BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The January 28th edition of BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ included a report by the programme’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban on the topic of the peace plan launched by the US administration earlier in the day.

The report featured contributions from two interviewees, the first of whom was brought in immediately after viewers had seen images of Tel Aviv and had been told that “viewed from Israel, it’s certainly a significant intervention”, despite the fact that the interviewee is a British citizen based in London.

The second interviewee, brought in to give the Palestinian view, is a Canadian citizen of Palestinian heritage. Diana Buttu was presented as “Former legal adviser, Palestinian negotiating team”. That “negotiating team” is of course part of the PLO but that point was not clarified to viewers.

Buttu’s first contribution was as follows: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Buttu: “If you look at the settlements, he’s decided that all of the settlements will be allowed to stay. When it comes to borders…despite the fact that settlements are illegal…when it comes to borders, he hasn’t recognised the 1967 borders and instead is going to allow Israel to take large swathes of Palestinian land and annex…ahm…annex the Jordan Valley. When it comes to refugees, completely off the table and when it comes to Jerusalem it’s only a question of access and not even of the ability to have Jerusalem as our capital or even as a shared capital.”

The fact that viewers saw no effort made to challenge that partial portrayal of ‘settlements’ as ‘illegal’ is perhaps unsurprising – though not acceptable – given that the BBC itself regularly promotes the same partial mantra. Audiences likewise saw no challenge to the concept of “Palestinian land” even though the BBC’s style guide points out that “Critics of the phrase say it is not strictly accurate because, for example, the West Bank was captured from Jordan in 1967”. 

The failure to challenge the false notion of “the 1967 borders” – actually cease fire lines drawn up under the 1949 Armistice Agreement which were specifically defined as not being borders – breaches the same BBC Academy style guide which states:

“The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.”

Buttu’s second contribution to Urban’s report purportedly explaining the US peace plan to BBC audiences was as follows:

Buttu: “Let’s be clear; this isn’t a deal. This is a demand that Palestinians submit to Israeli dictates and that’s it. And they’ve tried this in the past. It’s failed in the past. And it should fail because we as Palestinians shouldn’t be forced to live less than human beings. We shouldn’t be forced to be less than equals. We should be treated as equals and the world should be now putting sanctions on Israel to make sure that Israel’s not allowed to be above the law and that we’re no longer treated as though we’re beneath the law.”

Anyone familiar with Diana Buttu and her record of promoting falsehoods to the media would not be surprised in the least by her hyperbole and distortions. Most BBC viewers, however, have probably never heard of her and so it was Newsnight’s responsibility to ensure that falsehoods such as the notion of “1967 borders” were adequately challenged so as to avoid misleading viewers.

As we see, Newsnight fell short of that responsibility, just as it failed to clarify why – as stated by Urban – “there was no Palestinian partner in the room”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

BBC 2’s ‘Newsnight’ squeezes Israel into Bosnia report

Next week the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is due to deliver its verdict following the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

On November 16th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ aired a report on that story (available in the UK here) by the programme’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban who previously covered the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

In addition to Urban’s filmed report viewers saw a discussion between programme presenter Emily Maitlis and Mark Urban, with the former introducing the item as follows:

Maitlis: “It’s time for the closing arguments in the most serious war crimes trial since Nuremberg at the end of World War Two.”

Later on in the conversation, Maitlis asked Urban:

Maitlis: “We have seen more conflicts since then; will we expect more prosecutions?”

Describing Mladić as “the architect of ethnic cleansing”, Urban noted that “he is coming up for sentencing and it is very unusual” before going on to name Syria’s Bashar al Assad and Libya’s Gaddafi.

In the same breath, he then went on to tell viewers that:

“…some people would like to see the Israelis in front of the criminal court and all of these cases have been vetoed…”

Of course some (and indeed many of the same) people would also like to see Britain in front of the International Criminal Court – particularly in relation to its military action in Iraq – but Mark Urban did not mention that.

Instead, after Maitlis had set the scene with a reference to the Nuremberg Trials and just seconds after viewers had heard two references to ethnic cleansing, he casually put an entire nation – “the Israelis” – in the same category as named heads of regimes infamous for their extreme acts of cruelty towards their own people.

BBC News gets Israel’s capital city right – and then ‘corrects’

The saga of the BBC’s persistent refusal to tell its audiences that the capital city of Israel is Jerusalem is of course already long. Its most recent chapter began with a television report broadcast on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ on October 14th.

As seen in the video below, diplomatic correspondent Mark Urban rightly referred to Jerusalem as “Israel’s capital” towards the end of the report (6:57).

Two days later, the following announcement appeared on the BBC’s online ‘corrections & clarifications’ page.

Urban report 14 10

The BBC is not the first UK media organization to publish such a ‘correction’.  

Those following the link in that announcement will find the following:

“The BBC does not call Jerusalem the ‘capital’ of Israel, though of course BBC journalists can report that Israel claims it as such. If you need a phrase you can call it Israel’s ‘seat of government’, and you can also report that all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv. This position was endorsed by the findings of a BBC Trust complaints hearing published in February 2013.”

Those wishing to understand why the BBC refuses to call even the parts of Jerusalem which were not occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 the capital of Israel can find the background to that policy decision here.

““The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Yes, you read that correctly: the highest BBC body charged with ensuring the corporation’s adherence to editorial standards (including those of accuracy and impartiality) claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – aka UN GA resolution 181– has some sort of relevance or validity and based upon that gross misinterpretation, presumes to dictate that a city in which there has been a Jewish majority since the nineteenth century “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.”

On the scale of pomposity it is rather difficult to decide which is more jarring: the BBC’s belief that it is qualified to dictate what is – or is not – the sovereign territory and the capital city of a foreign country or the corporation’s no less bizarre belief that it has both the authority and expertise to decide what is – and is not – antisemitism.