The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

On May 16th 2015 the BBC News website ran a story titled “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’” which was discussed here. A link to that article was included in an additional report that was published the following day.

Two days after the appearance of the original article – on May 18th 2015 – a follow-up article was published under the headline “Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments” but as was noted here at the time, no action was taken regarding the two previous articles.

“The section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy which deals with the subject of ‘managing online content’ states that:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

Given that and the appearance of this latest article, one would of course expect to see clarifications appended to the two previous reports in which the inaccurate claim was promoted. At the time of writing, no such clarification appears in either article.”

The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.

angel-of-peace-para

The link in that paragraph leads to a filmed report by the BBC’s Vatican correspondent David Willey dating from May 17th 2015 which also does not include any notification based on the BBC’s subsequent report clarifying the Pope’s remarks. Viewers are told:

“Prominent among the guests at the Vatican ceremony was Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine. He was told by Pope Francis that he’s an angel of peace. […]

The saints are the first from Palestine to be named by the church since the earliest days of Christianity.” [emphasis added]

The BBC Academy’s style guide of course advises the corporation’s staff that:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel. […]

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

An additional noteworthy aspect of the January 14th report is its portrayal of the comments made by Mahmoud Abbas which are reflected in its title.abbas-us-embassy-art

“Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has warned that peace could suffer if President-elect Donald Trump carries out plans to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. […]

On Saturday, President Abbas reiterated his concern over President-elect Trump’s plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and said he had written to Mr Trump to warn him of the risks of such a move.

“If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen,” President Abbas told reporters outside the Vatican.

Palestinian officials say the plan would undermine chances of a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, in which Palestinian and Israeli states would live side-by-side.

“Not only would this move deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas was quoted earlier as saying in French paper Le Figaro.”

Remarkably, the BBC made no effort to provide audiences with information which would help them reach their own conclusions concerning the veracity of Abbas’ claim that relocation of the US embassy to seemingly any location in Jerusalem would “undermine” the chances of a peace agreement and did not update this report to include later related threats made by a Fatah spokesman.

Seeing as the BBC regularly informs its audiences – including in this report – that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state”, it would of course have been appropriate for this article to clarify why Mahmoud Abbas should object to the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim. 

Still no BBC correction on inaccurate “first new saints” claim

A BBC News website article published on May 13th informed readers that:

Saints article

As was already pointed out here a couple of weeks ago, that claim is inaccurate.

“In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.”

The BBC was not the only media outlet to initially mislead audiences with inaccurate claims concerning the new saints. However, as our colleagues at CAMERA and UK Media Watch have recorded, several other outlets have already corrected their reports – including Ha’aretz, the Washington Post, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail.

Unfortunately, despite the BBC’s Vatican correspondent having been informed of the error, visitors to the BBC News website continue to find the above inaccurate information in situ. 

BBC News misleads on ‘Arab world’ saints, hides significance of Vatican-PA treaty

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a report titled “Vatican to recognise Palestinian state in treaty“. The main image selected to illustrate that article dates from May 2014 when the Pope visited the Middle East and chose to pray beside a section of the anti-terrorist fence covered in graffiti which included a spurious comparison between Bethlehem and the Warsaw Ghetto.Vatican treaty art

The closing paragraphs of the report state:

“This weekend President Abbas will have talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and on Sunday he will be attend [sic] a canonisation ceremony during which two Palestinian nuns who lived in the 19th Century – when Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire – will be declared saints.

They will be the first new saints from the Arab world to be named since the early days of Christianity.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA have pointed out, that latter statement is not accurate. In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.

As was also the case with many other media outlets, the BBC’s report focuses audience attentions on the political aspects of the story.

“The Vatican is to formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty that will be signed shortly, officials say. […]

The Vatican’s announcement comes amid growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood. Over the last year the European Parliament as well as the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have all passed non-binding motions in favour.

Sweden has gone further, officially recognising Palestine as a state.”

Readers also came across the following opaque generalised statements:

“The Vatican is eager that property and civil rights of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian state is protected, correspondents say.

According to the New York Times, it has strong religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that Pope Francis is making every effort to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East at a time when when [sic] hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians are fleeing Islamic violence. […]

The agreement on Wednesday will define Catholic Church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Holy See said on Wednesday.”

