Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

As noted in a recent post, the April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included a monologue from a person described as “the mother of a Palestinian inmate”. The monologue was also promoted to the BBC World Service Twitter account’s 303,000 followers and those who listened to the clip heard the following in a voice-over:

“I haven’t seen or visited my son for around maybe ten months. Israeli security won’t let me see him. When I used to visit Diya I felt as if I owned the world. Every visit request I put in only comes back with rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m 67 years old. What risk am I to Israel’s security? I am of no danger. All I want is to see my son, to check on him and he can check on me. This is all I want but they deprive even a mother from seeing her son and a son from seeing his mother.”

While BBC audiences are no strangers to the promotion of pathos-rich stories from the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists, the fact that listeners were not told who the speaker is or why her son is in prison and did not hear any response to her allegations from the Israeli authorities obviously does not inspire confidence in the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting of this story.

So who is this “mother of a Palestinian inmate”? A clue to that question comes in a video that appears on the BBC Arabic website and is also embedded in an Arabic language article titled “More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails begin hunger strike” that, like its English language equivalent, promotes the notion that Palestinian “detainees” might be seen as “political prisoners”.

The woman extensively profiled in that BBC Arabic video is called Najat al Agha and she lives in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Mrs al Agha is by no means publicity shy: she recently told a very similar story to the one promoted by ‘Newsday’ to ‘Amnesty International’ which, predictably, is supplying publicity for the current Fatah hunger strike.

“Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges.  He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

“I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.

“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I haven’t seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.””

Moreover, Najat al Agha – who actually has had two sons serve time in prison in Israel – appears to come forward to tell her story quite frequently and – perhaps not unrelatedly – has been the recipient of ‘honorary gifts’ from the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

The son she names in the ‘Newsday’ clip is Diya Zakariya Shaker Al-Agha “Al-Faluji”. He was convicted of the murder of Amatzia Ben Haim from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in a greenhouse in Ganei Tal in October 1992.

“…Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children.”

A media organisation truly committed to accurate and impartial journalism would of course have provided its audiences with information concerning the “Palestinian inmate” and the act of terror he committed. The BBC World Service, however, chose to give completely context-free amplification to his mother’s claim that Israel is ‘depriving’ her of seeing her son, without any mention of the fact that her son deprived three children – the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time – from ever seeing their father again.

That, of course, is not accurate and impartial journalism but self-conscription to a political campaign.

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BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

As regular readers are aware, despite having offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza the BBC does not devote much coverage to the topic of internal Palestinian politics. In particular, the story of internal Fatah power struggles is one that has been serially under-reported in recent months.

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

BBC News passes up coverage of recent Fatah congress 

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

That chronic lack of coverage means that BBC audiences are not well placed to understand the developing story of a pre-planned hunger strike by Fatah prisoners serving time in Israeli prisons.

As analyst Avi Issacharoff pointed out when it was announced earlier this month, while ostensibly about prison conditions, the hunger strike – led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti – is actually rooted in the Fatah power struggle.

“Officially, the Barghouti-led prisoners’ move is in protest of what they see as the Israel Prison Service’s failure to meet their demands regarding an improvement of conditions in the detention centers.

The strike will be Barghouti’s most significant test since he entered prison some 15 years ago. […]

In the Fatah Central Committee’s leadership elections (the party’s most senior institution) in December, he won first place. His wife, Fadwa, took the top place in the movement’s Revolutionary Council elections (the party’s second most senior institution). He is ostensibly the movement’s undisputed leader, despite being behind bars.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalists in the Fatah leadership have carried a series of steps to isolate and weaken him. Abbas did not appoint him as deputy chairman of Fatah, as Barghouti had expected, and other senior positions were divided between rivals Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Mottak.

Barghouti’s backers also failed to be elected to other spots in the Central Committee, and he’s realized that he has been slowly pushed out of the picture.

Forced from the halls of power, Barghouti is using the strike to signal to the PA with that he can still wield considerable power in the Palestinian street.”

The strike commenced on April 17th and at the time of writing is limited to just over a thousand of the Fatah-linked prisoners.

“The hunger strike initiated by jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti is expected to start Monday – to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences for his role in murderous terror attacks during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

With the annual event comes the concern of increased tensions in the prisons, and in the West Bank with Israeli security forces. Hamas, Fatah’s main rival, announced Sunday that its members will also join the strike, as did the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), another Palestinian faction. […]

Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners’ representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse. Those talks began more than a year and a half ago. […]

Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.

According to sources close to Barghouti, the gradual increase in prisoners joining the strike is a planned step intended to prevent it from breaking early. But some have said that the fact that only about half of the Fatah prisoners announced that they would join points to a disagreement over Barghouti’s measure.

Barghouti supporters are also planning parades and demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the strike.”

On April 17th the BBC produced coverage of the strike on various platforms.

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ heard from the anonymous mother of an anonymous prisoner. A context-free clip from that programme was circulated on BBC social media accounts under the title “A mother’s plea for prison visitations” with the following synopsis:

“More than a thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions. Rallies in support of the prisoners have been held in the occupied West Bank, and led to clashes with the Israeli security forces in the city of Bethlehem. The BBC spoke to the mother of a Palestinian inmate.”

Viewers of BBC television news programmes saw a short filmed report which was also posted on the BBC News website under the title “Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in support of prisoners“. The background to the story was described as follows in that report:

“Palestinian youths are clashing with Israeli forces in the West Bank. They are out in support of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who are on mass hunger strike against their detention conditions. There are fears that the protests could fuel tensions in the region.”

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article titled “Palestinians in Israeli jails hold mass hunger strike” which informs them that:

“More than 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions.”

The report does clarify that the hunger strike is led by Marwan Barghouti:

“The action is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader jailed by Israel for life for five murders.

Barghouti has been touted as a possible future successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

However, like the other reports, the strike’s political background is entirely erased from this account of the story and instead audience attentions are focused on “detention conditions” without clarification of the specific demands.

Securing amplification from international media organisations is of course part of the strategy of the organisers behind this pre-planned action. If the BBC is going to collaborate with that strategy, it should at least be telling its audiences the whole story behind the motives for the strike.

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BBC WS presenters fail to challenge politically motivated narrative

As noted here previously, among its coverage of the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres announced just hours earlier on September 28th, the 08:06 edition of BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ broadcast an interview with anti-Israel activist Ben White. In that interview listeners heard repeated context free and inaccurate promotion of a particular theme.

“And in 1996, notoriously, he was prime minister during a particularly brutal Israeli operation in Lebanon that included the massacre at Qana.” […]

“Remember of course that, you know, the Qana massacre for example, you know, more than a hundred civilians killed in Lebanon…” […]

“That military venture by Peres – and remember; this is ’96: this is sort of 3 years after his apparent sort of conversion to the cause of peace – that campaign was widely seen by people as a pre-election move. OK: so killing Lebanese civilians is a pre-election gesture even if it didn’t…even if it didn’t work.” 

The edition of that same programme broadcast one hour earlier – presented by Bola Mosuro and Julian Keane – included similarly context free promotion of the same subject. After tributes to Peres from past and present US presidents were read out, Keane told listeners:newsday-28-9-0706

“Just worth noting; there are also of course some contrasting views. Sultan al Husseini [phonetic] who is a commentator who’s quite present on Twitter – a commentator from the United Arab Emirates – who was…well he made a reference to the killing…the al Qasa [sic] killing of…when the Israelis shelled a UN compound in southern Lebanon, saying Shimon Peres was an example of how the world can forget someone’s crimes if they only live long enough.”

The programme also included an interview introduced by Mosuro as follows:

“Well let’s go now to Daoud Kuttab who’s a Palestinian columnist for Al Monitor and joins us now from Jordan. Good morning to you, Daoud. We’ve been hearing this morning how Shimon Peres was seen by many Israelis as a peacemaker. How will he be remembered by those in Palest…by Palestinians: how will he be remembered?”

Among Kuttab’s comments listeners heard the following:

“But he [Peres] also made a terrible mistake right after Rabin was killed which is that he attacked Lebanon fiercely and there was one attack right before the elections in which hundred Lebanese and Palestinians were killed in an attack on a village at a UN outpost and that actually cost him the elections and brought to us Binyamin Netanyahu who’s been terrible about peace.”

Of course the real cause of Peres’ loss in that election was the post-Oslo surge in Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis.

In neither of these ‘Newsday’ programmes did BBC presenters bother to provide listeners with the crucial context concerning Operation Grapes of Wrath in general or the Qana incident in particular. The escalation of Hizballah missile attacks against civilian communities in northern Israel that triggered the operation was completely erased from audience view. The fact that Hizballah forces had fired missiles and mortars from the vicinity of the UN compound in Qana (with no intervention by UNIFIL) on several occasions in the hours before the tragic accident goes completely unmentioned.monitoring-peres-art

‘Newsday’ listeners were however not the only ones left with inaccurate impressions concerning the Qana incident. For example, the writer of an article by BBC Monitoring titled “Mixed reaction to Peres’ legacy in world media” (which was published on the BBC News website on September 28th and promoted as a link in several other reports) found it appropriate to give context free amplification to propaganda from a semi-official Iranian regime news agency.

“Fars news agency says: “Shimon Peres is dead; Butcher of Qana dies following two weeks in coma” in a reference to the 1996 shelling of Qana in southern Lebanon that killed over 100.”

There is of course nothing surprising about the fact that elements such as the Iranian regime or anti-Israel campaigners of various stripes would try to exploit an Israeli statesman’s death for the promotion of an inaccurate, politically motivated narrative about an historic event. The problem is that the BBC – supposedly the “standard-setter for international journalism” committed to editorial values of accuracy and impartiality – provides an unchallenged platform for such exploitation.

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BBC WS breaches impartiality guidelines with Ben White interview on Peres

BBC WS breaches impartiality guidelines with Ben White interview on Peres

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.” (Source: BBC Editorial Guidelines – Impartiality – News, Current Affairs and Factual Output)

Early on the morning of September 28th one of the lead stories on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was the death of Shimon Peres which, as the presenters of the 06:06 edition of the show pointed out, had been announced just two and a half hours previously.newsday-28-9-0606

Opening with an interview with Professor Guy Ziv – author of a book about Peres – the programme later went on to broadcast an obviously pre-prepared segment by Kevin Connolly which also appeared in other programmes. Following that – at 31:45 – presenter Julian Keane told listeners:

“Just worth noting: a lot of reaction of course to the death of Shimon Peres coming through on Twitter, by text message, also on Facebook. It’s fair to say it’s a mixed picture with – just to quote some people – you’ll hear a lot of people talking about a great man, an old soldier, a wise man but also many people describing Shimon Peres as a war criminal, a terrorist. So clearly mixed views depending on where you’re coming from on the death of Shimon Peres.”

After listeners heard from former MK Yossi Beilin, presenter Bola Mosuro also propagated a similar theme.

“Eh…a different view – if you like – is being seen…I’m just looking on Twitter here and the journalist and author Ben White has said ‘Shimon Peres epitomised the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and the reality of its bloody colonial policies in Palestine’, adding ‘his many victims – Palestinians and others, the displaced and the bereaved – will see Shimon Peres eulogised as a man of peace’.”

The editorial considerations behind the BBC World Service’s showcasing of anonymous baseless libels such as “war criminal” and “terrorist” against a person already unable to exercise the right of reply are obviously just as much of an issue as those which allowed amplification of the false notion of “bloody colonial policies”. But clearly the misleading portrayal of one of the UK’s most vocal pro-Hamas ideologues – who has made a career out of anti-Israel activism – as a mere “journalist and author” is a breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Moreover, a later edition of the same programme at 08:06 saw those editorial guidelines breached yet again after ‘Newsday’ editors elected to provide the promoter of that false notion with further amplification. At 27:20 presenter Lawrence Pollard told listeners:newsday-28-9-0806

“Now more on the death of the former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres. He’s died aged 93. Tributes have come in from leaders around the world including former president Bill Clinton who signed the Oslo Accord [sic] with him; the first peace agreement with the Palestinians. Mr Peres, he said, was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation, not conflict. The warmth hasn’t been universal however. Let’s get a reaction from Ben White: a journalist who’s written extensively on Middle East affairs. He’s based in Cambridge and joins us now. We’ve heard many tributes to Shimon Peres – what’s your view? A giant figure? What’s his historical record?”

White: “Good morning. Thanks for having me on. I think there’s just a couple of points to make, for me, particularly this morning after his passing. Firstly the historical record shows that his image, particularly in the West, as a dove or perhaps as a hawk turned dove; that image is belied by the facts. So for example his military and political career; he was responsible for…he had a key role really in beginning Israel’s clandestine nuclear programme in the ’50s and ’60s. In the ’70s he also had an important role in beginning the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land that was expropriated. And in 1996, notoriously, he was prime minister during a particularly brutal Israeli operation in Lebanon that included the massacre at Qana. So there is the historical record which by and large is being omitted really…”

Pollard: “OK – that’s interesting because this narrative is, I think, in a lot of the obituaries; that he starts as a hawk and then moves towards a sort of reconsideration. I mean [laughs] we spoke to someone who knew him quite well [who] said ‘well, he came to see some errors of judgement’. Let’s talk about the settlements. He may well have been part of the government that began the settlements on what most people refer to as occupied land but the fact that he came to see that as a stumbling block to peace –it’s quite a great thing for a man to change his mind, isn’t it?”

White: “Yeah – OK. So actually that’s an important point because this idea of him changing actually helps us to take a critical look at how something like the Oslo Accords – presented as his greatest achievement – what they actually achieved and what Israel’s purpose was with them. To go back to the time, Itzhak Rabin – of course the assassinated prime minister, fellow Labour member with Shimon Peres – shortly before he was assassinated in 1995, so two years after the first Oslo Accords were signed, Rabin said to the Knesset that what Israel wanted through those peace agreements was – quote, unquote – a Palestinian entity that would be less than a state. And he made it very clear that Israel intended to keep Jerusalem as its united capital and that Israel would also in the long term annex and maintain key settlement blocs in the West Bank. Now this was the vision at the heart of Israel’s understanding of the Oslo Accords and of course, you know, it’s 20 – more than 20 years later – and we’ve seen just sort of continued encroachment and colonisation.”

Pollard: “You see what interests me is that a man who then becomes something as great as the president – I mean the highest office of state – he then writes articles – rather thoughtful articles – saying, you know, what our problem is that we are obsessed with land. And I say again, you know, a man who changes his mind in his own analysis of his own political record is a rare thing and I would have thought, something to mark and honour but you seem to disagree quite strongly. You don’t seem to give him credit for sort of changing his mind that way.”

White: “Well I think…a few years ago for example Shimon Peres described the Palestinians as – quote – self-victimising and, to me at least, that kind of language from a person with his track record; a person say, you know, who if he’d had a similar governmental role in other countries would be described as a war criminal…”

Pollard: “But he did – but to be fair to him – he did also strike a deal with the Palestinians. He didn’t impose the Oslo Accords on anyone. He signed it and won the peace process [sic – prize] with Yasser Arafat the much respected and much-loved Palestinian leader amongst Palestinians.”

White: “Absolutely – but at the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords many Palestinians were – and that number has only grown – highly critical of the framework that was being signed and of the sort of political process that was being entered into there. Remember of course that, you know, the Qana massacre for example, you know, more than a hundred civilians killed in Lebanon…”

Pollard: “After which he immediately lost the election, didn’t he?”

White: “Yes, and sort of shockingly of course. That military venture by Peres – and remember; this is ’96: this is sort of 3 years after his apparent sort of conversion to the cause of peace – that campaign was widely seen by people as a pre-election move. OK: so killing Lebanese civilians is a pre-election gesture even if it didn’t…even if it didn’t work. And I think the reason why I think it’s important to have these elements in our sort of…an examination of his life is that too often the victims of Israeli policies – primarily Palestinians but also people in the wider region – are forgotten when their leaders like Ariel Sharon a few years ago, Shimon Peres now, are eulogized – particularly by Western leaders.”

Pollard: “Ben – many thanks indeed. Ben White; journalist based in Cambridge. Ehm…interesting the point that he raises about the direction of the obituaries that we’ve been hearing in the past few hours since the death was announced.”

Anyone familiar with Ben White’s record – and the sole raison d’être behind his ‘journalism’ – would not be surprised in the least by his promotion of propaganda tropes such as “war criminal”, “illegal settlements” and “colonisation” or his false claims concerning a supposed “pre-election move” which erase from audience view both the Hizballah missile attacks against Israeli civilians which preceded Operation Grapes of Wrath or the post-Oslo surge in Palestinian terror attacks which were the real cause of Peres’ failure to win the 1996 election.

However, the vast majority of listeners to this programme around the world would of course have no idea of who Ben White is, no familiarity with his monochrome political agenda and no appreciation of the motives behind his appearance on this programme. And the trouble is that – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines – no effort was made by the ‘Newsday’ presenters to provide listeners with the relevant information concerning White’s “particular viewpoint” which would enable them to put his quoted Tweets or his long and cosy chat with Pollard into their appropriate context.

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The continuing saga of the BBC’s failure to make a simple correction

At the beginning of February the BBC broadcast two radio reports in which Tel Aviv was inaccurately described as the capital of Israel.

BBC Watch brought the inaccuracy to the attention of the journalist concerned and was told that the reports had been corrected – although in fact that was not the case.

Kathy Harcombe was informed of that fact and pledged to “get this sorted”.

Harcombe twitter convo

More than a week later – and well over two weeks since their original broadcast – both those audio reports still remain available online – here and here – without the very simple required correction having been made.

In addition, BBC Watch contacted BBC Complaints and the response received concerning the Radio 4 report indicates that the corporation is aware of the inaccuracy.

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘PM’ which was broadcast on 3 February.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

I understand you felt it was inaccurate to refer to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel.

We were indeed wrong to say that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. Please rest assured that we have circulated your complaint to senior management and the ‘PM’ programme in this overnight report.”

Significantly, however, nothing has been done to address the issue. It is therefore very difficult to take seriously the BBC’s supposed commitment to accurate reporting as declared in the introductory paragraph of its editorial guidelines on accuracy

“The BBC is committed to achieving due accuracy.  This commitment is fundamental to our reputation and the trust of audiences, which is the foundation of the BBC.  It is also a requirement under the Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter.” 

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ promotes Olmert trials conspiracy theory

Over the years the BBC has made a practice of covering the various court cases against former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and so it came as no surprise to see that the BBC News website published both written and filmed reports on the day that Olmert began his prison sentence.

What did come as a surprise, however, was the fact that in its February 15th coverage of that story (billed as the lead item on its webpage) the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ found it appropriate to provide a stage to unsupported allegations bordering on conspiracy theory.Newsday 15 2

The item (from 19:30 here) begins with the following introduction from one of the programme’s two presenters.

“The former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will today become the country’s first ex-prime minister to go to jail over a number of corruption charges, including dating back to when he was Mayor of Jerusalem. Now Mr Olmert [who] was in office from 2006 to 2009 is due to serve 19 months in jail. It was actually reduced from a six month sentence which he was originally handed down in 2014.”

The original 2014 sentence was six years (as the BBC has itself noted in a backgrounder on the topic) and so that latter statement is obviously a mistake. The introduction continues:

“Err…there have been appeals and sentences back and forth. To update us let’s speak to the Israeli author – formerly a senior journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper – Danny Rubinstein who joins us now. Danny; welcome to the programme. Ehm…it can be a bit hard to follow what he’s been convicted of. There’s been this legal toing and froing pretty much since he’s been leaving office. What has he actually been found guilty of?”

Listeners – the vast majority of whom will of course be unfamiliar with Danny Rubinstein and his political views – then heard the following:

“He was found guilty of taking bribe of twelve – or I’ll say it’s about £12,000 – which is…which is peanuts. Erm…a bribe, after he was found innocent on one of the larger accusations against him but they eventually said about taking this – you know – this amount of money.”

Presenter; “Because some of the accusations, I mean, these involved property deals – enormous amounts of money – and you’re saying it’s actually a matter of $15,000 that has sent him down.”

Rubinstein: “$15,000 – that’s all – which is really peanuts; it’s really nothing. But people see it as a symbol to corruption. If you take it, it doesn’t matter if it’s one penny or thousands or millions. In here it’s the principle – the principle that he’s corrupt. And this is the atmosphere in Israeli…I would say public opinion. “

The dismissal of a bribe taken by a high-ranking public official as “peanuts” and “nothing” does not raise any reaction from the programme’s presenter and neither does the fact that Rubinstein airbrushes Olmert’s additional convictions for fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust. Rubinstein then continues:

“”But I want to add here that I think that there’s also a lot of politics involved here. Eh…the campaign against Ehud Olmert started when he start to be…how to say…moderate or he start to talk with the Palestinians. He was ready to [make] Israeli concessions about ten years ago when he was prime minister. He was the first prime minister of Israel that was ready to divide Jerusalem and to give the Palestinians a lot of – you know – the West Bank and so on and I’m sure that it’s not…I’m sure that also politics involved in this case.”

And what is the BBC presenter’s reaction to the unsubstantiated allegation that the “moderate” Olmert was stitched up by people to whom that description presumably does not apply just because he wanted to make “Israeli concessions”? Did the presenter bother to inform listeners around the world that there is no evidence to support those claims? Did he point out that there were various investigations into alleged corruption on the part of Olmert months and even years before Olmert attended the Annapolis conference in November 2007 and subsequently began negotiations with the PLO? No – instead the BBC’s representative elected to add wind to the sails of Rubinstein’s conspiracy theory by saying:

“That’s very interesting: that makes it a sort of a complicated and murky issue as well.”

The rest of the interview with Rubinstein is largely unremarkable but the presenter closes the item with the following bizarre statement which is of course disconnected from reality:

“The way it’s being written in the Israeli press as well is ‘Olmert set to enter prison’. Ahm…he’s kind of handing himself in, in that way. We’ll see if it happens.”

So – rather than BBC audiences around the world being given an accurate, impartial and realistic view of this story they were instead fed sensational but entirely unsupported allegations which apparently the BBC World Service finds more attractive and newsworthy than the story of a country capable of holding a corrupt former prime minister to account.

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BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners. 

 

BBC WS radio shows pass off political activist as ‘woman in the street’

On October 14th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ broadcast an item billed as “Israeli and Palestinian Voices” – ostensibly to provide listeners with answers to the question “what’s it like living in Israel with all of this going on?” – with “all of this” being the wave of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian attackers.Newsday 14 10

In the first part of the item, listeners heard from two Israeli women who talked about their personal ways of coping with the wave of terrorism such as going out with pepper spray, not wearing high heels or standing in selected places at a bus stop.

The second part of the item featured a person identified as “a Palestinian woman called Mariam Barghouti” and listeners heard statements which included the following. [all emphasis added]

“…most universities that are getting attacked are ones like al Quds University in Abu Dis which is neighbouring to Jerusalem. Today Israeli forces raided the university, shot tear gas. Students had to be evacuated, professors had to drop their classes and go and make sure students are OK instead of teaching their lessons.”

(It is not clear to which incident Barghouti is referring in that claim but on October 13th a demonstration against the visiting Indian president did take place at that location, forcing the cancellation of a scheduled event. Other incidents have also taken place both recently and in the past, with al Quds University long known for extremism on campus.)

“I mean as we speak right now, two young girls 16 and 13 have been missing since four in the afternoon and there are fears that they may have been kidnapped by settlers.”

(According to Palestinian sources, the two sisters had been detained by the police.)

“At this point they’re [Barghouti’s friends] basically telling each other ‘don’t even look Palestinian’ because if you so much as sneeze and a settler feels frightened they can yell ‘shoot them, shoot them’ and soldiers will abide by that.”

(There are of course rules of engagement which clearly define the circumstances under which live fire can be used by the security forces.)

“This is the generation from 1994 onwards. All they’ve known is the Palestinian Authority’s failure. All they’ve known is the apartheid wall. All they’ve known is these checkpoints. You know, Israeli violence is not new – it’s only in the news now because there’s a Palestinian reaction to it.”

(No effort is made by the programme’s presenter to challenge the delegitimising and inaccurate term “apartheid wall” or to clarify to listeners that the anti-terrorist fence came about because of Palestinian terrorism.)

The October 14th edition of another BBC World Service radio programme – ‘Newshour’ – also aired (from 01:12 here) the obviously false claim from Barghouti (described as “a Palestinian student in Ramallah”) that:Newshour 14 10

“At this point they’re basically telling each other ‘don’t even look Palestinian’ because if you so much as sneeze and a settler feels frightened they can yell ‘shoot them, shoot them’ and soldiers will abide by that.”

Clearly the highly politicized and materially misleading account provided by Mariam Barghouti is very different from the personal stories told by two Israeli women but there is nothing surprising about that when one considers that, among many other things, Barghouti has been on tour with the International Solidarity Movement in Holland, is an active supporter of the BDS Campaign and is a contributor to the ‘Mondoweiss’ website.

The trouble is that neither of those BBC World Service programmes bothered to inform their listeners that the ‘woman in the street’ supposedly giving them a view of ‘what life is like’ is actually a seasoned political activist with a very clear anti-Israel agenda.

In November 2012 the BBC’s ECU reconfirmed “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation” – in accordance with the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Passing off a known political activist as a random woman and providing her with a platform to promote what the BBC knows full well to be blatant propaganda is clearly not in keeping with the spirit of those editorial guidelines on impartiality or the accompanying editorial guidelines concerning accuracy.

Related Articles:

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Donnison’s ‘woman in the Ramallah street’: professional anti-Israel campaigner

 

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ passes up opportunity to inform on Palestinian politics

A theme prominently seen in BBC reporting of the ongoing wave of terrorism in Israel advances the idea that the roots of the surge in violence are to be found in ‘the occupation’ and Palestinian frustration over the lack of progress in bringing about the creation of a Palestinian state.

Of course that theme is by no means new; it has been a feature of BBC reporting since long before the current surge in terror attacks began. But the BBC’s habitual one-dimensional portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as something dependent on one party to the conflict alone means that its audiences remain severely under-informed with regard to the role played by Palestinian leaders and internal Palestinian politics (another subject consistently under-reported by the BBC) in the failure to reach a negotiated end to the conflict.

In a 2014 article titled “Palestine Needs Better Friends“, the WSJ’s David Feith examined the dynamics behind representations of the conflict of the kind seen in BBC content.

“The Palestinian cause has attracted international sympathy for decades, so why do Palestinians still suffer so grievously? The burdens of Israeli occupation aren’t the full story. Palestinians also suffer from bad leaders and bad friends who do them more harm than good. In newsrooms, universities and governments world-wide, supporters of Palestine are more like enablers choosing to ignore the terrorism and tyranny that have wrecked Palestinian politics. […]

Such Western enablers emphasize many of the genuine tragedies of Palestinian life, but they elide whatever facts contradict their pro-Palestinian articles of faith. They insist that Israel won’t compromise and a powerful Israel lobby steers U.S. policy, overlooking that Palestinian leaders rejected Israeli offers of statehood in 2000 and 2008. Their idea of progressivism means admiring the Palestinian “resistance”—and remaining silent about the illiberal horrors facing Palestinian women, religious minorities, gays and political dissidents.

This approach isn’t simply a whitewash. Rather it portrays Palestinian leaders in purposefully limited fashion, as victims and pawns forever being acted upon by Israel and other outsiders, and not as decision makers choosing how to act toward Israel and their own people. This denies Palestinians’ agency, treating them as if they have no responsibility for tyrannizing other Palestinians or terrorizing Israelis. […]

The custom now is a pro-Palestinian neo-Orientalism that glosses over the real conditions of Palestinian life, focusing instead on condemning Israel. Yet the effect of this neo-Orientalism isn’t pro-Palestinian. By ignoring the pathologies of Palestinian politics, it condemns Palestinians to live under leaders who would rather impoverish and endanger their own people than compromise with Israel.”Newsday Dennis Ross int

The October 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included an interview with former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.  Readers can listen to that item here from 18:02 and a version of it was also promoted separately on Twitter, using an image which does not match its caption’s claim that it is a photograph of Dennis Ross.

The introduction to the interview concluded as follows:

“Newsday’s Tom Hagler asked him if he had any optimism for a success story at the moment, with the background of the stabbings going on now”.

However, if listeners were expecting to hear analysis and information which would enhance their understanding of an issue which the BBC has repeatedly cited over the past few weeks as a factor driving the current wave of terror in Israel, they would have come away disappointed.

Although Ross provided some interesting anecdotes and insight into his negotiations with Yasser Arafat, unfortunately the brief item did little to counter the chronic deficit of information suffered by BBC audiences on the topic of why negotiations have repeatedly failed or to provide them with a view of Ross’ broader approach to the issue.

That wasted opportunity gives all the more reason to expect BBC promotion of the selectively framed theme of ‘Palestinian frustration’ as a cause for terrorism to continue. 

Yolande Knell’s political campaigning continues in BBC ‘Gaza anniversary’ coverage

The BBC’s extensive coverage of the anniversary of the commencement of Operation Protective Edge included multi-platform contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell which focused on the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.

That topic has of course already been covered extensively by the BBC throughout the past year – both by Yolande Knell and by others. Examples include the reports highlighted in the following posts:

Reporter in the rubble: what is missing from BBC presentation of structural damage in Gaza?

BBC’s Knell continues the Gaza border restrictions PR campaign

BBC’s ‘reporter in the rubble’ theme gets its own feature

Yolande Knell’s Gaza borders campaign continues on BBC Radio 4’s PM

BBC’s Knell revamps ‘reporter in the rubble’ for promotion of a political agenda

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part three

So did Knell have anything new to contribute to BBC audiences’ understanding of the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip in her filmed, audio and written reports which appeared on July 7th and 8th?

The opening lines of the written report – which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 8th under the title “Why is Gaza reconstruction so slow?” – include clear signposting.anniversary Knell written

“In the year since the 50-day conflict with Israel, which saw thousands of Gaza’s buildings reduced to rubble, not a single destroyed home has been rebuilt.

Israel and Egypt maintain tight border restrictions on the coastal enclave, which have severely hampered reconstruction efforts. They say these are needed for security.” [emphasis added]

The reason for that signposting is that, like all her many previous reports on this topic, this article too is part of Yolande Knell’s campaigning efforts against the restrictions imposed in order to combat terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip. Later on in the article, under the sub-heading “Call to lift blockade”, readers are told that:

“Israeli restrictions prevent so-called “dual use” materials from entering Gaza. These include building supplies that could be used by militants to create new tunnels, or weapons and storage sites.” [emphasis added]

In fact the dual-use materials are not – as Knell claims – “so-called”. The list of restricted items is based on the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies in which many other countries – including the UK – also participate.

Later on (and also in her audio report) Knell cuts to the chase:anniversary Knell audio

“Ultimately, the UN and international aid agencies continue to call for a lifting of the blockade. They say this is the only way to bring in all the materials needed to repair homes and infrastructure and revive the local economy.”

She makes no effort, however, to inform BBC audiences of the likely consequences for Israelis if the blockade were lifted and weapons and dual-use items flowed freely into the Gaza Strip.

Knell’s portrayal of the mechanism for the distribution of construction materials is as follows:

“To allow reconstruction to take place the UN agreed a temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) with the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

This brings in aggregate, steel bars and cement (known as ABC materials) via the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing.

UN monitors have helped assess housing damage and needs. Full details are kept in a computer database and the Israeli military has oversight of some information.

Palestinian ministries administer lists of individuals cleared to collect materials from approved vendors. So far, about 90,000 Palestinians have been cleared to obtain supplies, mostly for small-scale repairs.”

No information is provided to readers concerning the black market trade in construction materials in the Gaza Strip – and the ensuing fact that buildings which could have been repaired had their residents not chosen to sell their allotted building materials remain a prime photo-op for foreign journalists. As was recently reported in the Times of Israel:

“According to the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the arm of the Israeli army that coordinates with the Palestinian civilian population, close to 90,000 owners of those partially damaged homes have already gotten the building materials from the warehouses in Gaza that were set aside for this purpose in order to renovate their homes. […]

But did they all use the building materials for their home repairs? That is a different question entirely. The terrible financial hardship and the lack of jobs are part of this equation. Many of those homeowners sold their construction materials on the black market for a higher price than what they had paid for them with donated funds.

Gaza residents who spoke on condition of anonymity say that the black market for construction materials in the Gaza Strip is growing at a rapid pace because the materials are being sold instead of used for renovations.

According to statistics of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel has brought 1.3 million tons of construction materials into the Gaza Strip since the end of the war — certainly a respectable amount. The material was intended for repairing homes that had been partially damaged and for rebuilding infrastructure.”

Like her colleague Lyse Doucet before her, Knell does not make any attempt to adequately inform audiences about the tunnels which are being rebuilt by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Knell is also taciturn on the real factors contributing to the slow pace of reconstruction.

“The UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East, Nikolei Mladenov, says delays have been caused by the huge scale of the task and the slow flow of promised foreign aid.

Renewed divisions between Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which was meant to station its security forces at Gaza’s border crossings, added to complications.”

The link in that last paragraph leads to a pay-walled Ha’aretz article which most readers will not be able to access and therefore will remain unaware that it includes the following:

“A European diplomat familiar with the details of the meetings confirmed that such protest was conveyed. He spoke on condition of anonymity. “They conveyed an unequivocal message that the PA can do more to promote reconstruction in the Strip, and that continued internal political squabbling between Fatah and Hamas are adversely affecting the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the pace and scope of reconstruction,” the European diplomat said. […]

“There is positive movement on the Israeli side in everything regarding Gaza,” the EU diplomat said. “While you always need more, the Israelis are removing hurdles and assisting reconstruction. At the same time, reconstruction is still stuck because of the internal fights on the Palestinian side, Egyptian behavior and failure to deliver funds pledged by the Arab states.”

All three of Knell’s reports include interviews with the Shuja’iya resident Abdul Karim Abu Ahmed whom she has also interviewed on at least two prior occasions over the past year. As was the case in the previous content she produced, no effort is made to inform audiences why the English teacher who claims to have been “shocked” and that he “didn’t expect to see my house, my street [….] destroyed like this” is being disingenuous.anniversary Knell filmed

As was noted here back in September 2014:

“As can be seen from the IDF’s aerial map of the neighbourhood, at least five missiles were fired from close proximity to Abu Ahmed’s house and yet Knell neglects to inform listeners of that fact and amplifies his feigned surprise at the consequences.”

Knell closes her written report with the following words:

“Without long-term political solutions to solve Gaza’s underlying problems, many warn of social unrest, instability and the increased risk of further hostilities.”

Gaza’s underlying problem is of course that it was taken over by a terrorist organization in a violent coup in 2007 and that foreign funded terrorist group and others continue to wage war on its neighbours. Somehow, though, one doubts that is what Yolande Knell intended her readers to understand.

The fact that none of these three latest reports by Knell bring any new information or insight to BBC audiences who have seen, read and heard countless similar ones in the past twelve months raises questions about the editorial considerations behind their production and broadcast. Obviously, these reports are not an attempt to report news or to provide audiences with a comprehensive, accurate and impartial “understanding of international issues“. What they are is the latest installment in Yolande Knell’s BBC endorsed political campaign to influence public opinion on the issue of the border restrictions on the Gaza Strip made necessary by the terrorism she never mentions.

Related Articles:

BBC ‘Gaza war anniversary’ coverage continues to mislead on the causes of the conflict

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