BBC audiences materially misled by inaccurate claims from ‘Hardtalk’ host

Earlier this month we noted that the BBC had ignored a protest march organised by teenagers living in communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

“Since the BBC began reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting over seven months ago, BBC audiences have seen the grand total of one minute and twenty seconds of coverage reflecting the point of view of residents of the Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip-Israel border who are affected by the violence.”

That particular protest did eventually get a very brief mention in one radio programme over a week later but BBC audiences have heard nothing of the many additional protests organised by those affected by terrorism from the Gaza Strip, both before and after the last serious incident in mid-November.

“Residents of the Gaza border and their supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday night [August 18th 2018 – Ed.], demanding the government to “restore the sense of security.”

The protesters called out “We’re not cannon fodder” and “Bibi, Bibi, wake up, the south is burning”—referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

They carried signs saying: “The south is on fire” and “We’re tired of burned fields and weeping children.””

And:

“Hundreds of residents from southern communities, which were battered by recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday [November 15th, 2018 – Ed.] against a truce reached with the Hamas terror group and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. […]

It followed two days of protests in which southern residents burned tires and blocked the entrances to cities battered by Gaza rocket fire in protest of the ceasefire, which they say has left Hamas poised to renew attacks at will. […]

The truce prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to resign on Wednesday and has drawn criticism from some residents of southern Israel who accuse the government of being soft on Hamas.”

That serially withheld context is critical to audience understanding of the subject matter of an edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ that was aired on the BBC World News and BBC News channels on November 23rd (available in the UK here) and on BBC World Service radio on November 26th.

“Israel’s seemingly indestructible Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged another political bullet. After the recent flare up of violence in Gaza, his defence minister quit and another key cabinet hawk- Naftali Bennett, said he would go too if he wasn’t given the defence portfolio. The prime minister called his bluff, and Mr Bennett, who speaks to HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur has decided to stay put after all. What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

A similar introduction was given by presenter Stephen Sackur. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “Israeli politics is always fractious but the last few days have taken the plotting and manoeuvering to another level. The spark was a major flare-up of violence in and around Gaza. An Israeli Special Forces raid [sic] was followed by a sustained volley of militant rockets fired into Israel, with Israeli bombers then responding from the air. The violence ended in an uneasy ceasefire which the hawkish defence minister opposed and prompted his resignation. Another key Israeli cabinet hawk said he would go too if Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t give him the defence job. The PM called Naftali Bennett’s bluff. Rather than prompt a government collapse, the education minister then backed down. So what on earth is causing this political chaos in Israel? Why is there so much mutual mistrust and loathing on Israel’s right-wing? Well the man at the centre of recent storms, Naftali Bennett, joins me now from Jerusalem.”

The programme followed the usual format employed by Sackur when interviewing an Israeli official or public figure in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel based on quotes from usually predictable sources – in this case mostly the UN. The opening third of the programme was devoted to domestic Israeli politics: a topic which to most viewers and listeners would be unfamiliar and of little interest.

At 08:15 minutes into the interview, Sackur posed a question-cum-monologue which promoted inaccuracies that are materially misleading to audiences.

Sackur: “You’ve decided to stay in the government. You’ve said – and I’m quoting you again – ‘the ship of Israel’s security has sailed in the wrong direction’. It seems to me that what you’re saying is that – particularly with regard to Gaza – what Israel has done in recent years – including, let us not forget, several wars, the last of which in 2014, Protect…Operation Protective Edge, killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the UN says at least 65% of those Palestinians were civilians and we know that hundreds of them were children – you’re saying that Israel’s besieging tactics in Gaza – the fact that Gaza doesn’t really have power supplies that work, it doesn’t have clean water, it has a jobless rate of 60% or more – you’re saying all of this isn’t tough enough; that Israel should be hammering Gaza harder. Is that it?”

As long-time readers know, the BBC has made absolutely no effort to independently verify the casualty figures and the debatable civilian-combatant ratios that it has been quoting and promoting for over four years, despite their dubious and partisan sourcing.

Notwithstanding the BBC’s efforts to persuade audiences otherwise, the Gaza Strip is not subject to “besieging tactics” and – as the BBC well knows – the chronic shortages of electricity and potable water in the territory have nothing to do with Israel’s counter-terrorism measures but are the result of internal disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Equally misleadingly, Sackur presented the youth unemployment rate (age 15 to 29) as the general unemployment rate, which is actually lower.

After his interviewee had clarified that his calls for firmer action relate to Hamas rather than the people of the Gaza Strip, Sackur interjected with a re-run of his questionable statistics.

Sackur: “Just look at the record, Mr Bennett. I don’t want to repeat myself but the last big assault on Gaza killed more than two thousand Palestinians, most of whom were civilians. We see in our media every week the images of the stand-off between Palestinian protesters who have…sometimes they have stones, sometimes they have flaming torches. They go to the fence. They are shot by Israeli service personnel. We have seen hundred…more than a hundred killed, thousands wounded. And you’re telling me that you want the Israeli army and the Israeli air force to up the ante and kill more people? That’s what you’re saying.”

Readers may recall that just two months ago in an interview with another Israeli official, Sackur used a very similar and equally inaccurate portrayal of what he – and the BBC in general – portrays as ‘protests’, thereby erasing both the severity of the violence and the fact that a significant proportion of those killed had links to the Gaza terror factions which initiated, organise and facilitate the violent rioting. The conversation continued:

Bennett: “I have a better suggestion: that the Palestinians stop shooting rockets at Israel.”

Sackur: “I’m…I don’t know if you’re maybe not understanding my question but when you respond to the rocket fire that we saw as part of that recent flare-up in Gaza, you respond with your air force. Sometimes you respond with troops on the ground. But the reality is – and the record shows it – that the people who suffer are the civilian population, including children. That is the reality. And you want more of it.”

Sackur later pursued his chosen theme further:

Sackur: “Let’s talk about the reality of the UN reaction. We’ve seen the recent – now he’s retired – but the recent UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zayd Raad al Hussein, say that Israel’s response is suggestive of something entirely and wholly disproportionate and he looks at the casualty figures on the Palestinian side. We also know that the International Criminal Court is still investigating what you did in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Do you understand that the scrutiny being brought to bear upon Israel goes right through the international community and runs the risk of tarnishing Israel’s reputation in a very significant way?”

Further on in the programme audiences heard Sackur misrepresent Bennett’s proposals concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before claiming that “if Israel pursues your vision it will end up being an apartheid style state”. When Bennett noted the failure of the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip to bring calm, Sackur retorted with yet another inaccurate and misleading reference to a ‘siege’ which does not exist.

Sackur:”If, if you intended to besiege…if you intended to lay siege to the West Bank as you did to Gaza, there might be some relevance to that but of course that’s not on the table because you’ve got all these Jewish settlements which you intend to annex…”

photo credit: Sderotnet

Leaving aside the issue of Sackur’s style of interviewing, it is perfectly obvious that his aim in this programme was not to provide BBC audiences with insight into the context to the defence minister’s resignation, not to explain the differences between the approaches of different Israeli politicians to the 17 year long plight of Israeli civilians living under the shadow of terrorism that includes attacks using military grade projectiles and not to answer the questions posed in its own synopsis:

“What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

Rather – as usual – Sackur was intent on promoting his own agenda: in this case primarily to focus audience attentions on civilian suffering in Gaza and allegedly ‘disproportionate’ Israeli actions. In promoting that agenda, Sackur tossed accuracy and impartiality out of the window, citing dubious casualty ratios, promoting the notion of a non-existent ‘siege’, distorting unemployment figures and falsely claiming that Israel’s actions have brought about power and potable water shortages.  

So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide audiences with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards…”

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BBC portrayal of the Iran nuclear deal – part three

In this series of posts we have already looked at how the JCPOA agreement between the P5+1 and Iran was framed by the BBC’s Middle East editor and its chief international correspondent on domestic and World Service radio programmes. In this post we will see an example of what viewers of BBC World News television learned – or not – about the deal’s essentials when presenter Babita Sharma interviewed Israeli minister Naftali Bennett on July 14th.Babita Sharma

Bennett’s opening comments related to the problematic aspects of the deal’s verification mechanism, including the 24-day prior notice of inspections.

Bennett: “You cannot have verifiable inspections if you have to notify them in advance, if they can object and then there’s a committee. This is not serious.”

Sharma’s response to that point prompts the very obvious question of why the BBC bothered to invite Bennett for an interview in the first place.

Sharma: “You say it’s not serious but it is very serious. A deal has been done with the world’s major powers and Iran. Israel wasn’t there. It doesn’t really matter what you say about this because this deal has been done. It will be implemented.”

When Bennett tried to answer that point she quickly interrupted him.

Sharma: “But what can Israel do? What can Israel do at this stage?”

Seventeen seconds into his reply she interrupted again.

Sharma: “And how will you do that? And how will you do that?”

Without even waiting for a reply she interrupted once more.

Sharma: “Let me just ask you though – forgive me for interrupting. I just want to ask on the point you’ve just said that you will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. You’re echoing the words of Benjamin Netanyahu some hours ago saying that we did not commit to preventing an agreement but we commit to preventing Iran from acquiring weapons. What do you mean by that? It sounds like a threat of sorts. I mean what are you proposing here?”

Eight seconds into Bennett’s reply to that, Sharma yet again interrupted him.

Sharma: “But what does that mean? Now hold on a second. You’re quite happy…let me start over…you’re very happy to share with us your views about what’s not happening and how a deal isn’t right but you’re not able to tell us how you believe Israel is able to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So with statements like that issued into the public domain, what are we supposed to read from that if you’re not going to back it up with telling us exactly what you’re going to do?”

Did Ms Sharma and her producers really think that an Israeli minister was going to provide them with the intimate details of any plans relating to the Iranian nuclear programme? Of course not: the clue to why this exchange even took place is in the prior framing: “it sounds like a threat”. Forty-four seconds later Sharma continued her theme of an Israeli ‘threat’ by introducing a topic unrelated to the P5+1 agreement with Iran.

Sharma: “Let’s talk about the security and stability of what’s happening in the Middle East; in the region that you’re part of. Ehm…let me just begin by asking you – Israel; is it not the only country in the Middle East in 2015 that currently has a stockpile that’s capable of making up to eighty nuclear weapons? Is that correct?”

Fifteen seconds into Bennett’s reply to a question she knew in advance he was not going to answer Sharma interrupted once more.

Sharma: “Forgive me though, that’s not quite answering my question. The question was does Israel have…does Israel have a stockpile of nuclear weapons? Is it a yes or is it a no to that question?”

And three seconds later she interrupted again.

Sharma: “Does Israel have a stockpile of nuclear weapons?”

Eleven seconds after that she cut him off once more.

Sharma: “OK. Naftali Bennett I have to…Naftali Bennett I did ask you – and it was a simple yes or no – does Israel have the ability to make eighty nuclear weapons from its stockpile in 2015? Does it have that capability?”

Clearly the aim of this interview was not to provide BBC audiences with an understanding of Israel’s concerns about the JCPOA agreement. What Babita Sharma and her editorial team did however seek to do was to frame Israel as a greater threat to “security and stability” in the Middle East than the theocratic regime which has already breached its NPT obligations and sponsors terror throughout the region and beyond.

Unfortunately, such cringingly transparent ‘journavism’ no longer comes as a surprise to BBC audiences.

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BBC World News’ Dani Sinha to Israeli minister: ‘why are you killing innocent people?’

We have previously documented here some of the BBC News website’s efforts to distort chronology with regard to the events which brought an end to the ceasefire which was supposed to expire at midnight on August 19th but was violated by terrorists in the Gaza Strip some eight and a half hours beforehand. Those efforts are not however confined to the website.

Below is an interview with Israel’s Minister of the Economy on BBC World News on August 20th. Presenter Dani Sinha gave a taste of things to come in the following Tweet.

Tweet Dani Sinha

Of note are Sinha’s jaw-droppingly ignorant questions and her promotion of Hamas terminology.

“Why did you choose this particular time then, or this particular moment, to end the ceasefire? After all, there have been other occasions when Hamas have fired rockets.”

Even after having been told that it was Hamas which violated the truce, she continues to promote her own revisionist version of events.

“Some will though question the timing of course when you ended the ceasefire – or indeed whether you say Hamas ended this ceasefire – because of course it does coincide with your strike – the Israeli airstrike – on a top Hamas commander.”

In actual fact, the strike on the Al Dalou house took place at 21:59: six and a half hours after the truce had been violated by the firing of three missiles at the Be’er Sheva district and also after at least four additional barrages of missile and mortar fire at Netivot, Hof Ashkelon and communities near the Gaza Strip border.

Sinha’s next ‘question’ is as follows:

“Let’s talk about the people though who are being killed because whatever way you look at this there are an unequal number of casualties. More than two thousand Palestinians killed; mostly civilians. That’s against 66 Israelis; mostly military. Well the figures just don’t add up. Why are you killing innocent people?”

We next see what happens when a journalist with no military understanding tries to pretend otherwise.

“When the ceasefire actually started though, you said that you’d destroyed all you needed to destroy regarding the tunnels. Does this mean that your operation has now failed?”

“Why did the talks then fail in Cairo? Your delegation have now gone home.”

And then a bit of promotion of inaccurate Hamas terminology: 

“Hamas want you to lift the siege. I mean why is it so difficult for Israel to do that if it will bring about peace?”

Apparently the BBC does not think that audiences have had enough of the “news presenter aggressively promoting her own political agenda regardless of the facts” party trick.  

Related Articles:

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BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israel’s Minister of Economy and Commerce

For those who have not yet had the chance to view it, here is the February 24th ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Naftali Bennett, with Hebrew subtitles.

Readers will note that whilst presenter Stephen Sackur invokes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions spectre, in line with what is increasingly looking like standard BBC policy, he fails to provide viewers with any information whatsoever regarding the end game of the BDS political campaign and hence both deprives them of the ability to place those threats in their proper context and whitewashes that campaign’s destructive nature. 

A segment of the interview was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the apparently deliberately simplistic title “Naftali Bennett: Israeli settlements must stay”. At the time of writing, that clip had been left up for seven consecutive days. 

Bennett Hardtalk interview clip