An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

If the phrase ‘over the top’ comes to mind in relation to the volume of coverage of the US president’s announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel that has appeared on the BBC News website, that is not surprising. 

Between December 4th and the morning of December 7th inclusive, the website published the following reports:

December 4th:

1) “Jerusalem: Opposition to mooted Trump Israel announcement grows” – earlier version discussed here

December 5th:

2) “Jerusalem: Turkey warns Trump against crossing ‘red line’” – discussed here

3) “Trump’s Jerusalem calls spark warnings from Arab leaders

December 6th:

4) “Why Jerusalem matters” – filmed backgrounder by Yolande Knell, discussed here

5) “US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

6) “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, says Donald Trump

7) “Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace

8) “Jerusalem: Trump move prompts negative world reaction

9) “Palestinians and Israelis on US Jerusalem recognition” – filmed

10) “Trump on Jerusalem: ‘I am delivering on promise’” – filmed

December 7th:

11) “Jerusalem status: World condemns Trump’s announcement

12) “What Trump’s Jerusalem decision means for peace” – filmed, Lyse Doucet

13) “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift”  – Barbara Plett Usher, discussed here

Clearly the language used in most of the headlines of those nine written articles portrays the US announcement as a negative development to audiences even before they have read the actual articles. A review of the content of those articles shows that their framing of the story is no less uniform.

In none of those nine written reports were readers given an accurate and comprehensive overview of the history behind the story. Accounts of Jerusalem’s history, when given, invariably begin in 1967 with some articles making a cursory but unexplained reference to Jordan’s occupation of parts of Jerusalem but no mention made whatsoever of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from parts of the city in 1948 or of the fact that Jerusalem is situated in the territory assigned by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

Five of the nine written articles and one of the four filmed reports described certain neighbourhoods of Jerusalem as “settlements” and presented a partisan portrayal of “international law”. All but one of the nine written reports promoted partisan maps of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem and – in one case – UN OCHA that include among other things portrayal of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as a ‘settlement’.

The majority of the written reports – seven – unquestioningly portrayed Jerusalem as being the “thorniest” issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eight of the nine, along with two of the filmed reports, told BBC audiences that the US announcement endangers or even destroys the ‘peace process’ – even though that process made no progress for the past 24 years, despite the US embassy being located in Tel Aviv.

None of the BBC’s reports informed readers that the Palestinians have previously been presented with peace offers that included considerable Israeli compromises on Jerusalem – which they refused.   

All of the written reports gave copious amplification to condemnations of the US announcement by assorted parties with some even uncritically amplifying threats of violence as though that were a legitimate response. Any dissenting views presented came solely from Israeli politicians.

The sole mention of the fact that Russia recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back in April was found in Lyse Doucet’s filmed report. An announcement relating to Jerusalem from the Czech Republic has at the time of writing not been covered by the BBC.

The essential context of the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ was provided to readers of just three of the nine written reports and subsequently added to one other many hours after initial publication. The context of the related June 2017 resolution passed by the US Senate was absent from all the BBC’s reports. Only two of the total thirteen reports mentioned that previous US presidents had made similar campaign promises to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

The BBC framed the US president’s announcement as being intended to appeal to specific sectors.

In article 5 readers were told that:

“Mr Trump would also direct the state department to begin the process of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem – but this could take several years as it still has to be designed and built and security concerns would need to be addressed.

He originally promised the move to pro-Israel voters during his campaign for the presidency.”

Article 6 included the following:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition have already thanked the president in a New York Times ad. The group is backed by Republican and Trump campaign mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.”

In article 11 readers were told that:

“Despite warnings of regional unrest over any such move, the decision fulfils a campaign promise and appeals to Mr Trump’s right-wing base.”

Article 13 informed BBC audiences that:

“…there’s far more evidence he [Trump] was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

And that:

“…this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.”

In fact, as noted by Michael Totten, the issue is far more bipartisan that the BBC would have its audiences believe.

“In 1995, the United States Congress, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, passed a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” This law, passed by a whopping 93-5 when Bill Clinton was president, had no effect whatsoever on the Camp David Peace Process which would have given East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as the capital of their sovereign state had Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said yes instead of no and chose peace rather than war.

That law was reaffirmed in the United States Senate just six months ago by a unanimous vote. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, co-sponsored the bill. And just two months ago, Schumer slammed Donald Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize reality.”

As we see, BBC audiences got ample – but monochrome – coverage of this story over those three and a half days. While failing for the most part to provide essential context and refraining entirely from providing the relevant historical background necessary for understanding of the story, the coverage was uniformly focused on promotion of a partisan political narrative.

 

 

 

 

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As noted in part one of this post, less than 24 hours after the publication of a superficial article concerning the first stage approval of a bill proposed by members of the Knesset aimed at reducing noise pollution from PA systems used by religious establishments, the BBC News website replaced that report with one headlined “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.yogev-bill-art-2

The article’s main purpose appears to be amplification of Palestinian Authority officials’ statements concerning proposed legislation under early stage discussion in a neighbouring sovereign state’s parliament.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”.

On Sunday ministers backed two bills […]

The other bill would mainly impact on Muslims’ call to prayer from mosques. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

The topic of hyperbolic PA officials seeking to intervene in internal legislation in a country in which they have no authority does not come under discussion in this BBC report. Neither does the fact that the PA is not on record as having described the proposal or introduction of similar measures to reduce noise disturbance from mosque loudspeakers in Western or Muslim countries (including neighbouring Jordan) as ‘bringing disaster’ or ‘threatening religious war’.

Instead the BBC elects to provide backwind for the latest opportunistic PA agitprop, presenting a portrayal of the proposed law on PA systems which is even more superficial than the one in its previous report and similarly naming only the Israeli prime minister despite the fact that the bill was submitted by other MKs.

“While the volume limitations it seeks to introduce would apply to all religions, mosques would have to curtail the five-times-daily calls to prayer.

Arabs account for almost 20% of the Israeli population, and the majority are Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would address countless complaints about excessively loud calls to prayer from public address systems, but critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive.”

The second proposed legislation which has drawn comment from PA officials is described by the BBC as “Israeli plans to legitimise wildcat Jewish settlements” and “intended to stop the demolition of an unauthorised West Bank settlement.” Readers are told that:

“Separately, ministers approved draft legislation which would retroactively legalise unauthorised Jewish settlements, or outposts, in the occupied West Bank.

The move was intended to prevent the removal of an outpost known as Amona, which the Supreme Court says was built on private Palestinian land. […]

On Monday, the court rejected a government petition to delay the demolition, upholding a ruling that it must be evacuated by 25 December.

The issue has caused tension within Israel’s right-wing coalition government, with some members opposed to Amona’s removal.”

No further explanation of the politics behind the proposed legislation is provided and BBC audiences are not informed of the fact that it is opposed by the State Attorney General and hence highly unlikely to become law.

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday sent a stern warning to legislators seeking to circumvent a High Court ruling to evacuate the contested West Bank outpost of Amona, saying “We cannot accept legislation that hinders decisions of the High Court of Justice.””

The BBC’s article closes using language which endorses the political narrative promoted by the PLO. [emphasis added]

“According to the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, there are 97 outposts in the occupied West Bank, and over 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unlike officially recognised settlements, the government regards outposts as illegal.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Palestinians want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

While promoting the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’, the article fails to inform readers that according to the Oslo Accords – to which the Palestinians are of course party – the final status of Area C is to be determined in negotiations. Likewise, readers are not informed that under any realistic scenario (such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) some parts of Area C would remain under Israeli control (in exchange for land swaps) in the event of a negotiated agreement.

It should of course be clear to the BBC that its remit of building “understanding of international issues” is not achieved by context-free amplification of the narrative and demands of one party in an unresolved dispute. Clearly that is not the case.

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BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’