BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

Comparing BBC R4 ‘Today’ interviews with two Israeli MKs – part two

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an interview with Balad MK Haneen Zoabi who was in London for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign AGM and other speaking engagements.today-24-1-zoabi-int

As seen in part one of this post, the previous day MK Tzipi Hotovely had been interviewed on the same programme by Sarah Montague and listeners were reminded of that – and obviously intended to view the two interviews as being linked – in the introduction to the item (from 01:24:26 here) by presenter Mishal Husain.

[all emphasis in italics in the original, all emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “On yesterday’s programme Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs made clear how pleased her government was to see the Trump administration take office. Within 48 hours of the inauguration, Israel approved more than 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting President Trump at the White House next week [sic]. Here’s what Tzipi Hotovely told us yesterday:

‘We think that we have a true friend in the White House. I think that all the declarations of the Trump administration were showing a deep friendship to Israel. They understand the complexity of the circumstances in the Middle East…’

So how does the new era appear from the Palestinian perspective? Haneen Zoabi is a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Good morning.”

Notably, Husain did not inform listeners to which political party Zoabi belongs and provided no information concerning that party’s anti-Israel platform.

Zoabi: “Good morning.”

Husain: “What do you think President Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Zoabi: “As the Israeli says, it is an expression of deep friendship and unfortunately it’s an expression also of supporting the Israelis’ policies of expanding settlements, of Judaising Jerusalem, of the violence policies of Israel against the Palestinians. So we will be the victims of this and this is also the violation of the international law because according to the international law Jerusalem is an occupied territories. So this is to delete the position; to ignore the position of Israel as occupier. We should always remember that Israel is occupier and without…and what’s the US…eh… do is to give Israel a full immunity to its policies. I think the…”

Husain [interrupts]: “You’re referring to….let’s just take one of the issues you’re referring to which is the suggestion that under President Trump the US embassy is going to move from Tel Aviv…”

Zoabi: “Tel Aviv.”

Husain: “…to Jerusalem. Now, what the White House press secretary has said so far is ‘we are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject’. If it does happen, what will it mean do you think? Will it be a red line as far as the Palestinians are concerned?”

Zoabi: “I think yes and I think the reality after that would not be the same as the reality before that. We heard yesterday the Palestinian Authority saying that the Palestinian Authority will withdraw its recognition from Israel – eh…of Israel – and I think this will be the time that the Palestinian Authority will declare the end of the negotiation illusions because till now the negotiations were just illusions. The real word was that Israel steal the Palestinian land, expand settlements – not just in the West Bank. I am a citizen and I live inside Nazareth…”

Husain [interrupts]: “A citizen of Israel.”

Zoabi: “…of Israel and I live inside Nazareth. Israel also now is evacuating thirty thousand Palestinians from the Negev, destroying five Palestinian villages against citizens of Israel. I am not talking the occupied territories in the West Bank. I’m talking about Palestinians whom Israel didn’t expel in 1948.You remember: Israel has expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948. No-one is remembering that now. And now…”

Husain [interrupts]: “When we were talking to the Israeli deputy foreign minister yesterday, I mean, she was stressing that in their view settlements are not…are not the only issue; that there are other issues: obviously the status of Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s security. Where do you think the best chance of peace lies, given what is happening on the ground at the moment?”

Zoabi: “I think it is so strange to talk about peace while reallocating the embassy, while Israel yesterday has announce 600 housing units. As long as Israel is going with full immunity from the international community, with…with that which is considered to be crimes against humanityit’s a war crime to build settlementsit’s a war crimes. And the problem is not just occupation and oppressing the Palestinians – which no-one talks about it. No-one’s talking about the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisoners [prisons]. We must talk about…eh…making Israel accountable. If you want peace, you want justice. And if you want justice you must make Israel accountable to its crimes. It cannot be…it is not logic to give…to vetoes the UN resolution – Security Council resolution – to give support as the British government gives support to Israel all….all…all along and then to talk about peace. If you want peace you must let Israel pay the price of its crimes, of its oppressions, of its settlements, of its 87 racist laws. In Israel there are 87 racist laws….”

Husain [interrupts] “There was recently a UN Security Council resolution which went against Israel…”

Zoabi: [interrupts] “Exactly: an exception, exception.”

Husain: “…and was supported by the British. Thank you very much Haneen Zoabi, member of the Israeli Knesset.”

Zoabi: “Thank you.”

While this interview was about a minute and a quarter shorter than the one with Tzipi Hotovely the previous day, we see that Zoabi was interrupted on four occasions (compared to seven interruptions in the Hotovely interview) – but with notably less hostility.

None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.

In fact, the only time that Husain did intervene to correct misleading information was to clarify that Britain had voted in favour of UNSC resolution 2334.

In short, Haneen Zoabi was given a completely unfettered platform from which to spout her predictably one-sided propaganda (in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as victims and Arab belligerence and Palestinian terrorism are erased) in an obviously more sympathetic environment than was evident in the previous day’s interview.

The fact that Mishal Husain failed to challenge even one of Zoabi’s many falsehoods means that the BBC cannot possibly claim that this interview was intended to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC R4 ‘Today’ interviews with two Israeli MKs – part one

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

The Independent repeats ‘fake news’, claiming “50 racist laws” in Israel (UK Media Watch)

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

In mid-October the BBC World News channel aired a documentary by Jane Corbin titled “Israel’s Arab Warriors” and on November 8th, 9th and 10th the same programme was shown on BBC Arabic TV. A written article by Corbin on the same topic (which includes the video) was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 8th under the title “Israel’s Arab soldiers who fight for the Jewish state“. The same article was translated into Arabic and promoted on the same day on the BBC Arabic website.israels-arab-warriors-orig

It is of course good to see the BBC finally getting round to reporting on a topic which has long been off its radar and Jane Corbin is to be commended for enabling BBC audiences to see beyond the standard BBC narrative in her unusually nuanced presentation of Israeli society.

A distinctly less laudable aspect of Corbin’s filmed and written reports is their generous amplification of unqualified and unchallenged propaganda from the inadequately presented Haneen Zoabi.

Less than a minute into the film’s pre-title introduction viewers see Zoabi – unidentified – saying:

“This small, marginalized group that serves in the Israeli army against its people knows they are crossing a patriotic red line.”

At 08:33 Jane Corbin tells viewers that:

“Haneen Zoabi is an MP in the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – but she identifies herself as Palestinian and often clashes with the government.

A similar portrait of Zoabi is presented in the written article:

“Hanin Zoabi is an Israeli Arab MP who identifies herself as Palestinian and is a fierce critic of the state.”zoabi-israels-arab-soldiers-2-with-desc

When Zoabi is presented on screen, the description given is “Hanin Zoabi MK Joint Arab List”. While that description is of course accurate, it tells BBC audiences nothing about the ideology of the Balad party to which Zoabi belongs and the very relevant fact that she and her fellow party members reject the existence of the Jewish State, promote the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and aspire to a bi-national state. The absence of that information – along with relevant details such as Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 Hamas-supporting violent flotilla and her glorification of terrorism – of course prevents BBC audiences from being able to put her “particular viewpoint” into its appropriate context.

Following that inadequate introduction from Corbin, viewers hear Zoabi say:

“Should we serve in an army that besieges our people in Gaza, occupies our people in the West Bank? A State which expelled my people and built its State on the ruins. 678 cities and villages were demolished by the State of Israel. There’s a conflict with a state that defines itself as a Jewish State; a state that grants privileges to its Jewish over its Palestinian citizens. We just can’t accept the situation.”

The BBC’s commitment to accurate and impartial broadcasting should of course have meant that if it was deemed necessary to include those allegations from Zoabi in the film, then Corbin should have clarified – inter alia – that Gaza is not ‘besieged’, that the vast majority of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and that most of Palestinians who left what is today Israel in 1948 were not “expelled”. Corbin, however, failed to add any clarifying comments.corbin-art-in-arabic

At 15:28 Corbin tells viewers that:

“The Israeli government says Israeli Arabs have equal rights but they often complain that they are second class citizens. Haneen Zoabi – an MP here – accuses Israel of using bribery to get Arabs to join up.”

Zoabi: “Israel is after people who are poor with no work to serve in the army. 52 – 54% of our Palestinian people in Israel are under the poverty line. Only 10% of the Palestinian youth in Israel continue their university study. You are talking about a whole new generation. The government’s policy of creating poverty obliges people to look for the only solution they can.”

Not only does Corbin fail to challenge the falsehood that the Israeli government has a “policy of creating poverty” but she refrains from supplying any context to Zoabi’s propaganda (for example the fact that just 22% of Arab women of working age are employed or the fact that poverty among the ultra-Orthodox population stands at a similar 54.3%) or informing viewers of government investment in efforts to raise the proportion of Arab citizens in higher education.

