BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, BBC News website reporting on the Israeli government’s intention to bar Al Jazeera from reporting and broadcasting in Israel failed to provide any examples of the incitement broadcast by the network that prompted that move – in sharp contrast to its coverage of a recent similar case in the UK.  

The story was also covered in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on August 6th with presenter James Menendez introducing the item (from 38:30 here) as follows:

Menendez: “The Israeli government says it wants to take the Qatar funded broadcaster Al Jazeera off the air. The move was announced by the country’s communications minister Ayoub Kara at a news conference in Jerusalem today.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of a small part of the minister’s statement.

Voice-over: “We have identified media outlets that do not serve freedom of speech but endanger the security of Israel’s citizens and the main instrument has been Al Jazeera which has actually caused us to lose the best of our sons and has been the source of incitement.”

Menendez: “So what exactly did he mean and why now? Questions for our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Those two questions are obviously crucial to audience understanding of the story but did Tom Bateman actually provide any answers?

Bateman: “The communications minister in this press conference today said that it was about a long-running dispute that they have with the network, accusing it of inciting violence – he said – siding with extremist organisations. And this has been a refrain we’ve heard from the Israeli government repeatedly; not least from the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who last month launched an outspoken attack on the network. He said that it was inciting violence, particularly around the recent security crisis over the holy site of Haram al Sharif – Temple Mount – in the old city of Jerusalem. Now this was a particularly violent episode that lasted a couple of weeks and the prime minister had effectively suggested that the network’s reporting of that event – the events surrounding it – was leading people to violent attacks or at least suggesting that they carry them out.”

Failing to provide any examples of such incitement or to clarify the term “extremist organisations”, Bateman then swiftly moved on to the technicalities.

Bateman: “I mean the specific measures being suggested this afternoon are that the Israeli government will seek to force cable and satellite providers to block the signal in Israel and also to revoke the press accreditation – the press cards – for Al Jazeera reporters in Israel, which will effectively make it impossible for them to work here. The network itself has been covering this extensively today and recently its bureau chief in Jerusalem said that in effect Israel and its prime minister was siding with Arab autocratic states who similarly had sought to ban the network.”

Menendez: “Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. Is this Israel just doing it for its own reasons or is it acting – perhaps not in conjunction – but at least siding with those countries who’ve been demanding that Qatar shut Al Jazeera down? And I’m thinking of course of, you know, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

Bateman: “Well certainly that would be the view of the network itself who’s, you know, have said that amid this furious diplomatic rift between a number of Sunni Arab states – including Saudi Arabia and Egypt – and Qatar, which of course funds Al Jazeera, that they believe Israel is simply siding with them because it’s politically convenient to do so. I mean its editor also pointed out what he called was the irony of Al Jazeera being one of the very few media networks in the Middle East that is prepared to air, you know, Israeli voices – Israeli government voices – and yet they believe that a self-proclaimed functioning democracy has sided with dictatorships, as he put it.”

Listeners then heard the following garbled portrayal of the core story which obviously did nothing to inform listeners about the kind of incitement broadcast by Al Jazeera and also confused bias and one-sided reporting with the very serious issue of incitement.  

Bateman: “I think the Israeli government view will be simply that it’s had enough and in their view they, well, believe, you know, particularly the Arabic facing service they believe has, you know, been biased against Israel. They will say it’s failed to give, you know, sufficient credence to the Israeli argument – the Israeli side of arguments – in these situations and therefore that that is, you know, that incitement is so serious that it merits closure.”

Bateman went on, returning to the technical topics with which he is clearly more comfortable:

Bateman: “Having said all of that, this will have to go through the Israeli parliament and that may be easier said than done because I, you know, particularly with the desire to block transmissions, that it likely to require parliamentary approval so there’s no time scale on this. It is simply at the moment a desire of intent.”

Menendez: “And just to be clear, is it both the Arabic and English networks?”

Bateman could at this point have clarified the significant differences between Al Jazeera’s English language and Arabic language content but declined to do so.

Bateman: “Well certainly they both operate from…they have correspondents of both language services in Israel – in Jerusalem – and so I think the assumption must be that it will be…will be both. I don’t think, you know, the Israeli government sees a distinction.”

As with the BBC News website’s written article, this report failed to adequately explain the story to audiences because it refrained from providing them with any examples of the kind of incitement that is at its core. That editorial policy turns the story into no more than a list of competing claims which audiences then have to judge for themselves without the benefit of factual information. Clearly that approach does not meet the BBC’s remit of providing “accurate and impartial news […] so that audiences can engage fully with issues” and it stands in sharp contrast to its own reporting of the recent similar story concerning the closure of a UK radio station on the grounds of incitement. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part one

Al Jazeera English (CAMERA)

Al-Jazeera America (CAMERA)

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two 

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BBC WS’s ‘Newshour’ continues the promotion of a myth

The afternoon and evening editions of the January 15th BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – both presented by James Menendez – included coverage of the Paris conference which took place that day.  

Menendez’ introduction to that lead item in the afternoon edition (from 00:87 here) steered listeners towards inaccurate conclusions regarding the absence of Israeli and Palestinian participants in that conference by failing to clarify that neither party had been invited.newshour-15-1-afternoon

“But first to that big international meeting being held in Paris right now to try to resuscitate the moribund Middle East peace process. More than 70 countries are taking part but the fact that the two protagonists – Israel and the Palestinians – aren’t, well it tells you everything you need to know about the scale of the task ahead and in particular, the task of reviving the idea of a solution based on two states living side by side in peace. It’s 23 years since the signing of the so-called Oslo Peace Accords but a Palestinian state looks like a more remote prospect now than then.”