A clue to the context behind those vague statements and insight into a no less significant aspect of the treaty between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority is provided by the Catholic News Service:

“Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states and head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations, said the Vatican wanted the agreement to “promote the life and activity of the Catholic Church and its recognition on a juridical level.” […]
The chapter on “freedom of religion and conscience,” he said, is “very elaborate and detailed.”
Other chapters deal with “various aspects of the life and activity of the church in the Palestinian territories: its freedom of action, its personnel and jurisdiction, its personal status, houses of worship, social and charitable activity (and) means of social communication. Finally, a chapter is dedicated to financial and property questions.

Asked if the agreement could be a model for agreements with other Muslim-majority countries, Msgr. Camilleri said every bilateral treaty deals with the specific situation of the countries involved.
“In this case, because it deals with the presence of the church in the land where Christianity was born, the agreement has a unique value and significance,” he said.
At the same time, though, he said the agreement’s recognition of the church and of religious freedom “could be followed by other countries, including those with a Muslim majority, and demonstrate that such recognition is not incompatible with the fact that the majority of the country’s population belongs to another religion.””

La Stampa’s Vatican Insider adds:

“But the debate over the recognition of the State of Palestine must not overshadow other passages in the agreement which promise to be of significance. They have not been made public yet but they were summarised by the Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Antoine Camilleri, who is head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations.

Having announced that the preamble will express the Holy See’s hope for a two-State solution (entailing the Palestinian side’s full recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel), the prelate explained that the agreement contains a “very elaborate and detailed” chapter on the “freedom of religion and conscience”. The legal agreement then sets out a number of fundamental elements regarding religious freedom and the freedom of conscience for all those living and working in the Palestinian Territories. Guarantees, such as respect for places of worship, the freedom of action of the Church, the protection of its social and charitable activities and the right to promote means of communication, are put down in black and white.”

Given that the BBC’s interest in the topic of Middle East Christians has increased of late due to prevailing events on the ground, one might have thought that news of a treaty aimed at protecting their religious freedom in one part of the region would have prompted the self-styled ‘standard-setter for international journalism‘ to break away from the media pack and provide its audiences with informative coverage of the background story of why the rights of Christians need to be protected in an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority. 

 

BBC lost in news agency translation of Pope’s words to Mahmoud Abbas?

On May 16th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’“. The same messaging is repeated in the article’s opening paragraph:Angel art

“Pope Francis has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, calling him “an angel of peace”.

The Pope made the remark as he presented the Palestinian leader with a medallion.”

Later on in the report readers are told that:

“The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that after 20 minutes of private talks, Pope Francis gave Mr Abbas the medallion depicting an angel of peace adding: “It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace.””

But is that in fact an accurate portrayal of events?

The Italian daily La Stampa’s ‘Vatican Insider’ website reports the story somewhat differently, running with the headline “Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace” in its English language version of the story. The article adds:

“As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: “May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.””

(For comparison, the Italian language version of the same story is here.)

The Zenit agency reported the story in Spanish using the headline “Francisco recibe al presidente palestino y le exhorta: ‘Sea usted un ángel de paz’” – “Francisco receives Palestinian President and urges : ‘ Be you an angel of peace ‘”.

So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.

The source of this possible misunderstanding of the Pope’s words appears to be various news agency reports. As we have seen before, it is not unheard of for the BBC to fail to fact check information provided by news agencies before reproducing their content. Clearly this story too needs urgent review in order to ensure its compliance with BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Vatican expert’ misleads on Pope’s speech at Yad Vashem

One of the later items in the BBC’s extensive coverage of the Pope’s recent visit to the Middle East was an article by the corporation’s “Vatican expert” David Willey titled “Pope Francis cements reputation for deft diplomacy” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 26th.Willey Pope visit

As was the case in much of the earlier BBC coverage of the visit, in this article too the real reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence was concealed from readers and context-free emphasis was placed on the topic of “separation”. In addition, readers were encouraged to make a bizarre – and, some might say, tasteless – comparison between the anti-terrorist fence and the Western Wall.

“Pope Francis’ whistle-stop tour of the Holy Land has provided not only significant religious symbolism, but also some powerful political images.

On successive days he paused to pray in front of two of the most significant walls here, bowing to touch them with his forehead and his hand.

