The BBC, Jerusalem and historical framing

On December 28th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel: Minister leads prayers for rain to end drought” which informed audiences that:

“Israel’s Agriculture Minister, Uri Ariel, has joined with the country’s religious leaders in an attempt to use the power of prayer to end a drought.

Mr Ariel is an Orthodox Jew and led prayers on Thursday at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Severe drought for four years has left the country’s water supplies at low levels.

Critics said the minister should tackle the crisis more practically.”

The short report continued:

“Israel’s drought has had a significant impact on farming communities and caused the country to become reliant on its desalination plants on its Mediterranean coast.

“We significantly lowered the cost of water, we are carrying out many studies on how to save water in different crops, but prayer can certainly help,” Mr Ariel said.

The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth wrote: “Prayer is not a bad thing, but the minister has the ability to influence [matters] in slightly more earthly ways” – such as promoting policies to reduce climate change, it suggested.”

Notably, the BBC did not inform its audiences that, with or without Mr Ariel’s call for a prayer for rain, prayers would have taken place at the Western Wall on that particular day anyway because it was the 10th of Tevet: a minor fast in the Jewish calendar that marks the day on which the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem began in the year 588 BCE – an event which eventually led to the destruction on the Temple in 586 BCE and the first exile of Jews from Israel. 

Could it be that for the BBC – which consistently portrays the history of Jerusalem as having commenced in June 1967 – that was too much information?

 

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BBC Teach to edit inaccurate educational video

Readers may recall that last month we noted some inaccuracies in BBC produced educational videos. Using BBC Watch’s post, Mr Dennis Levene contacted BBC Teach to raise the problematic points.

In the response received, BBC Teach’s producer denied that in the video titled “J is for Jesus“ viewers are told that the Jews “…turned against him [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans; nailed to a cross.”

BBC Teach stated:

“We don’t […] say that ‘The Jews’ turned against Jesus and had him executed.  The script says: “Eventually, many of the religious teachers and the people… turned against [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans’.  This is fair reflection of widely-accepted events.”  [emphasis added]

Apparently it is not sufficiently clear to BBC Teach that – like Jesus himself – those “religious teachers and the people” were Jews or that the ‘Jews killed Jesus’ calumny has been at the root of Christian antisemitism for centuries.

The video titled “T is for Temples” tells viewers that:

“Centuries later the Jewish people were able to rebuild, only to have the Second Temple destroyed by the Roman as punishment for a rebellion. But a small part – the Western Wall – still stands and it is the most sacred place for Jewish people.”

And:

“It’s [Jerusalem] also where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The rock he ascended from was incorporated into the Islamic shrine the Dome of the Rock. It’s built where the Jewish Temple used to stand and is sacred to both Jewish people and Muslims.”

BBC Teach’s response to Mr Levene’s email states:

“The Western Wall formed part of the second temple complex.  It was a section of the retaining wall of the temple plaza.  Because the terms ‘temple complex’ and ‘temple’ can be, and are, used interchangeably, the Western Wall could reasonably be described as part of the temple.” [emphasis added]

However, BBC Teach did concede two other points.

“The Rock is sacred to the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  But, as ‘BBC Watch’ points out, the Dome of the Rock isn’t sacred to Jewish people.  I don’t believe the script writers intended to say it was, but I can see how the phrasing of the sentence could give that impression.”

And:

 “‘BBC Watch’ is right to say that Temple Mount is the most sacred place for Jewish people, not the Western Wall. The Western Wall should have been described as the most sacred place where Jewish people can pray.”  

BBC Teach producer Sam Datta-Paulin added:

“The producers of this content consulted with specialist educational consultants throughout the film-making process.  The mistake about the most scared [sic] place was made in good faith and we apologise.

We are having the film edited to correct errors and confusion, and ensure it is correct in future.”

At the time of writing the film remains available in its original form and has not yet been edited.

 

BBC resource for teachers spreads inaccuracies about Judaism

Last year the BBC launched a project called ‘BBC Teach’ which it describes as follows:

“With the increased use of the internet in classrooms, teachers now have unprecedented access to a whole range of resources to help with delivering the curriculum. While there is plenty of content available to access, teachers come to the BBC because we are a trusted brand and recognised provider of quality teaching resources. We wish to build on our reputation with BBC Teach, a new and exciting platform for schools and teachers.  

