A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.” 

And:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s public purposes commit the corporation to providing:

“…duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world.”

And:

“…a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”

The corporation’s coverage of the recently released US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage – in this case on the BBC domestic radio station Radio 4 and on BBC World Service radio.

While the tables below are not exhaustive, they give an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligations to provide “a range and depth of analysis” and to reflect “a range of views”.

Programmes aired before the US plan was made public are marked with a pale gold background.

Commentators and BBC journalists who provided a neutral view of the US proposal are marked in blue, those promoting a positive view in green and those promoting a negative view are marked in red.  

BBC World Service radio:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fk0q7  from 14:06 David Makovsky

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fm2df  from 30:05 discussed here, Husam Zomlot, Aaron David Miller

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fmxmb  from 00:11, 14:06, 45:07, Husam Zomlot, Logan Bayroff (J Street), discussed here and here

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fpz9j  from 30:06, Shlomo Ben Ami, Rashid Khalidi

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575ftqfj  from 30:06 Mohammad Shtayyeh

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csyv7l  from 00:00

 

BBC Radio 4:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dr9s  from 1:47:16 discussed here

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dphy  discussed here (including times of reports) Husam Zomlot

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpkh  from 45:43, Jan Egeland,  Karin von Hippel

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpkm  from 08:22, Mustafa Barghouti

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpl0   from 01:32  and 07:51, Diana Buttu

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpl6  discussed here

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dqf8  from 2:49:20

 

As we see, the BBC chose to provide airtime to Palestinian officials while no interviews with Israeli officials were included in any of the programmes and one interview with a former US official was heard on each of the two stations. Interviews were conducted with two Israeli representatives from think tanks (one neutral and one negative), three representatives from US or UK think tanks (one neutral, two negative), two US-Palestinian academics (both negative), one representative of a political NGO (negative) and one lobbying group representative (negative).

The majority of reports from the BBC’s own staff presented a negative view of the topic.

Both those BBC radio stations gave audiences were given an overwhelmingly one-sided view of the US peace initiative (in all twelve times more negative views than positive ones), starting even before it had been published. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear a balanced “range of views”.

The purpose of the editorial guidelines is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is once again abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports offering a “wide range of significant views”. 

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BBC WS radio promotes US peace plan commentary from partisan lobbying group

As we saw previously the January 28th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Tim Franks – had the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, which had been launched a few hours earlier, as its “main story”.

Listeners had already heard from a BBC correspondent in Washington and from one of the authors of the initiative, Jason Greenblatt, at the beginning of the programme and subsequently they heard over four minutes of diatribe from the Palestinian Authority’s Husam Zomlot.

Later on in the programme (from 45:07 here) Franks brought in another negative commentator, using the well-worn but absurd BBC claim that resolution of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel would mean “Middle East peace”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “And back to our main story this hour: President Trump unveiling what he calls his ultimate deal for Middle East peace and saying he hasn’t just won the unequivocal support of the Israeli prime minister but also of the man who wants to take over from Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister, the leader of the main opposition party in Israel, Benny Gantz. What about the view elsewhere in Washington? Logan Bayroff is communications director for J Street which describes itself as the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. What’s his reaction to Donald Trump’s plan?”

No effort was made to adhere to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by providing information beyond that self-composed definition of J Street and so listeners heard no objective description of the lobbying group’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” which would have helped them put later claims from Logan Bayroff into perspective.

Bayroff: “Well it may be a plan, it’s certainly not a peace plan. It’s really a sham to even call it that. What it is is an act of geo-political arson where President Trump is working together with Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a bad conflict even worse. A peace plan would require a good faith effort by the United States to engage with the positions of both Israelis and Palestinians, bring them together and encourage and facilitate compromise. Instead what you have here is the unilateral adoption, essentially, by the current US administration of the traditional positions of Israel’s Right-wing government, unilaterally adopting them as United States policy and seeking to dictate those terms to the Palestinians. So that’s not peace. That’s, you know, that’s something very, very different and much, much [laughs] more dangerous.”

Although he failed to point out that it was the choice of the Palestinians not to be party to the drafting of this US plan and that they scuppered the last round of negotiations by declaring their intention to form a ‘unity government’ with the terror group Hamas, Franks did at least offer some challenge to Bayroff’s theory.

Franks: “Except what the proponents of this plan say is what’s being…what’s on offer for the first time are the hard outlines of a Palestinian state. So it’s not all that the Right in Israel would want.”

Bayroff: “I would really dispute their framing on that. They’re saying that they’re offering the Palestinians a state but what they’re actually talking about is a quasi-state – a state-minus as the prime minister likes to describe it – that has no security control over its own territory, that is not being allowed to negotiate for which portions of the West Bank it’s allowed to keep but is being told that a very small portion of occupied Palestinian territory would get to form the basis of this so-called state; non-contiguous enclaves policed by Israeli forces. It’s basically taking the current reality of occupation for the Palestinians and saying that the small number of areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority currently would get to form some kind of state.”

Franks made no effort to inform listeners that the plan actually proposes that more land than is currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority in Judea & Samaria would become part of a Palestinian state, along with the Gaza Strip (over which the PA currently has no control) and additional areas of what is today Israeli territory.

Bayroff: “Ehm…that’s not a position that any Palestinian leader could ever accept and it’s not even really being put forward as the basis for negotiation. It’s being put forward as sort of a terms of surrender document that the Palestinians have to adhere to without any previous consultation or involvement in the process. So to call this diplomacy or a peace plan, it’s really farcical and what it’s actually trying to do is to provide a green light to the Israeli government to carry out actions that they’ve been talking about for months now, namely the unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank that is illegally occupied by Israel. The prime minister’s already talking about moving forward with that now…”

Franks: “But it’s not just the Israeli government, is it? We also have the man who wants to take over from Binyamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, saying that he approves this plan and I just wonder – I mean I can hear all your objections to this – but what constituency you speak for if the mainstream of Israeli politics is saying we’re delighted with this.”

Listeners then found themselves being lectured on Israeli politics by an American history graduate.

Bayroff: “Well first of all I would say that, you know, Benny Gantz is put in a difficult spot in an election campaign which is why it’s so inappropriate for the US to be doing this right now. He doesn’t…neither he nor Netanyahu speak for the entirety of Israeli public opinion. But who I represent, who J Street represents first of all is pro-Israel, pro-peace American Jews and a broader constituency of Americans who want to see a safe, secure, peaceful future for Israel and understand that the only way that that is going to happen is with a serious fair two-state solution that grants real independence…ah…to Palestinians alongside Israel in their own state and it brings an end to the occupation.”

Franks did not bother to point out to either his listeners or his interviewee that the Palestinians have refused precisely such offers on several occasions in the past.

Bayroff: “That’s not only the position of my organisation and the majority of American Jews, it’s the traditional position of the United States government of both parties and it’s certainly the position of the Democratic party right now. It’s the position that was passed by the House of Representatives here in the US just a few weeks ago, saying no to annexation, no to settlement expansion, no to a plan that isn’t a real two-state solution. So in the long run, whatever the Israelis are being given to understand, this Trump plan is not going to stand as the position of the United States and it’s quite bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that the resolution described by Bayroff is non-binding or to remind them that whatever “position” American Jews and the US House of Representatives support, it is not they who have to live with the results, Franks closed the interview there.

While informed listeners may well have been asking themselves at that point precisely what over four minutes of one-sided commentary from a representative of a partisan American lobbying group (with opinions remarkably similar to those of the Palestinian Authority representative they had heard earlier) had actually contributed to their understanding of this story, ‘Newshour’ producers undoubtedly knew why that commentator was invited to appear on the programme.

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BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

 

 

 

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

As we have already seen, preemptive framing of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan by both BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio on January 28th included the provision of a platform for the Palestinian Authority’s (and Fatah’s) Husam Zomlot from which to promote his mostly unchallenged talking points.

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

Just hours after the launch of the US initiative – and his previous appearance on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ – Zomlot was given yet another slot on the evening edition of that programme.

Describing it as returning to “our main story” (listeners had previously heard from a BBC correspondent in Washington and from one of the authors of the US initiative, Jason Greenblatt), presenter Tim Franks introduced (from 14:06 here) the four-minute and 22 second segment: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Franks: “President Trump is unveiling what he describes as his win-win peace deal for the Israelis and Palestinians. We’ve heard about the delight from the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. From the Palestinians though there’s been a fierce rejection of the proposal.”

Refraining from informing listeners that the Palestinian Authority had rejected the proposal long before it was completed and before they or anyone else had seen its contents, Franks introduced Zomlot as “the Palestinian ambassador in London” despite the fact that the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title in 2018 after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Zomlot’s near monologue recycled many of the talking points and themes BBC World Service radio audiences had heard just hours earlier.

Zomlot: “That was a scam really. It has nothing to do with deals or plans or peace for that matter. It was really a political circus if I may use the term. Peace is very well known. The parameters for it has been established by the international order, international legitimacy, including the UK. The world has really required from us to recognise the two-state solution, to recognise Israel, and the path was very well crafted up till President Trump this morning has killed three birds with one lethal stone.”

Clearly not finding it necessary to inform audiences that the Palestinians have repeatedly refused offers of statehood based on the two-state solution, that the Palestinians have a specific interpretation of that concept, that by no means all Palestinian factions embrace the two-state solution or that Zomlot’s boss has repeatedly refused to recognise Israel as the Jewish state, Franks allowed the diatribe to continue uninterrupted.

Zomlot: “The first bird was the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution because there will not be an Israeli prime minister in the future who would negotiate a genuine peace if Netanyahu has just pocketed Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders, all the settlements and the Jordan Valley. And the second bird that President Trump killed today is [the] international system itself, is the post-Second World War order – rules-based order – that has been established exactly for that; to prevent the acquisition and annexation of territory by force.”

Obviously not perturbed by the dissonance of a representative of an entity which literally pays salaries to terrorists lecturing listeners about “international order” and having nothing to say about the Jordanian acquisition and annexation of territory by force upon which Palestinian claims are constructed, Franks continued to stay silent.

Zomlot: “And the third bird that was killed today is the hope that Israel will not fast walk into the apartheid – full-fledged apartheid. We believe today President Trump has given Israel the full green light to actually embrace a full-fledged apartheid of the occupied territories.”

With nothing to say about that propaganda smear either, Franks changed the subject.

Franks: “What do you make of the fact that the ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain and the UAE turned up to this event at the White House? Does it not suggest that perhaps you’re losing what was once the full square support of all Arab countries?”

Zomlot: “No we’re not and let me…let me hear the Omani or the Emirati or the Bahraini people saying that they are fine with Jerusalem not being under Palestinian sovereignty.”

Franks: “Well it suggests that their governments are fine with it.”

Zomlot: “No I don’t think so. And we…”

Franks: “Why do you think they turned up to the White House then?”

Zomlot: “Well this is their business. This is their business. But we know the official position of the Arab world, the official position of the governments and nothing has changed so far…”

Franks: “Well I wonder…I just…no but too significant. I just wonder if you are really that confident that you retain the…the undiluted support of all these governments and one wonders also about what will be the reaction from Saudi Arabia, for example.”

Zomlot: “We retain the support of the majority of the international community. We heard from the Arab summits all along the last few months and years and we heard from the Saudi king several times who actually named the last summit the summit of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not just a political issue. It also has to do with the identity, the history, the civilisation, the religion: all that we share with the Arab world and…”

Having apparently nothing to tell listeners about Jewish and Christian identity, history, civilisation and religion in Jerusalem, Franks went on:

Franks: “The Americans say that they will be offering parts of eastern Jerusalem, as they put it, as your capital.”

Zomlot the ‘diplomat’ replied:

Zomlot: “Who…who…an American president who is so arrogant and ignorant of the situation. He couldn’t even pronounce the word al Aqsa mosque; he didn’t know how to say it today in his speech and then he would draw the future of 13 million Palestinians without having one of the 13 million Palestinians in the audience of his ceremony to release his peace plan? I mean how more of a circus this could be?”

Franks again did not bother to inform listeners that there were no Palestinians in that audience because they refused to take part in the process before Zomlot went on to promote the false notion that Palestinians have settled for 22% of what is rightly ‘theirs’.

Zomlot: “We Palestinians have accepted the international compromise. We have accepted the logic of establishing a state on 22% of historic Palestine. We have recognised the State of Israel. But we will not accept our full giving up of our rights and our full submission and living second class citizens on our own land. I mean this is not a formula anybody would accept. Not the UK [laughs], not any other people, my friend. And we are not being difficult here. We are just being principled. We are being patient. We genuinely want to see a peace process that would deliver our rights and the rights of our neighbours and will have peace and security for all. But peace and security cannot be built on the skulls of an entire nation.”

With no effort made whatsoever to challenge that propaganda Franks closed the item, once again referring to a person being interviewed precisely because a Palestinian state does not exist as an ‘ambassador’.

Franks: “Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to London.”

As we see, Husam Zomlot appeared on no fewer that three BBC radio programmes on January 28th. In all three of those items remarkably little effort was made by BBC presenters to question the distortions, falsehoods and outright propaganda that he set out to peddle to audiences both in the UK and around the world. While it is no doubt extremely convenient for BBC producers to have such a wiling commentator on their doorstep, they have apparently not given much thought to the question of how the repeated airing of his unchallenged propaganda damages their obligations as set out in the BBC’s public purposes.

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BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

 

 

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

Over seven minutes of the January 29th edition of the half-hour Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ was given over to the topic of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which had been made public several hours previously.

The first item in the programme’s introduction was presented using the absurd but long-promoted BBC myth that the result of resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be “peace in the Middle East”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out his plan for peace in the Middle East which has immediately been embraced by the Israeli prime minister but rejected by Palestinian leaders.”

The same myth was repeated when the newsreader commenced that lead item (from 00:59 here).

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out what he has called the most detailed peace plan ever offered for the Middle East, saying it’s a win-win for both Israelis and Palestinians. He announced his plan at the White House alongside Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu but the Palestinians were not there as they had not been part of the process. Mr Trump’s proposal gives Israel sovereignty over all its settlements in the occupied West Bank while promising Palestinians statehood in the future if they meet certain conditions. Our Washington correspondent Aleem Maqbool has this report.”

Listeners were not told that the reason the Palestinians “had not been part of the process” was because they refused to take part. Neither were they given any clue as to what the “certain conditions” for Palestinian statehood (e.g. dismantling their system of salaries to terrorists and disarming Hamas) actually are

Aleem Maqbool began by repeating BBC framing seen in reports (see ‘related articles’ below) broadcast even before the US proposal had been revealed.

Maqbool: “At a raucous news conference at the White House standing beside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump launched a plan the like of which, he said, had never been seen before. [recording Trump speaking] But as soon as the details started to be revealed it was very clear the win is really Israel’s alone.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Trump saying “…Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided – very important – undivided capital”.  

Maqbool: “Something that would have surprised few but would have made Palestinian hearts sink all the same. They have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital. Under Donald Trump’s plan Israel would not even have to give up any Jewish settlements it illegally built on occupied land. But the knife for Palestinians was twisted further when the US president released a map of his vision for a future Palestinian state. Large swathes of the most fertile West Bank land annexed for Israel. Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access. The West Bank becoming in effect a cluster of tightly-controlled islands.”

Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggests to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His partial portrayal of “Jewish settlements…illegally built on occupied land” denies listeners information concerning alternative views of that topic. His reference to “the most fertile…land” dovetails perfectly with PLO descriptions of the Jordan Valley. But it is his reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” which – even taking into account Maqbool’s previously displayed lack of knowledge of the region’s geography – perhaps misleads listeners most. None of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

Listeners then heard a recording of President Trump describing a letter he had sent to the PA president explaining that “the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years. During this time Palestinians can use all appropriate deliberation to study the deal, negotiate with Israel, achieve the criteria for statehood and become a truly independent and wonderful state.”

Once again failing to explain to listeners that the decision not to be “at the negotiating table” was taken by the Palestinians themselves, Maqbool went on:

Maqbool: “Not how Mahmoud Abbas will see it. Of course Palestinians feared, given that only one side was at the negotiating table presided over by a historically partisan peace-broker, that the deal would be biased towards Israel. But some may have hoped for more concessions from the other side. Instead what they got was a clear US seal of approval for much that Israel has been trying to achieve. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who smiled and clapped through Donald Trump’s speech, could barely contain his pleasure when he spoke, saying the day was as historic as the one in 1948 on which US president Truman became the first world leader to recognise his country. [recording Netanyahu] The fear among some critics of this plan is that there is so little, if anything at all, that Palestinians can put their name to, that it could strengthen the hand of hard-liners in the region. Given the reaction already, Donald Trump’s so-called deal of the century is a pivotal moment but not one that brings Palestinians and Israelis together. Rather one that gives Israel the authorisation to continue and even broaden its occupation.”

Listeners were not informed exactly how Israel’s so-called “occupation” could be ‘broadened’ and neither were they told of the part of the plan which offers areas today under full Israeli sovereignty to a future Palestinian state.

Newsreader: “There were protests in Gaza and the West Bank with demonstrators burning posters of Donald Trump. In a televised speech the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the proposals were impossible to accept. [recording Abbas] The militant group Hamas which controls Gaza called Mr Trump’s announcement aggression and nonsense. Khalil al Hayya is one of the group’s leaders.”

Al Hayya voiceover: “We warn all countries of the world and all entities who cooperate with this deal because we reject it as a Palestinian people and we will resist this deal in all forms.”

Listeners then once again heard the inaccurate suggestion that a Palestinian state with “borders” had existed before 1967. They were not told that no “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” or that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

Newsreader: “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war. But Egypt urged both sides of the conflict to consider President Trump’s plan carefully, with a view to resuming negotiations and the former Middle east envoy Tony Blair said the Palestinians would be able to make progress if they engaged with the proposals. [recording Blair] With his thoughts on the deal, here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Bowen’s “thoughts” were of course exactly the same as those he had two hours earlier promoted on BBC television.

Bowen: “President Trump says he’s found a new way to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will get the security it needs, Palestinians will get the state they crave. So far so good. Except that the Trump plan gives Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanayhu all he wants and offers Palestinians very little. A sort of state that will be truncated without proper sovereignty, surrounded by Israel’s territory and threaded between Jewish settlements. Essentially the message to the Palestinians is take it or leave it. They’re being told to accept that Israel has won and – with its American friends – will shape the future. If Palestinians refuse, the message continues, Israel will still get what it wants and they will be even worse off.”

Listeners then heard Bowen’s partisan interpretations of UNSC resolution 242 and ‘international law’, although he predictably had nothing at all to say about the “inadmissibility” of Jordan’s capture and subsequent occupation of territory assigned to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people.  

Bowen: “The Trump document ignores UN resolution 242 that emphasizes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. It also sweeps aside international law saying that occupiers cannot settle their people on occupied land.”

Bowen closed – once again – with promotion of the view that the inevitable result of “anger, despair and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes to be non-actors devoid of agency is violence.

Bowen: “There is a chance Palestinians, whose leaders immediately rejected the plan, will be afflicted by more anger, despair and hopelessness. In a combustible part of the world, that is dangerous. The Trump plan is a gamble.”

Once again we see that – under Jeremy Bowen’s baton – BBC audiences were given an overwhelmingly one-sided view which promoted serious inaccuracies and deprived the corporation’s funding public of essential information necessary for them to make up their own minds about the US proposals.

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The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

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BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

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BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

As we saw earlier, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme supplied its listeners with preemptive framing of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which was based primarily on speculation and promoted the unchallenged talking points of the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, Husam Zomlot.

BBC World Service radio adopted a similar editorial line and the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on January 28th included an eleven-minute section (from 30:05 here) about a document that at the time of broadcast had not been made public which likewise provided Zomlot with a friendly platform.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item with the unsupported assertion that the US president “claims he is close to establishing it [peace] for good” and with amplification of the BBC Middle East editor’s speculations concerning the ‘weighting’ of the plan.  

Iqbal: “Peace in the Middle East has been as elusive as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the search for the Holy Grail. But President Trump claims he is close to establishing it for good. He is of course…he has of course always got a view and others are likely to contest it. Mr Trump is expected to announce his peace proposal later today, the groundwork having been done by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Although we don’t know exactly what’s in it, rumours and leaks suggest it is heavily weighted towards Israel in comparison to previous initiatives. The optics as he made the announcement about today’s impending announcement at the White House also offer a clue. Flanked by two Israeli politicians, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz: both invited to be briefed on the plan. […]”

Netanyahu and Gantz in fact met Trump separately and so the “optics” described by Iqbal are inaccurate. She went on to promote another talking point in the BBC’s cross-platform framing of the story:

Iqbal: “Some further political context for you: President Trump faces an impeachment trial of course and back in Israel president…err…prime minister Netanyahu has been formally indicted on three corruption cases. Far away from all of that Mr Netanyahu thanked President Trump for what he has done for Israel. […] Well we haven’t seen a full plan but according to Israeli media it could see the US formally back Israeli control of Jerusalem’s Old City which contains most of the city’s sensitive holy sites. The Old City lies in East Jerusalem, annexed decades ago by Israel in a move not internationally recognised, which Palestinians want as their future capital. Let’s speak first to Husam Zomlot who is the Palestinian ambassador to London. […] What do you know about what’s in this plan?”

As mentioned in relation to Zomlot’s earlier interview with the ‘Today’ programme, in 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Zomlot: “Like you we know nothing. Nobody knows anything except President Trump and the Israeli side, be it the prime minister Netanyahu or the head of the opposition and for that matter actually there are all the heads and the leaders of the illegal settler movement in the occupied territories joining the discussion in Washington.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the four local council heads who travelled to Washington did not ‘join’ the discussions with the US president or that – in stark contrast to the impression given by Zomlot –  some described themselves as “very troubled” by the plan.

Neither did she bother to challenge Zomlot’s subsequent baseless assertion that the publication of the plan would enable Trump and Netanyahu to “dodge charges”.

Zomlot: “So this is an Israeli-Israeli negotiation endorsed by President Trump and it’s really a sad piece of political circus. Really the political circus and you know the timing is very telling. This is not about peace. This is about dodging criminal charges against the two involved, Trump Netanyahu, given what is happening today in the Congress and what is happening today also in the Israeli Knesset. And they think that they can dodge all these charges and face the coming elections by actually pressuring the Palestinians to give up our rights.”

Iqbal: “OK, pressuring the Palestinians to give up your rights. Let’s just go back a little bit. When President Trump was first elected the relationship between the US president and the Palestinians was pretty good. In fact Mahmoud Abbas did meet with the president several times. Declaring Jerusalem the capital obviously shifted things. How much involvement has there been, if any, between the Palestinians and Jared Kushner?”

Zomlot: “As you said we started with a very good process. Our president Mahmoud Abbas met President Trump several times – four times in a few weeks actually – in 2017. We met the team of President Trump – Kushner and Greenblatt – more than thirty times and while we were at it I receive a phone call from the State Department because I was the head of Palestinian mission in Washington telling me that our mission in Washington is to be closed and shut us down, right at the height of the discussions. So right from the beginning this process was never about a deal or a plan or even peace or consulting the Palestinians. This whole thing was about bullying the Palestinians, coercing the Palestinian people into some sort of a submission. And today is just the theatre for that announcement of the final submission of the Palestinian people. Now…”

Iqbal made no attempt to question that blatant distortion of the reasons behind the closure of the PLO mission in Washington DC in 2018. She did however go on to amplify his narrative.

Iqbal [interrupts]: “And how will…how will, Ambassador, how will the Palestinians respond to this because everything you’re saying suggests that this is not a peace process, this is not a plan that will in any way benefit the Palestinians. How will you react?”

Zomlot: “Well first of all the first reaction must come from the international community because the two-state solution that is about to be dismantled, destroyed in a few hours’ time by President Trump and his ally Netanyahu, the two-state solution was and is an international demand – international consensus, including the United Kingdom by the way – and therefore what is at stake here is not just the rights of the Palestinians. We are capable to defend our rights. We are a very rooted society. We have been there for a long time. We have seen many empires come and go but we remain. What we are really concerned about is the ability of the international system, order, legitimacy to withstand this sheer onslaught on the very premise of internationalism, which is our cooperation, which is the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force and annexing territory by force.”

Razia Iqbal made no effort to remind listeners that when Jordan acquired the territory now claimed by the Palestinians by force, the PLO had no objections and that it specifically stated that it had no claims “over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or the Himmah Area”.

Neither did she challenge Zomlot’s cynical attempt to suggest equivalence – as he did earlier on Radio 4 – between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust.

Zomlot: “What we will witness in a couple of hours in Washington is the slaughtering of what we built together as a human family after the horrors of the Second World War including the horrors and the evil of the Holocaust that we remembered only yesterday, the 75 years of the Holocaust and the never again. And so we built together a system to protect us, all the humanity. What is at stake is that.”

Iqbal: “OK.”

Zomlot: “We Palestinians have a lot to do to make sure that our rights are not for sale and we remain on our land.”

Iqbal: “Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to London. Thank you for joining us.”

While Radio 4 listeners at least got to hear one Israeli voice (out of three) in the ‘Today’ programme’s preemptive framing of the US proposal, listeners to BBC World Service radio then heard yet another negative opinion from a “former negotiator” of failed peace plans, Aaron David Miller.

Clearly this long item was entirely one-sided and made no attempt whatsoever to provide ‘Newshour’ listeners around the world with the “range and depth of analysis” stipulated by the BBC’s public purposes.  

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BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

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BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Half a day before the launch of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan on January 28th, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired an edition which included several reports concerning a document which had at that stage not yet been made public.

Listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman (at 10:03 here), a news bulletin (at 2:02:46) during which Bateman told audiences that “the Palestinians say it [the US plan] would entrench apartheid” and another report by Bateman (at 2:48:40) based on vox pop interviews with people in Jerusalem.

The main item in that programme (from 2:10:04) included interviews with three people. Presenter Nick Robinson began by once again promoting the unsupported claim that the US administration calls the document ‘the deal of the century’ and adding another. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “It will be the deal of the century Donald Trump has long boasted; a plan which he’ll unveil today and which it’s claimed can produce what has eluded the world for decades – peace in the Middle East. It has though been drawn up without consultation with the Palestinians. The president of the Palestinian Authority has refused to even take a call from Donald Trump. That is in stark contrast to the presence at the White House yesterday of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.”

Listeners first heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who repeated a speculation he had already made on the same programme three days earlier, claiming that “the agenda followed by Israel’s prime minister Mr Netanyahu has very much been absorbed by the Trump plan”. Bowen’s talking points included the claim that the plan is unlikely to succeed “if the objective is to bring peace to the area” and promotion of the Palestinian narrative concerning the Oslo Accords, which of course do not mention the two-state solution at all.

Bowen: “Since Oslo in 1993 – the Oslo Agreements – the underlying principle under all the negotiations that have been taking place is the so-called two-state solution. An independent Palestine alongside Israel. But the indications are that Trump wants to change that and perhaps get to a point where they say to the Palestinians ‘look, you’re not going to get it. Accept it; take what we’re offering now, much less than what you hoped for’.”

Bowen went on to promote additional speculation concerning “the timing of this initiative” – speculations which were shown later in the item to dovetail with PLO talking points.

Bowen: “…they [Trump and Netanyahu] are both men who need something else going on […] I think that the message from Netanyahu is ‘look, you don’t want to see me in court or even in jail’.”

In fact, more or less as Bowen was promoting that hypothesis, Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.

Robinson’s next interviewee (from 2:13:12) was former national security advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yaakov Amidror and, refraining from reminding listeners that the US administration has been working on the plan for several years, he began by “putting to him the thought that this was really all about domestic politics” – a theory dismissed by Amidror.

Robinson went on:

Robinson: “…is what we call the two-state solution – the idea of a separate Palestinian state – is that going to be buried today?”

Amidror: “ As far as we know the deal includes an independent Palestinian state and if it will be adopted by the Israelis – by the Knesset or by the government – it will be the first time that formally Israel is adopting such [a] solution which was not mentioned in the Oslo Accords at all.”

Despite the BBC having repeatedly promoted the myth that the Oslo Accords were based on the concept of a two-state solution, Robinson showed no interest in expanding that point in order to enhance audience understanding and instead went on to ask whether “that state will be what they, the Palestinians, want as a state”.

Amidror: “No, it will not be the state that the Palestinians want. The state the Palestinians want does not include Israel at all. They want a Palestine all over from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River. As always the Palestinians say no before they know the details of the plan. Never in the history did the Palestinians agree to negotiate with the Israelis based on any offer by us or by the Americans.”

Robinson did not ensure that listeners heard any further detail on the obviously relevant topic of the Palestinian agenda.

The final interview in that item (from 2:17:24) was with a person Robinson had earlier described as “the Palestinian ambassador in this country”.

Robinson: “Listening there to that in the studio is the Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Ambassador Husam Zomlot joins us.”

In 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Despite the US plan not having been published at the time this interview was conducted, listeners nevertheless heard from Husam Zomlot (who, as readers may recall, gave a briefing to BBC journalists before the related 2019 economic workshop) that “this is neither a deal nor a plan and it definitely has nothing to do with peace”. Zomlot’s hyperbolic description of the US plan as “the scam of the century” and “fraud on every count” was not challenged by Robinson before Zomlot went on to inadvertently demonstrate the similarity of his talking points to those of the BBC’s Middle East editor.

Zomlot: “It’s fraud on every count as was alluded to by your correspondent Jeremy just now. Today the Israeli Knesset is discussing the criminal charges and the immunity. Today – is that a coincidence? The impeachment process and hearing also today and yesterday. Is that a coincidence?”

Zomlot later went on to state (as he has done in the past) that the two-state solution is a “concession”.

Zomlot: “It was actually a concession we made to accept international legality, international legitimacy that decided that the resolution of this will be on the basis of two-state solution on the 1967 borders, that Israel will end its occupation that began in 1967 and there will be a sovereign independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution to the issue of refugees.”

Robinson made no effort to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or to ensure that listeners understood the thinking behind Zomlot’s later declaration that the Palestinians will not “further compromise the 22% of Palestine”. He did however later tell listeners that “Trump and Netanyahu” are “obsessed with Hamas” because they “believe that Iran is the greatest threat on the planet, that Hamas is allied to them”.

Zomlot’s later attempt to create equivalence between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, did not prompt any challenge from Robinson.

Zomlot: “…it isn’t about Palestine now. It is about the premise and the heart of international order that was established by Europe, by the United Kingdom, by your legal brains. It’s about the horrors of the Second World War. Only yesterday we remembered the never again of what happened in the Second World War.”

While there is nothing remotely surprising about Zomlot’s talking points there is sadly also nothing surprising about Robinson’s failure to challenge them in a way which would help BBC audiences see past the propaganda and develop a more rounded view of the topic – a view which is likewise noticeably absent from the BBC Middle East editor’s analysis. As we see, half a day before the US administration had released its plan into the public domain, BBC Radio 4 had already framed the topic in overwhelmingly negative terms.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD Svante Cornell and Brenda Shaffer analyse ‘Selective Policies on Occupations, Protracted Conflicts, and Territorial Disputes’.

“Setting policies toward territories involved in protracted conflicts poses an ongoing challenge for governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since there are multiple zones of disputed territories and occupation around the globe, setting policy toward one conflict raises the question of whether similar policies will be enacted toward others. Where different policies are implemented, the question arises: On what principle or toward what goal are the differences based?

Recently, for example, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided goods entering the European Union that are produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be clearly designated as such. At the same time, however, neither the ECJ nor the European Union have enacted similar policies on goods from other zones of occupation, such as Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. The U.S. administration swiftly criticized the ECJ decision as discriminatory since it only applies to Israel. Yet, at the same time, U.S. customs policy on goods imports from other territories is also inconsistent: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has explicit guidelines that goods imported from the West Bank must be labelled as such, while goods that enter the United States from other occupied zones, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, encounter no customs interference.”

2) At the Tablet Liel Leibovitz gives his view of the US administration’s peace proposal.

“There’ll be time enough, in the days and weeks to come, to parse the fineries of President Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century. For now, though, one thing must be said: The plan introduces an element that’s been sorely missing from Washington’s approach to the Middle East for at least two decades—reality.

Talk to any of our best and brightest diplomats, analysts, and pundits, and you may be forgiven for thinking the region was reached not by plane but by wardrobe. Like a sandy Narnia, the land imagined in Foggy Bottom was one governed not by people and interests but by concepts and frameworks, best understood not by hitting the ground but by visiting the Council on Foreign Relations.”

3) The JCPA documents Iranian opposition to the US proposal.

“As expected, President Trump’s peace plan received widespread condemnation from official Iranian spokesmen as well as most media outlets in Iran. […] Iranian media emphatically broadcast the condemnations of the plan by the Palestinian organizations (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) and by the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hizbullah. The press called for a unified Muslim front against the plan.

Iranian leader Khamenei webpage presented an updated eight-minute video on January 29, 2020, describing all the “traitorous” peace treaties signed between Israel and the Arab states, including the Oslo Accords, Camp David (2000), the Arab Peace Initiative, and the “Deal of the Century.” At the end of the video, the Iranian solution is presented in which the Iranian leader stressed that the “military, political, ethical, and cultural activities must be continued in order to liberate Palestine until those who oppressed the Palestinians will agree to a Palestinian referendum.””

4) The ITIC provides a profile of the new leader of ISIS.

“British daily The Guardian has recently disclosed the identity of ISIS’s new leader who succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who died in a targeted killing by the United States on October 27, 2019). According to The Guardian, the new leader’s name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, and his codename is Haji Abdullah or Abdullah alQardash (The Guardian, January 20, 2020). The decision on the appointment of the new leader was taken by the Shura Council, ISIS’s supreme body authorized to take significant decisions of this kind. The change in leadership has so far passed quite smoothly. ISIS still refrains from revealing the name or the codename of the new leader, apparently due to security reasons, mentioning only the codename Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.”

 

 

 

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

Following on from Jeremy Bowen’s report on the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, viewers of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on January 28th were presented with a report by Orla Guerin which was introduced by presenter Huw Edwards as follows:

Edwards: “At least ten Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli forces amid protests against the plan that’s been unveiled in Washington. The demonstrations in the Israeli occupied West Bank came as the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that his response to the Trump deal was ‘a thousand times no’. Our international correspondent Orla Guerin has spent the day in the West Bank gauging Palestinian opinions on the plan.”

Edwards did not bother to clarify that those opinions were given – and formed – before the details of the plan had even been made public. Guerin began her report at a crossing between Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel.

Guerin: “Bethlehem before sunrise. Palestinians rushing to a day’s work in Israel; those lucky enough to have permits. Movement is tightly controlled. That’s life under Israeli occupation. And few here today were expecting a new dawn from the White House.”

“Luck” of course has nothing to do with those work permits. Security considerations and the applicant’s absence of links to terrorism do. Guerin of course made no effort to inform viewers that between 1967 and the year 2000 there were no restrictions on movement and that such measures were only introduced after the Palestinians chose to launch the terror war known as the second Intifada.

She went on with a vox pop interview:

Guerin: “Do you have any hope for the peace plan from Donald Trump? No, no, no says Ibrahim, a father of seven. They don’t want to give the Palestinians their rights. The plan has failed even before it’s announced. A view echoed over coffee in Ramallah. That’s an hour away – or triple that if there are delays at Israeli checkpoints. Here we met some of the Oslo generation; Palestinians who grew up with the peace accords signed in 1993. They say the Trump deal ends that era and it’s time for a new strategy.”

Guerin’s coffee shop interviewees are of course not random Palestinians but inadequately presented selected activists. The first of those – portrayed by the BBC as a “community organiser” is Fadi Quran who works as campaigns director for the political NGO Avaaz and is fond of using the baseless ‘apartheid’ smear.

Quran: “It finally spells the death of the peace process that many assumed would lead to a Palestinian state and instead opens the door for us as a new generation to begin building a type of resistance movement based on what Nelson Mandela did.”

Guerin: “So this is the end of the peace process as we know it?”

Quran: “This is the end of what I would call the illusion of a peace process.”

Guerin then turned to an interviewee presented as a “writer”. Mariam Barghouti has had articles published at anti-Israel outlets such as ‘Middle East Eye’, ‘Mondoweiss’ and ‘MEMO’. Erasing the fact that Ramallah has been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control since 1995, Guerin asked:

Guerin: “Do you think you think you will still be living under occupation in ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time?”

Barghouti: “Everything, all Israeli policies against Palestinians are happening at such a high speed that it’s terrifying to think of where we’re gonna be five years from now.”

Guerin: “And tonight on the streets of Ramallah, a vow to return to the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising. The crowd here was small; sand and fury perhaps but also weariness and resignation. Well, Palestinian leaders have called for more protests tomorrow at what they have dubbed the fraud of the century. They have few other cards to play.”

Obviously Guerin does not consider negotiation to be one of the “cards” available to the Palestinians. She closed her report with an anonymous quote.

Guerin: “America and Israel are now moving in lockstep and the deal unveiled today has sent a stark message to the Palestinians. In the words of one analyst it boils down to this: you’ve lost, get over it.”

That unnamed analyst is Robert Malley of the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG). At least we now know what genre of Middle East analysis Orla Guerin prefers.

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

A report by the BBC’s Middle East editor which was aired in the January 28th edition of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ just hours after the presentation of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan gives a good view of how the BBC has decided to frame that topic.

Presenter Huw Edwards’ introduction included the statement that “no Palestinian officials were involved” in the drafting of the plan but audiences were not informed of US efforts to get them onboard.

Interestingly, Edwards stepped a little outside the usual BBC framing according to which ‘the occupation’ is responsible for all the region’s ills with a mention of 1948 but quickly returned to the party line by claiming that efforts to secure an end to the conflict have been thwarted solely by the building of Israeli communities. Viewers of course heard nothing either from Edwards or from Jeremy Bowen about the Jordanian invasion and occupation of areas assigned to the creation of a Jewish homeland under the Mandate for Palestine.

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

Edwards: “Now President Trump has unveiled his plans for what he claims is a credible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, including a promise to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Mr Trump announced the proposals at the White House alongside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president said the deal would work but no Palestinian officials were involved and tonight they rejected the proposals as a conspiracy. Now at the heart of the conflict is a dispute over land, ever since the creation of the State of Israel back in 1948. The UN backs the creation of a separate Palestinian state but Israeli West Bank settlement on land captured back in 1967 has complicated that so-called two-state solution. Israel also captured the eastern half of Jerusalem which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Let’s go now to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for the latest in Washington.”

Jeremy Bowen began his report by showcasing the commentary of anonymous “critics” and gratuitous bandying about of the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Bowen: “President Trump says he has a whole new way of making peace after years of failed negotiations, giving Israel the security it deserves, giving Palestinians the state they crave. But critics of what he’s proposing have used words like coercion of the Palestinians to describe what he’s talking about and even the word apartheid. So, the stakes are high but the chances of things getting better are low.”

He then presented his framing of the proposal.

Bowen: “In the East Room of the White House it felt more like a party than a press conference. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated each other. Their entourages clapped and whooped. […] And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal. It almost exactly replicates Mr Netanyahu’s deepest beliefs about Israel’s security and its right to the land most of the rest of the world says is occupied Palestinian territory.” […]

Once again BBC viewers were not provided with any factual historical context concerning Israel’s “right to the land”. Bowen went on:

Bowen: “In Gaza tonight Palestinians demonstrated. Their side has been deeply divided. Opposition to the Trump document could finally unite them. The Palestinians were already boycotting the Trump administration because of its root and branch support for Israel. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t a party to the proposals and rejected them straight away.” […]

Yet again audiences were not informed that it was the Palestinians who chose not to be “a party to the proposals” or that Abbas’ rejection of the plan began long before its details were made public. Failing to provide any context to the Six Day War, Bowen attempted to frame the US proposal as being significantly different from previous ones but refrained from informing viewers of Palestinian rejection of all previous offers of statehood.

Bowen: “They’re arguing about land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. For a generation the international consensus has been that no peace is possible without a Palestinian state on the land, with a capital in Jerusalem. Today the land is sliced up by walls, wire and checkpoints. The Trump plan wants to throw out the old consensus, to offer a sort of state to the Palestinians if they agree to restrictions approved by Israel. And Israel has a chance to get bigger, with what looks like a green light to annex territory it wants, like here in the Jordan Valley.”

Making no effort to clarify that the US plan gives the Palestinians a chance to make the territory they control “bigger”, Bowen closed with cynical speculations concerning the timing of the publication of a plan which has been in the works for years and promotion of the orientalist view that the inevitable result of “frustration, anger and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes have no agency is violence.

Bowen: “The timing suits the two leaders: a distraction from elections and serious charges. High crimes and misdemeanors for Trump, bribery and corruption for Netanyahu. This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians. It could create a sense of frustration, anger and hopelessness which in such a combustible part of the world is dangerous.”

Clearly BBC One viewers were not provided with an objective or informative view of the US administration’s proposals in this report. That, however, was obviously not its objective. The BBC Middle East editor’s superficial framing of the topic can be summed up in two sentences from the beginning and the end of his report:

“And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal.”

“This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians.”

That, as far as Jeremy Bowen is concerned, is all BBC audiences need to know.

 

 

 

 

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”.

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