BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ promotes equivalence between reactions to cartoons

The August 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item (from 09:34 here) that was introduced by presenter Max Pearson using dubious linkage.

“While the last acts of the Cold War were being played out towards the end of the 1980s, the unavoidable consequence in the Middle East was renewed uncertainty and tension. And you couldn’t necessarily escape just by moving away from the region. In 1987 the acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali was gunned down in London. His attackers have never been identified. Naji al Ali’s cartoons were famous across the Middle East. Through his images he criticised Israeli and US policy in the region but unlike many, he also lambasted Arab despotic regimes and the leadership of the PLO. Alex Last has been speaking to his son Khalid about his father’s life and death.”

Listeners then heard an item that had been broadcast the previous week in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ and was discussed here. At the close of that interview, Pearson continued the item (from 18:52) as follows:

Pearson: “Khalid al Ali was talking to Alex Last about his father the cartoonist Naji al Ali whose murder in London thirty years ago serves to highlight the potential dangers of simply trying to portray the world how one sees it. Those dangers were more recently illustrated by attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the threats to Danish interests after the Jyllands-Posten newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. I’m joined now by the cartoonist Martin Rowson whose work appears in, among other publications, the Guardian here in Britain. Ehm…Martin; is yours a dangerous profession?”

Rowson “It always has been and always will be because the whole purpose of satire is to tell truth to power while laughing at power at the same time. And actually the laughter is always more dangerous than the truth because they cannot stand the idea that we’re laughing at them in their grandeur and the rest of it.”

Rowson later went on to say:

Rowson: “I receive death threats on a regular basis but I always work on the basis they don’t count if they come by email. It’s just somebody who has been so utterly disgusted and shocked – on somebody else’s behalf invariably – so deeply offended that they want to do something far more offensive than laughing at somebody in power and kill me. And it’s bizarre that people get so incensed by this stuff.”

Pearson: “Well you use the phrase ‘speak truth to power’ but truth is very subjective. Is speaking truth to power what the cartoonist generally does or is it that he or she is simply being rude about people or ideas with which he or she does not agree?”

Rowson: “I think that’s part of it but mostly it’s the idea of mocking the powerful. That’s where the danger comes in because the powerful and their supporters cannot endure the idea of mockery because mockery is the most powerful weapon against them. […] So any despotism – be it secular or religious – will defy people not to laugh at the absurdities inherent in them. And if you do laugh at them, it’s unendurable but also powerful.”

Pearson: “But how, looking back over history, have the red lines – the lines in the sand, so to speak – shifted? […] today there certainly will be people who will think very carefully about depicting images of the prophet Mohammed in a mocking way because of the potential consequences.”

Rowson: “Well that’s certainly true. And after the Charlie Hebdo killings I proposed to the Guardian that I do a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with his head in his hands, so you wouldn’t see his face, wearing a ‘not in my name’ T-shirt. And they decided that actually that was too dangerous for Guardian staff working in the Middle East. And I respect that decision. Actually it was too dangerous for me as well. I’d have had to go into hiding which is preposterous but it actually gets to the point where you’re not allowed to say anything about anything.”

Then, in the very next breath – and as though it were comparable to murders, terrorism, death threats and violence over cartoons deemed offensive by some Muslims – Rowson went straight on to the topic of entirely non-violent criticism from a particular group.

Rowson: “A few years ago I just stopped doing cartoons about Israel because I was fed up of every time I did a cartoon about Israel getting literally thousands of emails accusing me of being a worst anti-Semite than Hitler, which is just not true. But everybody will use this excuse of being offended to shut up the person they’re engaged in an argument with.”

While Martin Rowson is rightly protective of his own freedom to ‘speak truth to power’ (as long as it’s not Muslim power), he is obviously less keen on the idea of anyone else criticising the power that he holds as a widely published cartoonist influencing public opinion. In the past Rowson has accused “the Israel lobby” of using antisemitism (i.e. the Livingstone Formulation) to try to silence his “criticism of their brutally oppressive colonialism”.

Here is a cartoon Martin Rowson drew in April 2001, as the second Intifada raged:

This is a Martin Rowson cartoon from July 2006 relating to the second Lebanon war that began when Hizballah conducted a cross-border raid and fired missiles at Israeli civilian communities:

These are cartoons published by Rowson during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 after thousands of missile attacks had been launched against Israeli civilians by Hamas:

Here is Rowson’s take on the 2010 ‘Mavi Marmara’ incident.

This is a Rowson cartoon published three days after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge in response to 131 missile attacks on Israeli civilians in the preceding days.

Max Pearson, however, had nothing to tell listeners about Rowson’s trite, monochrome, one-sided Israel-related cartoons or why some people might find them objectionable. Instead – immediately after Rowson’s remarks about “getting…emails” he said:

Pearson: “So almost by definition – going back to my original point – the political cartoon is dangerous.”

Rowson: “Yeah. It’s meant to be dangerous. It’s a sort of point of licence to anarchy.”

Pearson closed by thanking the “esteemed cartoonist” and BBC World Service audiences went away with the impression that indignant e-mails carry the same weight and importance as the terrorist murders of cartoonists who drew Mohammed.

Related Articles:

More narrative-driven ‘history’ from the BBC World Service

Did CiF Watch “browbeat” Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson into submission? (UK Media Watch)

Martin Rowson: Israel lobby uses antisemitism to silence critics of Zionist brutality  (UK Media Watch)



The BBC, an Ultra-Orthodox paper and the censorship of images

The August 18th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update’ included an item about a photograph published in an American weekly newspaper which, with its circulation of some 20,000, reaches only a tiny fraction of the US population.  

In addition to being included in the broadcast, that item was promoted separately on social media under the headline “Hillary Clinton Photo Breaks Ultra-Orthodox Taboo“.World Update 18 8

“An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish New York newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, has made history by publishing a photo of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Ultra Orthodox press has a tradition of not publishing images of women. The photo of her is largely obscured. Ari Goldman, professor of journalism at Columbia University tells Dan Damon what the photo looks like.”

After having asked his interviewee Ari Goldman to explain the Ultra-Orthodox press’ approach to the publication of photographs of women, presenter Dan Damon asked:

“And do Ultra-Orthodox women accept that in this day and age?”

One cannot but note the irony of that question, coming as it does from an employee of a Western media organisation which until not too long ago instructed its staff that:

“The Prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form.”

Following public debate, that editorial guideline was revised. It now reads:

“Due care and consideration must be made regarding the use of religious symbols in images which may cause offence. Images of the Prophet Muhammad are a sensitive issue, and many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as highly offensive. We must have strong editorial justification for publishing any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. Any proposal to include a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in our content must be referred to a senior editorial figure, who should normally consult Editorial Policy.

There also should be an awareness of religious sensitivities about smoking, drinking and certain foods.”

The BBC also adopted a policy of issuing ‘health warnings’ in the rare articles which do include “sensitive” images.

health warning image

As we see, the BBC’s own approach to self-censorship of images it thinks its audiences might consider inappropriate is not so vastly different from that of Yated Ne’eman. Interestingly though, while a niche newspaper’s policy is considered newsworthy, its own is rarely brought to the attention of its audiences. 

Related Articles:

Why was a photo-shopped image ‘top story’ on the BBC News website ME page?




A pertinent question for the BBC from Douglas Murray

The British writer and commentator Douglas Murray recently asked a question on Twitter.

Douglas Murray Tweet Abu Jahjah

The article concerned – “How the world was changed by the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’” – appeared on the BBC News website on January 3rd and the relevant passage is this one:

“The day after that, another – much bigger – hashtag peaked on Twitter, “Je suis Ahmed,” which used the name of a policeman, Ahmed Merabet, who was killed in the attacks and was a practicing Muslim.

“Je Suis Charlie attributed some kind of nobility to the content of the newspaper, which I couldn’t really agree with,” says Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Belgian writer who tweeted that tag. “My problem with them is that they publish racial stereotypes of Muslims.”

“Of course it’s their right,” he adds. “But it’s the right of people to be appalled by it as well.””

As Douglas Murray rightly points out that highly sanitized description of Abou Jahjah fails to clarify to audiences that the man whose opinion is considered important enough by the BBC to be highlighted in this article joined the terrorist organization Hizballah in his youth. That, however, is by no means all that can be said about the ‘writer’ given asylum in Belgium: as the CST has documented, his writing includes promotion of conspiracy theories about Israel and Zionists.

More relevantly to the subject matter of this BBC article, Abou Jahjah also has his own history of publishing offensive cartoons.

“A Dutch appeals court has found against the Arab European League for publishing a Holocaust Denial cartoon on its website in 2006… […]

At the time that the AEL published this cartoon it was run by its founder, Dyab Abou Jahjah, who has since left to join the Iranian-run International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine (IUPFP). At the time, he defended the AEL’s use of Holocaust Denial in strident terms:

‘People in Europe are not allowed to do a free historical examination of the Second World War and the holocaust and freely express an opinion on it that is different than the dominating dogmatic line.  Any attempt to have deviant historical examination of the holocaust will earn you the title of revisionist, anti-Semite and a jail sentence.

You don’t even have to go that far, I would be curious to see the reactions of these champions of the freedom of speech  in case that same Danish paper would have published pictures of Jewish rabbi’s, or Moses for that matter, with a Jewish nose, the star of David and represented him as a greedy banker, or other form of economical parasite sucking the blood of the people referring to stereotypes on Jews. Or of King David with the same typical Jewish features and outfit conspiring together with other Jewish prophets to dominate the world inspired by the protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Yes Arabs and Muslims are uptight when you touch their religious and national symbols, but Europe had made of political correctness and the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion and is even more uptight when you touch that. Europeans might not respect their flags, and they might laugh with Jesus and Mary but if you touch their new religious symbols, they will bombard you with indignation and persecute you in the best European inquisition tradition.

I am for the absolute freedom of speech everywhere, and that’s why I call upon every free sole among Arabs to use the Danish flag as a substitute for toilet paper. To illustrate every wall with graffiti making fun of everything Europe holds as holy: dancing rabbis on the carcasses of Palestinian children, hoax gas-chambers built in Hollywood in 1946 with Steven Spielberg’s approval stamp, and Aids spreading fagots. Let us defend the absolute freedom of speech altogether, wouldn’t that be a noble cause?'”

That particular cartoon was not the only one published by Abou Jahjah to have caused outcry.

So if BBC Trending really could not find anyone other than Diab Abou Jahjah to comment on Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the hashtags which appeared after the terror attack against the magazine’s staff, in the interests of impartiality it should at least have given audiences some idea of the “particular viewpoint” underpinning those opinions.

BBC ‘analysis’ of Copenhagen terror promotes faux linkage to Israel but erases attacks on Jews

On February 18th the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Europe page included an item promoted as follows:Denmark security chief art

“Ex-security chief looks at how Denmark terror threat was handled”.

The article – titled “Viewpoint: Denmark prepared for attack but nowhere is safe” – was written by the former head of the Danish intelligence services, Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, but will obviously have been subject to BBC editorial review before publication.

Readers are informed that:

“The two attacks [in Copenhagen] replicated the terror directed at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.”

Of course the terror attacks in Paris were not only “directed at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo”, but also at shoppers and staff in a kosher supermarket. That missing information is crucial in light of the reference to “symbolic targets” which appears in the next paragraph.

“The Danish copycat gunman, named locally as Omar El-Hussein, followed the same modus operandi and aimed his desire for revenge against the exact same symbolic targets as the French gunmen.”

The writer then goes on to claim:

“The attackers all sought revenge for the insulting depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the actions of police, who represent what they see as the state oppression of Islam.”

Let’s break that sentence down in order to appreciate what BBC audiences are actually being told.

In both Paris and Copenhagen the first target to be attacked was connected to cartoonists who had drawn images which some chose to regard as insulting to their religion: the Charlie Hebdo offices and a venue hosting a discussion on free speech with Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. In other words, there at least exists some sort of connection between the claim that “[t]he attackers all sought revenge for the insulting depiction of the Prophet Muhammad” and those “symbolic targets” selected by the terrorists.

Regarding the claim that the terrorists “sought revenge for […] the actions of police”, the writer makes sure to include the qualifying phrase “who represent what they see as…” in order to indicate to readers that the grievance he attributes to the attackers is not established fact but a matter of perception.

However, no such signposting qualifier is applied to the claim that the terrorists “sought revenge for […] the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories” and, crucially, at no point in his entire article does Bonnichsen clarify to readers that half of the targets of the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen were identifiably Jewish locations – a kosher supermarket and a synagogue – with no connection whatsoever to Israel. 

The writer’s unqualified claim that the terrorists in Paris and Copenhagen attacked “symbolic targets” because of “Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories” would have been egregious enough had he actually bothered to inform readers that European Jews were targeted in those attacks. The notion that French and Danish Jews are “symbolic targets” of revenge for something entirely unconnected to them taps into the exact same theme used by Tim Willcox following the Paris attacks and promotion of that theme without adequate qualification and clarification not only erases the antisemitic motives of the terrorists themselves from audience view, but also helps propagate and mainstream the antisemitism which lies behind that faux linkage.

However, the absence of any mention of the fact that Jews were targeted in Paris and Copenhagen makes Bonnichsen’s promotion of the dumbed-down cliché “the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories” as a motive for the terror attacks even more problematic because, in addition to concealment of the antisemitic ideologies of the attackers, the uninformed reader seeking to understand Islamist terrorism in Europe is being encouraged to believe that it can be blamed on Israel. 

The BBC claims that it meets its public purpose remits by ensuring that its output is focused upon:

“Providing in-depth explanation of the most significant issues facing the UK and the world (such as the Middle East, global terrorism, climate change, public service reform, crime and immigration), all of which will help to support citizenship around a serious news agenda. The BBC will offer in-depth, multi-platform seasons as a means of engaging audiences in these big issues and helping them make sense of the world.”

If the BBC really does aspire to meet the above public purpose remit, its editors need to acknowledge that the amplification of facile sound-bites such as that promoted by Bonnichsen is no substitute for honest presentation of the ideologies which inspire Islamist terrorism. Relatedly, they also need to urgently ask themselves why ‘analysis’ of specific incidents of terrorism in two European capitals – which from the BBC’s point of view was presumably intended to augment audience understanding of the issue – erases from view the fact that the victims of half those attacks were targeted for no other reason than their being Jews.   



BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

Regular readers of these pages who happened to visit the Europe page of the BBC News website on January 23rd would not have been overly surprised to find the perpetrator of the January 9th terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, in which four people were murdered and fifteen others held hostage for hours, described as “[a]n Islamist militant”.Paris attacks art

Via an article appearing two days later in The Independent, we learn that the BBC has decided that he and the perpetrators of the attack at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo two days beforehand will not be described by the corporation as terrorists.

“The Islamists who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris should be not be described as “terrorists” by the BBC, a senior executive at the corporation has said.

Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services, said the term “terrorist” was too “loaded” to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine. […]

We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.” ” [emphasis added]

As longtime readers will know, the claim appearing in bold above is simply not true. The BBC does indeed use the word terror and its derivatives in certain cases – particularly in reports on Northern Ireland. The term has also been used to describe incidents in Great Britain, Norway and Spain, among others. A report appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘London’ page just one day before the Independent article was published informed audiences – albeit in confusing grammatical style – that:

Al Muhajiroun art

In the ‘through the looking glass’ world of the BBC, a UK-based organization which was proscribed by the British government on the basis of its engagement in the glorification of terrorism can be described as a “Terrorist organization” (with a capital T, no less) whilst other groups appearing on the same list of proscribed organisations but operating elsewhere are regularly described in BBC content in euphemistic terms such as “the Lebanese militant movement” or “the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas“.

The Charlie Hebdo terrorists carried out an attack not only directed at the staff of that particular publication but also with the intent of sowing fear and self-censorship in the wider Western media.  They sought to terrorise journalists – and Western society in general – into complying with their particular politico-religious demands just as terrorists of all stripes do the world over. Tarik Kafala’s claim that the correct terminology for those who gunned down seventeen people in cold blood is “loaded” means that the BBC cannot tell this story accurately and impartially to its audiences.

That fact will come as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word terror and its habit of hiding behind the smokescreen of “value judgements” it claims are implicit in that word’s use and may “raise doubts about our impartiality”.

But when shooting attacks by a far-right extremist in Norway do get the BBC editorial thumbs-up for description as “terror attacks” and “terrorist activity” is used to describe the actions of members of an armed group in Northern Ireland, it is of course difficult to conceive of any reason for the refusal to accurately name terrorism elsewhere which does not stem from a “value judgement” regarding the perpetrators – or their victims – and impossible to see how the BBC can make any honest claim to cover the subject of terrorism with impartiality.

Related Articles:

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine equates Israeli defence with Paris terrorism

h/t tb

One of the items appearing in the January 19th edition of the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show (available for a limited period of time from 36:57 here) was built around discussion of the following irrelevant – and frankly crass – question put by the host in his introduction.Jeremy Vine

“Now, is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK?”

After having presented the reactions of some British politicians to issues arising from the recent terror attacks in Paris, Jeremy Vine goes on to yet again advance the ridiculous notion that British Jews and British Muslims are engaged in some sort of competition for the title of ‘most suffering’.

Vine [38:43]: “So is it more difficult being a Jew or a Muslim in the UK right now? Let’s speak to Angela Epstein – Jewish writer, speaks to us from Salford – and David Cesarani is with me; the professor of history at Royal Holloway University of London; a particular expert on Jewish history as well. Angela, do you feel under pressure as a British Jew?”

Angela Epstein’s answer to that question includes the following statement:

“We are targets of Muslim terror because we are Jews and the same does not happen the other way round even in the face of heinous provocation…”

Vine quickly jumps in:

“You say it doesn’t happen the other way round – there will be people who say wait; when you look at the State of Israel and what it does in the occupied territories, that’s the…that’s the other side of the argument.”

In other words, Jeremy Vine apparently believes it justifiable to promote equation of actions taken by Israel to defend its civilians with those of terrorist organisations and at the same time implies that the motivation for any Israeli actions in “the occupied territories” is the religion of the people living there. He also apparently believes that it is legitimate to amplify the antisemitic canard that British Jews bear responsibility for the actions of the Israeli government. Although Angela Epstein protests Vine’s redundant analogy, he persists, asking David Cesarani:

“…does this stem from Israel’s actions and the way they’re perceived or is there something deeper afoot or is it actually not a problem, David?”

Cesarani does not provide a coherent response to that question.

 At 42:09 Vine downplays the nature of the terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris.

“And Angela, even if you look at the Paris attacks, what they went for first were the cartoonists. They were not going for French Jews. The kosher supermarket was secondary.”

Angela Epstein tries to correct Vine on that topic too, citing the murder of Ilan Halimi and the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. From 46:05 listeners hear David Cesarani making the dubious suggestion that British Jews who emigrate to Israel might be seen as ‘running away’ and ‘disloyal’.

“This is not the time to suggest the Jews are going to run away. The Jews are afraid, the Jews need special protection. We’re citizens of this country. It is our country and I’m going to stand shoulder to shoulder with people to defend that. And I’m not going to give the impression to anyone that Jews are not loyal to this country; that they really have their loyalty in Israel and at the least sign of trouble they’re all going to rush off to Netanya or Tel Aviv.”

One has to wonder whether Cesarani would suggest that Britons – Jewish or otherwise – emigrating to any other countries in the world might be perceived in a similar light.

After a break, Jeremy Vine purports to discuss the other side of his chosen subject matter (from 51:00) with two Muslim interviewees.

“So we were discussing whether British Jews are under threat; now we’re talking about British Muslims and whether things are better or worse for Muslims and Jews in this country in the wake of what’s happened in the last few weeks.”

If one wished to inform listeners on topics relating to terrorism and antisemitism, it would of course be beneficial to bring into the conversation an interviewee who has not shown public support for Islamist terrorism and for a notorious Holocaust denier and who represents a lobbying organisation previously banned from university campuses by the NUS because of antisemitism. Nevertheless, Radio 2 selected Asghar Bukhari from MPAC UK as one of its contributors to this discussion. Here is what the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism had to say about MPAC UK in 2006:

“The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”. Originally set up as a web-based media monitoring group, MPACUK’s declared first mission was to fight the perceived anti-Muslim bias in the media and to redress the balance. However, MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the NUS’s ‘No Platform’ policy. MPACUK are known to have removed an offensive posting from their website on one occasion, after complaints were made, but thereafter continued to publish similar material.”

Listeners already aware of the background to Bukhari and his organization would not have been surprised to hear him talking about Jihadist terrorism in the following terms:

“And I take exception….that this extremism is due to some sort of antisemitism – it’s not. Terrorism – every single act of terrorism against Western targets – has been due to the foreign policy of our government according to research and according to most of the experts out there. And the government is trying to blame the Muslim community and say oh it’s your problem. No: it’s your problem – the government has caused this problem. We cannot solve it unless you change your foreign policy.”

The trouble is, of course, that most listeners will not know who Bukhari and MPAC UK are or what sort of ideologies they stand for and Jeremy Vine made no attempt whatsoever to inform them on that issue when introducing him despite the existence of relevant BBC editorial guidelines. Notably too, the entire item avoids any real attempt to discuss the topic of Jihadist terrorism and its underlying ideologies.

At the end of the segment, Vine reads out a couple of e-mails from listeners and one of those picked out for promotion to listeners includes the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope.

“Aziz Najmuddin [phonetic] is in Southampton. He’s listening; he says I’m a Muslim man. I don’t feel threatened at all. British society is a fair society. But what I find disgraceful is that there’s no perceived threat to the Jews but there’s been so much police allocation to it. It is David Cameron playing up to the Jewish lobby in America.”

If the BBC aspires to provide its audiences with factual information and meaningful discussion on the topic of Jihadist terrorism of the type seen recently in Paris and the concerns of European Jews relating to that issue and rising antisemitism in general, one obviously basic requirement is to avoid contributors with a record of antisemitism.

No less crucial is that the corporation’s own presenters should understand the significance – and illegitimacy – of amplification (even with the ‘some might say’ caveat) of the antisemitic premise that terror attacks against Jews in Europe can be ‘explained’  by their being collectively responsible for the actions – real or imagined – of Israel. Obviously too, BBC content should be free from the promotion other antisemitic tropes such as the ‘Jewish lobby’ and ‘dual loyalties’. Unfortunately, what should go without saying is clearly not sufficiently understood by some BBC employees.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Willcox in Paris: a new low

BBC response to Willcox complaints: he sent a Tweet

BBC News coverage of worldwide anti-Charlie Hebdo protests omits Jerusalem

The BBC News website’s coverage of demonstrations against the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo which took place in various locations around the world on Friday, January 16th has included a filmed report about clashes in Karachi (“Clashes at Pakistan Charlie Hebdo protest“) and a written report on the same topic, a filmed report about protests in Amman (“Protests in Jordan against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon“) and a written report about clashes in Zinder (“Charlie Hebdo: ‘Four dead’ in Niger protest“).BBC News logo 2

In that latter report BBC audiences were informed that:

“Protests against the magazine were also seen on Friday in Pakistan, where protests turned violent in Karachi, the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and the Algerian capital, Algiers.”

That same information was repeated in an additional report on more rioting in Niger published the next day (January 17th) along with the following information:

“People in Somalia took to the streets on Saturday.”

Apparently though, there were no BBC journalists available to cover the demonstration held on January 16th at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – a twenty-minute drive from the corporation’s offices in the city.

“Hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally on Friday afternoon on the Temple Mount against the new cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which featured a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad.

In a video uploaded by the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency, protestors can be seen burning a French flag , and shouting: “Burn it burn it! ….. in the cause of God. Allah the greatest. Prophet Muhammad is our leader forever”.”

Considering that the BBC has devoted considerable column space and air-time to the subject of Temple Mount in recent weeks, it is notable that this use of the site as a venue for protest by extremists was not reported. 

Themes in BBC reporting on the Paris terror attacks

As we noted here the other day, BBC reporting on the Paris terror attacks has been notable for its tendency to avoid of any meaningful discussion of the actual issue of Islamist extremism and instead, audience attentions have been deflected towards a variety of other themes.

Some BBC content amplified the erroneous notion that Charlie Hebdo is a racist magazine. For example, this clip – broadcast on Radio 5 live’s Breakfast programme on January 11th – was also promoted separately on social media.

Themes CH 1

In the January 9th edition of the BBC World Service’s ‘The World This Week’ (available as a podcast here) presenter Emily Buchanan was joined by French journalists Agnes Poirier and Nabila Ramdani. Buchanan’s introduction to the item indicates that she was well aware of the fact that just hours before her broadcast, four people had been killed in a terror attack on a Jewish target.

“The funeral bells of Notre Dame Cathedral tolled in the rain for the twelve people shot dead in and near the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; gunned down on Wednesday by men shouting Islamist slogans. The attack was, they shouted, revenge for the magazine’s insults to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The killings sent shock waves around France and beyond. [….] France went on maximum alert. The security forces identified the suspects as two brothers of Algerian descent who had a long history of links to extremist groups. After a two-day man hunt police eventually ran them to ground at a print works outside Paris. The brothers died in a hail of bullets. A hostage they’d taken survived. Meanwhile, in an apparently linked attack, another gunman who had already killed a policewoman took more hostages inside a kosher supermarket. In a dramatic simultaneous assault, he too died but so did at least four of his hostages, though a number survived.”

Nevertheless, Buchanan’s first question/statement to Ramdani was:

“And Nabila Ramdani; the impact on the Muslim community must be profound.”

There was no discussion in the programme of the impact on the Jewish community which had lost four of its members just hours earlier. Buchanan went on to provide Ramdani with an opening for promotion of the notion of Charlie Hebdo as a ‘racist’ publication.

Buchanan: “But Nabila, I mean, amongst many in the Muslim community those cartoons were seen as very offensive weren’t they? And I mean some people may even have said that they were racist.”

Ramdani used the cue to tell listeners that:

“It had faced criticisms in the past for dressing up racism as satire. There was a fair amount of racism lurking behind the magazine.”

In response to Agnes Poirier’s attempt to refute that labelling, Ramdani went on to make the baseless claim that:

“Islam was particularly what Charlie Hebdo had it in for…”

Obviously the focus on this misleading theme contributed nothing to informed audience understanding of the magazine itself or the real motives behind the terror attack.

Another theme heavily promoted in BBC content was that of the terror attacks being attributable to radicalization prompted by socio-economic factors and alienation. One example of that came in a programme which perhaps flies under the radar of many readers – BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Sunday Morning’. The January 11th edition of that show – presented by Ricky Ross – included discussion of the Paris terror attacks (from 01:01:10 here) with Nabila Ramdani once again and also with Alison Phipps – Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow and a member of the Kairos Document supporting Iona Community.Themes CH 2

That item is too long to transcribe here in full but notably its focus was on the attack against Charlie Hebdo, with no specific mention of the targeting of the Jewish supermarket two days before this broadcast and hence Nabila Ramdani was able to tell listeners that “the element of surprise came because Paris has been remarkably free of terrorist incidents over the past, you know, so many decades…”.

The context of antisemitic attacks and incitement in Paris and elsewhere in France was hence concealed from listeners. Audiences did however get a hefty dose of misguided PC messaging from Alison Phipps, who equated the Paris attacks with the 1996 Dunblane attack in Scotland and the Breivik attacks in Norway.

“I think the problem here is the problem of violence and the problem of violence produced out of despair and anger and fear. I think it’s easy to move into debates about a clash of civilisations or religions but actually to me that feels intellectually a bit lazy really….”

“We see violence occurring in the context of Europe and this being not something that’s coming particularly out of any religious motivation or civilization motivation but people who are despairing and resorting to violence and they’re committing crimes as a result.”

“I think …that when people feel threatened and they’re despairing, when people feel as though they’re assaulted and attacked, they tend to resort to more violent means…”

Another theme promoted in this programme and in other BBC content was spurious linkage between the Paris attacks and events elsewhere in the world with Ricky Ross talking about “people who maybe have been angered by the events of the war in Iraq, perhaps the invasion of Afghanistan and also perhaps of drone strikes and so on….”

In an article titled “France divided despite uplifting rallies” which appeared on the BBC News website on January 11th, Hugh Schofield chose to highlight the following sentiments attributed to anonymous members of the French Muslim community, but failed to provide readers with any factual answers to the questions posed.

“Over and again they express their anger at what they see as double standards:

Why so much fuss over 17 dead when thousands have died in Gaza and Syria?

Why is it all right for Charlie Hebdo to mock Islam when the controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala is prosecuted for mocking Jews? Why is one defined as “inciting hatred” and not the other?”

In a report from January 10th titled “Young French Muslims fear attack after Paris shootings” produced for Newsbeat – which caters for younger audiences – Duncan Crawford quoted one of his interviewees as saying:

“The problem is 12 people are dead. All the media talk about it. But in Iraq, in Syria, and in Palestine, every day thousands of people are dead, and no one talks about it. That’s the real problem.”

No attempt was made to provide the BBC’s younger audiences with information which would enable them to put that statement into its correct context.

When major events such as last week’s terror attacks in Paris take place, it is obviously the task of the media to help the general public determine the facts of the event and its context as soon as possible so that they can reach informed opinions. The BBC is of course obligated to precisely such priorities by its public purposes and yet its commitment to building “a global understanding of international issues” did not prevent avoidance of any serious reporting on the real issues behind these attacks.

The concurrent smoke and mirrors promotion of themes such as ‘racist’ cartoons, poverty, despair, alienation and disaffection do not contribute to audience understanding of the underlying issues faced by European society in general – and members of the Muslim communities battling radicalisation in particular – any more than the promotion of the theme of ‘Gaza’ helps them understand why a Jewish supermarket was the target of one of these terror attacks. 



Why was a photo-shopped image ‘top story’ on the BBC News website ME page?

It is, to put it mildly, extremely rare for the BBC News website to cross-post reports from ‘Newsbeat’ – the division of BBC News catering for audiences between the ages of 15 and 24 – on its Middle East page.

Newsbeat HaMevaser story

click to enlarge

It is no less unusual for the BBC to cover the topic of the eccentricities of the niche Haredi press in Israel which, odd and objectionable as they may be even to the vast majority of Israelis, can hardly be said to constitute a major news story – especially as that sector makes no claim to provide objective journalism.

Nevertheless, on January 13th a second-hand Newsbeat report titled “Jewish newspaper removes women from photo of leaders” was billed as a ‘top story’ on the website’s Middle East page and at the time of writing has remained there for four consecutive days.

To be honest, there is not really much of a story at all in that ‘top story’, other than the fact that a small Haredi newspaper called HaMevaser clumsily photo-shopped Angela Merkel and other female dignitaries out of a photograph taken at the rally in Paris on January 11th.

So what was the editorial reasoning behind the promotion of this article on the BBC News website’s main Middle East page as a ‘top story’? It couldn’t possibly have been ‘we’ve run a lot of reports in the past few days about Muslims demanding censorship of images’ – could it?

One cannot but note the irony of a BBC report highlighting the censorship of a photograph by a fringe Israeli publication in a week in which much of the enlightened Western media has been censoring images and the BBC News website’s own reporting on the post-attack edition of Charlie Hebdo included warnings such as those below. 

CH warning 1

CH warning 2



Trial by BBC World Service interviewee

On January 13th the BBC World Service Twitter account promoted an interview broadcast on its radio station with Abdelkrim Branine of the French radio station Beur FM.WS war criminal

During the interview (available here) the BBC presenter asked Branine about the participation of France’s Muslim community in the January 11th march.

“How would you describe your listeners’ emotions? Are they being forced to agree with French republican values? Do they feel that that’s something they can easily do? Can you describe that for us?”

Among the various reservations about participation in the march cited by Branine in response to that question was the following:

“After that there is a problem with some guest at this march like the prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu who is considering by a group of the population – and the Muslim too – like a criminal war.”

In the version of this interview promoted by the BBC World Service on Twitter there is no sign of the programme’s presenters having made any effort to clarify to listeners that there is no factual basis for Branine’s branding of the Israeli prime minister as a war criminal.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on live content include the following:

“If we broadcast anything that harms the reputation of an individual, a group, or an organisation we may be sued for defamation. The risk exists whether the defamatory statements are scripted or spoken off the cuff. Subject to the defence of innocent dissemination (the “live defence”), the BBC can be liable, as broadcaster, regardless of who makes the defamatory comments. Any potential defamation problem should be dealt with immediately by referring the matter to Programme Legal Advice. It may be appropriate for the presenter to attempt to defuse the situation and distance the programme from the defamatory remarks. Depending on the circumstances, an apology or correction may also be appropriate but when dealing with a potentially defamatory situation advice from PLA must be sought before any action is taken. An inappropriate apology or correction could exacerbate the defamation or create a new one.” [emphasis added]

Additional editorial guidelines expand on the issue.

And yet, not only was no effort made to distance the BBC from that defamatory statement during the broadcast itself, but the segment was subsequently further promoted on social media to additional audiences.