BBC News, PA Balfour agitprop and British history

BBC amplification of the latest pseudo-legal agitprop from the vexatious Palestinian Authority came in the form of an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 26th under the misleading title “Palestinians plan to sue Britain over 1917 Balfour act“.PA Balfour Decl art

The Balfour Declaration was of course a statement of British government policy – not an “act” as this headline states.

Later on in the article, readers were further misled by an inaccurate portrayal of the end of British administration of the Mandate for Palestine.

“Israel declared its independence in 1948 after the UK mandate expired.”

The mandate did not ‘expire‘: the British government chose to terminate its administration of the mandate originally granted by the League of Nations.

Remarkably, the article omitted any mention of British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

“Jewish immigration to Palestine accelerated from the 1920s to the 1940s, latterly spurred by Nazi persecution and the Holocaust in Europe. The growth of the Jewish population was opposed by Palestine’s Arab community, which rejected the eventual establishment of a Jewish state.”

The article provided uncritical amplification to spurious claims made by a PA representative:

“Palestinian FM Riad Malki said the document led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people”. […]

Speaking at an Arab League summit in Mauritania on Monday, Mr Malki said the UK was responsible for all “Israeli crimes” since the end of the mandate in 1948.

“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” he was quoted as saying by the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

“And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.””

The article refrained from clarifying to readers that this latest PA stunt does not come out of the blue and it failed to provide them with the relevant context of the long record of denial of Jewish history by official Palestinian bodies, as ‘The Tower’ explains:

“Article 20 of the charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose chairman Mahmoud Abbas is also president of the Palestinian Authority, declared that “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood.”

In 1993, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat promised, as part of the Oslo peace process, to revoke elements of the charter that denied Israel’s right to exist as part of the Oslo peace process. After initially failing to keep his commitment, Arafat specified in a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton that Article 20 would be among those that would be revoked. In December 1998, the Palestinian legislature officially voted to revoke those sections of the charter that were inconsistent with the Palestinians’ commitment to peace. By questioning the legality of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Authority may be in violation of its international commitments to peace.”

This latest PA agitprop is of course unlikely to do more than create a few headlines. Nevertheless, if the BBC is going to give it amplification, it should at least also inform audiences about the real aim of an exercise that highights the redundancy of the BBC’s repeated promotion of the notion that ‘settlements’ and ‘occupation’ are the “obstacles to peace”.

Obviously too, the UK’s national broadcaster should be capable of presenting its funding public with an accurate account of Britain’s role in that particular chapter of history.

Related Articles:

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How does the BBC define ‘pro-Palestinian’?

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The PA terror monument and the former BBC interviewee

Even as the BBC’s funding public sees its elected representatives debate issues relating to official Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, the corporation continues to avoid providing them with the comprehensive picture of those issues which would not only enhance their understanding of news coming from the Middle East, but also of events in their own parliament.

Last week the Palestinian Authority and the PLO erected a monument to a terrorist who murdered fifteen people and wounded scores of others in 1975.Zion Square attack

“The Palestinian Authority went through with its plans yesterday to establish a monument honoring the terrorist Ahmad Jabarah Abu Sukkar, who planned the detonation of a bomb-laden refrigerator in the center of Jerusalem…. […]

Palestinian officials participating in this event […] include, among others:

 – Director of the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake

– Governor of Ramallah and El-Bireh, Laila Ghannam

– PA Parliament Member Qais Abd Al-Karim.”

Although there is nothing novel about the fact that the BBC elected to ignore this example of glorification of terrorism just as it has countless others, in this particular case we know that the corporation is well aware of Ahmad Jabarah’s resume of terrorism because it not only covered his release from prison (as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the PA) in 2003 but even saw fit to broadcast what one BBC journalist termed “a really remarkable interview” with him on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

But while the PA keeps up its practice of making national heroes of dead terrorists with monuments, street namings and sports tournament dedications, the BBC continues to indoctrinate its audiences with the notion that the prime ‘obstacle to peace’ is Israeli building. 

BBC News mantra on 2014 negotiations impairs audience understanding

July 10th saw the appearance of an article titled “Israel and Palestinians: Egypt FM urges two-state solution in rare visit” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page which did little to contribute to audience understanding of issues of mutual interest for Egypt and Israel and took the famous British understatement to the extreme in its tangential portrayal of a topic the BBC has long downplayed: Hamas’ collaboration with ISIS terrorists in the Sinai peninsula.Egypt FM visit

“His trip is seen as a sign of strengthened ties between two countries sharing deep concerns over regional unrest. […]

Co-operation between Israel and Egypt has intensified under Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Egypt faces Islamist militants in the Sinai region south of Israel, and both countries are wary of Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers.”

Significantly, the report also failed to clarify to readers that in contrast to the French proposal which was widely covered by the BBC’s Middle East editor last month, Egypt’s initiative to revive the process aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is based on direct negotiations between the parties.

Readers of this article were told that:

“The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the militant Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.”

The BBC has been promoting that theme at least since the beginning of June:

“There have been numerous rounds of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the early 1990s, with the most recent collapsing in acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.” (June 3, 2016)

“The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the militant Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.” (June 30, 2016)

“The last round of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.” (July 1, 2016)

“The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the militant Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.” (July 6, 2016)

Despite the obvious efforts being made by the BBC to shape audience views of that particular piece of history, the fact is that this simplistic yet widely promoted mantra does not provide an accurate description of events at the time.

It does not clarify that the fourth tranche of prisoner releases (intended to be conditional on the progress of talks) was delayed because the Palestinians both demanded the release of convicted Arab-Israeli terrorists and refused to agree to the continuation of negotiations after their official deadline. It does not inform audiences that the PA reneged on a previously made commitment not to join assorted UN agencies while negotiations were in progress and that it knew perfectly well that its decision to form a ‘unity government’ with the Hamas terror organisation which rejects the two state solution would be the final nail in the coffin of negotiations intended to achieve that aim.

As has been noted here before, the Palestinian Authority made three important choices between March 17th and April 23rd 2014 (not to accept the American framework, to join international agencies in breach of existing commitments and to opt for reconciliation with Hamas) which had a crucial – and apparently pre-planned – effect on the fate of the negotiations.

While the BBC’s portrayal of the end of the 2013/14 talks was highly partial and problematic even at the time, the fact that two years on it not only fails to meet its remit of enhancing audience understanding of the issue but actively impairs appreciation of why the 2013/14 talks collapsed is obviously cause for concern.

Related Articles:

Background to the BBC’s inaccurate framing of the end of Middle East talks

Revisiting the BBC’s framing of the 2013/14 Israel-PLO negotiations

Another hole in the BBC’s Middle East narrative laid bare

Anyone who bothered to read right to the end of the article titled “Israel seals off Hebron after surge of attacks” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 1st will have come across the following portrayal of an incident which took place on that day.route 60 attack art

“Elsewhere in the West Bank a Palestinian man died during clashes at the Qalandiya checkpoint, near Ramallah, where Muslims were trying to cross to Jerusalem for prayers.

Local hospital officials say he had a heart attack brought on by inhaling tear gas.”

That account does not clarify to audiences that what the BBC describes as “clashes” was actually violent rioting by a mob of Palestinians without entry permits who tried to breach the checkpoint by force. While Palestinian sources have indeed claimed that the man’s death was related to the use of tear gas during attempts to bring the violent rioting under control, in contrast to the impression given in this report, the connection has not been definitively established.

“A Palestinian man died Friday at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, as some security forces faced off against some 1,000 Palestinians rioting at the site.

The protests erupted when dozens of Palestinians tried to break through the checkpoint in order to attend the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Channel 2 reported. Security forces at the site used riot dispersal measures, which Palestinian sources said included tear gas.

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, the man in his 40s choked as a result of the use of tear gas, and was taken to hospital in Ramallah, where he was pronounced dead.

An Israeli military source said, however, that the man’s death was caused by a heart attack, not from inhaling tear gas, the Walla news website reported.

Three police officers were lightly injured in the violence, Walla said. The crossing was closed temporarily due to the riots.”

The article also included reporting on the terror attack which took place on Route 60 on the same day – as ever without any mention of the word terror.

“It comes after an Israeli man was killed and his wife and two children wounded after their car was fired on near the Jewish settlement of Otniel.

It was the second fatal attack on an Israeli in the West Bank in two days. […]

The victims of Friday’s attack were members of the same family. Local media named the dead man as 48-year-old Michael “Miki” Mark, a father-of-10.

He was killed when the car crashed after the attack. His wife and two children were taken to hospital for treatment.

Israeli forces were still searching for a Palestinian gunman.”

Readers of the report were told that:

“In the wake of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israel to deduct from tax it collects on behalf of the PA the equivalent amount which the PA pays each month to Palestinian militants jailed in Israel.

“Israel believes that the encouragement of terrorism by the PA leadership – in incitement and in payments to terrorists and their families – constitutes incentive for murder,” the prime minister’s office said.”

As has been documented here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC has long ignored the subject of the salaries paid to convicted terrorists and the financial benefits awarded to the families of deceased terrorists by the Palestinian Authority and/or the PLO, despite the relevance of that topic to general audience understanding of the background to the conflict and notwithstanding the particular relevance of the issue to British tax-payers. Most readers of this article would therefore lack understanding of the context to the Israeli government’s action and statement described above.

As we see, for the second time in one day, visitors to the BBC News website came face to face with a topic that the BBC has serially excluded from its framing for years. Obviously (if the BBC really does seek to meet its obligations to its funding public) one of the tasks at the top of the list for whoever replaces Kevin Connolly at the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau should be to try to compensate for those years of neglect by providing audiences with the information of which they have been deprived on the inter-related topics of Palestinian Authority incitement, glorification of terrorism and funding of convicted and deceased terrorists.  

Related Articles:

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Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

The BBC Academy’s style guide includes instruction for the corporation’s producers and journalists on the correct terminology to be used when reporting on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Temple Mount – both words capped. Note that the area in Jerusalem that translates from Hebrew as the Temple Mount should also be described, though not necessarily in the first four pars, as known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (ie lower case ‘al’, followed by a hyphen – and never ‘the al-Haram al-Sharif’, which is tautological). The Arabic translates as the Noble Sanctuary.” [emphasis in the original]

That guideline was generally followed in the past, as can be seen in the examples below.SONY DSC

“Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s opposition, paid a visit to the site in East Jerusalem known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa mosque – and frustration boiled over into violence.” (29/09/2004)

“The Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif is the most important religious site in Jerusalem.” (circa 2007)

“The Temple Mount compound, in the old city in East Jerusalem, covers an area of 35 acres. […] The same area is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).” (undated – circa 2009)

“The compound where the mosque lies is revered by Muslims and Jews and is a frequent flashpoint for violence. It is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.” (08/05/2013)

“Police said about 20 youths threw stones and fireworks at officers from the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. […] The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) compound, in the Old City in East Jerusalem, covers an area of 35 acres (14 hectares).” (25/02/2014)

“The compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.” (30/10/2014)

In late 2014, audiences began to see the employment of different terminology by some BBC journalists, as highlighted below.

SONY DSC

“Well…err….there were clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli police at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound – the place also known to Jews as the Temple Mount – in Jerusalem.”  (05/11/2014)

Earlier, Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. […] And then all of these issues around restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound…ah…this holy site for Muslims, of course, but also for Jews who call it Temple Mount. (05/11/2014)

“It’s the Al Aqsa Mosque compound for Muslims – the third most sacred place in Islam – this mosque and then this is a site also revered by Jews because it contains…this is where the two Jewish temples were that stood in biblical times and at the moment Jews can’t pray there…ahm…but they can visit.”” (07/11/2014)

Concurrently, the BBC Academy recommended terminology was still seen in some reports from around the same time.

