BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

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

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Unnecessary BBC correction does a makeover on Nasrallah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is a BBC WS claim about Israeli politicians true?

The August 16th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 48:53 here) in which the BBC managed to shoehorn Israel into its coverage of last weekend’s shocking incidents in Virginia, USA.

Presenter Owen Bennett-Jones told worldwide listeners that:

“Video of the white supremacists in Charlottesville clearly shows them chanting openly antisemitic slogans, with organisers amongst other things complaining that President Trump allowed his daughter to marry a Jewish man.

While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said. So why is that?”

The issue of whether or not it is appropriate for politicians from any country to comment on the internal affairs of another state is not discussed in this item and listeners are not given an answer to the question of why Bennett-Jones singled out Israeli politicians rather than those in any other nation. But is the claim regarding Israeli politicians made by Bennett-Jones accurate?

Earlier on the same day that this item was broadcast, the Times of Israel published an article titled “Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march“.

““There aren’t two sides,” Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said in a Wednesday statement.

“When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.” […]

Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and No. 2 in the opposition Zionist Union faction, also rejected Trump’s assertion.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period,” she said in a Wednesday statement. […]

…Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked […] urged that the neo-Nazis face prosecution.

“The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted,” she said Tuesday. Allowing them to march violently through American streets “was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state does not have to tolerate such phenomena.”

On Sunday [Naftali] Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and called on US leaders to denounce its “displays of anti-Semitism.”

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” he added.”

In addition to those decidedly not “muted” statements, the Israeli prime minister put out a tweet condemning the racism and, despite members of the Knesset currently being on holiday, a number of other politicians from a range of parties likewise made their views on the matter clear – including Michael Oren, Zahava Galon, Revital Swid, Ksenia Svetlova, Manuel Trachtenburg, Avi Gabbai, Yehuda Glick, Yitzhak Herzog, Dov Hanin, Shelly Yechimovich, Amir Peretz, Meirav Michaeli, Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin, Miki Rosental, Nachman Shai, Itzik Shmuli and Tamar Zandberg – who even went on American TV two days before this ‘Newshour’ programme was aired to talk about the issue.

And yet, the BBC apparently came to the bizarre conclusion that it was accurate to describe the responses from those Israeli politicians and others as “muted”.

Another interesting aspect of this item comes in Bennett-Jones’ introduction of his interviewee. [emphasis added]

“Ruthie Blum is a Trump voter living in Tel Aviv and a conservative commentator too with a number of publications including the Jerusalem Post.”

Seeing as in the past the BBC has on countless occasions failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by refraining from clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees,  that detailed introduction is noteworthy.

BBC WS on counter-terrorism: Israeli measure is ‘highly controversial’

Over the last decade and a half BBC audiences have grown very used to hearing Israel’s anti-terrorist fence described as “controversial” or even worse. Despite the fact that the BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs its staff to use the term ‘barrier’ to describe the structure, audiences very often hear or see it described as “the wall”. Not only is it is extremely rare for audiences to be informed of that counter-terrorism measure’s record of effectiveness, but BBC produced content frequently promotes the propaganda myth that it is intended to facilitate a “land grab” rather than to curb the number of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

Following the terror attack in Manchester the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ – presented by Owen Bennett-Jones – devoted its May 27th edition to the question “How Can We Make Our Cities Safe?“.

“In the wake of the suicide bomb attack at a concert venue in Manchester, Newshour Extra this week is asking how major cities around the world can minimise the risk to their citizens from such atrocities. Owen Bennett Jones and his guests consider urban security, counter-terrorism, and the compromises different cities make between civil liberties and public safety.”

Although one might have thought that Israel – with its sadly considerable experience of tackling that topic – would have featured in such a discussion, the sole brief reference to Israeli counter-terrorism measures appeared at 14:41 when Bennett-Jones addressed a bizarrely expressed question to one of his three guests; Professor Bill Durodie of the University of Bath. [emphasis added]

Bennett-Jones: “Professor Durodie; let me just put one example to you of a physical barrier – highly controversial and politically charged as it is – that seems to have made a difference and that is the wall – stroke – security fence – stroke – fence – stroke – whatever, you know, whoever…wherever you’re coming from what you’d call it – between the Israelis and the Palestinians which does seem to have made a significant difference in security terms.”

Durodie: “It probably has. Ehm…I think most people understand that it’s highly porous at the same time and that determined individuals get round it as well as, you know….”

Bennett-Jones [interrupts]: “Well, well not really. I mean the number of attacks is sharply, sharply down, isn’t it, since that went up.”

Durodie: “I agree but ultimately we have to question what kind of open society we want to live in…”

In short, even in a programme specifically relating to security and counter-terrorism that ostensibly sets out to inform listeners what other countries do to “minimise the risk to their citizens” and even as we see that the BBC clearly appreciates both the purpose and the efficacy of the anti-terrorist fence, the corporation cannot resist promoting its knee-jerk “controversial” theme and refrains from informing audiences of the actual statistics relating to the reduction in attacks following construction of the structure.

 

 

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

We have on many occasions documented the use of imprecise language in BBC reports which results in audiences being given inaccurate impressions of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

“The employment of phrases such as “Israeli settlement building”, “construction of Jewish settlements” and “construction of settlements” obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.”

Last September the BBC News website corrected one such article but the phenomenon remains widespread.

On February 2nd the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had set up a committee that would “begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement” for those evicted from Amona.” [emphasis added]

As the Jerusalem Post noted in its coverage of that February 2nd announcement:

“This would be the first new government-authorized settlement in the West Bank since the establishment of Revava near Ariel in 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister.”

On February 6th the BBC’s Middle East editor told listeners to BBC Radio 5 live that:

“Mr Netanyahu has authorised the…ah…six thousand new dwellings in the settlements plus the first all-new settlement in about thirty years.” [emphasis added]

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses in existing communities and the establishment (so far not even on paper) of a “new settlement”.

Nevertheless, the day before that announcement was made, listeners to the February 1st edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ heard Owen Bennett Jones use the inaccurate term “new settlements” to describe the announcement of building in existing communities (from 50:22 here).newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

Bennett Jones: “…And there is another big development we need to mention today. The Israeli government has announced thousands more housing units for settlers on occupied territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the evacuation of an outpost. Let’s hear now from Yolande Knell.”

Following Knell’s report of the evacuation of Amona, Bennett Jones continued: [emphasis added]

“And that was Yolande Knell from Amona and we’ve still got Tim Franks on the line. So all these new…ah…new units, housing units, new settlements and then that news from Amona – is any of this tied to the new president in the United States or is it all driven internally?”

Franks: “It’s both, Owen, because I mean the case over Amona has been dragging on for years. They were talking about evicting people from Amona when I was posted here and that was some years ago. Ahm…but undoubtedly all the announcements of thousands of new…eh…eh…eh…homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – yes; the Israeli government feels liberated by the…eh…the incoming Trump administration…”

It really should not be difficult for the BBC to ensure that its journalists are aware of the difference between construction in existing neighbourhoods, towns and villages and “new settlements” and that they use precise language to describe the story they are reporting in order to prevent audiences from repeatedly going away with inaccurate impressions. 

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the earlier section of Tim Franks’ report from the Gaza Strip which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on February 1st (from 14:07 here) as part of a multi-part special feature.clip-newshour-1-2-power

A section of the report – including the baseless accusation of “collective punishment” – was later promoted separately by the BBC World Service on social media. 

Following a sketchy portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip and the related demonstrations which took place last month, Franks went on to interview Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad

Franks: “So what does Hamas have to say about the burdens and disillusions of so many of the two million Palestinians here in Gaza? And in particular about people now taking to the streets to protest? Ghazi Hamad is the deputy foreign minister.”

Hamad: “I think this is a natural thing. It’s not the first time and I think the authority here give this demonstration full support and permission.”

Franks: “Shots were fired in the air and some of the organisers were arrested.”

Hamad: “I think that the police that accompany they have been commanded to protect and to give full freedom to criticize Hamas. Look, I think all kind of [unintelligible] but when they started to destroy the company and destroy the tools and the doors and the windows and the equipment inside the [unintelligible] the police was obligated to interfere.”

Franks: “Did that really happen or was it just a few kids throwing stones?”

Hamad: “No-one is shot. No-one is wounded and maybe some people they have been taken to the investigation but I think all of them they are freed now.”

Franks: “I’ve got a bigger question which is the reason Gaza is in such a terrible place at the moment. I know you will say it’s because of the Israeli presence on the border of Gaza. I just wonder whether, given that nothing has changed for the better over the past ten years, you would give any thought to a…perhaps a more radical change from Hamas. That maybe it is time to engage in some way with the Israelis.”

Hamad: “I think you have to ask the question to the Israeli side.”

Franks: “I ask the Israelis but I’m asking you.”

Hamad: “Our experience with the Israelis – these people don’t want peace, they don’t want any kind of political solution.”

Franks: “Why don’t you test them?”

