Omissions, distortions and inaccurate history in BBC WW1 ‘educational’ feature

Those following the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary may have noticed this Tweet on September 20th.

Tweet BBC WW1

The link leads to a feature on the BBC’s iWonder webpage titled “Does the peace that ended WW1 haunt us today?” which is presented by the BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.  Launched in January 2014, the iWonder brand was described by the BBC as a project intended to “educate and inform”.

“To coincide with the start of the BBC’s World War One season the BBC today launches a range of exciting digital content under a new brand called BBC iWonder.

iWonder is the new brand from the BBC designed to unlock the learning potential of all BBC content. Interactive guides – curated by experts and BBC talent including Dan Snow, Kate Adie, Ian McMillan and Neil Oliver – are the first phase of this initiative.[…]

Tim Plyming, Executive Producer for BBC Knowledge & Learning says: “Digital plays a central role in the BBC’s World War One season coverage and we’re really excited to bring audiences a range of compelling perspectives of the war. The guides span life in the trenches to poetry and propaganda and we hope each one will educate and inform the curious novice as well as the history buff.” “

Audiences might therefore reasonably expect that the content posted on the iWonder site would be historically accurate.iWonder WW1 feature

The feature is composed of eight sections and section five is entitled “Diplomatic games in the Middle East”. There audiences are given potted versions of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

However, absent from this section (and all others) is any mention of the San Remo Conference, the Treaty of Sèvres or the terms of the Mandate for Palestine which Great Britain was entrusted to administer on behalf of the League of Nations. Instead, a map appearing in that section inaccurately informs BBC audiences that “Britain took control of Palestine”.

Veteran BBC watchers will not be surprised by the BBC’s erasure of the agreements and treaties which form the legal foundations of the Jewish state. In fact, a search for ‘San Remo Conference 1920’ on the BBC News website turns up just one result – and that is in the corporation’s profile of Syria. BBC audiences searching the website for ‘Treaty of Sèvres 1920’ will find a result pertaining to Iraqi Kurdistan and a reference to it in an article about the Armenian church in Turkey but nothing to inform them of that treaty’s commitment to the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine.

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Section six of the feature is titled “The Middle East: What happened next?”. There – with no mention of the fact that the territory concerned had originally been part of that assigned to the creation of the Jewish National Home – readers are informed that:

“In Jordan, Faisal’s brother Abdullah declared himself Emir. The British acquiesced, keen to have a friendly regime that would not threaten oil pipelines coming from Iraq. Jordan became independent in 1946, and Abdullah’s descendants still rule over the country today.”

The sub-section titled “In Palestine” informs BBC audiences that:

“The numbers of Jews emigrating to Palestine increased under British supervision, especially after Hitler came to power in 1933. Arab resentment also increased.”

The average reader of that paragraph would understand it to mean that Britain facilitated immigration of Jews to Palestine as a response to the persecution of Jews in Europe. Of course the historic facts show that in fact the British limited Jewish immigration (though never Arab immigration) and Jewish land purchase throughout much of the mandate period, with the 1939 White Paper – approved by the House of Commons just weeks before the outbreak of World War II – restricting immigration to 75,000 over a period of five years and ruling that illegal immigrants would be deducted from the quota and immigration would be halted at the end of the five-year period.  

The section continues:

“After the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jews were killed, there was a surge of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain struggled to contain the crisis, and handed the task of deciding the future of Palestine to the United Nations.

The UN voted to divide Palestine into two states: one Arab, one Jewish. In 1948, Israel declared its independence; the first Arab-Israeli war began the moment the British left.”

Once again we see that the BBC continues to mislead its audiences by pretending that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing. UNGA resolution 181 was of course a non-binding recommendation, the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. Whilst Jewish representatives accepted the proposal, the Arabs rejected it outright meaning that it has no contemporary relevance whatsoever. Likewise, the BBC’s suggestion that violence commenced with the departure of British forces in May 1948 is of course an inaccurate representation of history.

Section seven of the feature is titled “Does the peace still haunt us today?” and it includes a contribution from Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards. Those familiar with Milton-Edwards’ work and with her history of associations with Alastair Crooke and his ‘Conflicts Forum’ will not be surprised by the political overtones of her contribution which includes the specious claim that “radical Islamism” arose as “a reaction to foreign intervention and control”.

The trouble is, of course, that the majority of BBC audience members hoping to be educated or informed by this feature will not be aware of Milton-Edwards’ agenda and – in contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – no attempt is made to inform them of that important factor.

This feature’s distortions, inaccuracies and omissions will come as no great surprise to anyone familiar with the BBC’s existing record of representation of Middle East history in general and the establishment of Israel in particular. Although BBC audiences might expect editors of a feature specifically intended to “educate and inform” to take special care to adhere to BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, political motivations have once again triumphed over historical fact in this feature. That fact is particularly worrying given that presumably the item is intended to remain in the public domain for years to come as part of the BBC’s “historical records“.  

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

h/t JK

The May 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme did not only feature a potentially BAFTA-winning performance by Jeremy Bowen pretending that “nobody really knows” whether or why Iranian long-range missiles might be transferred to the terrorist organisation Hizballah via Syria.  Earlier on in the programme – from 1:09:07 here for a limited period of time – over four minutes of air time was dedicated to the uninterrupted promotion of propaganda directly from the Iran/Syria/Hizballah coalition by its mouthpiece ‘Conflicts Forum’ director Alastair Crooke.

Today Crooke

Presenter Justin Webb introduces the item by stating:

“Israeli jets bombed Syria yesterday. It was the second attack in 48 hours. The Syrian deputy Foreign Minister called it an act of war. The United States, according to an intelligence official, was not given any warning before the air strikes which most people are assuming  were on targets connected with the Iranian supply of weapons to Syria and then on to Hizballah – the militant group based in Lebanon which is backed by Iran and by President Assad. Alastair Crooke is a former EU mediator in the Middle East. He’s director now of the NGO Conflicts Forum and is on the line from Beirut. Good morning to you.”

Webb’s claim that “Israeli jets bombed Syria” is of course a deliberately wide – and inaccurate – interpretation of pinpoint strikes carried out against specific targets in very specific areas of a very large country. Webb’s failure to inform listeners of the political motivations of Crooke’s organisation directly contravenes BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality, and in particular section 4.4.14 of those guidelines.

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The interview continues: 

Alastair Crooke: “Good morning to you.”

JW: “What do you think is happening?”

AC: “Err..we’ve had some reaction overnight err..from Hizballah and some sources have been speaking in Damascus. Erm..what Hizballah are saying – and they’re quite calm about it – they say they regard this very much as a political event by – political demonstration if you like – err.. by Israel. Err.. they say that they recently received emm.. effective – quote – effective weapons emm… across the border from Syria and that Israel were [sic] a little bit late on the uptake on this and that we have seen – as indeed we have seen – that Lebanon has been crisscrossed by Israeli aeroplanes during the recent days and they believe that they were unable to find what they wanted and so they gave a demonstrative attack, if you like, on the previously attacked erm.. weapons logistics centre near Damascus and this was intended really emm… having not succeeded in stopping this effective, as far as Hizballah is describing it, Israel is sending a message saying well don’t think of doing it again because we will reply.”

Using the same country and area codes, Webb’s producers could have telephoned Hizballah’s offices in the Dahiya area of Beirut and received the exact same commentary of course – albeit in perhaps less of a polished accent. Webb continues:

“And the point is these weapons – it’s the Fateh 110 isn’t it? It’s a missile that could reach Tel Aviv from southern Lebanon so in the event, for instance, of Israel attacking Iran over its nuclear programme, then this could be quite an effective active retaliation by an Iranian ally.”

Crooke responds: 

“Yes, but Hizballah – and the Israelis said this quite publicly – have already got such weapons. Erm.. there’s another version of this weapon which is very similar which has been produced in Syria in recent years and almost certainly that has reached Hizballah. In any case Hizballah is fully armed. I mean there’s no question about that. Israeli intelligence sources .. amm.. admit quite clearly that they have far greater potential weapons power now than they ever had during the war in 2006. So I don’t think this – the loss – even if there was a loss of a particular weapons shipment – would be critical – strategically critical – to Hizballah’s position.”

An appreciation of the similarity of Crooke’s claims to those made by Hizballah itself can be gleaned by taking a look at this recent statement from its leader Nasrallah:

“Israel believes that if it attacks facilities and strategic stockpiles, it changes the resistance capabilities. This is an erroneous assessment.” He said,”The reason being that the stocks of the resistance have been filled with all that it needs.”

