BBC WS ‘Outlook’ squeezes in irrelevant mantras

The December 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ – billed as “the home of extraordinary personal stories” by its presenter Jo Fidgen – included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and it’s seen a lot of conflict and a lot of human suffering. But there’s one teenager, Maram Makkawi, who’s been doing her best to help thousands of its stray animals. She’s been speaking to Outlook’s Saskia Edwards about why she does it.”

Jo Fidgen’s introduction to the item (from 16:15 here) was virtually identical to that synopsis:

Fidgen: “OK, let’s head to Gaza – one of the most densely populated places in the world. It’s in a lot of conflict and a lot of human suffering. But there’s one teen there who’s been doing her best to help the thousands of stray animals in Gaza and she’s been speaking to Outlook’s Saskia Edwards about why she does it.”

The same synopsis appeared in a version of the report uploaded on the same day to the BBC News website’s ‘Gaza’ page.

There are numerous other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places in the world with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Nevertheless, the BBC could not pass up the opportunity to once again promote that well-worn mantra which, together with the context-free references to “a lot of conflict” and “a lot of human suffering”, has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of the otherwise unexceptionable report about a young woman taking care of stray animals. 

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BBC’s preferred terminology hinders audience understanding

The April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook‘ included an item by Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 37:30 here) about a dog shelter in Beit Sahour which has been the topic of reports by other media outlets in the past.

Beit Sahour is located in Area A and has been under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995. However that relevant fact was not mentioned at all throughout the item, which was introduced by presenter Jo Fidgen using the term ‘occupied West Bank’.

Fidgen: “On nearly every street in the occupied West Bank you see stray dogs wandering about or scrapping or lounging in the sun. From time to time they’re hit by cars or abused by humans. And then what? There are vets in the West Bank but many of the surgeries are poorly equipped and anyway they’re more geared up for treating farm animals than pets. But one Palestinian woman has made it her mission to look after them. Our reported Yolande Knell went to the West Bank dog shelter to meet her.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide recognises that the geo-political divisions in the region are “complicated”:

“…the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority […]. These are complicated to work out because of the division of the West Bank into three areas…” 

One would therefore have thought that following Fidgen’s use of the unhelpful broad brush term ‘occupied West Bank’, listeners would be given a more precise description of the location of the story they were hearing – but that was not the case.

Knell: “We’re on a patch of wasteland at the edge of Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem.”

Knell: “Just give us an idea of the problem here in the Palestinian areas…”

That meant that when listeners later heard the answer to a question posed by Knell to her interviewee, they had no idea that the “government” to which she referred is the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “What needs to be done here to change attitudes towards animal welfare?”

Babish: “It needs time, it needs also the government to support this.”

The same BBC Academy style guide recognises the political implications of the term ‘occupied West Bank’:

“It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.” 

Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC chooses to use that particular terminology – together with the fact that it more often than not fails to adequately clarify to audiences that the vast majority of the Palestinian population in what it terms the ‘occupied West Bank’ lives under the rule of the Palestinian Authority – does not contribute to audience understanding of stories such as this.

Another aspect of this report may also have confused listeners.

Babish: “Basically I go to Israeli clinics and hospitals because they have the medical labs, they have x-rays, they have efficient doctors. Here we lack all of these so that’s why I take the dogs over there.”

Knell: “Every week Diana goes to Israel to try and find homes for her dogs.”

BBC audiences have of course been told for years that Palestinians suffer from “major constrictions on freedom of movement“, that “freedom of movement is also restricted by hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles“, that “Israeli troops have also […] severely restricted the movement of Palestinian civilians” and of “the challenges of mobility in the West Bank“.

Now however they suddenly hear about a Palestinian woman who not only goes to Israel “every week” but also takes sick and injured dogs with her for treatment. Obviously BBC audience understanding would benefit from less simplistic portrayals of that topic too.

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Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

 

BBC again creates false linkage between Israel and attacks on hospitals

h/t JB

Two months ago BBC Radio 4 promoted a Gaza Strip related story but failed to provide its listeners with the background necessary for them to put British surgeon David Nott’s account into its correct context, thereby potentially misleading BBC audiences.

On August 2nd the BBC World Service repeated the exercise when David Nott was again interviewed by Jo Fidgen on the radio programme ‘Outlook’.Outlook 2 8

After discussing Nott’s experiences in Sarajevo, Fidgen turned to the subject of Gaza (from 07:08 here).

Fidgen: “And since then, in different war zones around the world; an increasing number of attacks on medical facilities and on medical staff. And I think there was an occasion in Gaza…ah…when you were again in that situation. Tell us what happened there.”

Indeed military attacks on medical facilities have been making the headlines in recent months – but in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan rather than in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, with Fidgen having created the linkage, Nott just had to take up the cue.

Nott: “Yes…it’s…I was in Gaza 2014 and similar sort of thing. Again…ehm…you always feel that international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions should always protect hospitals, should protect health-workers and doctors and you should be allowed to go about your work without any problems.”

There is of course no evidence to show that health-workers and doctors in the Gaza Strip were not protected by the applicable laws and conventions during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas but while Nott did not specifically say there is, he immediately went on to repeat the story he previously told on BBC Radio 4, with a few minor differences.

“And in Gaza I was there working for the International Committee of the Red Cross this time and…err…I was on the top floor operating on a young child in fact who was about seven years of age…[…] I was preparing her for the operation and suddenly somebody came up to me – one of the Red Cross security people – and said ‘David, we have to leave the hospital because the hospital is going to get targeted’. I said ‘what do you mean the hospital is going to’…’well it’s going to get blown up; we don’t know by whom but the message is that we need to get out now otherwise, you know, we’re not going to make it’.

As was the case in the previous interview, many listeners would have been left with the impression that Israel was the party expected to ‘target’ and ‘blow up’ the hospital. Nott concluded his story as follows:

“…and I finished the operation and then about an hour later people started to come back into the operating theatre when they realised that the hospital didn’t get blown up and it was…ah…it was one of those life moments actually.”

As was noted here the last time the BBC amplified Nott’s long mileage story of an ‘attack’ on a hospital that never happened:

“Shifa hospital was of course not attacked on that day or any other and – despite what Nott was told at the time – it was in fact considered to be one of the safest places in the Gaza Strip, as reported by the BBC’s James Reynolds just days later:

“…just to explain where we are; we’re at the Shifa hospital here in the centre of Gaza. When you speak to ordinary people here, they feel that this is about the only safe place that there is in this strip of land – this or the grounds of the other hospitals here – because they believe that Israel will not target hospitals. There are actually some families sleeping outside the hospital – again, they believe that they won’t be hit here….””

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas the BBC repeatedly amplified false claims that Israel had attacked medical facilities without due cause and it has since failed to clarify or correct the inaccuracies which appeared in numerous reports.

The fact that the corporation has showcased David Nott’s story twice in two months – in both cases omitting information which would have prevented audiences from being misled – does nothing to enhance the impression that the BBC’s approach to this topic is rooted in a commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. Rather, it suggests that the corporation is more interested in perpetuating a myth.   

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BBC WS radio interview with writer conceals anti-Israel activism

Sadly, there is nothing novel about context-free BBC promotion of the Anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) and its proponents. But whilst that political crusade to bring about the demise of Jewish self-determination by means of delegitimisation and demonization is not infrequently directly or indirectly amplified in BBC programming, the corporation inevitably refrains from informing its audiences exactly for what its ‘one-stater’ supporters are campaigning.

“With pressure imposed by the international community through a BDS campaign a la anti-Apartheid campaign which brought Apartheid South Africa to an end, we believe that Israel itself can be transformed into a secular democratic state after the return of 6 million Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, a state for ALL of its citizens…therefore, we think that one of the major tools of the struggle towards a secular democratic state is BDS.” Haider Eid, 2009

“So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state…I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential… the success of the BDS movement is tied directly to our success in humanizing Palestinians and discrediting Zionism as a legitimate way of regarding the world.” Ahmed Moor, 2010

“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.” Ronnie Kasrils, 2009

Concurrently, the BBC also often falls short of its own Editorial Guidelines on impartiality by failing to clarify that interviewees are involved with the BDS campaign and/or additional anti-Israel political activities. Such was the case on April 17th when the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook’ interviewed Dervla Murphy – correctly introduced by presenter Matthew Bannister as a travel writer, but with no mention made of her equally relevant anti-Israel political activities.Outlook 17 4

The programme’s synopsis – which is similar to the verbal introduction – reads:

“In 1963, Dervla Murphy left her tiny village of Lismore in Ireland to fulfil a childhood ambition to cycle all the way to India. It was the first of many epic journeys on a shoestring which she turned into best-selling books. Now in her eighties, Dervla has been to destinations as far apart as Siberia, Peru, Cameroon and Tibet. Her latest book tells of spending months living in Israeli settlements and refugee camps in the Palestinian territories.”

Most of the interview (available from 09:15 here) relates to other topics but from 19:28 listeners heard the following:

Bannister: “What took you to Israel and the Palestinian territories? I think you’ve been back there in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. You’ve even lived in a refugee camp. What took you to that part of the world?”

Murphy: “Well I suppose that is a bit like the impulse that sent me to the north of Ireland and then of course it became much more complicated because, you know, I realized that our world – the West if you like – we really bear a lot of the guilt for how the Palestinians are ill-treated. So I mean it’s one hell of a mess.”

Bannister: “What did you think that your contribution was going to be to the debate because so many words have been spoken and written about that area? What did you feel when you set out to live there for long periods of time that you would be able to add?”

Murphy: “Well I didn’t think that I would be able to add anything in the way of information or insights; anything like that. But why I wrote the two books is because friends said to me ‘well yes; there are hundreds – thousands probably – of really, really good well-researched, well-written books on this theme but if you write a book on the same theme – just your own experiences – it’s possible that you will be able to reach a readership that is not interested in the problems’. I mean the world is so full of problems [laughs]. But, you know, that because they happen to like my travel books, they would read it and therefore the understanding would be widened.”

Bannister: “I understand”.

In other words, the political aims behind Murphy’s book promoted in this programme are clearly of prime importance and of course some insight into those motivations would have helped listeners put the unchallenged simplistic claim that “Palestinians are ill-treated” into its appropriate context.

“In all the countries I’ve visited,” she told me, “that is the only one where I felt it was my actual duty as a writer not to be neutral. Not to play this game of… we must look at this, look at that. We must only look at the fact that the Palestinians are treated utterly outrageously.” But each side, she says, must relinquish a dream in return for peace: the one-state solution is the only answer. “The Palestinians have to give up any notion of having their own separate, independent state, just as the Israelis have to give up having their Jewish-only state… In a sense that’s a good beginning: they both have to give up.”

As one reviewer of Murphy’s previous book about the Gaza Strip put it:

“…it is evident that this is not a travel book at all. The genre has a tendency towards self-indulgence, but there is at least a convention that the reader goes on a psychological, spiritual or political journey with the author as he or she is changed by the otherness of the experience of being somewhere else. There is none of that here. This is a travelogue entirely without a journey. Dervla Murphy has decided what she thinks about the Israel-Palestine conflict long before she sets foot in Gaza and everything she experiences merely reinforces her view that Zionism is a colonial disease that lives only to spread its poison.”

So here we have yet another example of the BBC’s casual mainstreaming of anti-Israel political activism by means of context-free promotion of its inadequately introduced proponents and their activities. We learn that the BBC apparently has no qualms about giving free promotion to a book designed to spread the propaganda of a campaign seeking to destroy a sovereign state and thus deny self-determination to a specific group of people. We might of course ponder the question of whether the corporation would be similarly eager to add its weight to the promotion of a campaign to revoke the basic rights of any other group of people. 

 

 

BBC WS does promo for Human Rights Watch

As regular readers are no doubt well aware, one of the NGOs most frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC is Human Rights Watch. Despite the organisation’s regular appearances in content broadcast on a variety of BBC platforms, audiences are not informed of the many problematic aspects of its activities – as perhaps most famously publicised by its own founder five years ago – or of its political agenda.Outlook HRW

Notwithstanding the existence of BBC editorial guidelines requiring audiences to be provided with details of the “ideology” of interviewees and their organisations, no such information was given when, on October 30th, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Outlook’ devoted ten minutes of airtime to an interview with HRW’s Fred Abrahams. Titled “On The Frontline Against War Criminals”, the item is available from 0:44 here.

Obviously not unrelatedly – as is noted in the item – HRW is currently promoting a documentary film about its activities with the advertising material including the following:

“When atrocities are committed in countries held hostage by ruthless dictators, Human Rights Watch sends in the E-Team (Emergencies Team), a collection of fiercely intelligent individuals who document war crimes and report them to the world. Within this volatile climate, award-winning filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny take us to the front lines in Syria and Libya, where shrapnel, bullet holes, and unmarked graves provide mounting evidence of atrocities by government forces. The crimes are rampant, random, and often unreported—making the E-Team’s effort to get information out of the country and into the hands of media outlets, policy makers, and international tribunals even more necessary.”

In addition to the BBC provided platform, Human Rights Watch also secured a slot in the fashion magazine ‘Elle’ for PR promotion of the film. The NGO’s executive director Kenneth Roth promoted that article on social media, revealing some interesting priorities with regard to the issue of subjugation of women in patriarchal societies. 

Tweet Ken Roth

Whilst there is of course no doubt that the world is in desperate need of human rights organisations, for such important work to be effective it must necessarily be free of political bias and motivations and must be carried out using flawless methodology. Unfortunately HRW’s record on those points is less than impeccable – a fact which the BBC, yet again, obviously did not consider to be need-to-know information for its audiences, even though their interests would clearly have been better served by an objective portrayal of the organisation.

Human Rights, anti-Israel campaigners and the BBC

The misappropriation of the term ‘human rights’ by political campaigners and the self-classification of various often opaquely-funded anti-Israel groups as ‘human rights’ organisations has not abated since the infamous events which overshadowed the Durban I UN conference over twelve years ago. 

The underlying principle of human rights is of course that they are – as it says on the packaging – universal, applying to every person regardless of gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, ethnic background and so forth. Hence, it is actually quite easy to distinguish organisations which are truly interested in promoting the human rights of the Palestinian people from those who merely exploit the halo of the term ‘human rights’ in order to co-opt its associated legitimacy for a political campaign. 

One simple litmus test for ‘pro-Palestinian’ organisations is the examination of their activity in the field of women’s rights. Do they speak out on subjects such as enforced dress codes and ‘modesty’ patrols, inheritance and child custody laws, domestic violence and lenient sentences for so-called ‘honour’ killings? Do they promote women’s education and financial independence? Or do they – as is now sadly so often the case in the ‘liberal’ West – regard issues such as polygamy, gender segregation, forced marriage and female genital mutilation as part of the untouchable ‘culture’ of a patriarchal society which their own cultural relativism prevents them from criticizing? 

Some of the most disadvantaged women in Israel are to be found in the Bedouin sector. Despite being illegal under Israeli law, polygamy is still high in that sector and birth rates are the highest in the country. Even though considerable progress has been made regarding the number of years of education, the educational gap is still large for Bedouin women. Rates of women’s employment outside the home remain low, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 

One woman trying – and succeeding – to make a difference to the lives of Bedouin women is Amal Elsana Alh’jooj – herself the first Bedouin woman in Israel to attend university. Recently Amal was the recipient of an award recognizing her work and during the time she was in London to receive it, she was interviewed by the BBC for Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ (from around 17:11 here) and for the BBC World Service programme ‘Outlook’ (from around 12:53 here). 

In those two very interesting interviews Amal spoke movingly about her position as the fifth girl born to a family in which female babies are of lower value than male ones and of her mother’s fear that her birth would prompt Amal’s father to take another wife. She explained her strategies for making progress on the front of women’s employment in a patriarchal society and spoke of the violence directed towards her when she married outside her own tribe and towards her father when he allowed her to go to university. 

All that, however, is of no interest whatsoever to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which registered its dissatisfaction with the interview in a letter to ‘Woman’s Hour’ according to Amena Saleem who took to her keyboard to condemn the BBC for ignoring what she erroneously terms “ethnic cleansing” in its two interviews with Ms Alh’jooj. 

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is of course one of several organisations currently exploiting the Bedouin for its campaign of delegitimisation of Israel. It therefore comes as no surprise that the PSC regards Amal Elsana Alh’jooj’s award-winning work promoting the rights of Bedouin women as insignificant and undeserving of coverage by the BBC, because what really interests the PSC is clearly not the human rights of the Bedouin or the Palestinians, but one-issue political campaigning against Israel.

One can only hope that “senior BBC executives remember that the next time they are invited for a chat with PSC representatives.