating a new border and cutting into land they hope will form a future state of Palestine. They also say the barrier cuts through Palestinian villages and land, stopping farmers from getting to their land.

The United Nations and countries including America and the UK have said they don’t think the barrier is a good idea.”

But perhaps the most disturbing part of this ‘guide’ comes on the page titled “Who are the main people and groups?” where children are fed the unqualified language of terrorist propaganda and encouraged to view an internationally recognized terrorist organization as a social welfare group. [emphasis added]

Hamas argues it has the right to what it calls ‘armed resistance’.” […]

“Although Hamas often makes headlines when there is fighting, it also organises things like schools and medical help in areas where Palestinian people live.”

No attempt is made to explain to the children reading this guide what the whitewashed term “armed resistance” really means. It is not clarified that the “right” claimed by Hamas and amplified by CBBC actually translates into the firing of military-grade missiles at children of their own age on their way to school and the bombing of school buses. The young readers of this ‘guide’ are not provided with any explanation as to why the indiscriminate murder of civilians is not actually a “right” which can be legitimately claimed by any person or group. 

The majority of licence fee-paying parents probably do not categorise CBBC as one of the internet sites they need to monitor for content inappropriate for their six year-olds. But the fact that for nearly five years that trusted national treasure has been amplifying the notion that “armed resistance”  – in other words, terrorism against civilians – is a “right” on a website aimed at child audiences should clearly prompt second thoughts about that view. 


The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

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

Newsround correction

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

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

CAABU complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

keenan event

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

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

Fryer LDFOP 

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

FOOC Fryer

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