Weekend long read

1) On July 13th the BBC and CBS News announced a new partnership.

“BBC News and CBS News announced today a new editorial and newsgathering relationship that will significantly enhance the global reporting capabilities of both organisations. The announcement was made by BBC Director of News and Current Affairs James Harding and CBS News President David Rhodes.

This new deal allows both organisations to share video, editorial content, and additional newsgathering resources in New York, London, Washington and around the world. The relationship between BBC News and CBS News will also allow for efficient planning of newsgathering resources to increase the content of each broadcaster’s coverage of world events.

James Harding, BBC Director of News and Current Affairs, says: “There’s never been a more important time for smart, courageous coverage of what’s happening in the world.

“This new partnership between the BBC and CBS News is designed to bring our audiences – wherever you live, whatever your point of view – news that is reliable, original and illuminating. Our ambition is to deliver the best in international reporting on television. We’re really looking forward to working together.” […]

Sharing of content between BBC News and CBS News will begin immediately. Additional newsgathering components will be rolled out in the coming months.”

Information on CBS News reporting is available at CAMERA.

2) MEMRI brings an interesting clip from an interview with a Lebanese politician talking about a topic serially avoided in BBC reporting.

“Today, nobody dares to open his mouth. Thirty ministers in the government, and none of them dares to say to Nasrallah: ‘What gives you the right to say what you say?’ The president keeps his mouth shut. The army commander keeps his mouth shut. The defense and foreign ministers keep their mouths shut. Nobody even mentions U.N. Resolutions 1701 and 1559. Nobody talks about Lebanon’s international obligations. Nobody says that there can be no military force in Lebanon other than the Lebanese army and the U.N. forces.”

3) Another topic that has to date received no BBC coverage is the subject of an article by Avi Issacharoff at the Times of Israel.

“There have been numerous reports in the Arab and Palestinian media recently about meetings being held in Egypt between Abbas’s political rival, Mohammad Dahlan, and the leaders of Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas. These allegedly took place in Cairo under the close supervision of the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, Khaled Fawzy.

Dahlan and Hamas reportedly agreed to establish a new “management committee” of Gaza, which would see the Fatah strongman share control of the Palestinian enclave.

Abbas will likely demand explanations from Sissi as to the nature of these contacts, and Egypt’s support of them.

The PA chief and his allies have been flooded with rumors about a deal being concocted behind the back of the Palestinian Authority, under the auspices of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. These talks are seen by Abbas as insulting, even a spit in the face. Abbas will want to know whether Fawzy’s reported actions were authorized by Sissi.”

4) At the FDD, Tony Badran writes about a development connected to yet another story ignored by the BBC last year.

“Congress passed the first round of Hezbollah sanctions in late 2015. Known as the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), the bill targeted banks used by the group and its members. After HIFPA became law, there were rumors in the Lebanese press that some jittery banks were closing the accounts of Hezbollah members. One Hezbollah MP did have his bank account closed.

Lebanese institutions then intervened. The Central Bank of Lebanon reversed the decision of the private bank that closed the Hezbollah MP’s account. Meanwhile, according to Arabic media reports, the Ministry of Finance started paying Hezbollah MPs and ministers’ salaries in cash to avoid banks, though the accuracy of these stories is unclear. Eventually, Hezbollah placed a bomb behind a branch of Blom Bank in June 2016, and everyone got the message: be careful about being “overzealous” in complying with U.S. law.

Reports that Congress is working on an updated and tightened HIFPA have caused much consternation in Lebanon, and this time, state institutions are not waiting until after it passes to undermine it. […]

Last month, the Lebanese Parliament passed a new electoral law to govern the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for May of next year. The law includes a little-noticed amendment aimed at preempting future U.S. sanctions.”

5) The Algemeiner brings us a summary of an address by Judea Pearl concerning the morality of the BDS campaign.

“BDS is not a new phenomenon; it is a brainchild of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who in April 1936 started the Arab Rejectionist movement (under the auspices of the Arab Higher Committee), and the first thing he did was to launch a boycott of Jewish agricultural products and a general strike against Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine from war-bound Europe.

The 1936 manifesto of the rejectionist movement was very similar to what BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti presented here at UCLA on January 15, 2014. It was brutal in its simplicity: Jews are not entitled to any form of self-determination in any part of Palestine, not even the size of a postage stamp — end of discussion!

Here is where BDS earns its distinct immoral character: denying one people rights to a homeland, rights that are granted to all others. This amounts to discrimination based on national identity, which in standard English vocabulary would be labeled “bigotry,” if not “racism.””

 

 

 

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BBC’s director of news discusses antisemitism – up to a point

On November 5th BBC World Service radio broadcast an edition of the programme ‘On Background’ which included (from 34:20 here) an item described in the synopsis as “author Howard Jacobson with the BBC’s Kevin Connolly on anti-Semitism in Europe”.on-background-5-11

The programme has several notable aspects, one of which is the fact that it is co-presented by the BBC’s director of news.

“BBC News’ James Harding and Zanny Minton Beddoes from the Economist dig a little deeper into some of the big stories of the week.”

The item begins with Kevin Connolly revisiting the May 2014 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man were murdered. Notably – in light of the BBC’s record – the incident is accurately described on two occasions as a “terrorist attack”. However, the identity of the suspected attacker and his apparent Islamist motives are not mentioned at all in Connolly’s report.

Given the chosen starting point of the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, listeners familiar with its background would perhaps have been rather surprised by the item’s focus on the unrelated topic of Christian antisemitism in Europe.

Referring to his Jewish interviewees from Belgium, Connolly tells audiences:

“Their view is – to some extent because of the Holocaust – that Christian tradition of antisemitism in Europe has been fixed, in inverted commas, by education or by a sense of what is or what is not socially acceptable. But they worry now that new minorities coming into Europe bringing with them the attitudes, for example, of the Middle East or of North Africa, will give antisemitism a new vitality on the continent and will revisit an ancient problem in a modern way.”

Presenter James Harding’s response to that is to ask:

“But is there any evidence […] that antisemitism within a Christian tradition still exists in Europe?”

Later on, following a description of manifestations of antisemitism by Howard Jacobson, Harding responds by saying:

“But Howard Jacobson – wouldn’t there be people listening to you now, particularly Muslim listeners, who’d say consider Islamophobia in Europe; consider the plight of Muslims who are facing much more critical commentary and, frankly, much more hostility across Europe.”

The issue raised by Connolly’s Belgian interviewees in fact receives no serious discussion throughout the item.

Another interesting point about the item is the absence of any introspection on the part of the BBC’s director of news concerning content produced by his own organisation which has amplified the kind of tropes described by his expert guest Howard Jacobson.

Jacobson [46:28]: “And here we get onto the very thorny problem of Israel because in my view – which has got nothing to do with defending Israel at all: the politics of Israel; we can leave that out. But I do think that Israel has enabled a vocabulary of antisemitism to surface and express itself again. I’m not just talking about how we feel about individual Israeli policy. We will find descriptions of what’s happened in Israel that are too close to comfort to medieval tropes about what Jews were like. You will hear people saying Israel is supported by a ‘Jewish lobby’ or there’s an immense amount of money supporting Israel politics or when it comes to Israel, the Jewish lobby is the tail wagging the American dog. So these are all old ways of talking about the Jews that go all the way back to things that were said in Mein Kampf but they now have another…another battle ground if you like.”

Readers may recall that the ‘tail wagging the dog’ theme was promoted by a senior BBC correspondent in September 2013 and that amplification of the notion of a powerful ‘Jewish lobby’ has regrettably been an all too frequent feature of BBC content – for example here, here and here.

Later on in the discussion, Jacobson refers to the Livingstone Formulation.

“I’ll tell you what’s a real problem here: every time you say look, there seems to be an antisemitism problem here, you’re met with a blank wall – I find it quite impertinent actually; I find it insolent – that says all you’re trying to do is stop criticism of Israel. That is such a mantra now, you’ve no idea. In any argument now about the issue of antisemitism, it’s silenced by people who say that they are being silenced: ‘you’re only saying I’m an antisemite to stop me talking; to stop me criticising Israel’. It’s entirely untrue. Criticise Israel all you like but they must see that every time they say that, they are silencing those who say there is a problem with antisemitism.”

As regulars readers know, the BBC has itself frequently promoted the Livingstone Formulation in its own content – including in a backgrounder supposedly designed to help audiences understand the ‘difference’ between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Antisemitism is a subject with which the BBC has been visibly struggling for a long time. That struggle manifests itself both as the frequent failure to report accurately (or sometimes, the failure to report at all) on stories involving antisemitism and the failure to adequately address the issue of antisemitism in its own content and on its message boards.

It is therefore all the more regrettable that a programme which claims to ‘dig deeper’ hosted by such a prominent figure as the BBC’s director of news did not actually deliver.

Related Articles:

BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

Antisemitic comments (again) on BBC WHYS Facebook post… about show on antisemitism   

 

BBC’s Sackur suggests being pro-Israel should be a problem

h/t FB

On May 2nd and 3rd 2013 the BBC World Service programme ‘Hardtalk’ – hosted by Stephen Sackur – interviewed the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten. 

Hardtalk Patten

The interview can be heard for a limited period of time here, or as a podcast here. A clip from the programme can be viewed here.

The interview is worth listening to in full, but particularly from around 16:06 in the audio version above when Sackur says:

“One other editorial issue that I want to put to you and it concerns James Harding – the new chief of news here at the BBC. He was the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper and when he was at The Times, James Harding said this at a Jewish community centre debate in London in 2011. He said – quote – “I am pro-Israel and I haven’t found it hard because The Times has been pro-Israel for a very long time”. Now, James Harding is now the head of news at the BBC. Are you comfortable for him to pronounce himself pro-Israel as head of news of the BBC?”

Chris Patten replies:

“I’m sure he wouldn’t pronounce himself as pro-Israel or pro any country or part of an argument.”

SS: “But his problem is that he already has.”

CP: “Yeah, but look..”

SS: “I mean he won’t have changed the spots, I don’t suppose…”

CP: “You know perfectly well that I’ve expressed views on the Middle East in books and in articles and you know very well that I used to be in a past life – in a previous incarnation – chairman of the Conservative Party.”

SS: “Sure but..”

CP: “I’ve managed…”

SS: “You’re not head of BBC News and you never have been.”

CP: “No, but I’m chair of the BBC Trust.”

SS: “James Harding is self-declared pro-Israel. Do you have any problem with that? Do you think that it might create problems for you and for the BBC when one considers that perhaps the most contentious issue we all in BBC news and current affairs have to deal with on a daily basis is reporting the Middle East?”

Whether or not the BBC’s record for accurate and impartial reporting from the Middle East will improve under James Harding remains to be seen, but hopefully one practice he will be able to eradicate in the BBC news and current affairs department is that of cherry-picking quotes and then using them to promote a particular agenda. 

Here is a report of Mr Harding’s April 2011 remarks: note Sackur’s apparent addition of the word ‘very’ to the part in his “quote” which says “..because The Times has been pro-Israel for a very long time”. 

“Harding stressed the need for balanced journalism. “We say we’re pro-Israel but we’re also pro the Palestinian state… the question a journalist should always ask himself is are you making the case before opinion is dressed up as reportage?” “

James Harding does not specify what being “pro-Israel” means as far as he is concerned but frankly, these days it often means simply being convinced of Israel’s indisputable right to exist. One does have to wonder therefore what kind of interpretation Stephen Sackur attributes to that phrase. 

The fact that Sackur appears to have no qualms about suggesting publicly that being pro-Israel is or should be “a problem” for a senior BBC employee,  and that if James Harding had “changed his spots” that ‘problem’ would disappear, perhaps reveals more about the institutional culture at the BBC than Stephen Sackur and Chris Patten appear to realise.