BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, after over six months and three complaints, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) finally acknowledged that a claim aired in the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ in December 2017 was “materially misleading”.

However two additional points made in the same complaint by BBC Watch were rejected by the ECU. As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received on those points.

The second point raised concerned a claim made by Danny Boyle while being filmed in Hebron. As was documented here at the time:

“Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. […]

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.”

In our initial complaint BBC Watch pointed out that Boyle had presented pure conjecture as fact and that:

“Boyle’s claim that the graffiti ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’ is unfounded and inaccurate.”

Although we did not raise the issue of Boyle’s apparent Nazi analogy in that complaint, in the reply received at Stage 1a we were informed by BBC Complaints that what appeared to be the case was in fact so.

“In the course of making the film Danny Boyle spent some time in Hebron (visiting both Hebron 1 and Hebron 2) and saw for himself properties formerly owned by Palestinian residents which were now claimed by Israeli settlers, and he saw that the Star of David was used to mark these properties. His comments in this section of the film are a reflection on what he had seen throughout his visit and on his awareness, as someone who loathes anti-Semitism, of what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s.” 

In our Stage 1b complaint submitted on January 22nd 2018 we noted that:

“The response provides no proof for the inaccurate claim that the shops on Emek Hevron street “were now claimed by Israeli settlers” – that allegation is simply untrue and unless the BBC can provide factual evidence must be withdrawn. Additionally the response states that Boyle was reflecting on “what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s”. The BBC – and Mr Boyle – should be aware that such a Nazi analogy is considered anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government.”

The relevant part of the response we received to that complaint was as follows:

“As stated previously, on his trip Danny Boyle saw properties formerly owned by Palestinians that had been claimed by Israeli settlers and marked with the Star of David.  It is your contention that the buildings in this specific scene have never even been considered for the purpose of settlement homes. Nonetheless we believe it was appropriate for Danny to comment on a practise that he had seen throughout his visit.”

Needless to say, no details were provided to support the claim that Boyle had seen Star of David graffiti expressing a claim by “Israeli settlers” to “properties formerly owned by Palestinians” in any other location “throughout his visit”.

In our complaint submitted to the ECU on February 28th 2018 we noted that:

“With regard to the second point raised in my complaint, the BBC once again provides no evidence to support the claim that the Star of David graffiti painted by unknown parties on doors on  Emek Hevron Street ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’. Moreover, it again justifies Boyle’s anti-Semitic Nazi analogy while ignoring the fact that other types of graffiti are in evidence on doorways on the same street.”

We included photographs of that additional graffiti, which includes (see here) Arabic writing and an anarchist symbol.

The reply received from the ECU four months after that Stage 2 complaint was submitted is as follows:

In other words, while admitting that Boyle’s remark was “conjecture” which may have been “mistaken as to the motive behind the particular graffito shown”, the BBC ECU still claims that audiences were not materially misled. The “evidence” cited by the ECU consists of three media reports: one from the Palestinian media outlet ‘Maan News’ dating from 2012, one from the New York Times dated 1997 and one from the Times of Israel dated 2014. While those articles may indeed support the ECU’s claim that graffiti can be a “declaration of…hostility to Palestinian residents”, that was not the claim put forward by Boyle in that part of the programme.

The third point raised in our Stage 1a complaint related to a statement made by the narrator at 33:11: [emphasis added]

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

BBC Watch pointed out that the claim is inaccurate and misleading, that even according to B’tselem just four Israeli communities are served by roads upon which vehicles with Palestinian plates cannot travel and that:

“Obviously “most” of the people the BBC chooses to call “Jewish settlers” do not live in those four communities.”

The response received at Stage 1a was as follows:

“Jewish settlements in the West Bank are increasingly connected and served by roads inaccessible to Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates. This is a result of the ongoing Israeli policy of expanding the settlements and their infrastructure.”

When we challenged that response – obviously irrelevant to the point made in the original complaint – at Stage 1b, this was the reply received:

“It is not disputed that the majority of West Bank settlers live in settlements. It is also the case that these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates.”

In our Stage 2 complaint to the ECU we pointed out that:

“With regard to the third point made in my complaint, the claim that “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads” is simply untrue and the BBC’s claim that “these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates” is only applicable to the entrance roads to a small number of communities – totaling at most less than 60 kms.”

Four months later the ECU replied with no small amount of ‘whataboutery‘, quoting a report from the politicised UN agency UNOCHA.

Readers can judge for themselves whether six months is an acceptable time-frame for the resolution of a complaint to the BBC and whether or not the practices of outsourcing complaints to a private company and basing responses to complaints on information supplied by political NGOs serves the interests of the public that funds the corporation. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

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

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

 

 

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BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

Readers no doubt recall that in December 2017 the BBC’s Christmas season programming included a programme commissioned for BBC Two titled ‘Alternativity’.

Contrary to prior claims from the station’s controller Patrick Holland, the programme did not present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of the hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging relating to Israel promoted from both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

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

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

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning ‘Alternativity’ which, because of the word-count restrictions on complaints, focused on just three aspects of the programme.

Over six months later the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has upheld one of the points made by BBC Watch and rejected two additional points.  As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received at those first two stages on a point that was eventually upheld.

The first point we raised in our initial complaint referred to a claim made by the narrator at 12:20 minutes into the programme.

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.” [emphasis added]

We argued that the highlighted claim is untrue. The response we received at stage 1a was as follows:

“Figures on the number of arrests, prosecutions or convictions directly related to the refusal of Palestinians to leave land which has been seized or confiscated by Israel are unavailable, but the claim that “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention).”

We submitted a second complaint – Stage 1b – on January 22nd 2018:

“While admitting that the BBC does not have facts and figures, the response claims that the claim “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is none the less accurate. Unless the BBC can produce concrete examples of people “imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” that claim cannot be considered accurate. The original claim related to land used for construction of the anti-terrorist fence and owners of such land are not only compensated but are entitled to appeal to the Israeli courts.”

Notably, the response we received to that point in our second complaint relied primarily on information sourced from the foreign-funded political NGO B’tselem and the PFLP linked group Addameer.

“The BBC has an obligation towards achieving “due accuracy”.  Our Editorial Guidelines say “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right.  If an issue is controversial, relevant opinions as well as facts may need to be considered.  When necessary, all the relevant facts and information should also be weighed to get at the truth.”  As we are sure you are aware, the Israeli government does not publish the numbers of individuals subject to what it calls “administrative detention”, nor the reasons why those individuals have been detained (as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention). But there is a significant amount of information – what the Guideline is referring to when it uses the terms “relevant opinions”, and “relevant facts and information” – that can be analysed to provide a reasonable estimate.  For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years. 

You note that Palestinians whose land has been appropriated for construction of the barrier are compensated. But that has no bearing on the issue of how the Israeli authorities dealt with protests against the barrier’s construction.  There have been many such protests, with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land. 

The next question is therefore whether “thousands” is a reasonable estimate for the numbers detained. As noted above, there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands.”

Having exhausted stages 1a and 1b of the BBC complaints procedure, we continued with a complaint submitted on February 28th 2018 to the Executive Complaints Unit after having consulted the former IDF Chief Prosecutor in Judea & Samaria, Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch (at the time senior military justice consultant for NGO Monitor) who, inter alia, pointed out that:

“To the best of my knowledge, as someone intimately involved in law enforcement in Judea and Samaria for 20 years, no Palestinian has been imprisoned for “refusing to leave their land”! That claim is simply a fiction. Firstly, most (approximately 95%) Palestinians resident in Judea and Samaria live in the large Palestinian towns and the surrounding villages. With the exception of one, none of these towns are affected by the security barrier. Secondly, “refusing to leave your land” is not an offence, and consequently no one has been arrested or imprisoned on this basis. Thirdly, Palestinians separated from their land by the security barrier are entitled to and are in practice given permits to access their land.” 

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that ““thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention)”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“As regards Administrative detention the BBC intentionally combines two subjects that have no connection whatsoever. According to international law (art. 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) a person can only be placed in administrative detention, if it is necessary for “imperative reasons of security”. No Palestinian has been placed in administrative detention for “refusing to leave their land”. According to precedent set down by Israel’s Supreme Court, a person can only be placed in administrative detention if the state proves that he poses an imminent, severe danger to the security of the public. It should be noted, that while the judicial review process of Administrative detention orders carried out by the military courts far extends the requirements of international law, Palestinians also have the right to challenge their administrative detention before Israel’s supreme court.”

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that “For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years…as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention“, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“There is nothing ‘reliable’ about the report that 100,000 Palestinians have been held in Administrative detention. The occurrence of administrative detention between the years 1967 – 1987 was very limited. In response to the Palestinian terrorism that started in 1987 the use of administrative detention increased. With the onset of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s use of administrative detention waned. Only in 2001, as a response to the wide scale Palestinian terrorist attacks, did Israel revert to the use of administrative detention. Since then, the number of Palestinians arrested in administrative detention has fluctuated considerably. According to publicly available documents, that organisations like B’tselem chose to ignore, in the 20 year period, between 1995 and 2015, 16,041. In that period, in one year (2000) only 17 new administrative detention orders were issued. In another year (2002) 2,578 new orders were issued. In other words, if one were to use the 20 years between 1995 and 2015 as a basis, it would indicate that Israel placed 800 Palestinians a year in administrative detention. Assuming that these figures are automatically reflective of the statistics since 1967, the result would be that 40,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention. Having said that, noting the tremendous fluctuation in the use of administrative detention, any statistic given, that is not based on official numbers for every year, is inherently unreliable.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “…with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”, Lt. Col Hirsch noted that:

“There is no logical connection between these two statements. Palestinians “detained for protests against the barrier… and land annexation” include those who threw stones, molotov cocktails and committed other related offences. The arrest of these people had nothing to do with “refusing to leave their land”, but rather the fact that they committed violent offences. Moreover, considering the fact that demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier were organized by the Palestinian Authority and called for widespread participation, it is also factually inaccurate to assume that all those arrested were necessarily the owners of the land on which they were arrested.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“…there is no logical or statistical basis to use a statistic for the prevalence of law enforcement in one year alone in order to ‘calculate’ a larger figure for multiple years. For example in 2006, a total of 1120 Palestinians were prosecuted for offences categorized as “Disturbances of the peace” (as opposed to Terrorism; Regular criminal offences; and Illegal entry into Israel). That number decreased in 2008 to only 593. This category included, among other offences, stone throwing. Accordingly, this simplistic statistical approach adopted by the BBC ignores the tremendous fluctuation in law enforcement every year.”

Four months after that complaint to the ECU had been submitted, we received a reply which includes the following:

According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.

In part two of this post we will look at some of the interesting responses received from BBC Complaints in relation to the other two points raised in this complaint.

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

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

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

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

Readers may recall that on June 6th the BBC News website published an article concerning the cancellation of a friendly football match between Israel and Argentina. The cancellation was inaccurately framed as being related to “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza” while assorted threats against the Argentinian team were downplayed or ignored.

Before

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report and – almost a month later – has now received the following reply.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Argentina cancelled a football World Cup warm-up match with Israel (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-44378669) and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

Our article does mention the threats but after investigating further we have amended the headline and added a paragraph to reflect the further background to the campaign.

We have also added a correction note at the bottom of the article which outlines these changes.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The claim that “our article does mention the threats” does not reflect the fact that the “mention” was added eleven hours after the report’s initial publication and that it is composed of a quote from the Israel Football Association relating solely to statements made by the PA’s Jibril Rajoub. The threats against the team at their training site in Barcelona were not reported.

After

Nevertheless, the article’s headline has now been changed from “Argentina cancels Israel World Cup friendly after Gaza violence” to “Argentina scraps Israel World Cup friendly after campaign“.

The added paragraphs read:

“The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians, had called on Argentina not to play against Israel, even before the venue moved from Haifa to Jerusalem.

The campaign escalated after Israel switched the venue to Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its capital and whose eastern part the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

The footnote informs BBC audiences that:

However, the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that anyone who read this article during the four weeks since its initial publication will be unlikely to know that it promoted a misleading view of the story.

 

After three months BBC corrects inaccurate claim

Back in January the BBC News website published an article about one of the communities of Jews who immigrated to Israel from India in which readers were told that:

“…the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962 when the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities.”

As noted here at the time, that portrayal is inaccurate and BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website but did not receive a reply.

Mr Stephen Franklin made a complaint to the BBC on that issue which was initially rejected. Mr Franklin filed a second complaint and – two months later – received the following response:

“Thank you for getting in touch again about our feature article entitled: Israel’s Indian Jews and their lives in the ‘promised land’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-42731363) and we’re sorry that the initial response from our central complaints team did not address your specific concerns.

To hopefully do so now, you are quite correct and we’ve since amended this sentence to now read:

But the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962, when a rabbinic council decreed that Bene Israelis would have to have their maternal ancestry investigated if they wanted to marry Jews from other communities.

We’ve also added a correction note at the bottom of the article which outlines this change.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The footnote added to the article reads:

The continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that anyone who read this article in the three months since its publication will be unlikely to know that it included inaccurate information.

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BBC News inaccurately reports an Israeli story from the sixties

BBC News website corrects Palestinian envoy’s title

As noted here earlier in the week, a March 31st BBC report relating to the previous day’s violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip closed by telling readers that:

“Riyad Mansour is of course not “[t]he UN envoy for Palestine”: he is a Palestinian envoy to the UN who holds the title “Permanent Observer of Palestine”. BBC Watch has requested a correction to that inaccuracy.”

The BBC News website responded:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that the Israeli military has warned it could take action against “terrorist targets” inside the Gaza Strip. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43603199)

You raise a fair point and we’ve since amended this sentence to refer to “The Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour…””

No footnote has been appended to the report and the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that anyone who read this article in the first three days after its publication will still be under the erroneous impression that the UN has an envoy “for Palestine” called Riyad Mansour.

One month on BBC corrects inaccuracy regarding Israeli cabinet decision

In the original version of its February 6th report on a terror attack near Ariel – “Israeli man stabbed to death at West Bank settlement” – the BBC News website claimed that:

“It [the attack] comes a day after Israel retroactively legalised an unauthorised settlement outpost in response to the killing of a resident last month.”

A later version of the same report included the same claim:

“Israel retroactively legalised Havat Gilad, an unauthorised settlement, in response to the murder [of Rabbi Raziel Shevach].”

As was noted here at the time:

“Both those statements are inaccurate and misleading: Havat Gilad was not “retroactively legalised” on February 4th as the BBC claims. Rather – as the Times of Israel reported: [emphasis added]

“The cabinet on Sunday voted unanimously to begin the process of legalizing the Havat Gilad outpost less than a month after the murder of resident Raziel Shevach.

The approved proposal declares the government’s intention to establish the hilltop community southeast of Nablus as a full-fledged settlement “on lands that are privately owned by Israelis or state lands.”

The proposal authorized Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to instruct relevant government bodies to examine the legal aspects of recognizing Havat Gilad as an official settlement. It also tasked the Finance Ministry with auditing the financial costs of establishing a new settlement. […]

However, the proposal’s language regarding the legal ownership of the land hinted at a significant hurdle that still remains ahead of the outpost’s legalization.””

BBC Watch immediately contacted the BBC News website to point out that error but did not receive a reply and no action was taken to correct the inaccurate claim. A complaint was therefore submitted and the response received includes the following:

“…after considering this complaint we have amended the sentence in question to now read:

The Israeli cabinet backed a plan to retroactively legalise Havat Gilad, an unauthorised settlement, in response to the murder

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

A footnote advising readers of the amendment has not however been added to the article and of course the enduring absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website means that those who read the claim that “Israel retroactively legalised Havat Gilad” over a month ago will remain completely unaware that it is inaccurate.

We have previously observed here on many occasions that it would not be difficult for the BBC News website to set up a dedicated corrections page along the lines of the one run by the NYT. As Craig Silverman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011:

“The point of an online corrections page is to have a centralized place where readers can see the latest mistakes and corrections. It gives them the opportunity to discover if a recent article they read, or reporting they heard or saw, has been updated or corrected. It also provides a basic element of transparency. A dedicated page makes corrections more visible and accessible, and it increases the likelihood that people will receive the corrected information. After all, that’s the point of making correction in the first place.”

After all, one would expect that an organisation which regularly promotes itself as a trustworthy media source would be enthusiastic about taking onboard such a simple method of increasing transparency and improving its reputation for accuracy.

Related Articles:

BBC misrepresents cabinet decision in report on Ariel terror attack

Another ‘stealth’ correction on the BBC News website

 

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

As noted here yesterday, the caption to a photograph used to illustrate the webpage of the January 7th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ included an inaccurate claim.

“In addition, the photograph illustrating the programme’s webpage is inaccurately captioned as follows:

“Photo: A tourist photographs a sign in Bethlehem in 2015, calling for a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements.”

BBC Watch asked a professional to translate the Arabic script on that sign. It makes no reference to a selective boycott of “products coming from Jewish settlements” but rather urges: “boycott your occupation…support your country’s produce” and it is credited to “the national campaign for boycott of the occupation and its goods”.”

Along with a reader, BBC Watch contacted the BBC World Service and received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch and the ‘alert’.

The caption is indeed – as you point out – inaccurate.  It was provided by the same agency which provided the image – Getty Images. We have now changed the caption on our website (…it might take a bit of time to upload) and have referred the error to the agency as well.   

Once again, thank you with apologies for the error.”

The amended caption now reads:

“Photo: A tourist photographs a sign in Bethlehem in 2015, calling for a boycott of Israeli products.”

BBC Watch commends the swift action taken to correct that misleading inaccuracy.

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BDS campaigner’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC World Service

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis

Late last month we noted the use of terminology that breaches the BBC’s own style guide in the synopsis to a music programme aired on BBC Radio 4.

Although the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank”, BBC audiences were told that:

“For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America whilst in Palestine, for ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh it’s a song that inspires him to work towards a better life.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and received a response including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘Soul Music’.

I understand you were unhappy with the use of the word ‘Palestine’ in the synopsis for the 27 December episode on the programme’s section of our website.

Having consulted with the programme’s production team and senior editorial staff at BBC Radio 4, we have now amended this to ‘Palestinian Territories’.

We would like to thank you for brining [sic] this to our attention.”

The amended part of the synopsis now reads:

“‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh finds the song inspires him to work towards a better life in the Palestinian Territories.”

Related Articles:

Radio 4 programme synopsis breaches BBC’s own style guide

BBC News report on 2017 ‘fake news’ excludes its own

On December 31st the BBC News website published an article titled “How fake news plagued 2017” which provides readers with the following definition under the sub-heading “What is fake news?”.

  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive – or old photographs shared as new
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people

Other proposed definitions of the phenomenon are wider. As Claire Wardle of First Draft (which is partnered by BBC News) has noted, it can also include misinformation promoted by journalists.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s article about ‘fake news’ in 2017 does not include any of its own content – which would not fall under the definition it has chosen to promote.

However, BBC Watch has recorded numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC throughout the past year. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections are the following: 

1) The claim that most Gulf Arab countries “now accept the existence of the Jewish state”:

BBC partially corrects ‘The World Tonight’ inaccuracies

2) The claim that Jerusalem as a whole is “occupied”:

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

3) The claim that nine people murdered in a terror attack in 2002 were “Jewish settlers”:

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

4) The claim that an attack in Syria was carried out by Israel:

BBC News website amends claim of Israeli strike in Syria

5) The claim that Tel Aviv is “the Israeli capital”:

BBC Watch prompts edit of BBC WS inaccurate location of Israel’s capital

6) The claim that Jews rioted in Manchester in the 1940s:

After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

Error acknowledged, complaint upheld – yet BBC inaccuracy still remains online

7) The claim that Israel was “carved out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians”:

BBC WS acknowledges inaccurate claim in history show

8) The claim that Mt Scopus and the Hebrew University are “Israeli settlements”:

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

9) The claim that the Battle of Beersheba “led to” the Balfour Declaration:

Inaccurate BBC Balfour Declaration claim misleads audiences

10) The claim that “most Jewish organisations” rejected the 1947 Partition Plan:

BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

11) The claim that a convicted soldier held the rank of sergeant:

BBC News website twice reports convicted soldier’s rank inaccurately

12) The claim that attacks on Israeli communities were carried out using “mortars”:

Correction secured to inaccurate BBC News website claim about Gaza attacks

The BBC’s narrow definition of ‘fake news’ is of particular interest given that just last month the corporation announced that it was “launching a new scheme to help young people identify real news and filter out fake or false information”.

“James Harding, the director of BBC News, said: “This is an attempt to go into schools to speak to young people and give them the equipment they need to distinguish between what’s true and what’s false.” […]

“I think that people are getting the news all over the place – there’s more information than ever before,” said Harding.

“But, as we know, some of it is old news, some of it is half truths. Some of it is just downright lies. And it’s harder than ever when you look at those information feeds to discern what’s true and what’s not.”

Given the above examples (as well as countless others) of misinformation promoted by the BBC – along with its notoriously slow complaints procedure and inadequate corrections mechanism which does not even include a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website – one might well conclude that the physician first needs to heal himself.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2017 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our work of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform BBC audiences in a manner no less pernicious than the type of ‘fake news’ that the BBC does recognise. 

Correction secured to inaccurate BBC News website claim about Gaza attacks

As noted here last week, on December 9th the BBC News website produced the corporation’s first English language report of the year on the topic of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip – despite numerous other attacks having taken place throughout 2017.

Readers of that report were told that:

“Israeli-Palestinian tensions have risen since President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

After more attacks took place, the BBC News website produced another report on the same topic on December 14th – “Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket fire” – in which readers were similarly informed that:

“There has been an escalation of hostilities since President Donald Trump gave US recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel a week ago.”

Relating to incidents which took place the previous evening, the article opened:

“Israel has carried out fresh air strikes in the Gaza strip on what it said were military facilities belonging to the Islamist group Hamas.

The Israeli military said its aircraft had targeted training camps and weapons storage compounds.

The strikes happened after four rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory.”

Later on readers learned that:

“One rocket landed in a field in southern Israel, one reportedly fell short, landing inside the Gaza strip, while two were intercepted.”

However, BBC audiences were not told that the missile that fell short reportedly hit a school in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip – which was fortunately empty at the time.

“Earlier on Wednesday night, four rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel. Two of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, a third struck an open field and the fourth fell short of the border and hit a school in the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

The rocket that fell short destroyed an empty classroom in Beit Hanoun’s Ghazi al-Shawa public school, according to the IDF.”

On December 15th yet another rocket fired by terror groups in the Gaza Strip fell short, also reportedly hitting a structure in Beit Hanoun.

“A rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza on Friday evening, yet hit a residential building in the Gazan town of Beit Hanoun, the Israeli army’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said. […]

According to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the house was significantly damaged. In a Facebook post in Arabic COGAT said that “once again terror organizations launch rockets at Gaza residents themselves.”

Despite the BBC being one of the few media outlets to have a permanent presence in the Gaza Strip, no mention of that shortfall missile appeared in the BBC News website’s December 15th report titled “Jerusalem: Palestinians killed in fresh clashes with Israel“.

In the first two versions of that report, readers were told that:

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website, pointing out that the projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip throughout the past ten days were not “mortars”. The report was subsequently amended and that paragraph now reads as follows:

Remarkably, despite the recent uptick in missile fire from the Gaza Strip the BBC has not sent any of its Jerusalem-based correspondents to report from the Israeli communities affected by those attacks. As we see – and not for the first time – the corporation also continues to ignore residents of the Gaza Strip who fall victim to shortfall rockets fired by terror groups in the territory.

Related Articles:

For the first time this year, BBC reports Gaza rocket attacks on Israeli civilians

Why doesn’t the BBC tell audiences about Gaza’s shortfall missiles?