BBC WS tells listeners to go online for part of a story it didn’t tell

The February 17th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in its synopsis as being about “Poland’s controversial WW2 death camps law”.

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 14:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “Last month the Polish parliament approved a bill to make it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the crimes of the Nazis during the Second World War. At least six million Poles were killed – about half of them Jewish. Many more fled the country. There’s no question that the country suffered horribly but lately a row has erupted about those Poles who may have colluded with the Nazis and why that word – colluded – is so contentious. Today at a panel discussion at the International Security Conference in Munich, an Israeli journalist challenged the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki about the new law. Here’s part of Ronen Bergman’s challenge.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Ronen Bergman speaking during the Q&A session.

Bergman: “Both my parents were born in Poland – my late mother and my father. My mother received a special prize for good Polish from the Polish minister of education when she was five. Then the war started and they lost much of their family because their neighbours – their Polish neighbours – snitched to the Gestapo that they are holding Jews. My mother was able to save much of her family because she heard during the night that the neighbours are going to tell that they have Jews in their vicinity to the SS the next morning. And after the war my mother swore that she will never speak Polish for the rest of her life – not even a single word. If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this. What is the purpose, what is the message that you are trying to convey in the world? You are creating the opposite reaction and just attracting more attention to these atrocities. Thank you.”

However, BBC World Service listeners did not hear the Polish prime minister’s response (which can be seen here) and so they did not know that he began by saying:

“It’s extremely important to first understand that, of course, it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators – as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian…. not only German perpetrators.” [emphasis added]

Kesby made no effort to inform listeners of that obviously crucial part of the story before going on to introduce Ronen Bergman.

Kesby: “Well a short time [sic] we managed to get through to Ronen Bergman and he told us more about his challenge.”

Listeners then heard Bergman’s comments on the Polish prime minister’s remarks – without having heard the statements themselves and without it being clarified that “he” refers to Morawiecki.

Bergman: “[….] He did not admit that there were Polish collaborators. He did not use that word; he said perpetrators and the use of that word  – while saying in the same line, in the same sentence, that there were Polish as well as Jews – so like making one line connecting all of them – he said these were perpetrators – meaning criminals – who mushroomed – that was the word that he said – who mushroomed in the sense…so the subtext is basically this: there were criminals in Poland, some of them were Jews, some of them were Poles, and they were the ones who gave Jews to the Gestapo. This is nothing but Holocaust denial and an outrageous lie.”

Kesby then asked:

Kesby: “These terrible events are seventy years old. Why is this such a current issue now?”

Bergman: “Because Poland – or elements in Poland as well as in some other Eastern European countries – are trying to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and there should not be any debate. […] But the Nazi Germans they were the ones who initiated the extermination and they were the ones who managed it. But there were many, many people of some of the local countries that were under German occupation who assisted them and much of the Holocaust could not have been executed without them. Now some of these countries are now trying to say that they were nothing but victims and the Polish government have gone to a much further extent to say that if someone says anything else he’s a criminal.”

Kesby: “And why do you think that it the case? Why do you think there is this sensitivity to admitting what has happened in the past?”

Bergman: “Well I think that nobody wants to admit that he was part of the most vicious crime in the history of humanity. And I think that these countries basically are trying to say that the Germans – and only the Germans – are to blame. They want retribution – meaning compensation – and taking from their shoulders any kind of guilt. […] You know this sort of narrative is something that we always suspected still exists but I think that we have never heard from such a senior official of these countries speaking this language.”

Obviously having belatedly realised that listeners had not heard the remarks from the Polish prime minister’s that were the subject matter of this interview, Kesby closed the item by saying:

Kesby: “That was Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman there and apologies – there wasn’t the full exchange there as I anticipated, of his exchange with the Polish prime minister but it is available online if you’d like to do a search and see both sides of the argument.”

The newly appointed Director of the BBC World Service group recently claimed that BBC World Service radio’s English services “remain the gold standard for international news” and that:

“With global concern growing about disinformation, ‘fake news’ and media literacy, the World Service Group has never been in a stronger position to show the way forward. We spot the stories, see the patterns and make sense of the world for our audiences.”

