BBC’s Bateman recycles the ‘cultural censorship’ theme

There is nothing remotely novel about the BBC telling its audiences dark (but inaccurate) tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

On December 4th the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman returned to that theme with a report (another version of which was also promoted by Bateman on Twitter) aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev is taking on the Israeli arts world, accusing some of pursuing anti-Israel narratives in state funded works or even of glorifying terrorism. So what happens when the state takes on the often subversive world of art? The story recently reached its [unintelligible] over the fate of the government bill that would see such productions defunded. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Failing to correctly pronounce the name of the theatre at which he recorded the piano music listeners heard at the beginning of his report, Bateman began:

Bateman: “Soothing tones in Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theatre but they barely muffle the battle cries close by. This stage is on the front line in Israel’s culture wars – or as some here would have it, the war on culture waged by the government. The target of opprobrium for the actors is Miri Regev; Israel’s combative culture minister.”

Following a recording of an excerpt from a play, Bateman went on to refer to “Israel’s so-called cultural loyalty bill”, asserting that:

Bateman: “The planned law has been a flagship for the former military censor turned minister of culture, Miri Regev.”

He continued:

Bateman: “This scrap between politicians and performers has tugged at old tensions in Israel over free expression against the demands of national security, over the nationalism of the right versus claims of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority – all in a bill that would allow the culture minister to strip public funds from works seen as inciting violence or insulting the symbols of the state.”

So is Bateman’s portrayal of the bill accurate? At no point in this report did he bother to tell BBC audiences that the bill is actually a proposed amendment to existing legislation – the Culture and Arts Law of 2002.

The proposal is an addition to that law which would allow the minister of culture and sport to reduce or cut state funding to a body which engaged in any of five activities which are already defined in an existing law passed in 1985 when the prime minister of Israel was (the hardly ‘right-wing’) Shimon Peres.

Clause 3b of the Budget Principles Law already allows the minister of finance (after consultation with the appropriate minister, legal advisors and after hearing the relevant body) to reduce or cut state funding to bodies which act “against the state’s principles”.  The actions which would justify such a decision include negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting racism, violence and terror, supporting armed conflict or terror acts against the State of Israel by an enemy country or a terrorist organisation, presenting Israel’s Independence Day or day of founding as a day of mourning and acts of vandalism or physical debasement which harm the honour of the country’s flag or state symbols.

The bill proposed by Minister Regev states that any cultural body has the right to choose to engage in any of the above activities – i.e. freedom of expression – but that the minister of culture and sport would have the authority to decide that the state would not fund such activity.

Tom Bateman, however, continued his tale of supposed cultural censorship.

Bateman: “A play at the Tmuna Theatre has been in the culture minister’s sights. She demanded it pull the production about the Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour who was jailed earlier this year for inciting violence and supporting a terrorist organisation. Tatour’s defence team said at the time her trial amounted to the criminalisation of poetry. The play’s writer, Einat Weitzman, accuses the minister of curbing the artistic freedom to portray a complex national history.”

After listeners have heard from Weitzman, Bateman continues with his caricature of the proposed bill.

Bateman: “But why, asks the culture minister, should arts elites and the left-wing get public money for siding with what she sees as an anti-Israel narrative? Self-flagellation she calls it.”

While Bateman did not include any response from the culture minister herself or her office in this report, he did – like his Middle East editor before him – go to the trouble of interviewing a junior MK with no direct connection to the story – Oren Hazan – before presenting a his version of a story from 2016.

Bateman: “Artists have protested, finding ever more curious ways to satirise the culture minister’s dislike of funding anything that insults the symbols of the state. A performer called Ariel Bronz took to the stage after Miri Regev gave a speech two years ago and bared his backside, into which he inserted an Israeli flag.”

The account given by the Ha’aretz newspaper – which organised that event – is somewhat different.

“At the beginning of the conference, which was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Bronz performed a selection from his show “Love the Juice,” which is being staged at the Klipa Theater and shows the “upheaval” his alter ego undergoes – from an enthusiastic left-wing activist to proud Zionist who decides to act to bring Jews to Israel.

The scene, during which Bronz stripped and was left wearing only a short pink skirt, aroused fury among some guests who started booing him. At one point, he pelted them with oranges that he had squeezed as part of the act. Chaos erupted and there were calls to remove him from the stage. Later, he was asked to conclude the scene but he claimed the amount of time allotted to him was not over and insisted on remaining onstage.

Bronz then began waving a small flag and, according to him, then spontaneously inserted it into his backside in front of the audience. In the end, security guards came and ushered him from the stage.”

Only at the end of his almost five-minute-long report did Bateman (using typically contorted metaphors) bother to mention that the proposed bill which is the subject of his report is actually no longer news.

Bateman: “The bill though has been sinking amid the waves of political crisis crashing around Israel’s coalition government. At a heated press conference last week Miri Regev accused fellow ministers prepared to derail it of giving state cash to what she called terrorists and Jew-haters. She postponed a vote on the bill and its future is now uncertain. Loyalty, it seemed, was not forthcoming from some fellow ministers – let alone from the rebellious world of art.”

The postponement of voting on the bill took place on November 26th. Nevertheless, nine days later the BBC found it appropriate to promote a tale of a “war on culture”, “nationalism of the right” and “curbing artistic freedom” while airbrushing many of the details necessary for audience understanding of the complete story.

Related Articles:

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

BBC double standards in reporting social media incitement evident again

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

 

 

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Omission and agitprop on BBC R4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’

h/t BF

The September 22nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour‘ included an interview with an Israeli-Arab film director who was also featured in an article that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page between September 3rd and 21st inclusive.

“‘In Between’ tells the story of three young Arab women living together in Tel Aviv, Israel. Away from the constraints of their families, they find themselves caught in between the free lives they want to lead and the restrictions still imposed on them. The first major film by Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud has been praised by international critics but also caused controversy, Maysaloun has had a fatwa issued against her. She joins Jenni to discuss.”

During the interview (from 24:20 here) listeners heard two further references to that ‘fatwa’ from presenter Jenni Murray.

25:07: “The writer and director Maysaloun Hamoud had a religious fatwa issued against her.”

31:03: “Now the film, we know, has attracted controversy about its theme. A fatwa was issued and I know there’ve been death threats. What impact is that having on you?”

At no point were the programme’s British listeners informed what a ‘fatwa’ is, who issued the one concerned or what was demanded by the film’s opponents – as explained by Ynet:

“Upon its release, it [the film] was heavily criticized in Umm al-Fahm, including by the city’s mayor.

Located in northern Israel, Umm al-Fahm is one of the country’s largest Arab cities with around 50,000 residents and serves as a stronghold for the Islamic Movement. The film was banned from screening in the city.

Right after the film was first screened in Israel, the mayor of Umm al-Fahm Sheikh Khaled Hamdan called Hamoud a heretic during a speech delivered in a mosque in January. Soon after, the Higher Islamic Council issued a fatwa, a religious Islamic ruling that determined that Hamoud was harming Islam and that the film was sinful. […]

The Umm al-Fahm city hall also sought a countrywide ban on In Between, and wrote a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Culture demanding that the film be removed from all Israeli theaters, describing it “offensive to the religion of Islam and to the residents of Umm al-Fahm in particular.””

Similarly, when Jenni Murray asked Hamoud about criticism of the source of funding for the film by “some people”, listeners were not told that the criticism came from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign or that the film fund in question is financed by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport.

29:45 Murray: “Now I know you were funded from Israeli film funds. Why were some people critical of that?”

Murray made no effort to question or clarify the claims of ‘discrimination’ and ‘tenth class citizen’ included in Hamoud’s response.

Hamoud: “I also ask why some people critical on that when they don’t remember [an] important thing: that I am a Palestinian [but] in the same time I am a Israeli citizen. I pay taxes, I have all my duties to the state that I deserve to get back – OK – as a citizen. But because I am a Palestinian citizen, so I am not second, even third or – I don’t know – tenth citizen class for the Israeli and we are discriminated [against] so we don’t really get our budgets that we deserve so I need to take not just that money that I took for my movie. I need – we as Palestinian artists, filmmakers or not just filmmakers – need to get our what we deserve so I see all the people who criticize this as really non-connected to reality.”

Neither did Murray bother to provide listeners with relevant information which would help them put Hamoud’s politicised portrayal of ‘history’ into its appropriate perspective.

28:33 Hamoud: “The Palestinian cinema is still so young. We cannot actually forget that we as a Palestinian had a very big, big, dramatic point in our history – it called the Naqba, OK – ’48 in creating of Israel. And let me say [it] smashed all the Palestinian society so after that dramatic historical – crucial, actually – point you start to build society from zero, from scratches [scratch], and not just in the culture aspect: in everything.”

In other words, while listeners to this item did not get a proper explanation of the religious and political sources of opposition to the film and its funding, they did hear completely unchallenged, one-sided, politicised portrayals of Israeli society and history that have considerably less relevance to the topic of discussion. 

 

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

h/t JS

For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.

On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.

The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:

“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.” 

Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.

A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:

“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”

Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.

While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.

Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.

“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]

Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.

The antagonist in Fessy’s story is very clearly the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev. Although at no point do viewers get to hear a response from her or her office, Fessy tells them that:

“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”

Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:

“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]

Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.

“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”

Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.

“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, however, that political tour was in fact initiated by the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.

Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”

Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist.