BBC News stays mum on UNRWA head’s resignation

For over three months the BBC has refrained from producing any reporting whatsoever on the issue of allegations of ethical misconduct at the highest levels of the UN agency dedicated solely to people classed as Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

BBC News maintains its silence on the UNRWA ethical abuses story

One month on, BBC silence on UNRWA allegations persists

On November 6th the agency’s head, Pierre Krahenbuhl, resigned.

“Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl was replaced earlier on Wednesday until a review of “management-related matters” at the agency was completed, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said in a statement.

Krahenbuhl then informed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he was resigning, effective immediately, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. […]

Krahenbuhl was notified in March that an investigation was underway by the U.N. Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct”, an UNRWA spokeswoman said.

Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national, took over the UNRWA post in 2014. He was previously director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Dujarric said in a statement on Wednesday that the preliminary findings of the investigation by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services “exclude fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” by Krahenbuhl.

“There are, however, managerial issues that need to be addressed,” he said.”

The BBC News website has to date failed to produce any reporting about Krahenbuhl’s resignation.

As documented here in recent months, the investigation has affected UNRWA’s funding.

“Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have separately suspended payments to UNRWA over the management issues that are now under investigation. The agency’s spokeswoman says it still needs $89 million to keep operating until the end of this year.”

Throughout most of 2018 the BBC showed considerable interest in the topic of UNRWA funding after the US cut its contributions to the agency:

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Remarkably, the same level of interest in UNRWA funding is now completely absent and the BBC apparently does not consider that audiences need to know about the investigation taking place at the UN agency it has uncritically championed and promoted for so many years or the related resignation of its often interviewed commissioner-general.

 

BBC News maintains its silence on the UNRWA ethical abuses story

A week has passed since revelations concerning alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees emerged.

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

The BBC continues to maintain ‘radio silence’ on that issue and – although it did take the time to inform audiences that “[l]ast year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949 [sic]” two days after that story broke – it did not apparently consider the fact that Switzerland and the Netherlands subsequently suspended their funding to the agency worth reporting.

Since then Belgium has followed suit.

BBC reporting in August 2018

“Belgium has temporarily suspended its funding to UNRWA, following reports of a UN investigation into ethical misconduct among its senior staff, according to Israel’s Embassy in Belgium.

The embassy tweeted about the suspension on Friday, quoting from Belgian Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, who stated, “If the accusations are true, it’s completely unacceptable.””

In short – three countries suspend their funding to a UN agency in the wake of an ethics report revealing alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at its highest levels and yet the BBC does not consider that its audiences need to know about that story.

Related Articles:

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

In 2017 the BBC expanded its links with the news agency AFP as part of its newsgathering process. Unlike many other media outlets – including the corporation’s preferred paper the Guardian – the BBC does not however appear to consider one recent AFP story newsworthy.

“An internal ethics report has alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees even as the organisation faced an unprecedented crisis after US funding cuts.

The allegations included in the confidential report by the agency’s ethics department are now being scrutinised by UN investigators. […]

AFP has obtained a copy of the report which describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including involving UNRWA’s top official, Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

It says the allegations include senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.””

Despite the BBC having put a considerable amount of effort into amplifying UNRWA talking points throughout last year, members of its funding public have to date not seen any coverage of this latest story concerning the controversial UN agency on the BBC News website or, to the best of our knowledge, anywhere else.  

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Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Among the topics (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’ was that of cuts in US aid to Palestinians – particularly via the UN agency UNRWA.

Nearly two weeks before any official US announcement was made the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was already framing the topic for listeners in an item that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”

January 3rd, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

“As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.”

On January 16th the BBC News website reported that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 16th, BBC News website:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background (see also here)

“While…relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO. […] Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.”

The next morning the top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 17th, ‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

The interviewees heard by listeners were as follows:

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

“The majority of the opinions heard…were strongly critical of the [US] decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. […] Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story.” 

The BBC News website published two additional reports on the same story:

January 17th & January 26th, BBC News website:

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

Four days later, an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

January 30th, BBC News website:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

“…just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA. […]  While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.”

In February UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was given a long slot on BBC WS radio.

February 19th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

“Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.”

In May BBC WS radio audiences heard Yolande Knell interview the Jordanian minister of information.

May 9th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.”

The following month listeners to the same programme heard Nada Tawfik promoting UNRWA PR.

June 13th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

“To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.”

In late August the BBC WS radio programme ‘Newshour’ once again presented preemptive framing of a US announcement that had not yet been made in a long item that included an interview with the Jordanian foreign minister.

August 30th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

“This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.”

The US announcement on August 31st was covered in a written report published on the same day in which readers saw quotes from the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness and the then PLO representative in Washington.

August 31st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

“Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.”

That report was replaced by another one the next day.

September 1st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

“…16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.”

Listeners to BBC WS radio on the same day also heard from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.  

September 1st, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

“…BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.”

Also in September an edition of a BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme included an item billed “where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration”.

September 23rd, ‘Sunday’, BBC Radio 4:

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

“Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.”

As the above examples show, the BBC’s coverage of this story was both generous and blatantly one-sided. While repeatedly providing platforms for UNRWA officials and supporters, the corporation made no effort to explain the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that are the context to the story.

In other words, the BBC’s approach to this story, which ran for much of 2018, was to self-conscript to a political campaign rather than to provide audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to reach their own informed opinions on the topic.

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Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

 

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.

Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.

Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”

Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”

As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.

Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.

Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”

Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”

Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.  

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BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support – tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.

BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

An article by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 21st using the headline “UN schools targeted in Middle East”. The report itself – titled “More than half UN schools in Middle East targeted in conflicts” – carries the following somewhat ‘cloak and dagger’ introduction:Doucet UNRWA

“Nearly half the schools run by the UN in the Middle East have been attacked, damaged or rendered inoperable in the past five years, according to a new report obtained by the BBC.” [emphasis added]

Seeing as the head of the organization which produced that report – UNRWA – was interviewed in connection with its content on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:53 here) on the very same day, we can probably conclude that “obtained” means “given to us by UNRWA”.

Reflecting the framing used in the headlines, Doucet’s report tells readers that:

“More than 300 UN schools were attacked or shut down.” [emphasis added]

In the ‘Newshour’ interview a rather different portrayal was in evidence when presenter Julian Marshall put the following question to Pierre Krahenbuhl:

JM: “And the schools have been damaged as a result of the overall conflict rather than being targeted, have they?”

PK: “Yes indeed. It’s a mix between some having been of course affected by the fighting that takes place in some of the camp landscapes. […] and many of them are beyond reach in frontline areas that have become very, very delicate.”

Doucet’s report also includes the following:

“UNWRA [sic] runs 692 elementary and preparatory schools in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria; and 8 secondary schools in Lebanon. […]

At least 302 (or 44%) of UNWRA [sic] schools were directly affected by armed conflict or violence in the past five years.”

Readers are not however told how many schools were affected in each location.

In April 2015 the UN released a report concerning the seven UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip which were damaged during the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the summer of 2014. The report also examined the cases of three additional UNRWA schools in which weapons belonging to terrorist organisations were found and noted the potential for “confusion” caused by UN practices on the ground at the time.

“The Board found that, at times, there had been multiple channels of communication, both within the United Nations and with outside interlocutors. While this could be helpful, it could also lead to misunderstandings. The Board also found that the existence of two United Nations operations emergency rooms, one organized and coordinated by OCHA and the other by UNRWA, could lead to confusion, even though they carried out distinct functions, which were clear to United Nations actors on the ground. […]

While they were channelled [sic] by the United Nations to the IDF in a timely manner, the Board sensed a degree of confusion concerning the names and coordinates of installations, as, on occasion, the IDF and the United Nations used different mapping references and some schools have multiple names. The Board welcomed the intention of UNRWA and Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) to refer to installations in the future by numbers, as opposed to names.”

Interestingly, neither Marshall nor Krahenbuhl mentioned those UN findings, the storage of weapons in three schools or the all-important context of the terrorist activity in the vicinity of the damaged schools when they later turned to the topic of the Gaza Strip.Newshour 21 5 UNRWA

JM: “Syria clearly in the midst of conflict at the moment but Gaza, the West Bank – we’re very much aware of what happened in Gaza way back in 2014 – but…eh…presumably the problem is not as acute any longer.”

PK: “The problem is not acute in the same way because we have rebuilt and repaired all the schools that were damaged or – more largely – destroyed during the 2014 war.”

Whether BBC audiences are in fact “very much aware of what happened in Gaza way back in 2014” is of course debatable given the corporation’s record of reporting in general and its frequent amplification of politicised UNRWA messaging (both during and after the conflict) in particular.

The timing of the appearance of this UNRWA report is – as stated in Doucet’s article – linked to the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit and – as is evident in the final part of the ‘Newshour’ item – UNRWA’s related funding drive. The BBC’s predictable self-conscription to UNRWA’s public relations campaign means that audiences are fed context-free messaging in the guise of ‘news’ – as ever with no critical examination of the organization concerned or its mandate.

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BBC article on UN Gaza report includes inaccurate representation of its content

BBC amends inaccurate claim on Gaza mortar fire

 

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) long since ceased to confine its activities to humanitarian work and frequently acts as a political campaigning group, with one focus of its efforts being the issue of the border restrictions imposed by Israel as a means of curbing Hamas terrorism.  Notably, UNRWA’s approach to that issue dovetails with Hamas’ standpoint as seen in the terrorist organisation’s ceasefire demands made during last summer’s conflict.

The BBC has frequently used its various platforms to amplify UNRWA’s political campaigning  on that topic – examples can be seen here, here, here and here. UNRWA employees are also not infrequently given unchallenged airtime to promote their messaging on additional subjects – see examples here and here – and as we know, UNRWA’s spokesman (and former BBC employee) Chris Gunness successfully pressured the BBC last August to get the content of an article about casualty figures in the Gaza Strip amended to be more to his political tastes.  

Recently UNRWA employed the six month anniversary of the ceasefire which brought last summer’s hostilities to an end to promote further campaigning. Coincidentally – or not – that anniversary also saw the appearance of a series of reports by Lyse Doucet on the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip (see related articles below), some of which included contributions from UNRWA employees.

In addition to that, on March 2nd the BBC World Service promoted an interview with UNRWA’s Commissioner General which was broadcast on an unspecified radio programme and can be heard as a podcast titled “UNRWA accuses the world of abandoning Gaza” here.UNRWA WS tweet

In that interview Pierre Krähenbühl told World Service listeners that:

“The people of Gaza have now experienced another round of devastating conflict and destruction which was the most widespread in recent years and then of course also have to endure the cumulative effect of years of blockade with lack of freedom of movement, with no opportunities in terms of employment. So that combination is really leading it to a tipping point.”

Rather than informing listeners how Hamas’ policy of terrorism against Israeli civilians brought about that blockade and explaining exactly what it entails, the BBC presenter added his own fuel to the fire:

“I’m looking at another figure here. It says that UNRWA gave food aid to 80 thousand Palestinians fifteen years ago and now it’s 868,000 – almost a million – according to your figures. Why the huge increase? Is this still related to this blockade you’re talking about?”

Krähenbühl answered:

“That’s a direct consequence of the blockade because of course it imposed a situation on the people that you can no longer export material. There is essentially no import so no job opportunities.”

In fact, there is no restriction on exports from the Gaza Strip and all goods are allowed into Gaza with the exception of weapons and “dual use” goods (items that can be appropriated for terrorist activities) but the BBC’s presenter made no effort to clarify those points to his listeners. He likewise failed to inform audiences of the relevant fact that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of awarding hereditary refugee status and that the number of refugees in the Gaza Strip (which has the thirteenth highest population growth rate in the world) has consequently risen by over 400,000 people during the last 15 years. Predictably, he also refrained from asking Krähenbühl why Palestinians living under Palestinian rule for almost a decade are still classified as refugees at all.

The BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that:

“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.”

That stipulation is never applied to UNRWA (or other UN agencies) and hence BBC audiences are led to believe that the information they receive comes from an objective, apolitical and unbiased source. That, of course, is far from the case and the problem is further exacerbated by the BBC’s collaboration with the promotion of UNWRA’s political agenda – be it by means of generous airtime, by succumbing to the demand to alter articles or via its own campaigning reports which so often show a similarity of timing and agenda.

As Matti Friedman noted last year, international organisations such as UNRWA are not viewed by journalists as subject matter . 

“Confusion over the role of the press explains one of the strangest aspects of coverage here—namely, that while international organizations are among the most powerful actors in the Israel story, they are almost never reported on. Are they bloated, ineffective, or corrupt? Are they helping, or hurting? We don’t know, because these groups are to be quoted, not covered. Journalists cross from places like the BBC to organizations like Oxfam and back. The current spokesman at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, for example, is a former BBC man. A Palestinian woman who participated in protests against Israel and tweeted furiously about Israel a few years ago served at the same time as a spokesperson for a UN office, and was close friends with a few reporters I know.”

The BBC’s approach to UNRWA is a prime example of that phenomenon and as long as it continues, the corporation can in no way justify its claim to be the ‘standard setter’ for international journalism.

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