BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

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