Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

The June 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ included an item relating to the ongoing diplomatic rift between Qatar and various other Arab and Muslim majority states.

Presenter Eddie Mair introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “Qatar in the Middle East is getting the cold shoulder from many of its neighbours. They accuse Qatar of meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia has demanded that Qatar stop supporting Hamas, which controls Gaza – all of which might have quite an effect on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the past five years Qatar has spent the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds building homes, a school, a hospital and main roads in Gaza. Reporting for ‘PM’; our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell now.”

One would of course expect that a report on Qatari funding of Hamas – especially within the framework of the current row between Qatar and other countries – would include clarification of Hamas’ designation as a terror organisation by the EU, the US and numerous additional countries. However, while that obviously relevant context was completely absent from this report by Yolande Knell, listeners did get to hear about the colour scheme at one of Qatar’s building projects.

Knell: “Work is still underway at Sheikh Hamad City; built with money Qatar and named after the country’s former ruler. It’s become one of the best new addresses in Gaza. The apartment blocks here are an attractive peach colour. On the grass there are children playing. They’re from some of the poorer Palestinian families who’ve already moved in here. There’s a new mosque and a new school. But residents like Baha Shalabi [phonetic] are fearful about the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf States.”

Shalabi [voiceover]: “The problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will affect us a lot, of course. Everything’s going to stop: the money, the support, the infrastructure. The buildings you see; all of this is going to stop. We’re going to be the victims.”

Knell: “All across this Palestinian territory you can see the effects of Qatari cash. I’m at the edge of a brand new road where cars are whizzing along the coast. Doha’s pledged well over a billion dollars to fix Gaza and while most of its help is humanitarian, it also buoys up Hamas – the Islamist group that seized control here ten years ago.”

After that tepid portrayal of the violent and bloody coup in which Hamas ousted the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip, Knell went on, failing to tell listeners that Qatar is one of the few countries to have recognised and supported Hamas’ regime in Gaza over that of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “Until now, the Emir of Qatar is the only head of state to have visited Gaza while Hamas has been in charge. It was a show of regional influence. But today Qatar stands accused of destabilising the Middle East by backing religious extremists – claims it denies. It’s been told to break off ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The usually fiery Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is cautious in his response.”

The terror organisation then got a BBC stage for amplification of its unchallenged messaging.

Zahar [voiceover]: “Qatar was supporting the Palestinian people. The houses that were built are not for Hamas. The streets that were asphalted are not for Hamas. And the schools and hospitals, they’re also for the Palestinian people. All the efforts to hitch Hamas to Qatar are wrong and void.”

Making no effort to clarify to audiences that funding provided by Qatar has also reportedly been diverted to terrorist purposes such as the reconstruction of cross-border attack tunnels or that Qatar pledged funding for Hamas employees, Knell went on with a whitewashed portrayal of Qatar’s recent expulsion of some Hamas officials:

Knell: “Back in Sheikh Hamad City, outside the large Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Mosque, there’ve been rallies in support of Qatar. Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.

Knell failed to inform listeners that Hamas operatives based in Qatar have directed terror plots against Israel in the past. She went on:

Knell: “In a new policy document, Hamas tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood. So will the Qatari money keep flowing here? I asked Mushir Amar [phonetic] from the Islamic University in Gaza.”

Amar: “The situation is not really very clear. We heard some statements here and there from Saudi Arabia trying to reprimand Qatar for supporting Hamas and Hamas political leadership. They say that we’re not involved in any sort of inter-Arab conflict because this is really not in the best interest of Hamas and this is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people.”

Knell refrained from informing listeners that one of Saudi Arabia’s complaints is that Qatari support for Hamas undermines the Palestinian Authority. She closed her report with a superficial portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “For now, the noise of bulldozers continues at Gaza’s Qatari funded building sites, providing much-needed jobs in this broken economy. But recently, when the local power plant ran out of fuel, Doha didn’t make a donation as it has previously. Palestinians here are trying not to get drawn into a damaging dispute but already they’re feeling its effects.”

Among the public purposes set out in the BBC’s constitutional document is “[t]o provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Obviously this superficial report by Knell, with its unchallenged Hamas messaging and its failure to provide basic context and background information, does not serve that purpose.

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Qatar’s expulsion of Hamas officials not newsworthy for the BBC

Since the rift between Qatar and several other Arab states blew up on June 5th the BBC News website has produced three articles tagged – inter alia – ‘Hamas’.

Qatar row: Trump urges Arab unity in call to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, June 7th 2017

“Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called on Qatar to cut ties with Palestinian group Hamas in the occupied territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, if it wanted to end its isolation in the Gulf region. […]

He added that Qatar was undermining the Palestinian Authority and Egypt by supporting Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and said stopping these policies would “contribute to stability in the Middle East”.

Hamas is the largest of several militant Islamist Palestinian groups, and was the first Islamist group in the Arab world to win election at the ballot box, before it took power in Gaza after a battle 10 years ago.”

Qatar crisis: UAE threatens sympathisers with prison, June 7th 2017

“On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called on Qatar to cut ties with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the occupied territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, if it wanted to end its isolation.”

Qatar vows ‘no surrender’ in row with Arab states, June 8th 2017

“Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said Qatar needs to cut ties with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the occupied territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, if it wanted to end its isolation.”

However, BBC News website audiences have not been informed of the reports concerning Qatar’s request that a number of Hamas officials leave the country. Among those reportedly asked to leave was Saleh al Arouri – the organiser of Hamas operations in Judea & Samaria who was previously based in Turkey and was designated by the US Treasury in 2015. Arouri is said to have relocated to Malaysia or Lebanon.

“Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Friday that a senior official in the Palestinian Hamas terror group, Saleh al-Arouri, recently expelled from Qatar, has resettled in Lebanon, where he has been planning, along with two other activists, terror attacks against Israel. […]

Israeli intelligence officials believe Arouri was behind the abduction and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank in the summer of 2014. That attack was among the main catalysts of the war in Gaza about a month later.

Arouri served several stints in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010, within the framework of talks to free Gilad Shalit, the IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006.”

The absence of any BBC coverage of this story does not, however, come as a surprise. For almost three years the corporation has generally ignored or downplayed the topic of Hamas’ activities in Judea & Samaria – including the murders of the three Israeli teenagers in 2014 – and Saleh al Arouri’s role in particular.

Rather than providing its audiences with background information which would help them understand any potential reactions from Hamas to the pressure it is currently under, the BBC has apparently chosen to ignore this latest story too.

 

BBC Business airbrushes abuse of foreign workers in Qatar

On March 27th the business section of the BBC News website published an interview with Qatar’s finance minister by the BBC’s economics editor, Kamal Ahmed, under the title “Qatar announces £5bn UK investment“.

“One of the largest investors in the UK has committed £5bn of new money to invest in transport, property and digital technology. […]

Qatar has already invested £40bn in the UK – it owns Harrods and a 95% stake in the Shard in London.

It also has a stake in Canary Wharf in the capital’s Docklands, as well as an interest in the Milford Haven liquefied natural gas terminal in South Wales.

It also bought the Olympic Village following the London 2012 Olympics.

“Currently the UK is our first investment destination and it is the largest investment destination for Qatari investors, both public and private,” Ali Shareef al Emadi, the country’s finance minister, told the BBC. […]

“We’re announcing an additional £5bn of investment in the next three to five years.

“Mainly this investment will focus on infrastructure sectors, technology, energy and real estate.””

The closing paragraphs of the 650-word article read as follows:

“Qatar has faced controversy over a fundraising for Barclays Bank at the time of the financial crisis and – more recently – allegations that poor labour conditions have marred the preparations for the 2022 World Cup which is being held in the country.

Mr Al Emadi said that Qatar had supported job creation in the UK.

“If you look at what we have done here, it has always been a win-win situation, whatever investment we do in the UK,” he said.

“When you talk about labour in Qatar, I think a lot of these things have been taken out of proportion and [are] inaccurate news.””

The phrase “controversy over a fundraising” is a very euphemistic portrayal of a story that involves an ongoing criminal investigation as well as a probe by the UK financial regulator.

Likewise, the phrase “poor labour conditions” is a highly evasive way of describing a story that has been covered extensively by many media outlets (including the BBC itself), NGOs and human rights groups alike. The Qatari minister’s claim that the issue of abuses of foreign workers in Qatar has been “taken out of proportion” and his allegation of “inaccurate news” are not questioned or challenged by Kamal Ahmed, thus allowing the interviewee the last (spun) word.

Moreover, this article does not include any additional information or relevant links relating to those two stories. The tag ‘Qatar’ appended to the article was apparently set up on the same day that this report was published and includes (at the time of writing) the grand total of three reports including this one, none of which relate to the two issues raised by Kamal Ahmed.

The BBC’s public purpose remit obliges it to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” and only recently the corporation claimed to ask “the questions others won’t”. The BBC’s funding public would therefore expect to be provided with accurate and impartial information concerning those two stories (and other controversial issues such as support for terror groups) in an article relating to a foreign state investor in UK infrastructure.

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Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part one

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two

  

BBC’s sketchy reporting on Gaza power crisis highlighted

BBC reporting on the topic of the perennial electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip has long been noteworthy for its failure to inform audiences of the full background to that crisis.

