BBC WS report on Har Adar attack avoids narrative-conflicting issues

The September 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included (from 33:54 here) a report supposedly about the terror attack that took place at Har Adar earlier the same day.

Unsurprisingly, presenter Julian Marshall portrayed the attack without using the words terror or terrorist: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Marshall: “Let’s go now to Israel where President Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt has arrived in Jerusalem to try to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks and shortly before his arrival there was a shooting incident on the occupied West Bank in which three Israelis were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman who was himself later killed by police. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on what he called ‘Palestinian incitement’. The BBC’s Yolande Knell joins us now from Jerusalem and, Yolande, first tell us a bit more about that shooting incident.”

Knell: “Well the attack happened early this morning at Har Adar settlement. It’s just north-west of Jerusalem, just inside the occupied West Bank, and there are Palestinian workers there who were – with Israeli permits – going to work inside the settlement. They were queuing up for security checks. This man was among them and he had a work permit but his behaviour made security staff suspicious. When they asked him to stop he pulled out a gun and he shot and killed two of the private security guards from the settlement and one Israeli policeman as well. There was another security official who was badly injured and then the Palestinian man himself was shot dead. I was in the area just afterwards as an ambulance raced past. All surrounding roads were blocked off with a very heavy security presence.”

Marshall: “And…err…what has prompted the prime minister to blame the attack on ‘Palestinian incitement’?”

With BBC audiences being serially under-informed about Palestinian incitement, that question (notwithstanding the scoffing tone in which it was voiced) obviously provided an opportunity to enhance listeners’ understanding of the issue. Yolande Knell did not however step up to the plate.

Knell: “This is something that we have regularly seen from the Israeli prime minister. He also called on the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the shooting and his deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely linked this to the arrival of the US envoy Jason Greenblatt – he’s back here trying to revive the moribund peace process. She said that the Palestinians meant this as a reception for him and she suggested that the US should focus on getting the Palestinian leader to condemn such acts of violence before any peace initiative could be launched. And we’ve heard this a lot from Israeli leaders recently.”

In addition to side-stepping the very relevant topic of incitement, Knell also avoided a no less important subject raised by Tzipi Hotovely in the statement partly paraphrased by Knell.

“The terrible attack this morning in Har Adar is the reception that the Palestinians prepared for US envoy Greenblatt,” she [Hotovely] said in a statement. “The American efforts must focus first of all on stopping the murderous Palestinian terror before anything else. There can be no negotiations with those who only fan the flames of terrorism and continue to pay the families of terrorists.”

The issue of the PA’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists, allocation of benefits to released prisoners and payments to the families of terrorists killed while carrying out attacks is one about which BBC audiences know next to nothing. Knell, however, sidelined that issue too and – choosing her words carefully – went on:

Knell: “Of course it’s very difficult for Palestinian leaders to come out..ehm…condemning individual attacks because many of these…err…attackers would be seen…by…many Palestinians as being heroes of some kind while the Israelis would see them as being terrorist. And there was actually a senior member of President Abbas’ Fatah movement who came out saying that Israel alone bears responsibility for what he called the crimes of the occupation. And then the…err…Palestinian militant group Hamas as well; their spokesman told the BBC…ahm…that this was a natural reaction – those were his words – to the occupation and he praised this attack.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that Abbas’ Fatah party glorified the terrorist on social media or that among the so-called “crimes of the occupation” cited by that Fatah “senior member” was “the incessant invasions by the herds of settlers of the Al-Aqsa Mosque plazas”. 

Marshall then gave Knell the cue for a typically tepid and obfuscating portrayal of the breakdown of negotiations in 2014.

Marshall: “Ahm…Yolande, you referred to those…err…peace talks as moribund. In fact so moribund you’re going to have to remind us when the two sides last sat down to talk to each other.”

Knell: “Well it’s now three years since…eh…the peace talks – the last round of peace talks – which were brokered by the US – ehm…fell apart. And Jason Greenblatt is back, trying to help President Trump work towards what he’s called the ultimate deal but there have been many signs that this is not gathering momentum. Palestinian leaders making complaints that the US is not pressuring Israel to curb its construction of Jewish settlements on land they want for their future state.”

Knell of course knows full well that the phrase “construction of Jewish settlements” is inaccurate and misleading, with no new communities having been constructed for decades. She closed her report with the BBC’s standard – yet partial – mantra on ‘international law’.

Knell: “Of course settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees with that. And the other complicating factor that we have to remember are [sic] these fresh signs of reconciliation between the two main Palestinian political factions; between Hamas and Fatah. Ehm…they’ve just said in the last week or so that they want to work towards a unity government; expected to have more on that and Hamas of course is seen by the US, by Israel, by the EU and others as being a terrorist group.”

In conclusion, listeners to this report ostensibly about a terror attack against Israelis did not hear the words terror or terrorist used in the BBC’s portrayal of the incident. Neither did they learn anything about the three people murdered other than their job descriptions and Yolande Knell carefully avoided narrative-conflicting topics such as the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism and financial rewards to terrorists.

However, BBC World Service listeners did hear two references to the “occupied West Bank”, five references to “settlements”, two references to “the occupation” and a one-sided portrayal of international law.

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BBC’s ME correspondents revert to partisan terminology for Temple Mount – part one

Just over a year ago we documented changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount.

“In late 2014, audiences began to see the employment of different terminology by some BBC journalists… […] the term ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – or even just ‘al Aqsa Mosque’ – was employed to describe what the BBC previously called Haram al Sharif with increasing frequency from November 2014 onwards. […]

So how and why did that deviation from the BBC’s recommended terminology come about? As noted above, the change in language first appeared in November 2014. At the beginning of that month – on November 5th– the PLO put out a “media advisory” document (since removed from its website) informing foreign journalists of its “[c]oncern over the use of the inaccurate term “Temple Mount” to refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem”. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s tactic of negation of Jewish history in Jerusalem.”

Following that post, the BBC largely returned to using the terminology specified in its own style guide. However, the employment of that PLO recommended wording has been seen once again in some of the BBC’s reporting on the recent violence in Jerusalem – including in a backgrounder produced by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell.

“Now the gate to the al Aqsa mosque compound is open once again but to reach it you have to pass through one of those metal detectors.” [emphasis added]

On July 21st an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 49:58 here) that was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall as follows: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Marshall: “And to Jerusalem now where dozens of Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli police amid tensions surrounding the holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Our Mid-East correspondent Yolande Knell joins us now and, Yolande, why are the Palestinians protesting?”

Knell: “Well these clashes are continuing now after Friday prayers turned into protests. There have been tensions all week after Israeli officials put in place new metal detectors at the entrance to the al Aqsa mosque compound; this site which is sacred to Jews as well – known as Temple Mount. These detectors were installed after an attack that killed two Israeli policemen last week and Israel has been insisting that these new security measures are about safety only; they don’t alter the sensitive status quo, as it’s called, at this disputed site. But Palestinians see them very much as an attempt by Israel to extend its control there and of course…ehm…Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem is something…ehm…that is…err…really extremely…err…sensitive for Palestinians and any perceived changes at the al Aqsa mosque compound – at this holy site – can be a real flash-point for violence. We’ve seen that in the last few hours. There are now reports that a third Palestinian has been killed in these clashes between…err…protesters and Israeli security forces focused on Jerusalem but also around the West Bank. There have been clashes in Qalandiya checkpoint, in Ramallah, in Hebron and in Bethlehem where I was earlier, this after political factions called for a Day of Rage.”

Marshall: “And…erm…the metal detectors are not the only point of contention. I understand that there’s an age restriction at the moment on the number [sic] of Muslim worshippers who are allowed in.”

Knell: “Well that was something that was imposed for these Friday prayers. First of all, after this…eh….attack a week ago…ah…the Israeli authorities closed the whole compound for two days: this is something very unusual. Then, it has been opened through the week but Palestinians have been refusing to enter the compound, to go through these metal detectors and instead we’ve had hundreds of people praying on the street outside. So there have been clashes with police through the week. The restriction that was placed on today was that Muslim men under 50 were barred from entering the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s been this huge Israeli police presence all around the city and busloads of Muslim worshippers have been prevented from reaching it.”

As we see, in addition to promoting partisan PLO approved terminology to describe Temple Mount, Knell completely erased from her account of the installation of metal detectors the crucial fact that the three terrorists (whom she also deletes entirely from the story) who murdered the two Israeli policemen on July 14th did so using weapons which had been smuggled into al Aqsa mosque by an accomplice.

She also failed to explain to listeners what the ‘status quo’ on Temple Mount entails and to clarify that Palestinian claims of  “changes” are baseless, while refraining from telling audiences about the copious incitement from the Waqf and official Palestinian sources that sparked the violence.

However, Knell was not the only Middle East correspondent to compromise BBC impartiality by prioritising PLO recommended language over the standard BBC terminology to describe Temple Mount in a report on July 21st – as will be seen in part two of this post.

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BBC coverage of the Jerusalem terror attack – part two: BBC radio

Several hours after the terror attack at Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem on the morning of July 14th in which police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan were murdered and two others wounded, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired a report (from 19:18 here) on that story that was introduced by Julian Marshall as follows:

“And we go now to Israel where two Israeli police officers have died after three Israeli Arab gunmen opened fire on them in Jerusalem’s old city. Police chased the attackers into one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites – known to Jews as Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al Sharif. All three attackers were killed.”

As was the case in the BBC’s written report on the same incident, that description does not adequately clarify that the terrorists had been on Temple Mount for an unknown period of time before the attack – and had even posted photographs of themselves there on social media – or that, as the Times of Israel reports, they returned to that site – with the police in pursuit – after carrying out the attack.