First in Bethlehem, an 8m-high, graffiti-covered concrete section of the barrier that separates the Palestinian territories of the West Bank from Israel; then, in Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.” [emphasis added]

Pic Willey art

Towards the end of  his article (which in parts reads more like a PR communique than a report by an impartial BBC journalist), Willey also informed readers that:

“At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Pope Francis paid eloquent tribute to the sacrifice made by six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis all over Europe.”

Leaving aside the fact that, by definition, a “sacrifice made” involves some sort of active personal choice which the millions murdered by the Nazis did not have the opportunity to exercise, the fact is that – contrary to the inaccurate impression Willey gives to BBC audiences – the Pope did not mention the figure six million or the word ‘Jews’ throughout his entire speech at Yad Vashem, the full text of which can be read here

BBC’s Vatican correspondent amplifies stock faux narrative on Palestinian Christians

BBC coverage of the Pope’s visit to the Middle East began on May 22nd – two days before the commencement of the event itself – with an article by the corporation’s Vatican correspondent David Willey titled “Pope Francis to tread careful path on Mid-East visit” appearing in the ‘Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on its Europe page.Pope visit article

Excepting Willey’s misleading reference to the Palestinian territories as one of “three countries” to be visited by the Pope, the first section of the article is fairly unremarkable until readers arrive at the section sub-headed “Christian exodus”.

“The Pope’s namesake, Saint Francis, never actually made it to Jerusalem, or to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

He did however travel as far as Acre – now part of Israel – in 1219, laying the foundations for a Franciscan presence in the Middle East which has, somewhat miraculously, endured until this day.

Some 300 Franciscan friars are officially entrusted by the Vatican with the custody and upkeep of the Holy Places in the Middle East.

However, they have been denuded of their Christian heritage to the extent that one leading local Catholic churchman has described the Holy Land as developing into a sort of “spiritual Disneyland”, full of tourist attractions but increasingly devoid of religious meaning because of the departure of much of the former indigenous Christian population.”

Whilst the jurisdiction of the Custodian of the Holy Land includes sites in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes, many if not most of the sites that body administers are in Israel (as can be seen on the organisation’s website) where the Christian population – contrary to Willey’s statement – is continually growing.

Willey goes on:

“The Christian exodus extends over a wide area of the Middle East, not only from the Palestinian territories.

Two of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, and the Syrian Catholics have been decimated by war.”

That euphemistic description of course fails to enlighten readers with regard to the significant element of Islamist persecution of Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria.

Willey is equally circumspect and misleading with regard to Palestinian Christians.  

“At the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1947, the population of Bethlehem was 85% Christian. Today it is 18% and continues to diminish as a result of a higher local Muslim birth-rate and emigration owing to tough economic conditions and Israeli security measures.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Christian presence is now estimated at just 1.5%.” [emphasis added]

The Christian population of Israel as a whole stands at some 161,000 – around 2% of the total population – and so a Christian presence of 1.5% in the Old City is not quite the dramatic figure Willey would have readers believe and does not reflect the fact that since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the city’s Christian population has remained largely stable.  

As we recently noted here in a post concerning another BBC production on the subject of Palestinian Christians, the realities behind the emigration of Palestinian Christians are decidedly more complex than Willey is prepared to state, but notably he appears to have adopted the now well entrenched BBC faux narrative of Palestinian Christians leaving their homeland because of “Israeli security measures”.

In the concluding section of his article Willey misleads readers by implying that religious freedom in Jerusalem is currently lacking.

“So what are the stumbling blocks towards better relations between the Vatican and Israel?

The Vatican has remained single-mindedly in favour of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the internationalisation of the city of Jerusalem in the name of religious freedom.”

Providing no factual evidence for his next inaccurate claim, he goes on to state that:

The Israeli government is less enthusiastic about a Palestinian state, and says Jerusalem will remain their “eternal undivided capital”.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not we will see yet more repetitions of the BBC’s faux narrative regarding the reasons for the decline in numbers of Palestinian Christians during its coverage of the Pope’s visit in the coming days remains to be seen, but the tone set by Willey’s opener and the fact that the Pope’s party includes the BBC’s Middle East editor suggests that the topic is one upon which to keep a watchful eye.

Bowen tweet Pope visit

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