BBC News report contradicts BBC backgrounder

A report titled “Five arrested after Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation raided” appeared briefly on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the evening of January 5th.

Relating to an incident which had taken place in the Gaza Strip the previous day, the article informed readers that:

“Five men have been arrested after the offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Gaza were ransacked.

Thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment was destroyed when the armed men attacked the building on Friday.

The broadcaster is funded by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is dominated by the Fatah faction.

Staff initially blamed the raid on the faction’s rivals Hamas, which controls Gaza, but the Islamist group said unhappy PA employees carried it out.”

The report went on:

“The five men who have been arrested are “employees of the Palestinian Authority whose salaries have been cut recently,” the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said in a statement.

“It turned out that one of them was a Palestine TV employee whose salary was cut last month,” it added. […]

The interior ministry said an investigation had been carried out and the men had been identified by surveillance footage and were all members of Fatah.”

The BBC did not explain to its readers how that latter claim squares with other reports from the PA news agency alleging that the attackers had been masked.  Allegations of additional attempted detentions of Fatah linked officials by Hamas were not mentioned and neither was the reported decision by Fatah to close down offices in the Gaza Strip.

The Jerusalem Post reported an apparent additional development hours before this BBC article was published.

“The Palestinian Authority has decided to stop paying salaries to hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including many Fatah members, sources said on Friday.

Palestinians see the move in the context of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s punitive measures against Hamas and his critics in Fatah. These measures were taken last year in response to Hamas’s refusal to hand over full control of the Gaza Strip to Abbas’s Ramallah-based government. […]

Abbas, who is currently visiting Cairo, told Egyptian journalists and writers on Friday night that he was considering halting the monthly PA funds that are earmarked for the Gaza Strip and which, he said, were estimated at $96 million. […]

One Palestinian source told The Jerusalem Post that the latest PA move will affect 169 Palestinians believed to be affiliated with deposed Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, an outspoken political opponent and critic of Abbas. […]

Another source said that dozens of former Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prison have also been told that they will no longer be receiving their salaries from the PA. Most of the former prisoners are affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but were nevertheless on the payroll of the PA, the source explained. […]

In another sign of mounting tensions between the two sides, Fatah announced that it has decided to close all its offices in the Gaza Strip in protest against Hamas “threats” and “harassment.””

At the end of the BBC’s article readers were told that:

“The two factions [Fatah and Hamas] have been at odds since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a brief but violent battle in 2007.

In October 2017, the rivals signed a reconciliation deal that was meant to see Hamas hand over administrative control of Gaza to the PA, but disputes have delayed the deal’s full implementation.”

Meanwhile, the BBC News website’s ‘Palestinian territories’ profile continues to mislead audiences with the inaccurate claim that “a government of national unity assumed control of Gaza public institutions in October 2017”.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s redundant ‘Palestinian unity government’ claim

Inaccuracy in BBC’s Fatah profile exposed

PA TV executives reveal goals of station partnered by BBC charity

 

 

 

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BBC unusually passes up on amplifying HRW’s latest report

One of the political NGOs most frequently quoted and promoted in BBC Middle East coverage – even on issues in which it is not involved and despite the fact that it engages in lawfare against Israel  – is Human Rights Watch (HRW). In particular, the BBC tends to put out rapid amplification of the content of reports produced by HRW, no matter how dubious their methodology. Examples from the last two years alone include:No news

BBC shoehorns partisan political NGO into report on policeman’s promotion

Predictable BBC amplification for latest HRW anti-Israel report

More uncritical amplification of a HRW report from BBC News

BBC News does its convincing impression of HRW PR department yet again

More BBC promotion and amplification of lawfare NGO

BBC audiences again fobbed off with HRW press release presented as ‘news’

HRW recently released another one of its reports which was summed up by AP as follows:

“Human Rights Watch said both the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and its rival, the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are “arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities.” […]

HRW said that in the West Bank, Palestinian forces arrested activists and musicians who “ridiculed Palestinian security forces” and “accused the government of corruption” in statements posted on Facebook or stated in graffiti and rap songs.

In Gaza, the rights group said an activist who criticized Hamas for “failing to protect a man with a mental disability” was detained and intimidated by the group, as was a journalist who “posted a photograph of a woman looking for food in a garbage bin.”

The New York-based rights group said that in the incidents of abuse, “activists and journalists said that security officers beat or kicked them, deprived them of sleep and proper food, hosed them with cold and then hot water, and made them maintain uncomfortable positions for long hours.””

It is worth noting for the record that, in contrast to its usual practice and despite its record of campaigning on the issue of safety of journalists, the BBC has to date not produced an article amplifying this latest HRW report.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC News coverage of internal Palestinian affairs

 

BBC’s ME bureau chief flags up Hamas treatment of journalists

On August 22nd the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief put out this Tweet:

Colebourn tweet

The link leads to the following statement from the Foreign Press Association (FPA):

FPA stmt

Readers may recall that two years ago, during the conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, the FPA found it necessary to put out an even more strongly worded statement concerning Hamas’ treatment of foreign journalists at the time.

FPA statement Hamas Aug 14

Back then, however, BBC audiences were not informed – even via Twitter – of restrictions placed on journalists by the terror group.

Related Articles:

Mapping changes in the BBC’s disclosure of restrictions on journalists

Mapping changes in the BBC’s disclosure of restrictions on journalists

“The movements of those reporting from Baghdad are restricted and their reports are monitored by the Iraqi authorities.”

That footnote was added to BBC News articles produced in 2003 (see examples here and here) and its purpose is very clear: to alert BBC audiences to the possibility of inaccuracies and/or compromised impartiality in reporting as a result of the restrictions imposed on journalists by a dictatorial regime.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

“The Times journalist Janine di Giovanni has also said that the demands of real-time television, combined with the restrictions placed on reporters in Baghdad by the Iraqis and the difficulties of getting to the front line are making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover the war properly.”

The addition of written or spoken footnotes to reporting from Iraq was not uncommon in BBC coverage at the time and the corporation obviously considered that it was important to communicate to audiences the conditions under which reporting was being produced. An article from 2003 about BBC reporters embedded with US forces pointed out that:

“There has been no censorship, says Van Klaveren [BBC head of newsgathering at the time – Ed.], and reporters are not required to submit scripts before broadcast. There are, however, a couple of golden rules – journalists cannot give specific details of locations or outline the future plans of their unit.”

In August 2006 – just after the Second Lebanon War had ended – the then head of BBC newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, wrote a blogpost on the topic of restrictions on reporting that war.

“Some blogs, as well as emails we’ve received, have said that BBC correspondents are failing to report that when covering the war, they are operating under reporting restrictions imposed by Hezbollah. Others complain that we did not refer to Israeli censorship rules on air. I’d like to answer those points.”

Inadvertently clarifying Hizballah’s use of the civilian population as human shields, Unsworth wrote:

“So what about Hezbollah? Were they any better able to control what reporters can and cannot see? Jim Muir – our correspondent who has just spent the last month based in Southern Lebanon – says…

“There have basically been no restrictions on reporting as such – there’s been no pressure in any direction with regard to anything we actually say, indeed very little interaction of any sort. There was however an issue at the beginning of the conflict over the live broadcast of pictures of rockets going out from locations visible from our live camera position. We were visited by Hezbollah representatives and told that by showing the exact location of firing we were endangering civilian lives, and that our equipment would be confiscated.”

Editors in London discussed both how we should handle both this request, and the Israel rules, in terms of what we said on air.

We agreed that rather than begin each broadcast with a ‘health warning’ to audiences, we would only refer to it if it was relevant. If rockets started to go off while were live on air, we would not show the exact location but would tell the audience that we had been asked by Hezbollah not to; on the grounds they claimed it endangered civilian lives.

In the event the situation never arose. Apart from that one incident we have been free to report whatever we wanted.”

Some of the below-the-line commentators on that blog pointed out the discrepancy between Unsworth’s and Muir’s benign portrayal of Hizballah restrictions on BBC journalists and the situation as it was portrayed by correspondents representing other media organisations.BBC brick wall

Eight years later, during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC did not make any public statements concerning restrictions placed on its journalists by Hamas and no footnotes were added to reports to alert audiences to the fact that media freedom was compromised.

We of course know that Hamas employed censorship and placed restrictions on the foreign press because not only did numerous journalists later report their experiences, but Hamas itself admitted to having deported journalists who did not toe its propaganda line.

One of the outcomes of the BBC’s failure to publicly acknowledge Hamas censorship was that it took over a month before BBC audiences were told that terrorist groups were firing missiles from residential areas. The BBC ‘explained’ that using the following disingenuous excuse:

“…we did raise your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at BBC News who covered the recent conflict in Gaza. They explained that there are number of reasons why BBC News has not shown images or footage of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants firing rockets. The main reason is that militant groups keep the location of launch sites secret. It was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out….” 

During the 2014 conflict one former BBC employee noted that:

“…the only truths about Gaza that BBC reporters can convey are those that a camera can point at. Never has a BBC reporter broken a story from Gaza, interviewed a Hamas commander at any depth about splits in the ranks, examined the Palestinian justice and detention system, exposed the climate of fear that Gazans are subject to, shown missile stockpiling or residential defensive positions, or challenged the brainwashing of children in schools.”

And as the hostilities ended, another former BBC journalist wrote:

“Where Matti Friedman is entirely correct is in the failure of news organizations and their correspondents to point out the controls and “pressures” both implicit and explicit exerted upon them in Gaza by the all-pervasive and tightly-run Hamas media operation. This inaction can only be seen as – at best – moral cowardice by media organizations. […]

…the (Western) media must also account for itself and for its own conduct, including apparent omissions and failures in the reporting of the conflict. It must question where reporting may have ended and emoting began; if it held Israel to a standard apart from all others; and why it allowed Hamas a free pass in controlling the flow of information.”

And that, of course, is the crux of the matter: when restrictions are placed on the media by dictators or terrorist organisations, the picture journalists paint for their audiences changes. Significantly, over the years we see that the BBC’s approach has changed: in 2003 it rightly found it appropriate to advise audiences that Iraqi restrictions were likely to affect its reporting. In 2006 it acknowledged Hizballah restrictions days after the conflict ended. But in 2014, the BBC chose to be completely silent on the issue of Hamas restrictions on its reporting and it has maintained that policy ever since.

In 2010 a former BBC World News editor wrote a blogpost in which he recalled the “censorship” and the “minders assigned to news organisations to “monitor” their reporting” in Iraq. He closed his post with the following words: 

“Journalists have a responsibility to be accurate and fair – we don’t want, and don’t ask, for special treatment. However, we do want the ability to operate freely, without fear or favour. Our audiences deserve nothing less.”

Given the corporation’s track record, the BBC’s funding public might well wonder whether or not those words – and the principles behind them – will apply during the next inevitable conflict between Israel and a terrorist organisation.