Marshall continued:

“The mosque complex at al Aqsa has been closed and evacuated and Friday prayers there have been cancelled for only the second time in 50 years. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack in a telephone call with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Israel’s minister of public security, Gilad Erdan, said the Palestinian leadership should be held responsible.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Erdan speaking which included the only mentions of the words terror and terrorists in the entire report.

“The terrorists they used firearms inside the Temple Mount violating, violating the holiness of this important place. I say and repeat again and again: Israel has kept the status quo on Temple Mount and continue to keep the status quo here. We always respected the freedom of worship to everyone – Muslims, Jews, Christians – but we all should understand that the incitement that was led by President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority directly led to this terror attack that happened this morning.”

Marshall: “Well let’s go live now to Jerusalem and the BBC’s Tom Bateman. So what actually happened in this incident, Tom?”

Although several hours had already passed since the incident took place and the sequence of events was by that time clear, Tom Bateman had apparently not been keeping up with events. [emphasis added]

“Well this happened at 7 o’clock this morning local time. You’ll remember that this is in the vicinity of the most revered site in Jerusalem; holy to both Jews and to Muslims. Now the exact location of this attack has remained still a bit unclear but what we know is that they were close to the Lions’ Gate entrance beside that compound. And the police say they were armed with an automatic weapon, a pistol – there was a knife involved too – and that they opened fire on police officers. Now there was then a chase of some sort and some mobile phone footage has shown that at least one of the attackers was chased by police officers and shot.”

In fact the terrorists had two automatic weapons and Bateman similarly failed to clarify that the terrorists were on Temple Mount before they launched the attack or that they intentionally returned there afterwards. He continued:

“Now as a result of the initial fire by the attackers two police officers were fatally wounded. Ah…they were Israeli police officers. They were Druze – an Arab minority religion in Israel – and the attackers themselves were Israeli Arabs. They were from a town in the north of Israel and had Israeli ID and the domestic security services said that they were not aware of these men beforehand.”

Given the failure by both Marshall and Bateman to provide listeners with the full sequence of events, listeners would be unable to understand the context to their next topic of discussion.

Marshall: “And I would imagine tensions heightened by that decision to close the mosque complex at al Aqsa.”

Bateman: “Yeah, that’s right. As you said that is a highly, highly unusual move. There have been closures in the past for short periods of time when there have been incidents but for the police to say they’re closing it and that prayers not take place is significant. And in response, as you’ve heard, there has been much criticism from Palestinians. There have been prayers taking place outside the compound itself this afternoon. Obviously there a scene of heightened tension.”

Bateman did not clarify to listeners that those “prayers […] outside the compound” were not coincidental.

“The Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, told Maan News that he was prevented from going to site. “”We are determined to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to hold all prayers in it,” he said. He called on Palestinians to come to Jerusalem or to head to the checkpoints near Jerusalem to protest the cancellation of prayers.

Hundreds of Muslims gathered outside the walls of the Old City, behind hastily set up police cordons, to pray and protest the actions of the Israeli police.

Israeli Arabs and Palestinians spread the message using social media. Using the hashtag #Go_and_pray_at_alAqsa, they called for the faithful to come to the mosque.

The Director of the Mosque, Sheikh Ahmed Omar al-Kiswani, in a video shared on social media, said Israel was “taking advantage of what happened” at the Temple Mount “to impose a new reality on the ground.”

As we saw in part one of this post, the BBC News website was able to report that the closure of Temple Mount after the terror attack was necessary to allow the police to carry out their investigation – just as British police closed areas of London on two occasions following terror attacks there earlier this year – and not just some arbitrary move by the Israeli authorities. The fact that Tom Bateman failed to clarify that point in this report is therefore all the more remarkable and that failure was repeated later on the same day when Bateman gave another report to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘.

Following a news bulletin in which listeners were told that “two Israeli police officers have been killed in Jerusalem’s Old City by Israeli Arab gunmen who were then shot dead”, presenter Eddie Mair introduced Bateman (from 14:32 here) “live from Jerusalem”.

Bateman: “Eddie, the ancient walls of Jerusalem encircle this city’s most revered site. From where the golden Dome of the Rock rises over the Old City’s narrow streets is the third holiest mosque in Islam; al Aqsa. For Jews the site is the abode of God’s presence where the first and second Temples once stood. The Old City, heavily guarded, is also one of the most acute flash points in this decades-old conflict and it was not long after dawn that police say three men armed with an automatic rifle, a pistol and a knife attacked Israeli police officers at one of the gates to the site.

Mobile phone footage showed a rapid exchange of fire as one of the assailants was chased within the compound before falling to the ground. The attack killed two Israeli police officers. They were Druze – a minority Arab religion in Israel –whilst officials said the attackers were Arab Israeli citizens from a town in the north of the country and were not known to the security services. Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan spoke from the scene.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of the statements from Erdan aired in Bateman’s earlier report – and with it the sole mention of the word terrorists in this item too.

“The terrorists they used firearms inside the Temple Mount violating, violating the holiness of this important place. I say and repeat again and again: Israel has kept the status quo on Temple Mount. We always respected the freedom of worship to everyone – Muslims, Jews, Christians.”

As we see, Radio 4 listeners were also not provided with a full picture of the sequence of events including the fact that the terrorists were on Temple Mount – apparently with their weapons – before they launched their attack and that they returned there afterwards. Like World Service audiences, listeners to Radio 4 would therefore be unable to appreciate the context to the next part of Bateman’s report.

Bateman: “After the shooting police began a search of the site and sealed it off. Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque are usually attended by thousands of Muslims but the closure prevented that: a highly unusual decision by the Israeli authorities. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the preacher at the mosque, was defiant saying no force on earth could prevent prayers there. Instead though, they took place outside the compound amid signs of growing tension and angry scuffles at another of the Old City’s gates. Adnan Husseini – the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem – criticised the closure.”

Listeners were not told of Husseini’s record of inflammatory statements before they heard his comments.

Husseini: “This is the first time that they announce the prayer will not take place; the Friday prayer. And this has never happened before and I think this is very dangerous. They have to use their mind, you know, when they declare such things. This moment is very sensitive moment. We have to go to pray.”

Erasing all pre-1967 Jerusalem history in typical BBC fashion, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “The Old City is within East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war – a move not recognized by the international community. Israel’s government said today’s incident crossed red lines. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas – under pressure in the past from Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn such attacks – did just that during a phone call between the pair but also said that closing down the area could have repercussions. Since the autumn of 2015 there have been a wave of attacks involving knives, guns and car rammings which had decreased in frequency but had not stopped. Today’s shootings in Jerusalem have already led to concerns about a fresh escalation in tensions.”

It is of course highly doubtful that the BBC would find it appropriate to provide a platform to people in a European country who used veiled threats to demand access to the scene of a terror attack just hours after it had taken place and while the police were still carrying out investigations. However, as we see in these two reports, for Tom Bateman the focus of this story is exactly those people rather than the incident itself, which he fails to explain in a manner which would enable audiences to understand why such the highly unusual action of closing Temple Mount had to be taken.

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BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Despite the BBC’s regularly displayed interest in Israel’s national intelligence agency, its pronunciation unit has apparently still not got round to explaining to presenters how to say the word ‘Mossad’ properly or that it should be preceded by the definite article – as was evident once again in an item broadcast in the July 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘.

Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 37:51 here) with a typical mispronunciation of the name of its subject matter.

“The Israeli spy agency Mossad has launched a multi-million dollar fund to invest in the country’s hi-tech sector. It wants access to new technologies at their earliest stage of development; everything from miniature robotics to software that predicts people’s online behaviour. Collaboration between intelligence agencies and industry is common in many countries but rarely is it advertised this openly. From Jerusalem, our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Tom Bateman opened his report on that story with a clip from the soundtrack of a promotional video and the curious claim that the hi-tech sector in Israel is “new”.

Bateman: “Its reputation may be formidable, its work shadowy but now – a publicity drive from Mossad. The video for the agency’s investment fund borrows heavily from Bourne or Bond films but it’s not popcorn eating audiences they want. The ad featuring a cocktail drinking spy appeals to Israeli hi-tech firms.

Well we’ve come to a neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. The car workshops here are graffitied, the old diamond polishing businesses gone. These days this is the heart of a new Israeli industry – hi-tech. Israel boasts more start-up firms per head than virtually any other country and Mossad has its eyes on the tech they develop; everything from miniature robotics to high-speed encryption to machine learning.”

Bateman then interviewed a person from a software company that has no connection to the story itself before going on:

Bateman: “The Mossad investment launch saw the head of the agency, Yossi Cohen, appeal for firms to step forward. He said the fund would help fulfil Mossad’s national mission, allowing freedom of action for visionary entrepreneurs. His call follows a growing trend by surveillance agencies to invest in emerging IT but its publicity has perhaps been the most bold. The CIA puts cash into Silicone Valley start-ups through an intermediary called In-Q-Tel while Britain’s eaves-dropping agency GCHQ has announced grants to work with cyber-security firms in the UK.”

Having spoken to a second interviewee who also has no direct link to his subject matter, Bateman then proceeded to politicise the story.

Bateman: “But spies with technology have proved controversial in the past. The leaks by the former US intelligence worker Edward Snowdon inflicted PR damage on big web-based firms. In Israel the military has previously fended off accusations from veterans of an elite army intelligence unit who claimed information was used for what they called the political persecution of Palestinians.”

Bateman was of course referring to allegations made in 2014 by a small group of politically motivated reservists from the 8200 unit but – like the BBC’s report at the time – did not bother to tell listeners the whole story

He then brought in his final interviewee, who has even less to do with the story ostensibly being reported in this item than the previous two.

Bateman: “Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, is sceptical about such tie-ups between companies and security agencies.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is of course one of the political NGOs consistently most quoted and promoted by the BBC but, in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Bateman failed to inform listeners of that group’s political agenda, of its long record of anti-Israel campaigning or of Omar Shakir’s own personal history as a BDS activist.

Shakir: “It raises significant concern. I mean on one hand governments are regularly involved and often have been the engine for technological growth in many parts of the world but on the other hand it further raises concern around facilitating rights abuses and you worry about the lack of transparency, especially in a system where there is rampant impunity for abuse. And you worry again about practices that occur in the shadows – without oversight, without accountability.”

And so, although this new initiative from the Mossad has not yet even got off the ground, the BBC has already signposted theoretical “rights abuses” to its audiences and provided a platform for amplification of HRW’s entirely unsubstantiated allegations of “rampant impunity for abuse” without any Israeli official being given the right of reply.

Once again we see a BBC correspondent exploiting a news story for opportunistic leveraging of politicised messaging concerning Israel from an interested party touted as a ‘human rights defender’ without the required full disclosure to audiences of that political NGO’s agenda and anti-Israel activities.  

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BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

On March 17th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit’“. The article opens with a ‘last-first’ summary of the story:

“Israel has shot down a Syrian missile using its most advanced anti-missile system for the first time, Israeli media say.

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say.

The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria.”

The article goes on:

“In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles.”

However, only in the report’s seventh paragraph do BBC audiences find out what those “several targets” actually were.

An insert of analysis from the BBC’s defence correspondent tells readers that:

“It is rare for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria though there have been reports of at least four similar raids against Hezbollah weapons shipments since the start of December last year. […]

It’s a signal perhaps to all concerned that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is ready to escalate its air campaign.”

In the body of the article readers find the following:

“Air strikes, said to have been carried out by Israel, have hit sites in Syria on numerous occasions, reportedly targeting weapons shipments for Lebanon’s Shia militant movement Hezbollah.” [emphasis added]

As is inevitably the case in content relating to such stories, the BBC refrains from giving an accurate description of Hizballah as a terror organisation and no background information concerning the suppliers of these “weapons shipments” is provided. Also as usual, this article fails to provide BBC audiences with the very 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.

The same omissions were evident in coverage of the story on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 30:04 here), with presenter Julian Marshall describing the terror organisation Hizballah as “militants in Lebanon”.

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BBC’s Connolly adds a postscript to his Dead Sea reporting

The June 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 45:10 here) by the Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the topic of the Dead Sea.

As readers may recall, six days earlier Connolly had produced a long written report on the same topic for the BBC News website. In this audio report Connolly focused largely on the effects of the declining level of the Dead Sea on tourism in the area and his superficial portrayal of the reasons behind that process was as follows:

SONY DSC

“The sea is dying because the countries of the Middle East are tapping into the waters of the River Jordan that once fed it.”

As far as this writer is aware, the River Jordan still flows into the Dead Sea.

Earlier, in his introduction to the report, presenter Julian Marshall had displayed an equally bizarre understanding of the geographical term ‘Middle East’:

“…for years there’s been a fear that the sea might live up to its name and die, as the countries of the Middle East drain the river system for precious drinking water.”

As was the case in his written report, Connolly refrained from providing his audience with more meaningful portrayal of the relevant issues of water agreements, irrigation practices, water recycling and water use efficiency. In what may perhaps be a first for the BBC, both of Connolly’s reports also ignored the topic of the influence of climate change on the River Jordan’s catchment area.

Connolly’s portrayal of the project intended to rehabilitate the Dead Sea was as follows in this audio report:

“A fix is possible: a grand scheme to build a pipeline across the desert from the Red Sea far to the south.”

In his earlier written report, Connolly had encouraged readers to view that project with scepticism:

“But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

No such declarations were heard in this audio report – perhaps because just two days after Connolly published the above words, the Jordanian government announced that no fewer than seventeen international companies had made bids to carry out the work.

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BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Paris conference falsehood

From the outset, the French government’s announcements concerning its recently held one day conference on the Middle East peace process made it perfectly clear that neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives would be invited.

“France will host a meeting of ministers from 20 countries on May 30 to try and relaunch the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced on Thursday. He told the international press, however, that Israel and the Palestinian officials would not be invited to the meeting, which will take place in Paris.” (Times of Israel & AFP, 21st April 2016)

“France will host a meeting of ministers from 20 countries on May 30 to try to relaunch the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced on Thursday.

In an interview with four newspapers including Israel’s Haaretz and pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al-Arabi, the minister said however that Israel and the Palestinians would not be invited to the meeting in Paris.” (France 24, 22nd April 2016)

“Paris plans to host a ministerial meeting of 20 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as a first step to discuss the peace process which has been effectively frozen since a US-brokered initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Israel and the Palestinians have not been invited.” (France 24, 17th May 2016) [all emphasis added]

However, when Jeremy Bowen reported on that conference to BBC World Service radio listeners in the June 3rd edition of ‘Newshour’ (from 30:07 here) he presented a markedly different picture.Newshour 3 6

Presenter Julian Marshall opened the item as follows:

“He’s beset by flooding and strikes at home but President François Hollande has nevertheless taken time to host talks in Paris with the aim of reviving Middle East peace talks. But surprisingly, neither Israel nor the Palestinians are attending. Jeremy Bowen, our Middle East editor, is in Paris; so why aren’t they there?”

Bowen: “Well the Israelis don’t wanna come. They think that having an international meeting like this is completely the wrong way to proceed. They say there should be one-on-one negotiations between the two leaders of the Palestinians and of the Israelis. Ah…the Palestinians welcomed the conference but I think the fact that the Israelis aren’t coming meant that they decided to go ahead without either of them.”

In other words Bowen promoted two falsehoods in those four sentences: rather than telling listeners that Israel and the Palestinians were not invited to the meeting, he falsely attributed Israel’s absence to a refusal to attend and then ‘explained’ Palestinian non-participation by means of the myth he has created.

Later on Bowen – who has been the gatekeeper of information provided to BBC audiences on the topic of this conference – once again promoted the notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the lynchpin of strife in the Middle East and beyond.

“What this is about is trying to get the international community to talk again about the need to have peace between the Israelis and Palestinians because it’s really rather slipped off the agenda in the last few years. There’s no peace process whatsoever and it’s been somewhat eclipsed – their own conflict has been somewhat eclipsed – by the tumult and war and chaos elsewhere in the Middle East.”

“Ah…what President Hollande, the French president, said today was that just because there are dramatic things happening elsewhere in the region, it is no reason to ignore the real dangers of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And he also said that at a time – as he put it – when terrorism was spreading everywhere in the world, then people are…I think essentially he was saying that people, outsiders, had a legitimate interest in what was happening there and in trying to settle it because his belief would be that’s one of the drivers for the violence that is spreading.”

Regardless of whether or not Bowen’s paraphrasing of the French president’s “belief” is accurate, it is noticeable that he made no attempt to relieve listeners of the mistaken impression that a prime cause of terrorism in France, Belgium, Turkey, Syria or elsewhere is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He then went on to promote a theme increasingly seen in BBC content:

“What the French foreign minister said in his closing remarks was that that idea of two state solution is in great danger – he said because of the colonization of the occupied territories by the Israelis; the fact that settlements have been growing apace.”

Apace of course means swiftly or quickly and that is the term Jeremy Bowen apparently thinks is an accurate description of fewer than fourteen hundred completed construction projects annually in existing communities throughout the whole of Judea & Samaria in the three years between 2013 and 2015 inclusive. Neither of course did he bother to advise listeners of the fact that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem. 

Bowen closed his report with some by now standard promotion of PLO talking points.

“Now the Israelis say that the problem is the fact that there is incitement against them; that Palestinians are brainwashed into hating them. The Palestinians essentially say that their people – after getting on for 50 years of occupation – are at their wits’ end, at the end of their tether and if violence happens, that’s the reason: because of those frustrations and anger and humiliation.”

An additional report by Bowen on the topic of the Paris conference will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

An article by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 21st using the headline “UN schools targeted in Middle East”. The report itself – titled “More than half UN schools in Middle East targeted in conflicts” – carries the following somewhat ‘cloak and dagger’ introduction:Doucet UNRWA

“Nearly half the schools run by the UN in the Middle East have been attacked, damaged or rendered inoperable in the past five years, according to a new report obtained by the BBC.” [emphasis added]

Seeing as the head of the organization which produced that report – UNRWA – was interviewed in connection with its content on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:53 here) on the very same day, we can probably conclude that “obtained” means “given to us by UNRWA”.

Reflecting the framing used in the headlines, Doucet’s report tells readers that:

“More than 300 UN schools were attacked or shut down.” [emphasis added]

In the ‘Newshour’ interview a rather different portrayal was in evidence when presenter Julian Marshall put the following question to Pierre Krahenbuhl:

JM: “And the schools have been damaged as a result of the overall conflict rather than being targeted, have they?”

PK: “Yes indeed. It’s a mix between some having been of course affected by the fighting that takes place in some of the camp landscapes. […] and many of them are beyond reach in frontline areas that have become very, very delicate.”

Doucet’s report also includes the following:

“UNWRA [sic] runs 692 elementary and preparatory schools in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria; and 8 secondary schools in Lebanon. […]

At least 302 (or 44%) of UNWRA [sic] schools were directly affected by armed conflict or violence in the past five years.”

Readers are not however told how many schools were affected in each location.

In April 2015 the UN released a report concerning the seven UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip which were damaged during the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the summer of 2014. The report also examined the cases of three additional UNRWA schools in which weapons belonging to terrorist organisations were found and noted the potential for “confusion” caused by UN practices on the ground at the time.

“The Board found that, at times, there had been multiple channels of communication, both within the United Nations and with outside interlocutors. While this could be helpful, it could also lead to misunderstandings. The Board also found that the existence of two United Nations operations emergency rooms, one organized and coordinated by OCHA and the other by UNRWA, could lead to confusion, even though they carried out distinct functions, which were clear to United Nations actors on the ground. […]

While they were channelled [sic] by the United Nations to the IDF in a timely manner, the Board sensed a degree of confusion concerning the names and coordinates of installations, as, on occasion, the IDF and the United Nations used different mapping references and some schools have multiple names. The Board welcomed the intention of UNRWA and Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) to refer to installations in the future by numbers, as opposed to names.”

Interestingly, neither Marshall nor Krahenbuhl mentioned those UN findings, the storage of weapons in three schools or the all-important context of the terrorist activity in the vicinity of the damaged schools when they later turned to the topic of the Gaza Strip.Newshour 21 5 UNRWA

JM: “Syria clearly in the midst of conflict at the moment but Gaza, the West Bank – we’re very much aware of what happened in Gaza way back in 2014 – but…eh…presumably the problem is not as acute any longer.”

PK: “The problem is not acute in the same way because we have rebuilt and repaired all the schools that were damaged or – more largely – destroyed during the 2014 war.”

Whether BBC audiences are in fact “very much aware of what happened in Gaza way back in 2014” is of course debatable given the corporation’s record of reporting in general and its frequent amplification of politicised UNRWA messaging (both during and after the conflict) in particular.

The timing of the appearance of this UNRWA report is – as stated in Doucet’s article – linked to the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit and – as is evident in the final part of the ‘Newshour’ item – UNRWA’s related funding drive. The BBC’s predictable self-conscription to UNRWA’s public relations campaign means that audiences are fed context-free messaging in the guise of ‘news’ – as ever with no critical examination of the organization concerned or its mandate.

Related Articles:

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BBC amends inaccurate claim on Gaza mortar fire

 

How the BBC’s Knell censored a report on the Samaritan Passover festival

The April 30th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a report (from 44:23 here) by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell from the Samaritan Passover festival  on Mount Gerizim in Samaria.Newshour 30 4

In among Knell’s commentary, listeners heard the following:

“During the Passover feast it’s an unusual sight. Samaritans carry both Israeli and Palestinian IDs and here Israeli soldiers and settlers mix – sometimes uncomfortably – with Palestinian firefighters and officials.”

However, Knell’s coy portrayal does not tell BBC audiences what actually happened at the Samaritan festival at which she was present. As Khaled Abu Toameh recounts:

“Things went well for about two minutes on Mount Gerizim, one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of Nablus. That was how long it took for the Palestinian guests to walk out in protest at the presence of representatives of the Jewish settler community and IDF officers.

The Palestinian Authority Governor of Nablus, General Akram Rajoub, was an honored guest, as were Nablus Mayor Adli Yaish and dozens of Palestinians.

Rajoub later explained his decision to “vote with his feet”:

“Yes, we withdrew from the ceremony. We respect and appreciate the Samaritan community and have been regularly sharing with them in joyous and sad events. We consider them part of the Palestinian people. But we can’t accept the presence of settlers at the ceremony. Even worse, these settlers were given the privilege to speak at the ceremony, which is why we had to boycott the official event and leave the hall. We’re not prepared to talk to Jewish settlers because we don’t accept their presence among us.”

Shortly thereafter, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank issued a statement strongly condemning the invitation of Jewish settler leaders to the Samaritan ceremony:

“This is a dangerous precedent that must not be allowed to recur. This is something unusual for the Samaritan community to do. We consider them to be part of the Palestinian people and we hope that this invitation does not represent the will of our Samaritan people. They need to fix this and prevent it from ever happening again.”

Raed Dib’i, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, praised the Palestinian delegation’s decision to boycott the ceremony. He said that the move reflected the Palestinians’ rejection of any form of “normalization with the occupiers and the settler gangs.””

Just days before this report was aired Yolande Knell’s filmed, audio and written reports from Gush Etzion appeared on multiple BBC platforms. In those reports she told BBC audiences that:

“For two years there have been no peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

And:

“…I expect more bad news from the Gush Etzion junction. With no hope of a political solution in sight, it offers a worrying glimpse of a future where both sides in this conflict continue to live with simmering tension and outbreaks of violence.”

A reporter truly committed to enhancing audience understanding of why negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been non-existent for two years would of course give a story such as the one above at least as much prominence as the promotion of slogans such as ‘occupation’ and ‘illegal settlements’. Yolande Knell demonstrates once again that she is not that reporter.  

