The BBC, Coronavirus and population density

On March 31st an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The article is made up of comment on a number of locations in the region, including Israel, the Palestinian Authority administered territories and the Gaza Strip. [all emphasis added]

Israel:

“The virus has already arrived in the region. Israel – a country with a sophisticated Western-style health system and a significant capacity to mobilise resources – is already beginning to struggle with the potential consequences of the pandemic.

It is facing the self-same problems as experienced in Western Europe and the United States.”

Marcus did not provide any information to illustrate or substantiate his claim that Israel “is already beginning to struggle”.

“However, the Middle East has some specific problems that may exacerbate the crisis. Ways of life governed by religion, for example, play a significant part in the lives of many countries’ citizens.

Such communities may often be insular and slow to change their practices.

It is perhaps no accident that in Israel, its ultra-Orthodox Haredi community has been slow to adopt the recommended social distancing measures and has suffered disproportionately from the virus.”

While rates of infection have indeed been higher than average in some ultra-Orthodox communities, Marcus’ attribution of that solely to “ways of life governed by religion” ignores additional relevant factors such as poverty, population density and the difficulties of effective isolation for members of large families.

Interestingly, the BBC has repeatedly cited those three factors in its many reports on Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and later on in his article Marcus himself referred to that territory’s population density.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. The population density in Bnei Brak – one of the locations in Israel most seriously affected by Covid 19 – was 26,368 persons/km2 at the end of 2017 but apparently Marcus did not consider it necessary to inform readers of that fact. 

Towards the end of the article readers were told that:

“Even in democratic Israel, the pandemic has sparked a constitutional crisis with political repercussions. The need to tackle the coronavirus looks like forcing opposition leader Benny Gantz into a national unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu (something he said he would never do and a move which has split his new party asunder).

And the closure of the courts has delayed the corruption trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who looks like soldiering on in office.”

Israel of course has no written constitution and so the claim of a “constitutional crisis” is debatable. The political deadlock in Israel which has not been resolved by three general elections has been ongoing for a year and was not “sparked” by the pandemic.

As we have previously had cause to note, the courts in Israel have not been closed. Activity has been reduced in line with Ministry of Health instructions and the Judiciary’s website states:

The courts and employment tribunals will function under emergency measures whereby only urgent hearings will be held.”

PA controlled territories and Gaza Strip:

Marcus gave a politicised portrayal of the Gaza Strip – from which Israel disengaged in 2005 – and the areas which have been under Palestinian Authority control for two and a half decades as “Israeli-occupied”, despite going on to later contradict himself by describing the PA as a governing body and Hamas as “rulers”.

“Even in places where there is the absence of full-scale war, there are some alarming potential coronavirus crisis-points. The Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a case in point.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs in about 40% of the West Bank, is struggling with limited means to curtail the initial outbreak, with fears that close economic ties – workers travelling between Israel and the West Bank – have potentially been one vector for the spread of the virus.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s continued prioritisation of the payment of salaries for terrorists is one of the factors contributing to its “limited means”.

Marcus went on to give a qualified explanation of the reason for the counter-terrorism measures adopted by Israel and Egypt while whitewashing that terrorism by use of the euphemism “militants”. He failed to clarify that the Gaza Strip was transferred to Palestinian control almost 15 years ago and in theory – though not in practice since the violent Hamas coup in 2007 – is run by the Palestinian Authority.

“But the densely populated Gaza Strip presents an altogether more worrying case. The population there is isolated; the Palestinians are under effective blockade from both Israel and Egypt, who say it is a necessary security measure against militants.

There has been a long-running debate between Israel and the international community as to its abiding responsibilities for the territory. Israel’s troops have left and it insists that it is no longer responsible for events there, which is now the job of the Hamas rulers.

But if the pandemic sweeps through Gaza this may become a very difficult case to argue given the grip that Israel still retains from outside.

No wonder there have been calls from Palestinian experts and humanitarian agencies for the so-called Israeli “blockade” to be lifted, and for Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Israelis to make common cause to fight the pandemic.”

Marcus made no effort to analyse the political motivations behind those “calls” (which, revealingly, do not appear to extend to Egypt) or to examine their validity in light of the fact that there is no restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Neither did he bother to address the obviously relevant issue of what would happen were the blockade lifted, given that Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip clearly have no intention of renouncing the terrorism which caused its implementation and indeed continue to issue threats.

