Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2018 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’, those agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards. When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. Currently one of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality that states:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, throughout 2018 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs or their representatives.

The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not always adequately clarified to audiences.

In January 2018, for example, the BBC’s Yolande Knell quoted “an Israeli peace activist” but refrained from identifying him as a founder of the extremist group ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’. Also in January, a BBC News website report quoted “an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog” but failed to provide readers with the name of the organisation.

In July 2018 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ featured a “writer and cook” who had “worked as a human rights campaigner for a very long time” but failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that her campaigning had been done with the anti-Israel NGO ‘War on Want’. In October BBC Radio 4 interviewed a “Palestinian academic” without clarifying that he was the founder of the political NGO PASSIA

More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content – including direct links to campaigns on NGO websites – featured particularly prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.

BBC coverage of the Ahed Tamimi story, for example, included repeated promotion of the viewpoint of B’tselem including interviews with its research director (see here and here) but with no mention made of the Tamimi family’s connections to that organisation. Additional coverage of the same story included quotes from Amnesty International even promoted a link to the NGO’s relevant campaign webpage. Another report promoted the views of Human Rights Watch without clarifying that it had been campaigning on Tamimi’s behalf and the same report even included a link directing audiences to a petition promoted by the political campaigning group Avaaz

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ story included promotion of a link to a campaign calling for Israeli soldiers to refuse orders on the website of B’tselem. A representative of B’tselem was interviewed in another BBC report and the NGO was referred to as “a leading Israeli rights group” in another. A BBC News website live webpage on the same story featured quotes from B’tselem and Amnesty International and a BBC radio presenter quoted “the Israeli rights group” Adalah. The political NGO ‘Gisha’ was quoted in two related reports.

Amnesty International was quoted in a BBC Sport report about a cycle race and later the same month the same NGO was quoted in another report along with Human Rights Watch and B’tselem. In June the BBC uncritically quoted a “campaign director at Avaaz” and later the same month BBC Radio 4 interviewed the “executive director of the international human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’”.

Adalah was quoted in a BBC report concerning Israeli legislation in July and BBC News website coverage of the Khan al Ahmar story included promotion of a link to the B’tselem website. BBC News website coverage of the Airbnb story included quotes from Human Rights Watch as well as a link to a report produced by that political NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’. Another report by Human Rights Watch was the topic of a BBC News website report in October.

A member of the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was featured on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ programme in February and on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme in May. Additional examples of the BBC’s failure to adequately clarify to audiences the political agenda of NGOs represented by interviewees involve the ‘Norwegian Refugee Council‘, ‘Minds of Peace’, the ‘Foundation for Middle East Peace’, the ‘Oxford Research Group’, ‘Save the Children’ and ‘Embrace the Middle East’.

Once again the most widely promoted local NGO in 2018 was B’tselem. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent, closely followed by Amnesty International.

As in previous years, more often than not the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes predominantly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

 

 

BBC erases crucial background from report on Jerusalem election

On October 30th millions of Israelis went to vote for their preferred representatives in elections for 54 regional councils, 122 local councils and 75 municipalities. Understandably, that local story did not receive any BBC coverage – with one exception.

Listeners to the October 30th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme heard a report from Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman which was introduced by presenter Martha Kearney (from 47:59 here) as follows:

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

Kearney: “Elections are taking place today in Jerusalem for a new mayor and city council. For the first time a Palestinian’s on the ballot running for a city hall seat. It’s proving a controversial move in perhaps the world’s most contested city, divided by its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. The latter have broadly boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Kearney’s claim that this is “the first time” that an Arab resident of Jerusalem has run in local elections is inaccurateAs usual BBC audiences were not provided with any background information concerning the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation and unrecognised annexation of parts of the city or the circumstances which prevailed at the time when “Israel captured” those areas. 

Bateman began his report with some scene-setting and signposting.

Bateman: “I joined Amar Awad for an uphill task: the daily school run.”

Awad: “Yeah we are going up to the school of my girls…”

Bateman: “Uh, so you climb over these chairs and over the wall – this breezeblock. OK, and then to a kind of dirt path.”

Awad: “It’s very hard for them because there is no service buses to take them and it’s dangerous. It’s an image that you don’t see in a Jewish neighbourhood.”

Bateman: “In West Jerusalem.”

Awad: “In West Jerusalem, yes.”

Bateman: “It is a common complaint among the more than 300 thousand Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They pay the same council taxes as people in the west but speak of the injustice of neglected services, poor infrastructure, even home demolitions in some cases for lacking planning permits.” […]

Of course people who build without planning permission in municipalities around the world would also likely be subject to demolition orders.

Bateman: “On this, the eve of elections for Jerusalem mayor and city hall, Amar addresses a taboo: that he is thinking of voting. Historically nearly all East Jerusalemite Palestinians boycott the ballot. They see voting as legitimising Israeli control. And here is a man at the centre of Amar’s dilemma: Ramadan Dabash – a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem the year before Israel captured it, giving its Arab inhabitants only resident and not citizen status. He’s on the ballot leading a Palestinian party for seats at city hall. This is a first and he’s promising to demand better services.”

Bateman’s failure to clarify to listeners that residents of east Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship – and that Ramadan Dabash is one of those who does hold Israeli citizenship – obviously misleads BBC audiences.

Dabash: “I will change all the situation here in East Jerusalem. I’m the first one. I want to make history.”

Bateman: “Of course the Palestinians that have opposed you, that believe you shouldn’t be doing this, say it goes way beyond services: that this is about what it represents. They see it as normalising an occupation.”

Dabash: “Look, if you want to talk about the problem here – occupation, normalisation, Israelisation – so maybe the solution is come 100 years more. We are 51 years until this time. Nobody take care of us.”

Notably, Bateman made no effort to enlighten listeners as to the identity of “the Palestinians that have opposed” Dabash and similarly inclined Jerusalemites. He did however make sure to squeeze the US president into the story.

Bateman: “Meanwhile in downtown West Jerusalem the election bandwagon was trying to move. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu got stuck in a packed Yehuda market [sic – actually Mahane Yehuda market] with his favourite candidate Ze’ev Elkin. The Israeli right-wing feels the wind in its sails, powered by President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The nationalists who balk at the Palestinian vision for their capital in East Jerusalem like to talk of a unified city, meaning under Israeli administration.”  

In contrast to Bateman’s “wind in its sails” portrayal, Ze’ev Elkin’s mayoral bid failed.

Bateman next inadequately introduced a contributor from the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.

Bateman: “Lior Schillat is a former Israeli government advisor turned think-tank director.”

Schillat: “The way we work in modern democracies nowadays is that when there is a representation there is also a support and attention of the municipality to what’s happening. What’s happening in Jerusalem is that one-third of the city does not have those representatives that wake up in the morning and make the phone call to the mayor.”

Presumably referring to a survey carried out earlier this year by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bateman went on to inadequately introduce the founder of the political NGO PASSIA.

Bateman: “Some polling suggests a large number of East Jerusalemites would be prepared to vote for the local authority. There’s been some new Israeli government investment in the city’s east. But the boycott is likely to stick says the Palestinian academic Mahdi Abdul Hadi.”

Abdul Hadi: “Today after 51 years they are using one Palestinian who claim as a citizen of Israel to run for election. People will not vote because this is Israelisation. We are not consider as people at all. They are taking our history, our culture, our heritage and claiming this is a Jewish land and not a Palestinian land.”

Failing to explain to his listeners that second derogatory reference to “Israelisation” – the fact that increasing numbers of Arab Jerusalemites want to participate in Israeli economic and political life – and making no effort to challenge Abdul Hadi’s overtly projective propaganda, Bateman closed his report.

Bateman: “The political horizons for city councils may rarely go beyond schools and streetlights and new pavements but Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so do questions over today’s election.”

The same report was repeated on BBC World Service radio in the October 30th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ where it was introduced by Razia Iqbal (from 08:23 here) as follows:

Iqbal: “Now, a city mayoral race and city council election may not be deemed to be of international import but these elections are taking place in Jerusalem – probably the most contested and potently political city in the world. For the first time the ballot paper includes a Palestinian who is running for a city hall seat. It’s proving a highly controversial move in a city divided by its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. The latter have broadly boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally.”

The report was also repeated in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day. Presenter Tim Franks introduced the item (from 18:25 here) thus:

Franks: “We don’t often cover local elections here on Newshour, what with our big-boned global agenda. But the elections that took place today in Jerusalem are happening or did happen in one of the most prized and contested cities in the world. For the first time the ballot paper included a Palestinian who was running for a city hall seat and that proved highly controversial in a city divided between its largely Jewish population in the west and Palestinians in the east. Those Palestinians have by and large boycotted elections for the city authorities since 1967 when Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally.”

As we see, in all three of these broadcasts the participation of a resident of Sur Baher in municipal elections in Jerusalem was described to BBC audiences both in the UK and around the world as “highly controversial”. Despite that, the BBC made no effort to clarify the identity of the parties holding that view.

BBC audiences were told nothing of Palestinian Authority intervention in local Israeli elections. They were not told that in August of this year the official PA daily newspaper announced that:

“The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council issued a religious ruling that bans running or voting in the occupation’s municipal elections in occupied Jerusalem… it emphasized that voting or running in the municipal elections is forbidden by religious law, since this matter is subject to the rules of benefit and damage – which the sources of authority for estimating them are the knowledgeable religious scholars who know what the results will be – and there is no doubt at all that the damages that will be caused as a result of the participation are huge compared to the benefits.”

Neither were BBC radio listeners told that Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party put out multiple social media posts instructing potential voters to “boycott the occupation’s municipal elections”.

In other words the BBC chose to tell selected parts of a story while once again concealing crucial information in a report which was repeatedly presented as being about a “contested city” and in which the US president got more mentions than the intimidation of Jerusalem voters and interference in Israel’s democratic process by the Palestinian Authority.

Related Articles:

BBC silent on intimidation of voters in Jerusalem

Accuracy and impartiality failures in BBC report on Jerusalem elections