Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2018

As has often been noted here, for years the BBC has reported stories relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) without adequately clarifying to its audiences that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

So did BBC audiences see any improvement in reporting on that topic in 2018?

The year opened with listeners to BBC Radio 5 live on January 1st hearing a gratuitous and baseless comparison of Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa and being repeatedly told that a singer had made the “right” call by giving in to pressure from supporters of a campaign that the BBC presenter made no effort whatsoever to the explain properly.

Radio 5 live item promotes apartheid analogy, breaches style guide

A week later listeners to BBC World Service heard an item which dealt specifically with the subject of the BDS campaign, but once again the BBC did not provide audiences with the clear picture of its aims that they have lacked for years. Rather, in addition to providing an inaccurate definition of the campaign’s goals himself, the presenter allowed his interviewee to promote inaccurate statements and claims with no challenge.

BDS campaigner’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC World Service

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

In April the BBC News website published a report about an Irish BDS supporter in which it used the ‘Israel says’ formula to preface an explanation of the BDS campaign and the subject’s links to it.

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

In May listeners to BBC World Service radio heard promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences – and the ‘apartheid trope from a Palestinian interviewee.

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

Also in May the BBC News website published a report concerning an employee of a political NGO involved in boycott activities, 25% of which was given over to sympathetic statements.

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

The same month listeners to BBC Radio Ulster heard BDS messaging from a studio guest.

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

In early June the BBC News website failed to adequately portray the role played by BDS campaigners’ threats in the cancellation of a football match.

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

In August the BBC News website reported a business story while avoiding any mention of its own amplification of a related BDS campaign four years earlier.

BBC News website’s SodaStream report sidesteps its own previous reporting

In September the BBC News website reported the cancellation of a singer’s performance in Israel and once again made use of the ‘Israel says’ formula.

BBC’s BDS campaign reporting failures continue

Later the same month the BBC News website published a report that included promotion of the ‘apartheid’ smear and amplification of the BDS campaign.

BBC News continues to mainstream BDS and the ‘apartheid’ smear

A BBC News website report published in October erased the participation of BDS campaigners from an account of a ‘tolerance rally’.

Looking beyond the BBC Berlin correspondent’s framing

In November the BBC News website produced inadequate reporting about a boycott campaign initiated by political NGOs.

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

Later the same month listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard an inadequate report on Quaker support for the BDS campaign.

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ highlights Quaker hypocrisy but still fails listeners

Once again on no occasion throughout 2018 were audiences told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism.

That obviously hinders the ability of audiences to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its appropriate context and affects their view of criticism of the campaign from other sources.

The fact that on two occasions in 2018 we saw the BBC News website telling readers that “Israel says the BDS movement opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism” does not mean that the story has been reported accurately and impartially.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting on the BDS campaign in 2017

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The BBC, 2018 ‘fake news’ and fact checking

Throughout 2018 the BBC continued to cover the topic of ‘fake news’, creating a dedicated webpage for items tagged under that topic and producing various guides to identifying fake news, including one aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Fake news usually comes down to two things. Firstly, false news stories that aren’t true at all. They go online or are shared on social media even though the person writing them knows that they are made up. Number two: stories that may have some truth to them but the facts aren’t clear or checked properly or the writer has exaggerated some of it to mean what they want it to.” [emphasis in bold added]

This year too BBC Watch has documented numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC and has submitted dozens of related complaints. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections in 2018 are the following: 

1) The claim that a sign in Arabic promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions related solely to “a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements”.

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

2) The claim that the Israeli government “retroactively legalised an unauthorised settlement outpost” following a terror attack.

One month on BBC corrects inaccuracy regarding Israeli cabinet decision

3) The claim that Riyad Mansour is the “UN envoy for Palestine”.

BBC News website corrects Palestinian envoy’s title

4) The claim that the Argentinian football team’s cancellation of a friendly match against Israel was related to “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza”.

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

5) The claim that “Thousands [of Palestinians] have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”. 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

6) The claim that the head of the PLO delegation to Washington is an ‘ambassador’.

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

7) The claim that a crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip had been closed.

BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

8) The claim that UN forces were in control of the Golan Heights demilitarized zone.

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part two

9) The claim that “for the first time” a Palestinian candidate was running for a seat on the Jerusalem city council.

BBC issues correction to inaccurate Jerusalem elections claim

10) The claim that the next Israeli election “had to be held by November this year”.

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

Given the above examples of some of the many cases in which the BBC promoted news that included information that had not been properly fact checked, one might well conclude that the BBC’s focus on ‘fake news’ should begin at home.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2018 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our mission of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform the general public in a manner no less pernicious than those stories that the BBC does tag as ‘fake news’.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on 2017 ‘fake news’ excludes its own

After three months BBC corrects inaccurate claim

BBC’s ECU upholds ‘Andrew Marr Show’ complaint

BBC News website amends delayed post article headline following complaint

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy