Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

In October 2015 the BBC News website allocated just forty-two words to coverage of a terror attack in which four people were wounded near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel.

On August 7th 2017 the BBC News website devoted two hundred and ninety-eight words to amplification of statements made by a political NGO concerning a court ruling revoking the citizenship of the terrorist who committed that attack.

Titled “Israel decision to revoke attacker’s citizenship condemned” and illustrated with an unrelated image, the article opens with a description of the attack which predictably does not make use of the word terror because the BBC refuses to employ that term itself when reporting on attacks against Israelis.

“Human rights groups have criticised a decision by an Israeli court to remove the citizenship of an Israeli Arab who attacked people with a car and a knife.

It is thought to be the first time a judge has implemented a 2008 law under which perpetrators of “terrorist activities” can lose their citizenship.”

Later on in the report the word terrorism does appear in direct and indirect quotes.

“In his decision, Judge Avraham Elyakim of Haifa district court said victims’ right to life took precedence over “those who choose to violate the trust of the state of Israel and carry out acts of terrorism in its territory”.”

“The removal of citizenship for terrorism had been applied by Israel in rare instances prior to the 2008 law but the latest case could pave the way for similar rulings in the future, local media said.”

The report does not inform readers of an additional part of the court’s ruling:

“The court ruled that after Zayoud’s citizenship is revoked in October he will be given a temporary status, as exists in citizenship laws, and that it will be extended from time to time at the discretion of the interior minister after he has completed his sentence.”

As is made clear by its headline, the main aim of this article is amplification of statements from what the BBC coyly describes as “rights groups”.

“Israeli civil rights groups said the ruling set “a dangerous precedent”. […]

The court’s ruling was condemned by rights groups.

“The decision to revoke Mr Zayoud’s residence would render him stateless, in violation of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Sari Bashi of Human Rights watch.

“Citizenship is a precondition for a host of other rights, including the right to political participation and social and economic rights.””

Readers are not provided with any additional legal information beyond that simplistic portrayal and neither are they informed that numerous other countries have similar laws – as the BBC itself reported in relation to the UK only weeks ago:

“The 2014 Immigration Act granted the home secretary the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals or from immigrants who have become naturalised citizens and are now fighting overseas, even if that renders them stateless.”

As is usually the case, readers of this article find no mention of the obviously relevant issue of the political agenda of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the fact that it engages in lawfare and campaigning against Israel.

Human Rights Watch was the foreign NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC throughout 2016 and its reports, PR releases, campaigns and statements enjoyed similarly prominent amplification in previous years. Nevertheless, the BBC consistently fails to meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Obviously that condition was not met in this latest article and so once again we see the BBC providing leverage for politicised messaging concerning Israel from an interested party touted as a neutral-sounding ‘human rights group’, without the required full disclosure to audiences of that political NGO’s anti-Israel activities and campaigns.

BBC beats around the bush on women’s rights in Gaza

A filmed report produced as part of the BBC’s fourth100 Women” season appeared on the BBC News website (including the Middle East page) on November 26th under the title “The woman defying Gaza’s biking ‘ban’“.

The issue of women’s rights under the Hamas regime is one which has long been under-reported or downplayed by the BBC, meaning that audiences suffer from a serial lack of information about the restrictions on the rights of women (and other groups) and the religious ideology that lies behind such policies. While this report gives audiences a brief glimpse into one of the symptoms, it does little to contribute to the series’ stated aim of examining the issues behind their cause.

Audiences hear from the woman featured in the film, Amna Suleiman.100-women-gaza

“I posted on social media that I was going on a bike ride with two female friends. Many women got in touch and said they would love to join us. But on the day, none of them showed up. I’m sure what stopped women from coming is fear of the authorities.”

And later on:

“Gaza women have to abide by a strict social code. If a girl tries to defy cultural restrictions, she becomes an outcast.”

Leaving audiences to fill in the blanks for themselves, the BBC informs viewers that:

“An unwritten rule in Gaza bans women from riding bicycles after they reach puberty.”

And:

“The Islamist movement Hamas has been ruling Gaza since 2006.”

In fact the violent Hamas coup which brought the end to Palestinian Authority rule in the Gaza Strip took place in June 2007.

This all too rare glimpse into a social issue faced by women in the Gaza Strip once again avoids providing BBC audiences with the context necessary for its full comprehension.

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BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

On July 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “EU criticises Israel law forcing NGOs to reveal foreign funding” which included some rather confused language in the description of its subject matter.

NGO law art desc

The article’s introductory paragraph provides an accurate description of the groups affected by the new law but does not clarify that “from abroad” means from foreign governments.

“The EU has criticised a controversial new Israeli law targeting non-governmental organisations that receive most of their funding from abroad.”

Further on in the article, however, those groups are given a different title which is clearly intended to shape audience perceptions of the story. [emphasis added]NGO law art main

“But the EU said the requirements, which mostly affect human rights groups, went “beyond the need for transparency”.”

And:

Analysis by the Israeli justice ministry found there were 27 NGOs in Israel that would be affected by the law, of which 25 were human rights groups identified with the Left, Israeli media reported.”

The link in that paragraph leads to a report from Ha’aretz which does not provide the names of those “human rights groups” but does include a link to another Ha’aretz article on that topic which is behind a pay wall and hence inaccessible to most readers. In other words, the BBC does not allow readers to judge for themselves whether or not the title “human rights groups” is justified and accurate in all cases. It does go on to tell them that:

“They include B’Tselem, which monitors human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, and Zochrot, which advocates for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”

Haaretz NGOs list

from Haaretz article

The BBC’s report refrains from informing audiences that some of the 25 so-called “human rights groups” on that list support the anti-peace Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (for example Al Marsad, the Coalition of Women for Peace, Who Profits and Israel Social TV). It does not inform readers that some of those groups are anti-Zionist ‘one-staters’ that support the dissolution of the Jewish State (for example Zochrot and Sikkuy) and it does not tell them that quite a few of those groups are involved in lawfare campaigning  against Israel (for example Bimkom, B’tselsm, Yesh Din and PCATI).

The article further amplifies the EU’s statement but provides no challenge to the inaccurate claim that “activities” of NGOs would be ‘constrained’ by the new law.

“But the EU’s External Action Service said the reporting requirements seemed “aimed at constraining the activities” of civil society organisations.

“Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear. This new legislation risks undermining these values,” a spokesperson warned.”

No discussion of the topic of interference in a democracy by foreign governments is seen in this article and no mention is made of similar legislation in other countries. The rather glaring question of how groups receiving between 50 – 100% of their funding from foreign governments can call themselves ‘non-governmental organisations’ is ignored.

The article closes with unchallenged quotes from two political NGOs: ‘Human Rights Watch’ (which is not registered in Israel and therefore is not affected by the law) and ‘Peace Now’ which – despite the BBC’s description of it as “another affected group” – does not appear on the list.

‘Human Rights Watch’ is of course one of the NGOs most often quoted and promoted by the BBC. Several of the NGOs which will be affected by the new transparency law (e.g. ‘Breaking the Silence’, ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘B’tselem’) are also among the NGOs which are most frequently quoted by BBC journalists and/or provide source material for BBC reporting.

Clearly this report does not provide audiences with a realistic, accurate and impartial view of either the new legislation or some of the political NGOs it will affect. Given the BBC’s longstanding dismal record on informing its audiences of the “particular viewpoint” of the cadre of NGOs it quotes and promotes (in breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality) that will hardly come as a surprise to BBC Watch readers.

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BBC News ignores scheduled public executions in Gaza

Last month BBC News published an article headlined “Amnesty highlights ‘disturbing rise’ in global executions“.

“A surge in the number of executions recorded worldwide saw more people put to death last year than at any point since 1989, Amnesty International says.

At least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of more than 50% on the previous year, the group found in its review of the use of the death penalty.”

The report included a graphic based on AI’s data.

graphic AI data executions

The Telegraph now reports that:

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas is to carry out a string of public executions in the Gaza strip, the patch of territory it controls.

The executions were announced by Hamas’s attorney general in Gaza, Ismail Jaber. “Capital punishments will be implemented soon in Gaza,” he said. “I ask that they take place before a large crowd.”

Thirteen men, most convicted of murder connected to robberies, are currently awaiting execution, another Hamas official, Khalil al-Haya, said on Friday at the main prayers.

If all those go ahead, Gaza’s execution rate relative to the size of its population will overtake that of Saudi Arabia’s in one go.” [emphasis added]

Additional reports concerning Hamas’ announcement point out that under Palestinian law:executions art

“All execution orders must in theory be approved by PA President Mahmoud Abbas before they can be carried out, but Hamas no longer recognizes his legitimacy.”

As Khaled Abu Toameh has noted in the past, in 2005 Mahmoud Abbas issued a moratorium on death sentences.  

Nevertheless, to date the BBC has not found the story of these impending public executions – and the legal questions surrounding them – newsworthy.

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BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) the question that BBC Trending found it appropriate to ask visitors to the Middle East page on the corporation’s website was “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?“.Saudi women on ME pge

In the text accompanying that video report, readers are told that what they know about the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia (including, apparently, its 2015 ranking by the World Economic Forum at 134 out of 145 countries) is a “stereotype”.

“Life for women in the Arab kingdom is often painted as one of repression, after all they are forbidden from driving and are restricted by male guardianship laws which deprive them of their independence.

And BBC Trending has covered several stories that have gone viral that show how these restrictions affect women’s lives.

But many of these stories also show how women are using social media to make their voices heard, challenging not only their own society but also the stereotype the world has of them.

So for the “Saudis on Social” series we asked Saudi women, if they are really that oppressed?”

In the video the BBC’s Mai Norman tells audiences that:

“When it comes to Saudi women, well, most of the world has a certain image: unequal and can’t even drive. But many Saudi women say that’s just a stereotype; it’s not the full picture.”

How the term “many Saudi women” is quantified or sourced is not revealed to audiences and neither – crucially – are the basic standpoints and beliefs of the report’s contributors. Viewers see an interview with a woman presented as Samer al Morgan who tells them that:

“The Saudi woman is completely different. There are many different types of women. I’m one of these women who doesn’t fit the image portrayed by western media.”

The speaker is apparently Saudi journalist Samer al Mogren and one has to wonder about BBC Trending’s framing of her words given the fact that in 2008 she recounted her own experiences at a major newspaper.

“Mogren worked for four years at the Saudi daily Al-Watan, enjoying a top-notch position where she supervised both men and women at the paper’s social affairs desk. Late last year, the editorial board changed hands, and from that point her skills were called into question. “I was totally marginalized,” she says. “I wasn’t consulted as an editor; I’d go home at six or seven in the evening after writing out the pages only to find that when the paper came out the next day, nothing I’d done was published. “I started to witness real discrimination against women. Women weren’t wanted there, except for a handful who were needed for administrative work. If there was a woman who was capable of making a decision, it wasn’t welcome.” Loath to capitulate to the whims of her new boss, Mogren decided to leave her job while she was ahead. “If I’d stayed there I’d have been buried,” she says. During her field work as a journalist, Mogren has interviewed countless Saudi women and documented their plight as second-class citizens in Saudi society. Mogren, who has since begun contributing to the Kuwaiti Awan, has revealed some horrific stories of violence against Saudi women and hopes to raise more awareness about this issue around the world, in particular in the Arab world.”

Norman goes on:Saudi women Trending

“So we’ve been asking Saudi women themselves: are women in the kingdom really that oppressed?”

Viewers then see Nourah al Shaaban – presented as an “executive director” of an unnamed organization say:

“As a Saudi woman I never felt oppressed in any means. We have in our parliament more than 30 women.”

