BBC exploits European migrant crisis for political messaging on ‘educational’ site

BBC produced content is of course widely used by researchers, academics, educators and teachers as well as members of the general public seeking factual information. One of the corporation’s projects is a website called ‘iWonder’ – billed as “the BBC’s new factual and educational site” at the time of its launch in 2014.

As we have had occasion to note here before (see related articles below), one might expect that a website with such a mission statement would make all the more effort to ensure that its content is historically accurate, factual and impartial.

In the midst of its recent special coverage of the migrant crisis in Europe, BBC News offered audiences a link to additional content on the topic of migrants.

Tweet iWonder link

That link leads to the iWonder website and a feature titled “The Longer View: Migrant crises” which is introduced as follows:

“Echoes through history

The current migrant crisis in Europe has made headlines around the world as millions seek refuge in countries across the continent.

The scale of the crisis in 2015 has not been seen since the end of World War Two, but tackling mass migration has proved to be an almost constant concern. From Biafra to the Balkans, solutions are rarely straightforward.”

The first item in that feature is titled “Exodus” and includes an archive video which does nothing to clarify to audiences that the British policy of restricting immigration of Jews to Palestine began long before July 1947 and fails to explain the legal basis of Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine.

iWonder Exodus

Those following the link titled “Watch: People of the Exodus” arrive at content produced by film-maker – not historian – Adam Curtis (who has a blog hosted by the BBC) headlined “21 Miles Off The Coast of Palestine“.

The post was written on June 2nd 2010 – and the significance of that soon becomes apparent. The article begins:

“Here is a strange echo from history.

It is a documentary made by the BBC in 1973 about the story of the ship, the Exodus.

It was the ship full of Jewish refugees – many of them survivors of the Holocaust – that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947. The participants from both sides appear and describe in detail how British soldiers boarded the ship 21 miles off the coast of Palestine killing 3 of the refugees and wounding others.

It caused an international scandal and was a PR disaster for the British government. It is seen in Israel today as one of the most significant events that led to the founding of the modern Israeli state.

The shock was compounded when the British took most of the refugees back to Germany and put them on trains and sent them to internment camps.”

But then the material promoted by BBC News as educational background to the current migrant crisis takes a sinister turn as Curtis continues:

“As you watch the film – it raises complex reactions and thoughts in your mind. But it is ironic that, although the two events are in many ways completely different, the Israelis are now preventing Palestinians and supporters of Hamas from doing what the Israeli defence organisation – the Haganah – tried to do over 60 years ago.” [emphasis added]

Yes – BBC ‘educational’ content on the subject of Holocaust survivors trying to reach Mandate Palestine really does promote a politicized and totally redundant comparison between the story of the ‘Exodus’ and the agitprop of the Mavi Marmara incident which took place two days before Curtis published this post.

The third item on this feature’s homepage is titled “Palestinians in exile”.

iWonder Palestinians in exile

There too audiences see highly partisan archive material which fails to explain to viewers why refugees who received Jordanian citizenship and were at the time living in territory occupied by Jordan were still the holders of refugee status. Those clicking on the link titled “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Palestinian refugees” arrive at the highly problematic article of the same name dated 2010 (but actually produced by Martin Asser quite some time before that) which was previously discussed on these pages here and here.

The failure to meet editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality is of course a grave issue at any time but when content specifically described as “factual and educational” fails to live up to those standards and is further employed as a platform for political messaging, it is time to ask some serious questions about the BBC’s role as a provider of educational material.

Related Articles:

Omissions, distortions and inaccurate history in BBC WW1 ‘educational’ feature

BBC’s Knell returns to the Gaza rubble

 

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BBC’s Knell returns to the Gaza rubble

More than an entire month has gone by since BBC audiences got their last ‘reporter in the Gaza rubble’ fix from Lyse Doucet and so it came as little surprise to see the baton handed to Yolande Knell on April 1st.

Knell’s written and filmed versions of the same story – “Gaza family ‘tricked’ into selling Banksy painting for $175” and “Palestinian ‘tricked’ over Banksy art” – both appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Knell Banksy written  

In the written report readers learned that:

“A Palestinian man says he was tricked into selling a mural by the artist Banksy that is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rabie Darduna told the BBC he was given less than $175 (£118) for the image drawn on the only remaining door of his house in Gaza.

It was one of thousands of homes destroyed during last year’s war.

Banksy visited Gaza in February and used the rubble as a canvas for his politicised graffiti.”

That story was also covered at the time by the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Rushdi Abualouf.

In the filmed version of Knell’s report shown on BBC television news programmes, viewers heard the following context-free introduction:

“Their lives in ruins: thousands of families in Gaza lost their homes in last year’s brutal war with Israel.”

Throughout the report Knell continues to use the story of a man who now regrets selling something he got for free after he discovered its proper value as a hook upon which to hang her real message.

“And when the British artist Banksy made a surprise visit here a month ago, this rubble inspired his politicized art.”

“The street art that Banksy left here in Gaza […] is meant to highlight the destruction here…”

“Back in Gaza the Darduna family can’t get over this cruel twist of fate. Banksy painted on their destroyed house to show he cares about Palestinians’ plight but now they’ve lost his unexpected gift they feel their suffering even more acutely.” [emphasis added]

At the bottom of the filmed report’s synopsis, audiences are invited to click on a link titled “Writing on the Wall” which leads them to the BBC’s ‘iWonder’ website. That site is billed as a project intended to “educate and inform” and “a ‘one-stop-shop’ for factual and educational content” and so – as we have noted here before – one might expect it to stick to accurate and impartial facts.Knell Banksy filmed

The page to which that promoted links leads includes, however, the following context-free politicized slogans: [all emphasis added]

“Banksy is the most well known graffiti artist in the world, even though he has never revealed his true identity. Quirky and political, his work has satirised oppression in Palestine, hypocrisy in politics and capitalist greed in London.”

Continuing his use of public spaces to display his work, he choose one of the most controversial walls in the world.

In 2005, to comment on Israeli involvement in Palestine, Banksy travelled to the Middle East and targeted the West Bank wall. His satirical stencils criticised Israeli militarism and oppression. The works provoked fierce debate in the media over whether a wall judged to be “illegal” by the International Court of Justice could in fact be vandalised. Banksy described the wall as “the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers”.

Yes – that is what the BBC apparently defines as “educational content”.  

Related Articles:

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

 

Omissions, distortions and inaccurate history in BBC WW1 ‘educational’ feature

Those following the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary may have noticed this Tweet on September 20th.

Tweet BBC WW1

The link leads to a feature on the BBC’s iWonder webpage titled “Does the peace that ended WW1 haunt us today?” which is presented by the BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.  Launched in January 2014, the iWonder brand was described by the BBC as a project intended to “educate and inform”.

“To coincide with the start of the BBC’s World War One season the BBC today launches a range of exciting digital content under a new brand called BBC iWonder.

iWonder is the new brand from the BBC designed to unlock the learning potential of all BBC content. Interactive guides – curated by experts and BBC talent including Dan Snow, Kate Adie, Ian McMillan and Neil Oliver – are the first phase of this initiative.[…]

Tim Plyming, Executive Producer for BBC Knowledge & Learning says: “Digital plays a central role in the BBC’s World War One season coverage and we’re really excited to bring audiences a range of compelling perspectives of the war. The guides span life in the trenches to poetry and propaganda and we hope each one will educate and inform the curious novice as well as the history buff.” “

Audiences might therefore reasonably expect that the content posted on the iWonder site would be historically accurate.iWonder WW1 feature

The feature is composed of eight sections and section five is entitled “Diplomatic games in the Middle East”. There audiences are given potted versions of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

However, absent from this section (and all others) is any mention of the San Remo Conference, the Treaty of Sèvres or the terms of the Mandate for Palestine which Great Britain was entrusted to administer on behalf of the League of Nations. Instead, a map appearing in that section inaccurately informs BBC audiences that “Britain took control of Palestine”.

Veteran BBC watchers will not be surprised by the BBC’s erasure of the agreements and treaties which form the legal foundations of the Jewish state. In fact, a search for ‘San Remo Conference 1920’ on the BBC News website turns up just one result – and that is in the corporation’s profile of Syria. BBC audiences searching the website for ‘Treaty of Sèvres 1920’ will find a result pertaining to Iraqi Kurdistan and a reference to it in an article about the Armenian church in Turkey but nothing to inform them of that treaty’s commitment to the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine.

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Section six of the feature is titled “The Middle East: What happened next?”. There – with no mention of the fact that the territory concerned had originally been part of that assigned to the creation of the Jewish National Home – readers are informed that:

“In Jordan, Faisal’s brother Abdullah declared himself Emir. The British acquiesced, keen to have a friendly regime that would not threaten oil pipelines coming from Iraq. Jordan became independent in 1946, and Abdullah’s descendants still rule over the country today.”

The sub-section titled “In Palestine” informs BBC audiences that:

“The numbers of Jews emigrating to Palestine increased under British supervision, especially after Hitler came to power in 1933. Arab resentment also increased.”

The average reader of that paragraph would understand it to mean that Britain facilitated immigration of Jews to Palestine as a response to the persecution of Jews in Europe. Of course the historic facts show that in fact the British limited Jewish immigration (though never Arab immigration) and Jewish land purchase throughout much of the mandate period, with the 1939 White Paper – approved by the House of Commons just weeks before the outbreak of World War II – restricting immigration to 75,000 over a period of five years and ruling that illegal immigrants would be deducted from the quota and immigration would be halted at the end of the five-year period.  

The section continues:

“After the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jews were killed, there was a surge of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain struggled to contain the crisis, and handed the task of deciding the future of Palestine to the United Nations.

The UN voted to divide Palestine into two states: one Arab, one Jewish. In 1948, Israel declared its independence; the first Arab-Israeli war began the moment the British left.”

Once again we see that the BBC continues to mislead its audiences by pretending that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing. UNGA resolution 181 was of course a non-binding recommendation, the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. Whilst Jewish representatives accepted the proposal, the Arabs rejected it outright meaning that it has no contemporary relevance whatsoever. Likewise, the BBC’s suggestion that violence commenced with the departure of British forces in May 1948 is of course an inaccurate representation of history.

Section seven of the feature is titled “Does the peace still haunt us today?” and it includes a contribution from Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards. Those familiar with Milton-Edwards’ work and with her history of associations with Alastair Crooke and his ‘Conflicts Forum’ will not be surprised by the political overtones of her contribution which includes the specious claim that “radical Islamism” arose as “a reaction to foreign intervention and control”.

The trouble is, of course, that the majority of BBC audience members hoping to be educated or informed by this feature will not be aware of Milton-Edwards’ agenda and – in contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – no attempt is made to inform them of that important factor.

This feature’s distortions, inaccuracies and omissions will come as no great surprise to anyone familiar with the BBC’s existing record of representation of Middle East history in general and the establishment of Israel in particular. Although BBC audiences might expect editors of a feature specifically intended to “educate and inform” to take special care to adhere to BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, political motivations have once again triumphed over historical fact in this feature. That fact is particularly worrying given that presumably the item is intended to remain in the public domain for years to come as part of the BBC’s “historical records“.