“The head of Hamas in Gaza warned Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients were not brought into the Palestinian enclave then his terror group will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” said Yahya Sinwar, according to Hebrew media reports.”

Marcus went on to describe well-reported (though not by the BBC) actions which have been publicly praised by the UN as “behind the scenes”.

“It would be nice to think that rivalries could be set aside for the time being during this period of global crisis. Behind the scenes Israel has been transferring some equipment to the Palestinians in the West Bank, and training courses have been running for medical personnel.”

As we see, while the BBC has repeatedly promoted the topic of population density in the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, curiously that factor was completely ignored in Jonathan Marcus’ portrayal of outbreaks of Covid 19 in Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Last week we looked at the impartiality of BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio coverage of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan.

A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

But did visitors to the BBC News website fare any better?

Below is a summary of the relevant content published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page between January 27th and January 30th – eleven items in all.

Many of the reports promote talking points also evident (including before anyone at the BBC had actually read the proposal) in BBC radio and television coverage:

  • Description of the proposal as a “surrender document” for the Palestinians which does not meet their demands.
  • Presentation of the document as fully meeting Israeli demands.
  • Presentation of the timing of the launch of the document as being related to political and legal processes in the US and Israel.
  • Amplification of the talking points of the PLO and political NGOs, including the ‘apartheid’ trope.
  • Portrayal of the Palestinians as having no agency and predictions of ‘inevitable’ violence.

January 27th:

Trump’s Middle East peace plan: ‘Deal of the century’ is huge gamble by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Although now dated January 29th, the article was originally published on January 27th – the day before the US proposal was launched – as part of the BBC’s cross-platform preemptive framing of the story.

“…the Trump plan gives Mr Netanyahu all he wants – and offers Palestinians very little; a sort-of state that will be truncated, without proper sovereignty, surrounded by Israel’s territory and threaded between Jewish settlements.”

“Israel argues the Palestinians turned down a series of good offers. The Palestinian negotiators say they made huge concessions, not least accepting Israel’s existence in around 78% of their historic homeland.”

“The timing of the announcement of the Trump initiative suits the political and legal needs of Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu. Both men face elections. As well as that, Mr Trump gets a distraction from his impeachment, and from his trial in the US Senate for high crimes and misdemeanours. Mr Netanyahu faces criminal charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust.”

“Essentially the Palestinians have been told to take it or leave it. They are being given a surrender document, told to accept that Israel has won, and with its American friends will shape the future. If Palestinians refuse, the message continues, Israel will still get what it wants and they will be even worse off.”

“There is a chance Palestinians will be afflicted by more anger, despair and hopelessness. In a combustible part of the world, that is dangerous. The Trump plan is a gamble.”

January 28th:

Netanyahu: Trump Middle East peace plan ‘deal of the century’  (video without commentary)

Trump outlines Middle East peace plan  (video without commentary)

Abbas on Trump peace plan: ‘Conspiracy deal won’t pass’  (video without commentary)

Trump releases long-awaited Middle-East peace plan  with analysis from Jonathan Marcus and a link to the website of a political NGO which engages in ‘lawfare’ against Israel.

“…his [Trump’s] “take it or leave it offer” will appal many long-standing students of the region. The question now is not so much what benefit this deal might bring but how much damage it may do by over-turning Palestinian aspirations.”

“Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the proposals envisaged a form of apartheid.

It said Palestinians would be relegated “to small, enclosed, isolated enclaves, with no control over their lives”.

Israel’s Peace Now organisation said the plan was “as detached from reality as it is eye-catching”.

“The plan’s green light for Israel to annex the settlements in exchange for a perforated Palestinian state is unviable and would not bring stability,” it said.”

Trump’s Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground Tom Bateman discussed

“The Trump document says applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements would be compensated by land swaps to Palestinians. It would also recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Jordan Valley, a key swathe of land in the West Bank important for agriculture running along the border with neighbouring Jordan. […]

But Palestinians say the move will entrench apartheid.”

January 29th:

What does Trump’s Middle East plan say on key issues? Backgrounder

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said the US plan “recognises Israel’s illegal colonisation and annexation of occupied lands belonging to the State of Palestine”, while Israeli human rights group B’Tselem warned that Palestinians would be “relegated to small, enclosed, isolated enclaves, with no control over their lives”.”