BBC Teach aims to support teachers by curating the best of BBC videos, clips and other curriculum-related resources for use in the classroom. The BBC Teach brand is a dedicated teaching resource site hosted on YouTube.”

Along with lots of other material, the BBC Teach website currently offers a new series titled “A to Z of Religions and Beliefs” that is described as “an animated A to Z guide exploring and introducing a variety of religious topics for students aged 11 – 14”.

One would of course expect material touted as “quality teaching resources” produced by a self-described “trusted brand” to take particular care to be accurate and impartial and to refrain from propagating archaic religious stereotypes. That, however, is not the case in all the videos in that series.

In the video titled “J is for Jesus“, the target audience of 11 to 14 year-olds is told that the Jews:

“…turned against him [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans; nailed to a cross.”

The video titled “T is for Temples” tells viewers that:

“Centuries later the Jewish people were able to rebuild, only to have the Second Temple destroyed by the Roman as punishment for a rebellion. But a small part – the Western Wall – still stands and it is the most sacred place for Jewish people.”

The Western Wall is of course not a “part” of the Second Temple but a section of the retaining wall of the plaza on which the Temple stood. Neither is it “the most sacred place for Jewish people”: that title belongs to Temple Mount.

Later in the same video, pupils are told that:

“It’s [Jerusalem] also where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The rock he ascended from was incorporated into the Islamic shrine the Dome of the Rock. It’s built where the Jewish Temple used to stand and is sacred to both Jewish people and Muslims.”

The Dome of the Rock is of course not “sacred” to Jews as suggested by that wording: Temple Mount – on which it and additional structures stand – however is.

Obviously any teacher considering using BBC Teach material needs to carefully fact check its content before doing so.  

Related Articles:

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ misleads on Western Wall and the Waqf

BBC ‘explains’ its claim that Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site

Antisemitic rant on BBC Radio London gets media attention

The inadequately challenged thirteen minute-long antisemitic rant of a caller to a BBC Radio London phone-in show on December 22nd has attracted media attention both in the UK and Israel.BBC Radio London

The story has been covered by the Israeli news site nrg (Hebrew) and at the Times of Israel in a report titled “BBC radio hosts 13-minute Jewish conspiracy rant” which points out that:

“At no point did the presenter, who challenged Andy intermittently on his arguments, note that he was spouting anti-Semitism.”

In the UK, the Jewish News reported the story on December 28th and the following day the Jewish Chronicle published an article titled “Caller’s shocking antisemitic rant on BBC radio phone-in“.

As both those reports point out, the BBC spokesman’s defence of the corporation’s handling of the incident includes the claim that “[f]ollowing the interview reaction from other listeners was also broadcast” with – as the Jewish Chronicle notes – “one saying the caller was an “angry conspiracy theorist”.

That would of course suggest that the BBC is trying to claim that its own obligations – as laid out in the editorial guidelines, in the Agreement accompanying the Royal Charter and in the OFCOM guidance notes on harm and offence – can be outsourced to members of the general public.

The fact that some additional callers who happened to be listening to BBC Radio London at the time reacted to this item after it was broadcast clearly in no way mitigates the fact that the BBC presenter failed to adequately challenge the inaccuracies, conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes heard by listeners to the programme. 

BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the BBC charter review included the following proposal:

“The BBC also needs to commit to mandatory education for its staff – including producers, journalists, handlers of complaints and message board moderators – on the issue of recognizing and identifying antisemitism.  The issue of propagation of antisemitic discourse on BBC message boards and social media must be tackled vigorously through improved moderation and the promotion of antisemitic tropes in BBC content should obviously be entirely unacceptable.”

This case clearly once again underscores the need for action on this issue. 

Mainstreaming antisemitic discourse on BBC Radio London

Brought to us by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the audio clip available here comes from a phone-in programme broadcast on BBC Radio London on December 22nd and hosted by Simon Lederman.BBC Radio London

That inadequately challenged collection of classic antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories and factual inaccuracies has obviously raised concerns and via the Jewish News we learn that the BBC has responded as follows:

“A BBC spokesperson said: “The aim of the programme is to discuss and debate issues raised by our listeners. This was a live phone in and the caller was challenged on his views throughout the conversation. Following the interview reaction from other listeners was also broadcast.””