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BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

The February 11th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – hosted by Julian Marshall – included an interview (from 40:33 here) with Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.Newshour logo

Zoabi and two of her colleagues from the anti-Zionist Balad party (which is part of the Joint Arab List) were recently barred from Knesset activity, including debates, by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee. Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas were barred for four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months. During that time the three will continue to receive their salaries and will be able to participate in voting sessions.

The details of the terms of the suspension – together with any information concerning Balad’s political agenda – were absent from Marshall’s presentation of the item.

JM: “Haneen Zoabi is an Arab-Israeli MP who is currently barred from attending sessions of Israel’s parliament – or Knesset. Along with two other Arab-Israeli MPs she’s been suspended for meeting relatives of Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis. The meeting was condemned by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So why did Haneen Zoabi feel the need to meet the relatives?”

In fact, the meeting was the subject of complaints to the Knesset Ethics Committee not only from the Israeli prime minister but also from parliamentarians across the political spectrum.

“The panel received more than 450 complaints about the lawmakers, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and from relatives of people killed by the terrorists whose families the Balad MKs met.”

At no point throughout this item are listeners informed that the meeting which the Balad MKs attended included glorification of the terrorists as ‘martyrs’ and a minute’s silence in their memory. They are also not told about the promotion of material glorifying terrorism on Balad’s Facebook account. Instead, listeners heard the following account from Zoabi.

HZ: “Me and my colleagues from the Joint List we have received an invitation from the families who lost their children in order to help them getting back the bodies of their children which the Israeli police have killed in order to burn [bury] them. It has been four months since the Israeli administration refuses to release the bodies of the young Palestinians from East Jerusalem.”

Marshall then interjects with some framing which Zoabi is quick to adopt.

JM: “So what you were doing in your view was simply humanitarian…”

HZ: “Of course.”

JM: “…but you can understand how many Israelis saw you as consorting with the relatives of people they regarded as terrorists – these Palestinians who had killed Israelis or tried to kill Israelis.”

HZ: “I don’t accept that because our demand was purely humanitarian. It was even according to the Jewish religion and to the Christian religion and to…according to the Muslim religion you should bury…it’s….it’s a very simple dignity for the death [dead]. All the bodies of the Palestinians who the Israelis killed were released because Israel negotiated this matter but in the case of East Jerusalem the families tried for four months to connect with the authorities and the Israeli authority refuses to do so. So their last option was to address us as parliamentarians.”

Marshall fails to provide listeners with a very important piece of background information which is essential to their understanding of why the Israeli authorities have not yet handed over the bodies of those ten terrorists: the families concerned refuse to comply with the demand to hold modest funerals so as to avoid incitement to more violence.  Without that crucial piece of information, audiences are obviously unable to put Zoabi’s claims into their correct context.

Despite having also failed to inform audiences of the glorification of terrorism at the meeting and whilst refraining from providing listeners with any insight into the records of the MKs concerned such as the fact that Zoabi was recently given a six-month suspended sentence and a fine for insulting civil servants and that she and Bassel Ghattas have both participated in anti-Israel flotillas in the past, Marshall goes on to provide Zoabi with the cue for the promotion of trite propaganda which goes completely unchallenged.

JM: “One of the members of the Ethics Committee of the Knesset which suspended you and your colleagues accused you of inspiring terrorism and encouraging the murder of more and more Israelis.”

HZ: “In Israel whenever you criticise occupation as a Palestinian member, or even as a Jewish activist, the Israeli consensus will call you disloyal to the state and will say that you are threatening Israeli lives. Actually for me this is not just for the interest of the Palestinians. This is also for the interests of the Jews because if we really seek a normal life for the Jews and for the Palestinians we should also seek for justice. We should struggle for freedom and in Israel this is not accepted. Occupation is accepted….”

JM: “OK.”

HZ: “…but struggle against is not accepted.”

Marshall’s failure to provide listeners with any information concerning Zoabi’s record of whitewashing terrorism also means that they are unable to put her answer to his next question into context.

JM: “But those Palestinians who were killed after attacking Israelis….ehm…do you regard them as terrorists?”

HZ: “We are against killing innocent people. We see that this behaviour is not an act of a struggle: it’s an act of desperation. We believe that we have a just cause and in a just cause you should also use a just tools.”

The item closes with more propaganda from Zoabi.

JM: “Do you and your parliamentary colleagues…do you expect to have to serve out your entire suspension from the Knesset or are you going to appeal?”

HZ: “With this suspension this means that the Israeli consensus is controlling my actions and my performance as a member and this means that in Israel there is no meaning to democracy except the tyranny of the majority.”

The take-away messaging for listeners around the world is that this is a story about Arab-Israeli parliamentarians in an undemocratic state who have been unfairly suspended for ‘humanitarian’ activities.  The reason that distorted take-away message can be promoted is because the BBC has framed the story in such a way as to leave out crucial elements which are necessary for its accurate and impartial presentation and has thus denied listeners the ability to see the full picture.