Was BBC News reporting of the Pope’s Christmas address accurate and impartial?

On December 25th visitors to the BBC News website’s main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page found a report presented as follows:

Contrary to the impression given by that presentation, the Pope’s Christmas address did not include any mention whatsoever of the US president or his December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC article reached by clicking on that link – titled “Urbi et Orbi: Pope calls for peace for Jerusalem” – is 401 words long. Twenty-one of those words related to the US president:

“US President Donald Trump recently announced that America recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The controversial move drew international condemnation.”

Seventy-four words were devoted to the topic of the non-binding resolution passed the previous week by the UN General Assembly.

“Last week, UN members decisively backed a non-binding resolution that said any decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem were “null and void” and must be cancelled. […]

Guatemala has said it plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following Mr Trump’s announcement.

It joined the US and Israel, and Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo, in voting against the UN resolution.

However, 128 countries backed the resolution while others abstained.”

A total of 155 words were used to provide background information – in part politically partisan and lacking sufficient historical context – concerning Jerusalem.

“Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their future capital, and all countries currently keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. […]

Jerusalem is home to sites sacred to Judaism and Islam, and because of its role in the life of Jesus, the city is also one of the holiest places for Christians.

The city’s status goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The Papal address itself was given 151 words of coverage with one hundred and three of those words relating to Israel and the Palestinians and a mere 25 words relating to the rest of the world.

“Pope Francis has used his traditional Christmas Day message to call for “peace for Jerusalem” and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Acknowledging “growing tensions” between them, he urged a “negotiated solution… that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states”. […]

The Roman Catholic leader gave his Urbi et Orbi speech, which in Latin means “To the city and world”, in Saint Peter’s Square.

“On this festive day let us ask the lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land,” he told the crowd.

“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

The pontiff’s speech touched on other pressing international issues, from the migration crisis to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, from Venezuela to North Korea.”

BBC audiences would clearly get the impression from that report that the focus of the Pope’s address was on Israel and the Palestinians and that he merely “touched on” other issues.

However, examination of the actual 932 word address delivered by the Pope shows that while he used 118 words to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he devoted 439 words to speaking about other topics including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa, Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Myanmar, Bangladesh, children of unemployed parents, migrants and child labour.

So while 80.5% of the BBC’s coverage of the speech related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in fact that topic featured in just 21.2% of the parts of the address relating to specific countries and issues and in 12.7% of the speech as a whole.

Obviously the BBC News website cannot claim to have reported that Papal address in a manner that accurately and impartially reflects its content and its focus.

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The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

h/t RB

As we saw in part one of this post the BBC’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem presented a uniform portrayal of diminished numbers of visitors to the city that was attributed exclusively to “increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

BBC World Service radio listeners were not spared politicised messaging either. The December 24th edition of ‘The Newsroom’ opened with an item about Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (from 00:06 here) in which listeners were told by presenter Jackie Leonard that the Patriarch of Jerusalem “reached Bethlehem after being driven through a checkpoint at the Israeli separation barrier”. Leonard went on:

Leonard: “Marwan Kattan runs the five-star Jacir Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. He says bookings have plummeted after the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked violence in the occupied West Bank.”

Kattan: “Every year we are fully booked in Christmas and the New Year. This year we have it; before it was over-booking but when the uprising started, everything cancelled. What he said; uprising started; we lose everything.”

Reporting from Bethlehem, the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman then told listeners that:

Bateman: “…there is of course the backdrop of growing hostility and, you know, on a near daily basis now ever since Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem we’ve had clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, not least here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem and also on the Gaza border and that diplomatic stand-off between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”

However, Jackie Leonard then went on to allude to information concerning tourism previously undisclosed to BBC audiences and the conversation began to go somewhat off message.

Leonard: “Now we’ve heard from the Israeli tourism ministry saying that they expect to see the number of Christian pilgrims increase. What are you seeing with tourist numbers?”

