Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

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

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

 

 

Advertisements

Inaccuracy, partial language and speculation on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

As we saw in an earlier post, viewers of ‘Newsnight’ saw the Israeli prime minister being interviewed by Evan Davis on June 7th. However, BBC World Service radio listeners heard extracts from that interview several hours before it was broadcast on BBC Two in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘.

“During his trip to the UK the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tells the BBC recent protests in the Gaza Strip were violent riots aimed at killing at Israelis.”

Presenter Razia Iqbal began (from 01:08 here) by giving an account of the purpose of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Europe which was soon shown to be inaccurate by Netanyahu himself.

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

Iqbal: “We begin though with a visit by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UK. London is the last stop in a series of meetings he’s had with European leaders about the Iran nuclear deal. Mr Netanyahu has always opposed the deal and was delighted when President Trump decided to pull out of it. The Israeli prime minister has made it his business to persuade the other signatories to follow suit – especially since they have all said they will continue to see if it’s possible to keep the framework of the deal intact despite Washington’s departure. Today in an interview with my colleague Evan Davis of the BBC TV programme ‘Newsnight’, Mr Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal is dead. He said he would do everything in his power to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu: “…pressure can be of various kinds and I’ve seen in the past that when Iran faced very strong pressure – yes, a credible military response too but also by primarily paralysing sanctions – they came to the…”

Davis [interrupts]: “You’re not going to get the world behind sanctions.”

Netanyahu: “It’s already happened, Evan. I didn’t come here – contrary to news reports on another network that I’m going to try to persuade the E3, the Europeans, to leave the deal. That wasn’t my discussion. I said the deal is dead. It’s done; because of the force of the economic sanctions…”

Unsurprisingly (particularly given the fact that Iqbal allowed herself to shout inaccurate claims at an Israeli MK during live coverage of the rioting on the Gaza Strip-Israel border) listeners were not told that 53 of the people killed on May 14th were claimed by terror groups. Audiences did however hear Evan Davis’ editorialising.

Iqbal: “Well Israel has of course also been recently criticised internationally after more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers on one day on the border between Israel and Gaza. The shooting happened on the day the US opened its embassy in Israel in Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu described that moment as a glorious day. Evan Davis asked him, given the deaths of so many Palestinians, would he still use the words it’s a glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “On the moving of the embassy; for sure. Look…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Well, both things were happening…both things were related, weren’t they? It was the moving of the embassy that caused the protests in Gaza.”

Netanyahu: “It was glorious in Jerusalem and it was regrettable in Gaza…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Regrettable? It was tragic. Absolutely tragic. Your troops killed sixty-one…”

Netanyahu: “Tragic sounds like almost some force of nature. It wasn’t a force of nature. It was a deliberate policy of Hamas to push people into the line of fire, to try to kill Israelis and to present it as though this is Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t Martin Luther King. It wasn’t Mother Theresa. These were not peaceful protests. This was violent riots directed at killing Israelis.”

Using an obviously partial term to portray the Israeli prime minister’s description of the events of May 14th, Iqbal then brought Lyse Doucet into the discussion.

Iqbal: “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, speaking to Evan Davis. Let’s talk now to our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. Lyse – not in the least bit surprising that Benjamin Netanyahu should be defiant about what happened on that day on the border between Gaza and Israel.”

Doucet: “No; he has said it time and again. For him, of course, and for many who watch these events unfold, who watch the years of tensions between the two sides, that Israel has a right to protect its own security. It has a right to stop people from penetrating the security fence.”

Doucet then backed up her messaging using a quote from a German media interview with a disgraced former Israeli PM trying to make a political come-back and promoted some old BBC favourites: ‘disproportionate’ and the ‘Gaza prison’ theme.  

Doucet: “But what people are questioning – and even today the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert – and I’ll tell you what he said when he was interviewed about it. He says ‘I have doubts and questions over the use of lethal weapons against protesters near the Gaza border fence’. When you have that many people including children approaching the fence, what kind of force you use and it’s the question of disproportionate force and the fact that yes, of course Hamas was part of it and yes, Hamas militants did get killed but there are also peaceful activists including so many people, so many young people who are basically imprisoned in the Gaza Strip and see no hope.”

Apparently it has not occurred to Lyse Doucet that genuinely “peaceful activists” would most likely avoid mixing with terrorists committing attacks and infiltrations at a border fence, especially in light of seven weeks of prior experience. Doucet next promoted an anecdote from an anonymous source.

Doucet: “I was recently speaking to someone who has been working for years in the Gaza Strip trying to bring about a peaceful negotiation between Israel and Hamas and he said decades ago when he would speak to the young Gazans they would all say when we grow up we want to be teachers and doctors and lawyers. Now he said they all say we want to be martyrs; suicide martyrs.”

Perhaps if Lyse Doucet had carried out a more in-depth investigation into Gaza terror groups’ indoctrination of children when she had the chance, she would be able to report to BBC audiences on how the anecdote she chose to recount is connected to over a decade of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Razia Iqbal then made the following claim:

Iqbal: “Lyse, the United Kingdom has asked Mr Netanyahu to open an independent inquiry into those deaths in Gaza. Earlier this month the British government abstained from a UN Security Council resolution which called for an inquiry into the deaths. I mean, one wonders if Mr Netanyahu would have responded in the affirmative to the prime minister Theresa May.”

According to both the UK government announcement and media reports, Theresa May did not repeat the call she made on May 15th  for an ‘ independent inquiry’ (ironically while standing next to the Turkish president) during Netanyahu’s visit.

Doucet: “I think historically Israel has investigated its own incidents. It has not wanted international involvement. It believes that…you know Israel has always been regarded as having very strong judicial institutions. Of late questions have been raised about that but it has investigated and at times has been found to be wanting and fault has been found with the way Israel has responded to incidents like this. So I think it’s very much in keeping with how Israel responds to it. It is interesting the United Nations tried to introduce a new resolution at the UN Security Council last week and the only one who voted for it was the United States.”

Iqbal then gave Doucet the obviously pre-arranged cue for promotion of some remarkable speculation:

Iqbal: “Let’s talk in the brief time that we have left about the Iran nuclear deal which the BBC also asked Benjamin Netanyahu about. When Netanyahu says that the sanctions are already going to be put in place, that the deal is dead and that that isn’t going to change, do you think that the ultimate goal here of the United States and Mr Netanyahu is regime change in Iran? To put so much pressure on the country…because there have been appeals to the Iranian people by…specifically by the Secretary of State Pompeo and Mr Trump.”

Doucet: “Israel has never hid its desire to see regime change in Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has always seen Iran as an existential threat to Israel. That hasn’t been helped by some of the comments that come out of some of the more radical politicians and clerics in Iran. And what you have now in power is you have Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, you have Donald Trump in the White House, you have Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. They want to see an end to the theocracy in Iran. President Trump’s…his national security advisor now, John Bolton, has for the years he was out of power been associating with groups which are bent on regime change in Iran. There were speeches about how he wants to see regime change in Iran. That is widely seen to be the real agenda behind trying…proclaiming the nuclear deal is dead. The nuclear deal is all but dead but the European…European powers who also signed the deal – Russia, China – they are trying to save the deal but there is a real worry that without the United States and with not just US sanctions but the secondary sanctions against any other companies who do business in Iran, it will be all but impossible to save the deal.”

John Bolton does indeed have past associations with anti-regime groups but he also stated last month that regime change in Iran “is not the Trump administration’s current policy”. As for Doucet’s claim that “that is widely seen to be the real agenda”, she does not inform listeners that “widely seen” in fact means a theory bandied about by some journalists, pro-regime lobbyists and commentators including Stephen Walt of ‘Israel lobby’ infamy.

The use of partial language and editorialising together with the promotion of inaccurate claims, one-sided quotes, anonymous anecdotes and unsupported speculation clearly signpost the overt bias in this relatively long item.   

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part four

BBC flouts its own editorial guidelines with Iran talks interviewees

Editorialising, omission and inaccuracies from BBC’s Evan Davis

 

 

 

BBC WS reports what the BBC website didn’t on the Argentina football story

As we saw yesterday, a BBC News website report concerning the Argentinian Football Association’s cancellation of a friendly match with Israel framed the background to the decision as being about “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza” and/or the fact that “Palestinians […] were angered by a decision to relocate the game” to Jerusalem.

Although the article was later amended to include the full quote from Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain rather than the truncated version used in earlier editions, the BBC News website still avoided telling its audiences about the threats received by Argentinian players and their families which were – according to the head of the Argentinian Football Association and the Argentinian foreign minister – the real reason for the game’s cancellation.

In contrast, listeners to the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on June 6th heard a more accurate version of the story (from 45:05 here) than the one presented by the BBC News website.

Presenter Tim Franks asked his interviewee – an Israeli journalist “with the Argentinian team at their training camp in Barcelona” – why the match was cancelled.

Franks: “The Argentinian team itself; ehm…why did they decide in the end – or why did their football association decide in the end – that they couldn’t go ahead with this friendly game?”

Emmanuel Elbaz-Phelps replied that “the official explanation was that the association – the football association of Argentina – doesn’t want to take any risk for the players” and also noted that:

Elbaz-Phelps: “But we also heard that the decision came yesterday afternoon [Tuesday, June 5th]  after the players were having a training session in the morning and there were some protesters and they heard them, they saw them and then they read everything going on in the news about the demonstrations also happening in Argentina and the players had this meeting; they had this talk and they decided they won’t go ahead with the game. Some actually told us that Messi was the person who first made the decision and – as the captain – so everybody was behind him. Another version says that he’s the captain but it was a group decision.”

Franks: “Because Lionel Messi himself was singled out by the head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub, saying if Lionel Messi plays in Jerusalem, we will make sure that he is boycotted, he is targeted around the world.”

Elbaz-Phelps: “Yeah and even more there are reports that threats were made to Messi’s family and to the families of the players.”

Elbaz-Phelps reported having been told that “there were threats on the social media, they got letters and that the players were actually scared about the situation”.

Obviously there are BBC journalists who know that the reason for the cancellation of the match has nothing to do with “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza”. The question that therefore arises is why the BBC News website’s report – which, unlike the Newshour report will remain permanently available to the public – has not been amended accordingly.  

Related Articles:

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

BBC ‘Newshour’ presenter Donnison decides an Israeli’s identity

According to a study carried out last year by the Israel Democracy Institute just 14% of the Arab citizens of Israel define their primary identity as Palestinian. However, even in the contemporary era of race and gender self-identification, one BBC World Service radio presenter appears to have granted himself the prerogative of deciding how Israel’s Arab citizens should be defined.

On June 3rd an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview with the Program Director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Presenter Jon Donnison introduced the item (from 19:34 here) as follows:

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

Donnison: “To Germany now and at the Jewish Museum in Berlin a kippa – the skullcap worn by many religious Jewish men – has gone on display. Nothing too unusual about that you might think but this is a specific kippa. It was worn by a young secular Palestinian Israeli man Adam Armoush in Berlin who put it on to show solidarity with his Jewish friends. Things went badly though. He was violently set upon in the street by a Syrian refugee in an anti-Semitic attack. Video footage of the attack went viral on social media and led to widespread demonstrations with thousands of people of all faiths or none wearing kippot in support of Adam Armoush. His kippa is going on display in the Jewish Museum’s new ‘rapid response’ gallery which aims to highlight contemporary issues in the news.”

As Adam Armoush explained in interviews given to German and Israeli media after the attack, the reason he walked down that Berlin street wearing a kippa was not the one given by Donnison.

“The 21-year-old victim of an anti-Semitic attack on the streets of Berlin has told German media that, despite the fact that he was wearing a traditional Jewish skullcap, he was not Jewish, but an Israeli Arab wearing the kippa as an experiment.

“I’m not Jewish, I’m an Israeli, I grew up in Israel in an Arab family,” the man told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. 

He was conducting what he termed an “experiment” in response to a warning from a friend that wearing a kippa in Germany was unsafe, saying he refused to believe this. […]

Armoush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that he himself is an Israeli Arab, not Jewish, and that he wore the skullcap to make a point to a friend who said it was risky to do so in Germany.

“I was saying it’s really safe and I wanted to prove it, but it ended like that,” he said.”

The BBC itself reported at the time that:

“In a twist to the story, the Israeli victim later told German media that he had grown up in an Arab family in Israel and was not himself Jewish. He had been given the kippah a few days before by a friend from Israel who had told him it was dangerous to wear one in Berlin and he wanted to see if that was true.”

In addition to Donnison’s inaccurate portrayal of the reason why Armoush wore the kippa, he presented the subsequent rallies in Germany as being “in support of Adam Armoush” when in fact they were advertised as having a broader aim:

“As a sign against anti-Semitism, people in several German cities have taken to the streets with the traditional Jewish headgear, the Kippa. Jews and non-Jews gathered on Wednesday in Berlin, Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Potsdam for solidarity rallies.”

And despite there being no record of Adam Armoush having self-identified as a “Palestinian” in the various interviews he gave to the media, Jon Donnison took it upon himself to portray him as such to BBC World Service radio listeners.

All that in just one hundred and thirty-seven words.  

 

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ coverage of Gaza mortar and rocket attacks

Right at the end of the May 29th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ listeners heard a short item relating to the mortar and rocket fire by terror groups in the Gaza Strip that had, at the time of broadcast, been going on for over nine hours.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that report – from 51:03 here – as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “And just before we go, there has been some significant activity on the border between Gaza and Israel. The BBC’s Tom Bateman joins us now on the line from Jerusalem. Ah, Tom, this has been the heaviest military exchange of fire for some time.”

Located over a hundred kilometres away from the scene of the events he was reporting, Tom Bateman began in typical BBC ‘last-first’ mode by describing Israel’s response to – by that time – four rounds of attacks on civilian communities. In line with BBC editorial policy he refrained from describing the people responsible for those attacks as terrorists.  

Bateman: “Yeah, well this is a series of Israeli airstrikes that the Israeli military is describing as its largest response in Gaza since the war of 2014. It says it carried out airstrikes on 30 targets. Eh…speaking to colleagues in Gaza City…I mean they heard very loud explosions over a period of about three hours from around lunchtime. The Israeli military says it’s been targeting militant…ah…groups’ sites there and this follows this morning…ehm…rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. Now most of those mortars were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system but at least two landed in Israeli communities…eh…and one – the Israelis say – in the garden of a children’s nursery that was empty at the time. But the Israeli prime minister said there would be a forceful response. The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that this has been a massive and powerful strike and it seems that rocket alert sirens are continuing in southern Israel, so there are signs that this may escalate yet further.”

Notably the first three barrages (at around 07:00, 08:00 and 09:30 local time) got just fifty words of coverage from Bateman, who did not bother to inform listeners how many mortars had been fired (28) but added the unnecessary qualification “the Israelis say” to his portrayal of the landing site of one of them. By the time Bateman’s live report was aired, the IDF had announced the destruction of a cross-border tunnel but ‘Newshour’ listeners heard nothing of that.  

Iqbal: “And nothing, no…eh…statement from Gaza at all yet?”

Bateman: “Well we know that, as I say, there has been an escalation since…on Sunday an Islamic Jihad military post was targeted by the Israelis. Three Islamic Jihad militants were killed in that but we await further statements from the groups in Gaza themselves.”

The BBC did not report on that incident on May 27th and so audiences would be unaware of the part missing from Bateman’s account: the fact that the Israeli fire on the PIJ observation post came after the terror group had planted an explosive device on the border fence.

Iqbal: “Tom Bateman joining us live from Jerusalem on that increased military activity – heavy exchange between Gaza and Israel.”

Still located in Jerusalem, Bateman returned to report on the same story in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ (from 50:14 here). Presenter Julian Marshall stuck to the BBC’s editorial line by failing to inform listeners that over 80% of the people he portrayed simply as “Palestinians” were linked to terrorist groups.  

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

Marshall: “And we go now to Israel’s border with Gaza: the scene earlier this month of mass protests during which more than a hundred Palestinians were killed by Israeli live fire. And there’s been a further upset of violence today with massive Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in response to a barrage of shells from Palestinian militants. I heard more from the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem.”

Bateman began with the inaccurate claim that “sirens sounded across southern Israel” when in fact that they were initially confined to areas close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “Well it was early on Tuesday morning that…ah…rocket sirens sounded across southern Israel. There was then a…what Israel describes as a barrage of rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. Now most of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. There were more than 25 fired all together but at least two landed in Israeli communities. Israel is saying one landed in the…in a kindergarten yard. There was no-one there at the time. And after this, which the Israeli military has described as…ehm…the biggest event of its kind from the Gaza Strip since the war in 2014, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised a forceful response and then around lunchtime for around three hours there were intensive Israeli airstrikes at locations across the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says that they targeted more than 30 sites. I was speaking to colleagues in Gaza City. I mean there were incredibly loud explosions that could be heard from there and it appears these were targeting – as far as the Israelis were concerned – Hamas and Islamic Jihad military sites. They believe that most of the rocket and mortar fire had come from Islamic Jihad and from Hamas as well.”

Two and a half hours before this programme went on air it had already been reported that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has issued a statement claiming joint responsibility for the attacks. Bateman’s description of that as something that “the Israelis…believe” is therefore both superfluous and misleading. Failing to adequately clarify that the IED was placed at the border fence by PIJ activists, he continued:

Bateman: “That…it appears to have been in response to an event on Sunday when Israelis fired tank fire at a military post inside the Gaza Strip, killing three Islamic Jihad members. That, the Israelis said, was in response to an explosive device being laid at the Gaza perimeter fence. And so what you have here is a serious escalation.”

Marshall: “And will it escalate further, Tom?”

Bateman: “Well this is a question that was asked of the Israeli military this afternoon and they have said – which is what they always say in these events – that they do not seek an escalation but they won’t tolerate missiles – rockets or projectiles – coming from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli communities. Now there were more rocket sirens whilst Israeli airstrikes were going on. More interceptions it seems and the Israeli media is reporting that at least three Israelis have been wounded from shrapnel. They don’t seem to be very serious injuries but of course that may yield yet another wave of responses from Israel.”

By the time that report from Bateman was aired residents of the western Negev had been rushing to shelters for sixteen hours and at least 70 rockets and mortars had been fired into Israeli territory with more hits recorded than the two mentioned in this report. The number of projectiles portrayed in Bateman’s report – “more than 25” – was accurate thirteen and a half hours before it was aired. Once again listeners heard nothing about the cross-border tunnel running from the Gaza Strip into Egypt and then into Israel which had been destroyed some seven hours previously.

Obviously the total of just over five minutes of reporting that BBC World Service audiences heard in these two editions of ‘Newshour’ did not provide them with the full picture of this story – and not least the fact that the two organisations that initiated the violence with massive mortar attacks are terrorist groups rather than “militants”.

Related Articles:

BBC News website coverage of Gaza terrorists’ mortar attacks

BBC ignores removal of Gaza baby from casualty list

As noted here previously, in the May 15th edition of BBC One’s ‘BBC Breakfast’, presenter Louise Minchin claimed that a baby was among those killed the previous day during violent rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border.

Minchin: “Fifty-eight people have been killed. We understand that some of them were children, including a baby. Is this not excessive force?”

In a filmed report aired on domestic and international BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website on May 16th, the BBC’s Middle East editor promoted the same claim.

Bowen: “Poverty and grief breed anger. And so do the deaths of children. A family gathered for another funeral. It was for Layla al Ghandour who was eight months old.”

Jeremy Bowen’s report was also embedded into an article titled “Gaza violence: Israelis and Palestinians in fierce exchanges at UN” that was published on the BBC News website on May 15th.

The last picture featured in a photo essay published on the BBC News website’s ‘In Pictures’ page on May 15th was an image taken by Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem relating to the same story which was originally captioned:

“The mother of 8-month-old Palestinian infant Laila al-Ghandour, who died after inhaling tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem at the Israel-Gaza border, mourns during her funeral in Gaza City, May 15,2018.”

The same image was used to illustrate the webpage of an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 15th.

A report titled “Gaza begins to bury its dead after deadliest day in years” that appeared on the BBC News website on May 15th includes the following:

Similar images appear in a report by BBC Hindi aired on May 15th and still available online.

It is therefore more than likely that BBC audiences will have received the impression that Israel was responsible for the death of an eight month-old baby on May 15th. However, as noted here on May 16th, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry’s claim that the baby had died from tear-gas inhalation was soon called into question.

BBC Watch contacted ‘BBC Breakfast’ with a request for on-air clarification of the fact that the cause of the baby’s death is as yet unclear but, beyond acknowledgement of receipt of the e-mail, has not received a reply.

On May 25th it was reported that:

“Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said an 8-month-old girl has been taken off a list of Palestinians killed in border clashes with Israeli troops last week, while authorities await results of a pathologist’s report.

Layla al-Ghandour had originally been listed among the 60 Palestinians killed during massive border protests on the Gaza fence on May 14. The infant’s death intensified condemnation of Israel over the violence, though the health ministry has since signaled the child may not have been killed from tear gas inhalation but rather because of a pre-existing condition.”

The BBC’s newspaper of choicethe Guardian – reported that:

“Leila’s family has blamed the Israeli army for her death. The New York Times cited the family as saying the child suffered from patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart disease.

A copy of an initial hospital report seen by the Guardian said the infant had heart defects since birth and suffered a “severe stop in blood circulation and respiration”. It did not say if teargas inhalation had contributed to her death.”

However, as we see above, there is still plenty of BBC material available online which leads audiences to believe that Israel is responsible for the baby’s death and to date the BBC has failed to clarify to its audiences that the claim it widely promoted has been called into question.  

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part four

In previous posts we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border were portrayed as they happened in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ (available here).

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

In this post we will look at what BBC audiences worldwide were told in real-time about the context to the poorly portrayed violence along that border.

The long introduction given by presenter Razia Iqbal included misrepresentation of the locations of previous ‘Great Return March’ events – which actually were confined to the Gaza Strip border. Iqbal also promoted the blatant falsehood that the displacement of all Palestinians in 1948 was “forced”.

01:28 Iqbal: “Dates are significant here. It is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel and there has been a six-week protest by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and – the most deadly – in Gaza. Scores have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to culminate on May the 15th, tomorrow, called the Nakba or catastrophe by Palestinians as the day when they were forced from their land and homes as Israel was established.”

In contrast to the very clear – but inaccurate – impression given by Razia Iqbal, the facts are of course much more nuanced:

“Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.”

The vast majority of the context to what was, as we saw earlier, overwhelmingly portrayed as “peaceful marches” and “protests” came in Yolande Knell’s report near the beginning of the programme.

05:15 Iqbal: “Yolande, just remind listeners that this has been going on for several weeks now and it’s very specifically to mark a day tomorrow for the Palestinians.”

Knell: “That’s right. This has been called the Great March of Return by the Palestinians. It was organised in Gaza over the past 6 weeks. The 15th of May is always a date of protest for Palestinians when they remember how, back in 1948, more than 700,000 people lost their homes on land that became part of Israel. [….] The people [Knell spoke to in Gaza] were saying that they really felt that the historic injustice as they saw it was at the heart of all the modern-day problems that they have in Gaza, where they have chronic electricity shortages, this long-time blockade that’s been enforced by Israel and Egypt which now means that the Gaza Strip is an extremely poor place – it suffers from extremely high unemployment.”

Obviously the fact that there are chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip has nothing whatsoever to do with the refugee issue (it is, as Knell well knows, in fact due to infighting between Hamas and Fatah) and neither do the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel and Egypt in response to the surge in terrorism since Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Knell went on:

Knell: “One woman told me ‘I wouldn’t have come down here if Gaza wasn’t in the state it was but people need to see what the issues are for us’. They felt that this was putting back the suffering of people in Gaza back into the spotlight. Also a lot of concern…they think that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is a key issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict – they feel that there have been attempts – particularly by Washington – to try to push this off the table of any future negotiations. They say that because of course earlier this year the US did announce big cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.”

Yolande Knell (nor anyone else in this programme) made no effort to inform listeners why Palestinians – even when living under PA or Hamas control – are still kept in refugee status by UNRWA, their own leaders and the leaders of Arab countries seventy years on.

Listeners were also told that:

Knell: “Now on top of that, another key issue – the future status of Jerusalem. That is also at stake and of course that’s just added fuel to the flames, brought more people out for these demonstrations. “

As we see, listeners to this broadcast were wrongly led to believe that Palestinians were ‘protesting’ on the border because of a bad electricity supply, high unemployment and poverty – even as the BBC serially ignored the repeated attacks by ‘protesters’ on the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Additional factors cited included “the future status of Jerusalem” and the anniversary of a “historic injustice” which Knell failed to put into its correct context. Interestingly, while BBC reports on previous bouts of ‘Great Return March’ violence had touted the ‘right of return’ that is supposedly the publicity stunt’s raison d’être (see for example here and here), in this report that topic was largely avoided and listeners were not informed of the basic fact that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means rejection of the two-state solution and that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. 

Listeners also heard nothing of the fact that the ‘Great Return March’ events were organised by factions including Gaza-based terror groups. They were not told of the payments made by Hamas to participators or of the organisers’ calls for breaching of the border fence and martyrdom. Even Yahya Sinwar’s March 31st statement of intent – “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – did not receive any BBC coverage either in this programme or elsewhere.

Sadly it is all too obvious that both of the topics covered in this May 14th ‘split screen’ edition of Newshour – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting on the Gaza border on the same day – were presented in a manner intended to amplify a specific political narrative rather than to provide BBC audiences with “accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.

In the context of the question of whose interests this edition of ‘Newshour’ served, it is worth noting what Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar had to say about the Western media’s ‘split screen’ reporting two days after this BBC programme was broadcast:

“Our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world. There was supposed to be a romantic picture of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on the world’s television screens, but our people, in their collective consciousness, forced the whole world to split the television screens between the footage of fraud, deception, falsehood, and oppression, manifest in the attempt to impose Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state, and between the image of injustice, oppression, heroism, and determination painted by our own people in their sacrifices – the sacrifice of their children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

BACKGROUNDER: PALESTINIAN ARAB AND JEWISH REFUGEES (CAMERA)

 

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

Last week we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was reported live in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’.

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

The same programme – presented by Razia Iqbal and available here – concurrently gave listeners a portrayal of events along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on that day – as described in its synopsis.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

That content related to two topics: what was happening along the Gaza border and why. In this post we will first take a look at the ‘what’: how the events themselves were portrayed.

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

03:34 Iqbal: “Thousands of Palestinians have gathered on the edge of the border between Gaza and Israel fanning out along the fence that separates Palestinian territory from Israel. There have been demonstrations by Palestinians in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.”

Listeners heard a report from Yolande Knell who began by failing to inform listeners that the “Palestinian health officials” she quoted are in fact Hamas employees.

03:56 Knell: Well the latest we’re hearing from Palestinian health officials is that at least 37 people have been killed, one of them as young as 14. Many hundreds of people have been injured – several of them are journalists – and this, of course, is on top of at least 40 people who’ve been killed by Israeli soldiers during the past 6 weeks of protests…eh…during the demonstrations themselves. So really a very deadly day: the bloodiest day since the war in Gaza back in 2014.

Knell – who had previously been described by Iqbal as being in Ramallah – refrained from describing the events in the BBC’s own words.

Knell: “We’re hearing there are about 35,000 Palestinians spread across 12 locations. These are figures from the Israeli military. They say that Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks along the border. They said that they are sticking to what they call the usual rules of engagement. They have been warning they expected hundreds of Palestinians to try to approach the perimeter fence, to try to cut their way through it and break into Israeli territory and they made it clear that they would open fire in such cases to stop people from attacking the fence and from possible attacks being carried out on the Israeli communities that live nearby.”

She went on to promote the view of additional people not actually present on the Gaza border but, like her, commenting from Ramallah.

Knell: “But the PA government is accusing the Israeli military of carrying out a terrible massacre in Gaza.”

That portrayal of Israeli army statements from Yolande Knell in the first five minutes of the programme was in fact also the last account listeners heard of what the Palestinians at the border were actually doing. Throughout the rest of the programme they heard a series of context-free statements from Razia Iqbal such as the following during an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel.

12:11 Iqbal: “If I could just get your response to what is happening not very far away from where the embassy is being inaugurated. Gazans are being shot dead by Israeli forces.”

13:22 Iqbal: “Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. These clashes come as the United States formally opens its embassy in Jerusalem.”

At one point – as Haskel spoke of “violent riots in the attempt to break the border” – Razia Iqbal abandoned journalistic impartiality altogether:

15:07 Iqbal [interrupts, shouting]: “They’re unarmed, Sharren Haskel! They’re unarmed! It’s the Israeli forces who are armed and shooting at them.”

Listeners also heard a portrayal of the events along the Gaza border from yet another person located over a hundred kilometres away in Ramallah – Mustafa Barghouti.

16:46 Barghouti: “And now the Israelis are thinking that they got a green light from the Americans to do whatever they want. What we see today is a real massacre. So far Israel is responding to peaceful marches. They respond to us with lethal weapons. So far they killed 20 Palestinians and injured no less than 900.”

Despite the fact that many of those killed in prior bouts of rioting over the previous six weeks had been identified as members of Hamas and other terror groups (information that was not disclosed to listeners of this programme) Razia Iqbal provided Mustafa Barghouti with the cue to disseminate more propaganda.

19:11 Iqbal: “Those who speak on the side of Israel and Israeli security forces in particular will argue that Hamas is using in some cases children as human shields. Is there any truth to what they say?”

19:24 Barghouti: “Not at all. They are shooting civilians. The people who are killed are 30 years old. Some of them are children also. But no; people are marching peacefully. But Israel is shooting us. The world must take a stand here and must tell Israel enough is enough. You can’t continue to kill Palestinians as if they are not equal human beings.”

Later on in the programme Iqbal interviewed a Palestinian from Gaza.

33: 26 Iqbal: “Not very far from where people were hearing President Trump there are protests going on along the border between Gaza and Israel. We have just got through to a Palestinian activist. His name is Fadi Shamala…”

Shamala spoke of “tear gas” and “seeing hundreds of the youth are getting shot and killed”, claiming that:

Shamala: “More than 41 Palestinians is killed in these demonstration and more than also thousand of Palestinians were got injured.”

Referring to her first interview with Sharren Haskel, Iqbal asked:

34:41 Iqbal: “Fadi – so I was speaking to an Israeli member of the Knesset earlier and she was saying that the Palestinians are being provocative, they are armed and they are threatening Israel. Were you carrying a weapon today? Did you see other people who were protesting with you carrying weapons?”

After a sarcastic quip, Shamala replied:

Shamala: “No absolutely not. We were just thousands of Palestinian protesters who are unarmed. Just making a peaceful – a very peaceful – demonstration inside the Palestinian side. I mean they are till now are in the Palestinian side and around 3,000 journalists are seeing what is going on in the Palestinian side and also the activities of the demonstration, the protests themselves.”

During a later conversation with former Senator Joe Lieberman, Iqbal again gave a context-free portrayal of the day’s events:

41:07 Iqbal: “I wonder if I can just ask you to reflect then on the word ‘peace’ because today we are seeing Israeli forces shooting dead currently at least 16 protesters on the border between Gaza and Israel proper.”

41:52 Iqbal: “Since I did that interview with Senator Lieberman the number of Palestinians dead has gone up to 37.”

Later on, she repeated the exercise:

44:11 Iqbal: “Not very far from where the ceremony was taking place, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border.”

Iqbal’s final interview was with the head of an American political NGO.

48:20 Iqbal: “And what do you think then is going to be the direct result of what President Trump has done? I mean we’re seeing today coinciding with the opening of the embassy, continuation of protests on the border between Gaza and Israel and the death toll of Gazans is going up by the hour. What are we to make of those two parallel – almost parallel – universes that are existing today?”

Freidman: “This is part of a shifting, a recalibration of relations around Israel-Palestine and we don’t know where it goes just yet. It is currently being measured in blood.”

As we see, BBC World Service audiences were presented with a very blinkered view of what actually happened along the Gaza border on May 14th. Yolande Knell told listeners that the IDF had said that “Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks” but BBC audiences heard nothing at all about the more violent incidents that took place before and during the time that this programme was on air – including attempts to breach the border.

  • “At around noon an IDF force near the fence in the Rafah region, the site of one of the main riots, prevented a three-man squad of armed terrorists from placing an IED. The force shot and killed the terrorists.
  • Also during the afternoon, two shooting attacks were carried out against IDF forces. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked a Hamas post in the Jabalia region (northern Gaza Strip).
  • At around 1500 hours an IED exploded near the fence in the northern Gaza Strip. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked 11 Hamas targets. IDF tanks shot at Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip.”

BBC audiences did however repeatedly hear descriptions of “peaceful marches” and “protests” and were led to believe time and time again that the IDF was shooting unarmed civilians, with Hamas’ role in organising the riots mentions erased from audience view. On two occasions the events were described as a “massacre” – even as the BBC concealed the more violent incidents from listeners.

Like the programme’s portrayal of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the information and descriptions heard by BBC World Service listeners were obviously intended to steer audiences towards a very specific and one-sided understanding of events.

As Rod Liddle summed it up at the Times:

“Having listened to and watched the BBC news all last week, I am of the firm opinion that the fascist, apartheid state of Israel has been guilty of genocide against the peaceable Palestinian teenagers and toddlers who simply wanted to hold a kind of alcohol-free fundraising gala near that border fence, to celebrate diversity and niceness and raise money for worthy concerns. It is outrageous that the Israelis should have fired on unarmed civilians simply when they were running a tombola.

Some people will have been taken in by stuff less extensively reported by the BBC. Such as that more than four-fifths who were shot by Israeli soldiers were members of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Or that Hamas had ordered and in many cases paid demonstrators to breach the border and “tear the hearts out of the Jews”. Or that Egypt had summoned Hamas’s leader and told him to stop the bloodshed. Or that Molotov cocktails were thrown.

None of this has shifted my opinion, because it was not reported by our impartial state broadcaster. So it cannot possibly be true, can it?”

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.

Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]

Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”

Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”

Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.

Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”

Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”

Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.

Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”

Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.

Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”

Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”

After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.

Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”

At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Iqbal told listeners:

Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”

That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:

Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:

Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”

Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.

Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”

She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.

Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.

At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.

Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.

Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”

Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”

Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”

Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”

And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.

As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.

Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem  BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:

“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.

Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.

The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.

The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”

BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.

In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.

Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”

Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.

Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.

03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”

30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”

At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.

Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”

The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti which will be discussed in part two of this post.