Three minutes further on, Zoabi is again given an unchallenged platform.

19:19 Corbin: “Haneen Zoabi’s at a protest outside an Israeli hospital where a Palestinian from the West Bank is on hunger strike. He’s being held under Israeli administrative detention without being indicted or tried.”

Zoabi: “There are hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention. It’s political persecution; part of the Israeli policy to criminalise the lawful Palestinian resistance. We are fighting for equality and our rights against Israeli racism and colonialisation against the people who have rights to this land.”

Once again, there is no comment from Corbin – not even an effort to distance the BBC from the claim that violent terrorism against civilians is ‘lawful resistance’ or an explanation of the fact that the particular hunger striker in administrative detention is associated with the terrorist organisation Hamas – as the BBC is aware.

At 20:26 viewers see Zoabi repeat the statement made in the programme’s introduction:

“This small, marginalized group that serves in the Israeli army against its people knows they are crossing a patriotic red line.”

At 20:37 Zoabi tells viewers that:

“[Father] Naddaf is a person rejected by Palestinian society – even by some Christians. Not only does he not represent anyone, he is being used by Israel. He is a tool in the hands of the Israeli authorities.”corbin-art-eng

The ability of audiences to put those statements into their correct context would of course have been enhanced had Corbin bothered to tell them of Zoabi’s attempts (together with other Balad MKs) to intimidate Father Naddaf. 

At 24:11 Zoabi returns:

“90% of the Arabs who serve in the Israeli army don’t have equality with Israelis. Israel does not need us to protect its security. Israel doesn’t want to treat us according to our national identity but divide us into Bedouins, country people, city people, Muslims, Christians, Druze. Any way to divide us.

At 40:07 Corbin yet again provides a platform for more unchallenged propaganda from Zoabi – this time at a Land Day rally in Sakhnin.

“Knesset member Haneen Zoabi is here to address the rally.”

Zoabi: “Our message is this army is the army of a country which is against us and kills our people in Jerusalem and in Gaza and in the West Bank. We are not going to play a part in killing our people.”

Following an interview with Mohammed Zoabi, audiences once again hear from Haneen Zoabi:

42:33 “Of course I do not represent those who serve in the Israeli army. I do not speak in the name of the person you just mentioned [Mohammed Zoabi]. Just because he’s part of my family doesn’t make me responsible for his actions. Of course I do not represent those who have identity disfiguration. I do not represent those who have no self-esteem, those with a slave mentality. I represent people with dignity who feel they are in their homeland and never left it.”

Haneen Zoabi appears no fewer than nine times in this 47 minute-long film and on none of those occasions does Corbin challenge her falsehoods and propaganda or correct the inaccurate impressions received by viewers. Although at one point in the film (40:39) Corbin does tell viewers that “a recent poll says a majority of the Arab-Israeli community identifies as Israeli in some way”, none of the sixteen other Muslim, Christian or Druze members of the Knesset are interviewed, meaning that BBC audiences are restricted to hearing Zoabi’s extremist views without understanding her place on the political map.

The vast majority of this programme’s viewers around the world will of course not be aware of the ideology of Zoabi and her political party and will not be familiar with the phenomenon of publicly funded MPs who advocate the destruction of the state they ostensibly serve. The failure to adequately explain the political motivations behind Zoabi’s propaganda means that not only does this film become a platform for its unchallenged amplification, but that viewers are misled with false and distorted information which overshadows and detracts from a long-overdue presentation of the seriously under-reported topic of co-existence between different ethnic communities in Israel.  

Related Articles:

The Christians who do not fit into the BBC’s Middle East narrative

Protest by Middle East Christians not on the BBC radar

What Do Israeli Christians, Druze and Bedouin Think About the Jewish State?   (CAMERA)

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

The February 11th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – hosted by Julian Marshall – included an interview (from 40:33 here) with Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.Newshour logo

Zoabi and two of her colleagues from the anti-Zionist Balad party (which is part of the Joint Arab List) were recently barred from Knesset activity, including debates, by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee. Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas were barred for four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months. During that time the three will continue to receive their salaries and will be able to participate in voting sessions.

The details of the terms of the suspension – together with any information concerning Balad’s political agenda – were absent from Marshall’s presentation of the item.