Bateman: “Well certainly tourism, the tourist economy in Bethlehem has taken a severe dent over the last ten days or so. I was talking to a hotelier last night who said that many hotels had really been emptied after the Trump announcement. Now a lot of that was the domestic tourists – the Palestinian Christians both from the West Bank and also Palestinians from inside Israel who traditionally come here often in the week before Christmas and many of these simply cancelled and didn’t come.

As for international tourists, well many have been here today. I mean I was talking to some Irish pilgrims from Dublin a little earlier on. Having said that, some of the religious leaders have said that groups have been cancelling and I think there is no doubt that the tourism economy in Bethlehem has suffered. But as you say, I mean, overall, more broadly, the Israelis have made the point that, you know, the number of Christian pilgrims coming to the holy land overall has risen by a significant amount when you compare it to the years before.”

Leonard then asked Bateman about security at the Christmas events in Bethlehem and his answer included the following:

Bateman: “In terms of the clashes that have taken place, well, they haven’t been to the scale that many had feared or predicted after Donald Trump’s announcement but they have taken place on a regular basis. They do tend to be very localised and in areas that are quite predictable so, you know, tourists can avoid, really, with a fair amount of ease. But I think what it has affected, of course, is the mood.”

As we see, Tom Bateman knows that the response to calls for violence instigated and encouraged by Palestinian bodies has been limited and that tourists can in fact easily avoid problematic locations. He did not, however, bother to inform BBC audiences of an additional and relevant part of the picture: the fact that Palestinian officials ordered limitations on the Christmas festivities.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

Although that deliberate cancelling of festivities (along with a similar – but failed – attempt by the mayor of Nazareth) could obviously account for some cancellations by tourists, the BBC is clearly not interested in letting its audiences know that just as Palestinian officials jeopardised Christmas tourism by calling for violence and bloodshed in response to the US announcement concerning Jerusalem, they have also given tourists much less of a reason to visit Bethlehem by cancelling parts of the festivities.

Just as the BBC never portrays Palestinians as having agency or being responsible for the violence they choose to instigate, the corporation’s narrative does not include own goal political posturing by Palestinian leaders which harms the tourist industry upon which many Bethlehem residents rely.

Instead, as we see in these BBC Christmas reports from Bethlehem, the narrative the corporation has chosen to promote once again lays the blame at the door of any party other than the Palestinians themselves and this year the BBC has chosen to uniformly promote simplistic and politically motivated messaging blaming the US president for the results of choices made by Palestinian leaders.  

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

As documented here earlier this month, the BBC began telling its audiences that the US president had ruined Christmas for Palestinians just hours after his announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made on December 6th.

At the same time, multiple BBC platforms promoted copious numbers of reports and news bulletins claiming that the US statement would spark violent reactions that were portrayed as being inexorable and irresistible. When reporting on rioting and other acts of violence, including missile fire at civilian communities in Israel, the BBC made sure that audiences were told that ‘reason’ for the violence was Donald Trump’s announcement – rather than the choices made by the people who chose to engage in such acts of violence. 

Two and a half weeks later, we see that the BBC is still perpetuating those themes in its Christmas reporting from Bethlehem.

Listeners to the December 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ heard a report from the Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 14:47 here) that was introduced by presenter Edward Stourton with a dollop of political messaging.

Stourton: “Later this morning the head of the Latin Catholic church in Jerusalem will, in accordance with tradition, set off on a journey to Bethlehem where he’ll celebrate midnight mass tonight. Bur these days the route means he’ll have to go through Israel’s West Bank separation barrier: a reminder that even at Christmas the politics of the place aren’t far away.”

Yolande Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Santa hat sellers are out in force and all around me there’s a riot of multi-coloured lights. But something is missing: the tourists. Many have cancelled their planned visits here in just the past few weeks because of growing unrest. There have been days of clashes by an Israeli military watchtower built into the high wall at the edge of Bethlehem: part of Israel’s separation barrier. Young Palestinians throw stones and Israeli soldiers fire tear gas. Similar scenes have unfolded at other flashpoints across the West Bank.

While Israel welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, saying this reflected Jewish history and the modern reality, Palestinians are furious. They want occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of their promised future state and say the US has disqualified itself as a mediator for peace talks.

[sound of church bells] Back by the Nativity Church I’ve been talking to local Christians. One woman spoke of her frustration after her son and his family – who live overseas – decided at the last minute not to come home for Christmas, fearing trouble. And a hotelier complained that Bethlehem got all dressed up for Christmas and all of a sudden the streets are empty.”

In a filmed report that appeared on the BBC News website on December 24th under the title “Bethlehem celebrates Christmas amid heightened tensions” Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman told audiences:

Bateman: “Well the crowds have turned out in their hundreds for the day but the numbers are much lighter than in previous years. And that’s because tourism has taken a severe dent here because of fears over clashes that have taken place in the last few weeks in the occupied West Bank ever since Donald Trump announced that the US officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The synopsis to another filmed report – “Bethlehem Christmas: Church of the Nativity hosts pilgrims” – posted in the early hours of December 25th tells BBC audiences that:

“Fewer people than usual were in the West Bank town because of increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Interestingly, BBC Christmas reporting from Bethlehem has in previous years also included comment on the number of tourists visiting the town. BBC audiences have repeatedly been told sad tales of dwindling crowds that have been attributed to a variety of (inevitably Israel related) factors.

For example, in 2012 BBC audiences heard that:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

“And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.”

“Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

In 2015 BBC audiences were told of “dampened” celebrations that were attributed to a wave of Palestinian terrorism that was portrayed by the BBC in euphemistic language – with no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to limit celebrations.

“Celebrations are taking place in the West Bank town where it is believed that Jesus was born. However this year they are overshadowed by the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence that shows no signs of abating. […] Like many Palestinian Christians, Mary thinks the holiday spirit is dampened this year and that festivities will be relatively low-key.”

And:

“Even as visitor numbers continue to dwindle Christmas upon Christmas, this year the reason is pretty clear: the tensions that have washed over Israel and the occupied territories show no sign of abating.”

However this year it’s not ‘the occupation’, ‘the wall’ or ambiguous ‘tensions’ that have caused allegedly low numbers of visitors to Bethlehem at Christmas: this year the BBC has decided that the blame should be laid at the door of Donald Trump.  

However, one BBC programme went a little off message– as we will see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

As may have been expected, the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ that was aired on December 17th did not – as claimed by the station’s controller Patrick Holland – present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of that hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging promoted primarily by both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

The real ‘star’ of this exercise in the manipulation of Christmas was however the anti-terrorist fence – and although well over 90% of that structure is built of wire mesh, viewers were never informed of that fact and only saw images of the sections constructed from concrete.

The film opens with a description of its main location – Bethlehem – which has of course been under complete Palestinian Authority control for the last 22 years: a fact that was erased from the entire programme. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Colman: “This is Bethlehem: world capital of the international Jesus Christ birthday business. This year Bethlehem became home to a unique hotel. Billed as having the worst view in the world, Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel sits under the gaze of an Israeli watchtower in the occupied Palestinian territories. The place where Christmas was invented now feels like a city under siege and in need of some serious festive cheer. This is the story of what happened when Banksy asked a world-famous movie director to come all the way to the little town of Bethlehem to put on a nativity play like no other in what was once the most Christmassy place on earth.”

A siege is defined as “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”. Bethlehem of course does not fit that definition. As we see, the BBC commissioned programme uses the term “occupied Palestinian territories” to describe an area that has been under complete PA control for over two decades.

Later on (04:56) that term is also used to describe areas that – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the status of which is to be determined through negotiation and are therefore not at this time “Palestinian”.

Colman: “There are no international airports in the West Bank. Tourists fly to Tel Aviv in Israel. From there, Bethlehem is only an hour away by car. But the journey means crossing through a 400 mile long heavily fortified separation barrier into the occupied Palestinian territories. Inside this enclosed region movement is restricted. And most Palestinians are not allowed to leave without permits. It’s a small step for Danny but a huge leap into a very different reality.”

The messaging is reinforced by Boyle’s own comments.

Boyle: “And there’s the wall. Wow! Yeah. Look at that.” […] “Wow! Look at the wall. The wall’s extraordinary, isn’t it? You’ve no idea how…they’re like kind of…it’s like nails driven into the ground. It’s like…you just imagine something different really. It’s so crude and brutal.”

From 11:46 viewers hear the narrator introduce another scene.

Colman: “Fadi – a local guide – is taking Danny to experience Bethlehem’s version of the rush hour at 5 a.m. when thousands of labourers queue to get to work on the other side in Israel.”

She subsequently (12:20) promotes several highly partisan and questionable claims:

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.”

Viewers then hear an unverifiable account from a person identified as Amin Jebrein but are not told that gates in the anti-terrorist fence allow farmers access to their crops, that land owners receive compensation for any land used for the fence’s construction or that they have the legal right of appeal.

Jebrein: “They came to my land and they put a fence before my land and they take all my land inside the wall. They take me to the prison and I stay for one year because I am terrorist because I fight them, you know. And I lost my land, lost my life, lost my study. But I hope next year when you come that this will have gone>”

Boyle: “No wall”.

Jeberin: “Inshallah.”

Boyle: “Inshallah.”

Boyle goes on:

Boyle: “You can see the guys going to work. You know, it’s almost like their heads were down so they didn’t see the indignity they were having to go through to pass through this thing.”

Viewers then see Boyle compare the anti-terrorist fence to the Berlin Wall, claiming that it is “double the height” and “so tall compared to that” but with no mention made of the fact that the height of the concrete sections is specifically intended to thwart sniper attacks.

Only nearly a quarter of a way into this programme (at 14:24) and long after the scene has already been amply set, do viewers hear the first – and last – brief mention of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

Boyle: “Obviously reading history and the background, obviously the wall was a response to suicide bombings and shocking acts of terror, really, where innocent people were blown up and a nation clearly reacts in an incredibly aggressive and dominant way to a force that they feel threatens them. So I can understand – although I personally don’t…it’s not a solution that I think works ultimately – nor as I think it is a solution that is fair for any nation to impose upon itself or a community within itself. I find that very, very, very difficult.”

Referring to the part of the nativity story in which Joseph has to go to Bethlehem for a census, Boyle then compares that journey to those of the Palestinian workers just featured, making no mention of Joseph’s religion and ethnicity or the fact that Bethlehem was a Jewish town at the time.

At 17:24 viewers hear an inaccurate – and contradictory – statement:

Colman: “The Church of the Nativity [in Bethlehem] might be cut off from the world by walls and watchtowers but it still gets over a million tourists a year.”

Later on (20:45) another entirely unsupported and evidence free claim is made:

Colman: “The olive tree is hugely important to Palestinian culture but thousands of families have seen their olive groves enclosed by the wall and uprooted.”

The programme’s focus then turns to another location and that will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

h/t LV, BF

Over the years we have often seen BBC produced content in which the Christmas season was exploited for the promotion of a chosen politicised narrative and this year, it transpires, will be no exception.

On December 17th at 21:00 BBC Two will screen an hour-long programme titled “Alternativity” which combines the Christmas theme with a much promoted BBC favourite – Banksy.

“This exciting arts documentary film offers an alternative take on the nativity story. The unique, hour-long film follows the production of a contemporary one-off performance of the nativity play quite unlike any other.”

The BBC News website informs us that:

“Director Danny Boyle has teamed up with Banksy to stage an alternative nativity play at the artist’s Bethlehem hotel.

The Alternativity was staged in the car park of the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in the occupied West Bank. The process was filmed for a BBC Two documentary. […]

BBC Two controller Patrick Holland said the programme would show “a challenging and provocative” version of the story. […]

Patrick Holland said: “It is brilliant for BBC Two to be working with Danny Boyle, Banksy and the creative team who together are making this alternative nativity.

“It promises to be a challenging and provocative exploration of a story that speaks to young and old alike.””

Readers are also told that:

“Banksy created a promotional image for the documentary showing a drone watching over the nativity scene.

He also put up two new artworks ahead of the event. One said “Peace on Earth” next to a twinkling star, which doubled as an asterisk. Below was the same asterisk and the words “Terms and conditions apply”.

The other artwork was painted on the wall and showed two cherubic angels trying to prise two panels apart with a crowbar.”

The article employs a formula frequently evident in BBC content: the anti-terrorist fence – constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers – is described as “controversial”, but no mention whatsoever is made of the terrorism that caused it to be built.

“The anonymous street artist opened The Walled Off Hotel in March, boasting the “worst view in the world” – next to the controversial barrier Israel has built in and around the West Bank.”

While in the past we have witnessed the BBC repeatedly providing uncritical PR for Banksy’s anti-Israel agitprop, we now see that the corporation has elected to take an active role in the promotion of such politically motivated propaganda by using licence fee funding to commission this ‘documentary’.  

Can readers recall any other examples of public funds being used by the ‘impartial’ BBC to amplify a political activist’s delegitimisation of a particular country?

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Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Christmas is coming and with it – if the BBC’s record over the past five years is anything to go by – the usual politicised reporting from the Middle East.

Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well-worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.  

“There are still shepherds in Bethlehem 2000 years on from the nativity but as our West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports, Jewish settlement expansion there has made the life of the shepherd increasingly limited.”knell-2011-nativity

On the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

In 2012 Kevin Connolly reported on Christians in the Middle East while managing to omit any mention of the one country in which they thrive and Jon Donnison produced a politically opportunistic report from Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was also the location for a 2013 report from Yolande Knell in which she promoted inaccurate information about the anti-terrorist fence.

“In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”

A multi-platform item promoted a smear from a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.Knell Bethlehem main

Political messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence also dominated a Christmas 2014 report on the BBC News website and Yolande Knell produced an audio report and a written report from Bethlehem in which she blamed “the dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” on “Israel’s occupation”.

Reporting again from Bethlehem in 2015, Yolande Knell revisited the ‘nativity characters’ theme in a multi-media feature focusing on politicised messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence. An audio report by Knell broadcast on the BBC World Service was notable for its adherence to PLO media guidance.

Let’s hope that this year the BBC Jerusalem bureau can resist the temptation to exploit Christmas for the promotion of opportunistic politicised messaging and perhaps even come up with some original reporting about the Middle East’s beleaguered Christians. 

More PLO messaging from Yolande Knell in Christmas report for BBC WS radio

In addition to the politicised Christmas Eve feature produced by Yolande Knell for the BBC News website on December 24th, she also reported from Bethlehem for BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’.Newshour 24 12

In that item (from 30:00 here) Knell recycled themes and interviewees seen in her other report, focusing on a low-key Christmas and economic hardship in Bethlehem. Once again audiences were not informed of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to municipalities to dampen this year’s celebrations or the Council of Churches’ similar dictate.

Setting the scene in his introduction, presenter Tim Franks failed to adequately clarify to listeners exactly which party has been initiating the acts of violence seen over the last three months, using passive language to promote a false sense of equivalence and – through use of the ‘Israel says’ formula – implying that the BBC cannot independently confirm that most of the Palestinian casualties were either terrorists killed in the act or violent rioters. [emphasis added]

“Even as visitor numbers continue to dwindle Christmas upon Christmas, this year the reason is pretty clear: the tensions that have washed over Israel and the occupied territories show no sign of abating.”

“More than 130 Palestinians have been killed – more than half were said by Israel to be attackers.”

“In Bethlehem – a short distance to the south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank – confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers continue on an almost daily basis….”

Of course if no Palestinian rioters take to the streets, there are no “confrontations” but as usual, the BBC conceals cause and effect and Knell’s later description did little to help listeners understand the context of the violence either.

“But for weeks now this has been the sound on the streets. An Israeli jeep fires tear gas at the young Palestinians all around me. They’ve been using catapults to fling stones at the Israeli soldiers next to the high concrete wall here: part of Israel’s West Bank barrier.”

As in her written report, Knell provided a platform for opportunistic political messaging. [emphasis added]

Knell: “Back at the road where protests regularly break out in Bethlehem, I meet a priest: Father Jamal Khader.”

Khader: “Now more than ever we see more despair. People don’t believe any more in the two state solution with increase of settlements, with heavy presence of the Israeli army.”

That messaging compliments Knell’s later portrayal of the background to the ongoing wave of terror.

“Israel blames the recent violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders and social media but Palestinians say it stems from the lack of hope after the failure of years of peace efforts.”

More than three months into this wave of terror, the BBC has still not provided its audiences with a factual and comprehensive picture of the incitement underpinning the violence. As a result, BBC audiences are not in a position to be able to determine the relative merits of the Israeli and Palestinian claims paraphrased in this item – which have also appeared in previous reports from Knell and her colleagues.

As readers may recall, the PLO’s guidance document distributed in November to members of the international media under the title “Key Points to Remember when Reporting on Occupied Palestine states:

“The Israeli government attempts to shift the focus away from their colonization enterprise and illegal occupation, which is the root cause of the continuous uprisings of the Palestinian people who have for decades endured an Apartheid regime. Though Israeli spokespeople have claimed that the main issues are Al-Aqsa and “Palestinian incitement”, the fact of the matter is that Israel continues to systematically deny Palestinian rights.”

It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to avoid reaching the conclusion that BBC journalists have indeed chosen to ‘remember’ those ‘key points’ and to keep audiences in the dark on the topic of Palestinian incitement whilst simultaneously refraining from informing them of the actual circumstances of “the failure of years of peace efforts” which include the PA initiated Second intifada, the PA’s rejection of Olmert’s 2008 peace offer and the PA’s decision to scupper the round of talks held in 2013/14.

The corporation asserts that its audiences “can expect the BBC to keep them in touch with what is going on in the world” and that its priority is to “build a global understanding of international issues”. A media organization committed to doing that could not have systematically avoided informing its audiences about the incitement fueling a wave of terror attacks and violence which has been going on for over a hundred days.

BBC News Christmas report amended to remove misleading description

An article currently appearing on the BBC News website under the title “Christmas marked around the world” and with the date stamp December 25th is made up of photographs from seven different locations appearing under the short introduction “Across the world, billions of Christians have been marking Christmas, the traditional birthday of Jesus Christ.”Christmas art

The original version of that article – published on the evening of December 24th – carried a different introduction.

“Across the world, Christians have begun marking Christmas with services, with Pope Francis holding midnight mass at the Vatican.

In the holy city of Bethlehem, the West Bank town where it is believed that Jesus was born, events have been overshadowed by recent violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

“There’s lights, there’s carols, but there’s an underlying sense of tension,” one pilgrim to Bethlehem, Briton Paul Haines, told Associated Press news agency.” [emphasis added]

Fortunately, that misleading description of over three months of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis was removed from later versions of the report.

BBC’s Knell yet again politicises Christmas in Bethlehem report

The Christmas season inevitably brings with it opportunistic, politicised messaging from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and this year was no different. Apparently short on fresh ideas, Yolande Knell casts local residents in the role of nativity story figures in her report titled “Christmas in Bethlehem: Hopes and fears for the future” (December 24th, BBC News website Middle East page) – a device she previously used in her 2011 seasonal report.Knell Bethlehem main

Including both text and video clips, the report promotes the themes of a low-key Christmas and economic hardship for Bethlehem residents. No mention is made of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to municipalities to dampen this year’s celebrations or the Council of Churches’ similar dictate.

The surge in Palestinian terrorism that began in mid-September and which has obviously had an effect on the tourist industry in the region receives minimal coverage in Knell’s account, although when it is mentioned she portrays it as equivalent “Israeli-Palestinian violence” and – in line with PLO messaging – downplays the incitement fueling that violence. Instead, Knell focuses more on what she terms “protests” and “clashes” whilst erasing the agency of Palestinian rioters and terrorists sabotaging their own community’s all-important tourism industry.

“Young Palestinians regularly join protests that result in confrontations with Israeli soldiers. There are flashpoints across the West Bank including on the edge of Ramallah and in Bethlehem.”

“Nowadays clashes regularly take place by one of these gates. Typically, young Palestinians throw stones, marbles and petrol bombs at Israeli soldiers who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, skunk water and live rounds.

Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders and social media. Father Jamal says that on the Palestinian side there are feelings of hopelessness and despair.”

Knell Bethlehem equivalence 1

Knell Bethlehem equivalence 2

Knell Bethlehem equivalence 3

The predominant messaging in this report relates to the anti-terrorist fence. In line with the corporation’s usual portrayal of that subject, Knell fails to provide BBC audiences with an objective and transparent account of the reasons behind the fence’s construction and its proven record of reducing the number of terror attacks against Israelis.

“Israel has also built part of its separation barrier here. It says this is needed for security, but Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

“In 2003, an 8m (26ft)-high concrete wall was erected in Bethlehem – part of Israel’s barrier built in and around the West Bank. A series of gates were constructed in the wall so that church leaders could continue to pass.”

“About 40% of the Bethlehem economy relies directly on tourism. However since the town was separated from Jerusalem by Israel’s barrier, most tourists now enter through an Israeli checkpoint.”

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The fence is also the hook for promotion of the theme of restricted access resulting in reduced business.

“Local souvenir sellers say that restricted access to the city has greatly affected their trade.” 

Video clip 5: “…Bethlehem is now surrounded with a wall; not easily accessed in and out like before between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This limited the number of tourists who come to Bethlehem to doing shopping for Christmas. “

Knell Bethlehem access 1

In fact, the crossing used by tourists going from Israel to Palestinian-Authority controlled Bethlehem is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and foreign tourists do not need permits. As usual, this year too arrangements have been put in place to enable Palestinian Christians to celebrate the holiday with their relatives.

An additional theme in this report relates to ‘settlements’ – alleged to be “expanding” – with the standard BBC mantra concerning ‘international law’ appearing together with a recycled map.

“Recently shepherding has become much more difficult because of a lack of open land. Jewish settlements are expanding nearby. They are seen as illegal under international law, but Israel disagrees.”

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Absent from Knell’s reporting is any mention of non-Israel related factors which might have an influence on Christmas celebrations and tourism in Bethlehem such as crime or violence related to internal Palestinian politics.

“The car taking Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, was struck Friday, Christmas Day, in Bethlehem by rocks thrown by Palestinian rioters. […]

Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces said Friday that they arrested two suspected Islamic radicals for burning a Christmas tree in the northern West Bank.

A Palestinian security officer said Friday the suspects set fire Wednesday to the tree in Zababdeh, a village near Jenin populated mainly by Christians. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

He said both suspects were under investigation for possible ties to extremist Islamist groups.

He also said Palestinian security forces arrested Wednesday about a dozen suspected radical Islamists in Bethlehem.

A report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency put the number of detainees at 16. According to the report, the group are Salafi radicals who were preparing to carry out a terror attack against Western tourists arriving in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas there.”

Yolande Knell’s selective portrayal of Christmas in Bethlehem is clearly designed to promote a political agenda and there is no reason to be surprised about that given her past record and her openly displayed identification with such political causes. Amazingly for a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting, the BBC continues to countenance her annual exploitation of Christmas for the opportunistic force-feeding of its audiences with trite anti-Israel delegitimisation.

Related Articles:

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‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

More narrative-inspired reporting from Bethlehem by BBC’s Yolande Knell

BBC report on Christmas in Bethlehem amplifies PA political messaging yet again

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence