BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on August 24th the lead story in the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ related to a visit to the Middle East by a US delegation.

That item presented an unchallenged, one-sided view of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from a former PLO employee and steered listeners towards the belief that the main issue at stake is ‘settlements’, as well as promoting partisan views of ‘international law’.

A later edition of the same programme on the same day also led with that story but if listeners were expecting to hear a balancing viewpoint from the other side, they would have been sorely disappointed. Presenter Lawrence Pollard introduced the item (from 00:21 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Now let’s talk about the job facing the advisor in chief and son-in-law to the president, Jared Kushner. Can he pull the rabbit out the hat; broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians? There’s a US delegation led by Mr Kushner in Egypt, Jordan. Ah…they’re in Israel now and they’re going to pick up with separate negotiations with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Ehm…what are the prospects? A little earlier we caught up with Omar Baddar, the deputy director of the Arab-American Institute in Washington. I asked him what kind of coverage this trip was getting back in the US first of all.”

Clearly that introduction does not comply with the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality requiring audiences to be informed of the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees. Pollard made no attempt to clarify the political agenda of either his guest or the organisation he represents and so listeners remained unaware that they were hearing partisan ‘analysis’ from a ‘one-stater’ who – like the head of his organisation – supports the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

Omar Baddar began by promoting the notion that the US delegation’s latest visit to the region is related to domestic events in America – despite the fact that the US officials concerned have previously made numerous similar trips.

Baddar: “Well to be honest with you, I don’t think many people are talking about this in America. I mean the president has gotten himself in such hot water over domestic issues with racism and violence that this is not really on anybody’s radar, which is why precisely I think he is attempting this push; to get some kind of positive media coverage about some kind of foreign policy success on the peace process front for the Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s got anything real or substantive going on so I don’t see how this is actually going to generate what he’s attempting to go after. I think this is going to be just another failed venture of this president.”

Pollard: “Some of the headlines are extraordinary; sort of anti-Trump.’Trump defends neo-Nazis’ was one headline on an Israeli newspaper. In the region, how is the visit being seen?”

Baddar: “In terms of how governments in the region are viewing this, I think most of them are just distracted with much other, you know, with many other issues; regional dynamics vis-à-vis Iran and other things. But the Palestinian Authority in particular I’m sure is very, very frustrated because they’ve been stroking Trump’s ego out of desperation, telling him that he’s the president with the boldness and courage and vision to resolve this conflict in the hopes that he would apply some kind of meaningful pressure on the Israelis to sort of show progress towards ending the occupation and stop settlements and so on. None of that pressure is actually coming from the Trump administration so they’re finally seeing this for the PR stunt that it is and they simply have no interest in playing along with it.”

Pollard: “Do you detect a policy, a new idea, a new direction at all coming…coming out of Washington?”

Baddar: “I do not at all. I think he’s a man with no vision whatsoever and I think that’s the real reason behind the mixed messaging he’s been providing on this issue. When it comes on to specifics and the kind of people he’s surrounded himself with, none of them are the kind of people who understand what it actually takes to resolve this conflict so I don’t see anything to be hopeful about.

Pollard: “Ah…interesting. Tell us more about the position, as you see it, of the Palestinian Authority. You say that there they are sort of stroking Mr Trump’s ego out of desperation.”

Baddar: “That’s pretty much the case. I mean, look, they’ve…the Palestinian Authority has bent over backwards to accommodate every Israeli demand but the Israelis have taken everything the PA has offered but have not really offered even a slow-down in settlements in return or anything like that. So what is needed is…you know, President Obama did not really go very far but he at least spoke some truths about this stuff. And in the case of President Trump, he’s not even going nearly as far as Obama did. So what we need more of we’re getting significantly less of. Abbas at this point is actually expressing some level of frustration with the US administration, which is not something that we’ve really see from him in the past.”

One would have expected to see Pollard to remind listeners at this point that when – at the request of the Obama administration – Israel froze construction in communities in Judea & Samaria for ten months in 2009/10, the Palestinian Authority refused to come to the negotiating table throughout 90% of the period.

Pollard: “And at the moment does the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu have the head space to deal with this? He’s got lots of internal political problems of his own at the moment.”

Baddar: “Yeah. Internal political problems of his own and also complications in dealing with Trump because he sees him as a very useful ally but at the same time, with the kind of comments that Trump has been making about Nazis and white supremacists in the US, I’m pretty sure that Netanyahu is not in a great position either and he’s…his political base is always based on [unintelligible] more rejectionist when it comes to any kind of compromise with the Palestinians.”

Pollard: “And how much does this stuff matter in America? How will it be treated on the networks do you think?”

Baddar: “Not as much as it should. I think America is pretty…pretty occupied right now with the drama that President Trump has created domestically that this is not even on their radar at all. But it really ought to be because in the long-run this is one of those issues that really affects America’s position in the region in a very, very significant way.”

Pollard closed the item with the promotion of some questionable linkage between the US delegation’s visit, internal US affairs and (yet again) an unconnected headline in a specific Israeli newspaper.

Pollard: “Speaking from the Arab-American Institute in Washington that was Omar Baddar. Meanwhile, more background to this visit: four prominent US Jewish groups have announced they will not take part in what has become a yearly call between the president and hundreds of rabbis across the country ahead of the Jewish high holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. They said his remarks around Charlottesville lacked moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred. Of course that story has been getting a great deal of attention in the Israeli press as well. ‘Trump defends neo-Nazis’ was one headline a couple of days ago. So; the visit of Jared Kushner complicated by so many factors.”

Again we see that ‘Newsday’ coverage of this story focused on promoting the notion that ‘settlements’ are the main issue stalling the ‘peace process’, with no mention at all of relevant topics such as terrorism, the absence of a uniform Palestinian leadership, Hamas’ refusal to accept the existence of Israel in any shape or form or the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to terrorists.

With both interviewees in the two items coming from the anti-Israel side, the complete absence of any mention of such topics is of course hardly surprising but obviously ‘Newsday’ cannot possibly claim to have covered this story in an accurate and impartial manner that meets its public purpose of helping audiences to understand the issue.

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BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

For reasons best known to themselves the production team of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ decided that their lead story on August 24th should be a US delegation’s visit to the Middle East. The item (from 00:38 here) was introduced by presenters Lawrence Pollard and Nomia Iqbal as follows:

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

Pollard: “So can the Trump administration pull the rabbit out of the hat and broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?”

Iqbal: “Huge question, isn’t it? But it’s what the US team on Mid-East tour is hoping to provide the answer to. Led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, they’ve been to Egypt, Jordan and now Israel for talks with the Israeli prime minister and the head of the Palestinian Authority.”

Pollard: “Behind them is the domestic row in the US over the president’s alleged slowness in condemning antisemitism and racism and ahead of them is what looks like a hardening of positions from both sides. Can the American team jump-start the so-called peace process? That’s our question this morning.”

Failing to provide any concrete examples to back up his claim of a “hardening of positions” on either the Israeli or Palestinian side, Pollard then signposted his interviewee’s legal qualifications, thereby encouraging listeners to regard her subsequent pronunciations on ‘international law’ as credible and accurate. He did not however inform listeners that Diana Buttu – now, among other things, a policy advisor for Al Shabaka – is a BDS supporter who thinks the Palestinian Authority should be disbanded.

Pollard: “Let’s speak now to Diana Buttu who is a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiations team in Ramallah, joins us now. Welcome to the programme. Both sides making demands, which is kind of what you’d expect before a round of negotiations. Just explain to us what the red line is on the Palestinian side.”

Buttu: “Well the red line is exactly what international law says, which is that settlements shouldn’t be constructed. I think it’s very important for people to keep in mind that what’s been happening during these negotiations is that the negotiations process, rather than serving as a mechanism for ending Israel’s military rule has actually served as a mechanism to facilitate it and to entrench it. Since negotiations began we’ve actually seen nearly a tripling of the number of Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank. So the position has and always will be that we cannot continue to negotiate while there’s a gun to our head…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…in the form of increased settlement activity.”

In addition to failing to clarify to listeners that Buttu’s claim regarding international law and the legality of Israelis living in certain locations is not the only interpretation of the fourth Geneva Convention, Pollard also refrained from telling his audience that the Oslo Accords – signed willingly by the PLO for which Buttu used to work – place no restriction whatsoever on construction or population in communities in Area C, the status of which is to be determined in negotiations. Pollard then resuscitated a twelve-year-old quote.

Pollard: “That raises the issue of how much of an honest broker the American team can be. I mean there are people who have been familiar with the inside of the American process who say, you know, what we’ve done in the past is we’ve been Israel’s attorney rather than both sides’ sort of honest broker. Do you think that Jared Kushner represents a change?”

Buttu: “Absolutely not. That phrase of Israel’s lawyer was one that was coined by Aaron David Miller who was involved with the Clinton administration. And the Clinton administration is no way like the Trump administration. At least then one could potentially say or probably say that there was some semblance of…of being objective – even though I would question that. But with the Trump team the mask is completely off. Jared Kushner himself is somebody who is a big supporter of the settlements. David Friedman – the US ambassador – is also a financial backer of the settlements. His daughter just immigrated to Israel taking advantage of a very racist Israeli law and has become an Israeli citizen. So I don’t…I’m not under any illusions whatsoever that the Trump administration is going to do anything. In fact I think what they’re going to do is either continue to provide a fig leaf or continue to entrench Israel’s military occupation.”

The Israeli law to which Buttu referred in that gratuitous reference to a person unconnected to the US administration is of course the Law of Return. Pollard refrained from challenging her portrayal of that law as “very racist”.

Pollard: “Give us an idea, from your point of view, has a strategy emerged? I mean those are pretty dark interpretations that you’re giving of American intentions. Has there actually been a series of policy statements that you could call a strategy or an idea or a road map forward?”

Buttu: “From…on the part of the Americans – yes, definitely. This is the first US president who has indicated that he intends to move the embassy from…from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is again in violation of international law. This is a president who has completely turned a blind eye to Israeli settlement construction and while this may not be an actual plan, I think what it…what the Trump administration has made clear is that they’re not going to do anything to push Israel to end its now 50 year military rule and to stop the denial of freedom for Palestinians. So this is the plan that has been in place and on…in terms of what it is that the sides want, the Trump administration needs to look as though they’re actually doing something. The Netanyahu administration needs to look as though they’re actually doing something and within Israel all that they’re saying is provided that we look as though we’re engaged in a process but not actually doing anything, then the situation will be fine and that is not acceptable.”

Pollard failed to clarify to listeners that – as the BBC well knows – there has been no new “Israeli settlement construction” since Trump came into office or indeed for well over two decades before that. Neither did he bother to ask Buttu to clarify exactly which part of “international law” supposedly precludes moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or challenge her false claim that this is the first time a US presidential candidate has pledged to move his country’s embassy to Israel’s capital.  

Pollard: “But…but there are people who…who are trying to be optimistic about this, who are kind of saying there’s going to be a new approach from Jared Kushner; he’s a real estate guy. Let’s treat it as a real estate approach; after all this is an issue about land ownership. Any fruits come from that approach?”

Buttu: “Not at all. This isn’t a real estate issue. This is an issue of rights and whether Palestinians have a right to live freely on their land or whether the world is going to continue to accept the denial of freedom of a people for yet another 50 years. So I don’t at all buy into this…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…theory that somehow Jared Kushner is going to be different. The question is not about the quality of the person but about what they’re empowered to do…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…what it is they intend to do and it’s clear that this administration is going to do nothing but kick the can down the road.”

Failing once again to clarify that the status of Area C is subject to negotiations and hence cannot accurately be described as “their land”, Pollard concluded with a repeat of his signposting:

Pollard: “You’re not going to be holding your breath by the sound of it. Diana Buttu; many thanks indeed for her take on the prospects of some breakthrough courtesy of Jared Kushner and the US team in the Middle East. Diana is a former legal advisor for the Palestinian negotiating team in Ramallah.”

Clearly BBC World Service audiences listening to this item did not benefit from accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of the current situation regarding US efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the PLO or the full range of issues to be tackled in such talks.

What they did hear, however, was unchallenged, politically motivated messaging from an inadequately introduced professional activist intent on persuading BBC audiences that the main – if not sole – factor of any importance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is ‘settlements’.

A later edition of ‘Newsday’ also led with the same story – but did listeners hear anything to balance this item? That question will be answered in part two of this post.

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BBC WS ‘Newsday’ listeners get warped view of Gaza electricity crisis

On July 11th the United Nations released a report titled ‘Gaza Ten Years Later’ and in addition to publishing a press release on the topic, the head of the team that complied that UNSCO report also promoted it via interviews with various media outlets – including the BBC.

The early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on July 12th included an interview (from 16:45 here) with Robert Piper – whose full job title is “UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. A clip from that interview was also promoted separately by the BBC on social media under the title “Life in Gaza reaching its limits” and with a synopsis reading:

“In 2012, the United Nations predicted that the Palestinian territory of Gaza would be “unliveable” [sic] by 2020. But in a new report, the UN has revised its calculations saying that the conditions for an estimated two million people living there are deteriorating “further and faster” than earlier predictions. Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities spoke to BBC Newsday.”

Presenter Alan Kasujja introduced the item as follows:

Kasujja: “Now let’s talk about Gaza. The living conditions of an estimated 2 million people in the Gaza Strip are deteriorating fast: further and faster than earlier predictions. So claims a new report from the United Nations which says its earlier estimation back in 2012 that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 is wrong. Rather, Gazans have already reached their limits. And joining us now from Jerusalem is Robert Piper; the UN coordinator for the humanitarian aid and development activities. Thank you for joining us this morning. Can we just first of all start by establishing, Robert, what you mean when you say that it’s unlivable.”

Piper: “…I think essentially the conditions have deteriorated to such a degree across a number of fields that really life is increasingly untenable for Gazans in terms of access to electricity, in terms of access to reliable drinking water, in terms of prospects for jobs. Down each of these avenues, if you will, Gazans are seeing less and less possibilities.”

Kasujja: “Very interested in hearing what life is like on an ordinary day for Gazans. You talk about access to electricity; could you paint a picture for us to illustrate that?”

Piper: “Well the electricity situation in the last few months has got so serious that in the last 10 days it got down to 2 to 3 hours a day for most Gazan households. Let’s remember Gaza is a hugely dense population. It’s not far off Hong Kong in terms of population density so it’s a lot of high-rise buildings; a lot of people living over the 4th, 5th, 6th floor and onwards in high-rise buildings. Because of the electricity crisis, 2 to 3 hours a day means if you’re in this high-rise building your elevator is probably not working more than a few minutes a day in a kind of organised way. The water pressure is so low because of the electricity shortages that the actual water is not coming out of the…is not reaching floors above the 3rd floor of these buildings. If you are an elderly person say living on the 10th floor of that building, you don’t have your elevator reliably, you don’t have reliable access to water. But energy also hits so many other sectors. It hits the health sector very severely, so in hospitals…”

Kasujja: “Because of the sanitation issues, I imagine.”

Piper: “Well firstly the hospitals are so short of electricity that they’re not using their diagnostic equipment very often because it’s very energy intensive. But indeed, in a broader sense as well. Water treatment is now basically zero so pollution is going…untreated water is going straight into the Mediterranean every day; about 100,000 cubic meters. So across the board – health, water supply, sanitation services and the wider economy – having to pay diesel to turn a generator on to irrigate your farm fields means that the cost of vegetables and so forth, everything is creeping up and of course…”

Following that description of the situation, the conversation then turns to the subject of its cause. Of course as regular readers well know, the exacerbated electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip – with all its various knock-on effects such as sewage treatment – has nothing to do with Israel but is the result of a long-standing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, both of which could solve the crisis if they so desired. As Robert Piper’s report shows, he knows that too but nevertheless, BBC audiences around the world are not informed of the real background to this story.

Kasujja: “So how do you change all this? How do you turn this around?”

Piper: “Well for us this is a 10 year trend. I think the latest crisis in Gaza around energy for us is just a wake-up call of the long-term chronic issues that have been building over 10 years. It is a function…for us really trying to make an appeal to all of the actors involved. To put people back at the centre of their policy considerations…”

Kasujja: “Actors involved including who? Because, for example, the Hamas are not considered partners by Israel.”

Piper: “Well indeed this is a 10 year…this is a 10 year report and it recognizes three events about 10 years ago. First is the violent take-over by Hamas of the Gaza Strip and Hamas is now the de facto authority in Gaza. Secondly, the increasingly tough closures that are effectively a blockade that Israel placed around Gaza. And thirdly, the ejection of the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and division that followed in the sort of governance of Palestine. So we had these three events each of which have, you know, between them I should say has really had devastating consequences. So when you talk about who we’re speaking to, it’s all of these three but it’s also the international community, of course, which plays a very important role in Gaza.” [emphasis added]

Notably, Piper’s report specifically states (on page 8) that the counter-terrorism measures introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent rise in missile attacks have been eased since they were first implemented. Whether or not Kasujja had actually read the report before this interview took place we do not know, but he neither challenges Piper on that false claim of “increasingly tough closures” nor bothers to inform listeners of the Hamas terrorism that is the reason why such measures had to be implemented in the first place.

Kasujja: “Is there still an appetite in trying to resolve these problems in Gaza because possible you [unintelligible] paint a very political problem because I get the sense that they need to sort out the politics first before any meaningful humanitarian work is done and the question then becomes whether there’s an appetite for that in the international community; for that sort of engagement by the international community.”

Piper: “Well I think firstly I have a problem with the sequence of events. We can’t put the humanitarian after the politics. This picture that we paint for 2 million Gazans is really an increasingly desperate, desperate picture in terms of all of these issues: access to water, to energy, to jobs. The economy is going backwards. Really I think you…our appeal above all is to say firstly let’s…let’s put people first and let’s look at some of the strategies and policies that are being deployed by Israel, by the Palestinian Authority, even by Hamas, in terms of whether they are indeed protecting the interests of civilians or not. That has got to be a starting point. That has got to come before politics in our opinion.”

Kasujja: “Really good to talk to you and thank you very much for your time, Robert Piper. Robert is from the UN. He coordinates humanitarian aid and development activities.”

The programme’s second presenter, Julian Keane, then added:

Keane: “Interesting to hear an answer: daily life in Gaza – which so often is in the headlines.”

Obviously BBC World Service listeners did not “hear an answer” at all. The word terrorism did not appear once in this item and no background information was provided concerning topics such as the missile attacks or cross-border attack tunnels that are the reason for the restrictions on movement and access introduced by Israel.

Neither were audiences given a true picture of the real cause of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. Instead, uninformed listeners were steered towards the erroneous understanding that Israeli counter-terrorism measures play some part in the fact that ordinary people in Gaza only have two or three hours of electricity a day. Listeners, however, heard nothing at all about Egypt’s implementation of similar measures on its border with the Gaza Strip or its destruction of the tunnels in Rafah through which cheap fuel was once smuggled. 

It is very obvious that this was not a news item at all but merely the BBC’s uncritical contribution to a PR campaign promoting a UN report that relies heavily on political NGOs and previous partisan UN reports.

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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.

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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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Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part two

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.

Related Articles:

Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part two

 

 

 

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.