But was the caller really “challenged on his views throughout the conversation” and were obvious inaccuracies corrected by the presenter?

The repeated claim that “Zionist Jews” control and “own” the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, corporate America and the media was not adequately challenged: at no point did the presenter inform listeners that those claims are simply untrue.

The inaccurate claim that “most of the Jews of the world” come from “an empire called Khazaria” was not challenged at all. That perhaps is a little less surprising when one considers that the BBC has previously given airtime to the main proponent of that myth.

The inaccurate assertion that “real” Judaism “has nothing to do with Zionism” was not challenged and neither were the inaccurate claims that “Balfour created essentially the State of Israel” and that “the British had a protectorate” in Palestine. Indeed the reaction from the presenter to those last two inaccuracies was to say “right”.

Moreover, Lederman himself fed listeners historical factual inaccuracies.

“I mean in terms of Zionism and in terms of the creation of Israel, I was under the impression – and I’m sure many of our listeners were too – that came out of the end of the Second World War where the League of Nations – slash United Nations as they later became – decided that was probably one of the best solutions in order to ensure the safety of a race of people who were almost exterminated in the Second World War. You don’t believe that’s the case?”

The BBC presenter also found it appropriate to mainstream the notion that discussion of whether or not one sole member state of the United Nations should exist is legitimate.

“And there is a debate – listen, I’m not saying there is no debate – clearly there is a debate about whether Israel in its current form should be where it is, whether the rights of the Palestinians have been outweighed by the rights of the Israelis, whether some of the decisions that were made – possibly some would perceive as in haste at the end of the Second World War – were the right decisions….”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on Harm and Offence include the following words:

“We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services.  Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc.  may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.” [emphasis added]

And:

“The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to apply “generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material“.” 

The dissemination and mainstreaming of classic antisemitic tropes concerning Jews, power and money is clearly both offensive and harmful.

BBC guidance concerning live output states:

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we should make an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype.”

The OFCOM guidance notes on Harm and Offence state:

“Racist terms and material should be avoided unless their inclusion can be justified by the editorial of the programme. Broadcasters should take particular care in their portrayal of culturally diverse matters and should avoid stereotyping unless editorially justified. When considering such matters, broadcasters should take into account the possible effects programmes may have on particular sections of the community.”

In his July 2015 address on the topic of extremism the British Prime Minister spoke about “certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish” and in that category he included “ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power…”.

The fact that a BBC presenter not only failed to adequately challenge precisely such conspiracies but – as he himself stated – gave this particular caller “more [time on air] than I have done anyone” should clearly be cause for serious concern.

Resources:

BBC Radio London contact details

 

 

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

If you happened to be a BBC journalist looking for information about an unfamiliar faith, the place to go would be the BBC Academy’s Subject Guide on Religion. There you would find the following introductory statement:

“Attitudes to religion are influenced by understanding – and it’s a journalist’s job to inform. So it’s important to be aware of the principles behind the world’s religions. In this section of the BBC Academy website, some of the BBC’s most experienced commentators […] guide you through the basics.”

One of the eight items on that page is former BBC religious affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan’s guide to Judaism which consists of text and a ten and a half-minute video. At the end of that video Buchanan tells her colleagues:Academy Judaism

“A knowledge of the history and of the different practices within Judaism is essential if journalists are going to report accurately any story connected with the Jewish faith.”

Indeed – and one might therefore expect Buchanan’s filmed guide to pay particular attention to the accuracy of its presentation of Judaism and Jews. So how does it fare?

Standing in front of the Western Wall, Buchanan tells viewers:

“This is the remains of the outer wall of the Jewish Second Temple, built by King Herod the Great.”

No – that is a retaining wall of the Temple Mount plaza: not a remnant of the Temple itself.

Buchanan goes on:

“The Western Wall is the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”

Misleading: the holiest place in Judaism is Temple Mount but Jews do not pray there under the terms of the status quo. The Western Wall is the closest site to Temple Mount where Jews are currently permitted to pray.  

“It’s also called the Wailing Wall because for centuries Jews have come here to lament the destruction of their Temple.”

The anachronistic term “Wailing Wall” is of course an English invention which is not used by those for whom the site has cultural and religious significance.

With regard to the Temple, viewers are also told that:

“Inside used to be the Ark of the Covenant: scrolls containing the Ten Commandments which the prophet Moses brought to Israel after the exodus from Egypt.”

The Ark of the Covenant is of course viewed as an object in itself, the Ten Commandments are said to have been inscribed on stone tablets rather than scrolls and Moses did not enter Israel.

Footage of worshippers laying Tefillin is accompanied by the statement “from the age of 13 men wrap this black tape around their arms….” and the Torah is confusingly described as “the first five books of the Christian bible”. [emphasis added]

There is also no shortage of dubious political commentary in this film. Despite the fact that Israel’s first Knesset included sixteen representatives from the United Religious Front, viewers are told that:

“Israel was created in 1948 by Jewish nationalists who were not, in the main, religious. But in the years since then the influence of religious Jews in politics has grown.”

As is usually the case in BBC content, the terms of the Mandate for Palestine and the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem are erased, with history hence conveniently beginning after the Six Day War.

“….Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war….”

“This then inspired Jewish settlers to move into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza…” [emphasis added]

Those “Jewish settlers” are portrayed as a homogeneous group, with the kibbutz movement erased from history:

“The settlement movement, driven by religious Zionists, came to dominate the Israeli Right and became the most dynamic movement in the politics of the Jewish state.”

British Jews too find themselves subject to some dubious labelling:

“The more Orthodox communities are finding their numbers growing because of their higher birth rate while more moderate Jews are seeing their numbers drop as some marry out of the faith.”

Near the beginning of the film viewers are told that;

“There are 12 million Jewish people in the world – most of them here in Israel and in America and the former Soviet Union.”

The former Soviet Union actually has fewer Jews today than France, the UK or Canada. Buchanan then goes on to promote the following stereotype:

“The numbers are small compared to the other major faiths but Jewish people exert considerable political and cultural influence.”

Towards the end of the film, viewers are told that:

“The so-called Jewish lobby in the United States has done much to keep America’s loyalty to Israel unshaken. It’s also teamed up with the Christian Right to find a common goal in opposing Islamic influence in the Holy Land.”

This film is supposed to be a reference item for BBC journalists, designed to help them produce accurate, impartial and informative content. It is therefore little wonder that we see, for example, repeated inaccuracies concerning the Western Wall and Temple Mount in BBC reporting or that promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope has become such a regular feature of BBC content.

BBC reveals: 2,500 year-old Jewish text contains ‘negative messages for women’

The BBC website has a ‘Religion & Ethics’ section which includes a page on “featured religions and beliefs“. Included on that page is a link to the section on Judaism and there, under the heading “Holy Days”, BBC audiences can read about PurimJumbo Hamentashen

Curiously, much of the (uncredited) information there bears a remarkable resemblance to that provided on a website called ‘Judaism 101’ and in fact a link to that site – as well as to Wikipedia (yes, really) – appears on the page. But the BBC has also added some interpretations of its own to the Purim story and has made the shocking discovery that a 2,500 year-old text contains “negative messages for women”.

negative messages for women

Now of course the question of whether or not there is actually any educational or intellectual value in applying modern-day mores to a millennia-old traditional story is a debate in itself, but if the BBC has chosen to go down that dubious route, one would at least expect it to be consistent in that practice.

So we might for example perhaps expect to read some BBC criticism on the topic of the “negative messages” for young adults conveyed by the claim of a virgin pregnancy in its section dealing with the Christmas story or a science-based deconstruction of the notion of resurrection in its page on Easter – but we don’t. Likewise, explanation of any “negative messages” conveyed by the practice of animal sacrifice does not appear in sections relating to the Santeria faith or the Muslim holiday of Eid el Adha.

But at least the BBC is consistent in showing its inconsistency – and in providing Purim laughs.

Related Articles:

Happy Purim! (and the BBC moves Megillat Esther)