Missile from Gaza not news for the BBC but Israeli response gets headlines

On the morning of December 19th a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol region of the Western Negev in the third such incident since the ceasefire in late August which brought the fifty-day summer conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terrorist organisations to a close. Like those previous incidents of missile fire, this one too was not reported by the BBC at the time.

During the night between December 19th and 20th, the Israeli air-force launched a retaliatory strike against a Hamas military installation near Khan Yunis. That event was considered news by the BBC.

With no mention of the obviously crucial context of the preceding missile attack some hours earlier, the BBC World Twitter account informed its 8.22 million followers:

KY strike bbc world tweet 1

Jerusalem bureau correspondent Quentin Sommerville did inform his 24 thousand followers that the Israeli action came in response to missile fire, whilst taking the opportunity to revive the well-trodden BBC theme of “home-made rockets”. There is no evidence to suggest that Sommerville was at the scene of the impact and hence his ‘diagnosis’ of the missile’s nature is apparently based on guess-work. Equally questionable is Sommerville’s geography: there is no city called Eshkol: that name refers to a regional council. Nevertheless, that inaccurate information was retweeted by the BBC World Twitter account.

KY strike Sommerville tweet 1

KY strike Sommerville tweet 2

More context-free ‘last-first’ reporting was seen on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of December 20th where visitors were informed that “Israel launches an air strike on an alleged Hamas site in Gaza, in the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August”, but with no mention in the headline or sub-heading of the missile attack several hours beforehand.

KY strike on HP

That headline leads to an article titled “Israel launches Gaza air strike on ‘Hamas target’” which fails to clarify to BBC audiences that this latest missile attack was the third since the end of August.

Readers will note that one of the recommended articles presented on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with that article is headed “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” which was discussed here. Whilst the BBC has put much effort in recent months into the production of numerous ‘reporter in the rubble’ items showcasing the topic of damage to houses and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip (see some additional examples here, here and here), it has refrained from carrying out any reporting whatsoever on the subject of Hamas’ reconstruction of its military infrastructure, including cross-border tunnels and missile capabilities.

Once again licence fee-payers relying on the BBC to meet its half of the bargain by providing them with reporting which will enhance their understanding of international issues are being sold short. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the corporation’s continuing policies of ‘last-first’ reporting and framing by omission. 

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BBC’s ‘last-first’ reporting keeps audience attention focused on Israel

Readers of the BBC News website’s Middle East page were informed on June 24th 2013 that “Israel hits back after Gaza rockets”. 

HP 24 6

The link leads to a report with the same ‘last-first’ headline in which the chronological events of the story are reversed, the earlier version of which is shown below. 

Gaza missiles Sun night

That ‘last-first’ theme is repeated in the report’s opening paragraph:

“Israeli warplanes have attacked targets in the Gaza Strip after missiles were fired into southern Israel late on Sunday night.”

In both that and the subsequent paragraph, readers learn that rockets “were fired” by unnamed parties, but no details are provided about where they landed or what their targets were, as though the fact that “no damage or injury was reported” negates the necessity to inform BBC audiences that their targets were actually sleeping civilians in several communities including Ashkelon, Netivot, the Bedouin town of Rahat and in the regional councils Bnei Shimon and Lahavim. 

“At least six rockets were fired from northern Gaza, but no damage or injury was reported.”

Bnei Shimon r.c.

In the seventh of ten paragraphs the report notes that:

“Sirens blared in a number of areas of southern Israel and Israeli media said two of the missiles, thought to be Grad rockets, were intercepted by the Iron Dome system in the Ashkelon area.”

In contrast to the use of the vague term “were fired”, we find that Israeli actions are described in very different terms and their consequences are reported. [emphasis added] 

“Israeli warplanes have attacked targets in the Gaza Strip after missiles were fired into southern Israel late on Sunday night.”

“Hours later, Israeli aircraft hit three areas, a BBC reporter said.”

“Israeli planes launched an attack in the early hours of Monday. BBC reporter Rushdi Abualouf said they hit three targets belonging to both Hamas and Islamic Jihad and there were no reports of casualties.”

“The first strike targeted an Islamic Jihad training facility in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip.

The other attacks were on security compounds for the Hamas-run government, our correspondent said.”

So, whilst missiles “were fired” from the Gaza Strip, only once (in paragraph six) are those actions described as an “attack” and readers are not told that they “hit” anything or “targeted” anyone.

Three paragraphs of the report are dedicated to speculations regarding the ‘reasons’ for the missile fire. It is not made clear to readers that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization proscribed by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada and Israel. Instead, the BBC uses the misleading and euphemistic term “militant group”.  

“The reason for the flare-up is unclear but sources blame tension in Gaza after an Islamic Jihad leader was killed by Hamas police on Saturday.

Raed Qassim Jundeyeih, 32, died after he was shot during a gun battle involving police and members of his family. Unconfirmed reports said he was a commander of the militant group’s military wing, the Al-Quds brigades.

Islamic Jihad were believed to have been behind Sunday night’s rocket attack on Israel, which came after a period of relative calm.”

Having totally ignored the fact that less than only five days previously the residents of Ashkelon were also woken in the early hours of the morning by sirens warning of incoming missiles from the Gaza Strip, the BBC is able to promote the notion of “a period of relative calm”.

Some seven hours after the publication of that report an amended version was posted at the same URL in which the problematic aspects of the original version are repeated. 

missile attacks sun night version 2

Significantly, the BBC chooses not to trouble its audiences with the question of why the sleeping residents of Israeli towns should come under missile attack due to a confrontation between two terrorist organisations in a territory from which Israel disengaged eight years ago. 

“Islamic Jihad today suspended its contacts with Hamas after police opened fire yesterday on one of the commanders of the Al-Quds Brigades, Raed Jundiya, 38, inflicting serious injuries from which he died this morning,” AFP quoted a leader of the extremist group as saying.

“The murder of Raed Jundiya represents a major service to the Zionist enemy, provided completely free of charge, whether deliberately or not, because the martyr was, as everybody knows, on the top of the Zionists’ hit-list as he headed the Brigades’ rocket unit,” he said.”

Instead, in line with its prevailing narrative, the BBC focuses its audiences’ attentions on the Israeli response to those attacks on its civilians through the use of omission, language and ‘last-first’ reporting. 

Related articles:

BBC News: telling the end of a story first

More ‘last-first’ BBC reporting from southern Israel and the Gaza Strip

BBC resumes ‘last-first’ reporting from Gaza area – and then changes tack

BBC resumes ‘last-first’ reporting from Gaza area – and then changes tack

Here is a headline appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of April 3rd:

“Israel launches air strike on Gaza”

“Israel carries out an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce last November.”

Headline ME page 3 4

The link led (see below) to an article headlined “Israel launches first air strike on Gaza since truce” – which this screenshot shows in full.

3 4 rockets Gaza

As we see, the BBC was back to its old habit of ‘last-first’ reporting, with the headlines on the Middle East home page and the article itself highlighting the last in a sequence of events and creating an impression of Israel as the initiator of violence and violator of the ceasefire. Only in the third paragraph of this seven paragraph article were readers given some sort of clue that there might have been prior incidents (not reported by the BBC at the time, incidentally) which prompted the event described in the headline.

So let’s have a look at how this article could have been written. A more accurate headline would have been phrased as follows:

Third case of rocket fire from Gaza Strip since November truce brings first Israeli response.

A more accurate strap-line would have read:

Terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip have launched missiles at Israeli civilian targets for the third time since an eight-day war ended in a truce last November.

A more logical sequence to the body of the article would have begun by explaining to readers what happened first. For example:

Sderot kindergarden hit by a Qassam rocket fired by Gaza militants during US President Barack Obama's visiting to Israel. Photo taken April 02, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Qassam rocket hit on nursery school in Sderot, discovered on April 2nd. Photo credit Flash90

On Tuesday afternoon a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol Regional Council. Two additional mortars fired around the same time fell short, landing in the Gaza Strip. Earlier the same day, a rocket was discovered in a nursery school in Sderot when it reopened after the Pessah holiday. It is thought that the rocket was one of several fired by terrorist organisations from the Gaza Strip on March 21st during President Obama’s visit to Israel. On February 26th a missile fired at the town of Ashkelon marked the first violation by rocket fire of the truce which ended the eight days of fighting between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel in November 2012. 

Late on Tuesday night the Israeli air-force responded to the rocket fire earlier in the day by targeting two terror sites in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. This was Israel’s first response to renewed rocket fire since November 2012. The IDF Spokesperson said:

“Hamas understands that there are new rules, and the past five months have been the quietest since the [2005] disengagement. The goal is to maintain the quiet in southern Israel.”

A more accurate introduction to the Hamas statement included in the BBC report would have read:

Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization which rules the Gaza Strip, says aircraft bombed fields near the border and no-one was injured.

Rather than implying that the missiles were fired into what readers will naturally understand to be empty “desert”, the report should have made it clear for accuracy’s sake that the intention was to target Israeli civilians, for example by writing: 

The Israeli newspaper ‘Ha’aretz’ said the air strike was near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and came after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired mortar shells at Israeli civilian communities in the Western Negev. 

The BBC’s anodyne description of Hamas’ rise to power is also inaccurate, as its generalised reference to “building materials”. A more accurate phrasing could have read:

Since the Egyptian-mediated truce came into effect in November 2012, Israel has eased restrictions on the entry of dual-use building materials, which can be used for terror purposes, into the Gaza Strip. The restrictions were imposed after Hamas seized power there in a violent coup against the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority, in 2007.

The article should also have been updated to include later events:

On Wednesday morning, just as children were making their way to school, two additional Qassam rockets were fired at the area of Sderot and Sha’ar HaNegev from the Gaza Strip.  

It really is not difficult to present the news in an accurate and logical sequence which is conducive to audience understanding of events. The BBC is of course not the only media organisation to contort stories by using the ‘last-first’ method of reporting, but that does not make the practice any more acceptable. 

However, it seems that perhaps at some juncture someone at the BBC realised that too.  Some thirteen hours after the original publication of the above report its headline and content were completely changed

News Sniffer

The revised headline – at the same URL– reads “Exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel”. 

Version 2 article 3 4

The headline on the Middle East page of the BBC News website was also amended. 

Version 2 ME HP 3 4

Whilst there are still important omissions in the new article (for example the statement concerning the UN claim that four Palestinians have been killed since the end of hostilities in November does not make clear the fact that they were engaged in trying to breach the border fence), its tone is overall considerably more neutral and balanced than that of the original version of the story and that improvement is to be commended.