BBC News still unsure about Iranian involvement in Yemen

In recent weeks the BBC has produced two backgrounders concerning the ongoing war in Yemen.

An article headlined “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?” was promoted in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 14th and a week later – on October 21st – a filmed item titled “Yemen crisis: ‘The forgotten war’” also appeared on the same page, as well as on BBC television.yemen-mai-norman

Both those items include statements relating to Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen. In the filmed report Mai Norman tells viewers:

“But just like Syria and Iraq, regional power struggles are also at play and in the Middle East that almost always means Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis back Hadi and they accuse Iran – a Shia country – of supporting the Houthis.” [emphasis added]

Readers of the written article are told that:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.” […]

“The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this, and they are themselves backers of President Hadi.” [emphasis added]yemen-backgrounder

This is not the first time that audiences have seen the BBC’s apparent inability to inform its audiences whether or not the Houthis in Yemen are backed by Iran expressed in such vague and unhelpful language. A similar portrayal was found in a backgrounder titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?” that was originally published in September 2014 and which was later replaced with an earlier version of this latest written backgrounder. In April 2015 BBC audiences saw further ambiguous portrayal in two articles and the following month they were told that the role of Iran in Yemen is ‘over-emphasised’.

Both before and since the March 2015 escalation of the conflict in Yemen, numerous reports concerning Iranian support for the Houthis have emerged (see ‘related articles’ below). Reuters recently reported a rise in the supply of weapons from Iran.

“Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, U.S., Western and Iranian officials tell Reuters, a development that threatens to prolong and intensify the 19-month-old war. […]

“We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” a Western diplomat familiar with the conflict told Reuters.

Three U.S. officials confirmed that assertion.

One of those officials, who is familiar with Yemen, said that in the past few months there had been a noticeable increase in weapons-smuggling activity.

“What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives…, money and personnel,” the official said.

Another regional security source said the transfers included surface-to-surface short-range missiles and small arms.

A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training and money.”

A US State Department spokesman addressed the same issue on October 20th:

“I mean, we’re aware that Iran provides lethal support to the Houthis. We have regularly and routinely called on regional actors to de-escalate the tensions in Yemen and the region, including abiding by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, as well as the ceasefire, which both the – all parties have said they would support.

We’ve also repeatedly raised our concerns that Iran is providing lethal aid to the Houthis in Yemen, including at the UN, when dhows smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis were interdicted at sea.”

Remarkably, after over eighteen months of reporting on the conflict in Yemen, the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” is still unable to meet its remit of building “global understanding” of this particular “international issue” by producing a backgrounder which tells its audiences whether or not Iran is involved in that war.

Related Articles:

Limited BBC journalistic curiosity on Iranian involvement in Yemen

BBC News portrays Iranian involvement in Yemen as ‘overplayed’

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BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) the question that BBC Trending found it appropriate to ask visitors to the Middle East page on the corporation’s website was “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?“.Saudi women on ME pge

In the text accompanying that video report, readers are told that what they know about the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia (including, apparently, its 2015 ranking by the World Economic Forum at 134 out of 145 countries) is a “stereotype”.

“Life for women in the Arab kingdom is often painted as one of repression, after all they are forbidden from driving and are restricted by male guardianship laws which deprive them of their independence.

And BBC Trending has covered several stories that have gone viral that show how these restrictions affect women’s lives.

But many of these stories also show how women are using social media to make their voices heard, challenging not only their own society but also the stereotype the world has of them.

So for the “Saudis on Social” series we asked Saudi women, if they are really that oppressed?”

In the video the BBC’s Mai Norman tells audiences that:

“When it comes to Saudi women, well, most of the world has a certain image: unequal and can’t even drive. But many Saudi women say that’s just a stereotype; it’s not the full picture.”

How the term “many Saudi women” is quantified or sourced is not revealed to audiences and neither – crucially – are the basic standpoints and beliefs of the report’s contributors. Viewers see an interview with a woman presented as Samer al Morgan who tells them that:

“The Saudi woman is completely different. There are many different types of women. I’m one of these women who doesn’t fit the image portrayed by western media.”

The speaker is apparently Saudi journalist Samer al Mogren and one has to wonder about BBC Trending’s framing of her words given the fact that in 2008 she recounted her own experiences at a major newspaper.

“Mogren worked for four years at the Saudi daily Al-Watan, enjoying a top-notch position where she supervised both men and women at the paper’s social affairs desk. Late last year, the editorial board changed hands, and from that point her skills were called into question. “I was totally marginalized,” she says. “I wasn’t consulted as an editor; I’d go home at six or seven in the evening after writing out the pages only to find that when the paper came out the next day, nothing I’d done was published. “I started to witness real discrimination against women. Women weren’t wanted there, except for a handful who were needed for administrative work. If there was a woman who was capable of making a decision, it wasn’t welcome.” Loath to capitulate to the whims of her new boss, Mogren decided to leave her job while she was ahead. “If I’d stayed there I’d have been buried,” she says. During her field work as a journalist, Mogren has interviewed countless Saudi women and documented their plight as second-class citizens in Saudi society. Mogren, who has since begun contributing to the Kuwaiti Awan, has revealed some horrific stories of violence against Saudi women and hopes to raise more awareness about this issue around the world, in particular in the Arab world.”

Norman goes on:Saudi women Trending

“So we’ve been asking Saudi women themselves: are women in the kingdom really that oppressed?”

Viewers then see Nourah al Shaaban – presented as an “executive director” of an unnamed organization say:

“As a Saudi woman I never felt oppressed in any means. We have in our parliament more than 30 women.”

Norman explains:

“She’s referring to the recent and long-awaited move to allow women the right to vote and take part in parliamentary elections.”

In fact, as the BBC itself reported, the December 2015 elections were for municipal councils “with few powers” rather than for a parliament as most viewers would understand the term. Many female candidates – apparently including women’s rights campaigners – were barred and those that did run were not allowed to address male voters face to face. Polling stations were segregated and the female candidates won approximately 1% of the contested seats.

Norman continues:

“So do they have a point? More women in Saudi Arabia graduate from university than men. Contrary to popular belief women in Saudi Arabia can work and in fact have found prominence in different fields.”

As Freedom House points out:

“More than half of the country’s university students are now female, although they do not enjoy equal access to classes and facilities.”

According to the World Bank, women made up a mere 20% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce in 2014 and the percentage of women holding ministerial level positions was zero.

The video does go on to highlight the issues of the extensive requirement for male guardians and domestic violence – described by Freedom House as follows:

“Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to drive cars and must obtain permission from a male guardian in order to travel within or outside of the country. According to interpretations of Sharia in Saudi Arabia, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. Moreover, Saudi women seeking access to the courts must be represented by a male. The religious police enforce a strict policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to ensure compliance with conservative standards of dress in public. Same-sex marriage is not legal. All sexual activity outside of marriage, including same-sex activity, is criminalized, and the death penalty can be applied in certain circumstances. A 2013 law defines and criminalizes domestic abuse, prescribing fines and up to a year in prison for perpetrators. However, according to analysis by Human Rights Watch, the law lacks clarity on enforcement mechanisms.”

The report closes with the following messaging – again including the foggy term “many women”:

“Clearly when it comes to rights there are still many battles to fight. However many women in Saudi Arabia say that labelling them as victims only makes those battles harder to fight.”

Obviously there are women in Saudi Arabia fighting the uphill battle for equal rights and some small gains have been made. However, this report fails to clarify to audiences that many of the issues facing Saudi women (and human rights campaigners in general) are rooted in the country’s legal system which is based on interpretations of Sharia law.

This report’s attempt to create linkage between the way in which the situation of Saudi Arabian women is portrayed in the Western media and their ability to make progress in changing laws created under that male-dominated legal system clearly does not hold any water.

Then again, neither does the preposterous question posed repeatedly in this report’s title and subsequent content or its whitewashing of parts of the subject matter through inaccurate and selective representation of the situation of women in a non-democratic theocracy in which they cannot even decide how to dress or open a bank account without male permission.

If anyone – including Saudi women – was expecting the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” to make the most of International Women’s Day to inform its audiences of the issues faced by women in one of the worst places on earth for gender equality, they will have been sorely disappointed.

Related Articles:

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

Mission creep in BBC Trending report on Egyptian graduate’s speech about Israel

How the BBC whitewashed the issue of women’s rights in Iran

 

 

 

Mission creep in BBC Trending report on Egyptian graduate’s speech about Israel

A few days ago we posted here a video of a speech made by Tel Aviv University valedictorian Haisam Hassanein who was born in Egypt.

Nine days later, BBC Trending produced a video relating to the same topic which was promoted on social media and in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Trending TA Uni vid on ME pge

The video – made by BBC Arabic’s Mai Norman – includes frames of excerpts from Haisam Hassanein’s speech interspersed with comment from the video maker, edited written responses to the original film and comment from two interviewees.

Examples of comment from the video maker include:

Trending TAU vid comment 1

Trending TAU vid comment 2

Audiences then see an unidentified woman saying:

“I find no fit between what he said and what I see in my everyday life.”

Viewers are told that the film of Hassanien’s speech went viral “but many Egyptians were angry”. “Many” is of course a very unclear term: there are currently 385 responses to the film – not all of them from Egyptians by any means – and some of those that are from Egyptians are very positive.  Viewers are then shown edited versions of a few of the comments left on that Youtube page.Trending TAU vid comment 3The full version of Hatim Boturos’ comment is as follows:

Trending TAU vid Hatim Boutros full

Viewers then see the following frames. The word ‘Jewish’ does not appear in Hassanein’s speech at that point and was inserted by the video maker.

Trending TAU vid frame kibbutzim

Trending TAU vid frame relationship

Another comment from the video maker then appears:

Trending TAU vid comment easy

The film then cuts to commentary from the same woman shown before – this time identified.

Trending TAU vid RNM

“What he said has nothing to do at all with what we experience every day as Palestinians in Israel. I wish at some point in the near future that the picture will be very similar to what he draw but up till now things are very different.”

Rula Nasr-Mazzawi is from Nazareth. She is actually an industrial organisational psychologist (not a psychiatrist as claimed by the BBC) who studied at the University of Haifa for her BA and MA, as well as at San Jose State University. Prior to her current position, she worked for Kav Mashve: a non-profit organization established to promote the employment of Arab-Israeli academics. Kav Mashve was set up by the Manufacturers Association of Israel and others and its activities are supported by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Of course that side of the picture gets no mention in Ms Nasr-Mazzawi’s mini-monologue or in Mai Norman’s film in general.

The ostensible reason for BBC Trending’s pick-up of this story is that the video of Haisam Hassanein’s speech got a lot of views on You Tube. Although BBC Trending claims that its mission is “[r]eporting on what’s being shared and asking why it matters“, rather than exploring – for instance – why so many people found the film interesting or what causes citizens of Egypt to hold such obviously mistaken beliefs and stereotypes about Israel, BBC Trending seemed to be more interested in discrediting Hassanein’s impressions and presenting  counter views to what it described in the synopsis to this filmed report as his “surprising take on Israel”.

Why was that mission creep deemed editorially acceptable?