BBC WS radio listeners told that Nazareth is a ‘Palestinian city’

The October 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 38:06 here) that was introduced by presenter Paul Henley as follows:

Henley: “Now a film called ‘Wajib’ by the Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir has been shown at the London film festival. The film is the only Arab entry in competition and follows a father and his estranged son who must come together to hand-deliver his daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest, as is the custom in…in Palestine.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide specifically states that the corporation’s staff:

“…should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Henley’s choice of words is even more egregious in light of the fact (not clarified to listeners) that the film’s story is based in Nazareth in northern Israel. Nevertheless, listeners heard another reference to ‘Palestine’ just seconds later.

Henley: “Now my colleague Razia Iqbal spoke to Annemarie for Newshour and she asked her how difficult it was as a Palestinian to keep politics and art separate.”

Jacir: “I don’t think it’s possible to make a film in Palestine that’s not somehow political because that’s just daily life. It’s everywhere. It’s in the way you travel, it’s in parents dropping their kids off to school, you know, you get round a checkpoint or not.”

Later on in the interview (40:53) listeners heard the following statements from Bethlehem born, Saudi raised, US educated Annemarie Jacir:

Jacir: “I think the Palestinians that are living in, you know, historic Palestine in a city like Nazareth – which is the biggest Palestinian city [sic] in Israel – they aren’t…who are they represented by? You know they are Israeli citizens on paper but they’re second, third class citizens. They don’t have the same rights. They’re not represented by the Israeli government for sure. They’re definitely not represented by the Palestinian Authority and so I feel like it is a community that lives a contradictory life and they’re struggling to find an identity…the identity and also, yeah, a political representative.”

Arab-Israelis living in Nazareth or anywhere else in Israel of course have the same rights as any other citizen – including the right to vote for their chosen parliamentary representatives. Eighteen (i.e. over 20% – reflecting the proportion of minorities in the population as a whole) of the current members of the Knesset are Arab-Israelis, Druze or Bedouin representing six different political parties (three of which – in contrast to Jacir’s claim – are part of the current coalition government) and surveys repeatedly indicate that the majority of Arab-Israelis view Israel in a positive light.  

Despite that, Razia Iqbal failed to present any challenge whatsoever to Jacir’s politically motivated, inaccurate and materially misleading claims and swiftly moved on to the next topic.

And yet, the BBC continues to claim that it provides its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.  

 

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A ‘dark Israel’ genre BBC News website story jumps the gun

As has been recorded here in the past, the BBC has something of a penchant for the ‘dark Israel’ genre and regularly promotes stories which – often with insufficient attention to accuracy – paint a caricature of a country parting ways with democracy that is rife with racismsexismxenophobiahomophobia, government censorship and suchlike.  

On September 13th a domestic Israeli story which is of little or no interest to foreign readers – but, crucially, belongs to that genre – appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Ultra-Orthodox Israeli MP quits amid gay wedding criticism“.

Readers were told that Shas party MK Yigal Guetta had resigned from his post.

“An ultra-Orthodox Jewish member of Israel’s parliament has resigned after prominent rabbis criticised him for attending his gay nephew’s wedding. […]

Mr Guetta did not issue a statement after giving up his seat in the Knesset.”

However the story is not quite as cut and dried as BBC audiences were led to believe – as the Times of Israel reported.

“On Wednesday, Guetta wrote to party boss and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri that he would resign and give up his Knesset seat. […]

While Guetta sent a resignation letter to Deri, he did not send one to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who must receive a formal resignation announcement from an MK in order for it to become official.

By law, Shas can kick Guetta — the party’s secretary-general — out of the party, but it cannot kick him out of the Knesset.

Once a Knesset member is elected, only a large majority of fellow lawmakers, backed by an Ethics Committee decision and a very serious breach of the law on his or her part, can force him or her from parliament.”

In fact, MK Guetta was only due to meet with the Deputy Knesset Speaker on the day after the BBC published its report.

The New York Times added:

“Mr. Guetta is now in negotiations with the Shas Party’s council of sages who are said to be less upset about his attendance at the wedding than his disclosure of that information in the radio interview.

A compromise appears to be emerging in which Mr. Guetta would apologize for giving the interview, though not for attending the wedding, and would retain his place in the party and his seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

To formally resign he would have to write to the Knesset chairman, a step he has not taken yet.”

Israel is of course far from the only country in which some religious figures take a conservative attitude towards gay marriage but in its apparent rush to publish yet another story promoting the ‘benighted’, ‘backward’ Israel theme, the BBC failed to check the accuracy of its claim that Mr Guetta had already ‘given up his seat’.

In which BBC Monitoring contradicts the BBC World Service

As noted here earlier, on the afternoon of August 16th the BBC World Service inaccurately told its listeners that:

“While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said.”

The next day, however, the BBC suddenly changed its tune. An article published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the evening of August 17th under the headline “Anger over Netanyahu silence on Trump and Charlottesville” told readers that:

Most Israeli politicians and press have decried US President Donald Trump’s remarks on the violent protests in Charlottesville – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of response – and are examining the implications for America’s Jewish community.” [emphasis added]

The article’s next four paragraphs detailed condemnation of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville from Israel’s president and some Israeli newspapers  – informing readers that while Yediot Aharonot, Ma’ariv and the “liberal daily” Ha’aretz slammed remarks made by the US president on their front pages:

“Newspaper Israel Hayom, reputed to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made no mention of the developments on its front page and offered factual coverage on page 24.”

Readers were also told that:

“Labour Party member of the Knesset Shelly Yachimovich took to Facebook to say that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she found the display of Nazi symbols “physically nauseating”.

She also took aim at Prime Minister Netanyahu who condemned the far-right protestors but not Trump’s words: “You, the prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, the man who warns us about a Holocaust every Monday and Thursday with fear mongering and bombastic oaths of ” never again”? What is the matter with you?””

The next seven paragraphs were devoted to portrayal of social media posts from Netanyahu and his son and the reactions of various politicians and a Ha’aretz columnist. The article’s last six paragraphs were devoted to another story in which the Israeli prime minister was criticised by various Ha’aretz writers.

This BBC article is credited to BBC Monitoring: the department that tracks and translates open source media around the world for the BBC as well as commercial clients. In 2015 its then newly appointed head said:

“Our ability to follow the world’s ever expanding traditional and digital media sources is unique and brings crucial insights to the BBC’s journalism as we seek to inform and explain incredibly complex stories of global impact.”

The BBC is certainly not the only media outlet to have devoted column space to amplification of criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s response to the incidents in Charlottesville  from rival politicians, politically partisan journalists and self-appointed pundits.

However, seeing as the information in this article is readily available to the general public in the online English language Israeli press (including the sources of the multiple promoted quotes from Ha’aretz), one can only wonder why BBC Monitoring spent time and resources on promoting a story that needed no translation, is not an “incredibly complex” issue “of global impact” and certainly does not provide “crucial insights” into anything – apart from how journalists quoting and amplifying other journalists manufacture media ‘buzz’.  

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Is a BBC WS claim about Israeli politicians true?

The August 16th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 48:53 here) in which the BBC managed to shoehorn Israel into its coverage of last weekend’s shocking incidents in Virginia, USA.

Presenter Owen Bennett-Jones told worldwide listeners that:

“Video of the white supremacists in Charlottesville clearly shows them chanting openly antisemitic slogans, with organisers amongst other things complaining that President Trump allowed his daughter to marry a Jewish man.

While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said. So why is that?”

The issue of whether or not it is appropriate for politicians from any country to comment on the internal affairs of another state is not discussed in this item and listeners are not given an answer to the question of why Bennett-Jones singled out Israeli politicians rather than those in any other nation. But is the claim regarding Israeli politicians made by Bennett-Jones accurate?

Earlier on the same day that this item was broadcast, the Times of Israel published an article titled “Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march“.

““There aren’t two sides,” Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said in a Wednesday statement.

“When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.” […]

Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and No. 2 in the opposition Zionist Union faction, also rejected Trump’s assertion.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period,” she said in a Wednesday statement. […]

…Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked […] urged that the neo-Nazis face prosecution.

“The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted,” she said Tuesday. Allowing them to march violently through American streets “was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state does not have to tolerate such phenomena.”

On Sunday [Naftali] Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and called on US leaders to denounce its “displays of anti-Semitism.”

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” he added.”

In addition to those decidedly not “muted” statements, the Israeli prime minister put out a tweet condemning the racism and, despite members of the Knesset currently being on holiday, a number of other politicians from a range of parties likewise made their views on the matter clear – including Michael Oren, Zahava Galon, Revital Swid, Ksenia Svetlova, Manuel Trachtenburg, Avi Gabbai, Yehuda Glick, Yitzhak Herzog, Dov Hanin, Shelly Yechimovich, Amir Peretz, Meirav Michaeli, Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin, Miki Rosental, Nachman Shai, Itzik Shmuli and Tamar Zandberg – who even went on American TV two days before this ‘Newshour’ programme was aired to talk about the issue.

And yet, the BBC apparently came to the bizarre conclusion that it was accurate to describe the responses from those Israeli politicians and others as “muted”.

Another interesting aspect of this item comes in Bennett-Jones’ introduction of his interviewee. [emphasis added]

“Ruthie Blum is a Trump voter living in Tel Aviv and a conservative commentator too with a number of publications including the Jerusalem Post.”

Seeing as in the past the BBC has on countless occasions failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by refraining from clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees,  that detailed introduction is noteworthy.

MK’s plea bargain resignation not newsworthy for BBC

Late last December we noted that the BBC had ignored the story of the arrest of a member of the Knesset from the Balad party on suspicion of smuggling cellphones to convicted terrorists.

The MK – Basel Ghattas – has now resigned from the Knesset.

“MK Basel Ghattas, accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, resigned from the Knesset Sunday as part of a plea deal that will see him face two years in prison.

Prosecutors on Friday filed an indictment in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court against the Joint (Arab) List lawmaker, formally charging him with smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.

The charges came a day after Ghattas signed a deal with the state in which he will resign from the Knesset and serve two years. In return he avoided more serious charges of aiding the enemy and being an accomplice to terror. […]

Ghattas was under criminal investigation after being caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to Palestinian security prisoners in January [sic – actually December].

Police said that the MK exploited his position as a member of Knesset — who cannot be subjected to a body search — during a visit to Ketziot Prison in southern Israel last year, where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.”

In the past the BBC has given its audiences incomplete and partisan portrayals of stories concerning Balad MKs and terrorism – see here and here.  

Despite its usual interest in the workings of the Israeli Knesset and its having produced no fewer than four articles in ten days (see here, here, here and here) on a different police investigation concerning an Israeli politician during the same period of time, on Basel Ghattas’ indictment and resignation the corporation has chosen to stay mum.

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Third context-free BBC article on proposed legislation

Last November the BBC News website published two articles concerning a proposed bill limiting noise pollution from public address systems in religious establishments.

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 1

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As was noted here at the time, the reports did not provide BBC audiences with any context concerning similar legislation in other countries – both Arab and Western – and so audiences could not appreciate that the proposed legislation is similar to that already found in several European states (including the UK) where the call to prayer through PA systems is either banned altogether or subject to limitations on days of the week, hours and level of decibels.

The two BBC reports did however provide amplification for claims that the proposed legislation is “divisive” and threatens to spark “religious war”.

On March 8th the BBC News website revisited the same topic in an article titled “Israeli Arab anger as parliament backs ‘muezzin bill’“.

“Two versions of the so-called “muezzin bill”, which would mostly affect Muslim calls to prayer, passed their first readings by slim majorities.

Some Arab MPs ripped apart copies of the legislation during a debate.

The bill will have to go through further readings before becoming law.

One version of the bill would ban all places of worship from using loudspeakers between 23:00 and 07:00. The other would prohibit the use of speakers considered “unreasonably loud and likely to cause disturbance” at any time of day.”

Yet again the article failed to provide BBC audiences with any background information concerning similar legislation in other countries.

However, once again the article did amplify claims of ‘discrimination’.

“The bill’s critics say it as an attack on religious freedom.

“The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise. It is about an important Islamic religious ritual, and we have never in this house intervened in any religious ceremony related to Judaism. Your action is a racist slur,” warned Ahmed Tibi of the Arab-dominated Joint List alliance during the debate.

“Your intervention strikes at the very souls of Muslims,” he added.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, was thrown out of the chamber after tearing up a copy of the bill.”

The article closes with the following two paragraphs:

“Arab citizens of Israel, also known as Israeli Arabs, are descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948. They make up about 20% the Israeli population.

About 80% of Israeli Arabs are Muslim; the rest are divided, roughly equally, between Christians and Druze.”

In other words, the BBC inaccurately tells its audiences that Israel’s Druze citizens are “descendants of […] Palestinians” while ignoring both non-Arab Muslims such as Circassians and non-Arab Christians such as Arameans.

The BBC’s coverage of domestic Israeli affairs does not as a rule include every private members’ bill laid before the Knesset and therefore the fact that this particular proposed legislation has now been the subject of three articles before it has even been passed and become law is especially noteworthy.

BBC News silent on arrest of Israeli MK

In February of this year the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented listeners with a highly partial account of the temporary suspension of the anti-Zionist Balad party’s three MKs from Knesset activity after their participation in an event glorifying Palestinian terrorists.

A similarly whitewashed portrayal of that story appeared in a July 2016 report concerning what the BBC described as “controversial” legislation by the Israeli parliament allowing for the impeachment of MKs on the grounds of incitement to violence or racism or support for armed conflict against Israel. In that report BBC audiences were repeatedly told that Israeli democracy is being “undermined” by such legislation.

Given that ‘concern’ for Israeli democracy and keen interest in the workings of the Knesset, one might have thought that the recent story of the arrest of a member of Israel’s parliament would also have caught the BBC’s attention.No news

“Arab lawmaker MK Basel Ghattas was arrested Thursday night on suspicion of smuggling cell phones, SIM cards, and coded messages to convicted terrorists serving time in Israel’s prisons.

The arrest came immediately after a second round of police questioning under caution in as many days, and just hours after Ghattas, of the Arab Joint List in the Knesset, waived his parliamentary immunity. […]

According to Hebrew media reports, Ghattas allegedly passed as many as 15 cellphones and several SIM cards to inmates serving sentences for national security offenses in Ketziot prison south of Beersheba.

Ghattas was also suspected of handing “intelligence information” to one of two prisoners in encoded notes, a Channel 2 report said. The notes contained information from other security prisoners, the report claimed, as well as mentions of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 to escape a police and Shin Bet investigation into allegations he was paid by Hezbollah to help locate targets for rocket attacks within Israel.

One of the prisoners that Ghattas is alleged to have met with during a Sunday visit to Ketziot is Walid Daka, who was sentenced to 37 years for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.

The phones, discovered concealed behind plastic molding surrounding a window in the visitors room, were allegedly intended to be collected by prisoners who belong to the Islamic Jihad terror group.”

Had a British, German or French member of parliament been arrested on suspicion of offences involving convicted terrorists (and subsequently placed under house arrest), one can be pretty sure that the BBC would have found the story newsworthy.

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Superficial BBC portrayal of proposed ‘Regulation Bill’

On the morning of December 6th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israel advances bill to legalise West Bank settlements”. Around five hours later the article was completely re-written and the headline changed to read “Israeli MPs advance bill to legalise West Bank outposts”.

As long as a decade ago, the BBC’s ‘style guide’ alerted the corporation’s journalists to the difference between ‘settlements’ and ‘outposts’.

“Outposts

Be careful that you don’t mean settlements. They are very different.

Outposts are usually little more than a few caravans occupying a hilltop. They serve a dual purpose: firstly to create new facts on the ground and expand the land included in the adjoining settlement; secondly to defy the Israeli government and show the strength of the settler movement.

Some of these outposts are called ‘unauthorised outposts’ by the Israeli government – generally meaning no permission was granted for them. You can describe an outpost as unauthorised by the Israeli government if that is accurate and relevant to the specific case you are considering.”

The current version of the BBC’s article informs audiences that:

Version 2

Version 2

“Israeli MPs have given preliminary backing to a controversial bill to legalise thousands of unauthorised Jewish homes in the West Bank. […]

The bill, which would legitimise about 4,000 settler homes, still needs to pass three readings in Israel’s parliament to become law.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Attorney General has voiced his opposition to the bill or – as the Times of Israel explains in a useful backgrounder – that:

“Even if the bill makes it through the first, second and third readings, many analysts believe that the Supreme Court will eventually rule that the law is unconstitutional.”

Readers are provided with the usual partial and blinkered BBC mantra concerning ‘international law’, together with uncritical amplification of PLO demands.

“The international community regards all settlements as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Palestinians see settlements as a major obstacle to a peace deal with Israel.

They want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences of the details of the bill.

“The bill — if it passes three more readings in the Knesset and is not subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court — would legalize housing units built by settlers on private Palestinian land, if the construction was carried out in good faith: If the settlers did not know that the land they were building on was privately owned by Palestinians, and received some kind of assistance from the state, they would be allowed to remain there. […]

The bill, sponsored by Jewish Home MKs Betzalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Likud MKs David Bitan and Yoav Kisch, allows the government to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are unknown. If the owners are known, they will be eligible for yearly damages amounting to 125 percent of the value of leasing the land or a larger financial package valued at 20 years’ worth of leasing the plots, or alternate plots.”

Neither are readers given any insight into the political background to the bill in this highly superficial report which does little to enhance audience understanding of the issue.

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As noted in part one of this post, less than 24 hours after the publication of a superficial article concerning the first stage approval of a bill proposed by members of the Knesset aimed at reducing noise pollution from PA systems used by religious establishments, the BBC News website replaced that report with one headlined “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.yogev-bill-art-2

The article’s main purpose appears to be amplification of Palestinian Authority officials’ statements concerning proposed legislation under early stage discussion in a neighbouring sovereign state’s parliament.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”.

On Sunday ministers backed two bills […]

The other bill would mainly impact on Muslims’ call to prayer from mosques. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

The topic of hyperbolic PA officials seeking to intervene in internal legislation in a country in which they have no authority does not come under discussion in this BBC report. Neither does the fact that the PA is not on record as having described the proposal or introduction of similar measures to reduce noise disturbance from mosque loudspeakers in Western or Muslim countries (including neighbouring Jordan) as ‘bringing disaster’ or ‘threatening religious war’.

Instead the BBC elects to provide backwind for the latest opportunistic PA agitprop, presenting a portrayal of the proposed law on PA systems which is even more superficial than the one in its previous report and similarly naming only the Israeli prime minister despite the fact that the bill was submitted by other MKs.

“While the volume limitations it seeks to introduce would apply to all religions, mosques would have to curtail the five-times-daily calls to prayer.

Arabs account for almost 20% of the Israeli population, and the majority are Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would address countless complaints about excessively loud calls to prayer from public address systems, but critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive.”

The second proposed legislation which has drawn comment from PA officials is described by the BBC as “Israeli plans to legitimise wildcat Jewish settlements” and “intended to stop the demolition of an unauthorised West Bank settlement.” Readers are told that:

“Separately, ministers approved draft legislation which would retroactively legalise unauthorised Jewish settlements, or outposts, in the occupied West Bank.

The move was intended to prevent the removal of an outpost known as Amona, which the Supreme Court says was built on private Palestinian land. […]

On Monday, the court rejected a government petition to delay the demolition, upholding a ruling that it must be evacuated by 25 December.

The issue has caused tension within Israel’s right-wing coalition government, with some members opposed to Amona’s removal.”

No further explanation of the politics behind the proposed legislation is provided and BBC audiences are not informed of the fact that it is opposed by the State Attorney General and hence highly unlikely to become law.

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday sent a stern warning to legislators seeking to circumvent a High Court ruling to evacuate the contested West Bank outpost of Amona, saying “We cannot accept legislation that hinders decisions of the High Court of Justice.””

The BBC’s article closes using language which endorses the political narrative promoted by the PLO. [emphasis added]

“According to the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, there are 97 outposts in the occupied West Bank, and over 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unlike officially recognised settlements, the government regards outposts as illegal.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Palestinians want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

While promoting the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’, the article fails to inform readers that according to the Oslo Accords – to which the Palestinians are of course party – the final status of Area C is to be determined in negotiations. Likewise, readers are not informed that under any realistic scenario (such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) some parts of Area C would remain under Israeli control (in exchange for land swaps) in the event of a negotiated agreement.

It should of course be clear to the BBC that its remit of building “understanding of international issues” is not achieved by context-free amplification of the narrative and demands of one party in an unresolved dispute. Clearly that is not the case.

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Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 1

An article published on the BBC News website’s ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on the evening of November 13th ran under the headline “Quieten calls to prayer in Israel – Netanyahu“.yogev-bill-art

Given that headline – together with the fact that the report fails to inform BBC audiences that this latest version of a draft bill to limit the use of outdoor public address systems by religious establishments was actually submitted by other members of the Knesset – readers may well have received the inaccurate impression that it was put forward by the Israeli prime minister, who is the only person named in the report.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing a proposal to quieten calls to prayer, saying he has received complaints from all quarters about “noise and suffering”. […]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting: “I cannot count the times – they are simply too numerous – that citizens have turned to me from all parts of Israeli society, from all religions, with complaints about the noise and suffering caused them by the excessive noise coming to them from the public address systems of houses of prayer.

“Israel is committed to protect anyone who suffers from the excessively loud calls.””

In 2005 the BBC reported a similar statement:

”There are loudspeakers that shake the world,” the minister protested.

”Everyone hears them. Every day I receive bitter complaints from people from all walks of life about the loudspeakers. “

The minister quoted in that report, however, came from Egypt and obviously Israel is far from the only country in which the use of loudspeakers by mosques raises objections from the public and prompts debate. Nevertheless – and with the fact that legislation aimed at solving the same problem exists in other countries left unmentioned – readers of this BBC report are told that:

“Critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive. […]

Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya from the Israel Democracy Institute, a thinktank, wrote in a local newspaper that “the real aim is not to prevent noise but rather to create noise that will hurt all of society and the efforts to establish a sane reality between Jews and Arabs”.”

One of the MKs who tabled the bill, Motti Yogev, was quoted as follows:

“According to Yogev, his office, as well as the ministries of public security and environment, have received dozens of complaints which emphasize that they have no problem with daytime calls to prayer object to the disruptive early broadcasts.

“We are not opposed to religious observance, and certainly not to the call of the muezzin that ‘God is great’,” said Yogev. “(Religious Jews have been) reciting a similar phrase for thousands of years, long before the emergence of Islam.

“But with all the technological advances of today, there is no justification for waking people up at 4 o’clock in the morning who don’t want (to attend prayer services). There are cell phone applications, alarm clocks, and other technologies to use. There is no need to wake up the whole neighborhood,” Yogev told the Hebrew-language Channel 1’s education program.”

The BBC’s article fails to inform audiences that since 2011 similar draft bills on the same topic have been presented on a number of occasions by MKs and none of them have been passed during those five years. In 2011 the Knesset commissioned related research which includes information concerning the ways in which noise pollution from mosque loudspeakers is tackled in some Arab and Western countries. That report points out that in several European states (including the UK) the call to prayer through PA systems is either banned altogether or subject to limitations on days of the week, hours and level of decibels.

The BBC’s article also fails to inform readers that following the bill’s approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on November 13th it must pass three readings in the Knesset before being accepted.

Readers are denied insight into the reactions of some Arab-Israeli MKs:

“…Hanin Zoabi suggested that those who are bothered by the calls to prayer should find somewhere else to live.

“Those who suffer from the sounds of the muezzins are specifically those who chose to settle near the mosques, and… they are invited to leave if they are suffering so much,” she said. “This isn’t Europe here. Anyone who feels like he is in Europe, and thinks this is Europe, should consider going there.””

The BBC’s coverage of domestic Israeli affairs does not as a rule include every private members’ bill laid before the Knesset and therefore the fact that this particular one did receive coverage is noteworthy – especially as the article fails to provide audiences with a comprehensive view of the topic.  

Less than 24 hours after its publication, this report was replaced by an additional article which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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