Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Among the topics (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’ was that of cuts in US aid to Palestinians – particularly via the UN agency UNRWA.

Nearly two weeks before any official US announcement was made the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was already framing the topic for listeners in an item that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”

January 3rd, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

“As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.”

On January 16th the BBC News website reported that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 16th, BBC News website:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background (see also here)

“While…relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO. […] Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.”

The next morning the top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 17th, ‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

The interviewees heard by listeners were as follows:

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

“The majority of the opinions heard…were strongly critical of the [US] decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. […] Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story.” 

The BBC News website published two additional reports on the same story:

January 17th & January 26th, BBC News website:

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

Four days later, an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

January 30th, BBC News website:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

“…just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA. […]  While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.”

In February UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was given a long slot on BBC WS radio.

February 19th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

“Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.”

In May BBC WS radio audiences heard Yolande Knell interview the Jordanian minister of information.

May 9th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.”

The following month listeners to the same programme heard Nada Tawfik promoting UNRWA PR.

June 13th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

“To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.”

In late August the BBC WS radio programme ‘Newshour’ once again presented preemptive framing of a US announcement that had not yet been made in a long item that included an interview with the Jordanian foreign minister.

August 30th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

“This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.”

The US announcement on August 31st was covered in a written report published on the same day in which readers saw quotes from the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness and the then PLO representative in Washington.

August 31st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

“Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.”

That report was replaced by another one the next day.

September 1st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

“…16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.”

Listeners to BBC WS radio on the same day also heard from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.  

September 1st, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

“…BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.”

Also in September an edition of a BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme included an item billed “where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration”.

September 23rd, ‘Sunday’, BBC Radio 4:

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

“Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.”

As the above examples show, the BBC’s coverage of this story was both generous and blatantly one-sided. While repeatedly providing platforms for UNRWA officials and supporters, the corporation made no effort to explain the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that are the context to the story.

In other words, the BBC’s approach to this story, which ran for much of 2018, was to self-conscript to a political campaign rather than to provide audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to reach their own informed opinions on the topic.

Related Articles:

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

 

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Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

Both before and after the US administration announced on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the BBC produced numerous reports on that story (see some in ‘related articles’ below), many of which included promotion of the UN agency’s PR messaging.

However, none of those reports provided the BBC’s funding public with background information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

On June 13th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ returned to that topic with a report by BBC North America’s New York and UN reporter Nada Tawfik that made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with a balanced view of the story and was in fact little more than an exercise in free PR for UNRWA and its spin-off non-profit organisation.

Presenter James Menendez began (from 38:10 here) with context-free presentation of a biased UN GA resolution – proposed by Algeria and Turkey – that made no mention of Hamas terrorism. He continued with an equally partisan portrayal of the violent rioting and attacks on the Gaza border since March 30th, failing to inform listeners that over 80% of those killed have been linked to terror groups.

Menendez then promoted the inaccurate claim that Gaza’s chronic electricity problems are the result of “years of conflict” when in fact – as the BBC well knows – they are entirely rooted in inter-factional Palestinian rivalries. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menedez: “Now the UN General Assembly is expected to hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza later today and vote on a resolution calling for better protection for the 2 million Palestinians who live there. That’s after last month’s clashes with Israeli forces which left a hundred people dead and many more injured. Years of conflict have left Gaza in ruins. Infrastructure’s crumbling, the economy’s paralysed and basic supplies such as electricity are in crisis. Despite this the United States has cut off vital funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees: UNRWA. But as Nada Tawfik reports, across the US American citizens are now filling the void.”

Listeners then heard a recording from an event that took place on June 5th in New York – which Tawfik apparently attended – in which once again the topic of electricity was raised without BBC audiences being given any factual background information on that issue.  

Woman’s voice: “The lights go out like this all the time. Electricity is scarce here. Many times we eat in complete darkness just like we’re doing right now.”

Tawfik: “To imagine the life of Palestinian refugees in Gaza the lights are turned down and just one lantern shines at Casa la Femme restaurant in New York. In the dim room those picked out from the crowd of 200 read out powerful accounts from refugees.”

Woman’s voice: “My husband, our two small children and I live in one room together. The bathroom serves as the toilet, the shower, the sink for bathing, cleaning and even cooking.”

Tawfik: “This iftar, or meal, is just one of 50 dinners being held across the country by the charity UNRWA-USA during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to feed refugee families in Gaza. And it comes at a critical time; just as a key life-line for these refugees is under threat.”

Man’s voice: “We could run out of money for that food in Gaza in one month.”

Tawfik: “Peter Mulrean is the New York director of UNRWA – the UN’s relief and works agency for Palestinian refugees. It provides critical services such as food, health care and education. He says the agency now faces an existential crisis after the United States – its top donor – suddenly withheld $300 million in funds. I asked if he was concerned that this decision by the Trump administration was politically motivated.”

Notably, Tawfik’s presentation of the figure $300 million is based on what the UN claimed it was expecting the US contribution to be rather than the sum actually withheld.

Listeners then heard Peter Mulrean – a representative of a blatantly politicised campaigning UN agency – opine on “neutrality”.

Mulrean: “We’re very concerned about the fact that that appears to be the case. One of the clear humanitarian principles is the question of neutrality: that you base your decisions on humanitarian assistance solely on the need of those who are out there. And if that’s not the case, then this is a terrible precedent that the US is setting. A country that used to be one of the leaders of humanitarian policy turning in a different direction.”

Tawfik: “That was also a worry of many others in attendance such as Abigail Metzger and Megan Burn [phonetic] who do not agree with their government’s decision.”

Tawfik did not clarify whether or not the Abigail Metzger whose opinions she chose to promote is the Pax Christi member of the same name.

Woman 1: “It is just unbelievable that our government would…would even think to renege on a commitment. I feel like we have been, you know, told that we have to make a choice and we don’t have to make a choice. We can support the Palestinian struggle without abandoning our alliance and full support of Israel.”

Woman 2: “Especially in the current political climate people get very ensconced in their own biases and sort of forget to think about the day-to-day lives of human beings.”

Woman’s voice: “Just $150 can feed a refugee family of six for an entire summer.”

Tawfik: “This one iftar will raise $50,000 for UNRWA’s food assistance programme and a global fundraising campaign has brought in new funding. Still, it’s unlikely that the agency will be able to overcome its current deficit without the United States. In the long term though, UNRWA hopes these events and crowdfunding will help field financial and public support and that’s something Abby Smardon who is the executive director of the charity UNRWA-USA says she’s already seeing.”

Listeners heard nothing of that UNRWA spin-off charity’s political agenda (and record) before Smardon was given the unchallenged stage.

Smardon: “Now with things like social media and having the ability to actually see the situation in real time with a more unfiltered view, people are starting across the United States to see this issue very differently than they once did and they’re starting to understand that Palestine and support of Palestinian refugees is a social justice issue and so I can tell you that, you know, countless new supporters that we have that have no personal connection to the issue of Palestine or Palestinian refugees but they care about social justice and they care about human rights.”

Having carefully avoided inconvenient topics such as Hamas and its terrorism all the way through her report, Tawfik closed the item by erasing the Gaza blockade imposed by Egypt because of that terrorism from audience view. 

Tawfik: “The people of Gaza have endured multiple conflicts and an eleven-year blockade by Israel. The risk is that the US decision will only add to their misery.”

To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.

Obviously though, this blatantly one-sided and context-free item (which was repeated in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – from 39:44 here) was not intended to meet the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding. Rather, it was just yet another blatantly transparent exercise in the provision of free PR to UNRWA.

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

 

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part three

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In part two we discussed BBC World Service radio’s reporting of that story and in this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC Radio 4, beginning with a programme aired before the vote took place. 

1) ‘PM‘, BBC Radio 4, 21/12/17, presented by Eddie Mair, from 05:22 here.

Mair: “During the campaign that got him elected president, Donald Trump said he wanted to stop sending aid to ‘countries that hate us’. Now he seems close to putting that idea into practice. The catalyst was his announcement that the US would relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Today the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote on a resolution that expresses great regret about the decision and urges other countries not to follow America’s decision to relocate. In advance of the debate the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned that the US would take note of countries which voted against America.”

Mair then quoted statements made by Haley and listeners heard a recording of the US president speaking on the same topic before a rather confused Nada Tawfik was brought in to report from the UN.

Tawfik: “This has been a week of high stakes diplomacy on the issue of Jerusalem. It began on Monday when the United States vetoed a draft Security Council resolution that essentially called on President Trump to reverse his decision and to…reverse his decision to move the capital of Israel…ah…to recognise Israel as the…Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to move the American embassy there. Arab and Muslim countries immediately requested an emergency session of the General Assembly to protest the veto and to put forward another resolution for all 103 [sic – 193] members of the General Assembly to vote on. President Trump and Ambassador Haley have tried to use American muscle rather than diplomacy to convince countries to vote their way.”

Tawfik also told listeners that:

“Here [at the UN], diplomats say […] that it’s clear that the US decision goes against international law and therefore countries should stand up at the UN General Assembly.”

Which countries those unidentified quoted diplomats represent was not revealed by Tawfik but nevertheless, she chose to unquestioningly promote the inaccurate notion that the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “goes against international law”.

In the same item listeners heard the recordings of the statements made by Nikki Haley and the Turkish foreign minister previously aired on BBC World Service programmes as well as a recording of Israel’s ambassador speaking at the UN GA. The item also included an interview with “an expert on international aid” – Cindy Wang – described as having worked at the US State Department under the previous US administration.

Radio 4 also covered the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

2) ‘The World Tonight’, BBC Radio 4, 21/12/17, presented by Shaun Ley, from 07:30 here.

Ley: “For Christians, Jews and Muslims alike it is a city of deep religious significance. Richard the Lionheart – England’s crusader king – dreamt of liberating Jerusalem during the Crusade but died without achieving his ambition. Palestinians maintain that East Jerusalem should be the capital of the State of Palestine, if such a state ever comes into existence. Israel – the Jewish state – has proclaimed that Jerusalem is its capital: a status not recognised by most of the nations of the world. So this result – today’s vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations – will have come as no surprise to the White House.”

Listeners heard the previously used recording of part of statements made by the US ambassador to the UN followed by the recording of remarks from the Turkish foreign minister also previously aired on other programmes which was introduced by Ley as follows:

Ley: “Turkey, traditionally a US ally, was one of the prime movers behind today’s motion. The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hit out against threats from President Trump to punish countries that support the resolution.”

In addition, listeners heard the first segment of the interview with the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the UN broadcast on ‘Newshour’ on the BBC World Service.

Ley then introduced his first guest.

Ley: “Well this evening Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has Tweeted that as a result of the overwhelming vote he expects President Trump to rescind what he called his unfortunate decision. Gulnur Aybet is professor of international relations at Yildiz Technical University – a senior advisor to the [Turkish] president. […] Your president says he expects it to be rescinded but in the end, today’s vote was a symbolic one: the motion has no authority to cause the Americans to change their policy. All it seems to do is sour relations with the US but actually change nothing.”

Aybet: “Well actually I mean the General Assembly vote is non-binding but at the same time, when you look at this it’s an overwhelming majority of various states from very different backgrounds. So you’ve got the entire Muslim states of the UN there. You’ve got the major economies of the world there and all the other permanent members of the UN Security Council. Now it’s really the first time that such a diverse range of states – and some very powerful ones – have actually taken a decision in an international institution against the United States in such an overwhelming way. I think it’s more than symbolic in the way that it challenges the US’ presence on the world arena.”

In response to Ley’s assertion that the UNGA vote “is endorsing a position the UN has had for 70 years” and that the motion will “simply add to the conflict”, Aybet responded as follows:

Aybet: “No, but what the American decision, taken by the Trump administration, is actually a violation of international law. And you mentioned that, you know, this is the status quo that’s happened and the United Nations in various resolutions – Security Council – has called these lands, including East Jerusalem, as occupied territories and required a respect for the special status of Jerusalem. So on one side there’s the international law which, you know, is there – you can’t deny that – and the United States has actually broken with that by making this decision – and which is why there is such an overwhelming response to it – but it’s also pitted the entire Muslim world against it and President Erdogan said this was an absolute red line and that’s precisely why Turkey as the chair of the OIC – the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation…”

Ley: [interrupts] “Pushed very hard to get this motion….”

Aybet: “Well they actually, Turkey…”

Ley: “Lobbied for it, encouraged it.”

Aybet: “…convened an emergency summit of the OIC. And it was the resolution that came out of that summit that laid the basis for this resolution.”

In response to Ley pointing out that both the US president and the US ambassador to the UN had clarified that the US announcement “does not preclude anything that might come out of peace talks”, the Turkish president’s advisor once again made inaccurate – but unchallenged – claims concerning the US announcement and international law.

Aybet:”How can you have a peace process when this decision violates international law on which the peace process is based and the two-state solution which is what the two…what the peace process is all about and the entire [sic] international community which have voted against this decision respects? And how can you have a peace process when you’ve pitted the entire Muslim world against this decision as well, you know?”

While Ley made no attempt to relieve listeners of the erroneous impression promoted by Aybet according to which the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital breaches international law, he did allow her the time to praise her employer’s “leadership […] that will not be forgotten”.

Ley’s second interviewee on the topic was retired US general and former vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane. During that conversation, Ley referred to Nikki Haley’s statement at the UN GA as “kind of almost cash for votes” and “tawdry”.

Like BBC World Service radio, Radio 4 focused extensively on what it chose to portray as “threats” made by the US Administration prior to the UN GA vote and failed to provide audiences with relevant context and historical background to the story. However, as we see, listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard inaccurate claims concerning ‘international law’ and the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in both these programmes.

All the relevant UN Security Council resolutions are non-binding (Chapter VI) and do not create any legal obligations. Neither do they relate to announcements concerning Jerusalem.  

Clearly BBC Radio 4 listeners were materially misled on this issue and corrections are in order.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part one

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC World Service radio, beginning with programmes aired before the vote took place.

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

1) ‘OS‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Nuala McGovern, from 00:30 here.

McGovern: “You may have heard me say at the very top of the hour about the United Nations; that they’re preparing to vote on a resolution that would condemn president…US President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, she’s just been speaking.”

Listeners then heard a segment from the US ambassador’s speech which would be repeated in additional BBC radio items relating to the same story.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.

But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered. Thank you.”

McGovern then brought in the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, adding her own editorialised comments. 

McGovern: “Ahm…very strong words. I was struck by them listening to Nikki Haley. She is not prepared to apologise in any way obviously for the embassy moving but also seems to be standing firm as in there will be consequences to this vote.”

During the conversation with Zurcher, listeners heard a recording of statements made by the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the UN which were also repeated in other programmes.

Cavusoglu: “Before this meeting a UN member state threatened all the other members. We were all asked to vote no or face the consequences. Some are even threatened with the development aid cut. Such an attitude is unacceptable. This is bullying and this chamber will not fall to do that. It is unethical to think that the words and dignity of member states are for sale. Let me put it this way: we will not be intimidated. You can be strong but this doesn’t make you right.”

Later on in the same programme, listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Sally Nabil at the UN.

2) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Julian Marshall, from 33:04 here.

Marshall: “Members of the UN General Assembly have been threatened by the Trump administration ahead of a vote later today on US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Monday the United States vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the US to withdraw its recognition. That same resolution will now go before the UN General Assembly and ahead of the vote President Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that go against the US.”

Marshall later brought in the BBC’s Nada Tawfik who told listeners that “when you speak to member states they do expect about 180 countries possibly out of 193 at the UN General Assembly to support this”. When the vote later took place, fifty-two fewer countries supported the resolution than predicted by Tawfik.

The item also included an interestingly timed report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 37:31) concerning evangelical Christian groups from the US touring Israel, with Bateman claiming that members of such groups had voted for Trump in huge numbers and were one of the reasons – together with “support from Jewish donors in the US” – for the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC World Service also aired an item on the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

3) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Tim Franks, from 35:58 here.

Franks: “Not all votes at the United Nations are equal. Ones emanating from the UN General Assembly are non-binding but the effects of today’s vote in the assembly could, at least according to President Trump, be long-lasting. He’s warned that the US will remember those countries which voted for the resolution overwhelmingly passed today. The resolution calls on the US to withdraw its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr Trump said that the list of yea-sayers would be recounted next time they come asking for aid or help from Washington.”

Listeners then heard the same recording of the Turkish foreign minister’s statements aired in other programmes as well as part of the statement made by the US ambassador to the UN GA.

Franks next interviewed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi and began by asking him if he was “concerned about that threat from Nikki Haley and indeed from President Trump”.

Al Mouallimi: “Yes I do hope that this vote will be remembered by the United States because it is a vote in which the entire [sic] international community is making the point that the move taken by the United States is not within its right and it’s not appropriate and should not have been made – certainly not at this time and not outside the parameters of an agreed solution to the situation.”

Franks later asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador what he thought about the statement made by Nikki Haley according to which – in Franks’ own words – “the UN seems to have a particular thing about Israel and a particular thing about Jerusalem and its business is skewed towards taking what they hope are free hits against Israel and against Jerusalem”. Audiences heard the following unchallenged response.

Al Mouallimi: “Well the United Nations should have a special thing about Israel because Israel is an occupying power. It continues to occupy the Palestinian land for now more than 50 years. It continues to deny the Palestinians the right for self-determination. It continues to claim Jerusalem as its own capital without regard to the interests of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the city and in the area.”

As we see, the BBC World Service was far more preoccupied with informing audiences about what it portrayed as “threats” issued by the United States than it was with providing them with the context to this UN GA resolution and vote. Notably, with the exception of the recording of Nikki Haley speaking at the General Assembly, listeners did not hear the views of either American or Israeli officials on the story. 

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part one

The session concerning the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city that was held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st was the subject of several articles published on the BBC News website.

The day before the meeting took place – December 20th – an article headlined “UN Jerusalem vote: US ‘will be taking names’” which was previously discussed here appeared on the BBC News website.

An additional article published on the same day ran under the headline “Jerusalem UN vote: Trump threatens US aid recipients” and like the day’s earlier report, it too promoted the partisan map of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem that has been regularly featured in past BBC content and – inter alia – portrays the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as an ‘Israeli settlement’. The article also included the exact same copy/paste context-lite background concerning Jerusalem seen in previous reports. 

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

 The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Following the UN GA vote on December 21st, the BBC News website published an article titled “Jerusalem: UN resolution rejects Trump’s declaration” which was amended numerous times. That article too included the exact same ‘background’ concerning Jerusalem and the partisan B’tselem map. Readers were provided with a break-down of the results.

“The non-binding resolution was approved by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine others voting against.”

Later on readers were also told that:

“There were 21 countries who did not turn up for the vote.”

Despite 63 nations (33.7% of the total) not having voted in favour of the resolution, the apparently mathematically challenged BBC Breaking News Twitter account declared that “three quarters” of the 193 UN members had voted for the resolution.

On December 22nd the BBC News website published a ‘guide’ titled “How did your country vote on the Jerusalem resolution?” and on December 23rd an article by Nada Tawfik was published under the title “US plays hardball at UN over Jerusalem vote“.

In that article Tawfik portrayed the chronic anti-Israel bias at the UN as a ‘claim’ made by the current US administration.

What a difference a year, and a new administration, makes. When the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made her debut at the UN headquarters in New York, she warned: “For those who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names.”

The new Trump administration came in openly hostile toward the international body for being, it claimed, biased against Israel.”

Tawfik’s article also promoted a quote concerning international law that is liable to mislead audiences.

“French ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution adopted “only confirms relevant international law and provisions on Jerusalem. This vote must not divide or exclude”.”

In summary, the BBC News website published five articles pertaining to the December 21st UN GA vote, three of which included inadequate historic background and promoted a partisan map produced by a political NGO. The additional two articles did not provide any information whatsoever that would enhance audience understanding of the background to the story.

Once again we see that the BBC’s coverage of the topic of Jerusalem is focused on promoting a specific political narrative rather than on providing audiences with the full range of information and opinions needed for them to make up their own minds on the subject.  

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BBC News still promoting information on Jerusalem from partisan NGOs