Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

 

 

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Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

On June 8th BBC Radio 4 listeners heard two reports from the latest BBC correspondent on a flying visit to Israel – Hugh Sykes.

The first of those reports was broadcast on the “World at One’ programme (from 14:30 here). Presenter Mark Mardell gave an introduction devoid of any context concerning the reasons for the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Mardell: “Now it’s…in Israel it’s 50 years since two major events which changed the history of the region. On the 5th of June 1967 a war began between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Six days later Israel emerged victorious. At the end of that war a half a century ago, Israel’s occupation and settlement of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank began.”

The 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of what Mardell terms “the Palestinian West Bank” is clearly not deemed relevant to the story. Mardell continues:

“The Gaza settlers were evacuated in 2005. Those in the West Bank – more than half a million now – are still there. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Jerusalem for the World at One.”

After a recording of music playing, Hugh Sykes begins his item. Curiously (but, given BBC editorial policy, predictably) Sykes’ descriptions of the second Intifada do not include any mention of the word ‘terror’. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Sykes: “A saxophone player on Jaffa Street [sic – Jaffa Road]. People sitting at café tables under parasols on a sunny spring day here in Jerusalem. The first time I walked here 15 years ago the shops had security guards with automatic rifles checking your bags. There was a wave of almost routine suicide bombings, many of them killing dozens of people on buses here in Jerusalem. Between 1989 and 2008 across Israel altogether 800 people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Sykes’ information – apparently gleaned from Wikipedia – of course does not tell the whole story. In just five of the 19 years cited by Sykes – 2000 to 2005 – 1,100 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks that included – but were not limited to – the suicide bombings on which he has chosen to focus. He continues:

“Since then the security barrier – the walls and the fences and the extensive checkpoints –have been put up, cutting off the West Bank; the main source of the suicide bombings. Though the counter argument is that the bombings have stopped because the Palestinians have largely stopped trying to send suicide bombers here, partly because it led to the security barrier being put up and their lives being made much more difficult. So, it’s calm here now. But this is an illusion Daniel Seidemann tells me. He’s an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem.”

Of course BBC regular Daniel Seidemann is not just a “lawyer”: he is also the founder of two politicised campaigning groups – ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ – both of which receive foreign funding including, in the case of the latter, from the UK tax payers listening to this programme. Despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear in advance to audiences, Hugh Sykes makes no effort to clarify Seidemann’s political agenda and links to politicised campaigning NGOs to listeners before they go on to hear that contributor’s cliché-ridden statements.

Seidemann: “I consider the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this generation to be perpetual occupation and Israelis are in a state of clinical denial.”

Sykes: “Why is occupation a threat to Israel?”

Seidemann: “We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano. Go to my friends in Tel Aviv and ask them about occupation. They’ll say ‘occupation – what occupation?’ We live in a bubble and bubbles burst. Israel has no future if we continue to occupy. It may take 50 years, it may take a hundred years.”

Sykes: “What’s the mechanism that brings Israel to an end if you don’t disengage from occupation?”

Seidemann: “Decay, isolation, ahm…”

Sykes: “That’s all psychological.”

Seidemann: “No, no it’s not.”

Sykes: “The rest of the world doesn’t care anymore. Sympathy for the Palestinians was pretty much lost when they mounted the second Intifada and started blowing up children with suicide bombers on buses here in Jerusalem. And the rest of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, do they? So Israel is secure, isn’t it?”

Seidemann: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatised people and we’re living something on an emotional overdraft. I am not telling you what will happen tomorrow morning. Look out the window, OK? In that city there are 850,000 people. 37% of them are Palestinians. This is a bi-national city and in this bi-national city one national collective has all the power and the other is politically disempowered.”

Of course even those Arab residents of Jerusalem who chose not to exercise their right to apply for Israeli citizenship (and hence the right to vote in legislative elections) are entitled to both run and vote in municipal elections in the city. Hugh Sykes however does not bother to clarify those facts relating to people who have just been inaccurately described as “politically disempowered” before continuing:

Sykes: “And more than half a million settlers now live in the West Bank. If there’s ever going to be any progress towards agreeing two nations here, a plan that’s often been discussed is land swaps, allowing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers to remain in what are now substantial high-density suburbs of Jerusalem. But this would leave 156,000 settlers in settlements which would have to be evacuated, as all the settlements in Gaza were 12 years ago but that was just 8,000 people.”

Seidemann: “It can be done. If Israel has the will and the capability to relocate 156,000 settlers, the two-state solution is alive. If we don’t – it’s dead. Israel needs and deserves recognition in order to assume our rightful place among the family of nations. And that will happen when a Palestinian embassy opens down the street here in West Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy opens in East Jerusalem. That provides as much security as another brigade of tanks.”

Obviously any serious examination of this topic would at this point go on to address the issue of what happened after those 8,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip (along with residents of four communities in northern Shomron which Sykes and his guest appear to have forgotten) twelve years ago. Such a discussion would have to address the fact that the move did not advance peace and in fact the number of terrorist missile attacks on Israeli civilians increased. It would also have to address the fact that international bodies and nations which lauded the Gaza disengagement, promising understanding should Israel subsequently have to act against terrorism in Gaza, quickly swapped that pledge with condemnation.

Sykes, however, chooses to ignore those inconvenient facts, opting instead to reinforce his messaging.

Sykes: “Daniel Seidemann. And the recent retired director of the Mossad – Israel’s equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – Tamir Pardo, said last month that the occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was – as he put it – Israel’s one existential threat; a ticking time-bomb. But there are non-negotiable absolutists on both sides here. Palestine is Palestine from the River Jordan to the sea. And this is Jewish land: God gave it to us.”

Remarkably, only the Jewish “absolutists” in Sykes’ portrayal are religiously motivated.

Sykes’ last contributor is Jerusalem Post journalist Amotz Asa-El. During their conversation listeners hear the following:

Sykes: “Does the compromise include having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of Israel?”

Asa-El: “I can envisage splitting it, which I’m told is simpler to do than to share.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the item Sykes inaccurately sums up that response as follows:

Sykes: “Amotz Asa-El raising the possibility that Jerusalem could be the shared capital of Israel and of a new state of Palestine.”

Obviously this report is yet another contribution to the campaign of opportunistic politicised messaging already seen on the BBC News website. It too advances a narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of the inadequately explained Six Day War – in particular the ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ – while erasing from audience view the underlying and far older refusal of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to accept and recognise the existence of the Jewish state.

Sykes’ second report of the day will be discussed in a future post.

 

When R4 audiences got an on-air correction about Israel – but not from a BBC journalist

On January 11th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World This Weekend’ focused entirely on the subject of the terror attacks in Paris and that day’s rally, with presenter Mark Mardell reverting to the usual BBC’s usual ‘value judgement’ free formula for describing terrorists in his introduction.Mardell R4

“We’re live in Paris as world leaders gather to show support after a week when Islamic militants murdered seventeen people.”

Available here for a limited period of time, the programme’s attempts to ‘contextualise’ the terror attacks for BBC audiences are particularly remarkable because of what is omitted from the framing. At 11:24, during an interview with Andrew Hussey of the University of London, Mardell asks:

“What do you think, when we see radicalisation causing obviously terrible massacre here this week but also problems in the United States, in Britain and of course throughout the Middle East. What do you think drives people to be radicalised? Is it a reaction to modernity, to colonialism, to the West – or something else entirely?”

Hussey: “All of the above and something else entirely. It’s to do with a very old-fashioned word actually: alienation. How people cope and deal with alienation. Radicalisation, which is a complicated process, is one of the easy ways to deal with that.”

Later on (13:14) Mardell informs listeners that:

“…one can argue for ages about whether there’s any connection between France’s colonial past and what happened here this week…”

And still later (15:18) listeners hear an interviewee described as one of the leaders of an organization countering Islamist radicalisation in Paris suggest that:

“Maybe it’s something to do with the injustices happening across the world – in Palestine, Iraq, in Syria and Libya…”

But the most notable part of this programme comes at 24:05 onwards when Mardell brings in two interviewees but only finds it necessary to signpost the political leanings of one of them, whilst refraining from providing any insight into Kundnani’s place on the political map.

“With me now Professor Arun Kundnani who teaches terrorism studies at John Jay College in New York and has written several books on Islamophobia and extremism and Rene Girard; he’s chief correspondent at the French right of centre newspaper le Figaro. Can I start with you, professor: does this display of solidarity today lead anywhere?”

Kundnani: “Ahm…I think it would probably lead to a kind of entrenchment of the kind of ‘them and us’ mentality that..ahm….has been part of the problem I think. Ahm…you know, what would be good is to see a genuine movement for freedom of expression but if we were doing something like that, we certainly wouldn’t be having Netanyahu attend for example….erm….you know the Israeli government has….”

Mardell: “Why not?”

Kundnani: “Well the Israeli government has been responsible for killing multiple journalists over the last couple of years in Gaza. Ahm…you know in this country we’ve seen through the war on terror quite a restriction on freedom of expression. We’ve actually put people in prison over the last couple of years for the books they own. Ahm…so…ahm…you know what has happened here is that freedom of expression has become a kind of slogan and a kind of icon of Western values. Ahm…but it’s not a genuine commitment to freedom of expression: it’s more about saying this is something that we have in the West and you don’t have. It’s the them and us mentality that is part of the problem here.”

As we see, Mardell makes no attempt to interrupt Kundnani’s bizarre monologue in order to relieve BBC audiences of the inaccurate impression that Israel has deliberately killed journalists.  Fortunately, a journalist with honesty and integrity happens to be on hand.

Mardell: “Rene Girard; how do you feel about the march that we’re seeing? Does it lead to any change of policy? Should it lead to any change of policy?”

Girard: “I have to say something on Netanyahu because I don’t want to be seen as sharing this opinion. I don’t think that Netanyahu policy for Palestine, for Israel, for the peace is a good one. I prefer Rabin’s policy. But as a fact I was covering the war in Gaza this summer and the Israelis don’t target journalists. They don’t kill journalists….”

Mardell [interrupts] “Well, I mean….”

Girard: “…they allow them to go together so I think…”

Mardell: [interrupts impatiently] “Thank you for making that point but what about the general point….”

The BBC has editorial guidelines on live output:

“Factual Errors

If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.

Impartiality

Due impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s standards. It is a core value and no area of programming is exempt from it. It is vital that any package or interview broadcast during a live event is impartial and fair. Care should be taken to ensure that there is no suggestion of bias. This can be achieved by careful casting and ensuring the presenter/interviewer is properly briefed to conduct a robust interview.”

How fortunate that Rene Girard was on hand to do the BBC correspondent’s job for him.

Does the BBC’s Mardell think the language spoken in Israel is called “Israeli”?

One of the BBC journalists flown in to Israel especially for the occasion of the visit by President Obama was the North America Editor, Mark Mardell. On March 22nd Mardell produced an article entitled “Obama plays a Long Game in the Middle East” in which he gave his summing up of the presidential visit. 

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Mardell spends a considerable part of the article advancing his own rather flowery interpretations – psychological and otherwise – of Obama’s words and actions during the trip, but one rather bizarre sentence stands out.

“Before the visit, several American commentators urged him to learn to speak Israeli – now his fluency is almost frightening.” [emphasis added]

Readers of the article can either choose to despair over the fact that a senior BBC journalist does not know the name of the language spoken in Israel or to wonder why – if Mardell was intending to say that Obama had been urged to learn to understand the Israeli viewpoint and how to communicate effectively with the Israeli people – he did not manage to make that clear either by better choice of wording or by means of appropriate punctuation.

Whichever interpretation of that sentence – literal or figurative – one elects to adopt, Obama’s “fluency” is obviously seriously over-exaggerated by Mardell, particularly in light of the fact that the President chose not to address the Israeli people as a whole through their elected representatives, but instead played safe by speaking to a carefully selected audience which excluded certain sectors of the public in advance.  

As for the rather bizarre – and unexplained – use of the words “almost frightening”, one can only speculate as to what would scare a BBC correspondent so much about the possibility of a US President being able to communicate with the people of another country. 

Mardell’s article – which appeared in both the Middle East and US & Canada sections of the BBC News website was opened for comments by the BBC. Once again, a lack of appropriate moderation on that thread meant that the BBC made itself complicit in the spread of antisemitic discourse. 

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