Norman explains:

“She’s referring to the recent and long-awaited move to allow women the right to vote and take part in parliamentary elections.”

In fact, as the BBC itself reported, the December 2015 elections were for municipal councils “with few powers” rather than for a parliament as most viewers would understand the term. Many female candidates – apparently including women’s rights campaigners – were barred and those that did run were not allowed to address male voters face to face. Polling stations were segregated and the female candidates won approximately 1% of the contested seats.

Norman continues:

“So do they have a point? More women in Saudi Arabia graduate from university than men. Contrary to popular belief women in Saudi Arabia can work and in fact have found prominence in different fields.”

As Freedom House points out:

“More than half of the country’s university students are now female, although they do not enjoy equal access to classes and facilities.”

According to the World Bank, women made up a mere 20% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce in 2014 and the percentage of women holding ministerial level positions was zero.

The video does go on to highlight the issues of the extensive requirement for male guardians and domestic violence – described by Freedom House as follows:

“Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to drive cars and must obtain permission from a male guardian in order to travel within or outside of the country. According to interpretations of Sharia in Saudi Arabia, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. Moreover, Saudi women seeking access to the courts must be represented by a male. The religious police enforce a strict policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to ensure compliance with conservative standards of dress in public. Same-sex marriage is not legal. All sexual activity outside of marriage, including same-sex activity, is criminalized, and the death penalty can be applied in certain circumstances. A 2013 law defines and criminalizes domestic abuse, prescribing fines and up to a year in prison for perpetrators. However, according to analysis by Human Rights Watch, the law lacks clarity on enforcement mechanisms.”

The report closes with the following messaging – again including the foggy term “many women”:

“Clearly when it comes to rights there are still many battles to fight. However many women in Saudi Arabia say that labelling them as victims only makes those battles harder to fight.”

Obviously there are women in Saudi Arabia fighting the uphill battle for equal rights and some small gains have been made. However, this report fails to clarify to audiences that many of the issues facing Saudi women (and human rights campaigners in general) are rooted in the country’s legal system which is based on interpretations of Sharia law.

This report’s attempt to create linkage between the way in which the situation of Saudi Arabian women is portrayed in the Western media and their ability to make progress in changing laws created under that male-dominated legal system clearly does not hold any water.

Then again, neither does the preposterous question posed repeatedly in this report’s title and subsequent content or its whitewashing of parts of the subject matter through inaccurate and selective representation of the situation of women in a non-democratic theocracy in which they cannot even decide how to dress or open a bank account without male permission.

If anyone – including Saudi women – was expecting the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” to make the most of International Women’s Day to inform its audiences of the issues faced by women in one of the worst places on earth for gender equality, they will have been sorely disappointed.

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BBC Trending, Saudi Arabia and the missing link

On September 23rd an article by BBC Trending appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The young Saudi who could be executed at any time“.

Trending Saudi story on ME pge

The article relates to social media interest in the case of a Saudi Arabian citizen sentenced to death in May 2014.

“Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr could be beheaded at any time, and now activists are rallying to highlight his case online. He’s accused of a variety of crimes against the state, all stemming from protests he took part in against the Saudi government. His appeals against a death sentence are exhausted.”BBC Trending Saudi Arabia

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“… the trend really spiked big on Wednesday. Al-Nimr’s name has now been mentioned 15,000 times in English and 21,000 times in Arabic over the past few days, with liberal and secular activists and human rights organisations leading the charge. “Our leading ally in the region crucify government critics,” tweeted one British blogger. “Wake up world.” Under Saudi law, the punishment of crucifixion to which al-Nimr was sentenced is actually a beheading, followed by the public display of the body. Others online linked the case with the recent appointment of a Saudi ambassador as chair of a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council. “Saudi Arabia chosen to head UN’s human’s rights panel & yet they’re about to behead 21yr activist,” one user commented.”

However as readers will see if they follow that link about the election of Saudi Arabia to a UN Human Rights Council panel, the writer of this article had to link to a report on the subject from the Independent – presumably because to date the BBC has refrained from producing any reporting of its own on that matter.

Quite why the BBC did not consider it newsworthy when one of the worst human rights abusing regimes in the world bagged a top position at a UN body it regularly quotes and promotes  (including on Gaza Strip casualty figures during the summer 2014 conflict) is of course a question in itself.

But the timing of this particular example of BBC self-censorship is all the more remarkable because just last week the BBC News Press Team saw fit to promote a particular quote from the latest article by a Carnegie Europe employee (there has been at least one other) extolling the virtues of the BBC World Service on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy.

Press Team tweet

Surely one would expect a media organization which touts its credentials as an agent of freedom and democracy to be among the first to report on the fact that a UN panel responsible for selecting officials who shape international human rights standards has been placed in the hands of a non-democratic, human rights abusing regime which employs medieval-style punishments

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

Since mid-April BBC audiences have seen and heard a number of reports informing them that “progress” is being made by women in Saudi Arabia looking to secure their basic human rights.

April 13th 2015: “Saudi women’s small steps on path to progress“, Barbara Plett Usher, BBC News website.

April 13th 2015: “Everyday life for Saudi women”, Barbara Plett Usher, BBC World Service radio – now unavailable.

May 4th 2015: “Rights for women in Saudi Arabia ‘progressing’“, Lina Sinjab, BBC television news and BBC News website.

The opening paragraph of Plett Usher’s written report states:Women Saudi Arabia 2

“Women have made strides in Saudi Arabia during the last 10 years, in employment, at universities, and even in politics. But they still cannot drive, and continue to face severe social restrictions, as Barbara Plett Usher in Riyadh finds.” [emphasis added]

The synopsis to Lina Sinjab’s filmed report reads:

“Saudi Arabia is known to be one of the world’s most conservative societies, with the role of women particularly limited.

Although changes have been made in employment and politics, women are still not allowed to drive, and continue to face severe social restrictions.

But some think progress is being made, despite resistance from conservative parts of society.” [emphasis added]

But can the severe restrictions on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia (ranked 130th out of 142 on gender equality in 2014 by the World Economic Forum) really be accurately described as “social”?

In fact – in common with many other restrictions on human rights in general in Saudi Arabia – the restrictions on women are legal ones – derived from interpretations of Sharia law.

As Freedom House points out:Women Saudi Arabia 1

“Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to drive cars or travel within or outside of the country without a male relative. According to interpretations of Sharia in Saudi Arabia, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. Moreover, Saudi women seeking access to the courts must be represented by a male. The religious police enforce a strict policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to ensure that they meet conservative standards of dress in public. All sexual activity outside marriage, including homosexual acts, is criminalized, and the death penalty can be applied in certain circumstances.

Education and economic rights for Saudi women have improved somewhat in recent years, with more than half of the country’s university students now female, though they do not enjoy equal access to classes and facilities. Women gained the right to hold commercial licenses in 2004. In 2008, the Saudi Human Rights Commission established a women’s branch to investigate cases of human rights violations against women and children, but it has not consistently carried out serious investigations or brought cases against violators.

In August 2013, the government enacted a law that defines and criminalizes domestic abuse, prescribing fines and up to a year in prison for perpetrators. However, according to an analysis by Human Rights Watch, the law lacks clarity on enforcement mechanisms. In July, prominent women’s rights activists Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni were sentenced to 10 months in prison and banned from traveling abroad for two years for a 2011 attempt to assist a woman who was apparently being domestically abused.”

There is obviously a world of difference between “social restrictions” born out of convention and punishable restrictions enshrined in the laws of a non-democratic theocracy. A social restriction would be if, for example, women dressed in a certain way because of convention but their right to wear whatever they like was protected by law. Unfortunately, the BBC’s journalists do not seem to have an interest in accurately informing their audiences of that crucial difference.