BBC reporting on Labour antisemitism again falls short

BBC Radio 4’s February 21st ‘Midnight News’ included (from 00:28 and then from 11:33 here) an item on a story concerning the UK Labour party.

Newsreader: “Labour has suspended Derek Hatton only days after he was allowed back into the party. Tweets about Israel are understood to be the reason for the decision.” [emphasis added]

Newsreader: “Labour has suspended the former leader [sic] of Liverpool City Council, Derek Hatton, just two days after he was provisionally readmitted to the party. The outspoken Left-winger was expelled more than 30 years ago because of involvement with a far-Left group.”

The story was ‘explained’ by the BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Blake as follows:

Blake: “Derek Hatton’s suspension is thought to relate to a Tweet posted in 2012 which one Labour MP said implied that every Jew was responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.”

Not only did listeners not hear what Hatton’s Tweet said but they were not told that according to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is a manifestation of antisemitism.

A report on the same story published on the BBC News website’s UK Politics page on February 20th – “Derek Hatton suspended by Labour days after being readmitted” – similarly failed to explain to readers why the Tweet is problematic and likewise gave the misleading impression that the issue is “comments…about Israel” rather than antisemitism.

“The ex-deputy leader of Liverpool council’s membership was provisionally approved on Monday, more than 30 years after he was expelled from the party.

But senior Labour figures have since complained about the move and comments the ex-Militant man made about Israel.

In a tweet in 2012, he urged “Jewish people with any sense of humanity” to condemn Israel’s “ruthless murdering”.” [emphasis added]

Obviously as long as the BBC continues to report such stories while avoiding referencing the accepted definition of antisemitism, it cannot give its audiences an accurate and informative account of events.

The same report closed with what was apparently intended to be background information:

“Mr Hatton posted the 2012 message during “Operation Pillar of Defence” a week-long offensive by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza.

According to a UNHCR report, 174 Palestinians were killed during the operation, and hundreds were injured.

At the time, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said “of course Israel has the right to self-defence and attacks against Israel must end, but the international community would also expect Israel to show restraint”.”

Notably readers saw no mention of the highly relevant context of the months of terror attacks which preceded that “week-long offensive”. Equally remarkable is the BBC’s portrayal of casualties in that conflict as exclusively Palestinian (despite the fact that six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed) and its failure to clarify that 60% of the Palestinians killed were operatives of terror groups.

Once again we see that BBC reporting on the issue of antisemitism in the UK Labour party falls short of providing its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK…”.

 

 

 

 

 

BBC R4 news reporting of Corbyn ‘irony’ story to domestic audiences

On August 23rd a video emerged of the UK Labour Party leader speaking at a 2013 event hosted by the Hamas-linked Palestinian Return Centre in which he claimed that British Zionists:

“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.””

The Jewish Chronicle reported on the same day that a Labour spokesman had claimed that:

“Jeremy is totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism and is determined to drive it out from society. At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian Ambassador [sic] for a speech at a separate event about the occupation of the West Bank.”

As shown by the part of Corbyn’s speech which preceded those remarks but was edited out of the video, the claim that he was referring to a specific “group of pro-Israel activists” who ‘misunderstood’ a speech given several days earlier is highly questionable.

Nevertheless, listeners to BBC Radio 4 on August 24th heard uncritical amplification of team Corbyn’s ‘explanations’ while the links between the event organisers and Hamas was erased from audience view and no effort whatsoever was made to explain to the BBC’s domestic audiences why Corbyn’s comments were objectionable.

Six O’Clock News (from 07:44), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said that Jeremy Corby’s comments that British Zionists don’t understand English irony have been taken out of context. A number of Labour MPs have strongly criticised Mr Corbyn for the remarks which he made at a Palestinian conference in 2013. Mr McDonnell said the Labour leader had devoted his life to securing peace in the Middle East. Our political correspondent Jonathan Blake has this report.”

Blake: “The comments in question were made by Jeremy Corbyn during a speech at the Palestinian Return Centre, which represents Palestinian refugees, when he was a back bench Labour MP. Mr Corbyn referred to a disagreement between a group of people he described as Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, after he spoke at an event in the Houses of Parliament.”

Recording Corbyn 2013: “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he’d said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”

Blake: “The Labour MP Luciana Berger said Mr Corbyn’s comments were inexcusable and made her feel unwelcome in her own party. She said that she had lived in Britain all her life and didn’t need any lessons in history or irony. Several of her parliamentary colleagues supported her but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Corbyn’s comments had been taken out of context.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of part of an interview with McDonnell which had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:43:39 here) earlier in the day.

McDonnell: “In certain contexts certain phrases are appropriate. To take them out of context is unacceptable and I think is not helping issues. It’s exacerbating the issue. Where we want to get to now is let’s recognize there is antisemitism in our society. Let’s have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle that antisemitism wherever it’s displayed.”

Blake: “In a report into antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016, the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti said that the term Zionist was used by some as a euphemism for Jew and that it should be used carefully. The party’s code of conduct states that such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said he was totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism, adding that he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador.”

The World Tonight (from 03:38), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied using the term Zionist to refer to Jewish people. He was recorded making the remarks at a Palestinian conference five years ago. This evening it’s emerged that Mr Corbyn has been reported to the Parliamentary standards watchdog by a Conservative MP in connection with the comments. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “In a speech in 2013 Jeremy Corbyn referred to a group of people who had disagreed with the Palestinian representative to the UK after a speech he’d made at an event in the Palace of Westminster as British Zionists. He said that they had two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and secondly, he said, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Several Labour MPs criticised Mr Corbyn’s remarks. In a statement he said he used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he’s now more careful using the term Zionists because it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

Midnight News (from 07:40), BBC Radio 4, August 25th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended comments he made about Zionists when he was a back bencher five years ago. A Conservative MP has reported Mr Corbyn to the Parliamentary standards watchdog after it emerged that he told a Palestinian conference that British Zionists did not understand English irony. Mr Corbyn has denied using the term to refer to all Jewish people. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “For months Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism that he has not done enough to tackle antisemitism within the Labour Party. Now he has defended his own actions after several Labour MPs spoke out against comments he made during a speech in 2013. Mr Corbyn was addressing a group representing Palestinian refugees and described a group of what he called British Zionists berating the Palestinian representative to the UK after he made a speech at the Palace of Westminster. He said the group had two problems: they didn’t want to study history and didn’t understand English irony either. In a statement the Labour leader said he’d used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he was now more careful because the term had increasingly been hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews. That is something which the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti warned against in a review of antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016.”

As we see, the focus of all three of those news reports was amplification of the Labour claim that Corbyn’s remarks had been misunderstood, with no attempt made to explain to the BBC’s domestic listeners why they were so widely seen as offensive and antisemitic.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part one

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two

Over a third of BBC website’s Corbyn wreath laying report allocated to denials

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

More promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from BBC News

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part one

On the early evening of August 13th members of the BBC’s domestic audience listening to BBC Radio 4 heard reports about the UK Labour Party leader’s participation in an event in Tunisia in 2014 that had been the subject of a report in a British newspaper three days earlier.

Listeners to Radio 4’s ‘PM‘ heard presenter Chris Mason introduce an item (from 36:15 here) with the inaccurate claim that the story was about antisemitism. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Mason: “Jeremy Corbyn has been talking about antisemitism. Our correspondent Jonathan Blake is at Westminster. What’s he said, Jonathan, and specifically about what?”

Blake: “Well Chris, not for the first time Jeremy Corbyn has faced questions about his attendance at a wreath laying ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 at the Palestinian Martyrs’ Cemetery. He was in the country for a conference organised by the Tunisian president bringing together different Palestinian factions to try to form a unity government.”

Where Blake got the idea that the purpose of a conference titled the ‘International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression’ was “to try to form a unity government” is unclear.

Listeners then heard Blake portray members of a terrorist organisation as “activists” and give a context-free description of an operation which took place in response to a terror attack in Cyprus that he failed to mention.

Blake: “And what is not in question is whether he laid a wreath to victims of an attack by the Israeli air force in 1985 on the headquarters of the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation in which many people were killed. What is less clear is his involvement in the laying of a wreath at the graves of a memorial [sic] to the Palestinian activists who were suspected of being behind the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 – members of the so-called Black September terrorist group. And they took hostage and killed 11 Israeli athletes. During a visit to the West Midlands Mr Corbyn was asked about this earlier on and spoke about attending the conference and whether he took part in that controversial ceremony. Here’s what he said.”

As for Blake’s claim that the wreath was laid at the graves of those “suspected” of being behind the Munich Olympics massacre – Fatah describes one of those buried there as “the head of the Black September organization’s department of operations and assassinations” and states that “He came up with the idea for the Munich operation”.

Listeners then heard a recording of Corbyn admitting what Blake had just told them was “less clear”.

Recording Corbyn: “A wreath was indeed laid by some of those who attended the conference for those who were killed in Paris in 1992.

Interviewer: “Were you involved in that wreath laying?”

Corbyn: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it. I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who’s died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way you pursue peace is a cycle of dialogue.”

Mason: “And listening carefully, Jonathan, to what he said there – ‘I don’t think I was actually involved in it’ – ehm…which appears to leave plenty of scope for his critics to criticise.”

Blake next cited reactions from two British politicians – while finding it necessary to mention the ethnic/religious background of just one of them:

Blake: “It does and it’s one reason that it is probably not the last time Mr Corbyn will have to answer questions on this. Not only his political opponents – the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said he should resign. One Labour MP – the Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger has tweeted this afternoon criticising Mr Corbyn, saying ‘being present is the same as being involved. When I attend a memorial my presence alone, whether I lay a wreath or not, demonstrates my association and support. Where is the apology?'”

Blake went on to quote an earlier Tweet from the Labour Party which had already been shown to be inaccurate by Corbyn’s statements made on that West Midlands trip.

Blake: “Last year when he was asked about this Mr Corbyn said that he was there at the conference and at the headquarters and was laying a wreath to all those who died in the air attack on the PLO headquarters. But the Labour party are pushing back quite hard with a statement saying that the Munich widows are being misled – those were those quoted in this morning’s Daily Mail – Jeremy did not honour those responsible for the Munich killings.”

Mason: “Cheers, Jonathan.”

An hour later listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ heard another report from Jonathan Blake which was introduced by newsreader Neil Sleat (from 10:12 here) using the same bizarre description of terrorists.

Sleat: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has appeared to admit to being present at a wreath-laying ceremony for the Palestinian activists suspected of being behind the Munich Olympics massacre but said he didn’t think he was involved in it. Mr Corbyn has been criticized for his controversial visit to the Palestinian Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tunisia in 2014. In the past hour the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the laying of the wreath deserved unequivocal condemnation. Here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake then came up with a politicised description of terrorists and failed once again to provide BBC audiences with the context to the 1985 operation.

Blake: “Not for the first time Jeremy Corbyn’s attendance at a cemetery commemorating those who’ve died in pursuit of the Palestinian cause has been questioned. When this visit was criticised during last year’s general election campaign, Mr Corbyn said he had laid a wreath to commemorate the victims of an Israeli air strike on the headquarters of the PLO in Tunisia in 1985 and he confirmed that again today. The accusation against Mr Corbyn – which has seen the Home Secretary call for him to resign – is whether he took part in a ceremony where a wreath was laid at the graves of those accused of carrying out the attack on the Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed. Mr Corbyn was asked about that on a visit to the West Midlands this afternoon.”

Corbyn: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it. I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who’s died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way you pursue peace is a cycle of dialogue.”

Yet again Blake found it necessary to mention a British MP’s ethnicity/religion and once again he amplified a Labour Party claim that had already been shown to be false.

Blake: “Saying that he didn’t think he was involved is unlikely to satisfy Mr Corbyn’s critics. The Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger, who has been critical of Mr Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism row within the party, said ‘being present is the same as being involved’ and asked ‘where is the apology?’. In response to the Daily Mail publishing criticism from the wives of those killed in the Munich massacre, a Labour Party spokesperson said their widows were being misled. Jeremy Corbyn did not honour those responsible for the Munich killings.”

So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.