“But Israel also captured Haram al Sharif, or Temple Mount.” (08/11/2014)

“The Jerusalem compound that has been the focus of much of the unrest – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, while the al-Aqsa Mosque within the compound is the third holiest site in Islam.” (18/11/2014)

“Tensions in Jerusalem have recently been heightened by a dispute over a compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism. The compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.” (19/11/2014)

“It is a compound which contains both the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif: the place where the prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven. It’s also the spot on which the ancient temples of the Jews stood: those buildings destroyed by foreign invaders which contained the Holy of Holies and which are the cornerstone of the Jewish faith and identity. To Jews it is the Temple Mount.” (18/11/2014)

“If you’re a Muslim you will know it as al Haram al Sharif. If you’re Jewish you’ll call it Temple Mount. Home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, this holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem is the focus of rising tensions between the two communities…” (28/11/2014)

However, the term ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – or even just ‘al Aqsa Mosque’ – was employed to describe what the BBC previously called Haram al Sharif with increasing frequency from November 2014 onwards. [emphasis added]

“In the last few weeks what we’ve had is this big flare-up in tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque compound; about access to this important religious site. It’s the third holiest site in Islam. For Jews, who call it Temple Mount, it is the holiest site in their religion.” (18/11/2014)

“But the key to all of this, we think, is this ancient dispute about rights of worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque – which is called Temple Mount by Jews of course. Now that is a site sacred to both faiths – to Muslims and to Jews.” (18/11/2014)

“Palestinian youths have clashed with Israeli police who entered the al-Aqsa mosque complex in East Jerusalem.” (26/07/2015)

 “Palestinian youths have clashed with Israeli police at the Al Aqsa complex in East Jerusalem – one of Islam’s holiest sites.” (26/07/2015)

“The violence broke out at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City – the scene of many confrontations in the past between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims. And that’s because this large complex is home to sites revered by both religions.”

“The clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers in what Palestinian Muslims call Al Aqsa Mosque, which is their holiest place in the city and what Jews believe it to be the Temple Mount.” (13/09/2015)

“Separately, violence has again rocked the al-Aqsa mosque compound.” (16/09/2015)

“And as you said this is really to do with the clashes that have taken place over the Jewish New Year’s holiday at the holy site you can see behind me: the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” (16/09/2015)

“Clashes have broken out between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem.” (27/09/2015)

“Tensions have been particularly high in recent weeks over the long-running issue of access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem.” (01/10/2015)

“This week it’s the Jewish religious festival of Sukkot; that’s one of the times of year when Jews traditionally make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That means, of course, that they move towards the Western Wall in the old city; that means they’re close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.” (01/10/2015)

“It’s home to the Al Aqsa Mosque; sacred to Muslims and Jews.” (09/10/2015 – the BBC Trust ESC decision relating to that statement can be found here.)

“The last straw has been the widespread belief that Israel is planning to allow Jews more access to the compound of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Palestinians call the Noble Sanctuary and Israelis call the Temple Mount.”Kotel at night 2

“Jerusalem: city of beauty, sanctity and hate. Its holy places are at the centre of the conflict. Only Muslims can pray in the compound around the golden Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa Mosque.” (15/10/2015)

“The current escalation was partly triggered by Palestinian fury over restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. The site is holy to Muslims and Jews, who call it Temple Mount.”

The Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest place in Islam. Jews call it Temple Mount and it’s also their holiest site.” (23/04/2016)

So how and why did that deviation from the BBC’s recommended terminology come about? As noted above, the change in language first appeared in November 2014. At the beginning of that month – on November 5ththe PLO put out a “media advisory” document (since removed from its website) informing foreign journalists of its “[c]oncern over the use of the inaccurate term “Temple Mount” to refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem”. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s tactic of negation of Jewish history in Jerusalem.

Whilst the BBC does continue to use the terms Temple Mount and Haram al Sharif as can be seen above, it has concurrently broadly embraced the PLO’s preferred terminology and that it not confined to correspondents on the ground alone.

Earlier this month the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee responded to an appeal concerning a complaint about the inaccuracy of the statement “It’s [Jerusalem’s Old City] home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews” with findings which support the earlier response from BBC Complaints:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).”

In addition to promoting its preferred terminology “al Aqsa Mosque compound”, the PLO document from November 5th also states:

“Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, sometimes referred to as the Noble Sanctuary (“Haram al-Sharif” in Arabic), is the compound that contains Al Aqsa building itself, ablution fountains, open spaces for prayer, monuments and the Dome of the Rock building. This entire area enclosed by the walls which spans 144 dunums (almost 36 acres), forms the Mosque.” [emphasis added]

A response from BBC Complaints received by BBC Watch earlier this year suggests that the BBC has internalised that claim:

“In the context of the interview “the area” he was referring to was the expanded prayer plaza which Muslims believe is an inseparable part of al-Aksa Mosque…”

So despite the BBC’s style guide not having undergone any changes, we see that de facto the BBC has adopted both the language – ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – and the political ideology found in the PLO’s November 2014 recommendations. Apparently BBC editorial staff do not grasp how that compromises the corporation’s supposed impartiality. 

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BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

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BBC News produces eight versions of report on three-hour Paris meeting

An article which first appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 3rd under the headline “Middle East peace talks to start in Paris” underwent amendments and changes no fewer than seven times in the hours that followed and it now appears under the title “Israel-Palestinian two-state solution ‘in serious danger’“.Paris conf art 

The caption to the image currently appearing at the head of the report presents readers with some clear framing, invoking anonymous “experts” but failing to provide information which would enable them to assess the relevance or validity of the claims made by those sources.

“Violent attacks and ongoing settlement activity are a big obstacle to the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian talks, experts say”

All versions of the report include a highly selective and superficial portrayal of the collapse of the last round of talks between Israel and the PLO.

“There have been numerous rounds of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the early 1990s, with the most recent collapsing in acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.”

The actual sequence of events was of course much more complex and as has been noted here before:

“…the Palestinian Authority made three important choices between March 17th and April 23rd (not to accept the American framework, to join international agencies in breach of existing commitments and to opt for reconciliation with Hamas) which had a crucial effect on the fate of the negotiations.”

All versions of the article include the following statement:

“Some of the most intractable issues include the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian statehood.”

Notably, no less crucial issues such as the insistence upon the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian terrorism and the Palestinian refusal to relinquish any future claims by recognising Israel as the Jewish state are not brought to the attention of readers.

From its third version onwards the article included ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s Middle East editor which was altered in the last version. The earlier comments from Jeremy Bowen promoted the often seen theme of aggrandizement of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

“The French President, Francois Hollande, said that with terrorism spreading around the world it is essential to push once again for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Hollande delivered a stern warning. Violence is rife, he said, and hope is diminishing. People should not fool themselves that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has become a peripheral issue just because of the turmoil elsewhere in the region.

The president is right. The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is as full of poison as ever and can still create new international crises.”

The version of Bowen’s analysis found in the latest version of the report includes curious speculation and irrelevant – but nevertheless revealing – messaging.

“The Israeli foreign ministry called the conference a missed opportunity. It said pressure should have put on Mr Abbas, to talk one on one with Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

That suggests the Israeli government feels under pressure. Mr Netanyahu has also been criticised for appointing a controversial hardliner, Avigdor Lieberman, as defence minister. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the move showed the seeds of fascism had infected Israel.”

Incredibly, over some sixteen hours BBC News devoted publicly funded resources to producing eight different versions of this report about an at best symbolic ‘conference’ (described even by the New York Times as an “extended photo opportunity”) that lasted the grand total of three hours.

Whilst it did seize the opportunity to communicate one-sided politicised framing of the topic to audiences, bizarrely the BBC had nothing to tell them about the prime factor behind the message in the article’s headline and opening paragraph.

“Hopes of a “two-state solution” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are in “serious danger”, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has warned.”

Apparently the BBC’s Middle East ‘experts’ did not think it necessary to “enhance audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” by informing them of the decidedly relevant fact that various Palestinian factions – including Hamas – completely reject the concept of the two-state solution.

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s framing of the 2013/14 Israel-PLO negotiations

Background to the BBC’s inaccurate framing of the end of Middle East talks

BBC claims final tranche of prisoner release included “hundreds” – reader secures correction

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part two

In part one of this post we discussed some of the issues arising from Yolande Knell’s filmed and audio reports titled “Death at the Junction” which were broadcast on BBC World News television and on BBC Radio 4 on April 23rd.Knell Our World TV

An additional feature of both reports is Knell’s employment of PLO terminology and messaging. In the audio report she tells listeners:

“Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements are often cited as reasons for Palestinian anger but [interviewee] Daniel believes incitement is driving the upsurge in attacks.”

Cited by whom? That Knell does not reveal but a guidance document for members of the media which was issued by the PLO in November 2015 tells foreign reporters that “The main issue is the Israeli Occupation” and in relation to the current wave of terrorism, journalists are informed that:

“The Israeli government attempts to shift the focus away from their colonization enterprise and illegal occupation, which is the root cause of the continuous uprisings of the Palestinian people who have for decades endured an Apartheid regime. Though Israeli spokespeople have claimed that the main issues are Al-Aqsa and “Palestinian incitement”, the fact of the matter is that Israel continues to systematically deny Palestinian rights.”

Knell later goes on to say:

“The current escalation was partly triggered by Palestinian fury over restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. The site is holy to Muslims and Jews, who call it Temple Mount.” [emphasis added]

In the filmed report viewers are told that:

“The Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest place in Islam. Jews call it Temple Mount and it’s also their holiest site. It lies at the heart of the conflict. Last year, with hopes of a political solution further away than ever, the latest round of violence began right here. Clashes broke out between Israeli police and Palestinians. As Jews visited during religious holidays, fears grew that Israel had plans to change a rule that forbids non-Muslims from praying at the site.”

In November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s habitual negation of Jewish history and the BBC – which used to use the term ‘Haram al Sharif’ – has since frequently been found complying with that attempt to promote the inaccurate notion that the whole of Temple Mount “forms the Mosque” and amplifying baseless Palestinian claims of alleged Israeli intentions to change the status quo at the site.

Knell’s filmed report also includes extensive promotion of falsehoods which go completely unchallenged. During her interview with the father of a terrorist who was shot and killed whilst in the process of carrying out a stabbing attack at Gush Etzion junction on October 27th 2015, Knell tells viewers:

“Nadi [the terrorist’s father] himself is a former militant who spent 10 years in an Israeli jail but he says his son wasn’t politically motivated in the way that he was. He was impulsive, inspired by social media.”

Knell fails to tell audiences that Izz al-Din Abu Shakhadam’s accomplice had served a 16-month prison term in Israel for Hamas activities and that Hamas issued death notices for them both.

Viewers then see the following unqualified statements from the father in the sub-titles on screen:

“Izz al-Din was always keeping up with events on Facebook. He used to see the raids of the settlers on Al Aqsa, to see the Occupation army executing our girls and boys. Of course this affected him a lot and made him determined to stand up to this horrible occupying force. If we let them do what they want, tomorrow they’ll stamp on us.” [emphasis added]

Making no effort to relieve viewers of the inaccurate impressions given by those false statements, Knell goes on to showcase another terrorist who carried out a car-ramming attack on March 4th.

“But many deadly incidents at the Gush Etzion junction are not so clear cut. Instead there are conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives that reflect the deepening mutual distrust. Israel’s army says the woman driving this car ploughed into soldiers and was shot dead. A knife was found on her dashboard. […] But in her village the mourners tell a different story. Mohammed Sabatin says his wife was scared and took a wrong turn at the junction.”

Viewers see the following unchallenged claim in the sub-titles translating an interviewee’s response to Knell’s question concerning the knife.

They planted it there. We haven’t got a knife like that and that is always what the occupation does. They planted the knife by the windscreen. It’s not logical; why would she put the knife where everyone could see it?” [emphasis added]

That false theme has been repeatedly seen during recent months and it is part of the incitement spread by Palestinian Authority officials. Viewers of this programme are not however informed of that crucial context before Knell goes on to show a gory display.

“The family claims Israel used excessive force to stop Amani and I’m shown her clothes, riddled with bullet holes.”

“The circumstances surrounding Amani’s death remain uncertain.”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not share Knell’s uncertainty with regard to the circumstances which brought about the death of the ‘martyr’ as she was termed in the PA president’s condolence letter to her family.

Towards the end of the filmed report Knell tells viewers that “for Palestinians […] Gush Etzion is a symbol of Israel’s occupation” and audiences then see the following on-screen translation of the words of Nadi Abu Shakhadam:

They enjoy killing our children – only God knows why.”

Like the other lies highlighted above, that too goes unchallenged by Yolande Knell.

Both the half-hour long film and the radio report presented an opportunity for Knell to provide BBC audiences with more wide-ranging background and context than news reports on the terror attacks which have plagued Israel for over half a year allow. Instead, the corporation’s funding public was fed politicised messaging by means of the use of terminology such as “Palestinian land” and “illegal” settlements, undiluted PLO propaganda and downright lies which went entirely unchallenged by a journalist supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting.   

Related Articles:

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC report on assassination in Lebanon fails to provide context

April 12th saw the appearance of a short article titled “Lebanon car bombing kills Palestinian Fatah official” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The report includes the following:Ein Hilweh story

“There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which occurred in nearby Ein el-Hilweh camp.

However, Fatah gunmen have recently been involved in clashes with rival factions in Ein el-Hillweh.

One man was killed earlier this month when one dispute escalated.”

The inter-factional violence in Ein el Hilweh has been going on for many years (the BBC itself produced a report on the topic in 2008) and hence the use of the word “recently” misleads readers. 

The report closes as follows:

“About 450,000 Palestinians are registered with the UN as refugees in Lebanon, and most live in 12 official camps that mainly fall outside the jurisdiction of the Lebanese security services.”

Remarkably, readers are not provided with any answer to the obviously relevant question of why refugee camps on Lebanese soil are not under the jurisdiction of the Lebanese security forces. They are not informed that arrangements concerning those UNRWA-run camps were enshrined in an agreement between the PLO and the Lebanese authorities.

“Under the 1969 Cairo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was granted exclusive responsibility for administering the refugee camps in Lebanon.”

Neither are they informed that the same agreement (which was annulled in 1987 by the Lebanese parliament) allowed the PLO to establish military bases in Lebanon and to conduct cross-border terrorist operations against Israel.

Both the Taif Agreement (1989) and UNSC resolution 1559 (2004) called for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias but neither Hizballah nor the various Palestinian militias complied with those conditions.

Obviously that missing historical context is crucial to audience understanding of the background to the story reported in this article. 

No BBC reporting of Abbas-PFLP row

The BBC’s profile of the PFLP informs audiences that:

“During the 1970s, the PFLP was the second largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)…”

Although readers of that profile wouldn’t know it, the PFLP – designated a terror organization by the US, Canada, Australia and the EU – continues to hold the number two position in the PLO with the largest faction still being Fatah.

That status apparently comes with cash benefits to the tune of $70,000 a month in handouts from the PLO’s financial arm – the Palestinian National Fund. Or at least it did – until the chairman of the PLO’s executive committee Mahmoud Abbas (who is also of course the Palestinian Authority president and head of Fatah) recently decided, according to PFLP officials, to suspend that monthly payment.

“Rabah Muhanna, a top PFLP official, said that his group learned about Abbas’s decision a few days ago. He claimed that Abbas did not consult with other PLO factions before he decided to suspend funds to the PFLP.

“This is an individual decision,” Muhanna said. “We will bring it before the PLO Executive Committee for discussion. We will also raise the issue before Abbas himself.””

The BBC’s Jerusalem and Ramallah offices of course generally avoid reporting on internal Palestinian politics and so it is not surprising that this story (and an apparently related one) has not been deemed newsworthy.

However, the corporation’s audiences might nevertheless have liked to see some reporting on the PFLP flagsubject of why the body which conducts negotiations with Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people – supposedly in order to reach a peace agreement – includes a proscribed terror organization which, as its logo indicates and in contrast to the impression given in the BBC’s profile, does not support the two-state solution.

The BBC’s UK audiences might have been particularly interested in finding out why their own government’s Department for International Development has for years funded the PLO’s ‘Negotiations Support Unit’ if the organization is capable of spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on hand-outs to its component groups – including a terrorist organisation.