BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (CAMERA) 

Behind the BBC’s ‘lone wolf’ portrayal of terrorism in Israel

Over the past few weeks BBC audiences have been repeatedly told that the current wave of terrorism in Israel is characterized by “lone wolf attacks”. For example:

“This amateur video was filmed in the Old City last Saturday. The distant screams are from an Israeli woman whose husband had just been killed in a lone wolf knife attack.” (Orla Guerin, BBC television news, October 9th 2015)

“It is proving a struggle to prevent the sporadic lone wolf attacks by young Palestinians. These have been motivated by deep anger over access to al-Aqsa Mosque and the current political situation. There is a danger that a heavy-handed Israeli police response could exacerbate the situation.” (Yolande Knell, BBC News website, October 9th 2015)

“Israelis have been targeted in a growing number of apparent lone-wolf attacks.” (BBC News website, October 22nd 2015)lone wolf attacks

That description conceals the links of some of the perpetrators of recent attacks to terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It also ignores the fact that whilst some of the individual terrorists may indeed have operated outside an organised command structure, they did not act within a vacuum.

A very interesting essay titled “What Do Palestinians Want?” by Daniel Polisar at Mosaic magazine provides insight into the backdrop to the current wave of terror.

“Absent almost entirely from this discussion has been any attempt to understand the perspective of everyday Palestinians. Yet it is precisely the climate of public opinion that shapes and in turn is shaped by the declarations of Palestinian leaders, and that creates the atmosphere in which young people choose whether to wake up in the morning, pull a knife from the family kitchen, and go out in search of martyrdom. Whether commentators are ignoring the views of mainstream Palestinians out of a mistaken belief that public opinion does not matter in dictatorships, or out of a dismissive sense that they are powerless pawns whose fate is decided by their leaders, Israel, or regional and world powers, the omission is both patronizing and likely to lead to significant misunderstandings of what is happening. In this essay I aim to fill the lacuna by addressing what Palestinians think both about violence against Israelis and about the core issues that supply its context and justification. […]

Though they may be lone wolves in the technical sense of not belonging to an organizational command structure, they are anything but alone within their communities. To the contrary, they are surrounded by people who share many of their core beliefs, who justify the attacks they are carrying out, who see their actions as potentially valuable in furthering Palestinian goals, and who can be counted on to venerate them and their families.”

The full essay – which addresses issues conscientiously and consistently avoided by BBC correspondents confined to reporting within a very specific narrative – can be found here.  

 

 

BBC response to complaint about report criticized by MP and former BBC chair

As readers will recall, a BBC News report by Orla Guerin broadcast on October 11th was the subject of criticism from Sir Eric Pickles MP and from the BBC’s former chairman, Lord Grade, prompting reports in the mainstream media in the UK and in Israel.Guerin filmed 11 10

That same report by Orla Guerin was also the topic of a complaint submitted to the BBC by a member of the public. Here is the response received.

“Orla Guerin’s report looked at the increasing violence from both sides of the conflict. During the live introduction to her report from Jerusalem she mentioned recent Palestinian casualties, but also pointed to the stabbing of three Israelis in the city of Hadera [the attack was actually near Gan Shmuel – Ed.]. Orla emphasised that this was the third such attack on Israelis that weekend.

While reporting on the Israeli Defense Forces’ strike in Gaza, Orla Guerin reflected Israel’s position that the IDF were targeting a weapons facility following a rocket attack into southern Israel. The report also went on to mention Israel’s security forces stopping a potential attack on the road to Jerusalem earlier that day. We believe we reported clearly on the threat of violence faced by Israelis on an increasingly regular basis. 

Orla Guerin then spoke to the father of Muhannad Halabi, the Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli security forces after he attacked an Israeli couple in the Old City in Jerusalem the previous weekend. She clearly described Halabi as a “Palestinian law student, turned killer”. She went on to describe the attack, where Halabi stabbed an Israeli couple, killing the husband and a rabbi who intervened. Viewers were given a clear account of what Muhannad Halabi had done.

