Do BBC audiences get the ‘range and depth of analysis’ promised?

The BBC’s explanation of the first of its public purposes includes the following:

“It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers…so that all audiences can engage fully with major…global issues…as active and informed citizens.”

In contrast to that fine declaration, here is an example of actual practice taken from an article published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on July 20th under the headline “Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving leader”.

“As head of the right-wing Likud party, Mr Netanyahu has a reputation as a hardliner on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Although he carried out a partial withdrawal from the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank in 1998 – handing most of it over to the Palestinian Authority – he is a staunch opponent of the land-for-peace formula.

He has since declared there will be no more evacuations of Jewish settlers or settlements under his rule, nor the creation of a fully fledged Palestinian state.”

The redeployment of Israeli troops from 80% of Hebron – in accordance with the protocol signed during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister – took place in January 1997 rather than in 1998 as claimed by the BBC.

In those three short paragraphs the BBC tells its audiences that Netanyahu is “a hardliner”, supposedly justifying that description with the claim that he is “opponent of the land-for-peace formula” and will not evacuate Israeli communities or agree to a Palestinian state.

Audiences are given no explanation of what the “land-for-peace” formula is, how it originated or whether or not it has been successful and hence are not provided with the tools to judge Netanyahu’s alleged opposition to it for themselves. They are not informed that the two examples of treaties signed by Israel and Arab countries based on the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ – the agreements with Egypt and Jordan – have resulted in what some Israelis might describe as ‘land-for-not-war’ rather than peace.

The BBC’s would-be cameo refrains from mentioning the cases in which Israeli withdrawal from territory – for example parts of Gaza and Judea & Samaria in the early 1990s and the Gaza Strip in 2005 – not only failed to bring peace but was actually followed by greater violence. No mention is made of the effects that has had on perceptions of the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ in Israel: according to that BBC definition of a ‘hardliner’, it would include a significant proportion of the Israeli public as well as people such as former Labour politician Eitan Cabel, the ‘Blue & White’ party’s Moshe Ya’alon and writer A.B. Yehoshua.

Significantly, the BBC’s portrayal erases Palestinians (and their multiple refusals to accept ‘land for peace’ offers) from the picture entirely, promoting the narrative that Israel alone – and specifically its current prime minister – is responsible for the absence of peace.

A further example of how the BBC is more interested in narrative than fact comes in the article’s closing lines.

“He [Netanyahu] faces a tough challenge from political opponents seeking to topple him in elections on 17 September. Among them are another former prime minster, Ehud Barak, and a former military chief-of-staff.”

According to the latest opinion polls, Netanyahu’s ‘Likud’ party is on track to secure 32 Knesset seats in the election in two months’ time while Ehud Barak’s ‘Israel Democratic Party’ is polling four to five seats.

The BBC’s “depth of analysis” apparently defines that as a “tough challenge”.  

Advertisements

More simplistic BBC framing of the US peace proposal

The June 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ included an item billed:

“…a senior governing party politician in Israel reflects on the need to hold elections again in three months.”

The item began with a fairly unremarkable interview (from 32:57 here) with former Jerusalem mayor, Likud party member and Knesset rookie Nir Barkat concerning his party’s failure to form a coalition government and the repeat general election to be held in September.

Presenter Julian Worricker then asked for comment from his two studio guests who had been introduced at the beginning of the programme as:

“Shaista Aziz – British journalist, writer, comedian and politician for the British Labour Party and Frank Langfitt, who’s London correspondent for the US National Public Radio network.”

Listeners were not informed that Shaista Aziz’s CV also includes stints with various political NGOs including Oxfam, Islamic Relief and Save the Children as well as a position on the management council of War on Want or that she spent two weeks in Schem as an ISM volunteer during the Second Intifada. Neither were they told of her current projectspokeswoman for the ‘Stop Trump Coalition’. 

Apparently uninterested in domestic Israeli politics, Langfitt chose to take up Worricker’s second question of “what it means for this Jared Kushner initiative”, opining that the upcoming Israeli election “gives the Americans a little more time to sell a plan that they haven’t really told people what it might be” and going on:

Langfitt: “The second thing to remember is that it’s going to be met with scepticism in part, certainly the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. You know the United States at times was seen as an honest broker in the Middle East but it’s very hard for Palestinians or most Arabs to see that when you move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

Later on Langfitt added:

Langfitt: “I don’t think it’s going to be an easy sell for the Americans with this administration, frankly with President Trump and the things that he’s done that have been very provocative to Arabs and Palestinians.”

Listeners heard no explanation as to why the relocation of the US embassy to an existing facility in an area of Jerusalem to which the Palestinians ostensibly make no claim should be “very provocative”.  Neither were the discussion’s participants interested in analysing Worricker’s observation that “the Palestinians have already been highly critical of what they anticipate to be in this report [sic] even though it’s not been published”.

Shaista Aziz’s contribution to the conversation began with the presentation of unevidenced and simplistic allegations as ‘fact’.

Aziz: “Well, you know, Netanyahu is widely regarded as one of the most Right-wing leaders in Israel’s history. He’s not a man known for compromise or nuance – let’s be clear about that. We know that the war drums are beating over Iran which this…this election will impact that as well I think…”

Worricker made no effort to challenge those facile claims before Aziz brought up the unrelated topic of infrastructure problems in the Gaza Strip caused by Palestinian infighting.

Aziz: “I’m very glad that the Palestinians have been named and mentioned here because, you know, Gaza – the UN is saying – is almost uninhabitable. You’ve got a sewage system that’s collapsed, a water system that’s collapsed, agricultural issues and then at the heart of this is people who’ve lost hope so you’ve got large numbers of young people in Israel and Palestine who cannot see a way out of this for them in terms of their political leadership finding a just solution and a just peace…”

Speaking on a radio station where barely a day goes by without at least one report concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, Aziz went on to claim that:

Aziz: “…an international solution will only be accepted if it’s a just solution and I think the issue of Palestine’s dropped off the radar and I do believe that these elections are going to end up being a big destruction and used by extremists on both sides.”

And so pre-emptive BBC framing of the as yet unpublished US administration initiative plods on with yet more superficial commentary that herds audiences towards the view that if the US peace proposal goes nowhere, that will be due to internal Israeli politics and because the US administration has done “provocative” things – not because the Palestinians have rejected the proposal before even seeing it.    

Related Articles:

BBC News plugs PA rejection of US peace initiative

Looking beyond BBC framing of the US peace proposal

BBC Radio 4 misleads on conscription in Israel

The May 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 24:05 here) introduced by presenter Julian Worricker as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “Now, political developments in Israel tonight. As we came to air the deadline passed for the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to form a new coalition government. His Likud party, along with its Right-wing and religious allies, won 65 seats out of 120 in the Knesset in the April election and victory celebrations followed. But coalition talks have not gone to plan, thanks principally to the demands of the former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. He wants ultra-orthodox Jews to perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis and he won’t bring his nationalist group of five parliamentarians on board unless he gets agreement on that. Ultra-orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament, oppose that measure and Mr Netanyahu needs both groupings to back him to form a government.”

Of course “Jewish Israelis” are not the only ones in Israeli society who are conscripted to “mandatory military service”. Military service has also been compulsory for males from the Druze sector since 1956 and for Circassian males since 1958. In addition, members of other religious and ethnic groups can serve on a voluntary basis.

Listeners would be unlikely to be able to fill in that missing information for themselves. The last time BBC audiences heard anything about the fact that the IDF is made up of people from many different backgrounds and faiths was in 2016 in a programme which gave extensive promotion to an opponent of enlistment by members of Israel’s minority ethnic communities.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show