As we saw in a previous post, the lead item in the November 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme OS – formerly ‘Outside Source’ – was described in its synopsis thus:
“It’s the heaviest exchange of aerial fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants since the full-blown conflict in 2014. The violence follows an Israeli special forces operation inside Gaza which went wrong late on Sunday, causing the deaths of Palestinian militants and an Israeli soldier. We hear from local people living in Gaza.”
After listeners had been given some bizarre and entirely one-sided ‘context’ to that story (with no mention whatsoever of the fact that Hamas has been attacking Israeli civilians with rockets and mortars for 17 years), presenter Ben James introduced (from 04:35 here) his first inadequately identified interviewee in what he had previously described as “your guide to the important stuff happening now”.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
James: “So let’s hear some voices from this region. In a moment we’re going to hear from Bernie who lives in the Israeli town of Ashkelon but first of all Ahmed who we’ve spoken to before on ‘OS’ about working in the IT industry in Gaza. He lives in Gaza City. He told me what it was like for him there last night.”
Ahmed: “Last night was, like, a very horrible night [laughs]. It began when Israelis were attacking, like, civilian homes and the journalists. We had that TV channel – the building for that TV channel – it’s called Al Aqsa – they destroyed it completely. In fact, like, these buildings are in the middle of civilians’ homes. The explosions was very huge. What affected me very much – at dawn, like, 4 a.m. in the morning they destroyed a civilian home near me and it was very, like, big explosion was very, very huge. My pregnant wife woke up in the, like, in the middle of the night scared and telling me ‘oh are they going to invade Gaza Strip or’…and this is not very usual to ask but I have been living for 3 Israeli attacks, like, in the 2008 and 2014 and this one – 2018.”
Israel of course did not attack either “civilian homes” or “journalists” as claimed but Ben James made no effort to challenge those blatant falsehoods. Neither did he bother to inform listeners of the very relevant issue of Hamas’ deliberate placement of military assets in built-up areas and how that turns people like Ahmed into human shields.
James: “I was going to ask how it compared to previous experiences. Has there been anything like these sorts of airstrikes recently?”
Ahmed: “This one, like, it’s, like, a new one. Has been, like, just for 24 hours. The last experience was very horrible, like, more than this. But this one, like, the kind of explosions not like what I have experienced, like, this one you feel that your home has been hit by a earthquake or something very huge, like, [laughs] you feel that the building is dancing.”
Having already failed to challenge his interviewee’s false claim of attacks on civilian targets, James actually went on to make things worse.
James: “Israel of course says that it’s attacking military targets – Hamas targets as they would see them – but you say that everyone’s just so close together in Gaza that it’s hitting not just those targets.”
Ahmed: “Like, most of these targets, it’s not, like, Hamas targets but it’s surrounded by, like, so many civilians. I went to one of these places in the morning. Houses, the windows, the doors, there was lot of rocks like thrown on this street.”
James: “What else does this mean – quite apart from the fear that you’ve been describing from last night? How is it affecting your day today? Have you been able to go out and about or are people staying at home today?”
Ahmed: “Yeah most of the people stayed at home and I didn’t go to work but I went to shop because I want to run some errands for me to, like, buy some food for the house ‘cos I am scared that this will be, like, another attack on [unintelligible], like a military operation, a war for Gaza because I am reading the news and what the [Israeli] cabinet will decide against us.”
James: “Had you become hopeful in recent times that there might be some kind of longer lasting calm or not? Had you expected something like this would happen again?”
Ahmed: “I guess this time will be calm, like it will be a truce. I don’t think, like, the both parties are not meant to go to another operation or another Israeli assault.”
James then went on to promote a theme of ‘equal narratives’:
James: “We know that in these situations both sides claim that they’re defending themselves and different people have different opinions on whether that’s right on either side. What do you think about that from the point of view of those airstrikes you’ve been living through? Israel says they’re in response to rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel.”
Ahmed: “OK. I guess you are following the news, like you know what happened Sunday night, yeah? When an Israeli military group invaded Khan Younis three kilometres and went to do some security and our resistance fighter has the right to defend us and this is a very prohibited or a very forbidden area to enter – you know what I mean. So I guess we have the right to do what the resistance fighter did last night.”
James did not bother to inform listeners that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ to deliberately attack civilians.
James: “When you in the night-time hear those planes, hear the explosions, what do you do? Do you just stay in your home and hope for the best? Is there anywhere to take shelter?”
Ahmed: “In fact there is no…there’s no safe place in Gaza. Like, everyone in Gaza is a target. So I don’t look around for a shelter because if I run for shelter, the kind of rockets or the kind of missiles that they throw is very huge, like…I don’t want you to experience this but [laughs] but I just cannot explain or cannot express how it felt or where I can go every place. You don’t know where they are going to [unintelligible]. You just don’t know.”
Ben James went on to speak to a resident of Ashkelon, with most of the conversation focusing on his personal experiences during the previous 24 hours. His final question again promoted the notion of equal narratives:
James: “And we know that…we know that each side in this describes what goes on as self-defence from both directions. What’s your take on that?”
It is the remit of the BBC – as defined in its public purposes – to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”
In this programme however, BBC audiences were given a patently inaccurate impression of events. They heard that Hamas’ launching of rockets at Israeli civilians is a “right” and “self-defence” and they were told – wrongly – that Israel had attacked civilian targets.
A reporter for the Telegraph who – unlike Ben James – was actually in the Gaza Strip at the time had this to say:
Prior to these interviews with residents of Gaza City and Ashkelon, listeners to this programme had been told that unprecedented rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians are rooted in poverty allegedly caused by a misrepresented blockade and an ‘occupation’ which ended over thirteen years ago – with no mention whatsoever of the fact that Hamas has been launching such attacks for the past 17 years.
Obviously the basic editorial aim behind this item – which Ben James had told listeners was “your guide to the important stuff happening now” – was to promote a sense of false equivalence between the actions of terrorist groups deliberately targeting civilians and a regular army targeting the assets of those terrorist organisations.
In promoting that aim the producers of this programme blithely sacrificed the accuracy and impartiality to which the BBC claims to adhere as well as the first of the corporation’s public purposes.
The BBC World Service’s idea of ‘context’ to rocket attacks on Israeli civilians
Terrorists and rockets disappear in BBC news reports
False equivalence in BBC News report on Gaza rocket attacks
BBC Radio 4: nothing to see in southern Israel, move along to Gaza
Sloppy BBC News report omits rocket hits on Israeli homes
BBC News website sources report on Gaza incident from Hamas