Comparing two BBC journalists’ conversations with British and Israeli pilots

Just two weeks ago listeners to BBC Radio 4 were once again given an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the meaning of proportionality in war by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians. […] The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

In other words, Bowen is claiming that ‘proportionate’ means not killing civilians and that the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” means automatic transgression of “the laws of war” because there are resulting civilian casualties.

In fact, proportionality has a different meaning altogether.

“Even when there is a chance that citizens will be injured as a result of military action, there is no absolute prohibition against taking such action, as long as the target being attacked is a legitimate military target. The prohibition against such an attack applies only when the collateral damage to civilians is likely to be excessive in relation to the anticipated direct military advantage of destroying the military objective.”

And, as explained here:

“In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.

But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war. The long tradition of just war theory distinguishes between the principles governing the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) and those governing just conduct in warfare (jus in bello). There are two main jus in bello criteria. The criterion of discrimination prohibits direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants, although neither international law nor the just war tradition that has morally informed it requires that a legitimate military target must be spared from attack simply because its destruction may unintentionally injure or kill noncombatants or damage civilian property and infrastructure. International law and just war theory only insist that the anticipated collateral damage — the “merely foreseen” secondary effects — must be “proportionate” to the military advantage sought in attacking the legitimate military target. This sense of proportionality is the second jus in bello criterion; it has to do almost entirely with the foreseen but unintended harm done to noncombatants and to noncombatant infrastructure.”

Recently the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale produced two reports concerning the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” in another part of the world and the potential resulting civilian casualties.

War against IS: Have RAF air strikes killed civilians? June 29th 2017

Can civilian deaths be avoided in RAF strikes on IS? July 2nd 2017

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that – in contrast to his colleague – Beale did not attempt to provide his viewers and readers with amateur interpretations of “the laws of war” in either those two reports or in a similar one he produced last September titled “Have RAF air strikes against IS killed no civilians?“.

In all three of those reports Beale did clarify to BBC audiences that civilian casualties are most likely unavoidable.

“But ultimately, as one pilot told me, however hard you try to avoid civilian casualties “you still can’t see through walls and rubble”.

Major General James Poss, a former Director of Intelligence in the US Air Force, says there is always doubt: “In the fog of war you can never know everything.””

“The US-led coalition is trying to dislodge the extremists from their strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul – cities with tightly packed streets where they are hiding among the local population and using them as human shields. The risk of civilian casualties is extremely high.

I put it to Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, who is overseeing the UK’s contribution, that avoiding civilian casualties is simply not possible. He acknowledges that assessment might change over time. “We are human and not perfect,” he says, “but we are doing our damnedest” to get it right.”

“Even the RAF admits it is now more difficult to avoid civilian casualties with the fight against IS focused on Raqqa and the old city of Mosul: dense, tightly packed urban areas with large civilian populations.”

Speaking to RAF pilots, Beale also clarified the lengths to which members of the British armed forces go to try to avoid unintended harm to civilians.

“It’s fair to say the US-led coalition is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties. Unlike Russia, coalition warplanes only use precision-guided weapons – often directed by GPS or laser.

Air Commodore Dai Wittingham, who ran the RAF’s air campaign in Afghanistan, says there’s “excruciating” care taken to avoid the loss of innocent life. Intelligence analysts examine each target carefully before and after each strike using detailed aerial photos and video.

Like other coalition pilots they’ve also redirected bombs and missiles at the last minute. In every case when they are about to hit a “hot target” pilots look for an area nearby where they can “shift cold” to avoid civilians who might suddenly appear.”

“For its part, the RAF says it is going out of its way to address worries about mistakes which might result in civilian casualties. The BBC has been told that in the second half of 2016 – when the offensive on Mosul began – the RAF either turned down, or asked for more intelligence about, half the targets it was given. […]

I ask “Dave” whether he can guarantee there will be zero civilian casualties. Even infrared sensors can’t see through walls. After a brief pause he admits its [sic] not possible to give that assurance. But, he says, they are doing everything in their power, including watching an area for hours, to protect civilian life.”

And at the end of this article Beale told BBC audiences that

“They [the RAF] are fighting a brutal enemy, who unlike them, has no worries about killing civilians.”

Of course Israel also goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, similarly using video analysis and aborting missions when civilians suddenly appear on the scene and even providing advance warning by leaflet or phone.

It is therefore interesting to compare Jonathan Beale’s conversations with British pilots in those three reports to an interview by Orla Guerin with an Israeli pilot in 2014.

Guerin: “This is footage Israel is keen to share. An airstrike in Gaza being aborted because children are spotted. But the UN says most of those killed by Israel are innocent civilians.”

Guerin: “Captain Omri shows us in a simulator his bird’s-eye view of the terrain.”

Guerin: “This is a crowded area. People have nowhere to go. In many cases they have no transport, they have no means of escape. And you’re attacking hospitals [sic] where the wounded are being treated.”

Omri: “Well at the moment we’re doing everything possible to ensure the security and safety of both our civilians and as much as possible the Palestinian civilians. We have offered medical aid and we’ve offered a field hospital…”

Guerin [interrupts] “Well wouldn’t it be better if you stopped bombing the civilians rather than offering them medical aid later?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well Israel has always opted for a diplomatic solution.”

Guerin: “I mean some people might say, you know, how do you sleep at night?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well I sleep very well at night because I know that what we’re doing is saving lives the way I see it because whenever….”

Guerin [interrupts] “Saving Israeli lives.”

Omri: “No, no. I know how many attacks I have already called off and I’m talking about numerous attacks so I know as a fact that I’ve saved dozens of lives.”

The contrasts between those conversations with British pilots engaged in military action in which no British civilians are at risk and an Israeli pilot during a war in which Israeli civilians were under constant attack are of course blatantly obvious – as are the double standards in BBC reporting on the subject of unintended civilian casualties during warfare.

 

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

The BBC has recently produced several reports concerning an incident in Mosul, Iraq, in which a large number of civilians are alleged to have been killed during a strike on ISIS forces.

Battle for Mosul: US investigating deadly air strike‘ BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The US military has acknowledged that aircraft of the coalition fighting so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq hit a location in west Mosul where dozens of civilians were reportedly killed. […]

The US Central Command said the planes acted at the request of Iraqi security forces. It did not name which country’s aircraft carried out the attack.

In its statement, it said “an initial review of strike data” indicated that an air strike on 17 March was carried out in western Mosul “at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.

The coalition “takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened to determine the facts surrounding the strike”, it went on.

The details of what happened are still unclear, but reports have suggested the strikes killed more than 100 people. The number of victims could not be independently confirmed.”

UN fears 200 died in coalition air strikes on Mosul‘ BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The United Nations has raised grave concerns about reports of high civilian casualties in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

A senior UN official in Iraq said she was stunned by accounts of “terrible loss of life”, after claims that at least 200 people had been killed in air strikes by the US-led coalition.”

Mosul offensive: Iraq denies air strike caused civilian deaths‘ BBC News website, March 26th 2017

“Iraq’s military has cast doubt on reports that an air strike by the US-led coalition caused the deaths of dozens of civilians in west Mosul.

Instead it blamed explosive booby-traps set by so-called Islamic State (IS).

The US said on Saturday that it was investigating an air strike on 17 March at “the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.”

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen was in Mosul when those allegations concerning civilian casualties emerged.

Thousands flee Mosul over fear of air strikes‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news and BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The people who’ve been coming in have been talking about what they’ve been through. They’ve talked about airstrikes that have come in in the last few days and killed – as well as killing people from Islamic State – have killed hundreds of civilians. They’ve complained that the jihadists have used them as human shields. But they’ve also – in tears and in anger – spoken very bitterly about the effects of airstrikes on civilians. I spoke to multiple witnesses who said that there are perhaps hundreds of bodies still lying in the rubble that people can’t get to.”

‘No pause to attacks against IS’ in West Mosul‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news and BBC News website, March 26th 2017

“Earlier there were some suggestions that the Iraqis had paused their offensive because of the airstrike that killed so many civilians but the evidence here is that is not happening…”

“…I’ve seen them [Iraqi forces] using some quite primitive, inaccurate weapons. Now that may help when it comes to killing the fighters from the jihadist group Islamic State but if they’re inaccurate they may well also kill more civilians if civilians are in the area that is being attacked.”

Death is all around in Mosul‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC radio, March 27th 2017

Bowen: “He [interviewee Mahmoud] was furious that so many civilians had died in the airstrikes.”

Mahmoud: “They are still under the rubble. No-one has saved them yet. The airstrikes are non-stop. They are happening 24 hours a day. They are killing innocent people. Why are they attacking us? We did not do anything wrong.”

Bowen: “Do you think this is the way to fight Daesh – to fight Islamic State?”

Mahmoud: “It’s not the right way to fight ISIS because it doesn’t distinguish between civilians and ISIS fighters. The fighters are living among civilians. They enter the houses by force and when an airstrike hits it kills both the fighters and civilians. They use civilians as human shields.”

In July 2014 Jeremy Bowen produced several reports from the Gaza Strip concerning civilian casualties.

Israel defends Gaza military campaign‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 11th 2014

Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100’  Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 11th 2014

“Israel says it tries hard to make sure civilians don’t get killed. It says it targets Hamas and its fighters. […] The UN human rights commissioner says there’s serious doubt Israel is complying with the laws of war that protect civilians.”

Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya  Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 12th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfil those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled, it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer.”

Israel-Gaza conflict enters seventh day Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 14th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Back in Gaza in the bombed fishing port, Raji Sourani – a Palestinian human rights campaigner – said Israel’s tactic of destroying the homes of men it says are Hamas fighters guarantees it will also kill non-combatants: neighbours, families, children.”

Sourani: “They know they committed war crimes, crimes against humanity – and deliberately. Intending to destroy houses where civilians living in it that’s totally illegal in a clear-cut way Geneva Convention article 52 paragraph 3.” […]

Bowen: “Smoke from burning buildings spread across Gaza as Palestinians buried men they said were fighting in a legitimate resistance. Israel calls them terrorists.”

Death toll mounts amid Gaza strikes Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 14th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Israel says it goes after Hamas.”

Man: “That’s not true. It’s not true.

Bowen: “They’re children, said Munsar al Batsh [phonetic] – a cousin. It’s not logical they’d be Hamas.” […]

Bowen: “He rejected Israel’s claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.”

After having left the Gaza Strip, Bowen penned an article for another media outlet in which he claimed to have seen “no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields”.

In contrast, in his reporting from Mosul Bowen was able to inform BBC audiences of ISIS’ use of human shields and did not find it necessary to promote either his own amateur opinions on the legality of the alleged incidents nor unproven accusations of deliberate targeting of civilians and ‘war crimes’.

Related Articles:

Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

 

Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

h/t JC, YM

Back in November we noted the contrast between BBC reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS in the Mosul area of Iraq and its silence concerning Hamas’ use of human shields in the Gaza Strip during the summer 2014 conflict.

As readers no doubt recall, within hours of the 2014 conflict’s commencement the BBC began to repeatedly amplify false claims that Israel was ‘targeting civilians’ – and hence committing ‘war crimes’ – while failing to report Hamas’ placement of military assets (including missile launchers) in populated civilian areas.

BBC News promotes and amplifies falsehood that Israel deliberately targets civilians

Third example of BBC promotion of the lie that Israel deliberately targets civilians  

BBC’s Bowen promotes accusations of Israeli ‘war crimes’

A written report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 13th (“IS fighters left in Mosul will die, says US envoy McGurk“) again informed BBC audiences of the use of human shields by ISIS.

‘”Mosul’s liberation is increasingly in sight, albeit with increasingly difficult fighting ahead,” Mr McGurk [US envoy to the multinational coalition] told reporters on Sunday.

He said Iraqi forces were retaking “some of the most difficult ground that we knew would have to be reclaimed”.

He added: “They’re doing this in a dense urban environment facing a suicidal enemy that’s using civilians as shields.”’ [emphasis added] 

A filmed report – also shown on BBC television news programmes – that appeared on the same page of the website on the same day under the headline “Tamer Suhalia Najaf: ‘Three of my daughters were killed’” features an injured civilian from Mosul whose three daughters were killed in an airstrike by Iraqi forces and/or their coalition partners on an ISIS position placed near their house.

In contrast to the BBC’s 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, viewers of this report did not hear any claims of deliberate targeting of civilians or allegations of ‘war crimes’.

Viewers of another filmed report, which was shown on BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website on March 10th under the title “Battle for Mosul: The high price of freedom“, heard Orla Guerin tell the story of a woman whose house had been taken over by ISIS militiamen.

“She shows us how they hid when IS fighters stormed in to use them as human shields. One went to the roof, she says, but he started to shoot. He attacked the army.” [emphasis added]

As readers may recall, in an August 2014 report titled “Gaza conflict: Allegations of war crimes” the same Orla Guerin told BBC television audiences:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.”

Complaints concerning the accuracy of that statement were repeatedly dismissed by the BBC, with the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee calling the complainants’ definition of human shields into question.

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response.”

When that ESC decision was published in 2015 we noted that:

“The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.”

As we see, the BBC has indeed chosen to apply a definition of the term human shields in its reporting from Iraq which is markedly different to the one used in its coverage from Gaza.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

BBC pot calls the Russian media kettle black

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

BBC reporting on the use of ambulances by terrorists in Iraq and Gaza

On November 6th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Iraq suicide attacks: Ambulances used in Tikrit and Samarra“.ambulances-iraq-art

“Suicide bombers have used explosives-laden ambulances to kill at least 21 people and wound many others in the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Samarra.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group said it had carried out both attacks. […]

The deadliest of Sunday’s blasts happened in Tikrit, some 200km (123 miles) south of Mosul.

A suicide bomber drove a booby-trapped ambulance into a line of vehicles queuing at a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city, once the hometown of executed former leader Saddam Hussein. […]

In Samarra, further south, another ambulance was detonated in a car park for the al-Askari mosque – one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam. Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.”

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations based in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ use of ambulances to transport armed terror operatives (a practice also seen in previous conflicts in Gaza and during the second Intifada) was documented on several occasions.

While the BBC refrained from informing its audiences of those cases (and others) of abuse of medical facilities, it did find it appropriate to repeatedly amplify falsehoods from a political NGO involved at the time in the ‘lawfare’ campaign against Israel and from a representative of one of the organisations operating ambulances in the Gaza Strip – the PRCS – see for example here, here and here.

“On Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into what it said was mounting evidence that Israeli forces had deliberately attacked hospitals and health professionals in Gaza. The attacks have left at least six medics dead.

“Our ambulances are often targeted although they are clearly marked and display all signs that they are ambulances,” said Dr Bashar Murad, director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) emergency and ambulance unit, which lost at least two members of staff.

“The army should be able to distinguish from the air that what they are targeting are ambulances.”

Amnesty International said attacks on health facilities and professionals were prohibited by international law and amounted to war crimes.”

The abuse of medical facilities protected by international conventions during conflict is obviously an issue of interest to international journalists. However, as we see from the examples above, the BBC’s reporting of such abuses lacks consistency.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

Comparing BBC reporting on ISIS and Hamas tunnels

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

As readers no doubt recall, one of the many remarkable features of BBC coverage of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip was the corporation’s failure to report on Hamas’ use of the local civilian population as human shields.

Not only did BBC journalists refrain from reporting adequately on the issue of Hamas’ placement of military assets in populated areas (with the BBC later claiming that it was “very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out”) and the terror group’s instructions to civilians to stay put in such areas but some BBC correspondents even went out of their way to deny the phenomenon.

“I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” Jeremy Bowen, July 22, 2014.

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” Orla Guerin, August 13, 2014.

Complaints from members of the public on that issue were eventually dismissed by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee in a tortured and self-contradicting ruling which adopted an interpretation of the term human shields that conflicts with existing definitions. The ESC advisor wrote:

“…there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas.” 

In contrast to that ‘radio silence’ on the topic of Hamas’ use of human shields in Gaza in 2014, recent BBC coverage of the multinational military operation to drive ISIS out from the Mosul area in Iraq which began on October 16th has included several reports concerning that terror group’s use of human shields.human-shields-1

Just three days after the operation commenced, the BBC News website published an article titled “Mosul battle: US says IS using human shields” which amplified statements made by one of the parties to the Combined Joint Task Force conducting the operation.

“The US has accused Islamic State (IS) militants of using civilians as human shields as Iraqi forces move closer to the group’s stronghold in Mosul. […]

Asked by reporters in Washington if IS was using civilians as human shields, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said “absolutely”.

“They are being held there against their will,” he said on Tuesday. “We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing.”

Residents reached by telephone by Reuters news agency said IS was preventing people fleeing the city and had directed some of them towards buildings likely to be targeted by air strikes.”

The report did not include any indication of independent BBC confirmation of those claims.

October 21st saw the publication of an article headlined “Mosul battle: IS ‘may use civilians as human shields’” which amplified speculative statements made by a UN official.

“At least 200 Iraqi families have been made to leave their homes for Mosul by Islamic State (IS) fighters and could be used as human shields, the UN warns. […]

Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there was “a grave danger that ISIL fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated,” using an acronym for IS.”human-shields-2

On October 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Mosul Iraq battle: ‘Tens of thousands of civilians’ used as IS human shields” which again amplified UN statements.

“Islamic State (IS) militants have abducted tens of thousands of civilians from around the Iraqi city of Mosul to use as human shields, the UN says. […]

“Credible reports” suggested that civilians in sub-districts around Mosul had been forced from their homes and relocated inside the city since the offensive began earlier this month, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. […]

“Isil’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Ms Shamdasani added, using an acronym for IS.”

Once again, there was no indication of the BBC having independently confirmed those reports before their publication.

On November 7th visitors to the BBC News website and viewers of BBC television news saw a filmed report titled “Battle for Mosul: IS ‘herded human shields like sheep’“.

“The BBC’s Karen Allen spoke to residents of one town near Mosul who say they were used as “human shields” by retreating militants.”

So as we see, within less than a month since the launch of the military operation against ISIS in the Mosul region, BBC audiences were alerted to the terror group’s use of civilians as human shields on at least four occasions. The majority of those reports were based on information provided by outside sources and – in contrast to the 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, where the corporation did have journalists on the ground in the relevant areas – the BBC apparently did not find it necessary in this case to find “evidence” of its own before reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS. 

Comparing BBC reporting on ISIS and Hamas tunnels

When in the summer of 2014 the BBC finally got round to providing its audiences with information about Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels thirteen days after the conflict began, the corporation was unable to describe the purpose of those tunnels to audiences in its own words.

Billed “Gaza ‘terror tunnels’ in 60 secs” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, the filmed report appeared under the equally interestingly punctuated title “Middle East crisis: Israel releases ‘Gaza tunnel footage'”. In the synopsis audiences were told that:tunnels vid 1

“Israel sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday, saying the ground operation is necessary to target Hamas’ network of tunnels.

It has stated the tunnels pose a threat of terrorist attacks against the Israeli population.”

The film itself employed similarly qualified language:

Israel says tunnels like this are being used by militants to infiltrate its territory”.

“This Israel Defense Forces footage shows suspected Hamas fighters in bushes, firing on Israeli troops”.

Israel says it has been forced to send troops into Gaza to find and destroy tunnels like this one” [all emphasis added]

In contrast, five days after the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS began on October 16th 2016, the BBC’s Ahmed Maher was able to tell audiences that:tunnels-mosul-maher

“These tunnels are very important and a key element in the military strategy of the jihadist group.”

The BBC was similarly able to describe the purpose of the tunnels in its own words in the synopsis to Maher’s report.

“The tunnels have been mainly used as hideouts and escape routes by the militants.”

In an article by Richard Galpin published on October 25th under the title “Mosul battle: Four ways IS is fighting back” readers found a section sub-headed “Tunnels”.

“As the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces have advanced towards Mosul, regaining control of towns and villages which had been in the hands of IS, they have discovered networks of tunnels dug in many areas, a classic tactic for guerrilla warfare.

They seem to be primarily defensive, designed to protect the militants from air strikes, artillery and other attacks. Inside the tunnels troops have found sleeping bags, food supplies, water, and even electricity cables so the users have light.

The tunnels are often dug beneath buildings, including mosques, so the excavation work cannot be spotted. But the tunnels can also be used for surprise attacks.

In one of the most dramatic moments captured on video since the offensive began, an IS militant climbs out of a tunnel in a rural area and opens fire on a group of soldiers who had presumably thought they were on safe ground. The man then blows himself up before the soldiers can react.

It is assumed that there is a similar network of tunnels in Mosul city itself, which could enable IS fighters and their leaders to hide during the anticipated assault and if necessary escape.

Troops have found booby-traps in tunnels which the militants have been forced to flee, including one which had been attached to a copy of the Koran.”

Notably, the BBC has found no need to employ superfluous punctuation or qualifiers such as “Iraq says” when describing the existence and purpose of those tunnels in those and other reports.

Related Articles:        

BBC (sort of) gets round to telling audiences about Hamas tunnels

Twenty-three seconds of BBC reporting on Gaza tunnels

BBC fails to adequately inform audiences on terrorist tunnels (and worse)

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

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

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

As the Guardian reported at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the 2014 conflict one former BBC employee noted that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC WS ‘Witness’ blames Israel for Iraqi nuclear weapons programme

h/t JB

BBC WS radio history programme ‘Witness’ describes itself as providing audiences with “the story of our times told by the people who were there”. Its June 9th edition – presented by Louise Hidalgo – was devoted to promoting the notion that the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme began after – and because of – the Israeli airstrike on the Osirak reactor in 1981.

The synopsis to the promoted podcast reads:

Witness 9 6 podcast

The synopsis to the online version of the programme reads:

“In June 1981 Israeli war planes destroyed Iraq’s new, French-built nuclear reactor. Two senior Iraqi nuclear scientists, who were in Baghdad that day, tell Witness how the world’s first air strike against a nuclear plant would trigger Iraq’s secret programme to acquire nuclear weapons.”

In Hidalgo’s introduction, listeners heard the following:WItness 9 6

“Today we’re going back to June 1981 when the Israelis attacked and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor – Osirak – in the first preemptive airstrike on a nuclear facility that the world had ever seen. A few years ago ‘Witness’ talked to the Israeli pilot who led that raid. Today we talk to two Iraqis who were on the ground; both nuclear scientists who would be closely involved in the secret mission to acquire nuclear weapons that followed – and they say was triggered – by the Israelis’ action.”

‘Operation Opera’, which took place on June 7th 1981, was not “the first preemptive airstrike on a nuclear facility that the world had ever seen”: on September 30th the previous year, Iranian planes had bombed the same nuclear facility near Baghdad causing light damage.

Iraq’s nuclear programme had of course begun many years before Operation Opera and in September 1975 the then vice-president Saddam Hussein declared in a newspaper interview “that procurement of a French-built reactor represented ‘the first Arab attempt at nuclear arming'”.

Nevertheless audiences heard Hildalgo pose the following ‘questions’:

“Was the reactor about to become operational? Was it a threat to Israel? Dhafir Selbi insists it was not. Instead he says what happened that June made Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein determined that if Iraq couldn’t develop nuclear facilities openly without fear of attack, it would do so secretly.”

Listeners also heard Selbi make the preposterous claim that were it not for Operation Opera, the 1991 Gulf War might have been avoided. Hidalgo made no effort to remind audiences that the war was the result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and totally unrelated to Israel.

“If the Israelis had not bombard us we wouldn’t have gone to a covert activity and everybody would have been happy. The IAEA inspectors are [were] there continuously; this is a prerequisite for the nuclear reactor […] and Iraq would maybe, maybe wouldn’t have gone through the 1991 war.”

Selbi also made the following unchallenged claim:

“This line of activity – enriching uranium – we did not even think about it before the bombardment.”

The second of Hidalgo’s two interviewees was self-described Fatah conscript Imad Khadduri (see page 38/39 here) to whom the BBC previously provided a platform for the promotion of similar claims in an interview ten years ago. Khadduri and Selbi are among the co-authors of a book they self-published in 2011 and among the protagonists of the historically problematic notion that the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme only came into being after – and as a result of – Operation Opera.

The unchallenged promotion of such distorted historical accounts cannot possibly be said to contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of building “a global understanding of international issues”.

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on May 31st Oxford professor Avi Shlaim appeared on the panel of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour Extra’. There – unhindered by host Owen Bennett-Jones – Shlaim was given a platform from which to promote assorted inaccurate and politically partisan versions of Middle East history as well as the risible notion that the root cause of the absence of peace, security and stability in the entire region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, the BBC platform was used to mainstream to millions of listeners around the world the notion that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is by dismantling the Jewish state and denying Jews the right to self-determination.OBJ radio

No less insidious was Shlaim’s idealisation of Jewish life in Iraq – all the more pernicious given Shlaim’s title of ‘historian’.

“My family had lived in Iraq all these years. There were very good harmonious relations between Jews and Muslims in Iraq. The Jewish community was very well-integrated. We were Jewish Arabs. We spoke Arabic. We had no interest or understanding of Zionism. Zionism was a European idea and a European project and very few Iraqi Jews had any interest in going to live in a Jewish state in Palestine. But then there was the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Iraqi army fought against the Israelis in that war and there was a wave of hostility towards the Jews in all the Arab lands, including Iraq. Life became insecure and unsafe in Iraq and we moved to Israel in 1950 along with about one hundred thousand Iraqi Jews because there was a backlash after the Arab defeat in 1948 against the Jews. That’s why we ended up in Israel – not out of commitment to the Zionist project.”

So according to Shlaim the historian, all was sweetness and light for Jews in Arab lands in general and Iraq in particular until the Arabs lost the war they initiated against the newly declared Israeli state in 1948. One might have thought that a historian would have remembered to mention the one of the most important events in the Iraqi Jewish community’s modern history – the Farhud of 1941 – especially as that event’s anniversary was marked just one day after this programme was broadcast.

Of course anyone familiar with Avi Shlaim’s record will be well aware of the fact that more often than not his political views – along with his self-awarded role of “judge and jury” – shape his accounts of history and his portrayal of Zionism as “a European idea and a European project” in this broadcast is a classic example of Shlaim’s seemingly unlimited ability to ignore inconvenient facts such as the First Aliyah wave of immigrants from Yemen and the event – the Farhud – which signalled that relations between Iraqi Jews and their neighbours were not quite as “harmonious” as Shlaim would have listeners believe.

The trouble with this BBC programme is that the vast majority of those listening to the radio show will not be familiar with the prolific political activities of the learned professor and will not be able to apply the necessary context of his underlying agenda to the ostensibly neutral and academic analysis he provides. And of course the real issue is that Owen Bennett-Jones and his BBC colleagues made no effort whatsoever to provide audiences with the information necessary for them to appreciate that any application of context and critical thinking was required at all.

BBC ME editor’s analysis of threat to Christians: IS, extreme Islam – and Israel

h/t: MG, SI

The April 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme included an interview (available here for a limited period of time from 01:49:45) with Cardinal Vincent Nichols on the subject of his recent visit to displaced Christian communities in Iraq.Today 14 4

 Immediately after that interview, presenter Mishal Husain brought in Jeremy Bowen (from 01:54:35) for further analysis of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq as described by Cardinal Nichols and listeners heard an ‘interesting’ interpretation of the cause of Islamist violence against Christians in that country.

MH: “On the line is our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Jeremy, listening to Cardinal Nichols, it’s a reminder that although we may see the fight against IS and the position in the Middle East at the moment often through sectarian…in sectarian terms and through that sort of prism, this has been traditionally a religiously diverse part of the world.”

JB: “Yes. In Syria and Iraq there was a delicate mosaic – a very interesting mosaic – of different faiths which really has been shattered now. In Iraq, in the last…since 2011…since the war started there…sorry; in Syria I should say…2011…but in Iraq it’s been going on since the invasion by American-led forces in 2003 in that since then, the population of Iraqi Christians has been reduced pretty much by more than half. And there have…it’s been a catastrophe for them which started before the rise of Islamic State, which started as a consequence of the invasion. And if you talk to the Christian communities in other parts of the Middle East as I often do, a lot of them will look to that example of Iraq and say we do not want to be like Iraq and now they’ll also say of course we don’t want to be like what’s been happening in Syria too.” [emphasis added]

Following a question about the possibility of Iraqi Christians from the Nineveh Plains being able to return to their homes, Husain said:

MH: “Perhaps we’ve only just recently woken up to the reality of what’s been happening to minority communities in this part of the world because of all the headlines and the attention that’s been grabbed by Islamic State. From what you’re saying, this is a much longer phenomenon.”

JB: “Well, Christians have been leaving the Middle East for an awfully long time. There are well-established groups of émigré Middle Eastern Christians in all sorts of countries – in South America for example; one region of the world. But…ehm…what has changed; the rise of extreme Islam – which of course has resulted in the killing of many Muslims – has also resulted over the last ten years or so in a lot of Christian communities being dislocated and it’s become particularly acute since the rise of Islamic State. And it’s not just Islamic State either: Christians in Egypt feel very threatened there by different kinds of religious extremism. There is still a large community of Christians in Egypt, also in Lebanon – they’re pretty well established in Lebanon and strong but they again feel pressure. And Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened from not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing. So all round the place when you look at it, it’s difficult.” [emphasis added]

Bowen of course provided no fact-based support for his fallacious claim that Palestinian Christian communities are “threatened” by Israel and neither did he inform listeners that the Christian community in Israel is both safe and thriving.

But no less remarkable is the fact that Bowen would clearly have listeners believe that, in terms of threats to Middle East Christian communities, “what the Israeli government might be doing” (whatever that bizarre phrase is supposed to mean) can and should be seen as being on a par with the religiously motivated persecution and slaughter of Christians (and of course other minorities) by Islamist extremists.

And that, dear readers, is from the man whose entire job was created with the stated intention of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.