BBC News tries to report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an accurate and duly impartial manner. Sometimes this means we can’t always reflect the full extent of the complexities of the conflict during one standalone report. We try to tell the story of the conflict as experienced by both sides, across programmes and bulletins and over time.Guerin filmed 9 10

With this in mind, you may not be aware of Orla Guerin’s report during the News at Ten two day before the report being discussed here was shown. This report showed video footage of Muhannad Halabi’s attack on the Israeli couple in the Old City. Orla also spoke to the injured wife of the man killed by Muhannad Halabi. From her hospital bed, Odel Bennet spoke of her fear and pain, and of the poor treatment she endured by Palestinian passers-by while she lay wounded on the street after the attack.

BBC News has reported extensively on the escalation in violence in recent weeks and we’ve heard from those affected from both sides of the conflict. We feel we have allowed our audience to make up their own minds, but we’re sorry to read you felt this wasn’t the case on this occasion. We’ve raised your complaint with senior editorial staff at BBC News and we would like to assure you that your feedback is very important to us.”

The earlier report by Guerin cited in this response (in which she told BBC audiences that al Aqsa Mosque is “sacred to Jews” and that stabbing attacks on Israelis are “new”) was discussed here.  

One does hope that Sir Eric Pickles and Lord Grade will receive a more substantive response.

BBC coverage of wave of terror in Israel criticised by its former chairman

As noted here previously, the BBC’s coverage of the current wave of terrorism in Israel has already come under criticism from Sir Eric Pickles. On Friday, a former BBC chairman added his voice to the critique.

“Former Chairman of the BBC, Lord Grade of Yarmouth CBE, has expressed concern about the BBC’s coverage of the recent violence in Israel and the West Bank, in a letter to the organisations’ Director of News and Current Affairs, James Harding.

In his complaint, Lord Grade said that the BBC coverage was at times misleading and failed to provide a wider context of what is an “undoubtedly complex issue”.

Lord Grade criticised the BBC’s inability “to fulfil its obligation to viewers” by not showing viewers examples of Palestinian Authority officials praising the attacks and calling for more. The former BBC Chairman underlined that Palestinian incitement, “has played an undeniable part in stoking tension recently and is an important part of the story”.

The complaint was directed at a report by Orla Guerin on Sunday October 11th, about the recent wave of attacks across Israel.”

That report from Orla Guerin was discussed here and here.

Lord Grade noted:PIJ flags Halabi 2

“Additionally, it was improper of the correspondent to claim that “there’s no sign of involvement by militant groups”, before immediately showing footage of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) banners at the home of a 19 year-old terrorist who carried out a deadly knife attack at Lions Gate in Jerusalem on 3rd October. PIJ is a well-known Palestinian terror organisation and it has since claimed responsibility for the attack and praised by Hamas, another internationally proscribed terror organisation. This directly misleads viewers”.

He added:

“Regrettably, this is not the first time the standard of reporting and impartiality has been unsatisfactory in recent weeks. On Saturday 3rd October, I was disappointed to see the BBC News website publish a misleading and counter-factual headline: ‘Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attacks kills two’. I note reports that this headline underwent four revisions following public criticism”.

The report to which Lord Grade refers was discussed here and here.

The parts of a terrorist’s story censored by the BBC’s Orla Guerin

As readers will recall, a filmed report by Orla Guerin which appeared on BBC television news programmes on October 11th included a sympathetic interview with the father of the terrorist who perpetrated the attack at Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem on October 3rd in which two Israelis were killed and two more wounded. The attack was later claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and praised by Hamas, although that part of the story was absent from the BBC report.

In that report, Guerin told viewers:

“This is the family home of Muhannad Halabi – a Palestinian law student turned killer. Last weekend the 19 year-old stabbed an Israeli couple and a rabbi who intervened. His father, Shafik, is grief-stricken but unapologetic.

‘In the beginning, I felt pain’ he says. ‘No-one wants to lose a son, but then I saw people backing what he did. Now I have mixed feelings; pride and sorrow at not seeing him anymore.'”

Just before that segment of the report, Guerin had told viewers that “anger and frustration are driving ordinary people to carry out attacks” and that “there’s no sign of involvement by militant groups”.

Via MEMRI we learn that Orla Guerin was not the only one to pay a visit to the Halabi family.

“A delegation of Fatah officials paid a condolence visit to the family of Muhannad Al-Halabi, who stabbed two Jews to death on October 4 [3 – Ed], 2015. The delegation included Fatah Central Committee members ‘Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior PA official close to PA President ‘Abbas, as well as Nabil Sha’ath, Mahmoud Al-‘Aloul and Jamal Al-Muhsin; Fatah spokesman Ahmad ‘Assaf; Fatah’s secretary in Ramallah Muwaffaq Sahwil; assistance commissioner of recruitment ‘Abd Al-Mun’im Wahdan; Hassan Faraj, secretary-general of Fatah’s Shabiba youth movement; Mustafa ‘Abd Al-Hadi, member of Fatah’s leadership in Ramallah and Al-Bira, and others. During the visit, ‘Azzam Al-Ahmad said on behalf of the Fatah: “The Palestinian people will continue to defend itself against aggression and it is very determined to struggle, no matter what the cost, until the occupation ends.”

The Palestinian Bar Association, whose heads are Fatah members and which receives funds from the E.U., announced it would award an honorary law degree to “the martyred hero Muhannad Al-Halabi,” who had been studying law. The association also decided to hold its next conference in honor of Al-Halabi.”

Orla Guerin obviously did not consider that BBC audiences needed to know about those two examples of PA glorification of terrorism. 

Palestinian Media Watch brings us the Halabi family’s views of their son’s actions – when not speaking to the Western media.

Readers will note the proliferation of Palestinian Islamic Jihad flags at Halabi’s funeral procession.

The BBC has consistently tried to frame the current wave of terror in Israel as “protests” and “lone-wolf” violence born out of “anger and frustration” at the lack of political process. As the material above demonstrates, there is considerably more to the story than that, but all information concerning incitement and glorification of terrorism within Palestinian society is being meticulously censored from the view of BBC audiences. 

BBC’s Guerin portrays wave of terror in Israel as ‘DIY unrest’

h/t @SussexFriends

Viewers of BBC television news on October 11th saw yet another report from Orla Guerin on the topic of the current wave of terrorism in Israel. A similar but shorter version of that report also appeared on the BBC News website on the same day under the title “Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza“, with its synopsis promoting equivalence between Israeli victims of terrorism and Palestinians mostly killed whilst carrying out terror attacks or engaging in violent rioting.Guerin filmed 11 10

“Escalating violence has claimed the lives of four Israelis and 23 Palestinians in a two week period.”

That same equivalence was seen in news presenter Mishal Husain’s introduction to Guerin’s report.

Mishal Husain: “A Palestinian woman and her two year-old daughter have been killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip following Palestinian rocket attacks. Escalating violence over the last fortnight has claimed the lives of four Israelis and at least twenty Palestinians. Our Middle East correspondent Orla Guerin sent this report.

Orla Guerin: “Dawn in Gaza. A new day of conflict. This was what was left after an Israeli airstrike flattened a house. A pregnant mother died here with her two year-old daughter. Israel says it was targeting weapons facilities after militants fired two rockets.”

Guerin provides no source or evidence of independent verification for her claim that “an Israeli airstrike flattened the house”. The BBC’s Rushdi Abualouf who – unlike Guerin – is located in the Gaza Strip, had already Tweeted a different version of events and according to other media outlets, the house collapsed due to what appears to be a secondary explosion.  

“Gaza officials said a woman, 30, and her two-year-old daughter were killed when an explosion from a targeted Hamas site caused the collapse of a nearby home. Three others, including a 15-year-old youth, were wounded, according to Reuters.

The collapsed building was located in the Zeitoun neighborhood in the northern Strip, the Walla news site reported.” [emphasis added]

Predictably, Orla Guerin shows no interest in helping viewers understand why a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility was located in a residential area.

Given that three years ago the BBC inaccurately reported an explosion in a house in the same neighbourhood  in which a woman and small child were killed as having been caused by an Israeli airstrike, one might have expected more caution and fact checking to be in evidence before Orla Guerin promoted her version of this event.

Guerin then goes on to give the following description of an incident which took place near Ma’ale Adumim on the morning of October 11th.

“And in the West Bank Israeli police say they stopped an attacker on the road to Jerusalem. When the Palestinian woman was pulled over, they say, she detonated an explosive device. Not a bomb – but a gas canister.”

According to official statements reported by the Times of Israel, the gas canister did not in fact explode as Guerin claims.

“The Shin Bet said in a statement that around 7 a.m. a traffic police officer noticed that the woman was driving in the public transportation lane while tailgating a police vehicle.

Police said officers noticed a suspicious vehicle driven by a woman heading toward a checkpoint on the way to Jerusalem and signaled to her to stop. The woman then yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is most great) and set off the explosive detonator in her car, a police statement said. A gas canister in her car did not explode, however.

Handwritten slips of paper voicing support for “Palestinian martyrs” were found on her person, the Shin Bet said. […]

The car was bearing Israeli, rather than Palestinian, license plates. Police found the gas canister in the vehicle and said that the woman had intended to carry out a bombing in Jerusalem.”

Guerin then continues:

“Among Palestinians, living under Israeli occupation, there’s plenty of support for the recent outbreak of DIY unrest – including a spate of stabbings. Palestinians say anger and frustration are driving ordinary people to carry out attacks. What’s striking is that there’s no sign of involvement by militant groups. The attacks are being carried out by individuals. It’s a low-tech approach and it’s catching. [emphasis added]

Notably, the footage shown immediately after Guerin has told audiences that “there’s no sign of involvement by militant groups” shows Palestinian Islamic Jihad banners at the home of the terrorist who carried out the October 3rd attack at Lions Gate in Jerusalem. That attack was later claimed by the PIJ and praised by Hamas.

PIJ flags Halabi 2

Following a sympathetic interview with the terrorist’s father and carefully selected footage from Hebron which edits out all evidence of violent rioting, Guerin goes on to say:

“In Nablus soldiers used live rounds against stone-throwers. Elsewhere, another protester was buried. Every death increases the rage and risks unleashing a wider conflict.”

The flags of the terrorist organisations Hamas and the PFLP are seen in the footage shown as Guerin speaks, although she does not clarify that fact to viewers.

Guerin’s narrative of “DIY unrest” and “low-tech” terror attacks fuelled by “anger and frustration”, together with her categorical statement denying “involvement by militant groups” obviously does not meet the BBC’s obligation to “enhance […] audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

In all of the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terrorism in Israel, the issue of the quotidian incitement on social media, in mosques, from Hamas, from Fatah and from the Palestinian Authority has been completely ignored. There is, of course, nothing surprising about that: since long before the latest surge in violence began, the BBC has habitually avoided the issues of Palestinian incitement, glorification of terrorism and indoctrination of Palestinian children.

Although those issues are a crucial part of the story the BBC claims to be telling with reports such as this one from Orla Guerin, they do not fit into the narrative adopted and promoted by the BBC.  Hence, even when a Palestinian Islamic Jihad banner is flying above her head, Orla Guerin ignores it. The trouble is that she would have BBC audiences ignore it too.

 

 

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Viewers of BBC television news programmes on the evening of October 9th saw a report by Orla Guerin – usually the corporation’s correspondent in Cairo. The report was also posted on the BBC News website under the title “Fears of ‘third intifada’ in Middle East“.Guerin filmed 9 10

Whilst Israel is of course in the Middle East, it is not the Middle East. That overly dramatic and exaggerated style – characteristic of Guerin’s reporting – continues in the introduction to the report, with audiences receiving clear early signposting telling them which side they should view as the underdog, violent rioters portrayed as “protesters” and Ramallah – under PA rule for two decades – presented as “occupied”.

“Venting their anger on the streets today in the Israeli occupied West Bank. In Ramallah; soldiers doing battle against protesters with slingshots. It’s a familiar scene but is another generation about to replay the bloodshed of the past?” [emphasis added]

Guerin continues:

“Well the confrontation here is escalating. There are Palestinian stone-throwers on this side, Israeli security forces on the other. Rubber bullets have been used and there have been injuries [sic] taken away. The fear is that clashes like this could spread. Some here already calling this the third Intifada – or uprising. Israeli security officials are playing that down but the police are on alert, especially in Jerusalem’s Old City. It’s home to the Al Aqsa Mosque; sacred to Muslims and Jews. Tensions over the shrine have fuelled the latest unrest and unleashed a new danger for Israelis: stabbing attacks.” [emphasis added]

Either veteran reporter Orla Guerin is astoundingly under-informed or – like her colleague Nawal Assad – she has elected to deliberately amplify popular propaganda according to which “Palestinian Muslims consider all that compound [Temple Mount] to be the Al Aqsa Mosque”. Either way, a correction of the inaccuracy promoted by Guerin is clearly necessary. 

Guerin likewise misleads audiences with the inaccurate claim that stabbing attacks on Israelis are “new”. Perhaps if the BBC had reported more than just 0.81% of the terror attacks which took place in the first eight months of this year, its correspondents would be aware of the fact that sixteen stabbing attacks took place between January and August 2015.

Guerin’s report continues with portrayal of one of the fatal attacks in the current wave of terror as a “lone wolf knife attack”:

“This amateur video was filmed in the Old City last Saturday. The distant screams are from an Israeli woman whose husband had just been killed in a lone wolf knife attack. We met Adele Bennett in hospital, recovering from thirteen stab wounds. Her young son, Natan, being treated alongside her. She says Palestinian bystanders ignored her desperate cries.”

Audiences are not told that the two year-old is being treated because he too was wounded in the same terror attack. 

Voiceover: “I searched for some humanity. I begged for help. I told them please take the children. I was met with stares of hatred. They threw things at me, spat in my face and shouted at me to die.”

Guerin continues with unchallenged amplification of falsehoods concerning an incident in which a boy was accidentally killed during violent rioting near Bethlehem:

“A short distance away in Bethlehem a Palestinian mother mourns her son. Abdel Rahman Abdullah who was thirteen was killed on Monday by Israeli troops. His mother, Delal, being comforted by neighbours, denies there were clashes at the time. She says a sniper shot her son through the heart. She wants another uprising.

Voiceover: I hope there will be a third Intifada so we can have freedom. The injustice must stop. We are tired and our children are tired. Every day someone gets killed. At night my daughter is calling for her brother.”

Guerin refrains from clarifying to audiences that Bethlehem has been under sole Palestinian Authority control since 1995 and she next fails to provide audiences with adequate context concerning the violent rioting at the border fence near Nahal Oz by some 200 Gaza Strip residents affiliated – according to Arab media outlets – with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“But there were more new dead in Gaza today where six Palestinians were killed in clashes.”

Guerin’s closing remarks steer audiences towards the inaccurate view that the current wave of terror is the result of frustration resulting from the failure of the political process.

“The unrest is spreading – carried forward by those tired of waiting for a Palestinian state. Israel’s president says both sides are sitting on a volcano.”

Neither the Palestinian Islamic Jihad nor Hamas – which has spent months trying to augment its terror activities in PA ruled areas – are interested in a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Guerin’s framing of the background to this latest wave of terror (of course never named as such by the BBC) is therefore as misleading to audiences as her amplification of propaganda and falsehoods and her portrayals of violent rioters as underdog “protesters” and terrorists inspired by serial incitement as “lone wolves”. 

 

European court knocks the bottom out of BBC portrayal of Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’

Back in August 2014, the BBC’s Orla Guerin closed a filmed report from the Gaza Strip with the following words:Guerin filmed Hamas 5 8

“Fishermen were back on the water today, grasping at normal life. Palestinians are living and dying under Israel’s military occupation. Many now see Hamas as their only hope of escape.” [emphasis added]

As was pointed out here at the time:

“There is, of course, no Israeli “military occupation” of the Gaza Strip and has not been for nine years. The legal definition of military occupation is as follows:

“Art. 42. Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.
The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

As Col. (Ret.) Pnina Sharvit Baruch explains:

“In order for effective control to exist, the foreign army must be able to impose its will on the local population whenever it so chooses while the sovereign government is unable to exercise its authority in the territory due to the effective control of the foreign army. Even according to this more flexible approach, fulfilling “effective control” usually requires the occupier to have forces present on the ground or at least to have the ability to send, within a reasonable time, forces into the area to exercise the authority therein.””

Guerin’s claim is however not a one-off aberration: examples of portrayals of the Gaza Strip as being under ‘occupation’ despite the 2005 Israeli disengagement can be found in other BBC content still available on the internet – for example here and here.

Now Dr Marko Milanovic of the University of Nottingham School of Law brings us some interesting news:

“… the Grand Chamber of  the European Court of Human Rights [….] has (implicitly!) decided that Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza. How so, you ask?”

Dr Milanovic’s explanation can be found here

 

 

BBC News passes up on the chance to correct Gaza misinformation

On June 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Gaza beach attack: Israel ‘struck boys in error’” relating to the results of the investigation into an incident which took place on July 16th 2014 during Operation Protective Edge (see section 7 here) made public the previous day by Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG).

The BBC’s article describes the investigation’s findings as follows and inserted into the text is a video clip which is a recycled version of Lyse Doucet’s filmed report on the incident dating from July 16th 2014.

Gaza Beach incident Doucet report

In that report Doucet described the location of the incident as an installation used by the Hamas Naval Police to “control” local fishermen and cast doubt on the site’s military importance.Doucet Gaza report 16 7

“An Israeli warplane hit a naval container in Gaza’s port today. Some children ran for cover. Then; a second strike almost immediately. These children didn’t escape. Emergency services rushed the bodies away. Some are so charred they’re too gruesome to show. It’s not clear what the target was at this port.

Israel insists it only targets the infrastructure used by Hamas – terror targets as it calls them. Now, previously it hit this post. It was used by the Hamas naval police to control the fishermen. But the boats aren’t going out to sea because Israel controls the coastline. So we’re told that children who were here were all children of fishermen, scavenging for metal to try to support their families”. [emphasis added]

The text of this latest article describes the site as “a compound separated from the civilian part of the beach and used exclusively by Hamas militants”, doing little to provide audiences with the information and context missing from Doucet’s report. However, the MAG findings – which the BBC has obviously read and to which its report links – provide much more detail about the site of the attack. Interestingly, the BBC chose not to convey that information to its audiences.

“From the factual findings collected by MPCID investigators, it arose that the incident took place in an area that had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force (naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants. The compound in question spans the length of the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore, closed off by a fence and clearly separated from the beach serving the civilian population. It further arose in the course of the investigation (including from the affidavits provided to the MPCID by Palestinian witnesses), that the compound was known to the residents of the Gaza Strip as a compound which was used exclusively by Hamas’s Naval Police. The IDF carried out a number of attacks on the compound in the days prior to the incident. In the course of one such attack, which took place on the day prior to the incident (15 July 2014), a container located inside the compound, which was used to store military supplies, was attacked.”

In other words, the BBC not only passed up on the opportunity to correct the misleading impression conveyed to audiences eleven months ago by Lyse Doucet and to clarify that, rather than a police post connected to the fishing industry what was targeted the day before the incident was actually a military supply store, but even re-promoted Doucet’s inaccurate account.

Similarly, the BBC also passed up on the opportunity to relieve audiences of the mistaken impression given by Orla Guerin concerning the same incident when, in a filmed report aired on August 5th 2014 she told viewers:

“But there was no protection for these young boys trying to outrun Israeli missiles. They had been playing football on the beach. Four were killed. Three weeks on this bereaved family have newly embraced Hamas. The Bakas [phonetic] lost 11 year-old Mohammed. They say he was the light of the house. Little Mara keeps saying she wants to join him in heaven.“ [emphasis added] 

In fact, as the MAG report clarifies, the four boys were not “playing football on the beach” but had entered a closed-off compound used by terrorists.

“Shortly before the incident, an intelligence assessment was established which indicated that operatives from Hamas’s Naval Forces would gather in the military compound in order to prepare for military activity against the IDF. On 16 July, aerial surveillance identified a number of figures entering the compound at a running pace. These figures entered a shed adjoining the container which had been attacked the day prior. Against the backdrop of the aforementioned intelligence assessment, these were believed to be militants from Hamas’s Naval Forces, who had arrived at the compound in order to prepare to execute the aforementioned military activity against the IDF. It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children.”

The article goes on to link to a report published on the BBC News website on July 23rd 2014:Gaza beach incident main

“In the wake of the incident, the UN’s then top human rights official Navi Pillay accused Israel of having shown a “disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life”.”

No effort is made to balance that statement – made before any investigation into the circumstances of that incident and others had taken place – with professional opinions which, after examination of the evidence, have reached different conclusions than those promoted by Ms Pillay.

As was noted here last July in connection with Doucet’s above report:

“The results of the investigation into the tragic events of July 16th will no doubt be published as soon as possible. By then, of course, it is not improbable to expect that inaccurate and unverified early BBC reporting will once again already have created a narrative which no amount of facts will later dispel.”  

Unfortunately, even now that the facts are available, the BBC has elected to report them selectively and to unnecessarily amplify Doucet’s previous problematic report once again, thus doing the exact opposite to its public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

The BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) includes the result of requests for appeals concerning complaints made about a filmed report by Orla Guerin which was broadcast in August 2014 – available from page 84 here.BBC Trust

The requests for appeals were not granted and the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s response concerning one aspect of those requests is particularly worthy of note. Summarising the original complaints, the ESC states:

“A second point of complaint concerned the reporter’s assertion that there was no evidence for Israel’s claim that Palestinian militants were using their own civilians as human shields. Complainants said there was abundant evidence.”

Summarising the appeal stage, the ESC notes that complainants stated that:

“…the report inaccurately stated that “there was no evidence of the use of human shields” by Palestinian militants when there was evidence at the time of broadcast; the reporter would have been aware of it and chose to ignore it.”

Orla Guerin’s report was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on August 12th and appeared on the BBC News website on August 13th – i.e. well over a month after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.Guerin ISM report

The ESC states:

“The [Senior Editorial Complaints] Adviser then considered the second issue raised by the complaint, that the highlighted sentence in the following section of commentary was inaccurate:

REPORTER: While there are growing claims against Israel, it claims that civilians here have been used as human shields – but so far there’s been no evidence of that. During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time – but you can see that just across the road, there are people living in these apartments. These images were filmed by Indian TV just up the road. They appear to show militants firing rockets near their hotel (Captions “Hamas team assembles rocket under tent” and “Hamas rocket fired from residential area”).”

In fact, Guerin said:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” [emphasis in bold added]

The ESC continues:

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response. She noted that the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit] had addressed this point:

“I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ in this context – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context, given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they had done to put civilian lives at risk.”

She also noted and agreed with the ECU’s statement in response to the script line that there was “no evidence” to support claims that Hamas had used human shields:

 “To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.”

The Adviser considered, however, that the issue for her to consider was whether the choice of wording would have misled the audience on a material fact. She noted the broader context in which the sentence appeared. She noted the following extract from the ECU finding to one of the complainants:

“Given the explicit references to rockets fired from civilian areas and the inclusion of this footage I can see no prospect of audiences believing that this was not happening or that the actions of Hamas were not putting civilians at risk – which seems to me to be the central charge against them. I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they could be proven to have done to put civilian lives at risk, I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context.” […]

The Adviser concluded that the audience would have been likely to have understood that there was a case for Hamas to answer in relation to the allegation that it was using civilians as human shields and that taking the section as a whole, the reporter had gone as far as she was able, with the facts that she was able to verify.

The Adviser decided neither point of complaint would have a reasonable prospect of success and the complaint should not proceed to appeal.”

In other words, one the one hand the BBC is claiming that despite Orla Guerin’s categorical statement that there was no evidence of Hamas using human shields, audiences were not misled and would have understood that in fact it was doing just that because she went on to show footage of a residential area from which missiles had been fired. On the other hand the BBC is also claiming that it is not sure that the residents of areas from which missiles were fired were actually human shields because it thinks there is a dispute regarding the definition of human shields. Obviously any reasonable viewer would have interpreted Guerin’s sequence of commentary as supporting that interpretation of the definition of human shields as applying only to people who have been actively and forcibly placed in a certain location.

The ESC then notes that:

“Two of the complainants to the consolidated appeal requested that the Trustees review the Adviser’s decision not to proceed.”

The ESC’s decision was as follows:

“The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ reference to international law. However, Trustees considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields”.

The Committee observed that the complaints, whilst clearly made in good faith, were predicated on testing the content by isolating a single sentence rather than considering the report overall and by a misinterpretation of what the reporter had actually said. It noted, for example, the section of commentary which followed:

“During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time. But you can see that just across the road there are people living in these apartments.”

The Committee agreed that the subsequent sequences offered further clarification and would have accurately informed the audience that, even without actual evidence of civilians being coerced, there was substantial circumstantial evidence that Hamas had a case to answer.

The Committee therefore agreed with the Adviser that the complaint would not have a reasonable prospect of success were it to proceed to appeal.”

As we see, assorted BBC bodies state that the definition of human shields is unclear and appear to adopt a stance according to which if civilians have not been coerced, they are not acting as human shields. Those claims, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

“The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations.[…]

It can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Likewise, as pointed out by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson:

“In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441). […]

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows:

The perpetrator moved or otherwise took advantage of the location of one or more civilians or other persons protected under the international law of armed conflict.

The perpetrator intended to shield a military objective from attack or shield, favour or impede military operations.

In order to fulfil the required actus reus in Element 1 of the crime, it is not necessary to force civilians to relocate close to a military objective. The mere placement of military assets in the vicinity of civilians fulfils this requirement. [emphasis added]

Since the actus reus of this crime is rather broad, it seems that great emphasis is placed on the mens rea. Thus, in order to be considered a crime of using human shields, the actus reus must be performed with the intention to “shield a military objective from attack or shield, favor or impede military operations.” Additionally, this crime does not require any result; rather, it focuses solely on the acts and intention of the belligerent fearing an attack.”

Whilst the ESC notes that it “considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields””, it does not acknowledge that by the time Orla Guerin produced her report, there was in fact ample evidence of that practice [see also related articles below].

“It is widely reported that the acts of Hamas clearly fall within the actus reus of the crime, through the placement of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military assets in civilian homesmosqueshospitals and schools. While this practice has been the focus of widespread condemnation (see here a statement by the US Secretary of State), Hamas has openly and explicitly endorsed this policy. For example, a Hamas spokesperson called on Palestinians in Gaza to “oppose the Israeli occupation with their bodies alone,” explaining that this was an effective way to thwart Israel’s attacks. This was followed by other, similar statements, such as this one by Hamas’s Interior Minister. These are all examples of the ways in which Hamas “took advantage of the location of one or more civilians.” The particular intent behind these acts is also easily established. In these statements, Hamas officials admit openly and explicitly that their intention is to use the civilian population in Gaza in order to shield their rockets and operatives.”

Neither does the ESC examine the relevant question of why the BBC had not only failed to report adequately on the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields throughout the month of conflict which preceded Guerin’s report, but in some cases had broadcast content which even denied the phenomenon – a practice which one BBC editor also continued outside his organization.

The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

BBC fails again to report Hamas order to civilians to act as human shields

BBC’s Bowen tries to persuade TV audiences that Hamas does not use human shields

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

The return of the template BBC response to complaints

BBC WS presenter: filmed evidence of Hamas’ misuse of hospitals is ‘rumours on the internet’

Indian TV network shows what the BBC does not

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen