NGOs’ political campaign opportunistically recycled by BBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The continuing saga of the BBC’s failure to make a simple correction

At the beginning of February the BBC broadcast two radio reports in which Tel Aviv was inaccurately described as the capital of Israel.

BBC Watch brought the inaccuracy to the attention of the journalist concerned and was told that the reports had been corrected – although in fact that was not the case.

Kathy Harcombe was informed of that fact and pledged to “get this sorted”.

Harcombe twitter convo

More than a week later – and well over two weeks since their original broadcast – both those audio reports still remain available online – here and here – without the very simple required correction having been made.

In addition, BBC Watch contacted BBC Complaints and the response received concerning the Radio 4 report indicates that the corporation is aware of the inaccuracy.

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘PM’ which was broadcast on 3 February.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

I understand you felt it was inaccurate to refer to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel.

We were indeed wrong to say that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. Please rest assured that we have circulated your complaint to senior management and the ‘PM’ programme in this overnight report.”

Significantly, however, nothing has been done to address the issue. It is therefore very difficult to take seriously the BBC’s supposed commitment to accurate reporting as declared in the introductory paragraph of its editorial guidelines on accuracy

“The BBC is committed to achieving due accuracy.  This commitment is fundamental to our reputation and the trust of audiences, which is the foundation of the BBC.  It is also a requirement under the Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter.” 

BBC claims correction to radio reports but inaccuracy remains

As was noted here last week, two audio reports broadcast on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio 4 on February 3rd inaccurately described Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital city. BBC Watch pointed out that error to the journalist concerned.

Harcombe corrections

However, at the time of writing both those audio reports remain available online – here and here – without any correction having been made.

That of course means that not only were listeners to the reports at the original time of broadcast not provided with a correction to the inaccuracy but anyone else listening to either of those two reports for as long as they remain available online will likewise be misled.

BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners.