Six months ago we documented an instance in which BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ presenter Evan Davis misled audiences with regard to the meaning of the term proportionality in the framework of the Laws of Armed Conflict whilst interviewing Israeli politician Tsipi Livni.
Davis: “The UN, others, plenty, think there is disproportionate force used by the Israeli army for the threat against Israeli civilians.” […]
Davis: “What is the ratio of the families losing children?”
Livni: “We are not targeting civilians.”
Davis: “I know you’re not targeting but what is the ratio of civilian to… untargeted killed by the Israelis relative to those killed in Israel by Hamas?”
As was noted at the time:
“What Davis is doing here is promoting the false notion that ‘proportionate’ means equality in death or suffering. That, of course is not the definition of the term in the context of war and the fact that he makes no effort to inform his audiences what the term really means is ample indication that the simplistic take-away message audiences are intended to receive is that Israel must be in the wrong because fewer Israelis die.”
“Our concern about the discussions and narratives that emerged from the 2014 Gaza Conflict arises from incorrect interpretations and pronouncements, whether misguided or politically motivated, about the meaning of and legal requirements contained within several of these principles as applied to the 2014 Gaza Conflict.
In particular, it is vital to understand that LOAC does not prohibit all harm to civilians or civilian property. The protection of civilians inherent in the concept of distinction is not absolute – where civilians or civilian locations are directly involved in hostilities they lose their protected status, as per Article 51 of the 1st Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention. Further, though deliberately attacking civilians and their property is illegal, incidental or collateral damage when attacking a legitimate military target is accepted, as per Articles 51, 52 and 57 of the 1st Additional Protocol (subject to the anticipated collateral harm not being excessive in relation to an attack’s expected military advantage). This is the essence of the concept of proportionality, adherence to which cannot in any way be determined by considering the relative casualty figures between belligerents in a conflict, which is misleadingly and yet frequently asserted to be the case in this conflict.”
Among the many topics addressed in this detailed report is that of Hamas media manipulation and intimidation (see in particular pages 44 and 45).
“Hamas’s effective manipulation of the messages emanating from Gaza during the conflict is not just a matter of upholding the standards of accurate and balanced reporting, but rather, coupled to its strategic concept, forms a core part of a deliberate strategy to shape the narrative around the conflict in its favour. The impact of this strategy in the form of the resultant media imagery amplified by misinformed commentary about LOAC is a key reason why Hamas is able to act with the unlawful modus operandi of a terrorist organisation, but enjoy a strategic communications advantage over Israel, which seeks to act within LOAC.”
As readers will no doubt recall, within twenty-four hours of the commencement of the conflict in July 2014 the BBC began promoting to its audiences worldwide the notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip. That accusation – along with related ones such as ‘crimes against humanity’, ‘deliberate targeting of civilians’ and ‘collective punishment’ – continued to be a theme found in BBC coverage throughout the fifty-day conflict – despite the fact that its origins were to be found in statements from politically motivated NGOs concurrently engaged in ‘lawfare’ against Israel and in amateur speculations from BBC journalists.
Much of that material is still available to the general public as ‘permanent public record’ on the BBC News website and no attempt has been made by the corporation – either at the time or since – to provide audiences with impartial professional commentary on the topic of the Law of Armed Conflict of the type seen in this report and others (see ‘related articles’ below) which would enable them to reach informed opinions on the topic and correct the inaccurate and misleading impressions propagated by BBC journalists.