BBC WS ‘Outlook’ squeezes in irrelevant mantras

The December 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ – billed as “the home of extraordinary personal stories” by its presenter Jo Fidgen – included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and it’s seen a lot of conflict and a lot of human suffering. But there’s one teenager, Maram Makkawi, who’s been doing her best to help thousands of its stray animals. She’s been speaking to Outlook’s Saskia Edwards about why she does it.”

Jo Fidgen’s introduction to the item (from 16:15 here) was virtually identical to that synopsis:

Fidgen: “OK, let’s head to Gaza – one of the most densely populated places in the world. It’s in a lot of conflict and a lot of human suffering. But there’s one teen there who’s been doing her best to help the thousands of stray animals in Gaza and she’s been speaking to Outlook’s Saskia Edwards about why she does it.”

The same synopsis appeared in a version of the report uploaded on the same day to the BBC News website’s ‘Gaza’ page.

There are numerous other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places in the world with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Nevertheless, the BBC could not pass up the opportunity to once again promote that well-worn mantra which, together with the context-free references to “a lot of conflict” and “a lot of human suffering”, has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of the otherwise unexceptionable report about a young woman taking care of stray animals. 

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BBC’s preferred terminology hinders audience understanding

The April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ included an item by Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 37:30 here) about a dog shelter in Beit Sahour which has been the topic of reports by other media outlets in the past.

Beit Sahour is located in Area A and has been under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995. However that relevant fact was not mentioned at all throughout the item, which was introduced by presenter Jo Fidgen using the term ‘occupied West Bank’.

Fidgen: “On nearly every street in the occupied West Bank you see stray dogs wandering about or scrapping or lounging in the sun. From time to time they’re hit by cars or abused by humans. And then what? There are vets in the West Bank but many of the surgeries are poorly equipped and anyway they’re more geared up for treating farm animals than pets. But one Palestinian woman has made it her mission to look after them. Our reported Yolande Knell went to the West Bank dog shelter to meet her.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide recognises that the geo-political divisions in the region are “complicated”:

“…the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority […]. These are complicated to work out because of the division of the West Bank into three areas…” 

One would therefore have thought that following Fidgen’s use of the unhelpful broad brush term ‘occupied West Bank’, listeners would be given a more precise description of the location of the story they were hearing – but that was not the case.

Knell: “We’re on a patch of wasteland at the edge of Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem.”

Knell: “Just give us an idea of the problem here in the Palestinian areas…”

That meant that when listeners later heard the answer to a question posed by Knell to her interviewee, they had no idea that the “government” to which she referred is the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “What needs to be done here to change attitudes towards animal welfare?”

Babish: “It needs time, it needs also the government to support this.”

The same BBC Academy style guide recognises the political implications of the term ‘occupied West Bank’:

“It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.” 

Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC chooses to use that particular terminology – together with the fact that it more often than not fails to adequately clarify to audiences that the vast majority of the Palestinian population in what it terms the ‘occupied West Bank’ lives under the rule of the Palestinian Authority – does not contribute to audience understanding of stories such as this.

Another aspect of this report may also have confused listeners.

Babish: “Basically I go to Israeli clinics and hospitals because they have the medical labs, they have x-rays, they have efficient doctors. Here we lack all of these so that’s why I take the dogs over there.”

Knell: “Every week Diana goes to Israel to try and find homes for her dogs.”

BBC audiences have of course been told for years that Palestinians suffer from “major constrictions on freedom of movement“, that “freedom of movement is also restricted by hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles“, that “Israeli troops have also […] severely restricted the movement of Palestinian civilians” and of “the challenges of mobility in the West Bank“.

Now however they suddenly hear about a Palestinian woman who not only goes to Israel “every week” but also takes sick and injured dogs with her for treatment. Obviously BBC audience understanding would benefit from less simplistic portrayals of that topic too.

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BBC again creates false linkage between Israel and attacks on hospitals

h/t JB

Two months ago BBC Radio 4 promoted a Gaza Strip related story but failed to provide its listeners with the background necessary for them to put British surgeon David Nott’s account into its correct context, thereby potentially misleading BBC audiences.

On August 2nd the BBC World Service repeated the exercise when David Nott was again interviewed by Jo Fidgen on the radio programme ‘Outlook’.Outlook 2 8

After discussing Nott’s experiences in Sarajevo, Fidgen turned to the subject of Gaza (from 07:08 here).

Fidgen: “And since then, in different war zones around the world; an increasing number of attacks on medical facilities and on medical staff. And I think there was an occasion in Gaza…ah…when you were again in that situation. Tell us what happened there.”

Indeed military attacks on medical facilities have been making the headlines in recent months – but in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan rather than in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, with Fidgen having created the linkage, Nott just had to take up the cue.

Nott: “Yes…it’s…I was in Gaza 2014 and similar sort of thing. Again…ehm…you always feel that international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions should always protect hospitals, should protect health-workers and doctors and you should be allowed to go about your work without any problems.”

There is of course no evidence to show that health-workers and doctors in the Gaza Strip were not protected by the applicable laws and conventions during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas but while Nott did not specifically say there is, he immediately went on to repeat the story he previously told on BBC Radio 4, with a few minor differences.

“And in Gaza I was there working for the International Committee of the Red Cross this time and…err…I was on the top floor operating on a young child in fact who was about seven years of age…[…] I was preparing her for the operation and suddenly somebody came up to me – one of the Red Cross security people – and said ‘David, we have to leave the hospital because the hospital is going to get targeted’. I said ‘what do you mean the hospital is going to’…’well it’s going to get blown up; we don’t know by whom but the message is that we need to get out now otherwise, you know, we’re not going to make it’.

As was the case in the previous interview, many listeners would have been left with the impression that Israel was the party expected to ‘target’ and ‘blow up’ the hospital. Nott concluded his story as follows:

“…and I finished the operation and then about an hour later people started to come back into the operating theatre when they realised that the hospital didn’t get blown up and it was…ah…it was one of those life moments actually.”

As was noted here the last time the BBC amplified Nott’s long mileage story of an ‘attack’ on a hospital that never happened:

“Shifa hospital was of course not attacked on that day or any other and – despite what Nott was told at the time – it was in fact considered to be one of the safest places in the Gaza Strip, as reported by the BBC’s James Reynolds just days later:

“…just to explain where we are; we’re at the Shifa hospital here in the centre of Gaza. When you speak to ordinary people here, they feel that this is about the only safe place that there is in this strip of land – this or the grounds of the other hospitals here – because they believe that Israel will not target hospitals. There are actually some families sleeping outside the hospital – again, they believe that they won’t be hit here….””

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas the BBC repeatedly amplified false claims that Israel had attacked medical facilities without due cause and it has since failed to clarify or correct the inaccuracies which appeared in numerous reports.

The fact that the corporation has showcased David Nott’s story twice in two months – in both cases omitting information which would have prevented audiences from being misled – does nothing to enhance the impression that the BBC’s approach to this topic is rooted in a commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. Rather, it suggests that the corporation is more interested in perpetuating a myth.   

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