On September 23rd the BBC News website published an article titled “What is the United Nations and what does it do?” on its ‘World’ page.
Apparently intended as a backgrounder ahead of the United Nations General Assembly annual conference, the article includes a section sub-headed “Who will and won’t be there?” in which readers were told that among those not attending is “Israel’s President Benjamin Netanahyu”.
Considering the rate at which it produces reports concerning or referring to Netanyahu (who will not be attending the UN event due to coalition negotiations), one would of course expect the BBC to be able to provide audiences with an accurate description of his position and title.
BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website to inform them that Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister and its president is Reuven Rivlin and – although we did not receive a reply – the report was corrected several hours later but without any footnote informing audiences of the amendment.
On June 10th a new president was elected in Israel – Reuven Rivlin.
Like any other country in which the head of state is democratically elected, Israel – via its elected representatives – chose the person deemed most fitted to the job of representing its citizens both at home and abroad. Throughout his two terms as Speaker of the Knesset, Mr Rivlin established his credentials as a staunch defender of democracy and the independence of the Knesset, a strong supporter of the rights of Israel’s minorities and a campaigner for recognition of the Armenian genocide.
For the BBC though, there was just one issue through which to frame the election of Israel’s new president.
The fourth paragraph of the June 10th report (changes to which can be viewed here) titled “Israel MPs elect Reuven Rivlin as president” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page reads:
“The Israeli president occupies a largely ceremonial position and has no formal role in peace talks with the Palestinians.”
No attempt is made in this report to inform BBC audiences with regard to what the role of the president of Israel does include but – despite having already established that the position has no bearing on “peace talks with the Palestinians” – the writer of this article nevertheless considered it necessary to inform readers that:
“The 74-year-old opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, putting him at odds with the platform adopted by Mr Netanyahu.
He is also a supporter of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, another central issue in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.”
An organisation which claims that it “aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” really should be able to do better than this cardboard cut-out portrayal, but clearly BBC journalists have great difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that some Israel-related stories are just not about the Palestinians.