BBC’s Keyworth mainstreams an inaccurate political narrative

Listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on July 11th heard a prime example how a one-sided, inaccurate, politically motivated narrative can be mainstreamed into the public consciousness even in content which is not overtly political.

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 22:40 here) as follows, adhering to the now standard BBC practice of presenting last summer’s conflict between Palestinian terrorist organisations and Israel as an affair which took place exclusively in one location.

“It’s been a year now since the war in Gaza. Seven weeks of fighting, Israeli shells and Palestinian rocket attacks and much destruction in Gaza. Eighteen thousand properties there were destroyed, many people are still homeless today. Several hundred people crowded into a square in the centre of Gaza City on Wednesday to watch the armed wing of Hamas stage a rally marking the occasion. What were described as new missiles were put on show. Marie Keyworth recently spent the day with a Gaza family, watching them at work, going shopping with them at the market and joining them for lunch.”

If readers are curious about that Gaza City rally, which was not reported by the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau staff, more information can be found here.

As readers will recall, Marie Keyworth visited the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas in May on behalf of the BBC’s business department. Her latest report  – which also appeared as a written article titled “Love in a time of conflict” on the BBC News website’s ‘Magazine’ and Middle East pages on July 13th – is not about business matters but ostensibly tells a whimsical tale of romance. In among, however, listeners and readers are fed statements which are presented without any context or qualification.Keyworth FOOC

“Gaza is more often associated with conflict than love …”

“Of course it doesn’t take a genius to work out that some palm leaves trussed together with twine would do nothing to protect Ahmad and his siblings from the shells that fall on Gaza whenever a conflict erupts there.”

 “But what the shelter does provide is something equally important – a kind of psychological security. Something painfully absent from Gazan lives, and something Ahmad clearly craved.”

“You could almost forget you were in one of the most densely populated and frequently bombed places on earth.”

“But of course the reality for Gaza is the constant threat of war.”

“After all, it’s far more fun to talk about stolen kisses than it is to talk about bombs.”

Keyworth’s narrative is one of entirely passive “Gazan lives” in a place where “conflict erupts” – apparently all by itself – and where “the shells that fall” when it is “frequently bombed” do so for no discernible reason. In Keyworth’s world there is no cause and effect, no responsibility and no agency. And of course, there is no terrorism.

That banal and inaccurate portrayal obviously not only does nothing to meet the BBC’s remit of building understanding of “international issues” but even deliberately entrenches a politically motivated false narrative which is already disturbingly prevalent.

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How to Complain to the BBC

 

A postscript to BBC Business’ recent reports from the Gaza Strip

As readers are aware, Roger Hearing and Marie Keyworth from the BBC’s business department recently produced a series of reports (see related articles below) for BBC World Service radio which purported to inform BBC audiences worldwide about the state of the economy in both the Palestinian Authority controlled areas of Judea & Samaria and the supposedly PA controlled – but in fact Hamas-run – Gaza Strip.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth

Though high on pathos and politically motivated messaging, the duo’s reports from the Gaza Strip notably made no mention whatsoever of one particular factor which has recently led to rising prices.

As the New York Times reported:

“Most recently, Hamas quietly initiated new import fees in an effort to cover the salaries of about 40,000 employees who have not been paid for months, raising prices in already-depressed markets. A kilogram of meat, a little over two pounds, increased by 50 cents, black pepper by $1.50 a kilogram and shampoo by 25 cents.”

Avi Issacharoff adds:

“The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has instituted new taxes that will be used to pay the salaries of its administration officials, who number approximately 40,000.

Hamas, which declared the taxes under the heading “social solidarity,” decided to begin collecting them following a meeting of its parliament members who live in Gaza.

The new taxes, which include a 25 percent tariff on new cars, have led to higher prices, such as a 20% increase in the price of beef. […]

The new taxes are also constantly changing. One tax that was instituted recently requires companies registered with the Economic Affairs Ministry in Gaza to pay approximately NIS 500 to have a Hamas representative participate in a company conference. Hamas charges another few hundred shekels to have the conference registered, and if it is postponed, the postponement is taxed as well.

The most problematic taxes are levied on all goods that enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Even cartons of cigarettes that are brought in from the West Bank are taxed. This means that the average resident of Gaza pays more for cigarettes than his counterpart in the West Bank does, even though the standard of living in the West Bank is higher.

Another example is meat: Since importers must pay NIS 50 in taxes for every calf that enters Gaza, the price of beef has gone up. Hamas’s import tax on sheep is “only” NIS 25 per head.”Business Matters 19 5 Hearing intro

As readers may recall, salaries for those 40,000 Hamas employees have been an issue ever since the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah ‘unity government’ a year ago. As the Times of Israel explained at the time:

“The PA has been paying monthly salaries to nearly 70,000 public servants in Gaza despite the fact that the workers had not been allowed to serve in their positions since Hamas took over the Strip by force in 2007.

On its part, Hamas has employed 40,000 of its own civil servants to work in the PA employees’ stead.”

The Palestinian Authority refused to pay Hamas’ 40,000 employees and payment of those salaries appeared among the demands laid down by Hamas as conditions for halting the conflict with Israel which it initiated last July.

Back in July 2014 the BBC’s Yolande Knell produced a dumbed down report on the economy in the Gaza Strip which misrepresented the story of those 40,000 Hamas employees and now BBC Business reporters have ignored the issue of the price rises caused by taxes intended to pay their salaries. Once again we see that factors affecting the Palestinian economy which are the result of Palestinian decisions interest the BBC considerably less than any Israeli actions. 

Related Articles:

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ misrepresents the status of Area C in report on PA economy

BBC World Service’s Hearing reveals the political foundations of a ‘business’ report

Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

In addition to the two parts of the report aired in the May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ which have already been discussed on these pages (see here and here), the segment included a report (also promoted as a separate clip) from Bethlehem by Marie Keyworth.

The synopsis to the separately promoted clip – titled “Making Ends Meet In The West Bank” – promotes the same inaccurate claim about roads made by Roger Hearing in his introduction to the segment.Keyworth WB

“The modern map of the West Bank is a mind-boggling jigsaw of areas under the control of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, as well as settlements and roads linking settlements, that Palestinians cannot use. So how do the 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank do business in such difficult circumstances? Marie Keyworth has been finding out.”

As we noted here earlier, the vast majority of routes are completely open to use by all, with PA registered vehicles excluded from less than 15 kms of roadway in Judea & Samaria.

Making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners that the Palestinian Authority has had total control over Bethlehem for the last nineteen and a half years in accordance with the Oslo Accords, Keyworth opens her report with the following claim:

“Now to many minds the West Bank will conjure up an image of conflict and indeed it has a chequered past. The whole area is under military occupation by Israel and the restrictions that country has imposed on the West Bank are having a huge effect on the economy.”

Keyworth makes no attempt to introduce the all-important context of terrorism past and present and listeners then hear three anonymous voices making the following statements:

“It’s very hard and there’s not a lot of work and people are scared.”

“I can say in one word – it’s miserable because every day we have a struggle. We face the Israelien [sic] law and the Israelien [sic] army.”

“The life here is like…here we are living in a big prison. We just survive for every day. We can’t predict for anything…for like the occupation, the wall, all of these things which surround Bethlehem.”

Notably, the inaccurate claims that the anti-terrorist fence is a “wall” and that it ‘surrounds’ Bethlehem were not edited out. Keyworth continues:

“From the falafel restaurant to the taxi driver, everyone here seems to have a complaint about this occupation.”

She then goes on to interview someone she introduces only as “Sam Bahour – a Palestinian-American businessman”. As readers are no doubt aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality stipulate “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization” but Sam Bahour’s affiliations and political activism get no mention from Keyworth.

Another of Keyworth’s interviewees is an accountant employed by the PA’s education department, identified only as Khaled. Listeners hear him say:

“My last time I got paid in full was in November 2014 and after that we started to have 60% per month.”

Keyworth adds:

“Khaled’s salary was cut because Israel stopped paying the PA the customs tax it collects on its behalf. The move is widely seen as Israel’s punishment for the Palestinians taking their case to the international courts. This money makes up 70% of the PA’s budget so when it’s not transferred, all ninety thousand employees in the West Bank get a pay cut. Now Israel has released some of the money but it’s not the first time this has happened and Khaled expects at some point it’ll all happen again.”

This of course is not the first time the BBC has reported on the topic of tax revenues and yet again the critical context of the PA’s considerable debts to Israel is excluded from the picture. As a recent World Bank report explains:

“Net lending, which mainly represents payments to Israel for electricity, continues to form a major drag on the PA’s budget. In 2014, it was 35 percent higher than the previous year and ran 70 percent above its budget target. The major cause of net lending is that funds collected from consumers through electricity bills are used by Local Government Units to finance expenditures rather than pay bills to the Israeli Electricity Company (IEC) – the main electricity supplier. A share of the unpaid amount is deducted by Israel from the PA’s clearance revenues, and is called net lending. The rest accumulates as debt which, according to IEC, stood at about USD 0.5 billion as of March 2015.”

BBC World Service listeners, however, know nothing of all that: instead Marie Keyworth leads them to believe that Israel is ‘punishing’ the Palestinians.

Keyworth’s account of how some Palestinians became refugees is no less economical with context, erasing completely from view the attacks on the nascent Jewish State by surrounding Arab countries and others:WS WB

“When the State of Israel was created more than 60 years ago, many Palestinians found their villages fell within the new Israeli boundaries. Those living in the villages south of Jerusalem and Hebron left and moved here to the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem.”

Also notable is the fact that in addition to the fact that two interviewees – ‘Mohammed’ and the PA’s Minister of Economy – promote the notion of a link between unemployment and violence (as is also the case in the final section of the segment), Keyworth herself presents the following ‘question’ to the COGAT officer she interviews:

“By increasing security you inevitably constrict the economic freedom of the people in the West Bank, which in turn creates more animosity and more negativity and makes people more angry, which eventually makes the security situation even more serious.”

Like the other sections of this programme, Keyworth’s report conforms to a specific political narrative and has a very obvious agenda. Once more listeners are left with a take-away message which includes only passive Palestinians exempt from any responsibility for their past and present decisions which have affected their lives and their economy.

Whilst that certainly makes for nice, simple story-telling, it does not fulfil the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” by providing audiences with an objective, impartial, factual and accurate portrayal of the Palestinian economy.

Related Articles:

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ misrepresents the status of Area C in report on PA economy

BBC World Service’s Hearing reveals the political foundations of a ‘business’ report

Resources:

Contact and Complaints – BBC World Service

How to Complain to the BBC

BBC Editorial Guidelines

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Last week two journalists from the BBC World Service’s business department – Roger Hearing and Marie Keyworth – presented a series of reports from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel. Those reports were aired on two BBC World Service radio shows: ‘Business Matters’ and ‘Business Daily’.

With both those shows being specialist programmes, listeners may have expected to receive some factual information about the relevant background factors affecting what Keyworth’s report of May 19th billed “Gaza’s Broken Economy“.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth  

The ‘Business Daily’ version of Keyworth’s report was introduced by presenter Manuela Saragosa as follows:

“After the conflict with Israel in the middle of last year international donors pledged three and a half billion dollars to fund the reconstruction of Gaza’s economy. But last month a group of 46 international aid agencies warned that reconstruction and recovery have barely begun. Much of the aid money has yet to come through. So how do ordinary Gazans survive? What economy is there to speak of?”

This of course is far from the first time that the BBC has reported on the failure of donors to come up with the contributions pledged at the Cairo donor conference last October but once again we see that no serious exploration of the background to that story takes place and audiences hence lack the information they need in order to be able to understand the contribution of Hamas-PA infighting to the present situation.

Whilst Marie Keyworth’s report (also aired on ‘Business Matters’) is high on emotion and pathos, again listeners were not provided with the objective facts and background information necessary for proper understanding of the anecdotes they heard. Business Matters 19 5 15

Thus, when Keyworth interviewed the son of a blacksmith who once used to make a much better living working in Israel, listeners heard the following context-free explanation:

“He has been working in Israel like for 25 years and then intifada number two happened – 2000 – he, all of them, stopped going to Israel so he was stuck in Gaza doing whatever he could do.”

The second Intifada did not just ‘happen’ of course; it was planned, initiated and executed by representatives and leaders of the same Palestinians who, as a result of that terror war, lost the ability to support their families by means of higher paying work in Israel.

A similar lack of context was evident when the owner of a mini-market was heard telling Keyworth that:

“We get the goods in the shop through merchants. We used to get them through the tunnels but now they have to import them through the borders when they are open. Most of the things we used to get from the tunnels were cheap but now they are unavailable. It’s getting more expensive but on whose expense? It’s me; the citizen of course.”

No effort was made by Kenworth to inform listeners that Egypt’s closure of the smuggling tunnels in the Rafah region was prompted by the use of those same tunnels for the purpose of terrorism. Likewise, audiences were not told that there are no limitations on the import of foodstuffs via the Kerem Shalom crossing or that the crossing is open most of the time (excepting weekends, holidays and occasionally due to security incidents) meaning that promotion of the notion that imports can only enter Gaza “when they are open” fosters a misleading impression.

Listeners heard a similarly context-free and misleading statement concerning “borders” in a segment of the programme recorded in a market.

MK: “So these tomatoes have been grown in Gaza?”

Interviewee: “Yeah, yeah, but the borders are closed – we can’t export them – so they give them back to the market and that’s that makes it a little cheaper for us.”

In contrast to the inaccurate impression given to listeners, agricultural produce is of course exported from the Gaza Strip. In addition to the existing exports to Europe and elsewhere, farmers in Gaza also now send produce to PA controlled areas and Israel.

So if a reduction in the price of tomatoes in the markets of Gaza is not because “the borders are closed”, what did bring it about?

In April 2015 – a month before this BBC report was made – the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza announced that it was temporarily stopping the export of tomatoes from the Gaza Strip due to their high price there.

“The Ministry told the agency Anatolia news that “as soon as market supply increases and prices stabilise, exports will be resumed.”

According to official data, the Gaza Strip has shipped some 250 tonnes of tomatoes to Israel since last month. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that the Gaza Strip produces nearly 70 thousand tonnes of tomatoes per year.”

Clearly the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture does not believe that “the borders are closed” to exports and it is obvious that no fact-checking was carried out by the BBC before this report was broadcast and hence listeners were materially misled.

BBC audiences have heard variations of these emotive descriptions of the Gaza economy on assorted BBC platforms on countless occasions in the past. It is however particularly disappointing to see the BBC’s business department producing the same kind of inaccurate and context-free repetition of that standard theme. Any report really aimed at informing audiences about the facts behind the story could not pass up on objective presentation and meaningful analysis of the contribution of Hamas’ terrorism to the real causes of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. 

Related Articles:

Cooperation between farmers from Gaza and Israel goes unreported by the BBC