BBC Culture joins the drip feed of narrative

Readers of reports appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 8th were also offered a feature titled “Startling images of the Middle East”.

That item by Fiona Macdonald of BBC Culture in fact relates to very specific areas of “the Middle East” and showcases a book first published in 2015 by photographer Tanya Habjouqa. The ten-page feature includes images and videos of the photographer talking about her work.

“Tanya Habjouqa’s Occupied Pleasures project reveals moments of black humour in Gaza and the West Bank. She describes finding a unique entry point into a hyper-narrated place.”

“Habjouqa started on the project Occupied Pleasures in 2009. Her images reveal the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank in a nuanced way, offering glimpses of everyday resilience.”

That ‘nuance’ however does not include any background information whatsoever and so the images and narrative are presented to BBC audiences in an entirely context-free manner.

On the second page audiences find a video in which Habjouqa states:

“…Palestine was home. And I was the one sitting at checkpoints and experiencing this Kafkaesque reality…”

In the video appearing on the fifth page Habjouqa tells the story behind some of her photographs concerning a story from 2013.  

“There had been a wedding and I’d missed it. There was a woman who had come in, in a wedding dress and had the wedding party because she hadn’t been given permission to access Gaza because of the blockade. […] And then he paused and he said the most sobering sombre thing, he said ‘you know no matter what they do to us, we will always find a way to live, to love, to laugh.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Egyptian girl had been denied entry to the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian authorities or of the Palestinian terrorism that made the blockade necessary.

On page nine audiences find a video in which an image of “Furniture makers in the West Bank, with Israel’s separation barrier behind them” with no explanation of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

The narrative advanced in this feature is glaringly obvious: Habjouqa states in the last video that her work relates to people who “refuse to let suffering be the definition of their existence”.

How that suffering is related to their leaders’ choices and how those choices brought about the “checkpoints”, “blockade” and “separation barrier” of course goes completely unexplained in this latest chapter in the BBC’s drip fed narrative of Palestinian victims completely devoid of agency and responsibility.  

 

 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part two

In part one of this post we took a look at some examples of the glaring lack of impartiality found in a programme in a series called ‘Y Wal’ (The Wall) produced by the licence fee funded Welsh language channel S4C which is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

In this post we will look at the accuracy of the background information provided to viewers – information which, at least in theory, is supposed to enhance their understanding of the programme’s subject matter and enable them to reach informed opinions.

Just minutes into the programme its presenter – actress Ffion Dafis – tells viewers that:

[02:20] Dafis: “The turn of the millennium saw another dark chapter in the history of the conflict – the Second Intifada, or uprising. Hundreds of lives were lost on both sides. In 2002, after dozens of suicide bombings, Israel decided to build a wall.”

As we see Dafis makes no effort to inform S4C audiences of the fact that the Second Intifada terror war was planned in advance by the Palestinian leadership and she downplays the number of Israelis murdered in those attacks. Israel of course did not decide to “build a wall” but an anti-terrorist fence, the vast majority of which is made of wire mesh and while the decision to do so was indeed taken in April 2002, the first section of that fence was only completed 15 months later. Dafis goes on:

Dafis: “When completed the 700 kilometer-long concrete wall will encircle the West Bank. It is a monstrosity. It is also deemed illegal according to international law. In 2004 the International Court of Justice concluded that the wall breached humanitarian law. Israel was told to demolish it but construction work continues.”

The claim of a 700 km-long “concrete wall” is a blatant falsehood. Neither was the anti-terrorist fence ever intended to “encircle the West Bank”. The politicised conclusions of the International Court of Justice in 2004 were of course never more than an advisory opinion and Dafis’ claim that the structure is “illegal according to international law” is unfounded. Later on Dafis tells audiences that:

[06:07] Dafis: “In the aftermath of the Second World War the UN voted to divide Palestine between Arabs and Jews. In May 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Jewish people had returned to their holy land.”

Dafis fails to clarify that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was rendered irrelevant by its rejection by Arab states and the local Arab population, who together proceeded to launch violent attacks against the Jewish residents of what was still at the time British administered Mandate Palestine. With absolutely no mention of the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’ intended to establish a national home for the Jewish people, Dafis goes on:

[06:53] Dafis: “The Jewish nation were to claim more than half of Palestine’s land even though the Jewish population was less than half the population of Palestine. After two years of civil war Israel expanded its territory further. An armistice was agreed in 1949. A tentative border was drawn between Palestine and Israel –the so-called green line.”

Dafis’ claim that a “civil war” took place of course conceals the attacks by numerous Arab countries. Not only did the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically state that the armistice line was not a border, but it was signed by Israel and Jordan – not “Palestine” – with no claims whatsoever made on that territory at the time by the local Arab population.

With no mention of the fact that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem had been under illegal Jordanian occupation for 19 years when Jordan chose to attack Israel in June 1967, Dafis goes on:

[07:20] Dafis: “Since then, relations between the two nations have been fraught and bloody. The roots of today’s clashes lie in the 1967 six-day war when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Israel maintains its military occupation of the West Bank, an area which is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel claims the wall is essential to protect its people and says terrorist attacks have fallen by 90%. They’re reluctant to demolish the wall.”

Using a clear Christmas reference Dafis then turns her attention to Bethlehem.

[08:26] Dafis: “South of Jerusalem, in the little town of Bethlehem, the wall is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. It snakes through the town, separating people from schools, work, families and hospitals.”

As the B’tselem map below shows, the anti-terrorist fence (marked in red, with planned construction in purple) does not ‘snake through’ Bethlehem at all – that claim is a complete falsehood.

Nevertheless, Dafis later repeats that falsehood and adds a new one: the claim that Bethlehem is “surrounded” by “settlements”.

[22:06] Dafis: “Pilgrims flock to the holy city of Bethlehem from all over the world to visit the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem lies within Area A but the city still suffers the effects of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Tourist numbers are down and it has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank. Bethlehem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the wall snakes through the centre of the city.”

Viewers are again inaccurately told that the 1949 armistice line is a “border” and hear a partisan version of ‘international law’:

[09:30] Dafis: “Only a fifth of the wall follows the green line – the internationally accepted border between Israel and the West Bank. Around 80% of the wall’s route cuts into Palestinian land. In some places it encircles Jewish settlements built by Israel on Palestinian land. For generations Jewish and Arab people had lived side-by-side in these lands. Following the Six Day war of 1967 more than a million Palestinians came under Israeli control. This was the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories which continues today. For religious Jews, their victory was a miracle from God. Their dream of returning home to the holy land had been realised. They started to build settlements on the occupied land in defiance of international law. These are a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Today there are over 150 settlements in the West Bank with over half a million residents. But Gush Etzion was the first to be built after Israel occupied the land in 1967.”

Viewers are not informed that Jews had purchased lands in Gush Etzion long before the Jordanian invasion and ethnic cleansing and that the “first” community “to be built” – Kfar Etzion – was actually established in 1943, depopulated in 1948 and rebuilt in 1967.

Dafis’ portrayal of the Oslo Accords – signed by the PLO rather than “Palestine” as she claims – fails to inform viewers of the reasons for the failure to reach final status negotiations.

[19:48] Dafis: “In 1993 Israel and Palestine signed an agreement to bring the conflict to an end. But Palestine paid the price. The West Bank was split into three administrative divisions. […] Area C accounts for 60% of the West Bank. It was intended as a temporary arrangement. 25 years on it’s still in place.”

At 22:35 viewers hear of a “partition” that never took place.

Dafis: “On the outskirts of Bethlehem is the Aida refugee camp. This was created after the 1948 partition. The camp is overcrowded and living conditions are appalling.”

Viewers are of course given no explanation of the political reasons behind the existence of a ‘refugee camp’ in a place which has been under full Palestinian control for well over two decades.

At 28:31 Dafis comes up with the following claim:

Dafis: “In the West Bank, there are 500 checkpoints along the wall where Israeli soldiers guard the border. Israel maintains they’re essential to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. For Palestinians they represent yet another way in which the Israeli military control their lives.”

In addition to the fact that the route of the anti-terrorist fence is not a “border” and that final status negotiations to define the route of any border between Israel and a potential Palestinian state have never taken place, it is unclear where Dafis gets the conveniently round number of 500. There are in fact 14 crossings serving vehicles and/or pedestrians.

As noted in part one of this post, throughout the whole 48-minute programme viewers hear the entire anti-terrorist fence exclusively described as a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate. Viewers also hear extensive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’ throughout the programme despite the fact that no such state exists at this point.

[30:35] Dafis: “The wall doesn’t only separate Israel from Palestine. It also separates Palestinians from one another.”

It is difficult to recall a more blatantly one-sided and factually inaccurate programme being aired on British television and promoted on the BBC’s On Demand Programme Services (ODPS). Obviously this publicly funded production was motivated by purely political intentions rather than the aim of informing British Welsh-speaking audiences.

Related articles: 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

BBC’s preferred terminology hinders audience understanding

The April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ included an item by Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 37:30 here) about a dog shelter in Beit Sahour which has been the topic of reports by other media outlets in the past.

Beit Sahour is located in Area A and has been under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995. However that relevant fact was not mentioned at all throughout the item, which was introduced by presenter Jo Fidgen using the term ‘occupied West Bank’.

Fidgen: “On nearly every street in the occupied West Bank you see stray dogs wandering about or scrapping or lounging in the sun. From time to time they’re hit by cars or abused by humans. And then what? There are vets in the West Bank but many of the surgeries are poorly equipped and anyway they’re more geared up for treating farm animals than pets. But one Palestinian woman has made it her mission to look after them. Our reported Yolande Knell went to the West Bank dog shelter to meet her.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide recognises that the geo-political divisions in the region are “complicated”:

“…the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority […]. These are complicated to work out because of the division of the West Bank into three areas…” 

One would therefore have thought that following Fidgen’s use of the unhelpful broad brush term ‘occupied West Bank’, listeners would be given a more precise description of the location of the story they were hearing – but that was not the case.

Knell: “We’re on a patch of wasteland at the edge of Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem.”

Knell: “Just give us an idea of the problem here in the Palestinian areas…”

That meant that when listeners later heard the answer to a question posed by Knell to her interviewee, they had no idea that the “government” to which she referred is the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “What needs to be done here to change attitudes towards animal welfare?”

Babish: “It needs time, it needs also the government to support this.”

The same BBC Academy style guide recognises the political implications of the term ‘occupied West Bank’:

“It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.” 

Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC chooses to use that particular terminology – together with the fact that it more often than not fails to adequately clarify to audiences that the vast majority of the Palestinian population in what it terms the ‘occupied West Bank’ lives under the rule of the Palestinian Authority – does not contribute to audience understanding of stories such as this.

Another aspect of this report may also have confused listeners.

Babish: “Basically I go to Israeli clinics and hospitals because they have the medical labs, they have x-rays, they have efficient doctors. Here we lack all of these so that’s why I take the dogs over there.”

Knell: “Every week Diana goes to Israel to try and find homes for her dogs.”

BBC audiences have of course been told for years that Palestinians suffer from “major constrictions on freedom of movement“, that “freedom of movement is also restricted by hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles“, that “Israeli troops have also […] severely restricted the movement of Palestinian civilians” and of “the challenges of mobility in the West Bank“.

Now however they suddenly hear about a Palestinian woman who not only goes to Israel “every week” but also takes sick and injured dogs with her for treatment. Obviously BBC audience understanding would benefit from less simplistic portrayals of that topic too.

Related Articles:

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

 

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

As was documented here earlier this month, in late December 2016 the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which opened as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

We observed at the time that the backgrounder “includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years”.

Six days after its initial publication on December 29th 2016, amendments were made to the article (on January 4th 2017) including a change of description for one of the political NGOs quoted in the report from “the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now” to “the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now”.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 23rd 2017 were offered that backgrounder as part of the ‘related reading’ appended to the main story of the day.

settlements-backgrounder-on-hp-23-1

However, the backgrounder now has a new date stamp and has undergone further amendments since its initial publication.

In the first section – titled “What are settlements?” – a link to the Peace Now website has been added and that joins the existing link to the B’tselem website that appeared in the original article.

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In the second section, which is titled “Why are settlements so contentious?”, an inaccurate and misleading paragraph has been added.

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There are not “hundreds” of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea & Samaria and many of those which do exist are in fact crossings located along Israel’s border with Palestinian controlled areas. So where did the BBC get that misleading information? While no source is provided, one possibility is a webpage titled “Restriction of movement” which was posted on the B’Tselem website on January 1st 2017 and in which an unsourced reference to “hundreds of physical obstacles […] in the form of concrete blocks, piles or dirt, or trenches” is found.

In the latest version of this backgrounder, an entirely new chapter has been added after the second section under the title “What difference will Donald Trump make?”.

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The next section is titled “What makes Jerusalem a special case?” and there a problematic and partial map produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA (which first appeared in BBC content in October 2015) has been added. That map tells BBC audiences that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem – a place where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years – is an “illegal settlement” and that Temple Mount is located in a “Palestinian urban area”.

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In the last section of the backgrounder – titled “Are settlements illegal under international law?” – another amendment has been made.

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When this article – which is supposedly intended to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information on the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem – first appeared we noted that: 

“While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.”

Rather than leaving be or making changes which would enhance that nuance and provide more of the context usually denied to BBC audiences, the backgrounder has instead been unnecessarily amended to promote more even more partisan information produced by the campaigning political NGOs Peace Now and B’Tselem as well as the latter’s partner UNOCHA

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Casually reinforcing the narrative on BBC Radio 4

Kate Adie’s introduction to an item about rock-climbing which was broadcast in the July 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 17:09 here) sounded promising.FOOC 16 7

“In sixty years this programme has broadcast many dispatches from the Middle East – particularly the West Bank. They’re often about religion or politics and all too often about violence. Many journalists have written about the scene in Ramallah; just six miles from Jerusalem. But Ed Lewis has found something different: a sports centre that’s opening up new horizons.”

So was that item about a Palestinian rock-climbing club really “something different” and did it indeed manage to avoid politics? Not quite.

Tourism consultant and freelance journalist Edward Lewis managed to get a gratuitous, context-free mention of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence into his introduction – but without of course informing listeners why the construction of that fence (only a small percentage of which is actually “wall”) was necessary.

“Ramallah has a new wall. Not a vertical grey concrete wall but a bright blue, green and white one. It has no look-out posts, razor wire or steel gates. Instead there are bungee ropes, crash mats and colour. Far from emitting a message to stay away, this wall is encouraging Palestinians to approach and explore.”

The context of Palestinian terrorism was also erased from later remarks made by Lewis, as were the Oslo Accords arrangements which divide the region into Areas A, B and C.

“Despite the challenges of mobility in the West Bank…”

“In the wake of a rash of violent incidents since October 2015, tension with Israel has risen and it has become harder for single Palestinian men to get work permits in East Jerusalem.”

“The West Bank has not become an adventure playground overnight – nor will it anytime soon. Israeli restrictions and the designation of many parts of the West Bank as military zones or nature reserves severely restrict the scope for more outdoor activity.”

Could Lewis have reported on that climbing club in Ramallah without the insertion of that unnecessary and context-free mention of the anti-terrorist fence which contributed nothing to his report? Of course he could. But as we all too often see, even the most seemingly benign subject matter can be opportunistically used by self-conscripted journalists to casually reinforce an adopted narrative.  

Political messaging on BBC WS ‘Business Matters’

h/t J

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters‘ is described as follows:Business Matters logo

“Key global business news in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with live guests and contributors from Asia where the day is beginning and the USA where the day’s business is coming to an end.”

The programme’s February 6th edition included an item (available here from 10:40) described in the synopsis as being about:

“…the Palestinian women’s group trying to export their embroidery to Europe.”

Presenter Roger Hearing introduced the item as follows:

“Now, Hebron is one of the biggest Palestinian towns but it’s also one of the poorest on the West Bank. Over the last decade and a half, security problems in the West Bank and the resulting Israeli restrictions on Palestinians working in Israel or moving goods through checkpoints have made it extremely difficult to set up or run businesses in towns like Hebron. Large numbers of Palestinian men remain in Israeli detention. Now a group of women in the town led by Nawal Slemiah have set up an embroidery workshop using traditional Palestinian techniques; in the beginning to sell to tourists. But now Nawal has been in Britain to try to build up a market here. She told me about the project.”Business Matters prog

Hearing’s euphemistic reference to fifteen years of “security problems in the West Bank” of course refers to Palestinian terrorism – beginning with the second Intifada in 2000. Whilst failing to accurately name or describe those “security problems” and similarly refraining from clarifying the related issue of why “Palestinian men remain in Israeli detention”, Hearing is less coy about describing “Israeli restrictions”. But are his claims accurate?

According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the general employment rate in PA controlled areas and neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem stood at 82.6% during the fourth quarter of 2014 and in the Hebron governorate the employment rate during that period was 78.7% (see Table 18 at the link above).

 Of those in employment in those areas, 15.6% worked in “Israel and settlements” during the last quarter of 2014, with the figure for the Hebron governorate being 18.3% (Table 20). According to Hearing’s presentation of the issue, we would expect the overall number of Palestinians working in Israel to be very few due to those “restrictions” he cites. As can be seen in Table 22 at the link above, the PCBS states that 85,000 people from PA controlled areas in Judea & Samaria worked in Israel during the last quarter of 2014 and a further 20,200 worked in ‘settlements’.

As we see in the table below (page 40) the percentage of Palestinians from PA controlled areas and neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem employed in “Israel & settlements” has varied between a high of 21.4% in the year 2000 (the Intifada commenced at the start of the final quarter of that year) and a low of 10.7% in 2004. As the security situation improved, the figures rose and the percentage of people employed in 2014 in “Israel & settlements” was only slightly below the figure for 2001. In other words, Hearing’s inference that fewer Palestinians are working in Israel than was the case fifteen years ago does not have strong statistical backing.

Table employment

Click to enlarge

And what of his claim that because of Israeli security policies it is “extremely difficult to set up or run businesses in town like Hebron”? Hebron is of course situated in Area A and there and in Area B, the Palestinian Authority is solely responsible for regulation concerning business ventures. According to the PCBS, 66.2% of those in employment in the Hebron governorate work in the private sector (Table 32). 20.8% are self-employed and 9.3% are employers (Table 31). By way of comparison, the percentage of self-employed people in the UK stands at around 15%. In other words, despite Hearing’s claim, over a fifth of the people in employment in the Hebron district have managed to set up and run businesses.

One very important industry in Hebron is stone-cutting and according to USAID:

“Palestinian stone exports account for more than $100 million annually, making stone one of the top Palestinian export products and a leading source of jobs. An estimated 500 companies employ approximately 16,000 workers across the West Bank, with approximately 100 of those companies located in the Hebron Industrial Zone.”

Despite Hearing’s claims of “difficulties moving goods through checkpoints” (the number of which has also been reduced as the security situation improved over the years), in November 2014 alone goods worth $76 million were exported via crossings into Israel where some 1,600 commercial transfers take place daily and the average transfer takes 45 minutes. 

So where did Roger Hearing obtain the obviously selective and over-simplified information which caused him to present such an inaccurate and politicized picture to BBC World Service listeners? The answer to that is unclear but it may of course have come from his interviewee herself or perhaps from whoever initiated the contact between Nawal Slemiah and his programme’s production team.

Nawal Slemiah

Nawal Slemiah

This is not Ms Slemiah’s first visit to the UK: she has travelled there on several previous occasions since 2013 and her speaking engagements were mostly with political campaigning groups such as Manchester Palestine Action, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Quakers and trade unions.

As those who listen to the item in full will appreciate, this is by no means a story about “key global business news”. It is in fact an exercise in political messaging which uses the commercial aspect of the story as a hook and – despite the existence of editorial guidelines which state “[w]e must not endorse or appear to endorse any other organisation, its products, activities, services, views or opinions” – provides a bit of free advertising by means of the promotion of Ms Slemiah’s website at the end, as well as on Twitter.

It would therefore be very interesting to know just how ‘Business Matters’ was made aware of this story and whether any of the political campaigning groups with which Ms Slemiah is associated played a role in that matchmaking.

 

 

BBC double standards on checkpoints

A quick perusal of the BBC News website shows that the corporation has had quite a lot to say about Israeli checkpoints for some length of time.

One undated “Guide to a West Bank Checkpoint“, produced by Martin Asser, states that:

“A recent report by a group of 20 aid agencies has drawn public attention to one of the little reported aspects of the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians – checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank and Gaza.

The report said these travel restrictions – some of them in place since the beginning of the intifada in 2000 – limit Palestinians’ access to schools and medical care, increase frustration and destroy hopes for peace.”

The ‘guide’ provides interactive pages on aspects of checkpoints and there, for example, BBC audiences are told that:

“Ahmed Kassem had hired this private taxi to pick him up on the north side of the Surda roadblock, which is on the north side of Ramallah, on his way home from a heart check-up in the town.

He has to walk 10 minutes uphill in the midday heat to pass through the roadblock, and is very concerned about his health.

He told BBC News Online he expected the journey – 20km in total – would take another three hours to complete.

“I think the Israelis do this because they want to make us feel like foreigners in our own land. They just want us to leave,” he said.”

The rationale behind the existence of checkpoints is generally framed with the BBC’s often used caveat of “Israel says”:

“Israel says the measures are vital to stop suicide bombers flooding into its cities to terrorise the civilian population.” 

Another – very outdated – page still appearing on the BBC website states that:

 “Israeli troops have […] severely restricted the movement of Palestinian civilians.”

And when Israeli checkpoints feature in BBC content, they are more often than not presented without the context essential for audience understanding of their necessity – for example here and here

However, it turns out that some kinds of military checkpoints are reported very differently by the BBC.UK tourists Sharm

An article about the recent floods in England which appeared on the BBC News website’s UK page on February 12th noted that:

“Our correspondent said that, with so many homes in the village evacuated, there was a real fear some of the empty properties might be looted so the Army had set up checkpoints on some roads to monitor overnight who comes and who goes.” 

In a filmed report which appeared on February 21st on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, Quentin Sommerville informed audiences of the concerns of two British holiday-makers in the south Sinai with regard to the inefficiency of Egyptian checkpoints.

“We’ve got really good security at our hotel. The checkpoints, on the other hand, have a lot to be answered for. You don’t really get stopped at the checkpoints, which…”

“There is a high presence. We’ve been on two excursions and we didn’t get checked – our passports or…We haven’t seen any vehicles stopped at a checkpoint.”

Clearly the BBC can understand perfectly well the necessity for checkpoints when they are set up to safeguard British property or British tourists, but those set up to safeguard Israeli lives are apparently a different kettle of fish.

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BBC Radio 4 reinforces political narrative through drama

H/t: JK, J

The ability of BBC audiences to form “a global understanding of international issues” is of course shaped to a large extent by the standard of the corporation’s news and current affairs programmes – but not exclusively. 

An example of the reinforcement of stereotypical impressions and politically motivated narrative through context-free broadcasting was to be found in a radio play titled “The Brick” which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s “Afternoon Drama” programme on January 13th and is available for listening for a limited period of time here

R4 Afternoon Drama

The radio play’s synopsis reads as follows:

“Rasha Khory is a Palestinian woman on her way to Jerusalem to run some errands for her mother, but she also has her own secret mission, visceral to her sense of identity. All too swiftly Rasha finds herself thwarted, injured and discovering some unwelcome home truths about her beloved father. What choices will she make? A compelling portrait of Palestinian life by Selma Dabbagh.

Directed by Sarah Bradshaw”

Those familiar with the British anti-Israel activism scene will no doubt recognize the name of the Scottish-born author Selma Dabbagh due to, among other things, her participation in the BDS-supporting ‘Palestine Festival of Literature (or PalFest) and other campaigning events.

The producer and director of this radio play, Sarah Bradshaw, is also the Commissioner for International News Training at the BBC College of Journalism and more information on the circumstances behind the collaboration between the BBC and Dabbagh on this project is to be found on the same webpage.

“Have you ever had one of those days that make you want to scream out of sheer frustration?  Have you ever asked someone ‘if-you-wouldn’t-mind–possibly-just-helping-me-do-this-teeny-little-thing’ only to make matters worse?  If any of that sounds familiar, then Selma Dabbagh’s first radio play The Brick could strike a chord.

This piece is part of The Innovation Strand, an initiative that invites BBC staff from other broadcast disciplines into radio drama to broaden their experience and perhaps offer something slightly different to the Afternoon Drama slot.  Previous Innovation Strand plays have included docudrama, conceptual art and high comedy.

Having worked in the Middle East and enjoyed Selma’s first novel, we met up and got down to planning and preparing a few different plot lines.  With guidance and advice from the managerial team, we submitted an idea that passed.  When I mentioned to a colleague at the Arabic Service what I was doing, we started planning for a film crew to interview contributors and film the recording for their flagship Arts TV programme, ‘Afaq’ or Horizon.

The story is set in occupied Palestine where Rasha Khory (played by the brilliant Sirine Saba) is a young woman with 3 seemingly simple tasks to complete for her mother (Nina Wadia).  She must light a candle in church, deliver a bag of lemons and buy a plastic sheet.  However, Rasha has another, more visceral, secret mission: to retrieve one of her beloved father’s handmade bricks from the back garden of her former family home, inside the city wall of Jerusalem  with the help of an unsuspecting tourist (Anton Lesser).  Now this all might seems pretty simple, but if you’re Palestinian what should be a short taxi ride can sometimes take many hours.  Rasha finds herself negotiating permits, road blocks, children and checkpoints – and along the way she learns some shocking home truths about the late father she idolises.” [emphasis added]

The BBC Arabic programme mentioned above can be viewed here.

Most of the play takes place in Jerusalem (“occupied Palestine” according to the writer of the synopsis) and listeners familiar with the region will notice slips in authenticity which are presumably the result of the fact that its “British Palestinian writer” has limited knowledge of her subject matter. A reference to a “blue” fifty shekel note (they are purple) or the description of an Israeli soldier as “a seventeen year-old with bad skin” (conscription begins from the age of eighteen) are small examples. Much more problematic is the lack of any context or background to the subject of checkpoints which is a major theme of the play. Map checkpoints

No explanation is offered as to why those checkpoints are necessary. No mention is of course made of Palestinian terror. No information is provided with regard to the fact that the checkpoint named – Zeitoun- is open 24 hours a day and on average 1,200 people use it every day, with 4,545,854 crossings having been made in the first half of 2013 alone at that and other checkpoints.

Neither is any background given regarding the fact that the current situation on the ground whereby Palestinians who live in the PA-controlled Areas A & B require a permit to enter areas under Israeli rule, is a product of the Oslo Accords to which the Palestinian leadership willingly agreed. 

But of course Selma Dabbagh and Sarah Bradshaw had no intention of providing any such context to listeners because it would only have detracted from the impression of Palestinians as passive victims which they are trying to create in their audiences’ minds.

Accompanying the play on the same webpage is a link to an English-language version of the BBC Arabic programme on the making of the play. 

R4 Afternoon Drama 3

There, Selma Dabbagh tells viewers:

“And I was trying to make a parallel here between the way that the mother is being treated and the way that her character is being eroded and what’s happening to the situation for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”

And:

“It’s always a very delicate balancing act setting any kind of drama or fiction in a very political context because you don’t want to make it… you don’t want to sort of whitewash it out and pretend it’s not happening when it’s something people are talking about all the time. But at the same time you don’t want to create a piece of work which is polemical or giving a very – you know – speaking out through the drama on a political line, because we’re actually trying to show the humanity of the characters.”

From Selma Dabbagh one does not expect anything other than this kind of agitprop; she has, after all, built a career around producing literature with explicitly political messaging. What is notable is that a BBC employee responsible for the training of journalists found it appropriate to commission, produce and direct such an obviously political piece of drama – with public funding, of course.

At one point during the play the heroine tells an English tourist:

“You must look at other things – not just at what you think you will find: it is normally lying.”

Unfortunately, the BBC Radio 4 audiences listening to this radio play are not given the any such warning and the majority of them will not have the background knowledge to realize just how one-sided a narrative is being presented in this broadcast.