Obsession: four BBC ‘Beitar’ articles in under a week

This is getting ugly. 

On February 14th – just one day after a report about a group of racist fans from the Beitar Jerusalem football club (one of two produced until then by the BBC) had finally given up the place it had held on the Middle East page of the BBC News website for six whole days – two more articles on the same subject were instated on that same page.

ME pge 14 2

The first report, dated February 8th, was a written article. The second one, dated February 11th, was a filmed report by James Kelly which was obviously shown on BBC television news broadcasts and also appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. The third one, dated February 14th, is also a filmed report for BBC television news – by Wyre Davies – and is sweepingly titled “concerns of racism in Israeli football”. The fourth report – also dated February 14th and by Wyre Davies – is a written article. 

Davies Beitar

Davies Beitar 2

Neither of Davies’ reports contains any new information: both merely rehash the same themes which appeared in the previous two already published and promoted prominently during the preceding week.

But in the filmed report, note Davies’ ‘translation’ of the words of the football fan shown at 02:01. Davies says:

” ‘We won’t allow Muslims. This is a Jewish club’ says this man.”

In fact, although the man’s words are hardly the height of polite conversation, he does not say the words ‘allow’ or ‘Jewish club’. That ‘translation’ is pure fabrication on Davies’ part. 

In his written report, Davies tries to imply linkage between racism and a specific branch of Israeli politics: 

“Beitar Jerusalem is traditionally seen as the club of Israel’s political right wing.

Many politicians, past and present, from the conservative Likud party are lifelong fans.”

The BBC’s obsessive focus on this issue is doing it no favours: its ugly agenda is all too clear. Four consecutive and tediously similar articles in less than a week on the subject of a minority group of racist fans at one football club out of dozens in Israel are not an accident of coincidence. They are clearly the product of an editorial decision to exploit an incident in order to dictate audience  perception of Israel as a country riddled with anti-Muslim racism. 

It is precisely this kind of prejudiced coverage which gains the BBC a reputation for bias and compromises its impartiality. 

The BBC, football racism and Israel

“Football racism fears in Egypt”.

That headline did not appear on the BBC website after the events pictured below in April 2011. In fact, a Google search for football racism in Egypt produces nothing as far as BBC reports on the subject are concerned. 

“Football racism fears in Holland”.

That headline did not appear on the BBC website after a player for AZ Alkmaar was subjected to racist abuse during a Dutch Cup match last month. The incident was the subject of one report by the BBC – placed in its Sport section.

“Football racism fears in England”.

That headline did not appear on the BBC website after two Aston Villa fans were found guilty of using antisemitic abuse and making a Nazi salute last week. In fact the BBC News website does not carry either of those stories at all. 

“Football racism fears in Israel”.

That headline appeared on the BBC News website’s home page (not in the Sport section) on February 11th. 

bbc news hp 11 2

The report is the second one to be produced by the BBC on the subject of the actions and alleged actions of some racist fans of the Beitar Jerusalem football club, with the other report having been promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page since Friday, February 8th and still there four days later. 

ME hp 11 2

Kayal Beram, Israel national team

 As previously pointed out here:

“The police have set up a dedicated investigatory team for the incident, which has been condemned by the city’s mayor and the country’s Prime Minister.”

Yes – there is a serious problem with a group of racist fans of one football club out of dozens – most of which (as even acknowledged in the BBC article on the subject) have players from many different religious and ethnic backgrounds – in a country which includes players from minority ethnic and religious groups on its national teams

Deplorable as the racism among some fans at Beitar Jerusalem is, its existence makes Israel no different and no worse than most countries on the planet which have also failed to eliminate racism from football. It certainly does not justify the over-generalised headline “Football racism fears in Israel” or the placing of two separate reports on two home pages of the BBC News website for a relatively prolonged period of time. 

Unless, that is, this incident is being exploited to try to advance a specific narrative about an entire country. 

BBC balance in pictures

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s take a look at some of the visuals the BBC is using to illustrate its news reports on Operation Pillar of Cloud.

This report by James Kelly for BBC News on November 16th 2012 is one minute and forty one seconds long. 

The report displays an obvious contrast in the language chosen to describe events in different locations. Whilst in Tel Aviv “militants targeted the city with rockets”, in the Gaza Strip, according to Kelly, “Israeli missiles [are] repeatedly striking” and “Israel pounded Gaza” – the latter statement clearly not reflecting the reality of the precision of Israeli strikes against targets which are exclusively linked to terrorism. 

The first 21 seconds of the report show images from Gaza. The report then cuts to two press conferences – one given by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu (25 seconds) and the other by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (59 seconds). The visuals then return to Gaza for another 8 seconds before cutting to Tel Aviv for six seconds. The report ends with a straight eighteen seconds of more images from the Gaza Strip.

If we discount the 84 seconds of footage of press conferences, we are therefore left with 45 seconds of images from the Gaza Strip compared to six seconds of footage from Israel. 

Clearly that cannot be said to provide audiences with an accurate and balanced view (literally) of events.