Do BBC audiences get the ‘range and depth of analysis’ promised?

The BBC’s explanation of the first of its public purposes includes the following:

“It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers…so that all audiences can engage fully with major…global issues…as active and informed citizens.”

In contrast to that fine declaration, here is an example of actual practice taken from an article published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on July 20th under the headline “Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving leader”.

“As head of the right-wing Likud party, Mr Netanyahu has a reputation as a hardliner on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Although he carried out a partial withdrawal from the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank in 1998 – handing most of it over to the Palestinian Authority – he is a staunch opponent of the land-for-peace formula.

He has since declared there will be no more evacuations of Jewish settlers or settlements under his rule, nor the creation of a fully fledged Palestinian state.”

The redeployment of Israeli troops from 80% of Hebron – in accordance with the protocol signed during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister – took place in January 1997 rather than in 1998 as claimed by the BBC.

In those three short paragraphs the BBC tells its audiences that Netanyahu is “a hardliner”, supposedly justifying that description with the claim that he is “opponent of the land-for-peace formula” and will not evacuate Israeli communities or agree to a Palestinian state.

Audiences are given no explanation of what the “land-for-peace” formula is, how it originated or whether or not it has been successful and hence are not provided with the tools to judge Netanyahu’s alleged opposition to it for themselves. They are not informed that the two examples of treaties signed by Israel and Arab countries based on the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ – the agreements with Egypt and Jordan – have resulted in what some Israelis might describe as ‘land-for-not-war’ rather than peace.

The BBC’s would-be cameo refrains from mentioning the cases in which Israeli withdrawal from territory – for example parts of Gaza and Judea & Samaria in the early 1990s and the Gaza Strip in 2005 – not only failed to bring peace but was actually followed by greater violence. No mention is made of the effects that has had on perceptions of the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ in Israel: according to that BBC definition of a ‘hardliner’, it would include a significant proportion of the Israeli public as well as people such as former Labour politician Eitan Cabel, the ‘Blue & White’ party’s Moshe Ya’alon and writer A.B. Yehoshua.

Significantly, the BBC’s portrayal erases Palestinians (and their multiple refusals to accept ‘land for peace’ offers) from the picture entirely, promoting the narrative that Israel alone – and specifically its current prime minister – is responsible for the absence of peace.

A further example of how the BBC is more interested in narrative than fact comes in the article’s closing lines.

“He [Netanyahu] faces a tough challenge from political opponents seeking to topple him in elections on 17 September. Among them are another former prime minster, Ehud Barak, and a former military chief-of-staff.”

According to the latest opinion polls, Netanyahu’s ‘Likud’ party is on track to secure 32 Knesset seats in the election in two months’ time while Ehud Barak’s ‘Israel Democratic Party’ is polling four to five seats.

The BBC’s “depth of analysis” apparently defines that as a “tough challenge”.  

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Weekend long read

1) At the JNS Yaakov Lappin takes a look at a story which long since dropped off the BBC’s radar – Egypt’s campaign against the ISIS branch in Sinai.

“With security threats to Israel from Iran and Hezbollah along the northern borders, and Hamas and other terror elements in the Gaza Strip to the south often receiving the lion’s share of public attention, the activities of the Islamic State-affiliated terror group state in the large Sinai Peninsula are often overlooked.

However, efforts by Egypt, along with quiet reported Israeli support, to crack down on the group appear to be making significant progress. Although a large-scale counter-terrorism operation has not eliminated the threat, it has greatly reduced it, a senior Israeli defense analyst told JNS.”

2) The ITIC provides a “Profile of Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the New Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader“.

“On September 28, 2018, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) spokesman Da’ud Shehab announced the election of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary general. Al-Nakhalah, the organization’s third leader, replaced Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, who has been in a coma for the past six months (following a series of strokes). The PIJ is Iran’s preferred proxy in the internal Palestinian arena. Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who has strong connections with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, plays a central role in foster and promoting the PIJ’s collaboration with Iran. Therefore it can be expected that under al-Nakhalah’s leadership the PIJ will continue to promote Iran’s interests in the Gaza Strip and in the internal Palestinian arena in general; and in return the PIJ will profit from generous Iranian financial and military support, which will help it preserve its status as the second most important terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip (after Hamas).”

3) At the INSS Gilead Sher and Mor Ben-Kalifa discuss the “Challenge to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty“.

“One year prior to the automatic renewal of the annex to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, King Abdullah announced that Jordan would not renew the special regime governing the areas of Naharayim and Zofar for another twenty-five years. Jordan, he said, will impose its sovereignty fully over these areas. The dire socio-economic and demographic situation in Jordan, coupled with the intensifying grass-roots protests throughout the Hashemite kingdom and the political deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has heightened public pressure on King Abdullah to cancel the peace treaty, whether in part or in its entirety. Over the years, Israeli-Jordanian relations have weathered ups and downs, but the parties succeeded in overcoming even the most extreme crises. The profound common interests that Jordan and Israel have shared for decades may help in overcoming the current challenge – provided that the crisis is handled promptly through covert dialogue, far from the spotlight.”

4) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “The Return of ISIS“.

“So IS as an organization has survived the successful US-led destruction of the quasi-state it created in 2014.  It has a leadership structure, money, fighters, weaponry and it is currently constructing a network of support in Sunni Arab areas of Iraq and Syria. These areas take in territory under the nominal control of the government of Iraq, the US-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad regime.  Small scale attacks have already begun in some areas. The return of the Islamic State in the dimensions it reached in the summer of 2014 does not look likely or imminent.  But the prospects of an IS-led ongoing Sunni insurgency, with roots deep in the Sunni Arab outlying areas of Syria, Iraq and the border between them is an increasingly likely prospect.  The Caliphate may be in ruins.  But Islamic State is back.”

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD, the Institute for Science and International Security documents “New Information about the Parchin Site“.

“A great deal of on-the-ground information about Iran’s Parchin site has publicly emerged.  This site was involved prior to 2004 in high explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons.  The new information, mainly in the form of Iranian documents and photos, is from an archive seized by Israel in Tehran, a fact that was publicly revealed on April 30, 2018 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He reported that this archive shows that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site, if a political decision was made to test. The Parchin site was a key part of that nuclear weapons research and development effort.”

2) Dr Shiraz Maher has published an essay titled “The primacy of praxis: clerical authority in the Syrian conflict”.

“A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground.

This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.”

3) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem takes a look at the background to a story first reported by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh.

“On October 13, 2018, Sheikh Akhram a-Sabri, preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque, issued a fatwa (ruling in Islamic law) stating that anyone who sells property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jews no longer belongs to the Islamic religion.

“We will not accept his repentance, and he will not be buried in a Muslim cemetery,” Sabri declared. […]

On October 20, 2018, the Jerusalem police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) apprehended Adnan Gheith, the PA’s Jerusalem governor, and Jihad al-Faqih, director of the PA’s intelligence office in east Jerusalem, both of whom are supporters of Gen. Majid Faraj. They were arrested on suspicion of abducting a Beit Hanina resident (whose name is known to the author), a known realtor dealing in land and property, whom they suspected of selling a property in the area of Herod’s Gate in the Old City.

The realtor is an Israeli citizen who also holds a U.S. passport.”

4) Also at the JCPA, Nadav Shragai discusses a Jordanian request.

“Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.”

BBC News employee breaches social media editorial guidelines

Meet Majd Yousef. Hailing from Jordan and now living in London, she is currently employed as a YouTube editor at BBC News and two years ago, described her job at the time as follows:

“Majd Yousef is an Online Editor at BBC World Services and a YouTube Editor at BBC Arabic. Majd specializes in online videos in general, and news in particular. At BBC, Majd is responsible for creating publishing strategies for news and programs, pulling analytics and feedback, and keeping an eye on what is trending in the Arab region. Having worked previously in the same position at Al Jazeera English in Doha, her passion for digital media and online publishing goes back to her days at Kharabeesh, an online entertainment network where she worked as a Publishing Manager for over 2 years. […]

I am responsible for everything BBC Arabic publishes on its YouTube channel; I set the online strategy for our different programs and make editorial decisions of what to publish, based on our ongoing analysis of the audience’s behavior.”

Ms Yousef has also contributed to written BBC content.

As we have unfortunately had cause to note here on numerous occasions in the past, BBC editorial guidelines on the personal use of social media state that:

“…when someone clearly identifies their association with the BBC and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately when on the Internet, and in ways that are consistent with the BBC’s editorial values and policies.”

And:

“The BBC’s reputation for impartiality and objectivity is crucial. The public must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes and services. Our audiences need to be confident that the outside activities of our presenters, programme makers and other staff do not undermine the BBC’s impartiality or reputation and that editorial decisions are not perceived to be influenced by any commercial or personal interests. […] Even if they are not identified as a BBC staff member, editorial staff and staff in politically sensitive areas should not be seen to support any political party or cause.”

And:

“Impartiality is a particular concern for those working in News and Current Affairs. Nothing should appear on their personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC. For example, News and Current Affairs staff should not: […]

advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate.”

When, on October 21st, the king of Jordan announced that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel, Majd Yousef nevertheless made her opinion on the issue very clear in a Tweet sent from a Twitter account identifying her as a BBC employee.

Ms Yousef also sent several additional problematic Tweets concerning the same topic, including one using the terms “we” and “our” – i.e. Jordanians.

“It’s important to recall the appendix to the agreement, this is a one year notice prior to the execution, i.e. we must make sure it’s being carried out next year, then according to the agreement the two sides enter a stage of consultations after the notice – let’s see who is “consulting” on our behalf before we celebrate…”

Apparently someone at the BBC recognised that Majd Yousef’s Tweets breach BBC editorial guidelines on the personal use of social media because two days after they were sent, her Twitter account was deleted.

But at least we now have some insight into the opinions behind the “editorial decisions” that go into making videos for BBC News.

Related Articles:

Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

‘Ensuring accuracy’ at the BBC Monitoring Jerusalem office

BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

 

 

Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

On October 21st the BBC News website ran a report titled “Jordan seeks to end Israel land lease” which relates to the Jordanian king’s announcement on the same day that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel.

“Jordan says it plans to end a lease of two areas of land to Israel that was agreed in annexes to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

The areas are Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the south, known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years and had been due for renewal. […]

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.”

While the first part of the article gives readers a reasonable account of the story, the later part – under the sub-heading “Why would Jordan want to end the lease?” – provides an incomplete account of the story’s background.

“King Abdullah has been under pressure from Jordanian MPs and the Jordanian public not to renew the lease for the two areas. Eighty-seven Jordanian MPs have signed a petition urging an end to the lease.

Last Friday protesters in the Jordanian capital Amman called for the lease to be ended and campaigns have also taken place on social media.

It follows recent strains in the relationship between Jordan and Israel over issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The BBC chose not to inform its audiences that – as the Jerusalem Post reports – there are elements in Jordan that would like to see an end to more than just the lease on the two specific areas of land.

“In very general terms, it’s fair to say that the 1994 peace agreement did not filter down to Jordanian masses. The Jordanians might already be drinking Israeli water, are scheduled to be heating their homes with Israeli natural gas in 2020, and benefit in numerous ways from security cooperation with Israel, but, for the most part, they don’t like Israel.
And this is something that King Abdullah II has to take into account.
Jordan’s announcement on Sunday regarding the Naharayim (Baqura) area near the Kinneret and part of Zofar (al Ghamar), in the Arava, did not knock anyone off their chair in Jerusalem. There has been talk for months inside Jordan of the need to regain those two areas. There have been debates in parliament, and even protests on the streets – much of it led by Islamic elements inside the Hashemite Kingdom.
Abdullah is in vice. While he needs the peace treaty with Israel for the security of his regime, he has domestic Islamic elements to deal with and at times placate.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“Additionally, an economic crisis that struck the kingdom over the past year may also have pushed Abdullah not to renew this portion of the treaty, in an effort to appease hardliners and prevent a potential coup, veteran regional analyst Ehud Yaari told Hadashot news on Sunday night.

Jordan has struggled with a sluggish economy, including rising unemployment, in the wake of regional conflicts, including in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, largely peaceful demonstrations, which led to a change of prime ministers, erupted over rising prices and proposed legislation to increase income tax, in line with IMF-driven austerity measures.”

Obviously internal Jordanian affairs – about which BBC audiences hear comparatively little – are no less relevant to the understanding of the background to this story than “the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians”. BBC audiences, however, were denied that information.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC News report on Naharayim killer’s release

BBC framing excludes important aspects of Amman embassy story

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

 

 

 

 

BBC’s serial omission hinders understanding of history programme

As has been documented on these pages on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC usually avoids informing its audience of the circumstances under which Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem were occupied – and subsequently illegally annexed – by what was at the time still called Trans-Jordan.  

Time and time again BBC audiences are told of ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ without any mention of the inclusion of those areas in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Also lacking is explanation of the belligerent British-backed invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from the areas attacked by Jordan in 1948. Instead, the BBC’s portrayal of history almost inevitably begins in 1967 when, audiences are told, “Israel occupied the area” which is euphemistically described as having previously been “under the control of Jordan”.

Even the BBC’s country profile of Jordan erases its 1948 belligerent invasion of land beyond its western border from audience view.

It was against that background of serial omission that listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ on August 9th heard a programme about events leading up to the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

“In August 1994 Yitzhak Rabin became the first Israeli leader publicly to visit Jordan. But in fact talks had been going on for years. Former head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, was Israel’s secret peace envoy. He’s been telling Louise Hidalgo about Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan’s clandestine meetings during the often fraught road to peace.”

Listeners were not provided with any background information whatsoever concerning the context to the starting point of this otherwise interesting account. Statements such as the following from Ephraim Halevy went unexplained.

“In 1988 the king [of Jordan] came out with a statement saying that he was renouncing the interest of Jordan in Judea & Samaria, which we call the West Bank.”

Obviously the BBC’s past record of omission on the topic of how Jordan came to have an “interest” in that area and the absence of any reference to Jordan’s belligerent invasion of that territory forty years previously in the country’s online profile means that many if not most listeners would be unable to fill in the gaps for themselves.