Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2018 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’, those agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards. When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. Currently one of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality that states:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, throughout 2018 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs or their representatives.

The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not always adequately clarified to audiences.

In January 2018, for example, the BBC’s Yolande Knell quoted “an Israeli peace activist” but refrained from identifying him as a founder of the extremist group ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’. Also in January, a BBC News website report quoted “an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog” but failed to provide readers with the name of the organisation.

In July 2018 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ featured a “writer and cook” who had “worked as a human rights campaigner for a very long time” but failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that her campaigning had been done with the anti-Israel NGO ‘War on Want’. In October BBC Radio 4 interviewed a “Palestinian academic” without clarifying that he was the founder of the political NGO PASSIA

More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content – including direct links to campaigns on NGO websites – featured particularly prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.

BBC coverage of the Ahed Tamimi story, for example, included repeated promotion of the viewpoint of B’tselem including interviews with its research director (see here and here) but with no mention made of the Tamimi family’s connections to that organisation. Additional coverage of the same story included quotes from Amnesty International even promoted a link to the NGO’s relevant campaign webpage. Another report promoted the views of Human Rights Watch without clarifying that it had been campaigning on Tamimi’s behalf and the same report even included a link directing audiences to a petition promoted by the political campaigning group Avaaz

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ story included promotion of a link to a campaign calling for Israeli soldiers to refuse orders on the website of B’tselem. A representative of B’tselem was interviewed in another BBC report and the NGO was referred to as “a leading Israeli rights group” in another. A BBC News website live webpage on the same story featured quotes from B’tselem and Amnesty International and a BBC radio presenter quoted “the Israeli rights group” Adalah. The political NGO ‘Gisha’ was quoted in two related reports.

Amnesty International was quoted in a BBC Sport report about a cycle race and later the same month the same NGO was quoted in another report along with Human Rights Watch and B’tselem. In June the BBC uncritically quoted a “campaign director at Avaaz” and later the same month BBC Radio 4 interviewed the “executive director of the international human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’”.

Adalah was quoted in a BBC report concerning Israeli legislation in July and BBC News website coverage of the Khan al Ahmar story included promotion of a link to the B’tselem website. BBC News website coverage of the Airbnb story included quotes from Human Rights Watch as well as a link to a report produced by that political NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’. Another report by Human Rights Watch was the topic of a BBC News website report in October.

A member of the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was featured on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ programme in February and on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme in May. Additional examples of the BBC’s failure to adequately clarify to audiences the political agenda of NGOs represented by interviewees involve the ‘Norwegian Refugee Council‘, ‘Minds of Peace’, the ‘Foundation for Middle East Peace’, the ‘Oxford Research Group’, ‘Save the Children’ and ‘Embrace the Middle East’.

Once again the most widely promoted local NGO in 2018 was B’tselem. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent, closely followed by Amnesty International.

As in previous years, more often than not the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes predominantly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

 

 

More inadequate BBC reports on the Airbnb story

Despite having already published a report on exactly the same story late the previous evening, on the morning of November 20th the BBC News website published an article titled “Airbnb: Israeli uproar as firm bars West Bank settlements“.

A video embedded into the article also appeared separately on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 21st under the title “The West Bank homes being dropped from Airbnb“.

In that filmed report from Gush Etzion – where Jews purchased land long before the Jordanian invasion and occupation in 1948 – viewers were told that:

“Built on land occupied after the 1967 Six Day War, the settlements are seen as illegal under international law.”

In the written report readers were similarly told that:

“Jewish settlements in territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Obviously this story in particular requires full audience understanding of the topic of ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ but nevertheless the BBC elected once again to ignore its editorial obligation of “due impartiality” by erasing from audience view the existence of legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative.

BBC editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’ state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ – as seen in both these reports and the previous one on the same story – obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

The written report included uncritical amplification of a claim which dovetails with standard BBC framing of the conflict:

“Airbnb said it had made the decision because settlements were “at the core” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The BBC did not bother to enhance readers’ understanding of the story by pointing out that the conflict predates ‘settlements’ by several decades.

Linking to a report produced by the political NGOs ‘Human Rights Watch’ and ‘Kerem Navot’ that is actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis, the written article told readers that:

“Human Rights Watch called Airbnb’s decision “a positive step” and urged other tourism companies, such as Booking.com, to follow suit.

In a report released on Tuesday, the New York-based group said “Israelis and foreigners may rent properties in settlements, but Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred”.

It said this was the only example the rights body could find “in which Airbnb hosts have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin”.”

The BBC did not bother to inform its audiences that Airbnb hosts in a plethora of countries including Algeria, Malaysia and Bangladesh would “have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin” because those countries do not allow entry to the holders of Israeli passports.

As in the previous written report, readers were not informed that Airbnb does business in numerous other disputed locations – for example northern Cyprus and Western Sahara.  

Related Articles:

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

 

 

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Late on November 19th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Airbnb removes Israeli West Bank listings” which was soon re-titled “Airbnb removes Israeli West Bank settlement listings”.

One hundred and twenty-three of the article’s 422 words summarised the announcement put out by the company while 129 words described subsequent reactions from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, the Israeli tourism minister and a relevant Israeli organisation.

One hundred and fourteen words were given over to background information, including the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning ‘international law’:

“The West Bank settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Readers were also told that:

“The issue of settlements is one of the most contentious areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians see them as a major obstacle to peace and a barrier to a hoped-for Palestinian state on land which they occupy.

Israel says such an argument is a pretext for avoiding direct peace talks, and that the fate of settlements should be negotiated in accordance with peace accords signed with the Palestinians in 1993.”

Notably, despite having quoted Airbnb as saying that “…many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced”, the BBC did not find it relevant to tell its audiences about the people displaced from places such as the Gush Etzion communities, Beit HaArava or the Old City of Jerusalem just nineteen years before its selected start-date for Middle East history.

Without clarification of the fact that a PLO representative has in the past threatened legal action against Airbnb, readers were told that:

“Airbnb has previously been criticised by Palestinian officials and human rights campaigners for allowing listings of homes to rent in Israeli settlements.”

While those so-called “human rights campaigners” remained unidentified by the BBC, readers were not informed that Airbnb does business in numerous other disputed locations (for example northern Cyprus, Western Sahara) or whether or not those same campaigners have “criticised” those operations.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC found it appropriate to cite one of its most frequently quoted and promoted political NGOs – including images.

“The decision was announced the day before Human Rights Watch was set to publish a report examining Airbnb’s business in the settlements.

The organisation praised Airbnb’s decision on Twitter, hailing it as “a breakthrough”.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify to its audiences that the said ‘report’ produced by the political NGOs ‘Human Rights Watch’ and ‘Kerem Navot’ is actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis which makes no mention whatsoever of Airbnb’s business in additional disputed locations around the world.

Related Articles:

The NGOs and Funders Behind Airbnb’s BDS Policy (NGO Monitor)