BBC News website adopts selective history in royal visit article

An article titled “Prince William makes historic visit to Middle East” that appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘UK’ and ‘Middle East pages on June 24th includes an insert of analysis from the BBC’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond and a link to an article by the same journalist.

The title of that linked article – “Prince William set to ‘wander among bones of Empire’” – and the heading given to the insert – ‘The prince wanders among the bones of Empire’ – both steer readers towards a misleading view of the history of the places Prince William is visiting. The article opens:

“The Duke of Cambridge is embarking upon an historic tour of the Middle East – visiting both Israel and the Palestinian territories – in a trip in which ironies and sensitivities will abound.”

The caption to the photograph at the head of the article reads:

“The itinerary is scrupulously balanced between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories”

Neither what is today Israel, Jordan or the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority were part of the British Empire system of colonies, protectorates and dominions: rather they were territory administered by Britain on behalf of the League of Nations.

Bateman’s account of history, however, makes no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine

“For just under three decades, after World War One, Britain controlled present-day Jordan, Israel and the occupied territories; three decades that would see the Middle East reshaped by European design, compromise, and failure.”

The Middle East was of course first and foremost reshaped because the Ottoman Empire chose to ally itself with the side that lost the First World War and the former German and Ottoman territories and colonies subsequently came under the supervision of the League of Nations.

Dymond’s portrayal of the fact that the British government chose to terminate its administration of the mandate originally granted by the League of Nations is similarly unhelpful to anyone hoping to understand the history behind the royal visit.

“When Palestine slipped from the hands of an exhausted and broken post-war Britain in 1948, the Prince’s great-grandfather George VI was on the throne.” [emphasis added]

Dymond found it appropriate to mention just one episode of political violence in his account:

“When Prince William lays his head this week at his Jerusalem hotel, the King David, he will be at the site of one of the worst attacks on British forces during the Jews’ battle for independence. It was an attack condemned at the time as Jewish terrorism.”

However, he failed to provide readers with any meaningful information on the Arab rioting and revolt – or the ensuing British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

“From the Balfour declaration to the White Paper, the promises and pledges that Britain has made to different parties at different times in Palestine are now part of the region’s collective memory.”

Significantly, Dymond refrained from clarifying to the domestic audiences reading his article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page that the British government failed to meet the primary remit with which it was entrusted under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine: the establishment of a Jewish national home:

“The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self­-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

Once again the BBC has passed up the opportunity to provide its funding public with an accurate and impartial account of the role played by their country in the history of the region currently being visited by a member of their royal family.  

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More ‘one man’s terrorist’ from the BBC

Last week’s ninety-fourth anniversary of the Mandate for Palestine (together with the related amateur dramatics from the Palestinian Authority) might perhaps have prompted audiences to search BBC websites for more information on the subject of the League of Nations.

Most of the information turned up by such a search appears on BBC educational sites – for example here, here, here and the rather bizarre video here. Audiences would also find an article from 2011 by historian Charles Townshend on an archived (but accessible) page of the BBC’s History website titled “The League of Nations and the United Nations” which includes an ‘added extra’ towards the end.

LoN art

Beyond the fact that in more than five years since this article’s appearance the BBC has not noticed that it promotes the inaccuracy “President Assad of Egypt”, we see here unqualified promotion of the ‘one man’s terrorist’ cliché.  

“Members of Hamas (the Islamic resistance movement), and the Islamic Jihad organisation, may be terrorists to the government of Israel, but to others they are fighters against oppression.”

As has been noted here before, that approach is employed by those who confuse (intentionally or not) the means – terrorism – with the end. As the philosopher William Vallicella wrote in 2009:

“Often and thoughtlessly repeated, ‘One man’s terrorist in another man’s freedom fighter’ is one of those sayings that cry out for logical and philosophical analysis. Competent analysis will show that clear-thinking persons ought to avoid the saying.

Note first that while freedom is an end, terror is a means. So to call a combatant a terrorist is to say something about his tactics, his means for achieving his ends, while to call a combatant a freedom fighter is to say nothing about his tactics or means for achieving his ends. It follows that one and the same combatant can be both a terrorist and a freedom fighter. For one and the same person can employ terror as his means while having freedom as his end.

Suppose a Palestinian Arab jihadi straps on an explosive belt and detonates himself in a Tel Aviv pizza parlor. He is objectively a terrorist: he kills and maims noncombatants in furtherance of a political agenda which includes freedom from Israeli occupation. The fact that he is a freedom fighter does not make him any less a terrorist. Freedom is his end, but terror is his means. It is nonsense to say that he is a terrorist to Israelis and their supporters and a freedom fighter to Palestinians and their supporters. He is objectively both. It is not a matter of ‘perception’ or point of view or which side one is on.”

The BBC’s inconsistent (and often downright offensive) approach to reporting terrorism is rooted in the fact that it fails to distinguish between means and ends. The result of that is that when a perceived cause is considered ‘understandable’, the description of the means is adjusted accordingly. Thus the BBC continues, for example, to refrain from describing acts of vehicular terrorism against Israelis as terror but is comfortable using that term to portray the same act when it is perpetrated against French citizens. 

Listeners to a BBC Radio 4 discussion on that topic last November were told:

“Well I think the origin of this problem arises from the difference between broadcasting just for the UK and broadcasting out [side] the UK. I think there are very few people who would say that for instance the bombs that the IRA planted in London – or what happened in Paris, to be blunt – was anything other than terrorism. It was a tactic to shock and terrorise people in a city. But what happens when you talk about what might happen in the middle of Israel or in the Palestinian territories? If a bomb goes off there or they’ve stabbed someone to death, what is the language to describe that? And I think that’s partly why the BBC has taken against this word terrorism because it actually – on its international services – does not want to have to make a judgement in these particular countries.”

So long as BBC editors fail to separate the means from the ends it will of course be impossible for the corporation to report on the subject of terrorism in a way which adheres to its professed standards of accuracy and impartiality and fulfils its remit of enhancing understanding of international issues.

As Western countries increasingly struggle to deal with the rise of terrorism on their own streets, the millions of people getting their news from the world’s most influential broadcaster – including policy makers – are more than ever in need of clear and consistent reporting which adheres to those editorial standards and meets that remit. 

BBC News, PA Balfour agitprop and British history

BBC amplification of the latest pseudo-legal agitprop from the vexatious Palestinian Authority came in the form of an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 26th under the misleading title “Palestinians plan to sue Britain over 1917 Balfour act“.PA Balfour Decl art

The Balfour Declaration was of course a statement of British government policy – not an “act” as this headline states.

Later on in the article, readers were further misled by an inaccurate portrayal of the end of British administration of the Mandate for Palestine.

“Israel declared its independence in 1948 after the UK mandate expired.”

The mandate did not ‘expire‘: the British government chose to terminate its administration of the mandate originally granted by the League of Nations.

Remarkably, the article omitted any mention of British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

“Jewish immigration to Palestine accelerated from the 1920s to the 1940s, latterly spurred by Nazi persecution and the Holocaust in Europe. The growth of the Jewish population was opposed by Palestine’s Arab community, which rejected the eventual establishment of a Jewish state.”

The article provided uncritical amplification to spurious claims made by a PA representative:

“Palestinian FM Riad Malki said the document led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people”. […]

Speaking at an Arab League summit in Mauritania on Monday, Mr Malki said the UK was responsible for all “Israeli crimes” since the end of the mandate in 1948.

“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” he was quoted as saying by the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

“And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.””

The article refrained from clarifying to readers that this latest PA stunt does not come out of the blue and it failed to provide them with the relevant context of the long record of denial of Jewish history by official Palestinian bodies, as ‘The Tower’ explains:

“Article 20 of the charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose chairman Mahmoud Abbas is also president of the Palestinian Authority, declared that “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood.”

In 1993, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat promised, as part of the Oslo peace process, to revoke elements of the charter that denied Israel’s right to exist as part of the Oslo peace process. After initially failing to keep his commitment, Arafat specified in a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton that Article 20 would be among those that would be revoked. In December 1998, the Palestinian legislature officially voted to revoke those sections of the charter that were inconsistent with the Palestinians’ commitment to peace. By questioning the legality of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Authority may be in violation of its international commitments to peace.”

This latest PA agitprop is of course unlikely to do more than create a few headlines. Nevertheless, if the BBC is going to give it amplification, it should at least also inform audiences about the real aim of an exercise that highights the redundancy of the BBC’s repeated promotion of the notion that ‘settlements’ and ‘occupation’ are the “obstacles to peace”.

Obviously too, the UK’s national broadcaster should be capable of presenting its funding public with an accurate account of Britain’s role in that particular chapter of history.

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