BBC’s Iran protests backgrounders fail to ameliorate years of omission

As several commentators have noted, the recent protests in Iran have included criticism of the regime’s foreign policy priorities.

At the Spectator Douglas Murray wrote:

“…most early reports indicate that protesters began by highlighting the country’s living standards. Specifically, they complained about the government’s use of its recent economic bonus (from the lifting of sanctions) not to help the Iranian people, but to pursue wider regional ambitions. Iranian forces are currently fighting in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This from a power whose defenders still claim is not expansionist. […]

The nationwide demonstrations, which have not been led by any single demographic, class, or group, have included cries of ‘Leave Gaza, leave Lebanon, my life (only) for Iran’. Chants of ‘Death to Hezbollah’ (Iran’s terrorist proxy currently fighting in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria) have also been heard from Mashhad to Kermanshah.”

At Foreign Policy magazine, Dennis Ross noted that:

“Placards criticizing corruption are rampant, and some demonstrators have even chanted death to the dictator, referring to Khamenei. Protesters have also railed against the costs of Iran’s foreign adventures: One of the earliest chants was, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran.” […]

The protestors are asking why their money is spent in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza […] On Hezbollah alone, Iran is estimated to provide more than $800 million a year — and their costs in sustaining the Assad regime come to several billion dollars.”

One of the BBC’s early reports – published on December 29th; the day after the protests commenced – also noted those chants.

“There is also anger at Iran’s interventions abroad. In Mashhad, some chanted “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, a reference to what protesters say is the administration’s focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.

Other demonstrators chanted “leave Syria, think about us” in videos posted online. Iran is a key provider of military support to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

However, when the BBC later began producing backgrounders on the protests in Iran, that issue was downplayed.

In a filmed backgrounder published on January 2nd under the title “Iran protests: Why people are taking to the streets”, Rana Rahimpour of BBC Persian told audiences that:

“The protests started out of opposition to President Hassan Rouhani and his economic policies. People were angry with high inflation, unemployment and corruption. But it quickly became bigger than that, and protesters started calling for the downfall of Iran’s most powerful man: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They also called for an end to Iran’s involvement in countries like Syria and Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were not however informed what that “involvement” entails or how much it costs the Iranian people.

In a written backgrounder also produced by Rana Rahimpour and published on the BBC News website on the same day under the headline “Iran protests pose an unpredictable challenge for authorities“, readers found the same statement.

“Within a day, the unrest had spread to some 25 towns and cities, and slogans went beyond the economic, including calls, for instance, for an end to Iran’s involvement in Lebanon and Syria.”

An article titled “Iran protests: US brands Tehran’s accusations ‘nonsense’” that also appeared on the BBC News website on January 2nd included analysis by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in which readers were told that:

“When the protests started last Thursday, they were about the current economic crisis but as they spread, pent-up frustrations spilled out and politics became a big part of them.

President Rouhani has been widely criticised. He has disappointed voters who hoped he would do more to turn round an economy that has been damaged by years of sanctions, corruption and mismanagement.

Iran’s role in conflicts across the Middle East has also been criticised as it is an expensive foreign policy at a time when people in Iran are getting poorer.”

Another backgrounder – published on the BBC News website on January 4th under the headline “Six charts that explain the Iran protests” made no mention whatsoever of the vast sums of money shoring up the Iranian regime’s protégés and proxies around the Middle East.

Two and a half years ago senior BBC journalists covering the P5+1 deal with Iran assured BBC audiences that the vast sums of money freed up by sanctions relief under the terms of the JCPOA would be used by the Iranian regime to improve the country’s economy.

“President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.”  Jeremy Bowen, PM, BBC Radio 4, July 14th 2015

“In exchange it [Iran] will get a lot. It will get a release of the punishing sanctions. We heard from Hassan Rouhani saying as Iran always says that the sanctions did not succeed but he conceded that they did have an impact on the everyday lives of Iranians. There’s an estimate that some $100 billion will, over time, once Iran carries out its implementation of this agreement, will be released into the Iranian economy.”  Lyse Doucet, Newshour, BBC World Service radio, July 14th 2015.

Since then, the BBC has continued the existing practice of serially avoiding any serious reporting on the issue of Iran’s financing of terror groups and militias across the Middle East.

Given that long-standing policy of omission, it is obvious that BBC audiences are not sufficiently informed on the issue to be able to understand the full significance of those euphemistic references to “Iran’s involvement in countries like Lebanon and Syria”, its “role in conflicts across the Middle East” and its “expensive foreign policy” found in content supposedly meant to explain why Iranians have taken to the streets in protest.

Related Articles:

The figures behind a story the BBC chooses not report

BBC audiences in the dark on Iranian terror financing yet again

BBC silent on renewed Iranian funding for PIJ

BBC euphemisms hobble audience understanding of Iranian terror financing

 

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BBC refuses to correct an error on a topic it previously reported accurately

As noted here last month, in a report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet inaccurately informed listeners that Hamas had made changes to its charter.

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue. The response received reads as follows:

BBC’s own photo caption: “Hamas officials say the new document does not replace the group’s 1988 charter”.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint that there was a factual inaccuracy in Lyse Doucet’s report broadcast in Newshour on 12/10/2017. I forwarded your email to the editor and team at Newshour. Below is the reply…   

The programme was reporting on the emerging deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah that was unfolding as the programme went on air.

This was a significant story.  Lyse Doucet gave a brief historical context to the deal, ranging from the Palestinian elections in 2006 to the military takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and the current problems with electricity supply related to the political rift with the Fatah administration in Ramallah.

Lyse clearly pointed out that Hamas’s founding charter still talks about the destruction of the state of Israel, and that Hamas still sees itself as a resistance movement.

Lyse referred to changes in the Hamas charter last year, which represented a significant shift in the movement’s public stance and were important in that regard.