Hamad: “No, I mean if you look to President Abbas he tested them for ten years now. I think he’s a very moderate man. He believes in peace, believe in coexistence, believe in peaceful talks. He does not believe in intifada or armed struggle. He did everything in order to make the peace process successful but they are…”

Franks: “Except the Israelis can also say to him you don’t speak on behalf of the Palestinians ‘cos look at Hamas.”

Listeners then heard a statement from Hamas which is identical to the messaging they have been hearing from the BBC for weeks: the notion that Israeli building is the prime obstacle to the two-state solution.

Hamad: “But they are refusing every day. They say that he is not a partner, they opening more settlements, they are confiscating lands in the West Bank. No place for the two-state solution. I think…”

Of course Hamas rejects the concept of the two-state solution outright, but Franks chose not to challenge Ghazi Hamad on that point. 

Franks: “But it’s also very easy for the Israelis to say look, President Abbas, you don’t speak for the Palestinians. Look how powerful Hamas is.”

Hamad: “But look on something on the ground. OK, this is maybe my ideology, is my thoughts but what are you going on the ground…”

Franks: “Listen, I hear what you’re saying about the Israelis and believe me, I ask the Israeli government lots of tough questions about what they are doing but I’m asking you and I’m asking about Hamas and I’m asking about the fact that because, for example, the Hamas charter talks about a war with Jews it’s easy…”

Hamad: “No, no…”

Franks: “No – hang on – it makes it easier for the Israeli government to say we don’t have a partner here.”

Hamad: “No, no, no. Don’t judge to the charter of Hamas. If you look there’s big a change inside Hamas.”

Franks: “It still says in the charter it’s about a Manichean war with the Jews.”

Hamad: “No, no. Look to the statements and the new vision of Hamas. Hamas has started to participated in the elections. Hamas has said frankly we accept the ’67 borders.”

Franks: “Hamas also puts out statements when, for example, four rabbis are stabbed in West Jerusalem praising a magnificent operation.”

Franks is referring to the terror attack in Har Nof in November 2014 which resulted in the deaths of six Israelis and about which the BBC found it appropriate to interview Ghazi Hamad at the time.

Hamad: “Well I think we have the right to fight against occupation because we…”

Franks: “But we’re talking about four rabbis in West Jerusalem. They were stabbed. I mean this was a couple of years ago.”

Hamad: “Every day we have people [unintelligible]. People are under the occupation. We have to use all the means against the occupation.”

Franks: “Ghazi Hamad from Hamas here in Gaza. That rhetoric – using all means against the occupation – may be familiar, as may be the idea that Gaza is a by-word for confinement, for shortages, for a confrontation with no exit. But it’s also a place that can bubble with pride and energy and later in the programme you’ll meet a woman who embodies that. We’ll ask whether there’s any chance that Gaza can escape what is pretty much a slow, suffocating decline at the moment.”newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

Franks’ subsequent interview with web developer Rana al-Qirnawi can be heard from 45:08 here. Following that, listeners heard a conversation between Franks and programme presenter Owen Bennett Jones which included promotion of the debatable notion that people are radicalised by difficult conditions. 

Bennett Jones: “Now Tim, you were talking about Hamas earlier – talking to them – can you just give us a take on where Hamas stand now, how much popular backing there is, what’s the politics at the moment?”

Franks: “Well as far as Hamas are concerned, they say that they are fully in control and there is no doubt, Owen, that this place is a lot less unstable; it feels a lot safer internally than it did for many years…ehm…and when I used to come here. But there’s…there is also no doubt that some young people in particular are drawn towards harder line Salafist and Jihadist groups and, you know, this is something that I’m aware that senior figures in the Israeli security establishment have long been worried about as well: that as conditions deteriorate here, you are going to get increasing radicalisation – it’s just bound to happen.”

Bennett Jones: “Right and I think your sort of general purpose on this trip to…ah…to the Middle East is to sort of assess the viability of the two-state solution. What are your – as you start – what are your thoughts on that?”

Franks’ answer to that question reveals that he knows full well that Hamas is opposed to the two-state solution or any other kind of peace agreement with Israel – which of course begs the question why that crucial point is not sufficiently prominent in both his own reporting and the broader coverage by the organisation he represents.

Franks: “Well I’m… you know, these are the views in terms of this programme from Gaza. We’ve looked at Jerusalem earlier in the week. We’re going elsewhere later in the week. But in terms of Gaza the truth is, Owen – I mean yes; that was the starting point for this project – no-one’s really talking about it here. They haven’t been talking about it for years and it’s partly because there’s no real incentive to talk about it…ah…in public or with a journalist. After all, the official Hamas position is that in the long-term there’s no place for a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. But there’s a more immediate point I think…ahm…which is that, you know, the people here have far more direct concerns. It’s about the next meal, when is the power going to go off, how do you make money, what’s the water supply like – answer: not terribly good. So it’s those sort of much more quotidian dreary concerns that are driving people rather than any grand thoughts about a solution to all of this.

It is of course quite remarkable that a journalist could produce such a lengthy report (nearly 14 minutes long in total) from the Gaza Strip – especially one which purports to “assess the viability of the two-state solution” and includes an interview with a representative of Hamas – without uttering the word terrorism even once, without informing audiences of Hamas’ efforts to rehabilitate its military capabilities – including cross-border attack tunnels – and without mentioning the fact that it is those priorities which play a significant role in creating the difficult conditions for the residents of the Gaza Strip which he does report widely. Tim Franks, however, managed to do just that.

Related Articles:

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

BBC News again avoids telling audiences real reasons for Gaza power crisis

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

 

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

The BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ special feature that began on January 30th with Tim Franks producing a long report from Jerusalem (see ‘related articles’ below) continued on February 1st with – as promised – a report from the Gaza Strip.newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

The report was divided into two parts, the first of which can be found at 14:07 here and Tim Franks introduced it as follows:

Franks: “When we talk about Israel and the Palestinians – like today; the announcement about the new buildings for settlers or the evacuation of illegal outpost – it tends to be Jerusalem or the West Bank that we concentrate on. But there’s one small strip on the map where the confrontation has congealed into something darker, something heavier. Every so often it erupts into scalding violence. It’s the Gaza Strip; home to two million Palestinians, controlled by Israel on three sides, Egypt on a fourth. The UN has said that the way things are going the enclave could be unfit for human habitation by 2020.”

Oddly, Franks’ scene-setting did not include informing his listeners that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip well over eleven years ago or that the “scalding violence” he described is inevitably the outcome of the continuing terror attacks against Israeli civilians, including thousands of missile attacks launched since that disengagement. Franks then proceeded to a topic which has been covered – albeit very superficially – by the BBC on several occasions in the past.

Franks: “You hear that? That’s the sound of Gaza by night: generators thumping and groaning away. The electricity at the moment, it only runs for eight hours a day: eight hours on, eight hours off. Pity the factory manager, the café owner. Hamam Aliaji [phonetic] is both: he bottles Pepsi by day, runs his coffee shop by night. Not easy.

Aliaiji: “I always say, the generator is my business partner as I put money for the generator or the electricity in general more than the money I get from here. For us to run our business, I pay a lot of money. The normal people they pay maybe 25% of their salary on power. We [have] had more than enough. The electricity, the borders, the tax – everything. It’s not possible to run a business now in Gaza; it’s very difficult.”

Franks: “Qatar has given some money, Turkey has given some money. That’s probably going to run out in a few months’ time. What happens then?”

Aliaji: “We’ll get three hours electricity a day. That’s it.”

Franks: “A gloomy prognosis from Hamam Aliaji; a man with a ready smile, high political ambitions by the way – he says he’d quite like to be president of Palestine in about 15 or 20 years’ time. And an unusual treat for his shisha-smoking, football-watching, card-playing clientele: on these cold Gaza nights he serves everyone at his café free cups of thick, lemony lentil soup.”

Yet again we see that the BBC avoids telling its audiences that the real reason for the perpetual electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip is a long-running disagreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over the payment of excise taxes for the fuel that is used in the power station in Gaza. So while listeners were encouraged to “pity” the residents of the Gaza Strip, they were not informed of the background to their plight, just as they were subsequently not informed that the reason why many buildings there have not repaired is because of Hamas’ hijacking of construction materials for the purpose of terrorism.  

Franks: “Gaza’s everyday problems don’t stop though with unreliable electricity; the rest of the infrastructure is shot. A lot of recent war damage lies unreconstructed. The economy is lifeless, unemployment sky-high. So whose fault is it? People here wave their arms in many directions.”

Franks went on to present a caricature portrayal of the restrictions on the import of dual-purpose goods into Gaza while failing to adequately inform listeners of the terrorism that makes them necessary, playing the “Israel says” card and even amplifying the baseless accusation of “collective punishment”.  

Franks: “The Israelis first, for the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.”

He also failed to inform listeners of a factor long under-reported by the BBC: Hamas’ collaboration with ISIS terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.

Franks: “The Egyptians who control one border and hate Hamas’ links with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for its rivalry with Hamas. And Hamas itself – the Islamist movement which took over the running of Gaza amid much violence back in 2007. So the frustration people feel here runs deep and a couple of weeks ago, as the power supply sputtered ever more feebly, for thousands of Gazans that frustration boiled over. Ameer Balousha [phonetic] led a protest march towards the electricity company. The security forces broke up the demonstration, Ameer was arrested.”

Balousha (voiceover): “We were continue walking towards the power company but we were surprised by the amount of force we were seen by the security forces. The amount of bullets were shot at, they were massive. We are calling for our rights. We are not calling for any chaos. We were very certain and we were very clear from the very beginning that it’s peaceful movement. Even we were shouting during the protest that it’s peaceful.”

Franks: “Is it a bit risky, you talking to the BBC?”

Balousha (voiceover): “Of course; we’re from the very beginning understand this society and we know how risky is to do something against the regime. And we’re ready from the very beginning to take this responsibility because our cause is national cause. We are calling for our humanity, for our right and this is very simple. We know that it’s risky and it will continue to be risky.”

Franks: “So what does Hamas have to say about the burdens and disillusions of so many of the two million Palestinians here in Gaza? And in particular about people now taking to the streets to protest? Ghazi Hamad is the deputy foreign minister.”

However, listeners who at this point assumed that they were going to get some information on the serially under-reported topic of Hamas’ repression of opposition to its regime in Franks’ interview with BBC regular Ghazi Hamad would have been disappointed – as we will see in part two of this post.

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

BBC News again avoids telling audiences real reasons for Gaza power crisis

 

 

 

Another BBC airbrushing of the Quartet report

As documented here previously (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website’s portrayal of the report published by the Quartet on July 1st was far from satisfactory and failed to provide audiences with a balanced picture of its content. In this post we will take a look at how the same report was presented to listeners to BBC World Service radio in the July 1st edition of ‘Newshour’ – from 30:08 here.Newshour 1 jul

To recap – the report cited three main factors as “undermining hopes for peace”:

  • “Continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence are greatly exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution;
  • The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution; and
  • The illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”

In its discussion of the first factor on that list, the report was remarkable for its forthright condemnation of incitement and glorification of terror by official Palestinian bodies including Mahmoud Abbas’ party Fatah and the PA itself. Those topics have long been neglected by the BBC and were once again sidelined in the two articles which appeared on the BBC News website.

Sadly, listeners who heard Owen Bennett Jones’ introduction to the ‘Newshour’ item did not learn of the Quartet’s condemnation of incitement from official Palestinian bodies because he referred generally to “the Palestinians”. Listeners did however hear the erroneous claim that Israel is “building settlements” rather than building in existing communities.

OBJ: “A long-awaited report by Middle East peace mediators says Israel should stop building settlements and the Palestinians should stop inciting violence. The so-called Quartet – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – says current trends imperil a two state solution. Publication of these recommendations came amid further attacks in the occupied West Bank where Israel has closed off the city of Hebron. Our correspondent Yolande Knell is in Jerusalem. First of all; what’s happening in Hebron?”

A few hours before this programme went on air a fatal terror attack had taken place on Route 60. The closure on Hebron was implemented as security forces searched for the terrorists but uninformed listeners would have had difficulty understanding that connection from Yolande Knell’s reply to Bennett Jones’ clear question.

YK: “We now have hundreds of Israeli troops going to Hebron, roadblocks set up around the city. This follows a lot of concerns from the Israeli military about the number of attacks that have been perpetrated from this city. It’s always a flash point for violence but they say about eighty attacks out of 250 attacks or attempted attacks since October have been in the Hebron area.”

According to the Times of Israel, the IDF spokesman actually said that “seventy-nine terrorists have originated from Hebron” and remarkably, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that Hebron is a notorious traditional Hamas stronghold. She continued:

“And now it’s searching for a gunman who earlier shot some 20 rounds at an Israeli car on the main road – Route 60 – just close to Hebron. This led to a crash that killed one Israeli man – a father of ten – and left his wife and two of his children in hospital. The Israeli military says it also wants to prevent copy-cat attacks and stop a rise in violence which is often seen in the final days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.”

Knell did not clarify for her listeners why the close of Ramadan might bring about “a rise in violence” or inform them that during that month alone six Israelis had been murdered in terror attacks by the time she produced this report.

Prioritising the name used by Palestinians to describe the most ancient Jewish shrine, she went on to describe an attempted attack which had taken place the same morning and in which a woman tried to stab a Border Police officer as follows: [emphasis added]

“Earlier there was a Palestinian woman in her twenties who was killed in the old city of Hebron. Soldiers shot her close to a disputed holy site; the Ibrahimi mosque – also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. She’s said to have been carrying a knife and importantly, she came from the same village as a teenager who killed a 13 year-old American-Israeli girl in her home in a settlement just outside Hebron one day ago. And even after all the attacks there’ve been recently, this very brazen attack where she was stabbed to death in her own bedroom has really caused a lot of shock and horror.”

Owen Bennett Jones then asked Knell another clear question which she failed to answer.

OBJ: “So just to give us a general picture of what’s going on in the West Bank over the last few months, say, how frequent are the attacks there against Israelis?”

YK: “Well certainly there has been a concentration of the attacks within the West Bank. This is where you have Israeli settlers – and there are more than 560 thousand of them in total in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and they’re living in close proximity to Palestinians. Often you have Palestinians of course also working inside settlements and the settlements themselves are seen as an obstacle to peace; this is something that has been reiterated by a long-awaited report from the Quartet of Middle East mediators – the US, EU, UN and Russia – that has just been published. But I have to say; over the past few months – really since the beginning of this year – it had seemed the number of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis had begun to subside. But then things have really picked up in the last few days, during the month of Ramadan.”

Obviously Knell was either unable or unwilling to answer the question of “how frequent are the attacks […] against Israelis” in Judea & Samaria and given that the BBC consistently under-reports the topic of Palestinian terror, that is hardly surprising. While Knell is correct in her claim that the number of attacks had been decreasing up until June, the fact is that according to Israel Security Agency figures, between October 2015 and June 2016 inclusive, 1,471 terror attacks took place in Judea & Samaria: an average of 163.4 attacks per month or 5.4 attacks per day. One would of course expect a BBC correspondent permanently based in the area to be able to report that information to audiences.

graph attacks Judea Samaria

Bennett Jones continued, once again promoting the inaccurate notion that Israel is building ‘settlements’ rather than constructing housing in existing communities.

OBJ: “Well now this Quartet report you mentioned is taking – if I could put it like this – the usual line: stop building settlements to the Israelis, stop inciting violence, stop using violence to the Palestinians. Is either side listening?”

Knell replied:

“Well there was so much expectation ahead of the publication of what’s turned out to be an eight-page report. There’s not much here that’s surprising: no talk really of international pressure that could be brought to bear. Already the Palestinians have come out saying this report doesn’t meet their expectations. They say that it tries to equalise the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier. And we’ve just had a statement too from the Israel prime minister’s office that talks about how Israel cannot negotiate peace with itself and it rejects any attempt it says to draw moral equivalence between construction in the settlements and terrorism. So it seems to have been roundly dismissed and when authors talked about their hopes that they could help support further peace talks – well that doesn’t seem to have really helped much at the moment.”

The item ends there and as we see, once again BBC audiences have had their attentions focused on ‘settlements’ – described by Knell as an “obstacle to peace” – but have learned nothing about the much neglected subjects of incitement from official Palestinian sources as highlighted in the Quartet report and nothing about its condemnation of Hamas terror, tunnel building and arms smuggling.

This is the BBC’s third attempt to ostensibly inform its audiences what was in the Quartet report and it is the third time that it has refrained from doing so comprehensively, accurately and impartially. Obviously the way in which BBC audiences view the failure to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict will be influenced by these reports, with the fact that the BBC has airbrushed Hamas and Palestinian Authority related factors from the picture sabotaging audiences’ chances of properly understanding of the issue.

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BBC’s mantra on ‘international law’ becomes even less impartial

Listeners to the May 6th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ (from 14:04 here) heard Owen Bennett Jones make the following introduction to an item about Hamas mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers operating near the border with the Gaza Strip.Newshour 6 5

“The stand-off in Gaza follows pretty familiar patterns. Israelis have been looking for tunnels from Gaza into Israel and the response has been mortar rounds fired at Israeli forces. A Palestinian woman was killed on Thursday when her home was struck by Israeli tank fire. Well, Kevin Connolly is in Jerusalem and I asked for some context. How serious is this round of fighting?”

Context to that story would obviously cover the fact that Hamas is a designated terror organization which took control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. It would also include clarification of the fact that, despite Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip over a decade ago, Hamas continues its terrorist activities because its ultimate goal – as laid out in its charter – is to destroy that neighbouring country. Context would also provide information concerning Hamas’ efforts to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure since the end of the 2014 conflict – not least its misappropriation of construction materials intended for the repair and rebuilding of civilian homes for the reconstruction of its network of cross-border attack tunnels.

‘Newshour’ listeners, however, got none of that relevant context from Kevin Connolly who presented a myopic view of the issue of a terrorist organization tunnelling into the territory of a sovereign country.

“It’s an uptick of tension I would say, Owen, and the attack tunnels that Hamas is trying to build out underneath Gaza into Israeli territory, they are now a crucial area of confrontation. It’s almost two years since the summer war of 2014. This is the sharpest uptick of violence and it seems to be because Israel has had some success in identifying and finding at least two major tunnels – one of them 30 meters deep stretching some way into Israel. Now, the Israeli nightmare is that those tunnels might be used to stage a kind of commando attack to either kill or abduct soldiers or civilians so they are conducting search and destroy operations. This is of vital interest for Hamas. It’s Hamas’ best strategic weapon against the Israelis so they are firing mortar rounds at the Israeli soldiers conducting these operations. Israel is responding of course with tanks and aircraft and so you can see it has the potential to escalate, even though – not for the first time – we’re told that at the moment neither side wants an escalation. But it is about these tunnels and it is possible that Israel in some way has gained the upper hand in the search for those tunnels.”

OBJ: “Can you just give us a quick example of how the tunnels have been used in the past?”

KC: “Well, during the summer war two years ago they were used on I think at least four occasions to infiltrate Hamas fighters far inside Israel. Some of these tunnels are part of an extraordinary…almost like an underground city beneath Gaza City, constructed by Hamas with great sophistication. They have electric lighting, they have concrete struts and they give Hamas the power to get its fighters onto Israeli soil when otherwise, because of the strength of Israeli border security, they would find that impossible to do.”

Connolly’s report ends there but then listeners were told by Bennett Jones:

“…and we can also hear today from Jerusalem and the West Bank….”

What followed was a repeat of the audio report by Jeremy Bowen broadcast two days earlier on BBC Radio 4 and, remarkably, Bennett Jones’ introduction included language identical to that used by the ‘Today’ presenter.

“…Israel continues to expand settlements for Jews in the occupied territories that contravene international law and there are no peace talks and really no attempt being made to revive them.”

In the past the BBC used a standard mantra whenever reporting on ‘settlements’ which went along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been pointed out here on numerous occasions in the past, the promotion of that mantra is problematic as far as the BBC’s supposed commitment to impartial reporting is concerned because it does not inform audiences of the existence of expert legal opinions which dissent from the narrative adopted and amplified by the BBC.

Now we see – twice in two days – that the BBC has even abandoned the “Israel disputes this” part of that mantra and is promoting messaging which materially misleads audiences by blinkering them to the existence of debate around interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

That is clearly not consistent with the BBC’s supposed commitment to editorial impartiality.

Related Articles:

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BBC papers over UN HRC connection of Swiss PLO deal broker

On January 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Switzerland ‘made secret deal with PLO’ after bomb attacks” in which Imogen Foulkes gave a reasonable account of the story and its significance.PLO Swiss deal written

“Controversy is growing in Switzerland over an alleged secret deal, made almost 50 years ago, between the Swiss government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The agreement, detailed in a new book, was apparently designed to prevent terrorist attacks on Swiss territory.

In return, Switzerland would offer diplomatic support to the PLO. […]

Almost half a century later, with many countries experiencing terror attacks, it seems outrageous to some Swiss that their own government might have done deals with groups classed as terrorists.

What is more, the relatives of those who died in the bombing of the Swissair flight may be justified in feeling angry that no one has ever been brought to justice, especially as Swiss investigators had identified a Jordanian national as the mastermind behind the attack.”

Foulkes mentioned in her article that the Swiss foreign minister at the time used “a member of the Swiss parliament as an intermediary” in his dealings with the PLO, but did not go into further detail. However, in the January 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presenter Owen Bennett Jones conducted an interview (from 37:40 here) with that “member of the Swiss parliament”.

OBJ: “And the information has been revealed in a new book by a journalist who wrote that part of the deal-making was organized by a very well-known and long-standing Swiss member of parliament who has also been a UN rapporteur for a bit as well – Jean Ziegler from Geneva – and his wife apparently had contacts in the PLO and they were able to tell the Swiss foreign minister who was who within the organization. Well I spoke to Jean Ziegler earlier: what was his role in this deal?”

Listeners would have noticed that throughout the item both Bennett Jones and Ziegler used the euphemism “Palestinian militants” to describe terrorists who attacked, blew up and hijacked airliners. With no challenge from the BBC presenter, Ziegler also described the PLO as a “Palestinian resistance organization” and misled listeners by describing that organization as having been “just founded” at the time (1970) when in fact the PLO was established in May 1964 – long before there was any ‘occupation’ to ‘resist’.

Ziegler noted that part of the deal was “to open official diplomatic office of the PLO in Geneva at the United Nations; European headquarters of the United Nations.”

Notably though, Owen Bennett Jones made no attempt to inform listeners of the contemporary significance of this story.

Jean Ziegler was indeed “a UN rapporteur for a bit”: he spent a highly controversial term as the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food between 2000 and 2008. Ziegler also co-founded – and received – the infamous (and now defunct) ‘Muammar Al Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights’.

But – as shown on the UN HRC commissioner’s website – Ziegler’s UN career is not a thing of the past. He currently functions as a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s advisory committee (despite opposition to his appointment from the Swiss parliament and the US Ambassador to the UN) and – ironically – in that capacity even co-authored a report on ‘Human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking’.

Considering that regularly the BBC uncritically quotes and promotes statements and content produced by the UN HRC as though they were written in stone, it would have been particularly helpful to BBC audiences to have the dots joined between this past story of a man with sufficient contacts inside a notorious terrorist organization to be able to help broker a self-preserving capitulation to its agenda – including the opening of the door to the UN – and the current advisor to that body’s highly politicised and controversial Human Rights Council. 

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

In addition to the filmed report from Hebron shown on BBC television news programmes on October 30th, Yolande Knell also produced a similar audio report which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from 37:15).Newshour 30 10

Like the filmed version, that audio report promotes the notion that Israelis living in Hebron are ‘illegal settlers’ – despite the signing of the 1997 “Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron” by Palestinian representatives.

Failing to explain the context to the picture she portrays, Knell tells listeners:

“Hebron is unique in the West Bank because it’s divided. Part is under full Palestinian control and the other part […] is under full Israeli control.”

“The soldiers are here right in the heart of the Old City because just along here there are families of Jewish settlers.”

“A few hundred Israelis live here in the occupied part of Hebron and about 40,000 Palestinians. The settlers’ presence here is seen as illegal under international law but Israel doesn’t agree.” [emphasis added]

It is of course Knell’s failure to clarify to listeners that the existing arrangements in Hebron are the result of an agreement between Israel and the PLO which allows her to promote the politically motivated narrative of an “occupied part of Hebron”.

That narrative is also advanced by her interviewee Issa Amro, who is once again inadequately introduced as “a local activist”, with no effort made to comply to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying his political affiliations and agenda.

In common with the filmed item, Knell’s radio report is notable for the fact that it too provides backwind for the Palestinian propaganda seen in recent weeks which attempts to portray terrorists as ‘innocent victims’. 

“As violence has flared in the past few weeks there’ve been a lot of stabbings and alleged stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians in and around Hebron. There’s a big poster being held up here showing all the young Palestinians from the city who’ve been shot and killed as a result. We’re going to meet the mother of one of them. Twenty year-old Saad al Atrash is said to have tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

Saad al Atrash is “said to have tried to stab an Israeli soldier” because that is exactly what he did on October 26th – but those listening to Knell’s account would not be sure of that.

The same theme is also promoted by host Owen Bennett-Jones in both his introduction and closing remarks, providing an opportunity to examine what the BBC sees fit to describe as “alleged” and what it is comfortable portraying as fact.

In his introduction, Bennett-Jones tells listeners: [emphasis added]

“At least twenty Palestinians from Hebron have been shot dead in attacks and alleged attacks.”

At the end of the item Bennett-Jones says:

“Now to bring you up to date, there have been protests across the West Bank again today, including in Hebron. In Bethlehem an eight month-old baby living close to the site of clashes died of tear gas inhalation. Earlier, Israeli police said they shot dead a Palestinian who’d tried to carry out the first stabbing attack in Jerusalem in two weeks. In Nablus, two Palestinians allegedly tried to stab members of the Israeli security forces near a checkpoint. Both were shot – one died and one was wounded.” [emphasis added]

The death of a baby, supposedly due to tear gas inhalation, is presented to BBC audiences as fact even though investigation showed that claim from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health to be unfounded and Palestinian doctors dismissed the claim, saying that the infant had an existing health problem which was described by relatives as a birth defect.

An attack in Jerusalem in which a man was moderately wounded by a terrorist with a knife is presented to listeners as an attempted attack.  

An incident at Tapuach Junction in which two Palestinians arrived at the scene on a motorbike and then approached a Border Police officer whilst wielding knives is portrayed as ‘alleged’.

This narrative-driven selective framing is obviously not conducive to meeting the BBC’s professed standards of accuracy and impartiality and does not contribute to meeting its remit of enhancing audience understanding of the story.