Comparing two BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ interviews – part one

The December 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included several items relating to what was at the time an anticipated announcement by the US president concerning Jerusalem and the transfer of his country’s embassy to that city.

In addition to reports from the BBC’s own Yolande Knell, Barbara Plett-Usher and Jon Sopel, listeners heard two interviews conducted by presenter John Humphrys in which very different styles of interviewing were evident.

The first interview (from 01:34:40 here) was with the mayor of Jerusalem and in his introduction Humphrys erased the religious significance of that city to Jews from the picture presented to listeners.

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

Humphrys: “There is no more sensitive issue in Middle East peace negotiations than the status of Jerusalem. The Israelis claim it as their capital and treat it as such but it’s alone in that. For the Palestinians and every Arab country it is a sacred city. Every foreign country has its embassy not in Jerusalem but in Tel Aviv. That may be about to change. Today President Trump is going to make a speech which will, it seems, reverse decades of American policy by announcing that the American embassy in Israel will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and thus effectively recognise the ancient city as Israel’s capital. I’ve been talking about that to the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat who welcomed what Mr Trump is going to say.”

Barkat: “I applaud the president of the United States, President Trump. Indeed he said in his campaign that he will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy and for us to see him take action on his campaign promise is meaningful and it’s a very important day for Jerusalem today.”

Humphrys: “Well it may be an important day for Jerusalem but for the Middle East as a whole it’s highly provocative, isn’t it?”

Barkat: “I don’t think so. I think we have a brave president that understands the Middle East. He understands that in any peace scenario Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people for the last three thousand years and the Bible says so. We recognise that and for us to see a world leader like the president of the United States come and look forward and understand that, if anything, this will contribute to the peace process, to very…to stability, for the world to understand that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people regardless of any peace process or it’ll help the peace process, I think is meaningful.”

Humphrys: “Well so long as you believe that that’s fine but that is not what the rest of the world believes and your own Brigadier General Michael Herzog who, as you will know, serves in…served in very senior positions in the IDF and he’s been an Israeli peace negotiator – he says he is worried that extremists – Hamas etcetera – will use this as a rallying cry and Mr Trump should think very carefully about the impact his statement will have.”

Barkat: “Well I recognise that there are people that have different thoughts on the issue; that’s very clear. But I want to tell you one more thing: Israel would never exist if we would be afraid of threats made by our neighbours. Now we have to recognise…do the right thing. We’ll align interests with our partners around the world like the United States and others – and there are many, many others – and no deter from doing the right thing because of [the] threats of terror and other organisations. I have to tell you; about two years ago we had a round of violence for no reason. So the point is that you’ve got to make [do] the right thing and defend ourselves if, God forbid, they try to deter the decision – the terrorists – from doing the right thing we will overcome.”

Humphrys [interrupts] “Well there is no doubt…there is no doubt that they will try to deter you [sic] from doing this because for them there is no more sensitive issue and it isn’t just the Palestinians saying this, is it? It’s the Arab league talking about dangerous measures that would have repercussions. Saudi Arabia: ‘detrimental to the peace process’. Jordan: ‘it will provoke Muslims and Christians alike’. Turkey: ‘we may cut off diplomatic relations with Israel’. The consequences will be massive, won’t they?”

Barkat: “I don’t think so but I understand why people…”

Humphrys [interrupts]: “You don’t think so?”

Barkat: “No. I think that we have to do the right thing period. Look, if somebody threatens you and you deter he will continue threatening you and you’ll never get anywhere.”

Humphrys then managed to erase Hamas and additional terror organisations from the story:

Humphrys [interrupts]: “But you’re not being threatened over Jerusalem as we speak, are you? Nobody is trying to throw you out of Jerusalem.”

Barkat: “Well that’s the absurdity. I think what you’re basically saying to me [is] that there are people that are threatening us – extremists, radical Islam and others and maybe other people that have [unintelligible] opinions about Jerusalem are threatening in all ways…in all kinds of ways…”

Humphrys [interrupts] “No. What….”

Barkat: “If you’re asking me if we should deter from doing the right thing, the answer is definitely not.”

Humphrys then presented the Palestinian Authority’s narrative on this issue a fact:

Humphrys [interrupts]: “They want…what…yeah, but what they want is…is…is a two-state peace process and this will destroy that process – completely.”

Barkat: “I don’t think so. I think recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not…is not saying anything. But as a matter of fact, the opposite. In any scenario Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people period. Now if you don’t recognise that and you don’t want to have peace it will be very unfortunate. But that is something that is not negotiable from the Israeli side and, you know, hopefully people will understand and accept…and accept that historic fact and thank God if everything goes right it’s the reality and the future.”

Humphrys: “Nir Barkat – many thanks for talking to us.”

Leaving out the introduction, this interview lasted just over four minutes, during which Humphrys interrupted his interviewee on five occasions and spent well over a quarter of the time (1 minute and 14 seconds) speaking himself – including lengthy statements .

Later on in the same programme Humphrys conducted a longer interview with a Palestinian official and in part two of this post we will see how the interviewing technique used differed and what the BBC chose to do with both those interviews.

 

 

 

The BBC’s terror definition of convenience

The double standard evident in the language used by the BBC when reporting terror attacks in differing locations is regularly discussed on these pages and has been the subject of numerous complaints to the BBC.

In April of this year the BBC responded to one such complaint by stating that:

“Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.”

Regrettably, that response subsequently received endorsement from the UK’s communications regulator OFCOM.

The cynical approach behind the BBC’s policy came into full view last week in an interview with an Israeli guest in the September 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today‘ that was described as follows in the running order:

“The leader of one of the world’s most conflict-ridden cities has questioned official UK police advice to “run, hide, tell” during terror attacks and has suggested Britons should take on jihadists to save lives. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, said people should “engage” the enemy directly. He joins us on the program.”

In his introduction to that item (from 01:12:17 here) presenter John Humphrys made it perfectly clear that he (and his organisation) knows perfectly well that both Israel and the UK suffer from terror attacks.  

Humphrys: “The official advice to people in this country if they get caught up in a terrorist attack is ‘run, hide, tell’. But that, according to Nir Barkat, is wrong and he’s the mayor of Jerusalem which has seen more attacks than pretty much any other city on the planet and he’s on the line.”

In other words, when it is convenient for a particular purpose the BBC is perfectly happy to acknowledge both the existence and the scale of terrorism against Israelis. But when the corporation reports on (some of) those attacks in Israel, it deliberately refrains from describing them as terror because it is concerned about its own image and does “not wish to appear to be taking sides”.   

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting of vehicular attacks in France and Israel

BBC coverage of Berlin terror attack again highlights double standards

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ guidance on display again

BBC’s vehicular terrorism double standards on display again

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC bias on terrorism highlighted again in reports from Spain 

 

BBC Hardtalk host tells viewers Temple Mount is ‘the holiest of places for Muslims’

Earlier this month the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur for ‘Hardtalk‘. The filmed version of the programme (broadcast on BBC World News on January 5th) is available to those in the UK on iPlayer here and can also be found here. The synopsis to the filmed version reads as follows:Barkat clip

“Stephen Sackur talks to Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, about his ambitious plans to turn his city into a top global city hosting 10 million tourists a year.”

An audio version of the interview was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on January 6th and the synopsis to that item reads as follows:

“The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has grand plans to turn Jerusalem into a world city but is his vision far removed from the reality on the ground? He talks to Stephen Sackur about his aspirations.”

In fact listeners and viewers heard nothing about Nir Barkat’s plans to develop tourism in his city – not least because Stephen Sackur spent almost as much time talking as did his interviewee. Just under ten minutes of the airtime of a programme 23 minutes and 51 seconds long (including opening title and closing credits) were taken up by Sackur himself as he repeatedly interrupted Barkat’s answers in order to pursue his own agenda.

As is not at all unusual to see in his ‘Hardtalk’ interviews with Israeli politicians, Sackur ascended his pulpit and proceeded to ensure that what audiences took away was not insight into how the Mayor of Jerusalem plans to develop his city or what special challenges he faces, but politicized preaching on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The tone was already set in the introduction.

“Israel declares Jerusalem to be its undivided capital but the physical evidence inside the city points to a different reality. Jerusalem is a city of checkpoints, security barriers and constant tension between Jews and Arabs.”

That theme was further promoted by Sackur several times throughout the interview.

“If we as outsiders look at the city today it seems more tense, more full of fear and – frankly – full of division than ever before.”

“It’s a division. It’s a division. It’s a myth this idea of an open undivided Jerusalem.”

“Well as it happens…yeah Mister Mayor…as it happens I know Jerusalem quite well. I’ve lived there for several years myself [1995 to 1997 – Ed.]. It’s changed a lot since I lived there – not least because there are new security barriers, there are new checkpoints in place. This idea that you peddle that Jerusalem is an open and undivided city is patently not true. It is more divided – by armed checkpoints and the security wall and everything else – than it’s ever been before.”

Naturally viewers heard nothing about the nineteen years during which the city really was divided because part of it was under Jordanian occupation. As Nir Barkat pointed out, the vast majority of the checkpoints put in place in late 2015 in order to curb terrorism by attackers from Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have since been removed: obviously Sackur failed to check the facts before employing that subject in his sermon. 

Another theme seen in this interview – that of irresponsible, trigger happy Israeli politicians – was also found in a previous one with Yair Lapid.

“You are the very mayor who, in the autumn of last year, advised all Jerusalem…Israeli Jewish Jerusalem residents…to carry a pistol. I mean, what kind of message is that sending?”

“…what do you feel about senior Israeli politicians like Yair Lapid who we had on this programme saying that in his view, if anybody was seen to pull a knife or even a screwdriver – to quote him – don’t hesitate; shoot to kill. Do you think that was the right, responsible message to send?”

“It’s not for you as politicians to inflame emotions and get involved in this sort of way, is it?…”

The perennial theme of Israeli racism was also promoted.

“You said ‘I’m a strong believer in profiling’. ‘Profiling’, you said, ‘helps keep the citizens of Jerusalem safe’. What do you mean by profiling? Who are you profiling?”

“I appreciate that answer but with respect, mister mayor, I don’t think anybody in the outside world really believes that the Shin Bet spends as much time profiling and seeking out Jewish extremists as it does Muslim Arab extremists. So I’m very struck by what Binyamin Netanyahu said just the other day […]. He talked about enclaves. He clearly meant Arab communities – Arab enclaves with – quote – Islamist propaganda, plenty of weapons, constant crime. This wasn’t pointing to individual threats and dangers. He was tainting an entire community. Do you do the same?”

“So do you disown the words of your own prime minister? […] Do you think – in the words of Ha’aretz newspaper – that what he said was very close to outright racism?”

Netanyahu’s words were as follows:

“There are many among Muslim Israeli citizens who have come out against the violence and are crying out for full law enforcement in their towns. At the same time, we all know that there is wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector. Incitement in mosques, in the education system, on social media,” he said, vowing to continue efforts to stop the incitement.

The prime minister said he is unwilling to have a state within a state in Israel, in which some citizens live in “enclaves with no law enforcement, with Islamist incitement and an abundance of illegal weapons that are often fired at happy events, weddings, and during endless criminal incidents.”

Sackur – who only minutes earlier claimed to “know Jerusalem quite well” – came out with the following inaccurate and materially misleading statement:Barkat audio

“Yeah, you’ve raised one particular grievance, one area of tension, which is access to the holiest of places for Muslims – they call it Haram al Sharif – it’s holy for Jews too; you call it Temple Mount…” [emphasis added]

Politicised messaging continued with repeated portrayal of Arab residents of Jerusalem as “second class citizens” and depiction of Jerusalem neighbourhoods as “settlements”.

“Yeah, but you know what Mister Mayor? What you haven’t mentioned at all are the realities about, for example, housing, planning permits construction. Look at the reality. Even today thousands of new housing units have been sanctioned by your municipality and the Netanyahu government for a whole bunch of Jewish settlements – as the international community still calls them – on occupied land in East Jerusalem. At the very same time we see that 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked since 1967. It’s almost impossible for most Palestinians to get permission to build new housing on empty land in East Jerusalem. The reality of the situation is that, again, they’re second class citizens.”

Sackur is apparently convinced that he knows more than the Mayor of Jerusalem about construction statistics in that city.

“Are you telling me…are you telling me that the UN and others who have looked at the stats and say that more than three times as many housing permits, construction permissions, are given to Jews in East Jerusalem than to Arabs – Muslim Arabs in East Jerusalem – are you telling me that’s just plain wrong?”

Promotion of the PLO talking points put out a while ago by ‘Hardtalk’ frequent flyer Saeb Erekat was also evident.

“…but I spoke not a long time ago to Saeb Erekat […]. He almost cried with frustration when I put it to him that Israelis see ideological reasons behind the incitement – as you put it – of young Palestinian men. He said look don’t they understand that as long as Israel refuses to engage on the question of settlements, on the question of realistic negotiation of a two state solution, these people, the anger, the hate, will continue. Do you not get that?”

“Are you comfortable with the fact that unless you and other Israeli politicians recognize that in the end there has to be a sharing of the sovereignty of Jerusalem for a two state solution to work, if you’re not prepared to accept that then there can never be meaningful peace negotiations, can there? Are you comfortable with the position that you and your city are in?”

Sackur also came out with this gem:

“Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak, Olmert: all were prepared as realistic, pragmatic politicians to accept that there would have to be some sort of deal with the Palestinians over Jerusalem – some sort of symbolic shared sovereignty and internationalization of the holy places. Why won’t you?”

Leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence to support Sackur’s highly dubious claim that Yitzhak Rabin embraced the idea of “shared sovereignty” of Jerusalem, it is notable that he has obviously failed to ask himself why – if it is indeed the case that four Israeli prime ministers have offered to compromise on the issue of Jerusalem – have the Palestinians not seized any of those opportunities to make a peace deal during the last two decades.

Like so many others who adopt the messianic far-Left approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict whereby if only Israel did this, that or the other, then salvation would be instantly at hand, Sackur strips Palestinians of all agency or responsibility for the ongoing conflict. Hence, whilst able to admonish Barkat for his allegedly ‘unrealistic’ views on the subject of the division of the city, he is also able to ignore the fact that the “realistic, pragmatic” approach he holds up as the gold standard has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian side to the dispute. Likewise, that same cognitive dissonance enables Sackur to rebuke Barkat (and by extension, Israel) for the implementation of measures designed to cope with repeated waves of terrorism whilst exonerating those actually carrying out the attacks.

Obviously Stephen Sackur’s aim in this programme was not to provide his audiences with the opportunity to learn more about Jerusalem, the man who runs it or his plans for the city’s development. Instead, yet again, ‘Hardtalk’ audiences simply heard a so-called ‘interview’ with an Israeli public figure which is nothing more than a sermon based on Sackur’s weary – and by now decidedly dog-eared – charge sheet.

Related Articles:

Selective framing, inaccuracies and omission of context on BBC’s Hardtalk

BBC’s Sackur touts ‘racist’ Israel in Hardtalk interview with Herzog

BBC’s Sackur suggests being pro-Israel should be a problem

BBC’s Sackur promotes notion of Israeli settlements as a ‘war crime’

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ erases the Oslo Accords from history

On and off the BBC radar: terrorism in Jerusalem and Hebron

As we have often noted on these pages the BBC usually refrains from reporting on non-fatal terror attacks against Israelis and so when an illegal Palestinian infiltrator from the Ramallah area stabbed an Israeli father of four in central Jerusalem on the afternoon of February 22nd it came as something of a surprise to see that the BBC News website did get round to producing an article on the subject a day later.Nir Barkat  

The factor which prompted this exception to the rule can be determined from the title of the BBC report: “Jerusalem mayor overpowers attacker after man stabbed“. Indeed, the mayor of a city overcoming a terrorist with a rugby-style tackle is not an everyday occurrence, but terror attacks of various types on Israeli citizens are, and it is a pity that the BBC is apparently in need of some ‘celebrity interest’ in order to deem such attacks newsworthy. 

Whilst for most people the random stabbing of an identifiably Jewish man in the street by a Palestinian would not leave much room for doubt about the background to the incident, readers of the BBC’s report were informed that:

“The exact motive for the stabbing is not clear, but it is the latest in a series of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in recent months.”

On the same day that the BBC published the above report the Israeli security services announced that members of a Hamas terror cell in Hebron had been apprehended last month.

“The Shin Bet said it arrested 11 members of the cell in January, and that the group had carried out a failed bomb attack on Israeli troops in the West Bank.

Along with the arrests, security forces seized two sub-machine guns and explosives the cell allegedly planned on using to target Israelis, the Shin Bet said.

The main suspects in the case were named as Suhaib Mamoun Saltan, 20, from Hebron, and his cousin Salam Abbas Saltan, 28, a Hamas operative, who had been convicted and imprisoned by Israel in the past and was also at one time held under administrative detention.”

The BBC – which of course has made no real attempt to enhance its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the issue of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian Authority controlled areas since the issue came to the fore last summer with the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers – refrained from reporting that story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS promotes Hamas claim of “normal right” to carry out terror attacks

BBC sticks to inaccurate narrative despite Hamas claim of June kidnappings

BBC News report on kidnapping suspects downplays Hamas connections