Trump Middle East plan: What he gets out of it  Aleem Maqbool

“Israeli opposition figures have not shied away from suggesting that the timing of the proposal’s release was aimed at helping Benjamin Netanyahu in a general election to be held on 2 March.”

“The impeachment allegations [against Trump] suggest sordid and dishonourable use of his powerful position for personal political gain; withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military assistance to Ukraine until Kiev opened investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Mr Trump might hope the unveiling of his proposal would offer Americans a contrasting narrative of his skills as a statesman, delivering “the deal of the century”.”

“There are also Evangelicals within the Trump administration itself, like Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have reportedly been pushing for the kind of support for Israel’s expansionist aspirations as detailed in the new plan.

Those aspirations all but do away with the notion of having sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side, as previous US administrations had said they wanted.

Evangelical Christians were huge financial backers of the Trump campaign in 2016, but there were others who would have wanted to see some return on the support they gave during the last election reflected in this proposal.

Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, has already endorsed Mr Trump’s Middle East plan, saying it appreciated the efforts of the president.”

“Whether the plan and the timing of its release is about backing Mr Netanyahu, distracting from impeachment troubles, playing domestic politics or if it is indeed driven by ideology, it comes with huge risks.

It can be seen as a proposal that gives Israel the authorisation to broaden its occupation, already a source of misery for so many. The fear is that a proposal that gives Palestinians so little hope is one that also strengthens hard-liners across the region.”

Why Trump’s Middle East plan is so divisive  Jeremy Bowen (video with commentary)

“The BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen explains why the proposal is so divisive.”

Trump Middle East plan: Palestinians reject ‘conspiracy’

“Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration had simply “copied and pasted” the steps that Mr Netanyahu wanted to see implemented.

“It’s about annexation, it’s about apartheid,” he said. “Moving to the de jure annexation of settlements is something that was given the green light yesterday.””

January 30th:

Palestinian PM defends stance on Trump Middle East plan Orla Guerin interview with Mohammad Shtayyeh (video)

As we see the BBC elected to interview the Palestinian Authority prime minister but not any senior Israeli official. The BBC chose to showcase political NGOs and a PLO official promoting the baseless ‘apartheid’ trope but did not provide an alternative viewpoint. The reports written by the BBC staff presented a disturbingly uniform negative view of the topic and audiences were not provided with a balanced “range of views”.

The purpose of the editorial guidelines is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. It is once again abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports offering a “wide range of significant views”. 

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

BBC WS radio promotes US peace plan commentary from partisan lobbying group

A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

 

BBC mixed messaging on Iranian support for the Houthis persists

In June 2019 we documented the BBC’s approach to the subject of Iran’s ties to the Houthi militia in Yemen:

BBC still fence-sitting on Iranian support for Houthis

The same editorial policy has been in evidence in the seven months since then, with BBC audiences seeing repeated promotion of messaging which originally appeared in a backgrounder titled “Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?” that is now dated 21 March 2019 but was first published in October 2016. For example: [emphasis added]

June 14th 2019, ‘Yemen war: Second assault on Saudi Abha airport in two days’:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

June 24th 2019, ‘Yemen war: Civilian killed in Houthi attack on Saudi airport’:

“The coalition has said the drones are “Iranian made”, but Iran has denied supplying weapons to the rebels. […]

Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

August 1st 2019, ‘Yemen war: Houthi missile attack on military parade kills 32’:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia Muslim power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

September 30th 2019, ‘Yemen war: Houthi rebels release hundreds of detainees’:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia Muslim power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

December 29th 2019, ‘Yemen: Houthis blamed for attack on military parade’:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia Muslim power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

January 19th 2020 (since amended and re-dated), ‘Yemen war: At least 70 soldiers killed in missile attack’:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia Muslim power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

Interestingly, over the same period of time some other reports have given audiences a more realistic portrayal of the issue.

August 1st 2019, Frank Gardner, ‘Yemen war: Has anything been achieved?’:

“…for Yemen’s legitimate, UN-recognised government and its Saudi and Emirati backers, this war has always been about preventing an unacceptable takeover of the country by a tiny minority with links to Iran – the Houthis. […]

The war did not begin with the Saudi-led air campaign in March 2015. It began six months earlier when the Houthis, a small, largely unheard-of Yemeni tribal group from the mountainous north, marched on the capital, Sanaa, and evicted the legitimate government.