After listeners heard archive recordings relating to the Oslo Accords and following a clip from John Kerry’s speech in late December, Menendez introduced his first interviewee [from 03:50] – PA Minister of Education Sabri Saydam.

Menendez: “Well today’s conference in Paris is aimed precisely at restarting an international commitment to that two-state solution. But will it make any difference at all? Well let’s hear now from both sides and first, the Palestinians; presumably they welcome the fact that this conference is taking place. Sabri Saydam is a senior official in Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank.”

Listeners then heard Saydam claim that all Palestinians support the two-state solution.

Saydam: “For every Palestinian this is a recipe for consensus and this is a reflection on the will of the international community and this is a reminder both to the American administration that the UN resolutions would have to be upheld and for Israel that the end of occupation is imminent.” [emphasis added]

That obviously inaccurate claim was not challenged by Menendez either at that point or later, when Saydam went on to suggest that all Palestinians believe that “the two-state solution is the only workable formula”.

Menendez: “Does it make any difference though?”

Saydam: “Maybe not for the Israeli government that exists right now; the right-wing government that believes in the policy of expansion of settlements and believes in the continuation of the occupation. Yet for Palestinians it makes a world of difference. Remember, this comes after a few weeks of the decision taken by the Security Council deeming settlements – Israeli settlements – as illegal. So for Palestinians this is a reassurance that the two-state solution is the only workable formula.” [emphasis added]

The interview continued with questions from Menendez on topics including the new American administration and the possible relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and with Saydam promoting the narrative – unquestioned by his host – according to which the Palestinians support a two-state solution but are thwarted by Israel.newshour-15-1-evening

An abridged version of that interview – including the above unchallenged statements – was also broadcast [from 26:38 here] in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day.

The BBC knows perfectly well that Hamas (together with additional Palestinian factions) does not seek a negotiated peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In its own profile of the terrorist organisation the BBC writes:

“Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, EU, Canada and Japan due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence. Under the group’s charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. […]

Hamas came to prominence after the first intifada as the main Palestinian opponent of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). […]

Hamas resisted all efforts to get it to sign up to previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, as well as to recognise Israel’s legitimacy and to renounce violence.

Hamas’s charter defines historic Palestine – including present-day Israel – as Islamic land and it rules out any permanent peace with the Jewish state.”

Nevertheless, in all its recent reporting of UNSC resolution 2334 and the Paris conference the BBC has framed the story as being about a “moribund”, “fading” two-state solution which is endangered primarily by Israeli construction of housing units in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Not once in all that generous coverage have BBC audiences been reminded that when last given the chance to vote eleven years ago, 44.45% of Palestinians supported the party which rejects outright the option of peace with Israel. Neither have they been told that a recent opinion poll suggests that if elections were held today, Hamas would gain around a third of the votes.

Instead – as this example yet again shows – the BBC repeatedly promotes the myth that support for the two-state solution is a matter of consensus among Palestinians.  While that myth certainly helps shore up its chosen narrative on the issue of the peace process, it obviously does not contribute to the BBC’s remit of building “global understanding” concerning the range of factors preventing the two-state solution from becoming reality.

 

A worldwide platform for incitement from BBC Arabic’s Nawal Assad

In addition to the written report discussed in a previous post, the rioting on Temple Mount on September 13th was also the subject of a radio report (available here from 26:35) broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on that day.AAM 13 9 Newshour

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item as follows:

“Now there have been clashes today in Jerusalem between Palestinian youths and the Israeli police. The violence broke out at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City – the scene of many confrontations in the past between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims. And that’s because this large complex is home to sites revered by both religions. [recorded sound] Well that’s the sound of stun grenades fired by the Israeli police as they moved into the compound, confronted – they say – by Palestinians who’d barricaded themselves inside, throwing stones and fire crackers. Well Nawal Assad is BBC Arabic’s correspondent in Jerusalem; so what exactly happened?”

Listeners then heard the following inaccurate and partisan account from Nawal Assad: [all emphasis in bold added]

“The clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers in what Palestinian Muslims call Al Aqsa Mosque, which is their holiest place in the city and what Jews believe it to be the Temple Mount. Police clashed with these worshippers after the morning prayers because the police says that a group of Palestinian youths barricaded in the mosque against the orders of the Israeli police and the Israeli Ministry of Defence few days ago and the worshippers started throwing stones at the police and they responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the mosque.”

As we see, in addition to downgrading history and archaeology to a matter of Jewish belief, Assad misrepresented the rioters as “worshippers” and avoided any mention of their premeditated plan to disrupt visits to the site on Rosh Hashana eve whilst at the same time concealing their amassing of pipe bombs and additional materials intended to be used as weapons in the mosque. She also failed to inform audiences fully regarding the recent banning of two groups of paid Islamist agitators (consistently unacknowledged by the BBC) at the site. Assad then continued with promotion of flagrant falsehoods.

“Palestinians say that more than 600 visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers. Many of them are Jews led by the Israeli agriculture minister Uri Ariel who has been calling recently many Jews to visit that area and pray in the Muslim site because they believe that the Temple Mount lies beneath that mosque. So many Jews heeded these calls and participated in this visit this morning.”

With Assad having told listeners just moments earlier that “clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers” listeners would have been highly likely to take her subsequent claim that “visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers” to mean that those visits sparked the violence. Her claim that “600 visitors entered the mosque” is clearly inaccurate: non-Muslim visitors to Temple Mount do not go into Al Aqsa Mosque.

Assad failed to tell listeners that the Jews visiting the site on that particular day were beginning celebration of a major holiday, instead leading them to believe that the visitors were ‘heeding calls’ from an Israeli minister. She clearly does not know the difference between the site of the ancient Temple and Temple Mount and her claim that Jews believe that the Temple is located underneath Al Aqsa Mosque are inaccurate and misleading. Whilst Uri Ariel (who did happen to visit Temple Mount on that particular day) has advocated for equal prayer rights for members of all religions on Temple Mount, Assad’s portrayal of Temple Mount as an exclusively “Muslim site” and her failure to clarify that it is the holiest site in Judaism prevented listeners from understanding the issue correctly.

Menendez then asked:

“What is the situation when it comes to access at the moment? Perhaps you could just describe the site and when it is that each group can go – or can anyone go whenever they like?”

The geographically challenged Nawal Assad said:

“There is more than 140 dunams which is a massive area of land.”

Of course the entire Old City of Jerusalem is built on an area of less than one square kilometre and in fact Temple Mount measures 488 meters along its west side, 470 meters along its east side, 315 meters along its north side and 280 meters along its south side: hardly “a massive area of land”. Nawal Assad then gave unqualified amplification to a narrative which is as historically inaccurate as it is politically motivated:

“Palestinian Muslims consider all that compound to be the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

She continued:

“There are about twelve gates. All the twelve gates are manned by guards – Israeli guards and also guards paid actually by the Jordanian government who has the control of the Muslim sites in Jerusalem. Israel has the right to allow or not allow whoever they want to enter into that compound to do prayers. In recent years there has been [sic] rules about dividing the times between Muslims when they can go to pray [and] visitors – as tourists. Since 2013 there has been more visit of Jews who have been seen – and I have seen it myself – who enter from the entrance near the Wailing Wall into the vicinity of the compound and they do like symbolic prayers there. This has been aggravating the situation in the compound itself because Muslim worshippers are against it.”

Neither Assad nor Menendez bothered to inform listeners that non-Muslims are in fact forbidden from praying at the site which is just as significant to them as it is to Muslims and Assad went on to make yet another inaccurate claim.

“The Israeli government seems like it’s going towards a situation where there would be shared times of prayers in that area which Muslims consider it to be their third holiest mosque.”

In fact, the Israeli government has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site.

Menedez then asked a question which clearly misled listeners by implying that the latest round of violence on Temple Mount is connected to the issue of equal prayer rights:

“And are Muslims in Jerusalem firmly against that or is there any appetite for some sort of system to avoid these clashes happening?”

Assad went on to amplify a dangerous and entirely baseless conspiracy theory:

“Muslims in Jerusalem are petrified that Israel plans to rebuild the Temple Mount which means that they will have to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. Not just Muslims actually, I must say, because there has been [sic] calls from the Muslim-Christian Palestinian Council this morning condemning these visits.”

The item closed as follows:

Menendez: “What’s the situation now? Have things calmed down?”

Assad: “No. Tension is still mounting in that area. About 300 people were marching just about noon here in Jerusalem and they were again dispersed.”

As we see, in addition to failing to provide listeners with anything even approaching the real factual background to this story, Nawal Assad used this item to promote the kind of inaccuracies and conspiracy theories which can have extremely dangerous consequences. Given that this item was broadcast around the entire world, it is all the more egregious for a BBC reporter to be adding the corporation’s stamp of reliability to such inflammatory rumours.

Either Nawal Assad is incompetent or she is exploiting this topic for the amplification of content which can only be described as incitement. Whichever the case, the BBC World Service needs to urgently clarify to its listeners around the world that there is no truth in her claims of impending changes in the status quo on Temple Mount by the Israeli government and no basis for the conspiracy theory concerning the destruction of Al Aqsa Mosque which she so irresponsibly promotes.Nawal Assad

The BBC might also care to note that its reputation as an impartial broadcaster is not enhanced by its Arabic branch’s Jerusalem correspondent’s use of a profile picture including a keffiyah. 

Resources:

BBC World Service – contact details

‘Newshour’ on Twitter

Nawal Assad on Twitter

James Menendez on Twitter

 

BBC WS Gaza disengagement retrospective promotes narrative of equivalence

Anyone searching for BBC coverage of the ten-year anniversary of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip would have been struck by the absence of content relating to that topic – until now.

On August 15th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted just over five minutes (from 44:03 here) to a conversation between presenter James Menendez and journalist Anshel Pfeffer which was notable for its selective framing of the topic, its omission of vital context and the astounding fact that the word terrorism did not appear even once.Newshour Gaza disengagement

No historical context to explaining why Israel came to be in control of the previously Egyptian occupied Gaza Strip was evident in Menendez’s introduction but listeners did hear that region characterised as “Palestinian territory”.

James Menendez: “Now it’s exactly ten years since Israeli troops were sent into Gaza to evict settlers who’d refused to leave voluntarily. It was the culmination of then prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Palestinian territory and pull out approximately eight and a half thousand settlers from the Strip along with the 3,000 troops needed to guard them. The surprise move drew both praise and some criticism at the time. So a decade later, how is it perceived in Israel? Anshel Pfeffer writes for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. He’s also the Economist’s Jerusalem correspondent. I asked him first about the pull-out – completed in just a week – and the fact that in the end, there wasn’t much of a backlash.”

Anshel Pfeffer: “That’s very, very true and it was surprisingly quick, surprisingly painless in actual casualties. Obviously the ones who were being evacuated were deeply traumatised – and perhaps the community of settlers and right-wing groups who supported them – but the move proved to be very popular at the time amongst the Israeli public and I think it had 60 or 70% support within the Israeli public.”

That is the only mention of the thousands who lost their homes, communities and livelihoods and even had to exhume their dead: listeners learn nothing of what became of those people or how they have fared in the decade since the disengagement.  Pfeffer’s rather simplistic ‘for or against’ portrayal fails to reflect the trauma and emotional turmoil which gripped much of Israeli society at the time, including many who supported the move itself. Menendez continues:

JM: “And do you think there’s a similar level of support for that move now?”

AP: “No, I think the support has gone down. I still think there’s perhaps around 50% who’d think it was the right thing to do and there certainly is no groundswell of opinion saying Israel’s got to go back there again. But I think because of everything that’s happened  over the last ten years – the military operations, the missiles being fired from Gaza and the Israeli forces going back in again three or four times in ground incursions – I think that’s whittled away a lot of the support. But it’s also mainly because Israelis don’t see right now a credible alternative vis-à-vis the Palestinians; that lowers the support. I think one of the reasons Israelis ultimately did support the pullback ten years ago was Sharon, who was never seen as a left-winger – he was never seen as a pacifist or a limp-wristed politician. The fact that someone like that was saying ‘OK, we’re gonna have to pull back’ gave that a certain credibility among Israelis. And I think the same thing would happen today if a right-wing leader would say ‘OK, we’re gonna have to pull back from parts of the West Bank’, I think once again it would have a lot of support among Israelis, though today if you ask Israelis what they think they’re very sceptical that any pullback will result in calm and peace.”

Pfeffer fails to place the Gaza Strip disengagement within the context of the ‘land for peace’ principle and makes no mention of the pledges Israel received at the time from members of the international community concerning its post-withdrawal security. He is hence unable to adequately explain to listeners what effect the outcomes of that move (and Israel’s previous withdrawal from Southern Lebanon) – including the discovery that those international pledges were meaningless – had on the left-leaning Israeli public’s view of ‘land for peace’. That omission also hinders listener appreciation of the framing of Menedez’s next question.Neve Dekalim 2005

JM: “But if we’re dealing with the simple fact of whether it’s made Israel safer or not – which is it? Are Israelis safer in places like Tel Aviv?”

AP: “The answer is no because in the decade that’s passed the Hamas in Gaza has built a very impressive military infrastructure with missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv. Even though the missiles aren’t very accurate and don’t carry devastating payload, it’s still something which didn’t exist ten years ago.”

In fact, terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip began staging rocket and mortar attacks in 2001 and so whilst Pfeffer’s claim that missiles capable of hitting targets in Tel Aviv did not exist ten years ago may be correct, Menedez’s framing of the question clearly has the effect of ultimately misleading listeners. The all-important context of Iranian patronage of Hamas’ military infrastructure is erased from audience view and no effort is made to provide crucial background information concerning the number of missile attacks which have taken place since August 2005 or the impact on the lives of the people living closer to the Gaza Strip than in Tel Aviv.

Pfeffer continues with a narrative of equivalence:

AP: “But the question is do you look at the actual disengagement as the cause of what’s happened or everything else that’s been happening in the last ten years? And I think that we have to look at the failure on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side to try and build a different kind of situation in Gaza as the main cause and not the pull back.”

Listeners would of course have benefited at this point had they received some information about Hamas’ ideology concerning the eradication of Israel, but that was not forthcoming and neither did they hear an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip. Menendez continues:

JM: “Hmm…and on that point, has it made Hamas – now in control of Gaza – stronger or weaker?”

AP: “Well it certainly has allowed them space to consolidate their own regime and the main Palestinian power – which is the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah – they don’t have any foothold in Gaza any more. So certainly Hamas is stronger within the confines of Gaza. It’s also isolated Hamas and made Hamas an organisation which has power in a pretty small place and that’s it. So you can look at it from either side.”

Failing to mention the years of PA initiated violence which preceded the Israeli decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip, Menendez continues:

JM: “I mean some at the time said it was a brave move because it might unblock what was a blocked peace process. I mean it hasn’t done that at all – has it? Because the peace process is going nowhere.”

AP: “Well it hasn’t done that because there was no follow-up. As you know Sharon slipped into a coma just four months after the pullback and after that Israel had a deeply unpopular president, Ehud Olmert, who was mired both in corruption and in a disastrous war up north in Lebanon and since then we’ve had six years of Binyamin Netanyahu who hasn’t really gone ahead. And the same thing’s happened on the Palestinian side. We’ve seen a split between Fatah and Hamas which hasn’t allowed the Palestinians really to get their act together and the pullback from Gaza could certainly have unblocked that process but everything that’s happened in the ten years since has basically wasted the momentum that could have been created by the pullback.”

Ehud Olmert was of course Israel’s prime minister – not president – and Pfeffer fails to inform audiences that not only was he elected on a platform which included further Israeli disengagement from Judea & Samaria, but that he made an unprecedented offer to the Palestinians in 2008. Likewise, no mention is made of Netanyahu’s ten-month construction freeze in Judea & Samaria – aimed at drawing the PA to the negotiating table – or the ‘goodwill gesture’ of the release of dozens of terrorists during the negotiations in 2013/4 which Mahmoud Abbas scuppered by forming his ‘unity government’ with Hamas. Of course to inform audiences of such facts would have severely jeopardised the narrative of equivalence so cosily promoted by this conversation’s partners.

Menendez then comes up with the following ‘question’, making no effort to inform listeners that the partial blockade was implemented because of Hamas terrorism:

JM: “And some would say an occupation has been replaced by a pretty tough blockade of the Gaza Strip. Are Israelis happy about that?”

AP: “I think most Israelis don’t really want to think about Gaza right now. They want to think that Gaza exists and…”

JM: [interrupts] “They just don’t care.”

AP: “It’s not about they don’t care. It’s…Gaza’s been such a trauma for Israelis. Whether it’s the missiles being fired, whether it’s the pullback, whether it’s the years before that in which the occupation in Gaza was  a rather expensive – in casualties probably more than in money – operation and Israelis said OK we’re going to get out of Gaza and Gaza will somehow do its own thing. What has happened is that neither side has seemed capable of creating any kind of neighbourly relations and also you have to remember that Egypt also plays its…ahm….very ruthless game towards Gaza so it’s remained there, like you say, isolated under blockade and neither side seems capable or really willing to try and find a way out of it.”

Listeners might of course have considered that acts such as providing medical treatment for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, supplying goods, humanitarian aid and electricity and aiding Gazan farmers and businessmen are very “neighbourly” indeed – had they been told that such things exist.

It takes quite some doing to turn a story in which Israel evacuated thousands of people from their homes and turned over an area to the control of the Palestinian Authority – only to see a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks inside its recognised boundaries – into a narrative of equivalent blame. James Menendez and his guest however managed to pull that off quite spectacularly with the aid of omission of facts, erasure of context, selective framing and an obviously politicised agenda.

In which James Menendez ditches the BBC’s remit for political grandstanding

A pretty good indicator of whether a BBC interviewer’s questions are intended to promote audience “understanding of international issues” or rather designed to grandstand his or her own political messaging is whether or not audiences actually get the chance to hear the answer to the question posed.

Some examples of the unhelpful ‘deliver long statement-cum-question and then interrupt the response’ technique of interviewing were to be found in the July 30th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ when presenter James Menendez hosted Israeli minister Silvan Shalom.Menendez Newshour 30 7

The interview is available here from 35:39 and a segment of it was promoted separately on social media.

Menendez’s simplistic introduction incorrectly suggested to listeners that Israel is intrinsically opposed to an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.

JM: “Is there ever likely to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians? The prevailing view is not anytime soon. Certainly the main broker in all this, the United States, seems to have given up a long time ago. Relations between Israel and the Obama White House are fractious at the best of times and anyway the nuclear deal with Iran became the main foreign policy goal for this administration, further antagonising Israel, which is deeply opposed to the agreement. And yet, in the past few days there has been some movement: reports of talks described as secret between Israel’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Silvan Shalom, and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. Well Mr Shalom’s in London today and came into the Newshour studio. So what did they talk about?”

Thirty-six seconds into Silvan Shalom’s answer to that question concerning his reported meeting with Saeb Erekat in Amman, a jaded and impatient sounding Menendez interrupts his interviewee.

JM: “And what are you talking about? Does the current government in Israel believe in a two state solution? Can you clear that up? Because the messages have been very confusing over the past few months.”

Shalom manages to speak twenty words before Menendez interrupts him again.

SS: “The prime minister of Israel said after the election very clear that he’s in favour of a two state solution…”

JM: “And is that what you believe as well? There can be a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israeli state?”

Shalom speaks for 28 seconds before Menendez asks:

JM: “What would a Palestinian state look like though? Would it be a Palestinian state with full sovereignty? Because there have been comments from the Prime Minister in the past that Israel would be reluctant to relinquish security control over the areas west of the River Jordan – in other words on the West Bank. Would the Palestinians be left completely alone to run their state as they see fit?”

Shalom outlines the regional threats and precedents for forty-one seconds and then – as he takes a breath – Menendez jumps in:

JM: “That sounds…that you don’t want to grant them full sovereignty. I mean it sounds like already – before the talks have even started – it’s…it’s creating conditions.”

After Shalom’s reply, Menendez raises the following red herring:

JM: “If you’re serious about peace talks why is Israel still building settlements on occupied territory? Just yesterday the US State department criticised the approval of another – 300, I think it was – homes in the West Bank. That doesn’t send the Palestinians any sort of signal that you are serious and sincere about peace talks, does it?”

Listeners are not told that the terms of the Oslo accords do not include any restrictions on Israeli construction. Neither are they reminded that a ten month-long building freeze in 2009/10 failed to bring the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table or that the complete dismantlement of all communities in the Gaza Strip and four in Samaria a decade ago failed to advance peace.  Shalom explains that the said 300 housing units in Beit El were already authorised some years ago and eight seconds later, Menendez interrupts again:

JM: “You can look at the map and you can see settlements that have sprung up over the last few years all over the West Bank. How would a Palestinian state (unintelligible) exist with all those settlements?”

Of course the notion that “settlements” have “sprung up over the last few years all over the West Bank” is inaccurate and misleading. Whilst the number of structures and people living inside the existing municipal boundaries of communities has of course grown, the actual number of authorised towns and villages has not increased in the last decade and a half – as Menendez would clearly have his listeners believe.

Ten seconds into Shalom’s reply to that, Menendez poses another ‘question’.Menendez Newshour 30 7 segment

JM: “But you know the argument, which is that you keep peace talks going for as long as you can, for as many years as you can. You keep building…ah…settlements and you never actually reach any sort of peace deal and meanwhile there is more and more Israeli housing on the West Bank and then a [Palestinian] state becomes simply impossible. In other words you’re just stalling and actually this talk about peace negotiations is just a fig leaf.”

Six seconds into Shalom’s reply Menendez interrupts again – not even allowing his listeners to hear the response to his previous allegations before changing the subject.

JM: “Can I just ask you one question on the vote in the Knesset to allow the force feeding of prisoners who may go on hunger strike. Doctors in Israel – the Doctors’ Association – calls it inhumane treatment. It is inhumane, isn’t it, to force feed prisoners on hunger strike?”

Menendez’s next question is as follows:

JM: “Do you feel isolated at the moment? On peace talks for example? You have the EU, the UN, the US all pushing for those talks. Ehm…we’ve had the Iran deal. Israel’s opposed to it. I mean you’re completely out of step with the rest of the world, aren’t you, at the moment?”

Seventeen seconds into Shalom’s reply to that, Menendez interrupts again, bringing in an irrelevant argument also seen in previous BBC programmes and reducing the very serious topic of Iran’s nuclear programme to the level of the trite and absurd.

JM: “Yeah but they [Iran] believe that you’ve got nuclear weapons. Indeed most of the rest of the world believes you’ve got nuclear weapons. Israel’s perfectly able to defend itself against a nuclear armed Iran, isn’t it?”

Throughout this entire seven minute segment listeners hoping to hear some new information on international issues from the perspective of a senior Israeli minister actually only heard him speak for just over one minute more than the person supposedly facilitating the conveyance of that information.

Audiences did however hear Menendez’s unrelenting grandstanding of his own political views (which, interestingly, appear to absolve one party to peace negotiations from all agency or responsibility) and his inaccurate promotion of the notion that new Israeli communities have “sprung up…all over the West Bank”. Apparently the BBC also intends its audiences to adopt the belief that Israeli concerns about the terms of the JCPOA deal with Iran are baseless and unjustified.

Once again the BBC’s own political messaging takes priority over its obligation to enhance “audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

On May 5th the BBC continued its previous day’s promotion of the booklet of anonymous claims published by the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ with an additional item on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – available here from 36:28.Newshour 5 5 BtS

Once again, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality were completely ignored, with no effort made to inform listeners of the group’s pre-existing “particular viewpoint”, “standpoint” or “ideology”. Presenter James Menendez introduced the segment as follows: [emphasis added]

“Now if you were listening to Newshour yesterday you’ll have heard our coverage from Israel about a report by a human rights group called ‘Breaking the Silence’ into the way some Israeli soldiers say they were instructed to behave during last year’s war against Hamas in Gaza. The group gathered the testimonies of more than sixty former and serving soldiers and what they said appears to contradict the government’s insistence that everything was done to avoid killing civilians. Well today we have a response from the Israeli government – we’ll play you that interview in a moment. First though, here’s some of that testimony from a soldier in an armoured brigade who served in the central Gaza Strip – distorted to protect his identity as well as voiced-over in English.”

Throughout his interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, Menendez adopted the role of advocate for the approach of the group he had failed to accurately describe to his listeners and displayed little understanding of the process of investigation of military incidents either in Israel or in other countries.

As Matti Friedman recently wrote on Facebook:

“Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking (but aren’t, of course): Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? “Lax” and “high” are relative terms. If Israel is being compared to other countries in similar situations, we need to know what the comparison is. Otherwise, beyond the details of individual instances the broad criticism is meaningless. […]

Today, like B’Tselem and others, it’s [Breaking the Silence] a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave.”

In three reports spread over two days of coverage the BBC has variously described ‘Breaking the Silence’ as an “activist group”, an “advocacy group” and a “human rights group” whilst promoting its claims. Clearly the BBC’s failure to inform its audiences of the very relevant context of the political motivations behind its story’s source means that what BBC audiences have been reading and hearing is activism rather than journalism.

 

BBC amplifies defamatory hearsay on shooting of Glick attacker on multiple platforms

The BBC has given quite a lot of column space and airtime to the topic of the closure of Temple Mount to visitors in order to reduce the likelihood of violence in Jerusalem after the attempted murder of Rabbi Yehuda Glick on October 29th and we will be addressing aspects of that coverage in due course. However, one particularly egregious inaccuracy deliberately promoted on a variety of BBC platforms deserves separate discussion.

On October 30th a filmed report for BBC television news by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville was published on the BBC News website under the title “Abbas: Mosque closure a ‘declaration of war’“. Sommerville opens his report as follows:Temple Mount Sommerville filmed

“Tear gas on the streets of East Jerusalem. These young men – few, but angry – rioted after the killing this morning of their neighbour. The trouble in Abu Tor continued as the body of Mua’taz Hijaz [sic] was taken away. He was killed by police on the roof of his home. They blame him for the attempted killing of a Right-wing Jewish activist. His cousin Maram was in the building when he was killed.”

The report then cuts to footage of Maram Hijazi saying:

“They took him and they take…took him upstairs and then they shot him. They killed him. No, we don’t know if there anything…any attack between them…by guns.”

No effort is made by Sommerville to present viewers with an official Israeli reply to those allegations.

Also on October 30th the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ included an item on the same topic (available from 00:40 here). In that report presenter James Menendez introduces an interviewee as follows:

“Jawad Siam is a resident of Silwan neighbourhood where Mua’taz Hijazi – the Palestinian suspect – was killed.”

Siam: “Very early in the morning today we heard shooting – a lot of shooting. And then some people started calling, telling someone is killed by the Israeli forces. We move to the house where we saw the body laying down and the soldiers started to close the street of the village of Silwan. The guy was attacked by many Israeli forces and was killed. For us and for people here it was very clear that Mua’taz Hijai who was killed could have been arrested. He could be arrested.”

What Menendez – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – does not bother to tell the millions of people listening to his programme is that Jawad Siam (who has been interviewed by the BBC before) is a political activist.Temple Mount Newshour

Next listeners hear an audio report from Quentin Sommerville who, in response to a request from Menendez for more information about Mua’taz Hijazi, says:

“Spoke to some of his family members earlier this morning. He’d been in prison for a number of years. His family say that he was…that it was around 5:30 this morning that Israeli security forces entered the home, that they grabbed him, they took him to the roof – or he went to the roof – and it was there….and we’ve seen the spot where he was shot dead. There were a number of bullet holes. The blood on the ground had just been cleared up. Neighbours we spoke to say that he was unarmed. They said they didn’t see him possessing a weapon at the time. However, the Israeli security forces say that there was a gunfight and that he was killed in that gun-battle.”

On October 31st an article appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Israel promises to reopen Jerusalem holy site amid tension”. The report underwent numerous changes throughout the day and now appears with the headline “Jerusalem holy site is reopened amid tension“. A passage appearing in versions one and two of the report read as follows:

“Israeli police later killed a Palestinian suspected of shooting him [Yehuda Glick]. Moataz Hejazi, 32, was shot after reportedly opening fire when police surrounded his home.

However, his cousin alleges that he was shot by police after being detained in the house.”

In versions three to six inclusive the wording was changed to read:Temple Mount written

“Mr Hejazi’s cousin alleges that he was shot by police after being detained within his house. Israeli police say Mr Hejazi was killed after he began shooting at police who then opened fire in response.”

So let’s recap on what BBC audiences have been told in these reports. They have been led to believe that Hijazi may not have been armed and that – rather than arresting him – the Israeli security forces took him up to the roof of the house and there shot and killed him. Whilst some – but not all – of the reports present the Israeli police force’s statement on the incident, the BBC affords much more airtime to the promotion of what is ultimately an allegation that a possibly unarmed man was summarily executed. That very serious accusation is enthusiastically amplified by the BBC to millions on multiple platforms despite the fact that it has not independently verified the accounts provided by interested parties including family members, anonymous neighbours and a known anti-Israel political activist who stood trial a few years ago for assaulting a man he suspected of selling property to Jews.

BBC Watch contacted the spokesman for the Israeli police force with regard to the claims made in these BBC reports and was informed that Hijazi was indeed armed and that when the police force surrounded the building with the intent of making an arrest, he opened fire at them. Counter terrorism police responded by shooting the suspect.

It is the officially defined task of the BBC to enable audiences to reach an “understanding of international issues”. In order to do that, it is obviously necessary for the BBC to filter out the rumours, myths, conspiracy theories and gossip surrounding any story and to present audiences with only the verified facts.

If instead the BBC elects indulge its own political predilections and to jettison its obligations to accuracy and impartiality by uncritically amplifying any and every hearsay and propaganda of the genre which members of its funding public could easily find for themselves on a plethora of websites of one type or another without paying £145.50 a year for the pleasure, then – quite frankly – it renders itself irrelevant.

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

As has been noted here previously, the BBC’s coverage of the recent Cairo donor conference aimed at securing funding for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip was quite extensive with the scene set by Yolande Knell on October 11th and a very partial representation of the topic appearing on the BBC News website on October 12th.

In addition to that, radio audiences heard a long item on the October 12th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from 00:50 to 09:30) which recycled a previously aired item by Yolande Knell as well as including contributions from Orla Guerin in Cairo and the partisan UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.Newshour 12 10 14

In that programme presenter James Menendez twice states that “Hamas controls Gaza” whilst – confusingly for listeners – Orla Guerin describes a “fragile unity government which is supposed to be in place”. No effort is made to properly clarify the situation for audiences.

Neither is any effort made to inform listeners that the reason Israel imposes border restrictions on the Gaza Strip is the years of terrorism against Israeli civilians perpetrated by Hamas and other terrorist organisations based there and so listeners hear the following context-free statements from Guerin.

“…but the Israeli blockade of Gaza remains in place. Now that is a blockade by air, land and sea. It is Israel which decides which trucks and how many and carrying what goods are allowed in and out of Gaza. There are serious concerns being expressed by aid agencies about whether or not Israel will allow enough construction materials in. A temporary mechanism has been agreed and that will involve monitoring by the United Nations but they are literally almost at the level of counting the grains of sand going in and out of Gaza and there are serious fears that the volume of cement and construction materials that would be required will simply not be allowed in. Israel of course views cement as a dual-use item and it has been used by Hamas to build tunnels right out of Gaza under the ground into Israeli territory, so cement is particularly carefully monitored.”

The BBC has shown no interest to date in carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of Hamas’ misappropriation of the building supplies previously allowed into the Gaza Strip or the related – and very serious – subject of the accountability of the aid agencies and international bodies which were supposed to be supervising and guaranteeing the construction projects for which those materials were intended. With funds supplied, among others, by tax-payers in the West now scheduled for the reconstruction of housing in the Gaza Strip, those tax-payers might actually have been interested to hear how this latest “temporary mechanism” intended to prevent building supplies being used for the purposes of terror (which would of course eventually result in yet more conflict and further destruction of structures their taxes have paid for) is actually any different – and more efficient – than the previous failed one.

Audiences would also of course have benefited from information on the topic of why their governments are prepared to commit vast amounts of money to the reconstruction of a territory in which the government which supposedly runs it is unable to compete with terrorist-run militias funded and backed by foreign governments such as Iran and Qatar and why no demand has been made to disarm those terrorist organisations in order to prevent further hostilities and destruction.

But as Menendez’s final interview in this programme shows, its aim is not to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enable them to reach a comprehensive understanding of this particular “international issue“, but to promote the agenda of those supporting the Hamas campaign to lift border restrictions. One of the major players in that long-standing campaign is of course the highly politicized UNRWA and its spokesman Chris Gunness (who, readers may recall, was instrumental in the BBC’s revision of an article concerning casualty figures in the Gaza Strip) is given a three and a half minute long unchallenged platform for that purpose.

Gunness: “But let’s be clear: this mechanism is not a substitute for lifting the blockade. There is little point in reconstructing Gaza if the world refuses to allow Gaza to trade. Otherwise we’re gonna have people in lovely new houses but completely aid-dependent, which is why we say the blockade must be lifted, Gaza must be allowed to trade, to export, and the natural export markets of Gaza is…are…the West Bank and that’s what we need to see first of all.”

Menendez makes no attempt to point out to audiences that – contrary to the impression they will have received from Gunness, exports do leave the Gaza Strip. He also makes no attempt to challenge the following over-vehement protestations from Gunness.

“Well I have to be honest here and say that UNRWA has been taking materials – building materials – into Gaza for years and there is no evidence whatsoever that one grain of sand that UNRWA has taken into Gaza has ever been stolen or expropriated by any organization, least of all the militant organization. So we have a proven track record and I can speak for UNRWA and certainly we are able to get building materials into Gaza and for it not to be subverted or taken by any group and certainly not any militant group.”

Menedez does not raise the question of how an organization which could not prevent its aid being stolen or missiles being stored in and fired from its schools by terrorists is in a position to guarantee anything. He passes up on the opportunity to ask Gunness why sacks of UNRWA materials were discovered inside tunnels during the recent conflict.

Since July augmented context-free amplification of Hamas’ demands to lift border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to the activities of that terror organisation and others has been all too evident in BBC reporting. The promotion of UNRWA’s political campaigning on that issue is also by no means new for the BBC. As we see in this edition of ‘Newshour’, that editorial policy continues. 

 

 

BBC whitewashes 20th century Jewish emigration from Egypt

BBC Arabic’s Sally Nabil in Cairo has recently produced two items on the topic of what remains of the Egyptian Jewish community. On September 18th a filmed report for BBC television news programmes was also published on the BBC News website under the title “Egypt’s Jewish community’s lost future“. The synopsis reads:Sally Nabil Egyptian Jews

“The Jewish community in Egypt is on the verge of disappearing.

Up until the 1950s, as many as 100,000 Jews called the country home – now, just 12 remain.

The BBC’s Cairo correspondent Sally Nabil explains why.”

However, that ‘explanation’ comes in the form of just three short sentences in Nabil’s filmed report.

“There were around 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Most of them were forced to leave in the 50s and 60s. Egypt was at war with Israel and the government suspected many of them of being spies.”

Sally Nabil also produced an audio version of her report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. That item (available here from 00:49:15) was broadcast on September 18th and presenter James Menendez introduced it in a very similar fashion.

“Now there used to be about 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Most of them were forced to leave in the 1950s and 60s. Egypt was at war with Israel and the government suspected that many of them were spies.”

No further explanation of why only 12 Jews remain in Egypt today is provided in Nabil’s audio report.

Of course the persecution of Egyptian Jews  did not, as the BBC suggests, begin in the 1950s and 60s, but years before “Egypt was at war with Israel” and even before Israel existed.

“The next step was the nationality laws of 1927 and 1929, which favored jus sanguinis (or right of blood). An Egyptian was from then on defined as somebody who had Arab-Muslim affiliation.

The London Convention (1936) granted Egypt independence under King Farouk, and it was followed by a worsening of the nationality laws. According to additional nationality laws (in 1950, 1951, 1953, and 1956), autochthonous Jews became stateless: 40,000 people were turned into “foreigners” in their own country. In 1956, after the Sinai War, a new dimension was added: Egyptian nationality was taken away from anyone who committed acts in favor of enemy states or states with no relations with Egypt. In practice, all Jews were suspected of dual loyalty. This led ultimately to the accusation that all Jews were Zionists.”

“In Egypt, a long process of discrimination in the public service began in 1929. In 1945-1948, Jews were excluded from the public service. In 1947, Jewish schools were put under surveillance and forced to Arabize and Egyptianize their curricula. Community organizations were forced to submit their member lists to the Egyptian state after May 1948 and until 1950. In 1949, Jews were forbidden to live in the vicinity of King Farouk’s palaces.”

Anti-Jewish violence, rioting and economic discrimination also predated the existence of Israel.

“Jews in Egypt faced acute problems in the 1940s but these did not set their mass departure in motion. Rioting against Jews occurred in November 1945, then resumed in June-November 1948, the latter time inspired by the war with Israel. An amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law dated July 29, 1947, required that 40 percent of a company’s directors and 75 percent of its employees be Egyptian nationals, causing the dismissal and [loss of] livelihood of many Jews, 85 percent of whom did not possess Egyptian nationality.”

Clearly these two BBC reports have in no way fulfilled the claim of explaining to audiences why no Jewish community to speak of remains in Egypt and the promotion of the simplistic notion that Jews were forced to leave in the 50s and 60s because they were “suspected […]of being spies” whitewashes a much more complex story.  

Another example of inadequate BBC adherence to impartiality guidelines

Readers no doubt recall that last October the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit recommitted to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Specifically regarding BBC News, the ECU stated:

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.”

In the video below – filmed in London in 2006 at a Hizb-ut-Tahrir rally– the speaker makes his “standpoint” very clear.

“We embrace the mercy. We embrace every single thing that is set upon us and we deal with it because we have no fear. So when we see the example of our brothers and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the west.”

The speaker is Asim Qureshi of the organization formerly known as ‘Cageprisoners‘ and recently revamped as ‘Cage’, which was founded by Moazzam Begg who currently awaits trial in the UK on terrorism charges.

Here is how the BBC’s Huw Edwards introduced Qureshi and his organisation on BBC News recently:

 “…Asim Qureshi, who’s research director of ‘Cage’ and that is a charity that campaigns for those detained on terrorism charges.”

Here is how Qureshi and his group were introduced by James Menendez on the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’:

“…Asim Qureshi who’s research director for the human rights group ‘Cage’ that has a particular focus on the war on terror.”

In both these interviews the subject under discussion was an initiative by the British police to prevent British Muslims from going to fight in Syria.

 It was therefore obviously necessary for representatives of an organization which claims to be committed to “clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant”, to make it clear to audiences in the introductions that Mr Qureshi – in his own words – sees it as “incumbent…to support the jihad” of insurgents in Iraq or terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon or Kabul whom he regards as “an example”.

That, however, did not happen.

Related Articles:

Cageprisoners, Rowntree Trust and “Jews did 9/11”   (CiF Watch)