JM: “Haneen Zoabi is an Arab-Israeli MP who is currently barred from attending sessions of Israel’s parliament – or Knesset. Along with two other Arab-Israeli MPs she’s been suspended for meeting relatives of Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis. The meeting was condemned by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So why did Haneen Zoabi feel the need to meet the relatives?”

In fact, the meeting was the subject of complaints to the Knesset Ethics Committee not only from the Israeli prime minister but also from parliamentarians across the political spectrum.

“The panel received more than 450 complaints about the lawmakers, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and from relatives of people killed by the terrorists whose families the Balad MKs met.”

At no point throughout this item are listeners informed that the meeting which the Balad MKs attended included glorification of the terrorists as ‘martyrs’ and a minute’s silence in their memory. They are also not told about the promotion of material glorifying terrorism on Balad’s Facebook account. Instead, listeners heard the following account from Zoabi.

HZ: “Me and my colleagues from the Joint List we have received an invitation from the families who lost their children in order to help them getting back the bodies of their children which the Israeli police have killed in order to burn [bury] them. It has been four months since the Israeli administration refuses to release the bodies of the young Palestinians from East Jerusalem.”

Marshall then interjects with some framing which Zoabi is quick to adopt.

JM: “So what you were doing in your view was simply humanitarian…”

HZ: “Of course.”

JM: “…but you can understand how many Israelis saw you as consorting with the relatives of people they regarded as terrorists – these Palestinians who had killed Israelis or tried to kill Israelis.”

HZ: “I don’t accept that because our demand was purely humanitarian. It was even according to the Jewish religion and to the Christian religion and to…according to the Muslim religion you should bury…it’s….it’s a very simple dignity for the death [dead]. All the bodies of the Palestinians who the Israelis killed were released because Israel negotiated this matter but in the case of East Jerusalem the families tried for four months to connect with the authorities and the Israeli authority refuses to do so. So their last option was to address us as parliamentarians.”

Marshall fails to provide listeners with a very important piece of background information which is essential to their understanding of why the Israeli authorities have not yet handed over the bodies of those ten terrorists: the families concerned refuse to comply with the demand to hold modest funerals so as to avoid incitement to more violence.  Without that crucial piece of information, audiences are obviously unable to put Zoabi’s claims into their correct context.

Despite having also failed to inform audiences of the glorification of terrorism at the meeting and whilst refraining from providing listeners with any insight into the records of the MKs concerned such as the fact that Zoabi was recently given a six-month suspended sentence and a fine for insulting civil servants and that she and Bassel Ghattas have both participated in anti-Israel flotillas in the past, Marshall goes on to provide Zoabi with the cue for the promotion of trite propaganda which goes completely unchallenged.

JM: “One of the members of the Ethics Committee of the Knesset which suspended you and your colleagues accused you of inspiring terrorism and encouraging the murder of more and more Israelis.”

HZ: “In Israel whenever you criticise occupation as a Palestinian member, or even as a Jewish activist, the Israeli consensus will call you disloyal to the state and will say that you are threatening Israeli lives. Actually for me this is not just for the interest of the Palestinians. This is also for the interests of the Jews because if we really seek a normal life for the Jews and for the Palestinians we should also seek for justice. We should struggle for freedom and in Israel this is not accepted. Occupation is accepted….”

JM: “OK.”

HZ: “…but struggle against is not accepted.”

Marshall’s failure to provide listeners with any information concerning Zoabi’s record of whitewashing terrorism also means that they are unable to put her answer to his next question into context.

JM: “But those Palestinians who were killed after attacking Israelis….ehm…do you regard them as terrorists?”

HZ: “We are against killing innocent people. We see that this behaviour is not an act of a struggle: it’s an act of desperation. We believe that we have a just cause and in a just cause you should also use a just tools.”

The item closes with more propaganda from Zoabi.

JM: “Do you and your parliamentary colleagues…do you expect to have to serve out your entire suspension from the Knesset or are you going to appeal?”

HZ: “With this suspension this means that the Israeli consensus is controlling my actions and my performance as a member and this means that in Israel there is no meaning to democracy except the tyranny of the majority.”

The take-away messaging for listeners around the world is that this is a story about Arab-Israeli parliamentarians in an undemocratic state who have been unfairly suspended for ‘humanitarian’ activities.  The reason that distorted take-away message can be promoted is because the BBC has framed the story in such a way as to leave out crucial elements which are necessary for its accurate and impartial presentation and has thus denied listeners the ability to see the full picture.