BBC WS radio jumps on the Gaza comparison bandwagon

Last week we saw how an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ highlighted a redundant comparison between the situation in Idlib, Syria, and the Gaza Strip which was made by interviewee David Miliband of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

BBC Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Tim Franks – also included an item on the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib (from 30:06 here), most of which was given over to an interview with David Miliband that was also promoted as a stand-alone item.

During that six-minute interview Miliband again brought up the subject of the Gaza Strip in one sentence. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Miliband: “Just to give your listeners a sense; the density of population in the Idlib province is now greater than the density of population on [sic] the Gaza Strip which historically has been seen as one of the most confined areas in the world.”

Franks later brought up that statement again, describing Miliband’s statement as a ‘statistic’.

Franks: “…and as you say – and I haven’t heard this statistic before – the idea that there’s a greater concentration of people there now than there is even in the Gaza Strip…”

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. According to the department of planning in New York City – where David Miliband resides – the population density is around 10,424 persons/km2 and in the city of London, from which ‘Newshour’ is broadcast, the population density is reported to be on average 5,590 persons/km2 with some districts having a population density of 11,200 persons/km2.

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to steer its audiences towards the notion that the Gaza Strip is the benchmark for high population density and out of all the things said by David Miliband during that six-minute interview, that -revealingly – was the issue that the ‘Newshour’ Twitter account chose to highlight.

BBC Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 5th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’, presented by Shaun Ley, included a pre-recorded interview with David Miliband, president and CEO of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

During that interview (from 24:42 here) Miliband spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, which is under attack from the Assad regime and its Russian allies along with Iranian militias. He noted that hospitals and health centres are being bombed and that vehicles “carrying displaced people are also being targeted”. Ley raised the topic of war crimes in relation to ambulances being targeted and Miliband referred to “international humanitarian law” and “war crimes”.

However in the course of that interview, Miliband also made the following statement (from 26:43):

Miliband: “I want to say to your listeners, we already have one Gaza in the Middle East, in Gaza itself, with about two million people crammed in. There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

One can of course find several points on which to take issue with Miliband’s simplistic, if not sensationalist, comparison of Idlib to the Gaza Strip. For example, in that province in Syria hospitals have – as the BBC knows – been deliberately bombed by Russian jets. In the Gaza Strip, not only is that not the case but hospitals receive medical supplies transferred by Israel (139 tons in the week in which this programme was aired alone) and additional products such as food and building materials are also supplied.

For the producers of ‘The World Tonight’, however, that redundant comparison was apparently the most important thing that Miliband said during his five-minute interview – as shown by the fact that it was used to promote the item in the programme’s introduction (from 00:55) along with a reference to war crimes.

Ley: “Also in the programme, the UN Security Council meets tomorrow to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria. The former foreign secretary David Miliband tells me that Western indifference has contributed to a situation in which war crimes are being committed.”

Miliband: “There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

Apparently the BBC considers that invalid and irrelevant comparison to be consistent with its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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