Obviously sending audiences to “do a search” on the internet in order to find for themselves the crucial part of a story is hardly “the gold standard” of news provision.

 

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Weekend long read

1) The New Statesman carries an edited version of the Holocaust Memorial Day lecture delivered by Howard Jacobson.

“It isn’t that we expected the world suddenly to love us after the camps were liberated. We are wise in the ways of human psychology. We know that people turn against those to whom they feel obliged. It is hard to forgive those you have wronged, and we knew we would not be forgiven the Holocaust. But we thought anti-Semitism itself might take a short break – admit its errors, lick its wounds and go into hiding for a while. Embarrassment, if nothing else, would surely deter most anti-Semites from showing their faces. “Not yet,” we thought they’d say. “Not a good idea after what’s just happened.” What no one could have expected was the speed with which they found a way round any such compunctions, not least by denying that anything had happened at all. Holocaust – what Holocaust?”

2) At the JNS Ben Cohen discusses Poland’s ‘Holocaust complicity’ law.

“If the Polish government’s goal was simply to encourage greater awareness and education about Polish suffering under the Nazis, that would be a laudable goal. But by tying that aspect of Nazi rule so explicitly to the mass enslavement and extermination of the Jews, and by willfully misrepresenting documented evidence of Polish anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis as a slander upon the Polish nation as a whole, they are engineering their own deserved failure, to the detriment of Poland’s people.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has published a report on a campaign being run by the Palestinian Authority and others.

“In September 2017 Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and the PA, issued a fatwa forbidding the use of the Israeli curriculum in schools in east Jerusalem. He was joined by Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the imam of al-Aqsa mosque. Sabri Sidam, the PA minister of education, said in December 2017 that his ministry would begin to take practical steps to implement Sheikh Muhammad Hussein’s fatwa. […]

The number of students in east Jerusalem who study the Israeli curriculum is continually rising. According to information from the Jerusalem municipality, during the current school [2017-2018] year 5,800 students in east Jerusalem study the Israeli curriculum, an increase of 14% over the previous year [2016-2017]. […] Meir Shimoni, director of the Jerusalem district in the ministry of education, said that “the surveys we carried out indicate that about 50% of the parents in east Jerusalem want their children to pass the Israeli matriculation exams”.

4) At the JCPA Dr Jacques Neriah discusses Turkey’s military presence in the Middle East.

“While Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East have been under the world’s magnifying glass, Turkey has been silently projecting its military presence in the area to such an extent it has become a source of worry to the “moderate” Arab states and specifically to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, since its invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974, Turkey had underplayed its military in the Middle East as a significant military power. The Syrian civil war, the emergence of ISIS, and the proliferation of radical Islam coupled with a president identified with the Muslim Brothers have all been instrumental in appearing to Turkey’s critics in the Arab world as “the new Ottomans.””

BBC R4 ‘Today’ impartiality fail in item on Polish Holocaust bill

h/t GB

The February 2nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included an item (from 02:33:57 here) about the controversial ‘Holocaust complicity’ bill that is currently making its way through the Polish political system.

Listeners may well have been astounded to hear presenter Nick Robinson’s portrayal of the number of people who lost their lives in Nazi camps located in Poland in his introduction. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Robinson: “Hundreds of thousands died during the Holocaust in Polish death camps. I could be imprisoned in Poland for simply uttering those words if a law voted for in the Polish senate is enacted into law. Poland’s prime minister says it’s to lift a slur on his people and his country and to put the blame where it really belongs: on the Nazis. Israel’s prime minister has warned Poles not to try to change history. We’re joined now by Wojciech Roszkowski. He is professor of history at the institute of political studies at the Polish Academy of Science and also by Konstanty Gebert who is a columnist with Gazeta Wyborcza.”

As regular readers are aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“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.”

The bill that is the subject matter of this item is being advanced by Poland’s ruling ‘Law & Justice’ party (PiS). Listeners should therefore have been informed that the person they heard defending it  – who was twice described by Nick Robinson only as a “professor of history” – is not just an academic: for five years he was (as the BBC itself reported in 2007) a member of the European Parliament (MEP) on behalf of the political party that is currently promoting the controversial legislation.  

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BBC ignores its own previous reporting in coverage of Polish bill

 

BBC ignores its own previous reporting in coverage of Polish bill

On January 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel criticises Poland over proposed Holocaust law” which opened as follows:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticised a draft Polish bill to make it illegal to accuse Poles of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.”

Later on readers were told that:

“The country [Poland] has long objected to the use of phrases like “Polish death camps”, which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz.”

And:

“The Polish government said the bill was not intended to limit freedom to research or discuss the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that “Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase”.

The country’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, said Israel’s objections were “proof” that it was needed.

“Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill. On top of that they claim that Poles are co-responsible’ for the Holocaust,” he said.

“This is proof how necessary this bill is.””

The next day that report was replaced by another one headlined “Poland president to review Holocaust bill after Israel outcry” in which readers were told that:

“Poland’s draft bill, which is an amendment to an existing Polish law, would make using phrases like “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison. […]

Poland’s government insists the legislation aims to prevent the international defamation of Poland, and is not intended to impede genuine academic debate.”

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ also covered the story on January 28th (from 00:58 here) in an item billed as follows:

“Israel has formally reprimanded Poland’s most senior diplomat in the country, over a proposed law that would outlaw descriptions of Nazi death camps as Polish. But a member of Poland’s ruling party tells Newshour the bill is aimed at preventing Holocaust denial.”

Although presenter James Menendez did ask the Polish MP whether the bill is “an attempt to whitewash Polish history”, listeners heard an evasive reply and when Menendez observed that “there’s a lot of anger from Israel”, his interviewee responded:

“Yes exactly and there is also a lot of anger among Polish people now when they hear about that.”

To date, BBC audiences have not been informed of how that “anger” has been expressed or of criticism of the proposed law from non-Israeli sources.

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s coverage of the story mentioned that attempts to pass this bill began several years ago – even though the BBC reported on that topic in 2016. 

Oddly too, the BBC’s reporting did not remind audiences of a relevant story the BBC covered in 2016 and early 2017 concerning a museum in Gdansk.

“Poland’s nationalist government has won a court ruling that will enable it to take over a brand new World War Two museum and reshape its exhibition to fit a narrower Polish perspective. […]

The ruling on Tuesday by Warsaw’s Supreme Administrative Court means the Museum of the Second World War will be merged with a yet-to-be built museum on 1 February.

Poland’s Culture Minister, Piotr Glinski, will then be able to nominate his own director who can change the museum’s exhibition to fit the government’s needs. […]

Mr Glinski has said that following the merger the museum will concentrate on more Polish aspects of the war including the country’s defence against the Nazi invasion in 1939.”

Another relevant story reported by the BBC last year was also ignored in this latest coverage.

As we see, rather than building on its previous reporting on attempts by Poland’s current government to dictate a narrative of history, the BBC has elected to present this story through the context-free narrow perspective of the objections of Israeli politicians.  

 

BBC News website removes offensive statement after complaints

On June 27th the BBC News website published an article titled “Muslim girls complain of Polish racism on Holocaust study trip” on its ‘Europe’ page.

In the original version of that report, readers found a statement completely unrelated to its subject matter:

“The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in Palestine, on land which later became the state of Israel.”

About an hour later, that sentence was amended to read:

“The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in British-mandate Palestine, on land which later became the state of Israel.”

The gratuitous statement remained in place in that form in two additional versions of the report before being removed completely some 17 hours after the article’s original publication following complaints.

“Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the BOD, together with Mr Mughal, said: “In a story about Muslim schoolgirls suffering racism as they learn about the Holocaust, why have the BBC included the gratuitous line – offensive to both Muslims and Jews – that ‘the Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims’? Together, we call on the BBC to delete the offending passage and apologise.””

However, no footnote has been added to the article to inform BBC audiences of that change or why it was made and despite the calls for an apology, none has been forthcoming.