BBC News website promotes an ‘Israeli attack’ that wasn’t

On April 27th an article titled “Syria war: ‘Israeli strike’ hits military site near Damascus airport” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. As can be understood from its headline, the report relates to an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria and it is based on claims made by sources linked to the Assad regime.

“An Israeli missile strike has caused a large explosion and fire at a military site near Damascus international airport, Syrian state media report.

A fuel tank and warehouses were damaged, the Sana news agency said. […]

Sana said several missiles had been fired at a military site south-west of the airport, causing explosions that resulted in some material losses.

Pro-government Al-Mayadeen TV cited sources as saying that missiles had been fired by Israeli jets flying inside the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.”

The article also includes an alternative version of the story sourced from groups opposed to the Assad regime.

“But Syrian rebel sources said an arms depot run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is fighting in Syria as an ally of the government, was hit. […]

Two senior rebel sources based in Damascus told Reuters news agency that the missiles had hit an ammunition depot in a closed military area that was used by Iran-backed militias operating alongside the Syrian army, led by Hezbollah.”

In an insert of analysis by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent readers are told that Israel “has been conducting an intermittent air campaign to prevent sophisticated weapons transfers to the Lebanese Shia militia group Hezbollah” and that it “clearly intends to continue its campaign against Hezbollah weapons shipments”.

However, as is invariably the case in content relating to such stories, the BBC’s article refrains from giving an accurate description of Hizballah as a terror organisation, provides no factual information concerning the Iranian link to those “weapons shipments” and fails to provide audiences with the relevant context concerning UN Security Council resolution 1701’s requirement of “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” and its ban on “sales or supply of arms and related material” to Hizballah or any other Lebanese militia.

Instead, the article passes off the following two sentences as background information.

“Israel regards Hezbollah, and its key backer Iran, as its biggest threat. It went to war with Hezbollah in 2006 and the group has grown considerably more powerful since then.”

At the end of the article is an insert titled “Recent suspected Israeli attacks in Syria”. First on the BBC’s list is the following:

Readers are not informed what the “Syrian pro-government National Defence Forces” actually are or that they have ties to Iran. Neither are they told that the sources of the claims concerning that alleged strike are, once again, the official Syrian regime news agency Sana together with the Iranian and Syrian regime linked outlet ‘Al Mayadeen’ and Al Jazeera.

Only last year the BBC uncritically amplified claims regarding an ‘Israeli airstrike’ made by Al Mayadeen which later turned out to be fiction. On numerous occasions in the past, the BBC has also amplified baseless propaganda from the Syrian regime. One might therefore have thought that the corporation would take the precaution of thoroughly checking allegations made by unreliable sources such as Al Mayadeen and Sana before amplifying them to its audiences.

 Had it done so in this case, the BBC would have learned that security sources in Israel dismissed those reports of Israeli involvement in that April 23rd incident.

The news BBC audiences are getting concerning alleged Israeli actions in Syria clearly cannot meet the standards to which the BBC is supposedly committed as long as it continues to be based on unverified claims made by highly partisan sources and fails to include the background information crucial for proper understanding of such stories.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

In which BBC News manages to avoid Syrian propaganda for a change

More unquestioned amplification of Syrian regime propaganda from BBC News

BBC News amplifies unchallenged Syrian regime propaganda yet again

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Terrorist murderer of four Samir Kuntar dubbed ‘militant’ by BBC News

 

BBC reports from Golan Heights omit basic context

The February 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included a report from the Golan Heights by the BBC’s diplomatic and defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

Marcus’ report (from 37:49 here) provided listeners with a good picture of the current situation along the border between Israel and Syria and the potential implications.

“The changes in Syria have brought Iran closer to Israel’s borders than ever. […]

It does create at least in theory the possibility of Iranian-Hizballah cooperation not only along the border between Israel and Lebanon but along the border between Israel and Syria as well. Israel has never faced that kind of situation on the northern border.”

However, audiences also heard a much less helpful portrayal of the events which brought about Israeli control over the Golan Heights in Marcus’ opening to the report.

“This is Israel’s front line with Syria. The Syrian army was evicted from the Golan Heights when Israeli forces captured it in 1967. Israeli law was extended here in 1981, effectively annexing this crucial strategic high ground.”marcus-golan-written

On February 8th a written report on the same topic appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?“. While as interesting and informative as the audio report, the article similarly presents a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

“This is Israel’s front line with Syria. The Syrian army was evicted from the Golan Heights when Israeli forces captured it in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli law was extended there in 1981 – effectively annexing this crucial strategic high ground. It is now a heavily fortified area.”

As regular readers will be aware, it is extremely rare for BBC audiences to be provided with the background information necessary for their understanding of the events which preceded Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights and additional areas in 1967. All too often we see that the BBC begins its accounts of history in June 1967 without providing the necessary context.

With the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War approaching – and with it, one can assume, augmented BBC coverage of the topic – it is obviously all the more important for audiences to be provided with accurate, impartial and comprehensive information concerning the background to that war.

Related Articles:

Twenty-nine hours later – BBC News reports Golan cross-border attack

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Between February 1st and February 3rd 2017, visitors to the BBC News website found three articles which included one of two versions of the same map.

February 1st: Israel approves 3,000 new settler homes as Amona evacuation begins

February 2nd: New Israel settlements ‘may not be helpful’ to peace, says US

February 3rd: What will the Trump presidency mean for Israel? Jonathan Marcus

Both versions of that map (one of which includes a ‘zoom in’ view of Jerusalem) are credited to the foreign funded political NGO B’Tselem which – despite its engagement in lawfare against Israel and its membership in a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS – is one of the NGOs most consistently quoted and promoted by the BBC in its supposedly impartial reporting on Israel and the Palestinians.

btselem-map

This of course is not the first time that the corporation has promoted a politically partisan map produced by B’Tselem. In October 2015 the BBC News website published an article including a similar map of Jerusalem credited to UNOCHA and B’Tselem in which the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem  (where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years) is marked as an “illegal settlement” and Temple Mount is marked as being located in a “Palestinian urban area”. That same map recently reappeared in a BBC News website backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

This new map of Jerusalem similarly portrays places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and parts of Mt Scopus as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before the Jordanian invasion in 1948. The same is the case in the bigger map of Judea & Samaria which portrays the whole of Gush Etzion as a ‘settlement’.

Once again we see the BBC promoting the simplistic and biased narrative that all areas conquered by Jordan (or any of the other Arab countries which took part in the military campaign to destroy the nascent Israeli state) are “Palestinian land”, even if there were pre-existing Jewish communities on that land before the location was placed under Jordanian occupation (unrecognised by the international community) and their inhabitants expelled.

The BBC is obliged to provide its audiences with accurate and impartial information which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  By continually – and exclusively – promoting the partisan narrative of political NGOs such as B’Tselem as ‘fact’ the BBC fails to meet that obligation and compromises its reputation for impartiality by abandoning journalism in favour of activism.  

NGOs’ political campaign opportunistically recycled by BBC News

As readers may be aware, on July 4th the Israeli prime minister embarked on an official visit to four countries in Africa.Africa visit art 1  

The BBC News website’s Middle East page published two articles on that topic: “Israel’s Netanyahu in Entebbe to mark hostage-rescue anniversary” and, in the ‘Features’ section, “Netanyahu in Entebbe: A personal journey amid a diplomatic push” by defence and diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

Both those reports include features made no less noteworthy by their predictability.

In Marcus’ article readers found context-free amplification of the narrative of ‘occupation’.

“A whole combination of factors prompted a souring of ties between Israel and African capitals between 1966 and 1973.

There was Israel’s occupation of territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War. There was growing pressure from Arab states and, by the Middle East War in 1973, the oil weapon was a potent tool.”Africa visit art 2

In the other article terrorists were described as “militants”.

“His [Netanyahu’s] elder brother, Jonathan, was shot dead as he led the operation to free hostages, who had been taken captive on an Air France flight by Palestinian and German militants.”

Uncritical amplification was given to the false narrative of “colonialism” in a superfluous quote from a party unconnected to the story.

“However, Palestinian government spokesman Jamal Dajani said he believed Israel’s attempt to gain influence would fail.

African states would see through Netanyahu’s “propaganda” because Africans and the Palestinians shared a history of “occupations and colonialism”, he told AP news agency.”

But perhaps most remarkable is the fact that among the related reading promoted in both these articles is a link titled “Israel’s unwanted African migrants”.links Africa visit arts

The article to which the link leads has nothing at all to do with the subject of Netanyahu’s current visit to Africa and yet the BBC opportunistically recycled that highly problematic report (one of several produced by Kathy Harcombe in February 2016) which is nothing more than a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign run by a coalition of political NGOs and certainly does not provide readers with accurate and impartial information likely to enhance their understanding of either that unrelated issue or the subject matter of these two reports. 

Somebody at the BBC News website made the editorial decision to include that link in both of its articles covering the Israeli PM’s visit to Africa and that person apparently believes that enhances the corporation’s reputation for ‘impartial’ journalism.

Inaccuracies in BBC diplomatic correspondent’s description of Mavi Marmara

Turkey’s recent diplomatic moves – including the agreement signed with Israel – were the subject of an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 29th under the headline “Turkey plays diplomatic chess in Middle East“.

Explaining the former nature of ties between Turkey and Israel and what caused the six-year-long rift, Marcus told readers that:

Marcus art Mavi Marmara

In fact, in May 2010 the Mavi Marmara was not “Turkish-flagged” but was registered in Comoros and flew that flag of convenience at the time.

MM registration

Neither was the Mavi Marmara an “aid vessel”: it was a passenger ship (carrying 546 passengers) which formed part of a flotilla of six vessels, only three of which were carrying ‘aid’, as the Palmer report noted (p 47):Marcus Turkey art

“If the flotilla had been a purely humanitarian mission it is hard to see why so many passengers were embarked and with what purpose. Furthermore, the quality and value of many of the humanitarian goods on board the vessels is questionable. There were large quantities of humanitarian and construction supplies on board the Gazze 1, Eleftheri Mesogeio and Defne-Y. There were some foodstuffs and medical goods on board the Mavi Marmara, although it seems that these were intended for the voyage itself.  Any “humanitarian supplies” were limited to foodstuffs and toys carried in passengers’ personal baggage. The same situation appears to be the case for two other of the vessels: the Sfendoni, and the Challenger I. There was little need to organize a flotilla of six ships to deliver humanitarian assistance if only three were required to carry the available humanitarian supplies. The number of journalists embarked on the ships gives further power to the conclusion that the flotilla’s primary purpose was to generate publicity.”

The BBC has previously corrected or amended reports which included the inaccurate description of the Mavi Marmara as an “aid ship” and clearly this article requires the same treatment.

Related Articles:

BBC recognizes that the Mavi Marmara was not an “aid ship”

 

A story serially avoided by the BBC comes home to roost

On June 27th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israel and Turkey end rift over Gaza flotilla killings” which has since undergone extensive amendment.Turkey deal art

Among the report’s notable features are:

1) The use of euphemistic language to describe those killed in the incident aboard the Mavi Marmara and the concealment of their Islamist links.

“Israel and Turkey have normalised relations, ending a six-year rift over the killing by Israeli troops of 10 Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound ship.”

Ten pro-Palestinian Turkish activists, one of them a dual American citizen, were killed and dozens wounded as clashes broke out after the commandos boarded the ship, descending on ropes from helicopters.” [emphasis added]

2) The promotion of a ‘he said-she said’ account of the incident aboard the Mavi Marmara which ignores the existence of video evidence and witness accounts.   

“The two sides had blamed each other for the violence. The activists said the commandos started shooting as soon as they hit the deck. Israel said the commandos opened fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and a gun which was taken from them.”

3) The vague statement that the ship was “Turkish-owned” – without any mention of the specific organisation which purchased it (together with one other ship in the flotilla) and the fact that it – the IHH – was one of the publicity stunt’s main planners. Oddly, the IHH is not named even once throughout the whole report and readers therefore remain unaware of its relevant ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.  

“The Turkish-owned ship Mavi Marmara was part of a flotilla attempting to breach the blockade when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos on 31 May 2010.”

4) A rare realistic portrayal of the aim of the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip is followed by the amplification of a propaganda slur.

“Israel maintains its blockade of Gaza to try to prevent weapons or materials reaching Palestinian militants, with whom it fought a devastating war in 2014, while allowing humanitarian aid into the territory.

Palestinians say the policy is tantamount to collective punishment, and UN and aid officials have warned of deteriorating conditions in Gaza.”

5) The amplification of the Turkish PM’s inaccurate claim concerning the ‘lifting’ of the blockade.

“”The total embargo imposed on Palestine and on the Gaza region in particular, is to being lifted to a great extent through Turkey’s leadership,” Mr Yildirim asserted.”

6) The failure to note the IHH’s opposition to the agreement and its pledge to continue legal action.

“…Turkey agreed to pass legislation protecting Israeli troops from legal claims over the Mavi Marmara incident…”

7) The absence of any mention of political and public opposition to the deal in Israel or of the reactions of Hamas operatives.

One aspect of this report, however, must have been particularly confusing for readers who regularly get their news from the BBC. In the insert of ‘analysis’ from Jonathan Marcus, readers were told that under the terms of the deal:

“Israel sees an end to its practical difficulties with Turkey and gets assurances about future Hamas activity on Turkish soil.”

In the body of the report they were informed that:

“In return, Turkey agreed to […] prevent any military action or fundraising by Hamas operatives based there.”

However, BBC audiences have no idea that there are any Hamas operatives based in Turkey because (as has been documented here on numerous occasions) for the last two years the corporation has diligently avoided telling them that operations – including Hamas’ efforts to strengthen its infrastructure and standing in Palestinian Authority controlled areas – were being run from that NATO member country.

The serial omission of information on that topic obviously now compromises the ability of audiences to understand the background to the references to Hamas made in this article and that impacts their understanding of this particular “international issue“. 

More BBC downplaying of Iranian destabilisation of the Middle East

An article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 31st under the title “Four wars and counting: Making sense of the anti-IS struggle” once again provides some interesting insight into the BBC’s Middle East narrative.Marcus ISIS

The article opens as follows:

“Adversity, they say, makes strange bedfellows. This is especially true in the contemporary Middle East.

The rise of so-called Islamic State (IS), which controls a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq, has prompted the creation of a large, multinational coalition including the US, Turkey, and Washington’s Gulf allies, all intent on its destruction.

So too of course is Iran and, not surprisingly, Israel. This has resulted, for example, in pro-Iranian militias in Iraq appearing to be on the same side as the US.”

Marcus does not provide any supporting evidence for his dramatic claim that Israel is “intent” on the “destruction” of ISIS. Of course a more accurate and realistic portrayal would have clarified to readers that Israeli policy is to prevent ISIS, groups affiliated with it, or any other Islamist extremist elements from undermining her security – as clarified by the Israeli prime minister in July of this year.   

“We are partners with the Egyptians, and many other states in the Middle East and the world, in our battle against radical Islamic terrorism. This terrorism is directed by two different entities – Iran, and the radical Shiites, and ISIS and the radical Sunnis, as well as factions like Hamas.”

And:

“The world is facing two major threats, he [Netanyahu] said, the Islamic State threat, and the Iranian threat. “We should not strengthen one at the expense of the other,” he said, “we need to weaken both and prevent the aggression and military buildup of both of them.””

Later on in the article, the subject of Iran and its proxies is presented in muted language which does little more than obliquely hint at the real scale and significance of that issue and does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences exactly why so many actors in the region regard Iran as a very real threat.

“America’s Gulf allies – the Saudis and Qatar for example – have also been supporting various groups in Syria but they have had their eye very much on a second war: the battle against Iranian influence in the region exemplified by the embattled Syrian regime of President Assad and his (and Iran’s) Hezbollah allies from Lebanon.[…]

For the Gulf Arabs, the struggle against Iran is every bit as important as the battle against IS – possibly even more so. […]

The counter-Iranian struggle is also being played out in Yemen where the Saudis and their allies have intervened militarily […]”

Under the sub-heading “Israeli alliances”, towards the end of the article readers find the following:

“Indeed a fifth “war” – the region’s longest-running conflict – that between Israel and the Palestinians is also being influenced by the rise of IS.”

Some of course might question that description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the region’s longest running” and exactly how it is supposedly “being influenced by the rise of IS” is left unclear. Marcus continues:

“The collapse of Syria as a military player is a mixed blessing for Israel.

IS-inspired groups are active on both its northern border and in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. But the rise of IS (and a shared concern about Iran) has brought Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states closer together.

The most obvious manifestation of this are the growing military ties between Israel and Jordan. Israel has sold or transferred both attack helicopters and drones to Amman over recent weeks.

There are reports too that when Israeli and Jordanian warplanes flew to the US recently for a multinational exercise, the Jordanian F16s were accompanied on their transit by Israeli tanker aircraft.”

Jordan and Israel of course signed a peace treaty over two decades ago and collaboration in various fields is not novel. But even if that unverified report from one American website about accompanying Israeli aircraft and the similarly unconfirmed statement concerning retired helicopters originating from one anonymous Pentagon official do indeed prove to be correct, what is remarkable here is that Marcus puts the focus on ISIS as the reason for apparently extended ties between “Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states” whilst relegating the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme and the theocratic regime’s patronage of regional terrorist groups to a euphemistic comment in brackets.

He concludes:

“While all of the attention of analysts has been focused on the potential collapse of two existing countries – Syria and Iraq – the real driving force in regional politics is the response to the rise of two putative new states, the caliphate of Islamic State on the one hand, and the potential emergence of a new Kurdish nation of some kind on the other.

It is not just the demise of the old order that is forging unusual alliances, but the shock of the new.”

What Marcus coyly describes as “a shared concern about Iran” is obviously a no less “real” and important factor in contemporary Middle Eastern “regional politics” than ISIS or a potential Kurdish state. However, as has been the narrative in much of the BBC’s previous reporting, the issue of Iran’s destabilization of the region (particularly in Syria where its backing of the Assad regime has resulted in far more civilian deaths than those caused by ISIS) is downplayed and audiences are once again deprived of the full range of information needed to build a “global understanding of international issues”.  

Related Articles:

BBC amplification of unchallenged Iranian messaging

BBC amplification of Iranian regime charm offensive misleads audiences

 

Did the BBC News website’s reporting on the P5+1 framework agreement with Iran tell the whole story?

Following the announcement that a framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran had been reached, the BBC News website produced several articles which provided audiences with explanations of its terms.

In a report titled “Iran nuclear talks: ‘Framework’ deal agreed” from April 3rd, readers were provided with a link to a factsheet produced by the US administration.Iran deal 1

According to a US factsheet issued after the talks, the outline deal includes the following conditions:

  • Iran will reduce its installed centrifuges – used to enrich uranium – by two-thirds and reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium
  • The centrifuges that are no longer in use will be placed in storage, monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • All of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be subject to regular IAEA inspections
  • Iran will redesign its heavy-water reactor in Arak so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium
  • US and EU sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme will be lifted in phases, but can be brought back if Iran does not meet its obligations.

Mr Obama said the deal’s implementation would be closely watched. “If Iran cheats, the world will know it,” he said, adding that the deal was based not on trust but on “unprecedented verification”.”

A link to that same factsheet also appeared in the April 3rd article titled “Iran nuclear talks: Obama hails ‘historic’ agreement“.Iran deal 2

“According to “parameters” of the agreement published by the US state department, Iran must reduce the number of its centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium into a bomb by more than two-thirds.

It also has to redesign a power plant so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, be subject to regular inspections, and agree not to enrich uranium over 3.67% – far less than is required to make a nuclear bomb – for at least 15 years.

“There’s new state of the art technology that will be used,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the BBC. “We will have tracking of their uranium from the cradle to the grave.””

Another article from April 3rd – “Iran nuclear talks: Hardliners criticise nuclear deal” – described the terms of the framework agreement as follows:iran deal 3

“US President Barack Obama said the framework agreement would make the world a safer place, as it would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon”.

In addition to halting enrichment at Fordo, Iran will cut by more than two-thirds to 5,060 the number of centrifuges it currently operates to enrich uranium. While enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, it can also be used to make nuclear bombs.

Iran will also cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from around 10 tonnes to 300kg for 15 years, and the design of the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak will be modified so it produces no weapons-grade plutonium.

In return, UN sanctions and separate measures imposed unilaterally by the US and EU will be gradually suspended as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.

The US says Iran has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors travel “anywhere in the country” to investigate “suspicious sites or allegations of covert enrichment”.”

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus produced an article on April 3rd titled “Iran nuclear deal: A result which buys time” in which the US administration’s factsheet was again promoted with a link.Marcus art Iran

“What was expected from these talks was a fairly bland announcement that a framework agreement had been reached. In contrast the US State Department has been quick to publish a lengthy list of what it calls the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. […]

On the face of it Iran has made some significant concessions.

  • Iran will be allowed to have some 6,104 centrifuges installed out of its current 19,000 and only a little over 5,000 of them will actually be enriching uranium. All the working centrifuges are to be early, less advanced models. And everything else is to be stored under supervision of IAEA inspectors
  • Iran will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium – the vital feedstock that would be needed to enrich further to get bomb-making material
  • There will be no enrichment at the underground Fordow site for some 15 years
  • Inspectors will have access not just to key nuclear facilities but to the supply chain supporting Iran’s nuclear programme and to uranium mines and mills
  • Iran will be required to grant access to IAEA inspectors to investigate suspicious sites or suspected clandestine activities anywhere in the country
  • The heavy water reactor at Arak that many feared would provide Iran with a plutonium route to a potential bomb is to be re-built so as not to produce weapons grade plutonium.
  • Many of these constraints will be in place for 10 years and some will last for 15.

In return

  • Iran will see US and EU nuclear-related sanctions suspended, though no clear timetable has been given for exactly how this will proceed
  • It will not actually have to close any nuclear facility altogether
  • It emerges, once the restrictions expire, with the basis for a significant nuclear industry.

Nonetheless, the level of detail is impressive and appears to have convinced nuclear experts that it does indeed provide the year-long warning of a potential Iranian break-out that has been the diplomats’ goal. That is seen as sufficient time for any Iranian effort to throw aside the deal and push towards enriching sufficient material for a bomb to be quickly spotted and action taken.

Strong verification provisions, along with continued intelligence efforts should also be sufficient to prevent an Iranian “sneak-out” – a clandestine effort to do the same thing.”

A backgrounder titled “Iran nuclear crisis: Six key points” – originally published on March 30th and previously discussed here – was updated on April 3rd but includes little information concerning the framework agreement itself except for the following:Iran talks 6 pts art

“According to the framework agreement, sanctions will be gradually phased out as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.”

As we see, the BBC’s presentation of the issue was based entirely upon statements put out by the American administration. That, however, was not the only published representation of the terms of the framework agreement: the Iranians put out their own factsheet which includes a number of statements contradicting the American – and hence BBC – version of the terms of the framework agreement.

For example, whilst the BBC claims that sanctions will be “gradually phased out” according to Iranian compliance, the Iranians themselves claim that:

“all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement”

Additional examples of discrepancies between the two factsheets are highlighted by journalist Amir Taheri in his comparison of the two texts – for example:

“The American statement claims that Iran has agreed not to use advanced centrifuges, each of which could do the work of 10 old ones. The Iranian text, however, insists that “on the basis of solutions found, work on advanced centrifuges shall continue on the basis of a 10-year plan.”

The American text claims that Iran has agreed to dismantle the core of the heavy water plutonium plant in Arak. The Iranian text says the opposite. The plant shall remain and be updated and modernized.”

Similarly, Israeli journalist Ehud Ya’ari has identified six points upon which American and Iranian interpretations of the framework agreement differ.

Whilst Jonathan Marcus reassured BBC audiences that anonymous “nuclear experts” appear to be convinced that the framework agreement “does indeed provide the year-long warning of a potential Iranian break-out”, one prominent named nuclear expert has raised the question of whether a one-year break-out time is indeed effective.

” [Olli] Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s former top official for monitoring nuclear proliferation, expressed a range of concerns about the deal taking shape, warned of Iran’s history of deception, and also cautioned that the one-year framework for nuclear breakout pushed by the Obama administration might leave insufficient time for an international reaction to violations of the agreement.”

Emily Landau echoed that concern in a recent op-ed:

“… the US has made the case that 12 months is enough time to both detect and effectively deal with any violation, and that the agreed framework upholds this goal.

This can certainly be challenged, especially taking into account the chain of decisions that will need to be taken after a violation has been detected, all the way up to taking action to counter it. And this assumes there is initial agreement (among whom?) that the violation is “real” and significant enough to confront Iran. […]

But we also need to consider the second option that Iran has: the perhaps more realistic scenario whereby at some point Iran simply decides to exit the deal. In this scenario, Iran would most likely do so after accusing the West of not upholding its end of the bargain – on sanctions relief for example. So it wouldn’t be a case of an Iranian violation, but rather a decision to defect, using the excuse that the other side is not complying with the terms.

This is precisely what happened in 2004 – Iran reneged on the deal it had concluded with the EU-3 while accusing the EU-3 of bad behavior. If this happens regarding a future comprehensive deal, after Iran has ensured that it maintains a quick route to nuclear breakout, what would the options be to stop Iran?”

Clearly both the American and Iranian versions of the terms of the framework agreement were composed with political considerations – primarily domestic ones – in mind. However, the BBC chose to run with just one of those documents, promoting it as the only game in town and its content as authoritative.

Whilst those who have been following BBC coverage of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran (and related topics) for any length of time may not be overly surprised by the degree to which the corporation’s framing of this story reflects the messaging of the US administration, that narrow framing nevertheless prevents audiences from gaining a comprehensive understanding of the many questions still remaining before the BBC’s ‘best thing since sliced bread’ approach to this story can be justifiably described as accurate, impartial – and useful – reporting.  

Senior BBC correspondent misleads audiences on Iran’s terror connections

On April 3rd an article titled “Iran nuclear deal: A result which buys time” by diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Marcus art Iran

Setting aside the analysis of the subject matter itself, the article includes inaccurate phrasing which misleads audiences. 

“If all goes well, the nuclear deal will reduce a key source of friction between Iran and the West.

There will still be many other areas of disagreement. Indeed, Iran remains the rising regional power and its influence in many Arab capitals ranging from Damascus and Baghdad to Beirut and Sanaa – let alone its human rights record and alleged support for terrorism – all suggest many other avenues for continuing tensions with Washington.” [emphasis added]

The word ‘alleged’ (meaning said, without proof, to have taken place) is of course completely superfluous in that sentence. Iran’s record of material, financial and ideological support for internationally recognized terrorist organisations such as Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas is well documented.

When a senior BBC correspondent misleads audiences in such an obvious manner, the corporation’s funding public’s trust in its level of commitment to its defined public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues” can only be undermined.

 

 

BBC’s big Bibi binge lacks substance on P5+1 deal and Congress speech

Those following Jeremy Bowen on Twitter learned on March 2nd that he was in Washington.

AIPAC Bowen Tweet

What is particularly remarkable about the BBC Middle East editor’s second statement is that in previous years, he has not found that “not to be missed” annual event unmissable.

But of course Bowen’s real interest in this year’s AIPAC conference (and readers can find his at times snide observations of that event on his Twitter feed) actually stems from the proximity of the Israeli prime minister’s appearance there to his speech in Congress the following day and the BBC has been building up to that story for some time.

In January the BBC News website’s reporting on the invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress was notable for its misrepresentation of Netanyahu’s stance on the issue of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran supposedly aimed at preventing that country’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

On February 19th the BBC News website carried a report titled “Iran nuclear talks: US accuses Israel of ‘leaks’” which for the most part was devoted to amplification of allegations made by a White House official but – in common with much of the corporation’s previous reporting on the topic – failed to comprehensively inform audiences of the concerns raised by many observers with regard to the emerging end results of the P5+1 negotiations.

