BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

On April 25th an article billed “Israel PM snubs German foreign minister” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the sub-heading “Sigmar Gabriel had refused to call off talks with Israeli human rights activists”.

The report itself – headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu scraps talks with German minister over rights groups” – opens with a description of the NGOs concerned in the same terms.

“Israel’s prime minister has cancelled talks with Germany’s foreign minister after he refused to call off a meeting with Israeli human rights activists.

Sigmar Gabriel had been due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu had warned he would not see Mr Gabriel if he met the groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.”

The fact that the BBC chose to describe those two political NGOs as “human rights activists” should not be surprising: after all, both ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘ are among the campaigning NGOs (overwhelmingly from one end only of the political spectrum) that are routinely quoted and promoted in BBC content.

However, in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC has a longstanding policy of consistently refraining from adequately informing its audiences with regard to the foreign funding, agenda and “particular viewpoint” of the NGOs it promotes in Israel-related content – including ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘.

In this particular report readers are told that:

“Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, gathers anonymous testimony from within the military about alleged abuses of Palestinians by the army.

Israeli authorities have accused it of making unreliable accusations.”

They are not however informed that a significant proportion of those ‘testimonies’ have been shown by persons completely independent of the “Israeli authorities” to be false, exaggerated or unverifiable.

With regard to B’tselem, the BBC’s report states:

“B’Tselem is one of Israel’s leading human rights groups and has come under similar criticism.”

Readers are not told that B’tselem was one of the sources of dubious casualty figures (also used by the BBC) during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas or that it engages in ‘lawfare‘ campaigns intended to delegitimise Israel – the one country it openly admits to wanting to see “punished” by the international community.

Both ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are generously foreign funded campaigning NGOs with a clear and specific political agenda. The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of those groups as ‘human rights activists’ is a barrier to audience understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

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The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

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BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

 

 

 

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Weekend long read

Earlier this week we noted that the BBC’s coverage of the new Israeli NGO transparency law did not provide audiences with the range of accurate and impartial information needed for proper understanding of the issue. Among the issues arising was the report’s lack of any mention of similar legislation in other countries. At the Tablet, Professor Eugene Kontorovich discusses that topic.Weekend Read

“A major talking point of the law’s critics is that it has “no democratic parallel,” and that it puts Israel in the category of non-democratic regimes like Russia, and even sets it on the road to fascism. But if these claims are true, there is little hope for democracy in the U.S., which has had similar rules for decades, and imposed new ones a few years ago without a peep of international objection.”

We have often remarked here on the BBC’s absurd tendency to promote the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the Middle East conflict (it even has a sparse webpage with that title composed of material exclusively from the last Gaza conflict) and the concurrent practice of labelling reports about that particular conflict “Mid-East crisis” or “Middle East crisis“. The Times of Israel has an interesting interview with Shadi Hamid of Brookings which relates to that issue.

“In conversation with The Times of Israel, the expert explains that he believes that even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were somehow miraculously resolved tomorrow with a two-state solution, the Middle East would still be “a bloody dangerous place.”

“It feels like Israel-Palestine has almost become an afterthought for how we talk about the Middle East nowadays,” says Hamid. “It isn’t the central conflict in the region. Many of us thought it was, particularly in the pre-Arab Spring period.”

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the key to resolving the ongoing problems, or making peace, in the Middle East,” he concludes.”

The UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism had produced a guide titled “Recognising Antisemitism” which some BBC journalists and other employees might find helpful.

BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

On July 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “EU criticises Israel law forcing NGOs to reveal foreign funding” which included some rather confused language in the description of its subject matter.

NGO law art desc

The article’s introductory paragraph provides an accurate description of the groups affected by the new law but does not clarify that “from abroad” means from foreign governments.

“The EU has criticised a controversial new Israeli law targeting non-governmental organisations that receive most of their funding from abroad.”

Further on in the article, however, those groups are given a different title which is clearly intended to shape audience perceptions of the story. [emphasis added]NGO law art main

“But the EU said the requirements, which mostly affect human rights groups, went “beyond the need for transparency”.”

And:

Analysis by the Israeli justice ministry found there were 27 NGOs in Israel that would be affected by the law, of which 25 were human rights groups identified with the Left, Israeli media reported.”

The link in that paragraph leads to a report from Ha’aretz which does not provide the names of those “human rights groups” but does include a link to another Ha’aretz article on that topic which is behind a pay wall and hence inaccessible to most readers. In other words, the BBC does not allow readers to judge for themselves whether or not the title “human rights groups” is justified and accurate in all cases. It does go on to tell them that:

“They include B’Tselem, which monitors human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, and Zochrot, which advocates for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”

Haaretz NGOs list

from Haaretz article

The BBC’s report refrains from informing audiences that some of the 25 so-called “human rights groups” on that list support the anti-peace Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (for example Al Marsad, the Coalition of Women for Peace, Who Profits and Israel Social TV). It does not inform readers that some of those groups are anti-Zionist ‘one-staters’ that support the dissolution of the Jewish State (for example Zochrot and Sikkuy) and it does not tell them that quite a few of those groups are involved in lawfare campaigning  against Israel (for example Bimkom, B’tselsm, Yesh Din and PCATI).

The article further amplifies the EU’s statement but provides no challenge to the inaccurate claim that “activities” of NGOs would be ‘constrained’ by the new law.

“But the EU’s External Action Service said the reporting requirements seemed “aimed at constraining the activities” of civil society organisations.

“Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear. This new legislation risks undermining these values,” a spokesperson warned.”

No discussion of the topic of interference in a democracy by foreign governments is seen in this article and no mention is made of similar legislation in other countries. The rather glaring question of how groups receiving between 50 – 100% of their funding from foreign governments can call themselves ‘non-governmental organisations’ is ignored.

The article closes with unchallenged quotes from two political NGOs: ‘Human Rights Watch’ (which is not registered in Israel and therefore is not affected by the law) and ‘Peace Now’ which – despite the BBC’s description of it as “another affected group” – does not appear on the list.

‘Human Rights Watch’ is of course one of the NGOs most often quoted and promoted by the BBC. Several of the NGOs which will be affected by the new transparency law (e.g. ‘Breaking the Silence’, ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘B’tselem’) are also among the NGOs which are most frequently quoted by BBC journalists and/or provide source material for BBC reporting.

Clearly this report does not provide audiences with a realistic, accurate and impartial view of either the new legislation or some of the political NGOs it will affect. Given the BBC’s longstanding dismal record on informing its audiences of the “particular viewpoint” of the cadre of NGOs it quotes and promotes (in breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality) that will hardly come as a surprise to BBC Watch readers.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Tim Franks and the ever ‘disappearing’ Jewish state

AP Headline on Israeli Law Breaks Journalistic Rule  (CAMERA)