But Lyse stressed the point that Hamas showed no sign of accepting the legitimacy of Israel.

I hope the above allays the concerns you have raised.” [emphasis added]

As we see, despite one BBC department – the BBC News website – having accurately reported at the time that “Hamas says [the new document] does not replace the charter”, obviously neither the ‘Newshour’ team nor the BBC’s complaints department understands the significant difference between the Hamas charter and the policy document.

In contrast, media organisations that have corrected inaccuracies concerning the same issue include i24, CNN and Newsweek.  

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

The story of the Lebanese prime minister’s “stunning resignation” – as the BBC described it when news of Saad Hariri’s announcement broke on November 4th – can obviously only be fully understood if one is familiar with one of the other major players in that story: Hizballah.

Essential context to that story of course includes the background to the current political landscape in Lebanon – a story that was reported very superficially by the BBC at the time. Clearly too it is important to understand the extent of Hizballah’s influence within the Lebanese government and armed forces as well as the effects that Hizballah’s intervention and actions in other countries has had on Lebanon. An understanding of which countries and bodies designate Hizballah as a terrorist organisation is also crucial, as is familiarity with the extent to which Hizballah is financed and supplied by Iran – and how that translates into Iranian influence in Lebanon.

As one Middle East analyst put it:

“Over the last 11 months, Hariri became a fig-leaf for Hezbollah. As one of the main leaders of the opposition, his appointment as prime minister ostensibly proved Lebanon was maintaining its independence vis-a-vis Iran.

Now, however, the charade is over, and Lebanon remains as it was without the disguise — pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian, and with Hezbollah firmly in control. The Lebanese president is considered to be an Iranian and Hezbollah appointment, the Lebanese army is cooperating and coordinating with Hezbollah, and the Shiite terror group does whatever it likes in Lebanon.”

Since Hariri made his announcement the BBC News website has produced a considerable amount of coverage of the story. However, much of that reporting included softball portrayal of Hizballah which failed to provide BBC audiences with the context essential for full understanding of the story.

The website’s first article on the story – “Lebanese PM Hariri resigns, saying he fears assassination plot” (4/11/17) – whitewashed the financial and military support provided to Hizballah by Iran and airbrushed the terror group’s militia from view, calling it a ‘political party’. No explanation was given regarding the fact that the “political deadlock” was caused by Hizballah.

[all emphasis in bold added] 

“Mr Hariri also attacked the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.”

“Taking up the prime minister’s office last year, Mr Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

“In Lebanon, the Saudis support Mr Hariri while Iran backs the Shia movement, Hezbollah.”

A report appearing the next day – “Lebanon Hariri resignation a plot to stoke tension, says Iran” (5/11/17) – mentioned the murder of Hariri’s father without clarifying that Hizballah operatives have been indicted by the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

“Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.”

“The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

A report titled “Lebanon PM forced by Saudis to resign, says Hezbollah” that appeared on the same day also failed to mention the STL, downplayed Iran’s financial and military support for Hizballah and once again failed to make any mention of its numerous terror designations.

“The leader of Lebanon-based Shia group Hezbollah has said that Saudi Arabia forced the Lebanese prime minister to resign.

Saad Hariri stepped down in a televised broadcast from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, and saying he feared for his life.”

“As he resigned on Saturday, Mr Hariri blamed Iran for meddling in several countries, including Lebanon, and said he felt the climate was similar to that which “prevailed” before his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a bomb in 2005.

The attack was widely blamed on Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon but denies it was involved.”

“After taking office last year, Mr Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

An article by Lyse Doucet – “Riyadh’s night of long knives and long-range missiles” (6/11/17) – briefly touched on some of the essential background that BBC audiences had hitherto lacked – albeit mostly in the form of quotes rather than her own analysis.

“Looking visibly distressed, Hariri spoke of fears for his life in his own country. He pointed an accusing finger at Iran for spreading “disorder and destruction”. And he charged that its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, a major Shia militia and powerful political force, with building a “state within a state”.”

“”By his actions, Hariri created a veneer of respectability for a state which in reality is captured by Hezbollah,” said Ali Shihabi.”

“One Western diplomat with long experience in the region highlighted possible next moves: withdrawal of major Saudi bank deposits; trade embargo; action by the Lebanese military, which the US and UK has long helped train and build in an effort to provide a national counterweight to Hezbollah’s military might.”

“Just last month, the US House of Representatives endorsed the imposition of new sanctions against Hezbollah as part of the Trump administration’s drive to exert greater pressure on Iran.

The measures, which have yet to become law, include a resolution urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah’s political wing, and not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation.”

The BBC’s new Beirut correspondent Martin Patience also briefly referred to one crucial point in a report titled “Lebanon in crosshairs as Saudi-Iran tensions soar” (10/11/17) but again failed to clarify the real meaning of the phrase “Iran backs”.

“Iran backs the Shia movement Hezbollah here. Its supporters believe Mr Hariri’s resignation was orchestrated by the Saudis in order to weaken their influence in the country.

Hezbollah has been accused of operating a “state within a state”. Its armed wing is more powerful than the Lebanese army and it leads a bloc which dominates the cabinet.”

However, on the same day a report titled “France’s Macron makes surprise Saudi visit amid Lebanon crisis” (10/11/17) returned to vague phrasing.

“In the video statement, Mr Hariri also attacked Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily powerful in Lebanon, and Iran.”

Readers saw the use of a standard BBC euphemism – “militant group” – in a report titled “Lebanon Hariri crisis: President Aoun demands Saudi answers” (11/11/17) which made no effort to explain Iran’s financial and military support to Hizballah.

“Iran and its Lebanese ally, the militant group Hezbollah, accuse Saudi Arabia of holding Mr Hariri hostage.”

“He [Hariri] accused Iran and Hezbollah, a Shia group, of taking over Lebanon and destabilising the wider region.”

The same was seen in an article headlined “Saad Hariri: Lebanon return from Saudi Arabia ‘within days’” (13/11/17).

“He [Hariri] has blamed the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement for his resignation, citing concerns over his and his family’s safety.”

“”I am not against Hezbollah as a party, I have a problem with Hezbollah destroying the country,” he said.

The main problem for the region, he said, was “Iran interfering in Arab states”.”

On November 15th audiences saw the BBC’s first reference to Hizballah as an Iranian proxy in a report titled “Saad Hariri: Saudis detaining Lebanon PM says Michel Aoun” that gave a very limited description of its terror designation and made no effort to explain the background to the current political landscape in Lebanon. However – eleven days into the story – readers also saw the first mention of Hizballah involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri.

“The Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement, an Iranian proxy that Riyadh considers a terrorist group, is part of the unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year.”

“Mr Aoun is a Maronite Christian former army commander who is an ally of the Islamist militia and political party Hezbollah.”

“His [Hariri’s] father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.”

“Mr Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who became prime minister for the second time in late 2016 in a political compromise deal that also saw Mr Aoun elected president, has close ties to Saudi Arabia.”

The same reference to the STL appeared in a report titled “Saad Hariri: Lebanon PM ‘can go to France when he wants’” on November 16th along with a description of Hizballah as Iran’s “proxy”.

“Saudi Arabia has denied forcing Mr Hariri to resign in an attempt to curb the influence of its regional rival Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which is part of a national unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year.”

“His [Hariri’s] father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.”

By November 18th Hizballah had again been downgraded to an “ally” of Iran with the report titled “Saad Hariri, Lebanon PM, to return to Beirut ‘in coming days’” making no mention of Iran’s patronage of the group or its terror designations.

“In a televised announcement, Mr Hariri accused Iran of sowing “discord, devastation and destruction” in the region. He also accused Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which is part of a national unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year, of destabilising his nation.”

“He also said he feared for his life. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague over the car-bomb assassination of Mr Hariri’s ex-PM father, Rafik, in 2005.”

As we see, none of these BBC reports gave audiences a comprehensive view of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by the United States, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Israel and the designation of its so-called ‘military wing’ by the EU, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The majority of the reports (eight out of eleven) failed to clarify that Hizballah members have been indicted for the murder of a previous Lebanese prime minister.

Portrayal of the extent and significance of Hizballah’s influence on Lebanese politics and armed forces was mostly absent from the BBC reports and the role it played in the “political deadlock” before Saad Hariri became prime minister was ignored.

Most glaring, however, is the fact that none of these eleven reports made any effort to provide BBC audiences with details of the extent of Iran’s financial and military support for the terror group’s activities.

Clearly BBC audiences have not been provided with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of this story.   

 

BBC’s chief international correspondent misleads on IRGC terror designation

Visitors to the BBC News website last weekend found no shortage of reading matter concerning the US president’s decision not to recertify (under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – INARA) the JCPOA.  

What will Trump do about the Iran nuclear deal?” Jonathan Marcus 12/10/17

Iran nuclear deal: Trump ‘will not sign off agreement’” 13/10/17

Trump’s ‘new’ Iran policy and the difficulties ahead” Jonathan Marcus 13/10/17

Trump aims blow at Iran and threatens landmark nuclear deal” 13/10/17

Trump hands Iran chalice to Congress” Anthony Zurcher 13/10/17

Europe backs Iran deal, Saudis hail Trump’s move” 13/10/17

Iran nuclear deal: Global powers stand by pact despite Trump threat” 14/10/17

Some of those BBC articles include statements concerning Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps  – IRGC.

“The activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its missile-research effort have continued. […]

One suggestion is that the Trump administration might decide to brand the whole of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity.

This body – part security force, part military, part ideological vanguard – also controls a significant part of the Iranian economy.” [source]

“It is thought he [Trump] will also focus on its non-nuclear activities, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guards (RIG), which has been accused of supporting terrorism. […]

Who are the Revolutionary Guards?

Set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system, they provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

They are a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with some 125,000 active members, and oversee strategic weapons.

They have been accused of supporting Shia Muslim militants in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.” [emphasis added] [source]

“He [Trump] also called for new sanctions on Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, which he called the “corrupt personal terror force of Iran’s leader”, and restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which is not covered by the deal.” [source]

Two of the reports (see here and here) include an insert of analysis by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet in which readers are told that:

“The new approach imposes new sanctions but stops short of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group – a step Iran says would be tantamount to a declaration of war.” [emphasis added]

But is that an accurate portrayal?

On October 13th the US Treasury Department issued a statement headlined “Treasury Designates the IRGC under Terrorism Authority and Targets IRGC and Military Supporters under Counter-Proliferation Authority”.

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pursuant to the global terrorism Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 and consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”

Executive Order 13224 was created in 2001 and it is one of two ways by which groups or individuals can be designated under US law.

“There are two main authorities for terrorism designations of groups and individuals. Groups can be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under Executive Order 13224 a wider range of entities, including terrorist groups, individuals acting as part of a terrorist organization, and other entities such as financiers and front companies, can be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).”

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) came into effect in August 2017 and inter alia it:

“…directs the President to impose sanctions against: (1) Iran’s ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs, (2) the sale or transfer to Iran of military equipment or the provision of related technical or financial assistance, and (3) Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated foreign persons.”

The US Treasury clarified that while the IRGC has not been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it had been designated under the second possible route.

“Consistent with that requirement of CAATSA, OFAC designated the IRGC on October 13, 2017, pursuant to E.O. 13244 for providing support to the IRGC-Qods Force, which previously had been designated for its support to various terrorist groups.”

At the FDD, Amir Toumaj explains:

“President Donald Trump has levied a terrorism designation against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. […]

A decade ago, the US sanctioned the IRGC’s exterritorial branch, the Qods Force, for terrorism pursuant to E.O. 13224 for its role in providing material support to terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Iraqi-Shiite militias. […]

Per the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which passed in August, the US president was to by Oct. 30 designate the IRGC as a whole pursuant to E.O. 13224, or justify to Congress why a waiver is in America’s vital national security interest.”

Lyse Doucet’s claim that the US administration “stops short of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group” is hence inaccurate and materially misleading.

 

 

 

 

BBC’s chief international correspondent claims Hamas changed its charter

On October 12th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ opened with an item concerning the preliminary agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah on that day.

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 00:45 here) with promotion of the inaccurate implication (also heard in previous editions of ‘Newshour’) that the 2006 PLC elections took place only “in Gaza” and failed to inform listeners of the full complement of countries and bodies (including the EU) that proscribe Hamas or of the violent nature of the terror group’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “We begin in the Middle East because after a bitter feud lasting a full decade, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah say they’ve come to a deal over the governing of the Gaza Strip. Hamas – which is described as a terrorist organisation by both the US State Department and Israel – won a landslide victory in elections in Gaza back in 2006. The following year it wrested full control of the territory from Fatah, which controls the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank  and relations between the two groups have been dire ever since. But with the help of Egypt, they’ve now managed to negotiate an agreement which was signed today in Cairo. A senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, Zakariya al Agha, confirmed the signing of the deal.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of statements made by al Agha.

Agha v/o: “We reached an agreement at dawn today regarding all the issues we had been discussing during this current round of talks in Cairo and nearly all the issues on which we had differences have been settled.”

Kesby: “Well Mr al Agha said that Palestinian citizens would see the benefits after the details had been finalised.”

Agha v/o: “All the measures under discussion should be resolved very shortly, whether they are in regards to government employees, electricity or other issues. There will be a breakthrough soon and the citizens of Gaza will feel the results of this agreement.”

With a bizarre reference to “the Middle East” – the vast majority of which would not of course be affected one iota by any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – Kesby went on:

Kesby: “So how might this deal change things more widely in the Middle East and will Fatah’s resumption of a partnership with Hamas help or hinder the stalled peace process with the Israelis? Joining us live on the line now is our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and, Lyse, first of all let’s try to get a bit more detail on exactly what has been agreed ‘cos it seems that Fatah will take over the civilian control of Gaza but Hamas it seems will keep its military wing?”

Doucet: “Well that is exactly one of the issues that we’re still waiting to hear details on. You heard the Fatah representative; he said ‘all the issues’ and then he said ‘nearly all the issues’.  Let’s go by what they have announced in Cairo; the two sides say they have agreed on. And that is that when it comes to what is essentially the only real crossing – aside from the Israeli…the heavily controlled Israeli crossings – the only exit for Hamas, the residents of the Gaza Strip with the outside world is the Rafah crossing with Egypt. By November the first Hamas’ own security…ah…security forces will have left that crossing and will be replaced by the Presidential Guards of the Palestinian Authority. In other words it will underline that there is only one security force and it is under the overall Palestinian Authority. And there was a statement to suggest that those forces would spread to other parts of the other of the edges of the Gaza Strip. We also heard that – yes, as you mentioned – the administrative control, which will be hugely important. He mentioned the electricity shortage. Gazans are living with about two to three hours of electricity a day and that is an impact noxious on Gazan homes, the hospitals don’t have enough electricity so people’s …ah…people’s health is being affected. Cars don’t have enough fuel.”

Doucet did not bother to tell listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is the result of deliberate Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas before she went on to make a curious assertion.

Doucet: “The United Nations has been urging all sides to try to end the rift and this is what we think has pushed Hamas to finally negotiate.”

Who “we” are is unclear but remarkably, Doucet erased both growing domestic dissent and the Dahlan factor from her portrayal. She continued:

Doucet: “But the question you mentioned; 25,000 men under arms in the Gaza Strip – the military wing of Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has said ‘we don’t want a Hizballah’: in other words, an independent armed group operating in Gaza. But so far we haven’t heard…in fact Hamas has said ‘we’re not going to disband our military wing but we will work more closely with the Palestinian Authority’. Will that be enough? Certainly not for Israel.”

As has been unanimously the case in BBC coverage of the latest potential Hamas-Fatah deal since the story first broke in September, Doucet refrained from telling audiences that any ‘unity government’ which avoids disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip will fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel. Instead, the issue was portrayed as being about Israeli ill-will.

Apparently ignorant of the vicious violence that took place in 2007 when Hamas launched its armed take-over of the Gaza Strip and ignoring its subsequently augmented terrorism against Israeli citizens and its brutal abuse of the residents of Gaza, Rebecca Kesby went on to promote a ditsy notion unconnected to reality.

Kesby: “And so when Hamas took over the running of Gaza it did seem – didn’t it Lyse – to be crossing into the mainstream; trying to look a bit more like a legitimate political party. Is this a retreat then for them on the political process? And if so, where does that leave relations with Israel because they have been prepared to speak to Fatah but if Fatah’s now in partnership with Hamas again, does that strain relations again with the Israelis?”

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.”

Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet. She continued, using the partisan language of terrorist groups that call themselves ‘resistance’:

Doucet: “So there’s still a big question-mark about Gaza [sic – Hamas] whether it is a resistance movement or a governing movement. It says it is both because bear in mind that the so-called peace process is basically going nowhere. So Hamas feels why should we then give in, give up all of our rights or our bargaining positions if in fact that process is going nowhere.”

By now Doucet was obviously making it up as she went along: her attempt to persuade BBC audiences that Hamas continues to be a “resistance movement” because the peace process is stalled is obviously contradicted by the fact that Hamas has rejected any sort of engagement in that process since its founding thirty years ago. She continued:

Doucet: “And you mentioned earlier the question will this help the negotiating process? Well no, because Israel does not want to sit at the same table with Hamas and the United States in the past – and I’ve heard this from Palestinian officials – has tried to stop any reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It wants them to be brought in, to stop, to end its armed wing, to change its charter, to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and it shows no sign of doing that yet, even though it has said it wants to basically run the Gaza Strip – wants to be part of the Palestinian Authority.”

Such requirements are of course not – as Doucet would apparently have listeners believe –capricious demands made by Israel and/or the United States: they are in fact what is known as the Quartet Principles (recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and adherence to previous agreements) and were endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2008. Had Doucet bothered to clarify that to her listeners, their understanding of why the disarming of Hamas is such a crucial issue and why the peace process cannot progress if a new Palestinian unity government does not adhere to those principles would obviously have been enhanced.

Doucet closed with a curious take-away message:

Doucet: “It [Hamas] doesn’t…it’s not a movement like Islamic State and the other extremist groups.”

Although BBC reporting on the reconciliation in progress between Hamas and Fatah has to date been superficial and has for the most part failed to provide audiences with the information necessary for proper understanding of the issues behind the story, one might have expected that a journalist holding the title of BBC chief international correspondent would have been able to do better.

However, Doucet’s promotion of inaccurate information concerning the Hamas charter and the terror group’s approach to the peace process, along with her failure to properly explain why a Hamas-Fatah unity government which does not adhere to the Quartet Principles will stall the peace process and her often dubious analysis, failed to meet the BBC’s obligation to accurate and impartial reporting.

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The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

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A BBC terror indoctrination feature highlights longstanding omission

Last month the BBC website published a special feature by Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati titled “An education in terror“.

“On the streets of Europe, we meet teenage boys trained by IS. Their testimony reveals wide-ranging plans to turn children into killers.”

“First came the grooming, then the recruitment and training to create a new army of child jihadists, who might grow into adult militants. The Islamic State’s next generation of hate.”

“Many armed groups across Africa, the Middle East and South America, have trained children for battle. Recruiting child soldiers is a war crime. But few have refined the process so efficiently as the Islamic State group.”

As well as personal stories the feature includes a section with the heading “Curriculum of hate”.

“IS not only concentrated its attention on recruits for the battlefield, it reached deeper into society, into the homes, classrooms, and minds of the youngest children. […]

Just like the Hitler Youth movement indoctrinated children to serve the Nazis’ 1000-year Reich, IS developed a feeder apparatus to regularly inject new blood into its veins. By the time it took full control of Raqqa in the winter of 2014 and turned it into its de-facto capital, the plan to subvert the education system was set in motion.”

Readers learn that ISIS’ focus on indoctrination through ‘education’ began three years ago.

“By July 2014, Mosul had fallen and the caliphate had been declared. The rich Iraqi city, six times bigger than Raqqa, had a lot more to offer in terms of human resources and infrastructure. Now, the Islamic State had both the expertise and the assets to take on the formidable task of drafting its own curriculum from scratch.

“They started in earnest during the fall of 2014, but the Diwan [ministry of education] had been recruiting loyal, ideologically aligned experts all throughout that summer,” Yousef, a Moslawi teacher who lived through that phase, told the BBC. […]

The IS curriculum was finally rolled out for the 2015-2016 school year. Children would enrol at the age of five and graduate at 15, shaving four full years off the traditional school life. They would be educated in 12 various disciplines, but these would be steeped in Islamic State’s doctrine and its world vision.”

This feature – described as a ‘resource’ in its URL – provides the BBC’s audience with information that will enhance their understanding of the ISIS terror group’s ideology and methodology. Interestingly though, the same audience has never been provided with such a resource on a comparable system that pre-dates the ISIS curriculum in Raqqa or Mosul.

The BBC did not report on the topic of child soldiers recruited by Hamas during the 2014 conflict. The paramilitary ‘summer camps’ run by Palestinian factions such as Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as by the PA and PLO have rarely received any BBC coverage. When Lyse Doucet visited a Hamas-run winter camp in Gaza in January 2015, the result was a mere one minute of coverage in her film ‘Children of the Gaza War’, with Doucet telling viewers that:

Hamas summer camp, Gaza 2016

“Some boys as young as Abdul Rahman [phonetic] take part in this first youth camp organized by Hamas’ military wing. It’s for men [sic] aged 15 to 21. Some are clearly younger and at the closing ceremony there’s younger still. For the outside world it’s hard to comprehend why parents would put children in situations like this. Hamas says the camps keep boys off the street and teach values and martial arts for defence. But the young also learn about weapons and hatred: it’s what Hamas calls a culture of resistance.”

Neither have BBC audiences seen any comprehensive reporting on the issue of the incitement and glorification of terrorism found in Palestinian schoolbooks, official PA radio and TV children’s programmes and Hamas’ online children’s ‘magazine’.

So as we see, while the BBC did consider a feature on “the Islamic State’s next generation of hate” editorially justifiable, it continues to avoid providing its audiences with information about the very similar indoctrination and abuse of Palestinian children.  

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Trump trip report flunks on Iran

As was noted here in an earlier post, the lead story in the May 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ concerned the US president’s visit to Israel.

In addition to repeated promotion of the ‘apartheid’ calumny, in the first of two items relating to that story listeners had heard BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman telling them that the Israeli government ‘says’ that Iran arms Hizballah.

Razia Iqbal: “You mentioned Iran and there was some criticism of Iran when the president was in Saudi Arabia and he has underlined that criticism again today in Israel hasn’t he?”

Tom Bateman: That’s right and, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be the last of it and of course it’s a message that resonates with Israel because Israel’s government is extremely concerned about Iran. They believe that…ah…because of its action, that they say it’s arming Hizballah just north of Israel here in Syria [sic], that that brings an even greater threat – in fact its greatest threat in the form of Hizballah just over its border in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]

As was noted in our previous post:

“One would of course expect a BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem – new or not – to be capable of informing BBC audiences that Iranian financial and military support for Hizballah (in violation of UNSC resolution 1701) is not just something that the Israeli government ‘says’ but a fact about which Hizballah has been open and at least one Iranian official has admitted.”

Later on in the same programme’s second item on that story (from 45:05 here) presenter Razia Iqbal returned to the topic of Iran in a conversation with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

Listeners learned nothing from that conversation about the Iranian regime’s policy of supporting and enabling terror groups in the region and the real reasons why some Middle East countries have long viewed the Iranian regime as a threat to regional stability were not conveyed to BBC audiences. What they did hear, however, is a portrayal of the subject that would doubtless have gone down very well in Tehran. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Razia Iqbal: “Let’s return to our top story now; the second leg of President Trump’s visit to the Middle East. Today he is in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We’re joined now from Jerusalem by Newshour’s Lyse Doucet. Ah…Lyse: you were in Saudi Arabia following President Trump there and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke directly about the fact that the president flew from Riyad to Tel Aviv and though there were no diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. I wonder if there is a sense here that the Gulf states are making common cause with Israel in the context of their mutual fear of Iran?”

Doucet: “Yes, it’s very interesting isn’t it? This little diplomatic milestone: President Trump flying for the first time on this first direct flight. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu said he looks forward to the day when an Israeli prime minister can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyad. And I think it’s a story that doesn’t get enough attention; that there have been behind the scene, very discreet meetings between Israelis and Saudis. Very senior Saudis have come to Israel before because they do want to make common cause.”

Of course one of the media outlets not giving “enough attention” to that story is the BBC itself. Doucet continued:

“You’ve mentioned one of the biggest reasons to do so and that is their shared animosity towards Iran. That was one of the main issues in the centrepiece speech that President Trump delivered to a gathering of some 40 Arab and…leaders from the Arab and Islamic world. Not just the fight against extremism but a fight against Iran and he’s brought that message here. He spoke of…he said I’ve come from the Arab world with the common understanding that is shared by you that Iran is the main threat. So things are definitely shifting.”

Of course “things” actually ‘shifted’ quite some time ago – as Gulf state reactions to the 2015 P5+1 deal with Iran concerning its nuclear programme indicated – but neither Iqbal nor Doucet (who has written about that topic in the past) bothered to remind listeners of that.

Iqbal: “It’s interesting to hear you say they’re shifting because of course Iran on the ground in Iraq and in…in…certainly in Iraq is doing quite a lot to fight against the Islamic State group. So one wonders about these tectonic shifts, if you like, and how they’ll manifest itself [sic] given that President Trump is really keen to make inroads with eliminating Islamic State.”

Doucet: “Yes, and welcome, President Trump, to the Middle East. At some point we may hear him say – as he said about the Affordable Care Act in the United States; Obamacare, – I didn’t realise that it was so complicated. As you know, take Syria that you just mentioned [sic] – he wants to push back Iran; that is the Saudis’ main goal. But interestingly, President Trump did not mention Russia in his speech in Riyad. And arguably Russia and Iran are working together, first to bolster President Assad but also to fight against so-called Islamic State and at the same time to push back some of the forces which have been trained and financed by the United States.

And what the Iranians would say is that they are in Syria because they’ve been asked to be there. They’re in Iraq because they’ve been asked to be there and they see no reason why they should leave. I think there’s growing concern about what will come next at a time when Iranians have shown that in the re-election of Hassan Rouhani, they want an engagement with the wider world. The message from Riyad – and it will be the message as well from Jerusalem – is that their enemies want to isolate them in the world.”

Iqbal: “Just, Lyse, very briefly; his next trip is to the Palestinian territories?”

Doucet: “Yes. The Palestinians have been surprised. They thought that President Trump would be only focusing on Israeli interests and Israeli views but his ear has been bent by King Abdallah of Jordan, by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and this is why we’re not going to see the announcement of a move of the American embassy to Jerusalem. He is trying to be a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinians.”

Doucet offers no factual evidence for that extraordinary claim.

For years BBC journalists – and not least Lyse Doucet and Razia Iqbal in person – have been playing down the Iranian regime’s regional aggression and patronage of terrorism and the corporation has also repeatedly propagated the myth of ‘moderates’ within the Iranian regime.

If BBC audiences are to understand why Israel may have common interests relating to Iran with some of its neighbours in the Middle East, then clearly they need to be provided with a factually accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the Iranian regime’s policies, positions and activities rather than whitewashed, vacuous and unhelpful commentary of the type broadcast to millions worldwide in this item.  

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BBC News ignores two water-related stories

Back in February 2015 the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet produced a number of reports on different platforms concerning the city of Rawabi. As was noted here at the time:Rawabi 1

“The main focus of all these reports is the issue of Rawabi’s water supply. […] the bottom line impression given to BBC audiences is that Rawabi’s lack of water is Israel’s fault.

At no point does Doucet clarify to her audiences on various platforms that the Joint Water Committee (JWC) is a product of the Oslo Accords – signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people. Those same accords stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the water supply in Areas A (where Rawabi is located) and B.

Whilst she does tell audiences that the JWC “hasn’t met for years”, Doucet refrains from informing audiences why that is the case, avoiding any mention of the fact that the Palestinian Water Authority suspended cooperation in 2008 as part of a political strategy and with no interview or comment from that body appearing in any of her reports. Hence, audiences remain ignorant of the fact that the committee which must convene in order to approve the water pipeline to the new Palestinian city is hobbled by the Palestinian Water Authority and Doucet makes herself party to the Palestinian politicisation of water issues.”

In the month after those reports appeared the problems concerning Rawabi’s water supply were solved, but no follow-up coverage from the BBC appeared.

That, of course, is not the only example of politicised portrayals of the subject of water that BBC audiences have seen over the years.

Last week – as the BBC was busy once again telling its audiences that the two-state solution is “fading” and “may be passing” – an event took place which went entirely unreported on the corporation’s various platforms.

“Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) office, and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh signed an agreement to restart the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee.

The committee is tasked with developing and modernizing the water infrastructure in the West Bank, allowing better water access to Palestinian towns and villages, maintaining existing infrastructure and approving new projects. It hasn’t met in six years. […]

Key topics under discussion include increasing water supplies to the West Bank and Gaza, as well as approving drilling new wells and updating water rates.

The agreement was signed in winter in order to allow the committee to be fully operational when water demand is at its highest in the summer months.

The parties also announced that the two sides have approved a joint strategic planning mechanism that will operate until 2040, including new infrastructure ventures to deal with expected population growth.

Mordechai said the agreement shows it is possible to reach “understandings and agreements when dealing with practical, bilateral issues, free of external influences, dealing with natural resources and other infrastructure issues that affect the entire population.””

Also last week, a second desalination plant was opened in the Gaza Strip.

“It is the Hamas-ruled territory’s second and largest desalination plant. While it will not solve Gaza’s water woes, officials say the project marks an important step. […]

The European Union says it invested 10 million euros, or $10.6 million, in building the plant with UNICEF. It has pledged a similar amount for a second phase meant to double capacity by 2019.

Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza, did not participate in the project, and is not represented at the ceremony.”

That event was not deemed newsworthy by the BBC either: could it be that only water-related stories which can be framed with a specific angle are of interest to the corporation?  

BBC does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

The BBC News website published numerous reports concerning the death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8th and a common feature in all that content was the promotion of the notion that Rafsanjani was a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’.

Iran’s ex-President Rafsanjani dies at 82:

“In recent years, our correspondent says, he has been a central figure in the reform movement that has been trying to have a moderating influence on Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei.”

Obituary: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

“Seen as “pragmatic conservative”, Rafsanjani was a leading member of the Iran’s religious establishment who gained popularity in later life among the country’s moderates. […]

He went on to be openly critical of Mr Ahmadinejad and became a key supporter of his reform-minded successor, Hassan Rouhani.”

Ex-President Rafsanjani a ‘most influential figure’ in Iran:

“…in recent years he has been instrumental in pushing a line of moderation in Iran, influencing…a moderating influence in Iran. And in recent years again he became gradually a top figure in the Iranian reform movement. So his death is going to leave a big hole in the reform movement and that moderating influence that they were trying to push.”

Iran former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani dies aged 82

“…but his political allegiances later shifted towards reformists…”

Iran loses force for continuity with Rafsanjani’s death:rafsanjani 

“At the same time his death has left a big hole in the confidence of the moderates and the reformist movement in Iran. […]

Although he began politically as an Islamic hardliner, Rafsanjani had increasingly moved to the centre of Iranian politics in the last two decades, and in recent years, he became a champion of the reformists and a strong moderating influence, gaining huge popularity.”

Iran Rafsanjani death: Huge crowds at ex-president’s funeral:

“But over the decades, the wily politician who held almost every major position in government became known for his pragmatic approach to Iran’s theocracy.

He pushed for a greater rapprochement with the West and more social and economic freedoms.

His credentials gave him the courage and the clout to speak out. The reformists he backed, including the current President Hassan Rouhani, have now lost a key ally in their incessant struggle for power against the hardliners.”

Iran Rafsanjani funeral underscores political divisions:

“Some were chanting opposition slogans, and others carried placards emphasising Mr Rafsanjani’s links to the moderate and reformist camps. […]

“The circle became too closed for the centre,” said another, using a quotation from Persian poetry to underline the growing distance in recent years between Mr Rafsanjani and Iran’s hardline political establishment.”

BBC audiences are of course no strangers to similar framing of the current Iranian president as a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’ even though Rouhani’s record does nothing to support the employment of such portrayals. As the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman noted:

“Then former Iranian president Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani died on Sunday at age 82. Western media once again sold us a story of how this was a “big blow to moderates and reformists,” as CNBC reported. Rafsanjani was the “most influential supporter” of reforms among the Islamic establishment. Now the non-existent “reformers” have another excuse why there are no reforms. […]

Reading news about Iran it almost seems every western news agency and major media outlet receives talking points from some unseen super-news media word database. “When writing about Iran there are two political parties, the reformers or moderates and the hard-liners, use these key words when describing everything. […]

The reality in Iran is that the choice is not between reformers and hard-liners, but the extreme religious right and the extreme nationalist religious right. There are no liberal leaders in Iran.  There are only militarists, theocrats, nationalists, extremists, the extreme right, the populist right, the fundamentalists, the fundamentalist right, the Inquisition leaders, and floggers and executioners. […]

Every time journalists parrot this “moderates” story they feed a false regime-supported narrative.”

At the Wall Street Journal Sohrab Ahmari writes:

“Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the original Mr. Moderation. Western observers saw the former Iranian president as a sort of Deng Xiaoping in clerical robes: a founder of the Islamic Republic who was destined to transform the country into a normal state. Rafsanjani, they thought, was too corrupt to be an ideologue.

Yet Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82, consistently defied such hopes. His life and legacy remind us that fanaticism and venality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a lesson in the persistence of Western fantasies about the Iranian regime. […]

Khomeini’s death in 1989 occasioned Rafsanjani’s worst political misstep. Thinking he could puppeteer events behind the scenes, Rafsanjani successfully promoted his archrival, Ali Khamenei, as the next supreme leader. But Mr. Khamenei, far more assertive than Rafsanjani had imagined, soon consolidated power.

The regime’s Western apologists framed that rivalry as a genuine ideological conflict between the “hard-line” Mr. Khamenei and the “pragmatic,” “moderate” Rafsanjani (along with others, such as current President Hassan Rouhani). President Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the same fantasy: Rafsanjani had accumulated vast, ill-gotten wealth—here’s someone with whom we can do business.

Yet Rafsanjani never failed to follow the “Line of the Imam,” not least in foreign affairs. […]

Still the illusions die hard. Minutes after Rafsanjani’s death was announced, the New York Times’s Tehran correspondent tweeted that it “is a major blow to moderates and reformists in Iran.””

While the BBC is clearly not alone in having bought into the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘reformists’ within the Iranian political establishment, one would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information which will build their “understanding of international issues” could do considerably better.

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In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’

The November 12th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Lyse Doucet – included an item (from 19:16 here) about a recent performance by the Israeli national theatre company.newshour-12-11-habima

Doucet introduced the item as follows:

“To Israel now, where politics has taken to the stage – literally. There’s growing tension with the country’s national theatre company and the wider artistic community after the company ‘Habima’ performed in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba – close to the Palestinian…largely Palestinian…town of Hebron, dominated by hardline settlers. One of the actors, Shlomi Bertonov, refused to perform in the play; ‘A Simple Story’ based on a Hebrew short novel by the Nobel prize winnister…winner…SY Agnon. The culture minister of Israel Miri Regev attended the event which took place in a community centre. She’s threatened to cut funding to all arts groups who refuse to perform in the settlements. So just how controversial is this? We’re joined on the line now by Haim Weiss – he’s a literature professor at Ben Gurion University. Thank you very much for joining us.”

Weiss: “Thank you.”

Doucet: “What did you think of a performance taking place in Kiryat Arba?”

That disingenuous question conceals the fact that there can be no doubt that Lyse Doucet knew exactly what her inadequately introduced guest thinks about the topic. Haim Weiss was not asked to appear on this programme because of his expertise in literature as listeners may have concluded from Doucet’s introduction. He was chosen because, as Ha’aretz reported on October 25th, he initiated a campaign against the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba – which is not disclosed to World Service audiences.

“The controversy over Habima’s performance in Kiryat Arba was sparked by two recent Facebook posts by Haim Weiss, a senior lecturer in Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

In his first post, Weiss alluded to the incentives and penalties introduced this year in the Culture and Sports Ministry’s criteria for financial support. Cultural institutions that appear in the settlements receive a 10-percent bonus, while those that stay away see ministry support cut by about a third. […]

In a reference to the culture minister, Weiss wrote on Facebook: “It turns out that the spirit of the commander is working and the fear of Miri Regev’s open or concealed threats are doing the trick.”

The post was featured next to a picture of a fence with a poster advertising the Habima performance in Kiryat Arba.

“The willingness of the theater, its employees and actors to take part in the process of normalizing the occupation and turning Kiryat Arba into just another city where they’re performing is very disturbing,” Weiss wrote.

“Are the theater’s economic difficulties and the hope that a performance in Hebron will encourage the culture minister and other ministers to help the theater what’s leading to the performance in Kiryat Arba-Hebron?” […]

In a later post, Weiss wrote about what he considered the significance of the theater’s performance.

“When Habima, with its canonic (and complicated) standing in the Zionist and Israeli discourse, chooses to appear in a city that symbolizes more than any other the violence and racism of the settlement enterprise, it’s taking a step of major significance,” he wrote.

As Weiss put it, “The Habima Theater is conferring validity, significance and legitimization upon the settlement enterprise, especially its most extreme and violent representation. Kiryat Arba’s residents understand this symbolic significance very well and are therefore very pleased about the theater performance in their city.””

In other words, Doucet and the ‘Newshour’ producers knew exactly what kind of messaging they would be promoting  (with no alternative views voiced) to the programmes audiences.

Weiss responded to Doucet’s ‘question’ as follows:

Weiss: “I think that the fact that the Israeli government is…is interfering with artistic decisions and telling the national theatre where to perform and where not and enforcing…and the minister of culture is enforcing her will upon the theatre by using money, this is a very disturbing thing. The theatre must have free…must be free – completely free – to decide where to perform and where not. The fact that before the show the minister gave a lecture or a speech to the same audience – this is a very disturbing thing.”

Making no effort to clarify to listeners that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’, Doucet continued:

“And is this – I don’t need to tell you that there’s a vibrant artistic community in Israel – is this…is this very much dominating the conversation now?”

Weiss: “I don’t know if it’s dominating the conversation. The big question is the occupation itself. We are dealing with some of its symbolic representations which is the performance of ‘Habima’ in Kiryat Arba. Since we cannot fight or stop occupation we are trying at least to be…or to say something about its symbolic representations and the fact that the national theatre of Israel is going to Kiryat Arba which is not a usual settlement. It’s not a real…a regular settlement but this is the base or the cradle of the fanatic, racist eh, eh, settlers movement and we have…and the fact that the ‘Habima’ is come…is going there mean that all…it’s like the whole artistic establishment in Israel is going – in a way – is going to Kiryat Arba. We don’t want the national theatre of Israel to go to Kiryat Arba.”

Doucet: “And can they resist? Because as you know, the theatre company has a financial crisis.”

Weiss: “[sighs] This is complicated. Since the government tied performing in the occupied territories with the financial support that the government should give all theatres, so the fact…the real fact is no: they cannot fight it or they cannot resist it. The price of resistance is very high.”

Doucet then brought the item to a close, making her own stance amply clear.

“Haim Weiss; I’m afraid we have to leave it there but thank you very much for speaking with such clarity and conviction about this…this development with the artistic community of Israel.”

The Israeli Ministry of Culture and ‘Habima’ (which appeared in other communities in Area C long before the current minister of culture took office) were not afforded the right of reply in this item.

Neither of course were any of the more than 7,000 residents of Kiryat Arba  – collectively stereotyped and slandered in a programme broadcast worldwide as “fanatic” and “racist” – given the opportunity to express their views.

Instead, the choice of interviewee and absence of any even remotely challenging questions from Doucet ensured that listeners heard one exclusive politically motivated narrative.  

Relates Articles:

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