BBC Complaints invokes ‘common parlance in the media’

As documented previously, on January 28th listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio repeatedly heard Husam Zomlot described as “the Palestinian ambassador to the UK” and “the Palestinian ambassador to London”.

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that the BBC had corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title in 2018 and that although the UK does not currently recognise a Palestinian state, by referring to Mr Zomlot as an ambassador the BBC suggests that it does and therefore misleads audiences.

On February 6th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the Today programme and Newshour, both broadcast on Tuesday 28th January.

We have spoken with senior staff about your concerns. We acknowledge the point that Husam Zomlot is not strictly speaking an ambassador, although the phrase is in common parlance in the media. We will remind editors of his actual title, but it is clear from our wider reporting that the UK does not recognise Palestine as a state.”

In other words the BBC is obviously not concerned by the fact that members of the public who access any of those three programmes during the time they are still available online will be misled by the misrepresentation of Zomlot’s title because it is “common parlance in the media” – which apparently takes precedence over BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy.  

BBC Arabic does stealth ‘clean-up’ after CAMERA Arabic complaint

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

In late October we posted a report by CAMERA Arabic concerning BBC Arabic’s promotion of an “educational” project by environmental engineer Omar Asi: an Israel-free, child-friendly map of “Palestine” from the river to the sea:

BBC Arabic radio promotes Israel-free map of ‘Palestine’ for children

During Asi’s interview with the BBC Arabic radio show “Dardasha Layliya”:

  1. He elaborated on several of the areas of “Palestine” featured on his map including Jaffa and the Negev, both of which are internationally recognised as Israeli territory.
  2. He spoke disapprovingly of the geographical education children from the “interior of Palestine” (i.e. Israeli Arabs) are getting, namely the fact they are being exposed to “maps of Israel” rather than “maps of Palestine”.
  3. He revealed that the map contains a reference to the autobiography of a Hamas mass-murderer Abdullah Barghouthi, currently imprisoned in Israel. Barghouthi is a bomb-maker who was given 67 consecutive life sentences for his part in the murder of 66 Israelis in numerous suicide bombings during the early 2000s.
  4. He expressed his conviction that the illustrations of places on the map would prompt children to find out more about stories behind them which relate to the Palestinian national struggle.
  5. He received full and complete support for his campaign from the show’s host Heba ‘Abd al-Baqi who wished him and his team the best of luck and stated he was calling “from Palestine”. At no point during the interview did Abd al-Baqi challenge, criticise or contextualise Asi’s ideas.

In conclusion, this BBC Arabic radio item normalised the negation of Israel’s right to exist within any borders and denied the right of Israeli Jews to live peacefully while exerting their right of self-determination in their homeland. Asi’s mention of Abdullah Barghouthi also mainstreamed implied support for terrorism against Israeli civilians.

All of the above is a breach of BBC’s editorial guidelines regarding impartiality and offensive speech, as well as a breach of BBC’s style guide regarding the use of the term “Palestine”.

In late November, not long after a CAMERA Arabic submitted a complaint about the item to the BBC, it was mysteriously removed from BBC Arabic’s Soundcloud channel and Facebook webpage. Notably, the other two items aired in the same programme on October 24th still appear on both the Soundcloud channel and the Facebook webpage (the first link leads to the opening item of the show which includes a short description of the map item – the second of the three – at 0:40). 

Although CAMERA Arabic has yet to receive any response to the complaint submitted in November, it would appear that somebody at BBC Arabic took action to hide evidence that this embarrassing item had existed in the first place.

 

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Earlier this week we noted that a December 5th BBC ‘Newsround’ photo feature aimed at children aged 6 to 12 presented a photograph of a Christmas tree in Ramallah as having been taken “in Palestine”.

As we observed, the use of that terminology breaches the BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ and a complaint was submitted by BBC Watch on December 14th.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 17th we received an email from BBC Complaints claiming that they were “unable to reply”.

“Thank you for contacting us about the BBC News website.

We regret that at present we’re unable to reply, unless we receive the URL to the article mentioned in your complaint.

Please contact us as you did before and include the above case reference number so we can pick up where we’ve left off.”

The relevant URL was in fact included in our complaint, as shown in the screenshot below:

However by the time that superfluous email from BBC Complaints was sent, the photo feature concerned had been amended and it now carries the date stamp December 16th.

Instead of the original seven photographs – three (42.8%) of which portrayed Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas – the feature now carries eleven images: the original seven as well as additions from Belarus, Manchester, Moscow and El Salvador.

The caption to the photograph from Ramallah has been changed, with the word “Palestine” replaced by “the Middle East”.

However no footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences of the amendment.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

Last week we noted the inaccurate portrayal of a resolution passed by the French parliament in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page.

BBC News misrepresents French parliament resolution

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report (including a link to the draft resolution passed by France’s National Assembly) and two days later we received a reply from the BBC News website:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the article and added a correction note at the bottom, advising readers of these changes.”

The original version of the report read as follows:

The amended version and the added footnote now read:

 

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

Earlier this week we noted that in an article published on the BBC News website on November 22nd, MK Gideon Sa’ar was inaccurately described as “the education minister”.

“Gideon Sa’ar has not been the Minister of Education for over six years. He held that post between March 31st 2009 and March 18th 2013 and since then there have been three other ministers.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to alert editors to that inaccuracy but over 24 hours later no reply had been received and no correction made. We therefore submitted a complaint on November 24th.

On November 25th we received a response from the BBC News website informing us that:

“This sentence was amended in the hours after publication, to now correctly refer to Gideon Saar as “The former education and interior minister…””

The amendment was in fact made at least two days after publication and no footnote has been added to inform audiences that they were previously given inaccurate information.

Before:

After:

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BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

Earlier this month we documented an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor during the September 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

In an item relating to post-election Israeli politics Jeremy Bowen told listeners that:

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Bowen’s inaccurate claim which BBC Complaints initially tried to dismiss with the following response:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding From Our Own Correspondent, broadcast on Thursday 26th September.

We have spoken with the programme team about your concerns. During his report Jeremy Bowen says, “Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” Although a verdict is due to be made by the end of the year we don’t believe it was inaccurate for Jeremy to say “they’re due to come to court next month”, as he was referring to the allegations that were due to be bought forward at this time. We hope this clarifies Jeremy’s statement.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint, pointing out that the response received was unsatisfactory:

“What is “due to be made by the end of the year” – is a decision by the Attorney General’s office whether or not to indict Netanyahu on all or any of the three cases. Hence “the allegations” are not “due to come to court next month” as claimed by the BBC – i.e. October – because as yet no indictment has been made. Reasonable members of the audience would understand from Bowen’s words that a court case is due to commence in October and would necessarily conclude from that that an indictment has been made. That is not the case and so Bowen’s claim is both inaccurate and misleading.”

On October 28th we received a further response from BBC Complaints in which once again we see that the BBC takes the liberty of declaring a second response at Stage 1b of the procedure “your first reply”. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’re sorry you had to come back to us and we appreciate why. We always aim to address the specific points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. Your [sic] previous reply didn’t tackle the exact issue you raised and we’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We have spoken with the From Our Own Correspondent team about your concerns. They would like to respond with the following:

“Thanks for writing in again and I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the previous reply.

You are right to suggest that Jeremy was referring to the pre-trial hearing with the attorney-general, which took place behind closed doors at the Justice ministry.

Jeremy was using a turn of phrase, to indicate the legal process was reaching its crucial next stage, but in case listeners thought the case was actually coming to court next month we can clarify the point on our complaints website.

The Attorney-General has of course already indicated that charges are likely.”

Thank you again for getting in touch.”

On October 28th the following correction was posted on the BBC’s ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ page:

However, no notification of that correction has been added to the programme’s webpage, where the item is still available to audiences.

The new BBC editorial guidelines published in July state that:

“Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.”  [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, BBC audiences will continue to be misled by Jeremy Bowen’s inaccurate account because BBC Radio 4 has not complied with those editorial guidelines.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

BBC Complaints makes it up as it goes along

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

CAMERA Arabic prompts correction of three inaccuracies in one BBC report

A BBC article published on September 24th on the network’s Arabic website was corrected last week (no earlier than October 1st, based on the date attributed to a cached copy of the inaccurate version) following a complaint made by CAMERA Arabic on the day of publication.

The article – which aimed to provide a detailed, informed introduction to Israel’s major Arab parties – contained three factual errors, one memorable typo and one major omission – all in one subsection.

Under the headline “What are the components of the Joint Arab List in the Israeli Knesset and [what are] their orientations?”, the article discussed the Joint List – a union of four Israeli parties, three of which self-identify as “Arab” while the fourth, Hadash, describes itself as “Arab-Jewish” (although the vast majority of its voters are estimated to be Arab). 

The inaccuracies appeared in the part of the article portraying one of the Joint List’s components: the nationalist Arab party of the National Democratic Alliance (Balad). The correction addressed all the issues raised by CAMERA Arabic. (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified)

Inaccuracy 1: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset…”

That claim has not been accurate for over a year: between August 2018 and April 2019 (the last few months of the 20th Knesset), Balad had 4 MKs as a result of a deal within the Joint List. Until last week, it had 2MKs who were of the 21st Knesset (which was dissolved on Thursday, October 3rd, as the 22nd Knesset was sworn in)

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset until 2018…”

Inaccuracy 2: “…among them is the first Arab female Knesset member, Haneen Zu’bi”

In fact Balad’s Haneen Zu’bi [Zoabi] – elected in 2009 – was the third MK who was an Arab woman. Prior to her were Meretz’s Hussniya Jabara (served as MK 1999-2003) and the late Nadia Hilou from the Labour party who served as MK between 2006-2009.

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “…among them the first female member to enter the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party, Haneen Zu’bi, having been preceded by two female representatives of Arab roots who entered the Knesset inside Israeli parties

This new phrasing is problematic in itself: why was Zu’bi described as “Arab” in the previous version but her two predecessors are described as being “of Arab roots”? Moreover, why are Meretz and Labour described as “Israeli parties” but the Joint List and its components – which compete solely in Israeli elections – described as “Arab”?

Inaccuracy 3: “MK Jamal Zahalka heads the party nowadays”

In fact Zahalka is no longer an MK; he confirmed that he would not seek re-election in December 2018 and indeed was not nominated at all in the election rounds of April 2019 and September 2019. Although he currently retains the title of “Chairman of Balad”, it was political scientist Mtanes Shehadeh, Balad’s secretary general, who was elected head of the party’s list of Knesset nominees last February. Since the April 2019 elections, Shehadeh heads the party’s parliamentary bloc.

The BBC’s corrected version reads “M[K] Mtanes Shehadeh, the party’s secretary general, heads Balad’s parliamentary bloc in the Knesset. Jamal Zahalka, who is no longer a Knesset member, holds the party’s chairmanship.”

Significant typo: “the representatives of the Democratic Alliance in the Joint Arab List refused to recommend that Bibi Gantz would be prime minister.”

The Joint List (with the exception of the Balad members who abstained) recommended Benny Gantz to be the new prime minister. Bibi is the nickname of Gantz’s opponent and incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although the amended report’s portrayal of the Balad party includes the fact that its founder and first chairman – Azmi Bishara – fled Israel in 2007, no mention is made of the background to his departure: Bishara is suspected of supplying intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group during its war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

 

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

On September 23rd the BBC News website published an article titled “What is the United Nations and what does it do?” on its ‘World’ page.

Apparently intended as a backgrounder ahead of the United Nations General Assembly annual conference, the article includes a section sub-headed “Who will and won’t be there?” in which readers were told that among those not attending is “Israel’s President Benjamin Netanahyu”.

Before

Considering the rate at which it produces reports concerning or referring to Netanyahu (who will not be attending the UN event due to coalition negotiations), one would of course expect the BBC to be able to provide audiences with an accurate description of his position and title.

BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website to inform them that Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister and its president is Reuven Rivlin and – although we did not receive a reply – the report was corrected several hours later but without any footnote informing audiences of the amendment.

After

 

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

At the beginning of August BBC World Service radio aired an edition of the programme ‘The Food Chain’ which was titled ‘Food under siege’.

“Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, the Gaza strip, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines.”

BBC WS food programme: inaccurate, lacks context and promotes Hamas propaganda

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that programme’s repeated inaccurate portrayal of the Gaza Strip as being “under siege”, noting that in the week that this programme was aired twice, 1,768 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip from Israel, including 6,785 tons of food. We pointed out that the “intermittent power supply” portrayed in the programme has nothing to do with Israel and that as well as breaching BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by leading listeners to wrongly believe that the Gaza strip is “under siege”, it also compromises the BBC’s impartiality seeing as that false claim is one of Hamas’ main talking points.

On August 31st we received a reply from the programme’s editor.

“Thank you for your email and your comments about the episode of The Food Chain titled ‘Food under siege’.

I’m sorry you were unhappy with the programme and I should say from the outset that I agree with some of the points you are making.

The use of the word ‘siege’ in the programme was intended to be a colloquial reference to the difficulties of food provision in different parts of the world, with the programme focusing on the creative solutions that people have adopted in such circumstances.

As a food programme our aim was simply to examine how people cook under duress and we didn’t intend to imply there were exact political or military similarities between three different parts of the world.

But on reflection we can see that in the absence of providing more context about Gaza, the title of the programme and the reference to the historical notion of a siege might have led listeners to infer that we thought this was a precise description of the position in Gaza, which was not our intention.

So we agree that this episode would have benefited from more information about the blockade and I am sorry we did not provide this.

This is, as I say, a food programme rather than a detailed examination of the background to any of these conflicts so I do not think we needed to go into any great detail but even within these confines I think we should have provided more context, for the reasons I have suggested.

As a result, we have included more information about the blockade and re-worded the programme script in places where we accept the position in Gaza should have been made clearer.

We have also placed a note on our correction and clarifications page.

Best wishes,

Robb Stevenson, Editor”

We have not yet been able to locate that note on the BBC’s correction and clarifications page but the amended synopsis to the programme now reads:

“Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. A journalist reveals how it feels to feast in a cafe in the middle of a city where most are struggling to eat, and an electrician explains why feeding cats in the middle of a war-zone felt like a message of compassion and resistance.

We also hear about the Palestinians living under the blockade of the Gaza strip. A cook explains how to run a catering company when electricity, water and some ingredients are scarce.

This programme was originally broadcast on August 1 but has since been re-edited to provide more context about the Gaza blockade and to distinguish this more clearly from conditions in Aleppo and Sarajevo.”

Several significant amendments have also been made to the programme itself.

Update: The following clarification has been published.

 

 

 

 

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

Back in October 2018 the BBC announced a public consultation on the topic of its Editorial Guidelines.

BBC Watch made a submission to that consultation and on July 8th we were informed that, following approval by the BBC Board, the revised Editorial Guidelines – available here – have been published and that they “will formally come into effect for all new output from Monday 15 July 2019”.

While much of the revised guidelines will seem familiar to those acquainted with the previous ones, there are nevertheless some points worthy of note.

Section 3 – Accuracy – includes a clause titled ‘Correcting Mistakes’.

“3.3.28 We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct such mistakes quickly, clearly and appropriately. Inaccuracy may lead to a complaint of unfairness. An effective way of correcting a serious factual error is saying what was wrong as well as putting it right. 

Mistakes in on-demand and online content

Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.  

In online text content, any mistake that alters the editorial meaning should normally be corrected and we should be transparent about what was wrong.” [emphasis added]

In relation to online content, BBC Watch pointed out in our submission to the consultation that:

“The addition of footnotes to clarify that a correction has been made is sporadic and lacks consistency. This procedure needs a serious review and overhaul: the purpose of a correction is, after all, to ensure that audiences get the correct information.  The BBC should be doing much more to ensure that is the case and improve its transparency.”

Section 4 – Impartiality – includes a clause headed ‘News, Current Affairs and Factual Output’.

“4.3.11 Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area. They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views on such matters publicly, including in any BBC-branded output or on personal blogs and social media.” [emphasis added]

The same section also has a clause titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’.

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]

The word funding did not appear in the draft proposal presented for consultation.

Section 11 – War, Terror and Emergencies – includes a clause titled ‘Accuracy and Impartiality’ which states:

“We should make it clear if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information under duress, and explain, wherever possible, the conditions under which we are operating.”

That section was worded slightly differently in the draft proposal presented for consultation and in our submission BBC Watch related to it as follows:

“b) Section 11.3 Accuracy and Impartiality:

“We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating.”

This important clause would benefit from the addition of the words ‘and conditions’ after ‘rules’ – especially in relation to reporting from areas under the control of terror organisations such as the Gaza Strip.”

The same clause goes on:

“Reporters and correspondents must be aware that comments they make on social media accounts that relate to their BBC work may be perceived as having the same weight as a BBC report, so should bear in mind the requirement for due accuracy and impartiality at all times.”

Section 11 gives instructions on ‘Use of Language’ which are very similar to the previous ones.

“11.3.5 Our reporting of possible acts of terror should be timely and responsible, bearing in mind our requirement for due accuracy and impartiality. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We should not use the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.

11.3.6 The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as ‘bomber’, ‘attacker’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’ and ‘militant’. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

BBC Watch’s submission noted that:

“It is obviously futile to reuse the same editorial guidelines which BBC journalists have been openly – and rightly – breaching for years in reports on terrorism in Europe and the UK. The issue of continuity in reporting acts of terror wherever they occur is clearly a major point which this draft guideline does not adequately address.”

One area in which the revised guidelines are somewhat clearer than the previous ones is ‘Conflicts of Interest’ and the accompanying guidance document on ‘Social Media’ is also relevant.

“All BBC activity on social media, whether it is ‘official’ BBC use or the personal use by BBC staff is subject to the Editorial Guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way that our on platform content is. […]

Social media platforms provide an invaluable opportunity for both BBC output and staff to share content and engage with others in an informal environment. But just as everything we do on our own platforms is informed by the Editorial Guidelines, so is all our activity on social media platforms – whether it is in a ‘professional’ or ‘personal’ or capacity. […]

Disclaimers written in biographies such as ‘my views not the BBC’s’ provide no defence against personal expressions of opinion on social media that may conflict with BBC guidelines.

Individuals involved in the production or presentation of any output in News or other factual areas that regularly deal with a range of public policy issues have a particular responsibility to avoid damaging the BBC’s impartiality.” [emphasis added]

Although these revised Editorial Guidelines clearly reflect an effort to make them more user-friendly and concise, as we pointed out in our submission:

“While the periodic revision and updating of editorial guidelines is obviously necessary, there is little point in expending so much publicly-funded effort if the end product is not adhered to by BBC staff and enforced by the BBC itself. Sadly, our experience shows that is all too often not the case.”  

Whether or not the new guidelines will indeed be effective of course remains to be seen.

Related Articles:

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