BBC’s ME editor says “there haven’t been all that many” terror attacks in Israel

The BBC’s Middle East editor recently gave a long interview to Paul Blanchard at ‘Media Masters’.

“Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. One of Britain’s best-known war correspondents, over the last 35 years he has brought the region’s most important stories to our screens – despite being shot, robbed at gunpoint, threatened, arrested and even thrown in jail. In this in-depth interview, Jeremy relives some of his most pivotal moments, from his first foreign assignment covering the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to his recent battle with cancer; discusses the practical challenges of reporting impartially on issues like Israel, when both sides complain every report is biased and even the choice of individual words have to be taken carefully; and takes us behind the scenes of his interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.”

Listeners to that podcast (transcript available here) may have been surprised by the extent to which Israel featured in the conversation in comparison to the rest of the region supposedly covered by Bowen. [emphasis added]

Q: “I mean, it fascinates me about the impartiality of the BBC, how they’d cover something as divisive as the Middle East and Israel. The old cliché, wasn’t it, is that if you got complaints from both sides then you were kind of right. But is it more complicated than that now?”

A: “It’s more complicated than that.”

Q: “And I read the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines a while ago and it’s talking about even the words that you use. Can you say barrier or security barrier? Because even the words that you choose is impliedly choosing a sign.”

A: “The language you use is really important. Language is powerful and it carries a lot of meaning. So you have to be careful just how you use it and the words that you use. At the BBC we have some words we like and we have some words we like a bit less. And there is no word that’s officially banned that I’m aware of. Of course, apart from rude words. […] But words which are sometimes controversial like terrorism, we can use them but they have to be qualified. That’s my understanding of the rules as they stand at the moment. So you have to explain. You can’t just say, “There’s a lot of terrorists.” You have to say because they’ve done this or the other, they’ve been accused of terrorism or something. Find the correct form of words. Words are powerful, words are important. So you’ve got to be careful how you use them.”

The interview includes some noteworthy comments from Bowen.

“I would say that the conflict, it looms with real weight and damage on the shoulders of many Palestinians, because they are weaker and don’t have the resources and many of them live under occupation. That’s the key thing, if you live under occupation, life becomes way, way more difficult.”

“…plenty of Palestinians feel very threatened by settlers, armed settlers, by soldiers, by raids in the middle of the night, by helicopters, you name it. And many Israelis have been hurt by and continue to be worried about attacks by Palestinians, though there haven’t been all that many in recent years.”

What Bowen means by “recent years” is not entirely clear but in 2015 there were 2,398 terror attacks in Israel (of which the BBC reported 3.2%). In 2016 there were 1,415 attacks (of which the BBC covered 2.8%), in 2017 there were 1,516 attacks – less then one percent of which were reported by the BBC – and in 2018 the BBC covered at most 30.2% of the 3,006 attacks launched. During the first nine months of 2019 the BBC reported 23.6% of the 1,709 attacks which took place.

Obviously the BBC’s ongoing failure to adequately report the scale of terror attacks against Israelis serves its Middle East editor just as badly as it does the corporation’s audiences.

 

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BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

The September 26th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Who Will Lead Israel?” and the synopsis to the programme’s lead item reads as follows:

“Last week’s general election in Israel produced an indecisive result, but President Rivlin has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the country’s next government, after Mr Netanyahu and his main political opponent Benny Gantz failed to agree a deal on a unity government.

Many observers suggested this election would be the end of an era for Israel’s longest-serving PM, but as the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen points out, the pre-emptive writing of Mr Netanyahu’s political obituary has proved premature before.”

That synopsis resembles the introduction given (from 00:23) by presenter Kate Adie. Listeners then heard the BBC Middle East editor’s reminiscences from Israeli elections in 1996 and 1999, with Jeremy Bowen providing a crude and unhelpful caricature of Israeli politics:

“In Israel, the more opposed you are to concessions to the Palestinians, the more Right-wing you are and vice-versa.”

Later on in his monologue, listeners were told that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“He [Netanyahu] will repeat his conviction that he is the only man who can protect Israelis against Iran and its allies and against the Palestinians – both those in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza and the Palestinians who make up around 20% of Israel’s population.”

Not only did Jeremy Bowen continue to amplify his new narrative defining Arab-Israelis as Palestinians regardless of how they self-identify but Palestinian terrorism – the reason why Israelis require ‘protection’ – was whitewashed from the Middle East editor’s simplistic analysis.

Radio 4 listeners also heard the following claim (from 04:32) from the man tasked with providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time

One would of course expect the BBC’s main gatekeeper of Middle East news to be sufficiently familiar with the story so as to avoid making such a “pre-emptive” and “premature” false claim.

Related Articles:

Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – September 2019

Throughout the month of September 2019, twenty-four written or filmed reports relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages and three of which were carried over from the previous month.

(dates indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One report concerned a terrorist incident:

Israeli PM Netanyahu whisked away amid sirens (10/9/19 to 21/9/19)

Four reports concerned alleged or confirmed external security issues:

Hezbollah fires rockets into Israel from Lebanon (1/9/19 to 5/9/19) discussed here

Israel and Hezbollah: Shadow-boxing with live weapons Jonathan Marcus (2/9/19 to 8/9/19)

Inside Iraqi paramilitary base hit in ‘Israeli’ strike (9/9/19 to 17/9/19)

Syria war: ‘Air strikes’ hit Iran-backed forces near Iraq border (9/9/19 to 10/9/19)

Three items related to political/diplomatic stories, including a long-running report carried over from the previous month about an alleged spy for Israel in Iran.

‘Iran tortured me into confessing to be an Israeli spy’ Jiyar Gol (13/8/19 to 15/9/19)

Saeid Mollaei: Iranian judoka fears for safety after refusing to quit World Championships BBC Sport (2/9/19 to 4/9/19) discussed here

Netanyahu denies Politico report Israel spying on the White House (12/9/19 to 17/9/19)

One item concerned archaeology:

Denisovans: Face of long-lost human relative unveiled (19/9/19 to 22/9/19)

Three reports, one of which was carried over from the previous month, concerned Palestinian social and political affairs:

Gaza explosions: ‘Suicide bombers’ kill three police officers (28/8/19 to 1/9/19)

Israa Ghrayeb: Murder charges for Palestinian ‘honour killing’ (12/9/19 to 15/9/19)

Israa Ghrayeb: Palestinian woman’s death prompts soul-searching Tom Bateman (16/9/19 to 18/9/19) discussed here

Of 12 reports concerning Israeli affairs, eleven related to the general election, coverage of which was discussed here.

Israel PM Netanyahu vows to annex occupied Jordan Valley (10/9/19)

Arab nations condemn Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation plan (11/9/19 to 13/9/19)

Israel election a referendum on Netanyahu Jeremy Bowen (16/9/19 to 19/9/19)

Israel’s election: The most important things to know (17/9/19 to 19/9/19)

Israel election: Netanyahu in tough fight in this year’s second vote (17/9/19)

Israel election: Netanyahu and rival headed for deadlock (18/9/19)

Israel election: Netanyahu and Gantz compete over leadership (19/9/19 to 22/9/19)

Israeli elections: What do the results reveal? Tom Bateman (21/9/19 to 29/9/19)

Israeli elections: Arab parties back Gantz to oust Netanyahu (23/9/19 to 25/9/19)

Israeli elections: Netanyahu and Gantz take ‘significant step’ towards deal (23/9/19 to 25/9/19)

Israeli elections: Netanyahu asked to form next government (25/9/19 to 27/9/19)

One report carried over from the previous month concerned Palestinian detainees:

Palestinian conflict: Diaries of childhood in Israeli military detention Megha Mohan/Yusef Eldin (28/8/19 to 10/9/19) discussed here.

The BBC News website continues its practice of reporting Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs with visitors having seen over seven times more coverage of the former in the first three quarters of the year.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – August 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – July 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – June 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – May 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – April 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – March 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – January 2019

 

 

Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

In a previous post we saw how a September 18th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted the claim that “Arab Palestinian parties” had run in the recent Israeli election.

We also saw how two written reports published on the BBC News website on September 21st and 22nd described Arab Israelis as “Israel’s Palestinian citizens”.

In a later September 18th edition of ‘Newsday’, presenter Karnagie Sharp interviewed Israeli journalist Lahav Harkov (from 00:42 here) and one of her questions (at 03:34) was phrased as follows:

Sharp: “OK but we also saw another interesting development here. The Arab Palestinian parties, they did really well, didn’t they? The third…now forming the third largest party in the Knesset.”

Harkov explained:

Harkov: “Yeah, they’re Israeli. These are Arab citizens of Israel.”

In its coverage of previous Israeli elections in 2013 and 2015 the BBC described the Joint Arab List as being comprised of “Israeli Arab parties” and used the term “Israeli Arabs” to describe that list’s target electorate. So why has the BBC now taken to inserting the confusing term “Palestinian” into its reporting? A clue may be found in a conversation aired (from 23:03 here) in the September 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme.

After having inaccurately claimed that “for a fifth of its existence Israel has had Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime minister”, presenter Evan Davis brought in the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Davis [26:05]: “Ahm, Jeremy, tell us about the Arab Israelis because as I understand it their turnout in this election rose pretty significantly compared to the last one which was, what, back in April.”

Bowen: “Yeah, ahm, 20% of the citizens of Israel are not Jews. They’re Arabs, or more specifically, they’re Palestinians. Not the Palestinians of the West Bank or of Gaza, though related of course, but Palestinians who are Israelis, who have an Israeli passport and are supposed to have full rights though in practice they don’t.”

In fact, as of May 2019, 25.76% of Israel’s population are not Jews. 20.95% are Arabs and 4.81% are ‘others’ including non-Arab Christians and non-Arab Muslims. A poll conducted in April 2019 indicated that 46% identified as Arab Israelis with the pollsters commenting that when compared to a previous poll from 2014:

“…the findings in the current poll show that the number of respondents self-identifying as “Arab-Israeli” has risen, and the number of those identifying only as “Palestinian” dropped.”

While other polls may give slightly different results, one thing is clear: the BBC’s Middle East editor has apparently adopted the political narrative according to which all Israeli Arabs are Palestinians – regardless of how they actually chose to self-identify – and that patriarchal approach is increasingly finding its way into BBC reporting.

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BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

 

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Israel’s election

In contrast to previous election campaigns in 2013, 2015 and April 2019, BBC News website coverage of the September 17th election was relatively limited with just seven written reports appearing between September 16th and September 22nd.

Nevertheless, some familiar themes were evident in that coverage along with some new ones.

September 16th: Israel election a referendum on Netanyahu, Jeremy Bowen

In that article the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to provide “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” and “to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting” – employed the standard BBC tactic of presenting history as having begun in June 1967 while erasing the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem from audience view.

“The southern end of the [Jordan] valley, where I am, has been occupied by Israel since 1967, a big part of the land it captured in that year’s Middle East War.”

As has been the case in BBC coverage of all Israeli elections throughout the past six years, this time too the topic of the ‘peace process’ was framed as being exclusively dependent on Israeli actions.

“Usually the valley is a sleepy place. But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed it into his country’s general election, which is coming up this Tuesday. He declared that if he was returned as prime minister, he would annex the Jordan Valley, and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The suggestion has been condemned by many of Israel’s friends, including Britain, on the grounds that it would be yet another nail in the coffin containing hopes for peace. Israel would have absorbed land Palestinians want for a state.”

Bowen told BBC audiences that:

“Israel’s electoral system always produces coalitions. Would-be prime ministers need to add their own party’s seats to those of smaller parties who exact a price for giving their support. The ultra-Orthodox have been staunch supporters of Mr Netanyahu. Without their seats, he would not be able to form a government.”

Apparently the BBC’s Middle East editor has forgotten that in 2013, Netanyahu did form a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

September 17th: Israel’s election: The most important things to know

In this article BBC audiences found both a problematic video dating from June 2019 in which Israeli citizens living in certain locations are portrayed by the BBC’s Yolande Knell as “illegal” and a partisan map produced by the political NGO ‘B’tselem’ which has often been promoted in previous BBC content.

Once again audiences saw promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which the prognosis of the ‘peace process’ depends entirely upon Israel, along with the BBC’s habitual but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“The fate of the Palestinians depends on who is in power in Israel, since Israel occupies land which they seek for a state of their own.

Mr Netanyahu says he will never agree to a sovereign Palestinian state with powers like any other country (something which he says will be a serious threat to Israel).

He has also pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and a swathe of land known as the Jordan Valley (which comprises about 30% of the West Bank). Because they are built on occupied territory, the settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The Palestinians, who want the settlements removed, say such a move would make a Palestinian state impossible and kill the peace process once and for all.”

The BBC promoted the unsupported claim that:

“…Mr Netanyahu is politically right wing and ideologically driven by Jewish claims to the land based on the Bible…”

Readers were told that: [emphasis added]

“In April’s election, Mr Netanyahu won the most votes but failed to form a coalition, which is he why he called a snap poll for 17 September.”

In fact, rather than Netanyahu acting alone as claimed by the BBC, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and to hold another election.

September 17th: Israel election: Netanyahu in tough fight in this year’s second vote

At the beginning of this report readers were again wrongly informed that Netanyahu alone called an election.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting to hold on to power following one of its closest election races in years.

He called Tuesday’s snap election after failing to form a governing coalition in the wake of an election in April.”

However the article’s final paragraph indicates that in fact the BBC knows that is not the case.

“After April’s election, Mr Netanyahu’s attempts to form a new government failed and he ran out of time in May. He pressed for new elections and Israeli MPs voted by a significant margin in favour of a new poll.”

Readers again found Yolande Knell’s problematic video branding people “illegal” in this report along with the previously seen Palestinian talking points concerning the ‘peace process’ and the BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra.

“Last week, Mr Netanyahu declared he would “apply Israeli sovereignty” in the Jordan Valley if he won. The announcement amounted to a promise to effectively annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want to be part of a future state.

Amid international condemnation, the Palestinian leadership called the move a war crime which would bury any prospects for peace.

Mr Netanyahu also reiterated a pledge from the last election to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

September 18th: Israel election: Netanyahu and rival headed for deadlock

The same narrative concerning the ‘peace process’ was evident in this report too.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has been in office for 10 years and is vying to win a record fifth term in office.

The 69-year-old, who leads the right-wing Likud party, has pledged to annex Jewish settlements and a swathe of other territory in the occupied West Bank if he is returned to power.

Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in occupied East Jerusalem, have warned such a move will kill any hopes for peace.”

Readers also discovered that, according to the BBC, Israelis are not allowed to decide on their own capital city:

“Like Mr Netanyahu, he [Gantz] has ruled out ever dividing Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital.”

September 19th: Israel election: Netanyahu and Gantz compete over leadership

September 21st: Israeli elections: What do the results reveal? Tom Bateman

The problematic video by Yolande Knell was promoted in this report too along with the same messaging concerning the ‘peace process’.

“The campaign led to a hardening of the view among Palestinians that the so-called two-state solution – the long held international formula for peace – is no longer viable, according to the pollster Dr Khalil Shikaki.

“There is no doubt that the debate during the election campaign in Israel has been significantly damaging to the Palestinian willingness to support diplomacy and negotiations,” he says, citing Mr Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

Once again no effort was made to delve into the question of where that Palestinian “support” for “diplomacy and negotiations” has been throughout the past 26 years since the Oslo Accords were signed or to clarify that some Palestinian factions. including Hamas. explicitly reject such ideas. Significantly though, Bateman did find it appropriate to tout the so-called ‘one-state solution’.

“Dr Shikaki says that instead around a third of Palestinians opt for the idea of a “one-state” outcome – meaning a single country between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan in which every individual has an equal vote; something Israelis would see as risking the end of the Jewish state.”

Bateman also elected to promote disinformation concerning the voting rights of Palestinians.

“While around five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are affected by the decisions of those who can.”

Arab residents of East Jerusalem are entitled vote in Israeli elections if they have chosen to take Israeli citizenship and Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule in parts of Judea & Samaria or under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip of course vote – when their rulers allow it – for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Bateman also chose to use politicised terminology to describe Israel’s Arab population:

“In fact, with nearly all the votes counted, turnout went up to nearly 70%, from 68.5% in April.

Some of that rise was because many more of Israel’s Palestinian citizens – Arab Israelis – voted this time than they did in April.”

Once again we see the BBC promoting a politicised description of Arab Israelis despite the fact that only a minority self-identify as Palestinian.

September 22nd: Israeli elections: Arab parties back Gantz to oust Netanyahu

This article included the same politicised terminology (has there been a memo?) in analysis by Barbara Plett Usher:

“The leader of the Arab grouping, Ayman Odeh, said it wasn’t endorsing Mr Gantz and his polices: but was moving to try and block Benjamin Netanyahu from securing another term, and to send a clear message that Israel’s future must include the full and equal participation of its Palestinian citizens.”

Apparently the BBC considers it acceptable for its journalists to identify people according to their own political narrative rather than to reflect how those people self-identify.

All versions of this report told readers that:

“The Joint List won 13 seats in the election. If Mr Gantz had the endorsement of all 13 seats, he would still fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat legislature.”

By the time the later versions were published it was known that the Joint List’s ‘Balad’ faction had rejected inclusion in that endorsement but the BBC did not bother to update its report accordingly.

Back in January 2013 we made the following observations in relation to BBC coverage of that year’s Israeli election:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances. 

Broadly speaking – and we see this reflected time and time again in its reporting; not only in relation to the elections – the BBC absolves the Palestinian side of the equation of any responsibility for the progress of the peace process (or lack of it) and turns Palestinians into child-like creatures lacking all agency.”

Two years later we noted that:

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities.”

In April of this year we commented:

“Overall, the BBC News website’s selective coverage of the 2019 election conformed to the agenda evident in the corporation’s reporting of the two previous ones. Israel was once again portrayed as a country ‘shifting’ to the right and that alleged shift was depicted as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress in ‘the peace process’.

In order to promote that framing, the BBC of course has to ignore the fact that no matter which Israeli political party has won elections over the past twenty-seven years, all attempts to bring an end to the conflict have been met with a negative response from the other side.  

And yet, despite its obligation to “build people’s understanding” the BBC continues its dumbed-down, narrative-driven portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the paper placed in the ballot box by Israeli voters.”

As we see, the BBC’s overriding interest in promoting a political narrative means that it continues to adhere to that well-worn formula.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half a story time with the BBC’s Middle East editor

The August 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“The humanitarian disaster in Syria continues to unfold but there’s little pressure from outside to stop the killing of civilians. Our correspondent considers the contradictions.”

And:

“Television footage from Idlib in northern Syria continues to provide distressing evidence of civilian suffering. But the world’s leading nations are unwilling or unable to intercede. Jeremy Bowen recalls his visits to the region in former, peaceful times but sees no end to the current violence.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:38 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Events in Idlib province in Syria in 2011 led to a devastating war and Idlib still remains a centre of resistance to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Civilians there are enduring appalling conditions as the Syrian army has driven rebel groups out of other towns and villages elsewhere in the country. Idlib is now the last major bolt-hole against Assad but, says Jeremy Bowen, that may not be for much longer.”

The following day – August 4th – a slightly different version of the same item was aired on BBC World Service radio’s version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As President Bashar al Assad’s forces advance on Idlib province, one of the last pockets of armed resistance to his regime in Syria, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen weighs up what is really at stake, and what course the civil war might take from here onwards.”

Presenter Anu Anand introduced the item (from 06:20 here) as follows:

Anand: “In recent weeks there’s been a surge of violence in the civil war still tearing away at the fabric of Syria and particularly at the country’s north-west and the province of Idlib. This is a part of the Middle East that’s seem millennia of human history and been witness to many an autocratic regime, to countless bloody conflicts and innumerable fighting forces. And since the protests broke out in the Spring of 2011 it’s always been a centre of resistance to the regime of Bashar al Assad. By 2017, as President Assad’s military drove rebel groups out of one urban centre after another elsewhere in Syria, Idlib became the last major bolt-hole for his opponents. But, as Jeremy Bowen explains, that may not be true for much longer.”

Both those introductions – including the highlighted sentences – fail to adequately clarify to listeners that the Assad regime methodically ensured that ‘evacuation agreements’ reached after fighting in other parts of the country often included the transportation of rebels and their families to Idlib province. For example in March 2018 in eastern Ghouta near Damascus:

“Fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to rebel-held Idlib province in two batches starting on Thursday, the Hezbollah military media unit said.”

In April 2018 civilians and rebel fighters from southern Damascus were also sent to Idlib and in July 2018 some 4,000 people were evacuated from south-west Syria to Idlib, with AP noting at the time that:

“The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement. More than half of Idlib’s population of two million is of displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military offensives and evacuations.”

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

“Backed by Russia, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have conquered swathes of territory in recent months. In a now-familiar pattern of evacuation agreements, they have effectively corralled fleeing civilians, moderate rebels and also hardline jihadis into the northern province. The battle Assad is expected to launch on Idlib will likely be one of the final showdowns against the embattled opposition, and possibly mark a bloody end to the civil war.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern for the nearly 3 million people trapped in Idlib. […]

The UN said this week it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for fighters and civilians. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned on Thursday that as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin. He said he feared the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime and al-Qaeda.” 

That important context – along with the fact that in September 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province – was likewise absent from the account given by Jeremy Bowen, which began with a description of his own family trip to the district in 2010 before going on:

Bowen: “Since the [Syrian] regime and its Russian allies launched an offensive against the province three months ago, 450 civilians have been killed. Idlib is the last big piece of land and major population centre they still haven’t recaptured. A few days ago, in a speech overflowing with frustration and anger, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that 440,000 people had been displaced within the Idlib enclave and the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century was in the making. ‘Are you going to shrug your shoulders?’ he asked them ‘or are you going to listen to the children of Idlib and do something about it?’. But the Security Council will not, cannot act. The five permanent members are deeply divided over Syria. The result is a deadlock that discredits an organisation that’s only as strong as the political will of its members.”

Bowen however stopped short of clarifying to audiences that his euphemistic portrayal of a “deeply divided” UN Security Council in fact means Russian vetoes – as reported by AP in June.

“Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. […]

The Security Council has struggled to speak with one voice on Syria in recent years. In one notable example, a 2017 Russian veto put an end to an initiative that determined accountability for chemical attacks in Syria. That effort was run jointly by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

“Russia has used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria.”

After reminiscing about another trip to the Idlib region in 2012, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “Turkey and Russia are the outside powers that matter in Idlib. The regime needs Russia’s power. Turkey wants a big say in the future of land just across its border and to destroy the power and national aspirations of Kurds who did the hard fighting on the ground against IS. And caught in the centre of it all are three million people in Idlib province. That includes tens of thousands of armed men loyal to a range of militias under an alliance led by a Salafist jihadist fighting group, some of whose leaders come from Al Qaeda. The regime and the Russians say they’re fighting terrorists. Many in the West would not disagree even as they deplore their methods.”

Just as was the case when he reported from Syria in 2015, Bowen made no effort to balance that promotion of a Syrian regime talking point by clarifying to BBC audiences that many more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes.

And so, once again, BBC audiences get a carefully framed story on Syria which omits relevant information essential for its proper understanding from the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.  

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BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

On June 30th the Jerusalem Post published an article which included statements issued by the Palestinian Authority concerning the opening of an archaeological site taking place on the same day.

“The PA Foreign Ministry strongly condemned plans by US Ambassador David Friedman and US special envoy Jason Greenblatt to attend the inaugural ceremony of the discovery of “Pilgrim’s Road” in Jerusalem’s Old City. The expected presence of the American officials at the event will be the first time the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty within areas of the Old City Basin.

The PA ministry said their participation underscores the US administration’s support for the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

“This is a new image of American aggression,” the ministry said. “The American presence [in the ceremony] and celebrating Judaization activities in occupied east Jerusalem are an act of hostility against the Palestinians.”

Greenblatt responded to the claims on Twitter, saying that the PA should recognize history and archaeology and “stop pretending it isn’t true.””

Shortly after Mr Greenblatt had sent that Tweet the BBC’s Middle East editor put out one of his own.

The BBC has of course been promoting the PA approved notion that “The Judaisation of Arab East Jerusalem proceeds apace” for over two decades and when Jeremy Bowen visited the City of David in 2014 he came up with the historically challenged idea that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15-minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention.”

The BBC’s record “says a lot about the attitudes” at the ‘impartial’ BBC – as does this latest Tweet from its Middle East editor. 

Related Articles:

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BBC promotion of PA narrative on Jewish heritage sites

 

Claim shown to be false a year ago recycled in simplistic BBC backgrounder

As noted here previously on May 14th the BBC News website published a backgrounder apparently intended to mitigate weeks of context-free amplification of (unsuccessful) calls to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest being held in Tel Aviv.  

Produced by ‘Newsbeat’ – the department of BBC News which purports to produce “news tailored for a specifically younger audience” – and titled “Eurovision 2019: The Israeli-Palestinian situation explained”, the unattributed article is tagged ‘Gaza border clashes’.

The article opens by telling BBC audiences that:

“This year’s Eurovision has an extra layer of controversy – because it’s being held in Israel. […]

But there have been calls to boycott the event by critics of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

What “Israel’s policies” are is not properly explained anywhere in the article. Policies such as the supply of electricity and provision of medical treatment to Palestinians of course do not get a mention. Readers are then materially misled by the following portrayal of the conflict:

“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has gone on for decades, and the dispute over land is at its heart.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s adoption of that inaccurate notion of course means that it does not have to explain to its audiences the issue of Muslim objection to the presence of the Jewish state in the Middle East.

The article continues with a sub-section purporting to outline the history behind the conflict in which the Arab riots of the 1920s and 1930s are whitewashed. Ignoring the Arab violence which followed the UN Partition Plan vote, the article moves on to “The creation of Israel and the ‘Catastrophe’”.

“In 1948, unable to solve the problem, British rulers left and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel.

Many Palestinians objected and a war followed. Troops from neighbouring Arab countries invaded.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in what they call Al Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”.

That link leads to a problematic article published a year ago in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as totally passive victims and all mention of the responsibility of the Arab leaders who rejected the 1947 Partition Plan and subsequently started the war that led to their displacement is missing. 

The displacement of Palestinians did not take place – as the BBC would obviously have its audiences believe – only after Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948. In fact:

“Roughly half of those fleeing did so between November 1947 (when Palestinian Arabs responded to the United Nations partition recommendation with anti-Jewish violence) and May 1948 (when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon invaded Palestine).”

The BBC carefully avoids thorny topics such as Palestinian hereditary refugee status and the reasons why Palestinians living in Palestinian controlled areas are still defined as ‘refugees’. The issue of certain Arab countries’ deliberate policy of discriminating against Palestinians and keeping them in perpetual refugee status for over 70 years is of course not mentioned in this ‘backgrounder’.

Readers are told that:

“Israel still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza the UN still regards that piece of land as part of occupied territory.” [emphasis added]

No explanation of the background to that highlighted statement is provided.

In a sub-section titled “What’s happening now?” readers are told that:

“Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian militant group called Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Israel and Egypt tightly control Gaza’s borders to stop weapons getting to Hamas.” [emphasis added]

Hamas has of course never “fought Israel” in the accepted sense of the term: rather, it is a terror group which targets Israeli civilians. Unsurprisingly the decades of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and other Palestinian factions against Israeli civilians have no place in this dumbed-down BBC backgrounder.

In the final section of this article readers are shown a video captioned “Gaza: The bullets stop, the burials go on”. That filmed report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen was first aired in May 2018 and it includes a section narrated by Bowen as follows:

Bowen: “Poverty and grief breed anger. And so do the deaths of children. A family gathered for another funeral. It was for Layla al Ghandour who was eight months old.”

As was noted here at the time:

“The day before this report was aired on BBC One and posted on the website, conflicting accounts of the baby’s death had already emerged with both a Gaza doctor and her father stating that she had a pre-existing medical condition. Nevertheless, the BBC did not edit out that part of Bowen’s report implying that the child’s death was linked to Israel’s response to the incidents along the border.”

Moreover, Hamas subsequently removed the baby’s name from its list of casualties and further information concerning the circumstances of her death later emerged.

Despite those developments, the BBC failed to remove multiple items from its website (available to this day) in which viewers are given to understand that Israel was connected to the baby’s death. BBC Watch therefore submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue in June 2018 and two months later received a reply concerning some of the items from Sean Moss at the BBC News website which included the following claims:

“1: ‘Gaza begins to bury its dead after deadliest day in years’ (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44116340).

In this piece we attribute both the baby’s death and the wider figures to the “Hamas-run” health ministry. We don’t mention the cause of death or otherwise draw any specific connection between this death and Israeli action.

2: ‘Gaza: The bullets stop, the burials go on’ (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-middle-east-44133897/gaza-the-bullets-stop-the-burials-go-on).

Jeremy Bowen does not say that the baby was killed by the army and he leads into this part of his report by saying ‘poverty and grief breed anger – and so do the deaths of children,’ which is true.”

BBC Watch subsequently contacted both the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit and OFCOM, pointing out in regard to the first item that:

“…the report is specifically about Palestinians who died during those “protests” and it is obviously not about Palestinians who coincidentally happened to die for other reasons at the same time. Readers would therefore understandably conclude that the baby was among those “killed on Monday when Israeli troops opened fire” and Moss’ claim that “We don’t…draw any specific connection between this death and Israeli action” is inaccurate and disingenuous.”

With regard to Bowen’s report we noted that:

“The synopsis […] states “More funerals have taken place for the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in Gaza on Monday” and so again obviously viewers would understand that its topic is ‘Palestinians killed by Israeli troops’. Given that and the fact that immediately before showing footage of the funeral of “Layla al Ghandour who was eight months old” Jeremy Bowen had profiled a person described as having been “shot through the eye during the protests”, it is clear that Moss’ claim that “Jeremy Bowen does not say that the baby was killed by the army” is also disingenuous: Bowen did not have to say that because the case had already been signposted.”

To this day BBC Watch has not received a satisfactory response on this serious issue from either the BBC or OFCOM. Now – one year on – we see that the BBC continues to promote the claim that Israel was responsible for the death of a baby in the Gaza Strip in 2018 despite the fact that even Hamas backtracked on that allegation twelve months ago.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

BBC News plays down Hamas role in Gaza violence – part one

BBC ignores removal of Gaza baby from casualty list

BBC continues to disregard developments in Gaza baby story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

In this post we continue to take a look at some of the topics that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’.

Another campaign amplified by the BBC related to the Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar. On September 5th Israel’s High Court rejected a petition to prevent the demolition of the illegally constructed encampment after a protracted court case. That story was reported on the BBC News website on the same day.

5th September 2018, BBC News website:

Khan al-Ahmar: Israel court approves demolition of Bedouin village

Discussed here.

“…in addition to the serious omissions in the BBC’s representation of this story, audiences saw four times more comment (and two links) from outside sources opposing the evacuation of the illegally constructed settlement than they did opinions in favour.”

A week later – as the demolition order was due to be lifted – the BBC’s London-based Middle East editor flew in and the corporation’s radio and TV audiences saw and heard a further five reports in the space of six days.

13th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

“…despite Bowen’s faulty geography, his amplification of the ‘contiguity’ myth and his failure to provide BBC audiences with the full background to this story (not least the fact that related court cases have been going on for nine years and the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land on which to build homes nearby) and notwithstanding his erasure of the politically motivated interventions by the Palestinian Authority and the EU in this case, BBC World Service listeners were told that they had just heard an ‘expert’ explanation.”

17th September 2018, BBC One, BBC News channel, Jeremy Bowen:

The West Bank village facing demolition

Discussed here.

“Notably the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – chose yet again not to tell the BBC’s funding public that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at Khan al Ahmar and other sites in the vicinity or that the Palestinian Authority and various NGOs have for years used the encampment’s residents as political pawns. To do so would of course hamper the narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and which he elected to promote in this report…”

17th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

17th September 2018, BBC Radio 4, ‘The World Tonight’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

18th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘World Update’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

“Once again Bowen deliberately refrained from informing listeners that if the residents of Khan al Ahmar had not been exploited by the Palestinian Authority for entirely political purposes they could, like other members of their tribe, have relocated to a site nearby offering free plots of land, utilities and a school, with no need whatsoever for the community to ‘suffer’. Those facts, however, do not help advance the political narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and so in these three radio items – just as in his previous filmed and audio reports – they were erased from the one-sided and politicised picture he presented.”

When the demolition of Khan al Ahmar did not take place as he had anticipated, Jeremy Bowen jetted off back to London. The encampment’s residents were subsequently given until October 1st to demolish the illegally constructed structures themselves. That did not happen and the encampment remains in situ, with the BBC having – for the time being at least – lost interest in the story to which it provided one-sided, politicised amplification in six reports in less than two weeks.

Related Articles:

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

BBC’s Wyre Davies plays wingman to anti-Israel NGOs

The LA Times, The Bedouin of Khan Al Ahmar and ‘Their Land’  (CAMERA)

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

As the year’s end approaches we will be taking a look at some of the topics that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’.

One of the BBC’s campaigns began in late December 2017 and continued until March 21st 2018, with an encore on July 29th. It related to Ahed Tamimi who, together with other members of her ‘activist’ family, had been featured in BBC content in the past.

However, in this case the supposedly ‘impartial’ BBC elected to lend its voice – and considerable outreach – to promotion and amplification of a blatantly political campaign. 

19th December 2017, BBC News website:

Palestinian girl arrested after troops ‘slapped’ in video

Palestinian girl arrested after ‘slap’ video

Both items discussed here.

“To sum up, the BBC’s ‘reporting’ on this story promotes – twice – filmed footage for the most part produced by family members of the story’s main protagonist, two Facebook posts from her father, one article from a notoriously partisan and inaccurate media outlet quoting her aunt, one Ynet report quoting her father and a second Ynet report relating to a previous incident in which she was involved.”

1st January 2018, BBC News website:

Palestinian girl charged after slapping soldier on video

Discussed here.

“Notably, while the BBC did elect to amplify the Tamimi family’s claim of “legitimate resistance” and to inform its audiences that “many Palestinians have hailed Tamimi as a hero of the resistance to Israeli occupation”, it refrained from telling them of her support for terrorism and advocacy of the murder of Israelis.”

1st January 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Yolande Knell:

Discussed here.

“…the BBC’s Yolande Knell was already aware of the charge of incitement.”

3rd January 2018, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

Discussed here.

“No mention of the additional charges of rock-throwing and incitement was made throughout the item, which included interviews with Israeli MK Dr Michael Oren and B’tselem’s research director Yael Stein. Neither were listeners told that Ahed Tamimi’s mother Nariman has collaborated (along with additional members of the family) with B’tselem’s ‘armed with cameras’ project.”

8th January 2018, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’, Yolande Knell:

Discussed here.

In this report from Yolande Knell, listeners heard from former IDF chief prosecutor Maurice Hirsh who noted the charge of incitement against Ahed Tamimi. They also heard interviews with an Israeli MK, Tamimi’s lawyer, Tamimi’s father and statements from a member of an anti-Israel NGO.

“Significantly, although the video footage of Ahed Tamimi urging others to carry out acts of violence is in the public domain, it has not been presented to BBC audiences.”

17th January 2018, BBC News website, Yolande Knell:

Ahed Tamimi: Spotlight turns on Palestinian viral slap video teen

Discussed here.

“The four interviewees who appeared in Knell’s audio report – Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer Gabi Lasky, her father Bassem Tamimi, Israeli MK Anat Berko and former IDF chief prosecutor Lt-Col (res) Maurice Hirsch – are also quoted in this written report.”

31st January 2018, BBC One, BBC News channel, BBC News website, Jeremy Bowen:

Is a slap an act of terror?

Ahed Tamimi: Was Palestinian teenager’s ‘slap’ terrorism?

Both discussed here.

“Clearly both those headlines and presentations suggest to BBC audiences that Ahed Tamimi has been charged with terrorism following her assault of a soldier – but that disingenuous implication is false.”

5th February 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

13th February 2018, BBC News website:

Ahed Tamimi: Palestinian viral slap video teen goes on trial

Discussed here.

“However, as has been the case in the majority of the BBC’s copious past reporting on Ahed Tamimi’s arrest and indictment, this article too failed to provide readers with details of her call for violence on social media which is the basis of that incitement charge.”

13th February 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, James Reynolds

Discussed here.

“All the more significant is the fact that he [Reynolds] failed to inform listeners of Ahed Tamimi’s “message to the world” – as defined by her mother – in that same footage which included the call for violence that is the basis for the charge of incitement against her.”

21st March 2018, BBC News website:

Ahed Tamimi: Palestinian slap video teen gets eight months in plea deal

Discussed here.

“…BBC audiences were not informed in this report that the charge of incitement relates to the fact that in the same video produced and distributed by her mother in which Ahed Tamimi was filmed assaulting soldiers, she also made a call for violence.”

Between December 19th 2017 and March 21st 2018, the BBC produced at least thirteen written, filmed or audio reports on that topic: clearly an unusual volume of coverage clearly intended to secure audience attention.

All the written and filmed reports (eight) included the word “slap” (or derivatives) in their title – an indication of what the BBC wanted audiences to think the story was about and how perception of the story was manipulated. Several of the reports told BBC audiences that Tamimi was imprisoned because of a ‘slap’ while failing to adequately explain – or even mention – the most serious charge against her: that of incitement to violence. Only one of the reports (BBC Radio 4, January 8th) provided audiences with a reasonable explanation of the charges against Tamimi.

The reports included interviews with three different Israeli politicians and one former IDF chief prosecutor. In addition to numerous interviews with Ahed Tamimi’s father – together with links to the family’s social media platforms – and quotes from her lawyer, BBC reporting on this story promoted quotes from and campaigns run by inadequately presented partisan political NGOs and activists such as B’tselemJonathan PollackAmnesty International, Avaaz (including a link to a petition set up by Tamimi’s father) and Human Rights Watch.

The BBC returned to the story in late July, with the same editorial policies in evidence in four additional reports.

29th July 2018, BBC News website:

Ahed Tamimi, Palestinian viral slap video teenager, freed in Israel

Discussed here.

“…once again BBC audiences were not informed in this report that the charge of incitement to which Ahed Tamimi pleaded guilty relates to the fact that in the same video produced and distributed by her mother in which she was filmed assaulting soldiers, she also made a public call for violence.”

29th July 2018, BBC World News TV, Nida Ibrahim:

Discussed here.

29th July 2018, BBC News website, Nida Ibrahim:

Discussed here.

“In the film itself the charge of incitement was likewise entirely erased from audience view.” 

29th July 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Nida Ibrahim:

Discussed here.

“As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of this latest instalment of the Ahed Tamimi story, the fact that the charge of incitement was the most serious of the charges against her – and its details – was erased from audience view.”

Throughout the BBC’s generous coverage of this story, audiences saw her described as “a prominent child activist“, a “star on social media”, “a modern-day Joan of Arc“, “a symbol of resistance to Israeli occupation“, “a national icon” and “the new iconic face of Palestinian resistance“.

BBC audiences were told that Tamimi is to be seen as “standing up to the reality of Israeli occupation, defending her home with her bare hands” and “standing up to armed soldiers on occupied land” and that her aim is “to resist the occupation“.

The one-sided politicised campaigning that BBC audiences saw instead of objective coverage of this story is a slap in the face for journalism and – not least in light of the BBC Middle East editor’s campaign contribution – detrimental to the BBC’s reputation as a trustworthy media outlet committed to accurate and impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

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BBC Arabic producer breaches social media guidelines again