The return of the template BBC response to complaints

We have seen it before. During times of intense BBC coverage of events in Israel, members of the public making complaints to the BBC are likely to find themselves receiving a generic response which actually does nothing to address the substance of their complaint, but is clearly merely intended to tick performance boxes.BBC logo

During Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012, we also discovered that there are apparently two versions of the particular template response of the time and that their content depends upon the perceived nature of the complaint. As we documented at the time, one licence fee payer who submitted a complaint about anti-Israel bias received the ‘wrong’ response by mistake, which included the following statement:

“We understand you feel our coverage has shown bias in favour of Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

Well it seems that the template response is back. A reader recently informed us of a reply he received to his complaint on July 25th from a ‘no reply’ e-mail address which in no way addressed the points he raised. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for contacting us about the recent escalation in violence in Gaza and Israel. We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story across our television and radio programmes and the BBC News website. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

BBC News has reported extensively on the series of rocket attacks launched by Hamas and other Palestinian militants into southern and central Israel in recent weeks. We have reported on the civilian injuries and casualties, destruction and disruption caused by the attacks in towns near Gaza, such as Ashkelon and Sderot. We have also reported on the range and capability of Hamas’ arsenal, emphasising that major urban areas like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are also under threat from attacks.

During our coverage of Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza we have reported on efforts made by the Israel Defense Forces seeking to minimise civilian causalities [sic]. We have detailed the prior warnings given to Palestinian civilians and have reflected Israel’s claims that Hamas hide weapons in civilian areas and employ non-militants as human shields:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28245343 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28252155 

BBC News has also examined the cause of the conflict, as seen by each side, including Hamas’ hostility to the state of Israel. We believe we have reported on these issues in a fair and impartial manner.

Please be assured we raised your concerns with senior editorial staff at BBC News. 

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.”

There is plenty to be said about the various claims made in this response, but perhaps the most glaring is the one which states that “We […] have reflected Israel’s claims that Hamas hide weapons in civilian areas and employ non-militants as human shields”.

The relevant supplied link – ostensibly providing back up to that claim – leads to a very problematic article on the BBC News website titled “Gaza-Israel conflict: What is the fighting about?” which is dated July 30th. The part of that article which supposedly relates to the all-important issue of the use of human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organisations reads thus:

“Israel has said the homes it has bombed belonged to senior militants and served as command centres where rocket attacks were co-ordinated. It says militants deliberately fire rockets from civilian areas and store rockets in places like homes, school and hospitals – a charge Hamas denies.” [emphasis added]

Not only does this phrasing omit any mention of the term human shields, it fails utterly to reflect the proven evidence of missiles being launched from residential areas and weapons being stored in civilian public buildings such as mosques, hospitals and schools. Further, it ignores the ample documented evidence of Hamas officials and government bodies ordering civilians to remain in their homes even after warnings to evacuate have been given by the IDF.

Moreover, despite the mounting evidence documented both by Israeli forces on the ground and by journalists working in the Gaza Strip, this so-called backgrounder absurdly places that documented evidence on the same footing as the denials of an internationally proscribed terrorist organization.

The BBC has not only failed in its day-to-day reporting to inform audiences adequately of the use of human shields by terrorist organisations – and even in some cases denied outright that the practice exists – but it now continues that policy of deliberate omission in a backgrounder which is supposed to provide BBC audiences with the accurate and impartial information they need to be able to understand this conflict and reach informed opinions on the issue. That is a transparent failure by the BBC to meet its obligations laid out in the terms of its public purposes remit

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BBC smokescreen for terrorists’ use of human shields reaches new low

On the afternoon of July 28th, at around 17:00 local time, explosions took place near Shifa hospital and in the Shati area of Gaza CityShifa Sahti tweet 1 and around half an hour later, it was reported that ten people had been killed, including children. Along with Hamas spokesmen, many members of the international media in Gaza immediately jumped to – and promoted – the conclusion that the explosions were the result of Israeli airstrikes.

Just after 18:00 the IDF stated that it had not been operating in the area at the time and confirmed that both explosions were in fact missiles misfired by terrorists. Not long afterwards, an aerial photograph was made public showing the trajectory paths of four missiles launched simultaneously by terrorists from inside the Gaza Strip, as recorded by IDF radars and sensors. One of those missiles exploded near Shifa hospital, another exploded in the Shati area, a third landed at sea and the fourth was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system over Ashkelon.

Missiles Al-Shifa and Shati tatsa

Three reports which appeared on the BBC News website, however, all failed to tell audiences what really happened, electing instead to present them with a ‘he said/she said’ version of events.

A report dated July 28th and titled “Gaza in critical condition, says UN’s Ban Ki-moon” states:

“Shortly after he [Ban Ki-moon] spoke, there were reports of two explosions in Gaza City – one in a children’s playground and one near Gaza’s main hospital. […]

Police and health officials said separate Israeli airstrikes had hit the compound of Gaza City’s main hospital and a nearby playground on Monday afternoon, causing casualties.

But a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said both explosions were caused by misfired rockets that were launched from Gaza by “terrorists”.”

Another report titled “Gaza City and Israel’s Eshkol hit by deadly blasts” – now dated July 29th but which originally appeared on July 28th – states:

“Explosions in Gaza City reportedly killed 10 people, including children. […]

At least 10 people – eight of them children – were killed in Monday afternoon’s blasts in Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

Palestinian officials say the 10 were killed by Israeli missile strikes, but Israel says the explosions were caused by rockets misfired by “terrorists”.”

A third article dated July 29th and titled “Israel PM Netanyahu warns of ‘prolonged’ Gaza campaign” states:

“At least 10 people – eight of them children – were killed in blasts in Gaza City on Monday afternoon, Palestinian health officials said. It is unclear if they were killed by an Israeli attack or a misfiring militant rocket.”

In other words, the BBC would have audiences believe that it cannot possibly tell them which is more reliable: the evidence provided by a sophisticated system of radars and trackers which are part of a technologically advanced early warning system, or the unverified word of ‘health officials’ belonging to a terrorist organization which, if it did not fire the specific missiles itself, is collaborating with the terrorist organization that did.  

Notably, the BBC’s journalists on the ground apparently had no inclination to carry out their own investigations into the incident. 

On the evening of July 28th, some seven hours after the incident occurred and long after the above aerial photograph had been made public, viewers of BBC television news were nevertheless shown a filmed report by Ian Pannell which was aimed solely at whipping up emotions and did absolutely nothing to inform them of the real circumstances behind the tragic incident.Pannell Shati report filmed 28 7

That report was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Middle East crisis: Children pay heavy price in Gaza“.

“It was supposed to be a day of celebration in Gaza. But it ended with the blood of children. They’d been playing in the park, celebrating the Eid holiday. That’s when the rocket landed. At least ten were killed, eight of them children. Dozens more were injured. Ola [phonetic] is just four years old. She was out on the street when a rocket exploded. Her sister Bethaina [phonetic] was with her. ‘I was sitting in front of the house’, she says, ‘a rocket landed and it hit me and my sister’.

A hospital already overflowing with casualties was engulfed in chaos. Parents and relatives frantically searching for their children. The wards were full of them. Fourteen year-old Mohammed had shrapnel in his back. ‘We were playing in the street and they hit us’, he said. ‘They targeted us. Lots of children were killed.’ And next to him, four year-old Ola [phonetic]. Shrapnel cut into her small body. Israel has denied it was responsible for this.

Woman: “Then who fired it? I ran outside and found my daughters. If the Israelis didn’t do it, who did? Did my daughters launch the rocket?”

Marching up the hill to bury two small boys. They’d played together, they were killed together and now, they were going to be Shifa Shati Campbell tweetburied together. The boys’ father says his sons are martyrs who died for the resistance against Israel.

Today was supposed to be one of a ceasefire. The first day of Eid, the end of Ramadan, a holy festival, a time for celebration and for families to be together. Instead you have families going to the cemetery to bury their children. Gaza’s seen many bloody days. Few have been as painful as this one. The children here have paid heavily. The militants are under pressure but there’s little sign their support is ebbing. Days like this only harden hearts and compromise seems ever more remote.”

Pannell’s tabloid style report does nothing to inform BBC audiences of the real circumstances behind the deaths of those children, with the missiles misfired by terrorists not even getting a mention. If readers wonder why Pannell chose to feed his audiences fact-free emotion rather than providing them with insight into what really happened, then a clue might be found in a Tweet sent by an Italian journalist after he left the Gaza Strip.

Tweet Italian journo Shati

“The children here have paid heavily”, says Pannell and indeed they have. But until Western journalists start telling the truth about the way in which terrorists in the Gaza Strip launch missiles from residential areas, schools, hospitals and mosques; endangering the local population and turning them into human shields, then children in both Gaza and Israel will continue to pay a heavy price. Like the rest of the Western media though, Ian Pannell and his team will soon be safely moving on.

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BBC TV news airs claim that Gazans are being deliberately starved to death by Israel

BBC audiences might very reasonably expect that studio-produced backgrounders would be capable of meeting editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality more easily than reports produced under pressure in the field. Apparently that is not the case.

A filmed report by the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner which was broadcast on BBC television news programmes and also featured on the BBC News website on July 22nd under the over-hyped title “Why is Middle East truce so hard to broker?“, once again promoting the erroneous and ridiculous notion that the current conflict between Israel and Hamas is the most important – and only – thing going on in the Middle East.Gardner filmed 22 7

Gardner opens:

“Grief and mourning spread across two communities – Israeli and Palestinian – although the death toll in Gaza is twenty times higher than that suffered by Israel.”

No attempt whatsoever is made to explain to audiences why that is the case. Israel’s extensive investment in civilian defence gets no mention and of course, in common with BBC practice throughout the last two weeks, viewers are not told how Hamas’ policy of using the local population as human shields by storing weapons in residential neighbourhoods and firing missiles from those locations guarantees a higher civilian death toll on the Palestinian side. Gardner goes on:

“This is carnage on a horrific scale. Over 600 Palestinians have been killed so far. The UN says that three-quarters of them are civilians. Thirty Israelis have also died – most of them military.”

Notably, Israelis die whilst Palestinians get killed. Gardner fails to inform audiences of the dubious sources of the figures and ratio he cites and of course also refrains from noting that the BBC has not independently verified those figures. He continues:

“This mounting death toll has prompted an international outcry. So, just why can’t the fighting be stopped? The diplomatic deadlock over Gaza stems from the two sides’ demands being apparently irreconcilable. But what do they actually want? Israel has one primary aim: for no more rockets to be fired from Gaza onto Israeli towns. Its prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made a pledge to stop the rocket attacks. He sent troops into Gaza to blow up the supply tunnels being used by Hamas militants to hide them.” [emphasis added]

You might think that the BBC’s chief security correspondent would know the difference between the various types of tunnels in the Gaza Strip, but obviously that is not the case. The prime aim of the Israeli ground operation is not to “blow up the supply tunnels” on the Gaza/Egypt border (most of which have already been put out of action by Egypt in its own struggle against Islamist and Jihadist terror), but to neutralise the attack tunnels along the border with Israel, some of which have already been used to carry out infiltrations into Israeli territory with the intention of carrying out mass terror attacks on civilians.

“There are three types of tunnel, experts say. The first are economic: hundreds of tunnels burrowing into Egypt, which allowed Hamas to funnel in resources, guns and rockets until the Egyptians sealed off many of them.

Another set of tunnels reportedly services the Hamas high command. “Every single leader of Hamas, from its lowest ranking bureaucrats to its most senior leaders, is intimately familiar with the route to the security tunnel assigned to him and his family,” al-Monitor reported. “The most senior leadership has its own specific tunnel.”

The last kind is allegedly driving the Israeli invasion: tunnels that can carry Hamas militants under the Gaza border and into Israel.”

But that is not the only inaccuracy in the BBC’s security expert’s report. After footage of the Israeli prime minister speaking, Gardner turns to presentation of the Hamas point of view, but fails to tell viewers that it is the activities of terrorists of various stripes in the Gaza Strip which prompted both Egypt and Israel to introduce means to secure their borders with that territory. Thus, audiences are mistakenly led to believe that “the blockade on Gaza” is a product of neighbouring governments being “hostile”.

“Now Hamas have one overriding aim and that’s to end the blockade on Gaza, hemmed in as it is by hostile governments in Israel and Egypt. Its leadership also wants the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, but Hamas are in a tight corner.”

Hamas actually demands the release of convicted terrorists who were released under the terms of the Shalit deal in 2011, but rearrested during the search for the murderers of three Israeli teenagers last month.

The report then cuts to a filmed interview with Fawaz Gergas of the LSE who says:

“Hamas is basically forced to choose between death by starvation – slow death – because you have a twin siege by Israel and Egypt of Hamas – of Gaza – or basically a fight to the end.”

The Oxford dictionary defines a siege as follows:

“A military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”

Rather than cutting off essential supplies, Israel actually goes to great lengths to facilitate their entry into the Gaza Strip, even whilst under fire from the terrorist organisations based there. In fact, just since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge two weeks ago, eight hundred and sixty-four truckloads of supplies and humanitarian aid have entered the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing. Armies conducting a siege usually do not supply the ‘besieged’ with electricity, cooking gas, fuel and medical care as Israel does. 

Clearly, there is no “siege” of Gaza as Gergas inaccurately states. Neither are the residents of the Gaza Strip under threat of “death by starvation” as can be seen in Yolande Knell’s frequent reports from markets.  

The editorial decision to include the inaccurate, misleading, demonising and obviously politically motivated falsehoods promoted by Fawaz Gergas in this report is a very grave matter indeed and – unless we choose to believe that Frank Gardner and his editors are shockingly ignorant and incompetent – can only stem from the BBC’s own political motivations. 

 

Some BBC bright spots and the remarkable reaction of a presenter confronted with reality

They may be few and far between, but there are some bright spots among the BBC’s reporting of Operation Protective Edge.

After its initial failure to provide audiences with any sort of comprehensive background on the subject of Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels (see here and here) and following the distinctly inadequate “Gaza ‘terror tunnels’ in 60 secs” video report, the BBC News website finally got round to publishing a proper backgrounder on the topic on July 22nd titled “Gaza: How Hamas tunnel network grew“. Television and radio audiences – the majority – are obviously in need of a similar backgrounder.Simpson filmed 21 7

Some BBC journalists have suggested in their recent reports that the rising number of soldiers killed is changing Israeli views of Operation Protective Edge. In a filmed report from July 21st, for example, John Simpson opined:

“Israel’s losses are mounting sharply. Nothing remotely like the losses on the Palestinian side, but deeply disturbing for Israelis all the same. […]

Israel isn’t used to losing soldiers on such a scale and pictures like these are starting to have a powerful effect on public opinion.”

How Simpson reached that conclusion (or the sadly incorrect notion that “Israel isn’t used to losing soldiers on such a scale”) is unclear.

It was therefore helpful to see some properly informed analysis of the Israeli mood on the BBC News website’s Middle East page in the form of an article by Gil Hoffman titled “Why Israelis are rallying behind latest Gaza campaign“.

Among the subjects still missing from the BBC’s coverage is some in-depth coverage of the topic of Hamas’ use of human shields and the way in which that deliberate policy contributes to the high number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. Without that essential knowledge, BBC audiences will still be unable to reach informed conclusions regarding this particular international issue. One attempt to shed some light on that issue was made by Barak Seener of the Royal United Services Institute in an interview with BBC World News on July 21st – with a remarkable reaction from the presenter when presented with an expert opinion (which is presumably what the BBC sought when it invited the specific interviewee) on the realities underpinning Hamas strategy.

“That is obviously a very…ah…controversial thing to say and many people will refute that the leadership of Hamas want to see their own people, supporters, women and children killed…ah…unnecessarily…”

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ airs falsehoods on Gaza medicine shortage (and the ramblings of Bar Hillel)

Judging by the amount of correspondence in our inbox on the morning of July 22nd, a great number of people were very dismayed by the peculiar decision made by producers of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme to invite Mira Bar Hillel to speak as a supposedly representative voice of “British-Israeli Jews” as she was introduced by presenter Sarah Montague.

Bar Hillel’s outlandish remarks are of course about as worthy of comment as those of the average chap on the street-corner with a sandwich board and – given her previous record – entirely unsurprising. Those who wish to hear them, however, can do see here or here because the BBC evidently considers them worthy of stand-alone promotion.

One has to wonder if – twenty-four hours on and post Bar Hillel’s David Ward groupie performance on Twitter – the ‘Today’ programme team still thinks that was a good idea.

B Hillel tweet

But what is more interesting about this edition of the ‘Today’ programme that the ramblings of Bar Hillel is the introduction to the item given by presenter Sarah Montague to apparently seven million listeners. That can be heard for a limited period of time from around 01:51:00 here.

“It would be impossible not to be affected by the news from Gaza.”

Six million Israelis in air-raid shelters, missile attacks aimed at a nuclear facility and an international airport and terrorists tunneling underground to carry out atrocities in a kibbutz are apparently not news.

“More than 580 Palestinians have now been killed by Israel, many of them women and children. Most of them civilians according to Palestinians. And for everyone killed, hundreds more are injured.”

Yet again we see that no clarification is given regarding the partisan nature of the sources of casualty figures cited – but not independently verified by the BBC. And yet again we observe the now well entrenched BBC policy of failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties with no effort made to inform audiences how many of the dead were terrorists.Today 22 7 bar hillel

“The UN says a hundred thousand have now fled their homes, and this in a space where there is no running water and – because of Israel’s embargo – little food or medical supplies.”

There again is that now oft-promoted BBC falsehood about the shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip being connected to Israeli policies along with another one which misleads listeners by claiming that Israel restricts or bans (who knows where Sarah Montague’s imagination leads her?) the entry of food into the Gaza Strip. The fact is that since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th and until July 21st (the day before this programme was aired), seven hundred and seventy-eight lorry-loads of humanitarian aid (food, medical supplies and other essentials) had entered the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

“Israel say [sic] they are only defending themselves; that it is Hamas’ fault for firing rockets into their territory and that it is Hamas who are deliberately putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way.”

Seeing as BBC teams on the ground have resolutely avoided adequately reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields it is perhaps hardly surprising that Sarah Montague can do nothing better than that to inform listeners of the realities of this conflict and, given her citing of unverified civilian casualty figures, the omission of any real information regarding the fact that Hamas stores and fires missiles in residential areas – and the number of deaths caused by those deliberate practices – is of course particularly significant.

Montague then goes on to cite Israeli casualty figures, failing of course to note that the reason for the lower Israeli death toll is the lengths to which Israel goes to protect its civilians and the stark contrast between its policies and those of Hamas.

“The Israeli death toll is far lower. Twenty have been killed in the past fortnight.”

She closes with a whitewashed portrayal of antisemitic rioting and agitprop.

 “Thousands have protested around the world at what they see as Israel’s heavy-handed response.”

The issue of the BBC’s repeated deliberate misrepresentation of the nature and purpose of restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip is becoming a very serious one. The ‘Today’ programme must issue a prompt and public correction to the falsehoods promoted by Sarah Montague concerning food and medicines.

Contact details for ‘Today’: e-mail: today@bbc.co.uk, Twitter: @BBCR4Today 

BBC’s Chris Morris misquotes the Israeli prime minister

On July 20th yet another of the BBC correspondents who have been ‘parachuted in’ to provide backing to the regular team made a filmed report for BBC television news. Europe correspondent Chris Morris’ report also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza crisis: 13 Israeli soldiers and 87 Gazans killed” and there the synopsis promotes unsourced casualty figures –  with no evidence of independent verification by the BBC – which once again fail to make any distinction between civilian and terrorist combatant casualties.Chris Morris 20 7

“Gaza suffered the highest death toll since the offensive began, with at least 87 people reported killed on Sunday – 67 of them in one area.”

Morris says:

“Well those thirteen soldiers were killed in several incidents overnight in and around Shuja’iya. I think it shows that they ran into fierce resistance from Hamas fighters in that district. And to put it into contact [sic], losing thirteen soldiers in one day that’s more than Israel lost in a three-week military campaign the last time it went into Gaza on the ground in 2008/2009. So it will be a big shock that number to Israeli society.

Of course it’s considerably less though than the number of Palestinian civilians who’ve been killed in the same 24 hour period. The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaking in an interview with BBC Arabic said he regretted every single BBC casualty. But he sometimes seems to tailor his message to the specific audiences. In one interview with American television he accused Palestinians of using telegenically dead civilians for propaganda purposes.”

So what is Morris implying here? Well, he suggests first of all that the Israeli prime minister’s expression of regret for civilian casualties during his interview with BBC Arabic is not sincere since – according to Morris – his statements are “tailored” to the audience at the time. Morris than goes on to misrepresent what PM Netanyahu said in an interview with Fox News – as readers can see for themselves here. What was actually said is this:

“When you take a surgical operation you can’t guarantee when your soldiers are being fired from Hamas homes – that is Hamas is targeting people from private homes – and you hit them back, of course some people are going to be hurt. That’s totally different from deliberately targeting them. And you know what? The forces that went into Shuja’iya – this place where there are tunnels in homes; we have to clear out the homes – Hamas puts the civilians – the Palestinian civilians – there. We go out to ferret out rocketeers and anti-tank rocket fire. Hamas puts civilians there. We asked these civilians – before we went in – we said please leave. We text them, we call them on cellphones, we drop leaflets. We told them where to go. And those who left were safe. Now those who didn’t leave – you know why they didn’t leave? Because Hamas told them to be there. Because Hamas – while we try to avoid Palestinian civilian dead – Hamas wants Palestinian civilian dead – the more the better – so it can give you telegenic fodder. So this is the cruelest, most grotesque war that I’ve ever seen. I mean not only does Hamas target civilians – ours – and hides behind their civilians – theirs – it actually wants to pile up as many civilian deaths as possible.” [emphasis added]

Clearly then Morris’ claim that PM Netanyahu “accused Palestinians of using telegenically dead civilians for propaganda purposes” is inaccurate. In fact, Netanyahu said that Hamas – not Palestinians in general – has an interest in creating high numbers of civilian casualties for propaganda purposes. But like the rest of his colleagues, Chris Morris does not seem to be interested in informing BBC audiences about the reality of Hamas’ use of human shields

Of course contrary to Morris’ insinuation, that statement does not in any way contradict Netanyahu’s expression of regret for civilian casualties.

And what of Morris’ claim that PM Netanyahu “seems to tailor his message to the specific audiences” and the ensuing implication of the insincerity of the message?  Well apparently Morris was not listening closely enough to that July 20th interview with BBC Arabic. Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript of that interview – which as readers will see is actually very similar both in content and in style to the one given to a US TV station.

“PM: I regret and the people of Israel regret any civilian casualty, even one. We target the rocketeers. We target Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. In this particular area, it’s a stronghold, it’s a terrorist stronghold. They manufacture the rockets there; they store the rockets there; they fire the rockets there – over a hundred rockets have been fired from this area to the cities of Israel. They also dig terror tunnels, attack tunnels under the homes, where they store the rockets. They build attack tunnels that penetrate into Israel’s side and kill Israeli civilians. They try to get into kindergartens, into schools, kibbutzim, and murder people and kidnap people like Gilad Shalit. This is what we face, so we want to go in there and clean it up so that we are safe, yet in the course of doing that, we have to go into densely civilian, civilian populated areas. We ask the population: Leave. We ask them again and again. We call them up. We text them messages. We give leaflets. We ask them to leave. Hamas says – and some of them do leave. Hamas says: Don’t leave. We forbid you to leave. So Hamas is using these people, these civilians, as a human shield to protect its missiles. They don’t care about the people of Gaza. They want the people of Gaza to die. They want them to die telegenically so they can use them to protect themselves while they’re underground. They’re underground. Their leader, Khaled Mashal, is roaming around the Gulf States in five-star hotels. They don’t care about the people of Gaza. So I want to use this opportunity and speak to the people of Gaza: Heed the warnings of the IDF or the Israeli army; leave your homes to the places where you’re told to go. Leave. Don’t stay there because Hamas wants you to die and you shouldn’t die for Hamas. They don’t care about you but we want you to be safe.” [emphasis added]

So much for BBC accuracy and impartiality.   

 

 

 

The reality behind the BBC’s promotion of information from medics in Gaza

As was noted here a few days ago, on July 15th the BBC’s Yolande Knell (perhaps inadvertently) documented the use of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City as a hideout for the Hamas top brass. Other journalists have reported on that topic too and of course the bottom line is that staff and patients of a civilian medical facility (as well as visiting journalists) are being exploited by a terrorist organisation as human shields, with or without the consent of that hospital’s management.Shifa hospital

In addition to the fact that the BBC has failed to adequately clarify the issue of human shields in Shifa hospital (or anywhere else) to audiences – numerous items of BBC content have been produced in that hospital over the past two weeks – obviously with the approval of its management – and various doctors have been interviewed, quoted and presented to BBC audiences as credible witnesses of the situation in Gaza. Examples include:

A BBC television news filmed report by Yolande Knell from July 8th.

Two filmed reports by Jeremy Bowen for BBC television news on July 11th.

A BBC World Service radio report by Lyse Doucet on July 20th in which a doctor promoted the unchallenged notion of a “massacre” in Shuja’iya.

A BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ interview with Dr Belal Dabour on July 21st which also allows unhindered promotion of the notion of a “massacre” in Shuja’iya.

Perhaps rather surprisingly in the current circumstances, Dr Dabour seems to have quite a bit of spare time in which to talk to the BBC – see for example here and here.

Now of course BBC audiences hearing, reading or watching an interview with a doctor will naturally presume that they are being given an accurate, impartial, apolitical and professionally neutral view of the situation. In the Gaza Strip, however, that is not necessarily the case – as has been documented by the ‘Warped Mirror’ blog here and here. And it is particularly not the case in Shifa hospital where, on July 20th, a journalist with ABC witnessed the following reaction from ‘humanitarian’ staff to the false claim by Hamas that it had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Tweet Doctors Shifa

But it is not only local doctors in the Gaza Strip whose presentation of supposedly professional observations – in fact underpinned by political motives – are facilitated by the BBC. On July 20th the BBC reached what is unfortunately not a new low by promoting and quoting none other than the infamous Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert in inserts by Yolande Knell featured in two separate written articles – see here and here.

Knell Mads Gilbert

Readers may recall Gilbert’s propaganda efforts during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9. Now the doctor who thinks the 9/11 terror attacks were justified is back in Shifa hospital, promoting the same political messaging to the media under the guise of a ‘medical opinion’ – remarkably and controversially, with recommendation from another source of ‘impartial’ information frequently promoted by the BBC – UNWRA.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly 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.”

So far, in nearly two weeks of reporting, we have not seen even one attempt by the BBC’s journalists in Gaza to adhere to those guidelines by alerting audiences to the Hamas connections and/or sympathy for terrorism of medical personnel they present to audiences as ‘credible’ sources.  

BBC omits vital context in reporting from Shuja’iya

Today, July 20th, there has been heavy fighting in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shuja’iya. As was noted here yesterday in relation to a BBC article about that neighbourhood, its residents received notification via leaflets, telephone calls and announcements in the Arabic media that evacuation was advised four days previously on July 16and operations were even delayed in order to allow more civilians to organize their evacuation. 

With Hamas’ propaganda department already trying to persuade the world of a “massacre” of civilians in Shuja’iya, one can only hope that BBC correspondents on the ground will have the good sense to remember how their colleagues unquestioningly reported similar claims in Jenin twelve years ago without bothering to check facts first.

The reporting which has appeared on the BBC News website so far includes an evolving article now titled “Gaza shelling by Israel ‘most intense’, dozens reported killed“.  That report once again repeatedly cites casualty figures for which there is no evidence to suggest the BBC has independent verification and – as has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting so far – no effort is made to inform audiences of the sources of those figures and their questionable reliability.Shujaiya art

“Palestinian officials say that 395 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched its operation […]

Gaza has come under the most intense shelling since the launch of Israel’s offensive, with more than 40 people reported killed in one area overnight.

The deaths occurred in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said. Eyewitnesses spoke of bodies lying in the streets. […]

But the death toll continued to rise at the weekend, with the number of Palestinians killed now 395 since the operation began, according to Palestinian health officials.

The majority of those killed are civilians, the UN says. […]

More than 40 people died in the north-eastern district of Shejaiya in a heavy bombardment overnight, the Palestinian medics said.”

As we see, yet again no effort is made by the BBC to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties.

Much of this article is devoted to descriptions of fleeing civilians, as were Tweets posted by BBC correspondents on July 20th – see for example here, here, here, and here. If the BBC has made any attempt to determine whether those civilians did not evacuate the neighbourhood previously when warnings were originally given because of Hamas orders to stay put, those efforts are not apparent in this article, but of course BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip over the past thirteen days has systematically ignored the issue of the use of the local population as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organisations.

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell, in Gaza City, says there have been scenes of panic with thousands of residents fleeing the area – on foot or piling into the backs of cars.”

“At the scene: Paul Adams in Shejaiya

When we arrived at the edge of the neighbourhood, Palestinians were still fleeing in their hundreds: carrying nothing but their children, some pausing to vent their anger in front of cameras.

They spoke of bodies lying in the street and the wreckage of buildings, including a mosque.

After a night of ferocious bombardment, they seem traumatised and stunned. For three days, Israel had warned them to leave their homes, but Shejaiya is home to 80,000 people. Most stayed put, not expecting the ferocity of last night’s bombardment.

One man, his eyes glassy, said his father had been killed. He didn’t know where other family members were or even if they were alive.

An elderly woman, in traditional Palestinian costume, raised her arms to the sky and asked how God could let this happen.

A handicapped girl winced as she was lifted into the back of a pickup truck.

And all the time, more and more civilians emerged from Shejaiya.”

However, explanations to BBC audiences as to why the IDF needs to operate in Shuja’iya were limited to a generalised photo caption reading “The Israeli military says the ground offensive has been expanded to destroy a Hamas tunnel network” and the following statements in the body of the text:

Leaflet distributed in Shuja'iya on July 16th

Leaflet distributed in Shuja’iya on July 16th

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday after 10 days of heavy air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel says the ground operation is necessary to target Hamas tunnel networks, which it says it could not do from the air alone.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday during a gunfight with Palestinian militants who had used tunnels to cross into Israel to launch an attack, the IDF said.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, said the ground offensive was being expanded “to restore security and stability to Israel’s residents and citizens”.”

No attempt is made to clarify to readers that as well as being a significant site of Hamas command centres, weapons storage, missile manufacturing facilities and the launch site of some 140 missiles fired at Israeli civilians since the beginning of the current operation alone, Shuja’iya neighbourhood also houses the entrance to some ten of the tunnels that the BBC has so far avoided adequately informing audiences about.

IDF field hospital Gaza

IDF field hospital on the Gaza border to open on the evening of July 20th

Notably too, the BBC is very coy about clarifying to readers that Hamas opened fire at Israeli troops in the vicinity of Wafa hospital in Shuja’iya during the two-hour humanitarian hiatus (later extended by one hour) it had requested.

“A few hours later, it agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce in Shejaiya.

The ceasefire would last from 13:30 to 15:30 local time (10:30-12:30 GMT), an Israeli military spokesman said.

But a BBC team on the ground reported an exchange of fire less than an hour after the truce began.”

So whilst BBC audiences are provided with unverified casualty numbers and emotive reporting on the topic of fleeing civilians, they have not yet been provided with the all-important context of the reasons for the need for military action in Shuja’iya and they have still not been provided with an adequate overview of the topic of Hamas’ tunnel network,  the threat it poses to Israeli civilians and the reasons why the existence of those tunnels makes a ground operation necessary.

This article currently concludes with the following sentence:

“Hamas rejected an Egypt-brokered ceasefire last week, saying any deal with Israel must include an end to a blockade of Gaza.”

That conclusion fails to adequately clarify to BBC audiences that the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip could have been avoided in the first place or brought to an end almost a week ago, but that Hamas chose otherwise. 

 

BBC’s Paul Adams amplifies Nazi analogy in coverage of Gaza ground op

One of several BBC journalists ‘parachuted in’ to the region recently in order to cover Operation Protective Shield is Paul Adams – usually based in London as a World Affairs correspondent.OP PE Adams vers 1

On July 18th the BBC News website published an article by Adams initially titled “Gaza casualties mount amid Israeli ground campaign” but later renamed “Hospital on Gaza conflict’s front line”. In his fourth paragraph Adams adheres to what has been standard BBC practice since the beginning of its reporting on this operation: the quotation and promotion of figures supplied by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza without any qualifying statement regarding the fact that they have not been independently verified by the BBC and with no attempt made to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualty figures.

“But a new phase of operations inevitably brought a new wave of casualties – more than 20 dead, according to Gaza’s ministry of health. Among them at least three more children.”

Depending on the time at which Adams wrote those words, he should of course have pointed out to BBC audiences that at least fourteen terrorists were among the casualties on the first day of Israel’s ground operation.

A considerable proportion of Adams’ report relates to the Wafa rehabilitation hospital in the Shuja’iyeh neighbourhood of Gaza City which, incidentally, also accommodated members of the International Solidarity Movement with the staff’s knowledge and consent, although Adams refrains from mentioning that fact. 

“I found the patients and staff from the Wafa rehabilitation hospital sheltering in a Gaza City clinic.

The Wafa has been hit repeatedly in the past week. It’s close to the border and very close to some of the latest Israeli military activity.

Basman al-Ashi, the hospital’s executive director, said everything seemed quiet on Thursday night, until shelling intensified in the hours before troops entered the Gaza Strip.

With artillery rounds hitting the hospital once more, Basman decided to evacuate everyone.”

Leaflet distributed in Gaza Strip 16/7/14

Leaflet distributed in Gaza Strip 16/7/14

In fact, the hospital’s staff were directly alerted to the need to evacuate the premises by the IDF on the evening of July 15th –47 hours before the ground operation commenced – even according to B’Tselem.  General warnings were also issued to residents of that neighbourhood and others on the morning of July 16th. Contrary to the impression which readers receive from Adams’ report, the actual reason for the evacuation warning was the presence of terrorist infrastructure located near to the hospital.

Perhaps unwittingly, Adams provides evidence of the practice of locating weapons stores and missile launchers in the vicinity of medical facilities and other civilian structures when he goes on to write:

“As he recalled the scene, surrounded by his evacuated patients, two deafening salvoes of rockets took off from somewhere very close by – rockets fired by fighters from Hamas or one of the other armed factions.” [emphasis added]

No attempt is of course made by Adams to clarify to BBC audiences the legal significance of the practice he witnessed and he later goes on to deliberately mislead audiences by writing:

“Israel says rockets have been fired from Basman al-Ashi’s hospital, a charge his staff deny completely.”

Significantly, he does not ask the hospital’s director about the actual situation – i.e. that areas near the hospital have been used for the purposes of terrorism.

Adams does, however, take the opportunity to promote and amplify the hospital director’s use of a Nazi analogy.Op pe Adams vers 2

“Basman’s eyes closed for a moment in weary resignation, but opened wide in defiance when I suggested the actions of Hamas might simply make matters worse.

“It’s a very natural response for the Palestinians to respond, to defend themselves,” he insisted.

Israel, he said, had made “a concentration camp of 1.8 million people”.

“No air. No land. No sea. You’re trying to tell the people what? I’m putting you in prison and I want you to obey, eat, sleep and that’s it. We’re human.” ” [emphasis added]

One of the definitions of antisemitism according to the EUMC working definition is:

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Even if that is what an executive director of a Gaza hospital with close links to the ISM actually said, there is no justification and no excuse for the BBC’s amplification and propagation of Nazi analogies.

It would have been helpful to BBC audiences’ understanding of the reality of the situation had Adams bothered to explain to readers that – contrary to al Ashi’s inaccurate claim – Israeli policy concerning the Gaza Strip is the result of the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and other groups rather than the other way round. However, it is perfectly clear that Paul Adams did not set out in this article to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which really would enhance their “understanding of international issues“.   

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

Yolande Knell’s filmed report from July 15th was broadcast on BBC television news programmes as well as being posted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinians reject Gaza ceasefire proposal“.

That report includes some interesting items, one of which is the image below which clearly shows missiles being fired by terrorists from built-up residential areas in the Gaza Strip.

Knell report 15 7 pic missiles being fired

Knell fails to inform viewers that both the storage of missiles and the launching of such attacks from a residential area contravene international conventions.

Article 58: ” The Parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible:

(a)…endeavor to remove the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of military objectives; 
(b) Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.”

In addition, Knell tells viewers: [emphasis added]Knell report 15 7 ceasefire

“But overnight, diplomatic efforts to end the two-way violence gathered pace. This was an Arab League meeting in Cairo. Egypt – a key player – set a time for a ceasefire and offered to mediate a longer-term deal. Israel accepted the offer but the main Palestinian factions in Gaza did not.

We’re here at the main hospital in Gaza City. This is one of the few locations where Hamas officials feel they’re safe enough from a possible Israeli attack to come out and speak to the media. Already they’ve told us that they reject Egypt’s proposed ceasefire deal.”

The report then cuts to an interview with Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

The main hospital in Gaza City is of course Shifa hospital, from which both Knell and Jeremy Bowen have reported in recent days. The fact that the Hamas leadership is once again hiding in Shifa hospital because it knows that Israel will not strike a hospital means that both patients and medical personnel are being used as human shields, but Knell fails to point that fact out to viewers.

 Article 12(4): “Under no circumstances shall medical units be used in an attempt to shield military objectives from attack. Whenever possible, the Parties to the conflict shall ensure that medical units are so sited that attacks against military objectives do not imperil their safety.”

Whilst the BBC has been very trigger-happy with its amplification of unproven Palestinian accusations of Israeli wrongdoing (see some examples here, here and here), it has been remarkably and uniformly consistent in its failure to provide any explanation to audiences regarding the Hamas policy of using the civilian population of Gaza as human shields – even when it observes and films that policy in action itself.