The BBC and media freedom – theory and practice

Visitors to the BBC News website may have noticed that disclaimers appeared in a number of reports by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Martin Patience published on its Middle East page in the past few days.

Inside Iran: Iranians on Trump and the nuclear deal

Inside the former US Embassy in Iran

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US

The same disclaimer also appeared on other platforms.

However Yashar Ali at the Huffington Post reports that the BBC’s disclaimer – apparently made in accordance with the new editorial guidelines – does not tell all.

“The BBC has agreed to conditions set by the Islamic Republic of Iran to not share reporting materials it gathers in Iran with its Persian-language channel, BBC Persian, an internal email obtained by HuffPost reveals. The agreement represents a capitulation to a government that has been hostile to press freedom. The Iranian government routinely shuts down media organizations critical of the regime and imprisons, tortures and executes journalists.

The agreement was made with the Iranian government in exchange for Iran allowing a BBC correspondent into the country, and, according to emails that HuffPost obtained, it’s not the first time the British broadcaster has agreed to such terms.

The email, sent Saturday to all BBC Persian staff by a BBC Persian digital editor, said that BBC foreign correspondent Martin Patience and his team were in Iran “and due to leave on Sunday.”

The email goes on to say, “It is absolutely imperative that none of their material is run on BBC Persian TV, Radio or Online now or in the future. That includes any official BBC Persian social feed retweeting or forwarding the coverage. Please do not use the material and stories produced in Iran on any platform or in any format.”

It’s unclear who at the BBC agreed to the exclusivity terms.”

Just last week the UK government co-hosted an international conference in London on media freedom in which the BBC’s Director General and Director of News and Current Affairs took part and the BBC ran a “hub”. The aim of that conference was described by its organisers as follows:

“The conference is part of an international campaign to raise awareness of the importance of international press freedom, and also to increase the consequences faced by those who try to restrict it.” [emphasis added]

One can but wonder how the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – which of course part funds the BBC World Service, which includes BBC Persian – squares last week’s fine declarations on media freedom with the almost simultaneous BBC acquiescence to the demands of the Iranian regime.

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

On January 13th the IDF announced that with the discovery of a sixth tunnel, it had completed the mission to expose the tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror organisation Hizballah which passed under the international border, infiltrating Israeli territory.

“The tunnel, which had been dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), was the most important one detected since the operation began in December, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

According to him, the stairs were built in the tunnel which contained “railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting equipment and ladders to enter Israeli territory. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel.”

With the latest tunnel discovered and its destruction in the coming days, he added, “the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated.” […]

While the military announced the end of the operation, it noted that it “is simultaneously monitoring several locations where Hezbollah is digging underground structures which have yet to cross into Israel.””

With Operation Northern Shield now coming to an end, this is an appropriate time to review the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of that story throughout the six weeks of the mission.

The story of an internationally recognised terrorist group tunneling under an international border into a neighbouring country with the intention of carrying out a large-scale attack actually got remarkably little BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports throughout the six-week operation:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

Listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard two reports on the same days:

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels December 4th 2018

Razia Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”

Razia Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701 December 19th 2018

The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audiences heard one report the day after the story broke:

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701 December 5th 2018

Ritula Shah: “UN Security Council 1701, by the way, called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hizballah back in 2006.”

Ritula Shah: “Mr Netanyahu’s critics argue that he’s using the discovery of the tunnels to bolster his image at a time when his governing coalition is faltering and he faces mounting legal problems.”

In addition to Razia Iqbal’s unwarranted questioning of the purpose of the tunnels and the promotion by both her and Ritula Shah of the baseless notion that the operation was motivated by political considerations, audiences saw three main characteristics throughout the BBC’s reporting on this story.

In all but the first BBC News website report – where the information was added later – audiences were not given an accurate portrayal of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by numerous countries and bodies. The subject of Iran’s funding and supplying of the terror organisation was grossly downplayed in the two written articles and ignored in the three audio reports.

In all of the reports the crucially relevant topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 was either completely ignored or inadequately presented. Not one of the five BBC reports gave audiences an accurate explanation of that resolution or how it has been repeatedly violated by Hizballah for over twelve years. Moreover, in the second BBC WS radio report listeners were inaccurately led to believe that the only violation of that resolution comes in the form of tunnels that cross into Israeli territory.

Relatedly, BBC audiences were not given the full picture of the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to identify cross-border tunnels dug over a significant period of time literally under its nose and its serial failure to prevent violations of the UNSC resolution. In the second BBC WS radio report a UNIFIL spokesman’s statements went unchallenged.

Martin Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Not only was it suggested to audiences in forty percent of the BBC’s reporting that Operation Northern Shield was actually a cynical politically motivated exercise but the corporation failed throughout six whole weeks to produce even one item which would provide its funding public with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of the story of a complex operation which, had it been managed and executed less efficiently, could have sparked a major conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

BBC News side-lining cross border tunnels story

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701

h/t AB

Our documentation of the BBC’s decidedly uninformative coverage of Operation Northern Shield has so far included one item aired on BBC World Service radio. On December 19th listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update’ heard an additional report from the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Martin Patience which was introduced by presenter Dan Damon (from 43:03 here) as follows.

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

Damon: “The United Nations Security Council is expected to discuss rising tensions between Lebanon and Israel – that is later today. Israel says it’s discovered four tunnels that it claims were dug by the Lebanese militant group Hizballah and which were designed to launch attacks inside Israel. For the past two weeks Israeli troops have been working to destroy those tunnels. Our Lebanon correspondent Martin Patience has visited one of the affected areas on the border – the so-called Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel.”

Since arriving in Beirut, Martin Patience has not – as far as we are aware – produced any reporting on the situation in southern Lebanon and Hizballah’s recurrent violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701.

Patience: “We’re on a hilltop and there’s an extraordinary scene in front of me. A couple of meters away is barbed wire that marks the Blue Line – the division between Lebanon and Israel. There’s a dozen or more soldiers on this side wearing blue helmets. They’re from the UN peacekeeping force. And then just beyond that barbed wire I can see an Israeli soldier and beyond the Israeli soldier there are three diggers excavating the hillside. It has started to rain and come down hard. Now what exactly they’re looking for we aren’t sure. But we know that Israel says that Hizballah – the Lebanese militia – has been digging tunnels in this part of the country, right here at the border.”

Patience should of course have been able to tell his listeners “exactly” what the Israeli forces are “looking for” because they had been making that point crystal clear for over two weeks before Patience went on air. Listeners then heard the first of two pointless conversations with anonymous ‘locals’.

Patience: “There’s quite a few young men up here who’ve come to take a look at what’s going on. We’re going to see if we can grab a word with someone. One of them tells me the situation is unpleasant but he’s just waiting to see what will happen. So too are many in Lebanon. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that if Hizballah tries to disrupt the search for the tunnels it will be hit in a way that it cannot even imagine.”

Failing to tell audiences that at least one of the tunnels had been dug literally meters away from a UNIFIL position, Patience went on:

Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Tenenti: “I would say that there is a difference between rhetoric – political rhetoric – and the reality on the ground. On the ground we are doing our job with over 400 activities per day with our troops and we have the support of the parties and the commitment of the parties in implementing our mandate.”

Patience: “At least two of the tunnels violate Israeli sovereignty.”

Listeners then heard Tenenti inaccurately suggest that UN Security Council resolution 1701 is only violated by the two tunnels that UNIFIL has so far confirmed infiltrate Israeli territory.

Tenenti: “We confirmed the presence of four tunnels but we were able to verify so far with our technical team – independent technical team – two tunnels violate UN Security Council resolution 1701. So they are violations of UNIFIL’s mandate.”

Rather than clarifying that misleading statement and pointing out to listeners that any and all Hizballah presence and activity south of the Litani River is in fact a violation of that UNSC resolution, Patience went on:

Patience: “But both the UN and Lebanon say that Israeli fighter jets frequently violate Lebanese airspace. And here in Lebanon the issue of the tunnels is widely seen as an Israeli attempt to put diplomatic pressure on Hizballah.”

Failing to explain that Hizballah started the 2006 war when it conducted a cross-border raid, killed and abducted Israeli soldiers and launched missiles at Israeli civilians, Patience continued:

Patience: “The Lebanese militant organisation has been noticeably silent about recent events but in 2006 a devastating war broke out between Hizballah and Israel and that’s always at the back of people’s minds. Technically the two countries are still at a state of war.”

In fact Hizballah’s second in command has not been “silent about recent events”.

“Qassem said that Hezbollah too would not initiate war, but would respond to Israeli aggression and that such a response and counter-response could potentially lead to war.

According to Qassem, Israel’s home front, including Tel Aviv, are under threat. “There is not a place in the Zionist entity that is not within Hezbollah’s range,” he said.”

Listeners than heard more anonymous comment from a ‘man on the hill’.

Patience: “Back at the border I ask a Lebanese man whether he’s worried that the current situation could trigger a conflict. He tells me he doesn’t think so because if it was going to happen it would have happened by now. For the moment neither side appears to be spoiling for a fight. But there remains unfinished business between Israel and Hizballah and the fear always is that a small incident here on the border could trigger something far worse.”

Yet again we see that BBC reporting on this ongoing story makes no absolutely no effort to meet the corporation’s obligation to provide audiences with the information necessary for its full understanding.

Related Articles:

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

BBC News side-lining cross border tunnels story

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

 

 

 

 

 

BBC continues to ignore Hizballah violations in south Lebanon

Back in June 2017 we noted that the BBC had ignored a story about Hizballah setting up outposts close to the Israel-Lebanon border, under the guise of an environmental group, in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701.

This week – as the Jerusalem Post and others reported – the IDF announced the discovery of another such outpost, this time near Kibbutz Misgav Am.

al-Adisa from Misgav Am

“The IDF has accused Hezbollah of once again violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 after uncovering an observation post used by the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group along Israel’s northern border.

The group attempted to conceal the post – located in the al-Adisa village opposite Kibbutz Misgav Am, about one kilometer from the border – under the guise of the fictitious environmental NGO “Green Without Borders.”

The IDF says it was the sixth such post discovered in the past couple of years. Similar to those uncovered last year, this one also acted as a forward observation post to gather intelligence on IDF troops. […]

According to the military, while it has voiced its concerns to the United Nations about the area, the terrorist group has prevented members of the UN and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from investigating the area, claiming that it is private land.

“This is a blatant, daily violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which prohibits any armed military presence south of the Litani River except for the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon,” the army said.”

Not too long after it was first revealed that Hizballah was using a fictitious ‘green’ NGO to mask its activities along the border a new BBC correspondent arrived in Beirut. BBC audiences have however seen no reporting on last year’s story or – to date – the latest one concerning Hizballah’s ‘Green Without Borders’ front. 

The absence of up to date BBC reporting on the situation in southern Lebanon and UNIFIL’s failure to implement UNSC resolution 1701 obviously means that if and when conflict between Israel and Hizballah does break out again, the corporation’s audiences – as well as the journalists it sends to cover the events – will lack the background information crucial to proper understanding of that story. 

Related Articles:

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

Will the new man in Beirut improve the BBC’s record of reporting?

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Among the BBC News website’s profuse coverage of the December 6th US announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were reports concerning violent rioting in Beirut:

Beirut protests: ‘Jerusalem remains a rallying cry’Martin Patience, 10/12/17

Trump Jerusalem move: Tear gas at Lebanon US embassy protest” 10/12/17

In the second of those reports, readers were told that:

“Lebanon is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, including those who fled Israel after it was founded, and their descendants.”

But exactly how many are “hundreds of thousands”?

An online search of BBC reports on that topic shows that in 1999 the BBC told its audiences that there were 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon but did not give a source for that number. In 2003 the BBC quoted a figure of 376,472 citing UNRWA and the same UN agency was cited as the source of a figure of 391,679 the following year.

A backgrounder produced in 2008 also quoted UNRWA, informing BBC audiences that as of December 2006 there were 408,438 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In August 2010 BBC audiences were told of “an estimated 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon” and an article published the following month – September 2010 – cited a figure of 405,425 without clarifying its source.

However, a recent development makes the sourcing of those numbers cited by the BBC over the years especially interesting. 

In February of this year the first ever census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was begun and its results were made public last week, as reported by AP:

“The first official census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has revealed that there are 174,422 Palestinians now living in Lebanon, a figure almost two thirds less than previously estimated.

The Palestinians — both original refugees and their descendants — were believed to number about 450,000 but tens of thousands emigrated from Lebanon in over the past decades, seeking better opportunities.

The census released Thursday was conducted by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.”

Reporting the same story, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star provides some interesting insight into the UNRWA supplied figures quoted by the BBC over the years.

“The findings came as a surprise to some, as the standard estimate of the Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon cited by local and international media as well as aid groups has long stood around 450,000. This figure was based upon the number of refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

As no census in Lebanon had ever taken place, UNRWA’s registration records served as the most reliable go-to source for an estimate.

However, UNRWA has never claimed that the number of registered refugees in Lebanon should have served as a de-facto head-count for the population.

“We have 469,331 refugees officially registered with UNRWA in Lebanon,” Huda Samra, spokesperson for the U.N. agency, told The Daily Star. “This reflects the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who come to us to register for benefits, which include educational, vocational and health services.”

Deaths or relocation outside the camps and perhaps to other countries are not necessarily reported to UNRWA.” [emphasis added]

In other words, for nearly two decades (at least) the BBC has been promoting statistics which did not – and according to the UNRWA spokesperson quoted by The Daily Star, were never intended to – reflect the actual number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2

The BBC’s reporting of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios

 

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.   

 

Will the new man in Beirut improve the BBC’s record of reporting?

The BBC’s Martin Patience recently announced his upcoming relocation to Beirut on Twitter.

This is not Patience’s first posting in the Middle East: he spent two years reporting for the BBC from Jerusalem between 2006 and 2008 and was in the Gaza Strip for part of the summer 2014 conflict.

One story already waiting for him in Beirut (that has not been covered by the BBC to date) is that of the reports concerning alleged Iranian-built underground missile factories in Lebanon that have been around for some months.

The Times of Israel brings further information.

“The Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group is constructing at least two underground facilities in Lebanon for manufacturing missiles and other weaponry, according to a report by the French Intelligence Online magazine. […]

Sources told the French industry magazine that one of the factories is being built in northern Lebanon, near the town of Hermel in the eastern Bekaa Valley. The second facility is reportedly being constructed along the southern coast, between the towns of Sidon and Tyre.

According to Intelligence Online, the Hermel facility is being used to produce the Fateh 110, a medium-range missile. The southern facility, meanwhile, will be used to make smaller munitions.”

The Tower adds:

“The Iranian general who first revealed the existence of the factories said that they were built because Israel had destroyed munitions factories in Sudan and hit weapons convoys in Syria en route to Hezbollah.

Iran is banned from exporting weapons by the United Nations Security Council, and is specifically forbidden from arming Hezbollah by Security Council resolution 1701.”

The BBC’s record of reporting Hizballah’s violations of UNSC resolution 1701, it is of course very dismal. Whether or not it will improve with Martin Patience’s arrival in Beirut and audiences will finally get to hear about this story and others remains to be seen.

Related Articles:

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

BBC News yawns over another violation of UNSC resolution 1701

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s 2014 claim of an attack on a UN school shown to be inaccurate

On August 3rd 2014 the BBC told its audiences that Israeli forces had attacked a UN school in Rafah.

Tweet breaking UN school

Tweet w news UN school

BBC correspondent Martin Patience produced a filmed report titled “Gaza crisis: Chaos after deadly strike ‘at UN school’” in which he informed viewers that Israel was serially attacking UN schools.Patience 3 8 Rafah

“Eye witnesses say that it was an Israeli airstrike. It struck at the entrance of this UN school in the southern town of Rafah. Now it’s believed children are among the dead. We also understand that at least thirty others have been injured. Ah…now this is the third deadly attack on a United Nations school since this conflict began. Just last week Israel faced international condemnation after an attack on a UN school left at least 17 dead.” [emphasis added]

In an article which appeared on the BBC News website on the same day, quotes from UN officials were given amplification.

“UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as a “moral outrage and a criminal act”.”

“In a strongly worded statement, Mr Ban called for those responsible for the “gross violation of international humanitarian law” to be held accountable.”

“Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: “The locations of all of these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times.

“They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea.””

An edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast on August 3rd 2014 is also available online. Two years on, listeners can still hear presenter Rebecca Kesby’s inaccurate allegations: [emphasis added]Newshour 3 8

RK: “Well the UN seems pretty convinced that it was an Israeli shell that hit their school. Robert Turner has been saying that it’s now the third such facility of theirs that your forces have hit. He’s very cross. He says that the UN keeps telling the Israeli forces the precise location of all their facilities where people are going to take shelter and they keep being hit.”

RK: “People listening to this will be very cross to hear this again – just three days after another attack on a UN school which provoked widespread condemnation around the world. You talk about surgical strikes and precision bombing but the evidence is very different.”

“On the question of the UN-run school that was hit in Rafah this morning: when will you know if it was your rocket that killed those ten people and injured those 30 others?”

“Excuse me, sir, but you’re telling Palestinians to evacuate from their homes and seek shelter. They seek shelter at UN schools. You then bomb the schools. Whether it’s near the school or not, it’s not safe for them there, is it?”

The Military Attorney General recently published the results of the investigation into that incident (section 7 here). [emphasis added]

“In media reports, as well as in the complaints and reports of NGOs and international organizations, it was alleged, that on August 3, 2014, at around 10:45, a number of civilians were killed and others injured, as the result of an IDF aerial strike in proximity to a Rafah school run by UNRWA. The number of fatalities varies from report to report, and ranges from seven to fifteen fatalities. According to the main allegation arising in the aforementioned complaints and reports, the strike took place a few meters from the gate of the school, which was at that time serving as a shelter for civilians who had evacuated their homes, at the exact moment when the gate was open, and was aimed at a motorbike that was passing through the area and its riders. The incident was subsequently referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination.

The factual findings, collated by the FFA Mechanism and presented to the MAG, indicate that the school was designated as a “sensitive site” on the relevant operational systems of the IDF. In accordance with the IDF’s operational instructions, any military operation to be conducted in the vicinity of such sites requires the adoption of special precautions. The fact that the school was serving at the time as a shelter for civilians who had evacuated from their homes was also noted on the relevant systems.

It was further found, that on 3 August 2014, the IDF observed three people riding on a motorbike, who were identified, on the basis of up-to-date intelligence information, as military operatives. From the moment that the decision to strike the operatives was made, the IDF carried out aerial surveillance on the motorbike’s path, and surveyed a wide radius of the estimated continued route of the motorbike, in order to minimize the potential for harm to civilians on the route or in proximity thereto. The final destination of the military operatives was not known to the operational authorities. The strike on the military operatives was planned for execution by means of a precise munition, with a reduced explosive load, in a way that would allow for the strike’s objective to be achieved, whilst minimizing the potential for harm to civilians or passing vehicles.

It was further found, that a period of time after the munition had been fired, and mere seconds before it reached its target, the motorbike entered a traffic circle with a number of different exits, and left it via one of them. The FFA Mechanism’s findings indicate that with the means that were at their disposal, and under the visibility conditions prevailing at that time, the operational authorities were not able to discern in real-time the group of civilians that were outside the school, in proximity to the route along which the aforementioned motorbike was travelling. It was further found that, in any case, at the moment upon which the motorbike exited the traffic circle and started to travel along the road bordering the wall which surrounded the school, it was no longer possible to divert the munition which had been fired at the motorbike.

The strike on the motorbike riders occurred immediately after the motorbike passed by the gate of the school. As mentioned above, it is alleged that as a result of the strike between seven and fifteen people in the vicinity of the school’s gate were killed (as indicated above, the number of fatalities varies from report to report). According to the findings of the FFA Mechanism, three military operatives were among the fatalities.

After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFA Mechanism, the MAG found that the targeting process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.

The decision to strike was taken by the competent authorities, and the object of the attack was lawful – military operatives. The attack complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated to result from it (essentially, it was considered in real-time that the strike would only harm the military operatives targeted). This assessment was not unreasonable under the circumstances, in light of the fact that aerial surveillance of the routes which the motorbike was predicted to take, which had commenced when the decision to strike was taken, had not shown any civilian presence on those routes.

Moreover, the attack was carried out in conjunction with various precautionary measures, such as the selection of the munition used to carry out the strike, which aimed to mitigate the risk to civilians and passing vehicles. It was also found that under the circumstances, the operational authorities had not foreseen that the strike on the motorbike would take place in the vicinity of the school, and that, in any case, at the time at which it became clear that the strike would occur in proximity to the school, they did not have the capacity to prevent the strike from taking place in that location. The fact that, in practice, civilians who were uninvolved in the hostilities were harmed, is a tragic and regrettable result, but does not affect the legality of the attack ex post facto.”

Obviously footnotes need to be added to the relevant reports still available online in order to clarify to members of the public that the claim that the UN school was attacked is inaccurate.

Likewise, a similar clarification needs to be added to the BBC News website article titled “Gaza conflict: Disputed deadly incidents” which is also still available online and in which audiences are told that:

“Locals have told the BBC there were no militants in or near the school.”

Since the end of the conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip two years ago, investigations into several of the incidents reported by the BBC have shown (see related articles below) that audiences were at the time given inaccurate and misleading information.

To the best of our knowledge, none of the specious reports which still remain available online (and form part of what the BBC terms ‘historical record’) have been amended to inform the general public of the outcome of investigations into the incidents and to correct inaccurate and misleading information included in their content.  The failure to take such necessary steps risks the waste of publicly funded resources on complaints relating to those reports due to the fact that the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that if content is still available online, it may legitimately be the subject of editorial complaints.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Martin Patience tells TV audiences that Israel attacks UN schools

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Clarifications required for BBC reports on Shati incident

Revisiting BBC reporting on July 2014 Shuja’iya market incident

BBC News passes up on the chance to correct Gaza misinformation

A BBC story from August 2014 still in need of clarification

Revisiting the BBC’s claims about a 2014 story from Rafah

Revisiting the BBC’s 2014 reports on Gaza’s power plant

Revisiting the BBC’s 2014 reports on Gaza’s power plant

Readers may recall that on July 29th 2014 the BBC devoted considerable coverage to the story of an explosion at a power plant in the Gaza Strip.

““Power plant destroyed” screamed the sub-heading in a BBC News website report on July 29th 2014.Power plant written

That article was among numerous items produced by the BBC on the same day which included content relating to what the BBC immediately concluded was an Israeli strike on Gaza’s power station. BBC journalists extensively promoted that version of the story despite the fact that Israeli sources had stated that the power plant was not deliberately targeted.

Viewers of BBC television news programmes (along with visitors to the website) saw reports by Chris MorrisIan Pannell and Martin Patience and Chris Morris. They heard statements such as the following one from Ian Pannell:

“Israel wants to weaken Hamas any way it can, which includes hitting Gaza’s only power station – adding to the misery of those who live here.”Power plant Morris and Patience 2

Listeners to BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour‘ on July 29th heard Chris Morris make the following baseless allegation:

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.” [emphasis added]

Just over two weeks later, both television viewers and visitors to the BBC News website were again reminded of the story in filmed and written reports by Yolande Knell.”

A year later, the claims of deliberate targeting of the power plant were shown to be false but no effort was made to correct the misleading impressions and inaccurate information in those reports which still remain available online.

The Military Attorney General has now published the result of investigations into the July 29th 2014 incident and previous ones at that power plant (section 4 here).

“In media reports, in IDF operational reports, and in the reports of international and non-governmental organizations, it was alleged that over the course of the period from 22 – 29 July 2014, the Gaza Strip’s power plant facilities, located in Nusseirat, were struck a number of times, as a result of IDF operations (the different sources refer to different events, and the allegations and figures contained therein are not consistent). It was further alleged, that as a result of the strike on the power plant on 29 July 2014, the plant ceased to function for a significant amount of time. Subsequently, the incident was referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination.

The factual findings, collated by the FFA Mechanism, and presented to the MAG, indicated that the power plant in Nusseirat was designated as a “sensitive site” on the relevant operational systems of the IDF. In accordance with the IDF’s operational instructions, any military operation to be conducted in the vicinity of such sites requires the adoption of special precautions. The findings further indicated that, in the course of the military activity taking place in the area, the power plant was struck four times over the course of the period from 22-29 July 2014 (the difficulty in specifying the precise dates of the strikes results from differences between the various reports, which provide different dates for the same strikes).

In regard to the first three incidents of damage to the power plant, it was found that the damage did not occur as the result of any direct or intentional attack, aerial or otherwise, by IDF forces. The FFA Mechanism could not rule out the possibility that the power plant facilities may have been damaged by shrapnel, or artillery fire that went off course during the combat. This, in light of the considerable military activity that took place in the vicinity of the plant, between IDF forces and squads affiliated with terror organizations. As well as in light of the fact that terror organizations located a large number of terror assets adjacent to the power plant – at times at a distance of mere tens of meters (such assets included launching pits in which rockets and mortars were stored, medium range rocket launchers, the openings of combat tunnels, weapons caches and more). Evidence has also been obtained which indicates that a portion of the damage may have been caused as the result of rocket fire by Palestinian terror organizations. […]

As regards the fourth incident of damage, which occurred on 29 July 2014, the FFA Mechanism found that on the day of the incident, an IDF armored force operating in the area identified a squad of terror operatives, bearing anti-tank weaponry (“anti-tank squad”). The anti-tank squad was identified while it was close to what would later turn out to be the fuel tanks of the power plant. In light of the imminent threat posed by the squad to the armored force, the force fired, in a measured and direct manner, at the anti-tank squad, using the most precise munition the force had at its disposal. It appears, that as a result of this fire, one of the power plant’s fuel tanks was damaged (the power plant itself was not hit).It was further found, that the IDF force which carried out the fire, did not make the connection between the facilities, in proximity to which it identified the anti-tank squad, and the power plant, and was not aware that the structures in question contained flammable material.

After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFA Mechanism in regard to this incident, the MAG found that the targeting process carried out with regard to the anti-tank squad accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.

The fire which was carried out by the IDF force over the course of the incident was aimed at a military object – an anti-tank squad of the terror organizations, which posed an immediate threat to the force. The attack on the squad complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken, it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated from it. This estimation was not unreasonable under the circumstances, when taking into consideration the immediacy of the threat posed to the force by the anti-tank squad, and in light of the fact that the force was not aware of the nature of the facilities in proximity to which they identified the squad.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, members of the public can still find BBC material online which inaccurately portrays the July 29th 2014 incident as a deliberate strike on that power plant. Clearly the appropriate clarifications need to be urgently added to those reports.

Related Articles:

The BBC and the ‘destroyed’ Gaza power plant

BBC claims about 2014 Gaza power plant incident shown to be false

Revisiting BBC reporting on July 2014 Shuja’iya market incident

On July 30th 2014 the BBC News website published an article (which is still available) titled “Gaza conflict: ‘Israeli market strike kills 17’” in which audiences were told that:market written

“At least 17 people have been killed and 160 wounded in an Israeli strike that hit a fruit and vegetable market near Gaza City, Palestinian officials say.

Hundreds of people were shopping in the market in Shejaiya, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry said.

The attack came during a four-hour truce called by the Israeli military. Hamas, which controls Gaza, had rejected the truce as meaningless. […]

Witnesses at the scene of the market strike in Shejaiya spoke of smoke billowing over the site, with ambulances racing victims to hospital.

A journalist who worked for a local news agency was reported to have been killed.

One witness, Salim Qadoum, told Associated Press: “The area now is like a bloodbath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It’s a massacre.”

The Palestinian al-Aqsa satellite TV channel quoted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum as saying that the market attack required “an earth-shattering response”.

The Israeli military had said the ceasefire would last between 15:00 (12:00 GMT) and 19:00.

However, it had warned that the truce would only apply to areas where Israeli soldiers were not currently operating, and it told residents not to return to areas they had previously been asked to evacuate.”

On the same day, Martin Patience produced a filmed report on the same incident for BBC television news which still appears on the corporation’s website under the title “Gaza conflict: ‘Israeli market strike kills 15’“. Like the written report, Patience’s account tells of civilians attacked by “an Israeli airstrike” and he informs viewers that:market filmed

“…it’s difficult to know which areas were actually covered by this partial ceasefire….but what areas are covered, I don’t think most Palestinians know.”

That incident is one of several which appear in the latest report from the Military Attorney General. Investigation into the incident shows that the BBC’s rapid and unquestioning repetition of Hamas officials’ tales of an out-of-the-blue Israeli airstrike on civilians during a cease-fire breached editorial guidelines on both accuracy and impartiality.

“In reports published in various media sources, it was alleged that on 30 July 2014, IDF forces fired upon the marketplace in Shuja’iyya, at a time when a ceasefire was in place, and as a result of these strikes, between 15 to 17 people were killed, including children, emergency services personnel, and reporters. Subsequently, and in accordance with the MAG’s investigation policy, the incident was referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination. […]

According to the factual findings collated by the FFA Mechanism and presented to the MAG, the events associated with the incident started at approximately 16:10, when an anti-tank (AT) missile was fired at IDF forces operating in an open area on the outskirts of the Shuja’iyya neighborhood. Immediately after the anti-tank missile was fired, there commenced an intense and ongoing burst of mortar fire, emanating from a built-up area in the neighborhood, targeting the forces. As a result of this fire an IDF soldier was injured and the rest of the soldiers at the scene were placed in real danger. Further, in light of this use of fire, and the situation in which the forces found themselves (including a tank that could not move due to malfunction), the conclusion drawn by the commanders in the field was that this fire could provide cover for an attempt to abduct a soldier. During this episode of mortar fire, five sites in a built-up area were identified as points from which shells had been fired at IDF forces. Nevertheless, IDF forces did not return fire towards the sources of this fire, because of their proximity to “sensitive sites” (in the IDF, “sensitive sites” are civilian sites that receive special protection from attack under the law of armed conflict (such as medical facilities), as well as other civilian sites that warrant special consideration for policy reasons, even when there is no legal obligation (such as schools); such sites are identified in advance by the IDF and integrated into IDF’s operational systems).

At approximately 16:40, when the mortar fire had not yet ceased, IDF forces fired a number of rounds of smoke-screening shells, in order to screen the troops, and frustrate the enemy fire. At approximately 17:00, as the mortar fire upon the troops from the built-up area continued, and in light of the ongoing threat to the lives of the troops, the forces were able to identify two additional sources of fire, from which most of the fire towards them was originating at that time. After it was concluded that one of these points was sufficiently distant from sensitive sites, it was decided to return a limited amount of fire, of five mortar shells, with the aim of suppressing the fire targeted at IDF forces. The IDF fire was carried out using mortars, since there was no available alternative for carrying out the strike, including aerial alternatives, which would allow the necessary operational effect to be achieved. In this context, the possibility of using 155 mm high-explosive artillery shells was also considered, in order to address the danger faced by the forces. This possibility was dismissed for the reason that the collateral damage expected from mortar shells was more limited.

Approximately 18 minutes after the initial mortar fire was carried out by the forces, towards the source of the fire, and after the fire emanating from that site had not ceased, it was decided to fire an additional ten mortars towards it. After this round of fire, the mortar fire on IDF forces ceased. Only around 40 minutes after the execution of the above-mentioned fire were reports received by the IDF regarding the hit on civilians in this area.

The FFA Mechanism’s findings further revealed that at the time of the incident, the forces had believed that the likelihood of civilians being harmed as a result of the fire was low. Before the start of the ground incursion in Shuja’iyya, a widespread warning to evacuate had been provided, which, according to the information in the force’s possession, had resulted in the evacuation of the vast majority of the civilian population in the neighborhood. An additional warning to evacuate was made two days prior to the incident, on 28 July, in order to keep the civilian population at a distance from the area of hostilities. Moreover, during the ongoing aerial surveillance carried out in the area in the period leading up to the incident, no civilian presence was identified on the roads and in the open areas of the neighborhood – which are the areas in which the danger posed by mortar shells is generally greater than the danger to those inside a building. In real time, no aerial surveillance capabilities were available to the forces. Thus, even if the possibility of civilian presence in the area had not been entirely ruled out, in consideration of the assessment that most of the population had evacuated and that no civilian presence was identified in the area prior to the incident, the understanding was that the risk of harm as a result of the limited fire was low.

After the event, by comparing the actions taken by IDF forces with the allegations contained in the complaint received by the MAG Corps, it can be concluded that one of the shells from the first round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the roof of the Al-Salak family, at a time when the family was on the roof, and killed seven family members; and that two shells from the second round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the crowd which had gathered next to the Al-Salak house in the wake of the first strike. At the same time, the possibility that the harm to civilians during this incident resulted from a misfire by a Palestinian terror organization has not been ruled out, in light of the extensive enemy mortar fire emanating from the area at the time.

In addition to the above, intelligence information indicated that six of the deceased in this incident appear to have been militants, and thus the total civilian fatalities is lower than that alleged in the complaint.

The FFA Mechanism’s findings further concluded, that the incident in question did not take place during a ceasefire in Shuja’iyya. The IDF announced a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire between the hours of 15:00 and 19:00 on that day, but clarified that this would not apply in a number of specific areas in which IDF forces were operating at that time, including Shuja’iyya (along with a number of other areas). This was transmitted in the media and in messages that were passed to the Palestinian side.” [all emphasis added]

In light of the fact that last year the BBC announced that “However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”,  the BBC clearly needs to either remove those two reports from its website or to amend them with prominent clarification of the actual circumstances of the incident.

Related Articles:

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014