Then, with the backing of forces loyal to the ousted former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, the Houthis took over most of the populated areas of Yemen.

For Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, this felt like an Iranian-backed coup on its southern frontier and the ruling princes resolved to act. […]

The UAE view is that its participation in this war has helped achieve several things. It has prevented a Houthi takeover of the whole country, which it considers would have ultimately given Iran control over the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait between Africa and Arabia.”

September 4th 2019, ‘Yemen: Western powers may be held responsible for war crimes – UN’:

“The Western powers provide weapons and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government, while Iran backs the Houthi rebels.”

September 16th 2019, Jonathan Marcus,Drone’ attack on Saudis destabilises an already volatile region’:

Iran has well-developed ties with the Houthis and there is little doubt it has been the key player in enabling them to develop their long-range strike capability, whether through armed UAVs or missiles.

In 2018, a report from a UN expert panel pointed to the remarkable similarity between the Houthi Qasef-1 UAV and the Iranian Ababil-T. In a wide-ranging study, it asserted that Iran had broken the arms embargo against Yemen and supplied the Houthis with a variety of weapons systems.

Much the same conclusion was reached by a March 2017 study from the independent Conflict Armament Research organisation, which focused on Iranian UAV assistance. […]

Iran, along with its Houthi allies, is conducting a classic war of the weak against the strong; a “hybrid conflict” as it is known in the strategic textbooks. It is borrowing many of the tactics from the Russian play-book – the use of deniability; proxies; cyber-operations and information warfare.”

September 22nd 2019, ‘Iran warns foreign forces to stay out of Gulf, amid new US deployment’:

“Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they had carried out the attacks….”

November 28th 2019, ‘Yemen civil war: 128 detainees sent home from Saudi Arabia’:

Iran-supported Houthi rebels seized much of the west of Yemen and ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in March 2015.” 

Obviously some BBC journalists are fully aware of the support provided by Iran to the Houthis – as has been documented by the UN and academic researchers.

“Iran has funded the Houthis even before the lawful regime fell in 2014. Most of the funding, $10- 25 million, was delivered courtesy of the Iranian embassy in Sanaa, in the form of support for cultural and religious events. This funding reflects one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy – cultural and religious support for Shiite around the world. After the fall of the Yemenite lawful regime and the start of hostilities, Iran continued to funnel large sums of money through Sanaa International Airport until coalition forces shut it down in 2015. It should be noted that despite a blockade that has been imposed on Yemen’s naval ports, ships with humanitarian aid continued to dock, especially in the Port of Hodeida, and it stands to reason that some carried concealed cash shipments. It should also be noted that in January, a report by a UN Panel of Experts on Yemen found that fuel loaded from Iranian ports under false documentation was being donated to listed individuals in Yemen by companies functioning as front companies in order to avoid detection by UN inspectors. The fuel was then sold and with profits used to finance the Houthi war effort. The Panel also traced the supply of UAVs and a mixing machine for rocket fuel to the Houthis, as well as uncovering that individuals of Iranian origin funded these purchases. […]

Despite the aerial and naval blockades imposed by the KSA-led coalition forces, Iran has consistently attempted to arm the Houthis. Between April 2015 and October 2016, the U.S. Navy, in its capacity as a member of an international task force formed to fight piracy and prevent violation of an international embargo on gun running, detained five vessels en route from Iran to Houthi forces that carried a wide variety of armament, such as AK-47 assault rifles, anti-tank missiles and antitank mines. An analysis performed by Conflict Armament Research Organization found that the AK-47 serial numbers were consecutive which attests to the fact that they came from a government owned stock rather than arms dealers. Further, a serial number on a Kornet AT-missile captured in Yemen belonged to the same batch of weaponry that has been captured on one of the above vessels. Additional shipments continued to flow to the Houthis and the last one reported, which included over one thousand assault rifles, was captured by the U.S. Navy at the end of August 2018. Previous interceptions by the Australian and French Navies in 2016 in the Red Sea yielded Iranian weapons, including almost 2,000 AK-47s and 100 RPGs on a single dhow, and a similar number of AK47s and nine anti-tank missiles on a different boat.”

The question which therefore arises is why – alongside the realistic reporting provided by some of its correspondents – does the BBC continue to promote messaging which dovetails with Iranian propaganda and conflicts with its obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news” which will “build people’s understanding”.

Related Articles:

BBC News still unsure about Iranian involvement in Yemen

Limited BBC journalistic curiosity on Iranian involvement in Yemen

The BBC and the Houthi logo

BBC News portrays Iranian involvement in Yemen as ‘overplayed’

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

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

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

One report concerned external security issues:

Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes Jonathan Marcus (20/11/19 to 26/11/19 and 28/11/19 to 1/12/19)

One item related to political/legal issues:

ICC wants to open ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza (21/12/19 to 23/12/19) discussed here

One item concerned archaeology:

Israelis find rare Roman fish sauce factory (17/12/19 to 20/12/19)

Four reports related to religion/Christmas/Palestinians:

Jesus manger: Relic returns to Bethlehem in time for Christmas  (30/11/19 to 5/12/19)

Saint Barbara: A celebration for Arab Christians Barbara Plett Usher (17/12/19 to 31/12/19) discussed here

Banksy ‘nativity scene’ appears in Bethlehem hotel (21/12/19 to 23/12/19) discussed here

The Christians helping Bethlehem shepherd families give birth safely (25/12 /19 to present) discussed here

Of nine items relating to internal Israeli internal affairs, three concerned politics:

Israel will hold unprecedented third election in a year (12/12/19 to 17/12/19) discussed here

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in party leadership challenge (26/12/19) discussed here and here

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu comfortably wins party leadership challenge (27/12/19 to 30/12/19) discussed here

Four reports concerned legal/criminal cases, of which two related to a case in Cyprus in which Israelis had been released without charge in July, yet the BBC continued to publish reports on the website’s ‘Middle East’ page:

Netanyahu: Corruption charges an ‘attempted coup’  (21/11/19 to 4/12/19 and 6/12/19 to 9/12/19)

Israel’s deportation of Human Rights Watch activist condemned (25/11/19 to 2/12/19) discussed here

Ayia Napa Briton found guilty over false rape claim (30/12/19 to 31/12/19)

Ayia Napa: Foreign Office ‘concerned’ over Briton found guilty over rape claim (31/12/19 to present)

Two reports concerned social issues:

How Beitar Jerusalem’s football club owner took on racism and won Alex Capstick (20/12/19 to 1/1/20) discussed here

Beitar Jerusalem: How do you change ‘the most racist’ club in Israel? Alex Capstick (20/12/19 to 26/12/19) discussed here

The BBC News website continues its practice of reporting Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian internal affairs. All of the December reporting concerning Palestinians came within the framework of one-sided Christmas coverage.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

 

BBC News avoids the term ‘occupation’ in Cyprus gas report

A report titled “Turkish drone fuels tension over Cyprus gas claims” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on December 16th.

The report begins by informing readers that:

“A Turkish military drone has arrived at a base in Turkish-backed northern Cyprus to help controversial gas exploration projects near the island.

A Turkish military official said the drone would escort its drilling ships. There are two – the Fatih and Yavuz – in the area, despite strong criticism from Cyprus and its EU partners.” [emphasis added]

It goes on:

“Turkey alone recognises the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

Readers are provided with a similarly worded map:

Later on an attempt is made to provide some historical background:

“The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been separated by a UN buffer zone since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to a military coup in Cyprus backed by Greece.”

Interestingly – but predictably – the words ‘occupation’ and ‘occupied’ do not appear anywhere in this report. As has been the case in past BBC reporting, there is no reference in the report to “illegal settlements” or “international law” despite the fact that it was Turkish state policy to facilitate and encourage the immigration of Turkish nationals to Cyrpus during the latter half of the 1970s.

In contrast to BBC coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, readers do not find any pronouncements allocating disputed territory to one side or the other in the style of the frequently employed terminology “occupied Palestinian land” and “Palestinian territory” and no mention is made of the presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus. Moreover, the previous BBC policy of describing northern Cyprus as being ‘controlled’ by Turkey appears to have been abandoned.

Readers are told that:

“The Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel are also exploring for gas.

In July [sic] a new “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF) was launched by those three countries, plus Egypt, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority. However, Turkey was excluded.”

The EMGF was actually established in January 2019.

The background to the story includes agreements reached in late November between Turkey and the interim government of Libya which are described as follows:

“Last month, Turkey and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the region.

The Memorandum of Understanding aims to protect the rights of both countries against any “illegal” encroachments by other players in the region.

In a separate memorandum, Turkey and the GNA agreed on military co-operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was “ready to provide all kinds of support to Libya”. He met GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday.”

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus adds:

“Turkey’s deal with the Libyan government in Tripoli extends Ankara’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to touch that of Libya. This effectively cuts off Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and the Palestinians from Greece and Italy, threatening planned energy pipeline projects in the region.

Egypt objected. Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador and received support from the EU.”

Writing at the FDD, Aykan Erdemir provides a more helpful explanation:

“Turkey signed an agreement with Libya on November 27 in an attempt to redraw maritime boundaries in the volatile eastern Mediterranean. […] the Turkey-Libya deal will fuel further tensions by threatening Greek, Cypriot, and Egyptian control of their territorial waters. […]

The deal seeks to create a maritime corridor between the two countries, stretching from southwest Turkey to northeast Libya. This corridor would cut through a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, which are planning a future gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean gas fields to markets in Europe – a project that would help the continent reduce dependency on Russian gas. Ankara’s attempt to dictate new boundaries directly challenges the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece. […]

Tensions among Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia were already high due to Turkey’s exploration and drilling for gas within Cypriot territorial waters. Since a 1974 coup attempt led by Greek army officers, Turkey has occupied the northern part of the island, where Turkish Cypriots maintain a self-proclaimed independent state recognized only by Ankara. After the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus discovered natural gas within its EEZ, Turkey has repeatedly attempted to drill in Cypriot territorial waters. The Turkish government claims its drilling is necessary to ensure equal shares for Turkish Cypriots in gas revenues, but its incursions into Cypriot and Greek waters have escalated tensions with Athens and Nicosia, forced the European Union to consider imposing sanctions, and left Ankara with few allies in the region.”

The BBC report’s explanation of what its opening sentence described as “controversial gas exploration projects” is as follows:

“Turkey has long challenged the Republic of Cyprus government’s exclusive drilling rights in the region. Turkey is now stepping up oil and gas exploration of its own.”

And:

“The Republic of Cyprus argues that Turkey has no right to drill for hydrocarbons off its coast.

Turkey says its drilling operations are taking place inside its continental shelf, and therefore comply with international law.”

That ‘he said-she said’ portrayal of the dispute clearly does not provide BBC audiences with the “depth of analysis” required “to build people’s understanding” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.  

Related Articles:

Not all ‘occupied territories’ are equal for the BBC

When the BBC News website reported an enduring conflict without a narrative

BBC double standards on disputed territory in evidence again

 

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

Throughout the month of November 2019, thirty 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.

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

Eight reports concerned an escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad:

Israel kills top Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant in Gaza (12/11/19) discussed here, here and here

Israel-Gaza violence: Rockets and air strikes follow militant death (12/11/19 to 22/11/19) discussed here

Israel-Gaza violence spirals after killing of top Palestinian militant (12/11/19 to 13/11/19) discussed here and here

Israel-Gaza fighting continues for second day after militant’s death (13/11/19 to 14/11/19) discussed here and here

Israel-Gaza ceasefire holding despite rocket fire (14/11/19 to 15/11/19) discussed here and here

Israel-Gaza ceasefire strained by rockets and air strikes (15/11/19)

Israel-Gaza: Israel vows to investigate civilian death claims (16/11/19 to 19/11/19)

Israel-Gaza clash: Why Hamas chose restraint Barbara Plett Usher (18/11/19 to 23/11/19) discussed here

Three reports concerned other external security issues:

Iran nuclear deal: IAEA finds uranium particles at undeclared site  (11/11/19 to 15/11/19)

Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes  Jonathan Marcus (20/11/19 to 26/11/19 and 28/11/19 to 1/12/19)

Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria (20/11/19 to 22/11/19) discussed here

Seven items related to political/diplomatic stories:

Jordanians detained by Israel for months freed after diplomatic crisis (6/11/19 to 7/11/19) discussed here

Jordan ends border enclaves land lease for Israeli farmers (10/11/19 to 11/11/19) discussed here

US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal (18/11/19) discussed here and here

Pompeo: Previous US stance on Israeli settlements ‘hasn’t worked’ (18/11/19 to 24/11/19)

US settlement move endorses ‘law of the jungle’ – Palestinians (19/11/19 to 21/11/19) discussed here and here

US settlement move reduces chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal Barbara Plett Usher (19/11/19 to 25/11/19) discussed here and here

Israelis and Palestinians on US settlement move (19/11/19 to 21/11/19 and 23/11/19 to 29/11/19)

Two items related to historical content:

WW2 Jewish survivors in rare reunion with Greek rescuer (4/11/19 to 5/11/19)

Greek rescuer, 92, meets families of WW2 Jews she saved (4/11/19 to 18/11/19)

One report related to religion:

Jesus manger: Relic returns to Bethlehem in time for Christmas (30/11/19 to present)

Of nine items relating to internal Israeli internal affairs, one concerned politics:

Benny Gantz unable to form Israel coalition government (20/11/19 to 24/11/19)

Seven items related to legal stories:

Israel court rejects Human Rights Watch activist’s deportation appeal (5/11/19 to 6/11/19) discussed here

Israel’s deportation of Human Rights Watch activist condemned (25/11/19 to present) discussed here

Netanyahu: Corruption charges an ‘attempted coup’ (21/11/19 to present)

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM charged with corruption (21/11/19)

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption charges? Originally published in February 2019 (21/11/19)

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM defiant in face of ‘coup’ (22/11/19)

Israel’s Netanyahu facing fight of his political life Barbara Plett Usher (22/11/19 to 25/11/19) discussed here and here

One report concerned planning:

Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan (6/11/19 to 7/11/19) discussed here

The BBC News website continues its practice of reporting Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian internal affairs with visitors having seen no coverage of that topic whatsoever during the month of November.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

 

 

 

BBC News ignores rockets on northern Israel but reports response

When sirens warning of rocket fire from Syria sent residents of the northern Golan Heights and Upper Galilee scurrying for shelter shortly before 5 a.m. on November 19th, the BBC did not find that story newsworthy.

“Four projectiles were fired at northern Israel from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or one of its proxies.”

The Israeli response which came the next day was however considered worthy of BBC News website coverage and on the morning of November 20th a report originally confusingly headlined “Israel hits ‘dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets’” and now titled “Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria” was published on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Apparently not having bothered to verify details of the previous day’s incident itself, the BBC reported it as something that ‘Israel said’ happened.

“The Israeli military says the “wide-scale strikes” responded to rockets fired by an Iranian unit into Israel. […]

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said it had intercepted four rockets fired from Syria towards northern Israel. It said the rockets did not hit the ground.”

As usual in coverage of such incidents, the BBC’s report uncritically amplified claims made by the infamous Syrian state news agency.

“Syria says two civilians died and that Syrian air defences shot down most of the missiles over Damascus. […]

Syria’s state news agency Sana said that the country’s “air defence confronted the heavy attack and intercepted the hostile missiles”.

It said that Syria destroyed “most” of the Israeli missiles.

The news agency added that the strikes on Syrian territory were carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories”.”

Also in line with longstanding BBC editorial policy, the report presented an unnecessarily qualified account of Iran’s activities in Syria.

“Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

It has been trying to thwart what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” there and block shipments of Iranian weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.”

Readers were told nothing of the list of Iranian attacks on Israel throughout the past two years.

Later the same day the BBC News website published an additional article by its diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes” and inaccurately tagged “Syrian civil war”.  

The BBC News Twitter account promoted that article with the claim that “Israel’s strikes in Syria risk broad conflict with Iran”.

So there we have it: according to BBC-think it is not Iran’s funding and arming of terrorist organisations to Israel’s south and north or Iran’s support for the establishment of Hizballah infrastructure in the Syrian Golan or even Iran’s reported deployment of missiles in south-west Syria which raise the risk of “broad conflict” but Israel’s response to Iranian aggression.

Related Articles:

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Slapdash BBC News reporting of events in northern Israel and Syria

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

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

 

 

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

Throughout the month of February 2019, seventeen items 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.

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

One item related to security issues:

Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN (28/2/19 to 2/3/19) discussed here

Two items related to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Hebron: One Street, Two Sides (18/2/19 to 22/2/19) discussed here and here

Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations (25/2 19 to 26/2/19) discussed here

One item related to Palestinian affairs:

US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Yolande Knell (1/2/19 to 4/2/19) discussed here

Of the reports concerning Israel, three articles concerned foreign and diplomatic relations:

Warsaw summit: Why Iran is the elephant in the room Jonathan Marcus (12/2/19 to 19/2/19)

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment (17/2/19 to 18/2/19) discussed here

Holocaust: Israel summit scrapped in ‘racism’ row with Poland (18/2/19 to 21/2/19)

One item related to trade:

US to buy Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (6/2/19 to 9/2/19) discussed here

One report concerned the upcoming general election:

Israel elections: Netanyahu challengers Gantz and Lapid join forces (21/2/19 to 25/2/19)

Three reports related to legal/criminal cases in Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (28/2/19 to 1/3/19) discussed here

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (28/2/19) discussed here

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption Tom Bateman (20/2/19 to 28/2/19) discussed here

One item related to historical subject matter:

A 2,000-year-old biblical treasure BBC Travel (25/2/19 to 27/2/19)

One item related to science:

Israel’s Beresheet Moon mission gets under way Jonathan Amos (22/2/19 to 25/2/19)

One item concerned social issues:

Why I use a Jewish ritual bath after my period Erica Chernofsky (10/2/19 to 14/2/19)

Two additional items did not actually relate directly to Israel:

Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport Emmanuel Igunza (18/2/19 to 19/2/19) discussed here

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich attacked during break-in (26/2/19 to 27/2/19) discussed here

As has been the case in previous years (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website continues to cover Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

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

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two

 

 

 

 

 

Looking behind a BBC News website tag

On June 27th two items relating to the same topic appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages:

OPCW chemical watchdog gains power to assign blame

Chemical weapons: New watchdog powers an important step” by Jonathan Marcus

In his article diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus points out that:

“Until now, chemical weapons inspectors, working under the auspices of the OPCW (the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) were in a curious position.

They could send teams to an alleged chemical weapons attack. They could take samples and draw their conclusions. They could determine whether indeed a chemical weapons incident had occurred.

But whatever evidence they turned up, they could not point the finger at a particular country or non-state actor as the perpetrator. […]

One way of getting around this was the so-called Joint Investigative Mechanism – a concerted effort by the OPCW and the UN to investigate some of the alleged chemical attacks in Syria.

In difficult conditions this did indeed investigate alleged chemical attacks in Syria and found sufficient evidence to determine that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces (President Bashar al-Assad’s troops) were responsible for three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015, and that the Syrian regime was responsible for the Sarin nerve agent attack in April 2017 in Khan Shaykhun.”

Despite that accurate portrayal by Marcus of the findings concerning some of the past chemical attacks in Syria, curiously the BBC News website chose to tag both those articles “Suspected Syria chemical attack”.

A look at all the BBC reports appearing under that tag shows that it was created shortly after the chemical weapons attack in Douma on April 7th 2018 to which the US, the UK and France subsequently responded with strikes on Syrian government chemical weapons sites. Obviously the French, British and American governments considered the evidence convincing enough to justify those strikes but nevertheless, some of the articles appearing under that tag continue to amplify unsupported Syrian and Russian claims – for example:

“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told BBC News the allegations of chemical weapons use were “based on media reports and social media” and that the incident was “staged”. […]

The [Syrian] government denies using chemical weapons and says the attack was fabricated.” (BBC News website, April 18th 2018)

“The US, UK and France say that, based on open-source information and their own intelligence, they are confident chlorine and possibly a nerve agent were used.

The Syrian government and Russia deny chemical weapons were used and say evidence was fabricated.” (BBC News website, April 21st 2018)

“Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics say more than 40 people were killed in a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian city of Douma in April.

France said it had “proof” that “chemical weapons were used – at least chlorine – and that they were used by Bashar al-Assad’s regime”.

The Syrian government denied the allegation. And its key ally Russia said it had “irrefutable evidence” that the incident had been “staged” with the help of the UK.” (BBC News website, June 26th 2018)

As we see the BBC continues its policy of promoting false balance in the form of claims from Syria and Russia – despite both those governments having been shown to have lied about previous chemical attacks. In contrast, the New York Times recently published the findings of an investigation it conducted into the Douma attack.

Readers can judge for themselves which approach – proactive investigative reporting or box-ticking uncritical amplification of unsubstantiated claims – best serves the interests of the public to whom the BBC is obliged to deliver  “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda