Romanticising violence on the BBC News website

On October 25th an article by Chris Bell titled “Gaza protest image likened to famous Delacroix painting” appeared on the BBC Trending blog and the ‘Middle East’ page of the BBC News website.

Readers were told that:

“It’s a picture which has spawned thousands of words online.

Captured by photojournalist Mustafa Hassona, a bare-chested Palestinian holding a large flag wields a sling over his head in Gaza on Monday.

It was snapped amid violent protests on a beach close to the border with Israel. Demonstrators burnt tyres and threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and live fire. Gaza’s health ministry said 32 Palestinians were wounded.” [emphasis added]

Readers did not discover until towards the end of the article that “Gaza’s health ministry” is run by the same terror group that organises and facilitates the violent rioting now in its seventh month.

Neither were they informed that in addition to burning tyres and throwing stones, the rioters on that beach on October 22nd engaged in additional activities which – had Bell bothered to mention them – would have helped audiences understand why the use of live fire was necessary.

“On October 22, 2018, the 13th mini-flotilla sailed towards Israel’s naval border. About 20 small boats set sail from the Beit Lahia shore. The mini-flotilla was accompanied by a demonstration on the beach, in which about 5,000 Gazans participated. During the demonstration rioters threw IEDs and hand grenades at IDF forces. Several rioters tried to approach the security fence but returned to the Gaza Strip. The ministry of health in the Gaza Strip reported that about twenty people had been injured in the demonstrations north of Beit Lahia.”

Later on in the article, readers saw more downplaying of the violent nature of the ‘Great Return March’ events:

“Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting weekly along the border with Israel since March. The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the intention of the demand for the so-called ‘right of return’ is the elimination of the Jewish state.

With regard to the photograph itself, readers were told that:

“The image has been shared widely, with many social media users likening it to Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of the 1830 Paris uprising – Liberty Leading the People.”

While Delacroix’s painting portrayed French protesters rising up against their monarch, the subject of this photograph was not demonstrating against his own corrupt and inept rulers. Bell made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that the Gaza Strip has not been under Israeli control for over thirteen years and so the comparison made by “many social media users” is clearly redundant. Moreover, his narrative framing continued: 

“Where some saw biblical symbolism of a David versus Goliath struggle, others viewed the stylish image as glorification of violence.”

Nevertheless, as we see, the BBC did indeed consider it appropriate to provide amplification to the politically motivated romanticisation of an image of a person participating in violent rioting encouraged, organised and facilitated by a terror group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.

The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”

Listeners once again heard recorded excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference before Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”

Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”

Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.

Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”

Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”

Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”

Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.

Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”

Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.

Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”

Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:

Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”

Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”

Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.

It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:

“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”

The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

BBC’s Bell finds conspiracy theorist “interesting”

By His Own Admission, Wilkerson Cannot Be Trusted (Gatestone Institute)

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

The lead story in the February 18th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was described as follows in the synopsis:

“Israel’s prime minister launches a stinging attack on Iran, telling a security conference in Munich the country is the “greatest threat to our world”. Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy opened the item (from 00:45 here) by insinuating that an Iranian drone may or may not have breached Israeli airspace the previous week. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “We begin now at the Munich Security conference – a forum for discussing security threats but today it put a case of insecurity very firmly on display. The conference became the backdrop to a rhetorical clash between Israel and Iran a week after the two countries’ militaries came into conflict over Syria. Well Israel lost a fighter jet in that clash which followed what it said was the interception of an Iranian drone which had crossed from Syria into Israeli territory. It was the first time an Israeli war plane had been downed in more than a decade.”

After listeners had heard excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference, Coomarasamy introduced his two guests – Giora Shamis of the controversial Debkafile website and Iranian-American SOAS professor Laleh Khalili.

So what did BBC audiences worldwide learn about the activities of Iran and its proxies in Syria and the wider Middle East or why Israel views the Iranian presence and influence on its borders as a threat? The answer to that question is not much. Listeners did however hear quite a bit of dubious, politically partisan analysis from Khalili – none of which was challenged by the BBC presenter.

Khalili: “There are obviously three elements about what is going on at the moment that makes it all a bit scary, the first of which is that the Trump administration is in place which is probably more likely to give a green light to conflict by Israel, although the Trump administration itself is quite divided on this issue with some of the higher echelons of the military not wanting to cause further conflict in the region. The second element is of course the major rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia. The third thing which I think makes things particularly dangerous is the fact that Netanyahu has over the course of his entire rule in Israel been accused of corruption a number of times but now the police have referred him to the attorney general in Israel and of course the wag the dog situation [laughs] is extremely relevant here and could potentially result in further conflict, which is what Netanyahu would want: the more conflict there is in the region, the better it benefits the Israeli security establishment if not the Israeli people.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question that ‘theory’ or to remind listeners that it was Iran that sparked the recent clash by infiltrating Israeli airspace. After Giora Shamis had mentioned the establishment of Iranian military bases in Syria and additional factors, Coomarasamy asked Khalili about “events on the ground” – meaning the drone infiltration – but allowed her to avoid the question and instead promote more unchallenged propaganda aimed at downplaying Iran’s activities.

Khalili: “The fact is that there are confrontations, whether by proxy or directly, happening between Israel and Iran for decades now and what Netanyahu does – and in fact actually most of the conservative Israeli security establishment do – is constant fear-mongering. The problem is really not with whether or not there are other threats or real threats or real clashes. The problem is with Israel’s militarist, expansionist policies that have essentially become more and more entrenched and more and more fired up whenever Netanyahu feels his own power domestically threatened.”

After Khalili had referred to Netanyahu as “preening quite a bit and posturing quite a bit”, Coomarasamy asked Shamis for his “response to the idea that what is happening now is in part the prime minister of Israel trying to divert attention from his own domestic challenges”, to which Shamis replied that in his opinion, the current Israeli government will be in power for at least another year.

Coomarasamy next asked Khalili about Javid Zarif’s “dismissive” response to Netanyahu and “how worried are the Iranians?”.

Khalili: “They have to consider this but also I’m sure the dismissiveness comes from the direction of remembering how much Netanyahu is into these kinds of theatrics. I mean we haven’t forgotten his UN presentation which was of course the subject of much mirth and mockery later. […] But it is also really important to know that it’s not just the Iranians that are being dismissive. I just have been looking on Twitter and all the people who are at the actual security conference, a lot of the Europeans who are Tweeting are also being in equal measures concerned about Netanyahu’s posturing and also dismissive of, again, its theatrical elements.”

She went on:

Khalili: “…this conflict has been on a low simmer for decades. It’s not new. I mean the fact that the Israeli security establishment have been assassinating Iranian scientists inside Iran and Iranian military people outside of Iran, it’s not like there’s been all love and roses [laughs] for the past few decades and yet this conflict has been going on. But the fact is that the conflict has been ongoing so its being ratcheted up is perhaps what’s interesting, dangerous and worrying.”

Without questioning or qualifying Khalili’s allegations or even reminding listeners of, for example, the relevant topic of Iranian military activities along Israel’s border with Syria, Coomarasamy closed the item there.

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. The unchallenged efforts of activist academic Laleh Khalili to frame the story as being about “theatrics”, “fear-mongering” and Israeli domestic politics – while completely erasing Iran’s activities from the picture – are of course not in the least surprising.  However, such blatant propaganda obviously contributed nothing to BBC audience understanding of the serious topic of Iranian expansion and belligerency in Syria and the Middle East in general or of Israel’s position on that issue.

However, Newshour’s partisan framing of that story was not over yet – as we will see in part two of this post.