Webb then asks:

“What – are we to see this then in the context of an effort by Israel to persuade the Americans that they need now to take sides and do something?”

Crooke replies:

“Yes, I think that’s exactly right. What we’re seeing – I think it’s got two things in it – and again Syrian sources informally were saying overnight that from their point of view there was little loss. It was the same building and of course they’d cleared it since the last attack and there was nothing substantial there. Err.. they do tie it very much to the advances – and Hizballah shares this view, I believe – that the Syrian armed forces have had err.. huge advances in cutting off, if you like, the supply routes between Lebanon and Homs in Syria and also in the south and advances in the east and opening the highway to the north. In fact, I mean, it’s a huge shift taking place on the ground and they think that this is disturbing to both Israel and America: any thought that there could be a comeback by President Assad and his government and indeed a victory in military terms by them – and so there was a thought that providing a strike that would assist the opposition could be an advantage and also, in Israeli calculation, help bring err.. American involvement a little closer and by pushing America towards  involvement in Syria and pushing them off their red line – the American red line as you may recall was that the use of chemical weapons would be the only cause of American direct involvement. But by blurring that and pushing America towards shifting their red line on Iran – which is the acquisition of nuclear weapons. “

Webb concludes:

“Very interesting. Thank you Alastair Crooke and we’ll be hearing the Israeli side of this in so far as we can get it after half past eight.”

That last remark refers to an interview with Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland which was conducted after the one with Jeremy Bowen. 

If readers are now beginning to suspect that the BBC simply saved itself a phone call to the Syrian Ministry of Propaganda by inviting Alastair Crooke to this programme, they might not be far wrong. 

We previously addressed the subject of the nature of Crooke’s organization on these pages in light of the BBC’s use of input from him in a 2011 article entitled “Hezbollah: Terrorist organisation or liberation movement?” which was recently recycled by the BBC. 

“Broadly speaking, Conflicts Forum is a Western-sounding mouthpiece for the Iranian regime and its various client militias such as Hamas and Hizballah, as well as Iranian allies such as the Assad regime. 

In 2007, with EU funding, Conflicts Forum produced a report (now strangely absent from the internet) detailing strategies to rebrand the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah in the West as proponents of “social justice” and specifically promoting “Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s values, philosophy and wider political and social programmes”. 

“We need to clarify and explain that Islamist movements are political and social movements working on social and political justice,” the report explains, “and are leading the resistance to the US/Western recolonisation project with its network of client states and so-called ‘moderates’.” It claims “the progressive space of social movements [in the West] is empty” and asks, “how the West can learn from the values and the notion of society that Hezbollah and Hamas have at the centre of their philosophy?”

Of course, access to the mainstream media dovetails with the Conflicts Forum strategy very well, but one would expect members of the media organisations themselves to be aware of the organisation’s background and aims before using quotes from its officials.” 

Providing Alastair Crooke with the opportunity to spout the spin of a terrorist organization and a murderous dictatorship to millions of listeners unchallenged is obviously bad enough. But when that is done without due disclosure of the political connections of the man and his very dubious organization, then the BBC is displaying wanton disregard for its own obligation to impartiality and once again putting its own political colours – and agenda – in full view.  

BBC selected ‘expert opinions’ and transparency

As we know, the BBC claims that:

“A member of the audience who watches, listens and reads the full range of our output should be coherently and cogently informed about events in Israel and the occupied territories, and should better understand the complex forces that are at work.”

Of course the accuracy and impartiality of that output, including the material on the BBC website, depends to no small extent upon the BBC’s choice of sources – in particular when it quotes ‘expert opinions’. 

Many readers will probably have heard of the think tank ‘Conflicts Forum’ which was established in 2004 by Mark Perry (who later left) and Alistair Crooke – a former MI6 operative who reportedly got too close to Hamas for the comfort of his employers. 

Conflicts Forum’s Board of Advisors used to be graced by Hamas supporter and suicide bombing fan Azzam Tamimi and former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Currently on its board are, among others, former Mavi Marmara passenger Ismail Patel of Friends of Al Aqsa, Global March to Jerusalem and Airflotilla endorser Ronnie Kasrils and Hillary Mann-Leverett

Among the contributors to Conflicts Forum is Khaled Amayreh who – as the CST has pointed out – has a dismal record of antisemitism. Conflicts Forum has produced a periodical entitled Cultures of Resistancethe first volume of which at least was in part financed by the UK registered charity the JA Clark Charitable Trust, which made donations to Conflicts Forum in 20072008, 2009 and 2011 at least. A perhaps former trustee (the entries on the Charity Commission website are not up to date and the website of the charity itself is not public), chair and founder of that charity – Tom Clark – also sits on the Conflicts Forum board.  Writing in the first volume of that periodical (p. 26) – alongside Massoud Shadjareh and Arzu Merali of the IHRC  – Clark stated: 

“There is a wide constituency in the West who want to know more and are confused and angry about what is happening in the Middle East. But whilst US/Israel have a strangle-hold on international media, little is revealed.”

Conflicts Forum’s projects coordinator Aisling Byrne reflected the organisation’s approach when she wrote in January 2012 on the subject of the uprising in Syria that:

“What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.”

Broadly speaking, Conflicts Forum is a Western-sounding mouthpiece for the Iranian regime and its various client militias such as Hamas and Hizballah, as well as Iranian allies such as the Assad regime. 

In 2007, with EU funding, Conflicts Forum produced a report (now strangely absent from the internet) detailing strategies to rebrand the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah in the West as proponents of “social justice” and specifically promoting “Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s values, philosophy and wider political and social programmes”. 

“We need to clarify and explain that Islamist movements are political and social movements working on social and political justice,” the report explains, “and are leading the resistance to the US/Western recolonisation project with its network of client states and so-called ‘moderates’.” It claims “the progressive space of social movements [in the West] is empty” and asks, “how the West can learn from the values and the notion of society that Hezbollah and Hamas have at the centre of their philosophy?”

Of course, access to the mainstream media dovetails with the Conflicts Forum strategy very well, but one would expect members of the media organisations themselves to be aware of the organisation’s background and aims before using quotes from its officials. 

An article going under the title “Hezbollah: Terrorist organisation or liberation movement?“, dated October 2011 and written by Owen Bennett-Jones (a version of which was also broadcast on BBC radio at the time), still comes up on the BBC website in a search there for information on the Iranian backed terror organization. Among others, that article features a quote from Conflicts Forum’s Alistair Crooke. 

“Others, such as Alistair Crooke, disagree. A former British intelligence agent, he now runs a think tank in Beirut through which he has frequent contact with Hezbollah. “They are a resistance movement,” he says. “They are a liberation movement.” “

Of course Bennett-Jones provides no information for his readers as to Crooke’s real background (or even the name of his organization) and he certainly does not inform them that the entire raison d’etre of Crooke’s think tank is to turn that terrorist organization into something more palatable to Western minds. 

Bennett-Jones also quotes Nicholas Noe, describing him as someone who “has compiled the collected speeches and interviews of the Hezbollah leader”.  An intermittent Guardian contributor and founder and editor-in-chief of Mideastwire (which includes Conflicts Forum on its sidebar), Noe is also renowned for his wrapping of the Hizballah message in a form more persuasive to Western audiences. 

What Bennett-Jones fails to inform his own readers is that Noe’s organization also runs Arabic language courses, a prime selling point of which is the opportunity to rub shoulders with Hamas and Hizballah. 

 “When Amtissal signed up to learn Arabic in Beirut, she was in for a bonus: class trips to the offices of Hezbollah and Hamas, both classified as terrorist organizations by her native America.

“It was an amazing experience,” the U.S. media studies graduate told AFP. “We saw the difference between television and reality.”

For 21-year-old Andrew Waller, the Beirut Exchange was a golden opportunity to hear the voices of groups he had only read about.

“Meeting Hezbollah was an experience I really treasure,” said Waller, an economics student at the University of Exeter in Britain.”

The readers of this BBC article should surely be entitled to know that the ‘analysis’ they are reading is provided by someone with commercial interests which rely upon remaining in the good books of Iranian proxy terrorist organisations. 

When the BBC filters information and analysis for distribution to its audiences it is essentially shaping the subsequent opinions formed on the basis of that knowledge. When it decides to use sources commercially and/or ideologically linked to the very organization about which it is supposed to be providing information – especially when it does so without disclosing those relationships – it cannot be said to be providing objective, accurate and impartial information for the purpose of enhancing its audiences understanding of “complex issues”. Instead, the BBC becomes a partner in a PR campaign run by terrorist sympathisers.