BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

Back in June BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of ‘The Media Show’ which is still available online and includes an item (from 00:46 here) which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“Saudi Arabia and her allies have demanded that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets as a condition of ending the crisis in the region. David Hearst is editor in chief of Middle East Eye. Crispin Blunt MP is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.”

Readers may recall that at the time a number of Arab states issued a list of demands (which was later modified) to Qatar that included:

“…stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. […]

…the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.

Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” 

The framing of the story by ‘The Media Show’, however, portrayed it solely as an issue of press freedom and made no effort to examine whether or not there was any substance to the Saudi claims concerning the named media organisations – including ‘The New Arab’, founded by Azmi Bishara  and Al Jazeera.

Presenter Amol Rajan – who is the BBC’s media editor – introduced the item as follows:

Rajan: “But first more on a story we’ve been covering on ‘The Media Show’. It’s the demand by Saudi Arabia that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets. Qatar is currently being isolated by its neighbours who claim the country supports terrorism. The closure of the Qatari funded TV network Al Jazeera is near the top of Saudi Arabia’s list of demands to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia says Al Jazeera is Qatari propaganda; a charge denied last week on this programme by Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera English.”

After listeners heard a recording of Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera English insisting that his outfit “cover[s] the world without favouring any point of view”, Rajan continued:

Rajan: “Since that interview we’ve learned that it’s not just Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia and her allies want shut down. In fact some of the media organisations on the list are based in the UK. One is ‘The New Arab’ and the other is ‘Middle East Eye’ whose editor in chief is David Hearst and he’s with me now.”

Listeners then heard former Guardian employee David Hearst – who never had much of a problem rubbing shoulders with Islamists – insist that “we’re totally independent of Qatar” before Rajan asked him “why have they targeted “Middle East Eye’?”.

Hearst: “Well one of the things that’s going on is…well the business model of ‘Middle East Eye’ is that we sell our journalism to people who translate it into Arabic and other languages. And these regimes, unfortunately, do not want their citizens learning about what’s going on.”

Rajan’s next question was “who funds ‘Middle East Eye?”.

Hearst: “So, we fund it ourselves. And we…ah…we sell our journalism to people who translate it. It’s not a big operation…it’s not some sort of shadowy organization. It’s twenty journalists in London. It’s a British-based company and it’s about 700 contributors. And it’s been growing because it is a space in which people can actually discuss real issues and we actually bite every hand. Actually if you look at our coverage…ah….we’re critical of the Qataris, we’ve had really good reports from Kurdish areas of Turkey so you can’t say we’re funded by the AKP.”

Rajan then asked Hearst whether “the Saudis basically contend that you are sort of essentially Qatari agents”. In his response Hearst raised the legitimate issue of state censorship of the media in many Arab countries while avoiding answering that question directly. When later asked if the Qatari government had ever asked him “to adjust an editorial line”, Hearst’s answer was negative.

Having introduced Crispin Blunt, Rajan stated:

Rajan: “It’s completely unacceptable, isn’t it, for another country to demand the closure of a UK-based news source.”

Later on Rajan asked Blunt “why is the house of Saud targeting media organisations?” with Blunt replying that he does not know but opining that Al Jazeera English’s editorial standards “look pretty similar to the BBC” and that the outlet “looks pretty impeccable”. Admitting that he knows “less” about Al Jazeera Arabic , Blunt went on to compare Qatari funding of Al Jazeera with BBC funding by British tax-payers via the licence fee, again claiming that Al Jazeera’s editorial standards are similar to those of the BBC.

Listeners subsequently heard Rajan assert that the Saudi demands would “make it even harder to cover the Middle East properly” and after Rajan portrayed Hearst as a champion of free speech, the latter replied:

Hearst: “…the people who want to close us down believe in sort of weaponisation of the media. They believe the media is an instrument and it is a lever – it doesn’t exist in its own right.”

Remarkably, Amol Rajan failed to make any effort to question Hearst on the issue of his own organisation’s use of the media as “an instrument”.

At no point in this item were listeners were told that the ‘Middle East Eye’ stable of contributors includes political activists infamous for their “weaponisation” of the media such as the occasional Guardian and BBC contributor Ben White, the anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein, the former ‘Russel Tribunal’ coordinator and Al Jazeera contributor Frank Barat, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Kamel Hawwash, ‘Palestine Chronicle’ founder Ramzi Baroud, the Palestinian Return Centre’s Sameh Habeeb who has been linked to Muslim Brotherhood campaigns and also produces the ‘Palestine Telegraph’ and even ‘CAGE’ activist Moazzam Begg and well-known Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi.

Neither did Amol Rajan ask Hearst why the ‘Middle East Eye’ website was originally registered by a person – Adlin Adnan – connected to the Hamas linked charity ‘Interpal‘ or who actually owns the company and why the only name on its official records is that of Jamal Awn Jamal Bessano – a Dutch national of Palestinian/Kuwaiti origin with previous links to both Al Jazeera and a Hamas TV station in Lebanon.

At no point did Rajan address the topic of the type of content produced by ‘Middle East Eye’ which includes sympathetic coverage of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood such as the following anodyne portrayal of Yusuf Qaradawi by David Hearst himself:

“Rival preachers are cast as terrorists – but not because their interpretation of Islam is more extreme. It’s their moderation the Saudi clerics fear.

One of the objects of Emirati (and Israeli) ire comes in the form of an eminent Muslim Brotherhood scholar, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who lives in Doha. Qaradawi is no social liberal. He is not about to embrace homosexuality or Western feminism. But it is not those qualities that have put him on the Saudi terror list.

In May 2008, Qaradawi issued a fatwa permitting the building of churches in Muslim countries. He said it is allowed in Islam and Muslims have to respect and protect them.”

As we see listeners to this edition of ‘The Media Show’ were told a story framed as an assault on media freedom that by no means provided them with the full range of information concerning either the issue itself or the media organisation that is its focus. David Hearst was at the time doing the rounds at various media outlets to present his side of the story and Amol Rajan’s softball interviewing refrained from making any real effort to challenge Hearst’s narrative.

Would BBC audiences have gone away with a better understanding of this story? Quite the opposite.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part one

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

Qatar’s expulsion of Hamas officials not newsworthy for the BBC

BBC Business airbrushes abuse of foreign workers in Qatar

Op-ed at UK site edited by former Guardian editor claims Israel intentionally murders children  (UK Media Watch) 

 

 

 

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MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

A journalist known for his promotion of the notion of a secretive ‘pro-Israel lobby’ allegedly influencing British politics who regularly writes for one media outlet linked to Hamas and participated in a Balfour Declaration/Israel bashing ‘conference’ organised by another outfit with Hamas connections might not seem like the ideal presenter for an item discussing the Balfour Declaration centenary aired by a broadcaster supposedly committed to ‘impartiality’.

Nevertheless, Peter Oborne did present the October 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Week in Westminster’ and that programme included (from 22:03 here) “reflections on the letter which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, 100 years ago”.

One of the other people ‘reflecting’ was MP Stephen Kinnock who last December accepted an award from the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ as thanks for his support during its campaign for UN accreditation. Mr Kinnock’s views on Israel have long been clear: shortly after the conflict of summer 2014, for example, he wrote the following:

“This devastating onslaught on Gaza has triggered yet another humanitarian crisis, and that’s what’s creating headlines in the here and now. But it is also possible that it has inflicted such damage on Gaza’s already crippled infrastructure that it will become an unliveable place well before 2020. You just can’t help wondering whether the Israeli government factored this into its calculations when it opted to launch such a wide-ranging attack on the Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]

Kinnock is also on record as an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign but Radio 4 listeners were not informed of that fact before they heard him promote it in this item – introduced by Peter Oborne as follows:

Oborne: “Parliament did note one other momentous event last week: the centenary of the famous letter from foreign secretary AJ Balfour in 1917 which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. A hundred years on and this declaration is as contentious as ever. Tory MP Robert Halfon and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock took part in this week’s debate and afterwards they came into the studio. How does Robert Halfon view the centenary?”

Halfon: “Well I thought it was an incredibly important moment in British history as well as in terms of the creation of the State of Israel. I thought it was another example of why Britain is a truly great country. The Jewish people should have a homeland and had a right to return to their homeland and it was an incredible moment both – as I say – in the history of the Jewish people but also in the history of our country.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Unsurprisingly, Kinnock’s response reflected PLO messaging on the topic of the Balfour Declaration – although in contrast to much other BBC coverage of the centenary (see ‘related articles’ below), listeners did at least get to hear an accurate portrayal of the text’s reference to “civil and religious rights”. However, Kinnock’s promotion of context-free, spurious and misleading linkage between the text of the Balfour Declaration and what he described as ‘violations’ – including the unsupported notion of ‘illegal’ trade – predictably went completely unchallenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Well, I think it’s very important as well to remember the crucial phrase in the Balfour Declaration: ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ and..err…I think the conclusion we have to draw is that that sentiment has simply not held and has been repeatedly violated by Israeli governments down the ages. We now see vast expansion of illegal settlements, violations of human rights, businesses trading illegally out of the occupied territories of the West Bank and all that is undermining peace and undermining security. We know that we can’t have one without the other so my intervention in the debate was very much in the hope that we could see a change in attitude and behaviour from the Israeli side, which I think is the key to any kind of forward progress in this.” [emphasis added]

Halfon: “It’s worth remembering that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East: one man one vote. There are Arab MPs in the Israeli Knesset. It’s worth remembering that it is a place of refuge, a place of scientific advancement. It’s been a place of tolerance; it’s one of the few places in the Middle East where gay people live normal lives…”

Oborne [interrupts]: “If you could try answering Mr Kinnock’s question that you haven’t yet addressed, which is the Balfour Declaration certainly achieved the Jewish homeland but what about the point about looking after the non-Jewish people – in the phrase of the Balfour Declaration – who were already there?”

Halfon: “If you originally remember, when Palestine, which had the British mandate, was carved up the vast majority of it became Jordan: 77% of it. The rest – smaller, much more small part of that; smaller than the size of Wales – was given to the Jewish people. The Arabs refused to accept that in 1948. We had the war in 1948, we had the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War. Israel has faced the threat of terrorism almost every day since its existence and despite that, is a democracy, has been prepared to make significant moves towards peace. It should be a place that should be celebrated and supported by the United Kingdom and anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Kinnock: “I think all the Palestinian people are asking for is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

Oborne: “Would you like a change in British government policy – a different kind of pressure on Israel if you come to power?”

Listeners then got to hear what may be a preview of the policy of a government under Mr Kinnock’s party. They were not however provided with any background information concerning the goals of the BDS campaign promoted by Kinnock and his factually baseless references to Judea & Samaria as “illegally occupied” were not challenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Yeah. I think what certainly one of the things we must do is contribute to the campaign for any business that is located in the illegally occupied West Bank to be sanctioned; that British companies should not do any trade with those businesses and this also means indirectly; through – for example – financial institutions. There’s quite a lot of British money going into financing a lot of commercial activity going on in the illegally occupied West Bank. So I think that would be a very good start.”

Halfon: “The settlement issue; all those things will come under a negotiation of a proper peace process but there should be a Palestinian state – something I believe in – but the Israelis are right to say we want a Palestinian state but we also need to be sure that we will be free from terrorism and attacks from Islamist groups, from Hamas and so on.”

Oborne: “Anyway, let me wrap things up, gentlemen, by drawing attention to the fact that the 2nd of November will be the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. I’ll ask each of you in turn whether you agree with the prime minister that this is a matter for celebration. Robert Halfon.”

Halfon: “Absolutely. I think it’s a very special moment that should be celebrated.”

Kinnock: “No. I think it’s a matter of regret because the phrase in there which is absolutely critical that the interests of non-Jewish communities will be protected has been violated countless times.”

No-one familiar with the views of Peter Oborne and Stephen Kinnock would have expected to hear an accurate and impartial discussion of either the Balfour Declaration centenary or Israel in this item. The problem, however, is that Radio 4 listeners were not made aware of the “particular viewpoint” of the contributors as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Related Articles:

The significance of the BBC’s promotion of Peter Oborne’s Brotherhood washing

BBC contributor on ME links up with UK Hamas supporters

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four