On February 23rd the BBC News website promoted the Guardian/Al Jazeera story which wrongly alleged that differing appraisals of Iran’s nuclear programme by the Mossad indicated that Israel’s prime minister had deliberately misled the UN on that issue in 2012.AIPAC 1

February 26th saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article titled “Netanyahu row with Obama administration deepens” which once again was largely devoted to the amplification of US administration statements on the issue but only briefly and superficially addressed the underlying issue of concerns regarding the details of the P5+1 agreement, whilst at the same time misleadingly framing them as being confined to the Israeli prime minister alone.

On the same day, an article titled “Netanyahu ‘not correct’ on Iran nuclear talks – Kerry” also appeared on the BBC News website which further promoted the theme that concerns over the essence of the P5+1 deal with Iran are limited to Israel’s prime minister and that his presentation of the issue is based on faulty judgement.

Also on February 26th an article by Kevin Connolly appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel US: Republican invite to Netanyahu riles Obama“. Yet again concerns over what kind of deal the P5+1 is about to make with Iran were presented to readers as an ‘all-Bibi affair’.AIPAC 2

“That issue – Iran and the Bomb – is one of the defining themes of Mr Netanyahu’s career and he is alarmed that the P5+1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, UK and France – plus Germany) negotiating with Tehran may be preparing to agree a deal towards the end of March which would be acceptable to the world powers but unacceptable to Israel.”

All of the above, however, was merely the aperitif before the BBC really got down to business.

On March 2nd visitors to the BBC News website found another article by Kevin Connolly titled “Netanyahu Congress speech a moment of high stakes“. They could also read “Netanyahu arrives in US for contested Congress Iran speech” and “Netanyahu: Speech ‘not intended to disrespect’ Obama” or watch “Netanyahu in US on controversial visit” in which BBC audiences were , as ever, told that “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology”.AIPAC 3 Ghattas

March 3rd saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Netanyahu’s speech ‘win-win’ for Iran” and a filmed report (also shown on BBC television news) by upcoming J Street conference speaker  Kim Ghattas titled Tensions as Israeli PM Netanyahu visits US“. In her report Ghattas told BBC audiences that:

“He [Netanyahu] hasn’t said very much yet about the case he plans to make against a nuclear deal with Iran but this is all very much part of his strategy to try to undermine progress towards an agreement.”

That false information was similarly promoted by the BBC on Twitter

AIPAC BBC News US tweet

The main course of the BBC’s Bibi binge will obviously be served up with Netanyahu’s actual speech to Congress, but as is already apparent, the information being provided to BBC audiences on this topic is both voluminous and yet at the same time misleading and lacking in crucial context.

The BBC’s framing of the story as though Netanyahu were the only party concerned about the details of the P5+1 deal is plainly both wrong and politically motivated. Plenty of other parties both in the Middle East and beyond share the same concerns and yet the BBC has refrained from reporting on that issue and on the topic of the interest shown in the upcoming Congress speech.

The claim that Netanyahu is trying to “undermine progress towards an agreement” is patently false and – as noted above – this is far from the first time that the BBC has misrepresented that issue.

Likewise, there is nothing novel about the BBC’s promotion of trite slogans such as “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology” with the concurrent avoidance of provision of a coherent picture of professional opinions on the issue, such as that given by the head of the IAEA on March 2nd:

“International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said Monday that Iran still needed to hand over key information to the UN body necessary for its investigation of the country’s nuclear program.

The two missing pieces of the puzzle relate to alleged explosive tests and other issues related to research that may also be useful for military uses of atomic energy. According to Amano the missing pieces of data should have been addressed by Iran by last August.

“The agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” Amano was quoted by Reuters as saying.”

Unfortunately for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand why the Israeli Prime Minister is currently in Washington and what exactly is the basis for his (and others’) concerns about the P5+1 deal, the corporation’s correspondents are too heavily invested in both their own animosity towards the Israeli leader and their cheer-leading for the current US administration to get around to any real ‘standard-setting journalism’ on this topic.

Related Articles:

BBC misrepresents Israel’s stance on P5+1 talks yet again

BBC misrepresentation of Israel’s stance on Iran talks continues in Kim Ghattas report

What have BBC audiences been told about the P5+1 deal with Iran?

Does BBC coverage of the P5+1 deal with Iran adequately promote audience understanding of the issue?