BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

1) As recorded here last week, a report published on the BBC News website on May 10th claimed – supposedly quoting an Israeli news site – that in the Golan Heights vultures have allegedly been poisoned by farmers “whose herds are threatened by the birds”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that vultures are scavengers which do not threaten livestock and that the BBC had mistranslated the Hebrew language report which in fact referred to “predators” – in this case, mainly wolves.

The BBC acknowledged that error in its response to our complaint.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that eight vultures on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – about half the birds’ population there – have been poisoned to death, Israeli officials say (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48232078).

You raise a fair point and we’ve since amended the penultimate paragraph to now explain that the herds are threatened by “predators”.”

The article was amended three days after its initial publication.

2) On May 16th the BBC News website posted a podcast produced by BBC Ouch and titled “The rising stars of Eurovision who pulled out of the final” on its ‘Middle East’ and ‘Entertainment & Arts’ pages. The synopsis to that report originally stated:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday – the Jewish holy day of rest.”

The following day BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website and Tweeted BBC Ouch.

The synopsis was subsequently amended and now it reads:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday night – the start of the Jewish Sabbath, the holy day of rest.”

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BBC News website gets lost in (bad) translation

BBC News website gets lost in (bad) translation

On May 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel probes Golan Heights mass vulture poisoning”.

Towards the end of the article readers found the following:

“The Golan Heights are home to a range of wildlife, including types of birds of prey, although the vulture population of the Israeli-occupied part has dropped precipitously over the past 20 years.

Many have been poisoned, allegedly by local farmers whose herds are threatened by the birds, Israeli news website Walla says.” [emphasis added]

Anyone with even minimal understanding would know that vultures are scavengers and do not pose any threat whatsoever to livestock such as the beef cattle and sheep that are raised in the Golan Heights.

Obviously then no fact-checking was done before that statement was printed but did it actually come, as claimed, from the “Israeli news website Walla”?

By the time this BBC article was published Walla had posted one report on the story in which the writer, Eli Ashkenazi, states:

הסיבה המרכזית להיעלמות הנשרים מרמת הגולן היא הרעלות לא חוקיות שנעשות בעיקר על ידי מגדלי בקר המנסים לפגוע בטורפים הפוגעים בעדריהם

 “The main reason for the disappearance of vultures from the Golan Heights is illegal poisoning done mainly by cattle ranchers trying to hurt predators which harm their herds.”

In the Golan Heights, those predators are mainly wolves

In other words a combination of bad translation and failure to check facts led to the BBC misinforming its audiences even on this straightforward story. So much for “news that you can trust”.

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BBC gives amplification to Middle Eastern conspiracy theories

BBC gives amplification to Middle Eastern conspiracy theories

When locals in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil captured and abused a griffon vulture which recently strayed from an Israeli nature reserve, the BBC could have done a story about the considerable efforts on the part of Israeli nature conservation organisations to protect that species of bird and others.  It could also have used the opportunity to highlight the problem of illegal hunting of wild birds in the Mediterranean area.

Gamla nature reserve

Gamla nature reserve

“About 25 million birds are illegally hunted and killed or captured every year in countries bordering the Mediterranean, and many of these countries have adopted a policy of looking the other way when it comes to the mass killing of the winged creatures, a report released over the weekend by the group BirdLife International claims. On the other hand, Israel, the report says, has the best record among Mediterranean countries when it comes to bird conservation.

The most wide-scale slaughter is being committed in Egypt and Italy, says the report from BirdLife International, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the protection of birds, while the island nation of Malta has the worst record in relation to its size. Many of the avian creatures are killed or captured in the course of their seasonal migration between Europe and Africa.

After Egypt and Italy, the worst offenders on the list are Syria and Lebanon, which together account for the deaths of six and a half million birds every year. “

Instead, the self-styled “standard setter for international journalism” chose to take a different approach to the story, focusing on the obviously groundless and downright ridiculous suspicions of the Lebanese villagers that the captured griffon vulture was carrying espionage equipment. The BBC was far from the only media organization to report the story from that angle, but at least the Guardian, for example, made the essence of the story quite clear to readers.

“Conspiracy theories are endemic in the Middle East.”

The BBC, however, elected to add credence to such silly conspiracy theories with wording such as “Lebanon returns Israeli vulture cleared of spying” – presumably written with a straight face.Vulture story

“A huge vulture detained in Lebanon on suspicion of spying for Israel has been returned home after UN peacekeepers intervened, Israeli officials said.”

“The Lebanese media says the villagers freed the vulture after it became clear it was not on a spying mission.”

“It is not the first time a griffon vulture has been taken to be an agent of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

Saudi Arabia captured one, also with a Tel Aviv University tracker, in the desert city of Hyaal in 2011, sparking rumours of a “Zionist plot” that were dismissed by Israeli officials.” [emphasis added]

No better was Julian Marshall’s introduction to an item (here from 39:28) concerning the same story which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on January 30th and billed in the synopsis as being about ‘Animals as “spies”‘.

“Now to a tale of airborne espionage and conspiracy. Last night a griffon vulture was released by Lebanese authorities – cleared of spying for Israel after UN peacekeepers intervened.”

Despite the fact that the story is obviously not about “airborne espionage” at all, Marshall further stoked the fires in his conversation with his interviewee.

“Ahm…and what made the villagers suspicious was a tracking device attached to its tail. But I suppose that could equally have been a camera, couldn’t it?”

When the BBC reports on the abuse of endangered birds of prey in its own domestic arena it does not find it necessary to ‘explain’ the story by pandering to ridiculous conspiracy theories. As one of the representatives of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority put it:

“In the 21st century we expect people to understand that wild animals are not harmful.” 

The question that therefore arises is why the corporation does not similarly report stories from the Middle East – and especially those which it makes available to audiences in that region – in an equally factual and accurate manner.

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