The latest example of that style of reporting was seen at the beginning of this month in Tim Franks’ radio report from Gaza for the BBC World Service and it was also evident in two BBC News website reports published a couple of weeks earlier.gaza-power-crisis-2

The Times of Israel recently published an interview with the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip which once again highlights the fact that BBC audiences are being serially denied the full range of information necessary for understanding of this topic. 

“Qatar’s special envoy to Gaza, Muhammad al-Amadi, said that he maintains “excellent” ties with various Israeli officials, and that in some case it is Palestinian officials who are holding up efforts to better the lives of residents of the Strip. […]

Al-Amadi said he planned to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Sunday regarding an agreement that would help solve the Gaza energy crisis.

He said that while Israel has agreed to take part in the deal, the Palestinian Authority has been holding it up.

“We proposed the establishment of a technical committee, free of politicians, that would be responsible for handling Gaza’s energy problem. The committee would be composed of experts from Gaza, [Qatar], the UN, and UNRWA; and they would manage Gaza’s energy affairs,” said al-Amadi.

“This is a very serious matter that should help you in Israel as well, since these are your neighbors that are without regular electricity and water flowing to their homes. The Israelis understand this and are helping, but there are other parties that are not” — namely, the PA.

“We are talking about a three-staged plan: The first stage deals primarily with solving the problem of payment for fuel,” he said, noting that there’s been a longstanding dispute between Hamas and the PA on that front.

“[For] the second or intermediate stage,” al-Amadi continued, “we are talking with Israel about the construction of a power line between Israel and Gaza that would help with the power outages.

“The long-term stage concerns the supply of gas to the Strip in a manner that would increase the output of the power plant, thus allowing for more power in Gaza. Gas costs one-fifth of the price of the diesel currently operating the power plant,” al-Amadi concluded.”

And yet, the BBC continues to tell its audiences that the Gaza power shortages are rooted in Israeli actions rather than in the long-standing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

gaza-power-quote-1

gaza-power-quote-2

 

Weekend long read

1) UN Watch has published another report concerning teachers at UNRWA educational facilities.

“…the director of the independent monitoring group UN Watch will […] present a new report showing 40 alarming new cases of UNRWA school teachers in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria whose Facebook pages incite to Jihadist terrorism and antisemitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

The full report can be found here.

2) The FDD’s David Weinberg has produced an interesting report on a topic touched on by the BBC in the past which is titled “Qatar and Terror Finance: Private Funders of al Qaeda in Syria”.Weekend Read

“It is particularly vital to evaluate Qatar’s record on terror finance in light of the Nusra Front’s July 2016 decision to rebrand itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which purports to have “no relationship with any foreign party.” According to sources cited by Reuters, Qatar led an effort starting in 2015 to bolster the Syrian opposition by persuading Nusra to distance itself from al-Qaeda. Reuters reported that intelligence officials from Qatar and other Gulf states met several times with Nusra’s leader around this period to suggest that his group could receive money, arms, and supplies after stepping away from al-Qaeda. Yet the more JFS legitimates itself by integrating into the broader Syrian opposition, the greater the risk of a permanent al-Qaeda army on Europe’s doorstep.”

The full report can be found here.

3) The Tower draws attention to an interesting article by Ilan Berman published at ‘Foreign Affairs’.

“It might just be the most important terrorism case you’ve never heard of. Last fall, prosecutors in the Peruvian capital of Lima launched formal legal proceedings against a 30-year-old alleged Hezbollah operative named Mohammed Hamdar. The trial, now underway, has major regional—indeed, global—implications for the fight against international terrorism.”

4) At the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Gerald Steinberg discusses the involvement of Human Rights Watch – one of the NGOs most frequently promoted and quoted by the BBC – in a campaign to which the BBC has lent its voice.

“In November 2016, Fifa met to discuss the Palestinian effort to evict Israel from the international football federation, using the excuse that a few lower league teams are located across the 1949 “Green Line”.

Understandably, the delegates to the Fifa conference demurred, preferring not to try to referee one of the most complex and confusing political disputes in the world.

For Human Rights Watch (HRW), this response was irrelevant and this Israel-obsessed organisation continued its attack, this time during a Fifa meeting on January 10 called to consider expanding the number of teams in the World Cup.”

Read the rest of the article here

 

BBC News website flunks story of PA arrests of Hamas operatives too

In addition to the ‘Newshour’ report previously discussed here, BBC coverage of the Palestinian Authority’s recent arrest of Hamas operatives also included a written report appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 3rd under the headline “Palestinian forces arrest dozens of Hamas members in West Bank“.PA arrests website

Despite the arrests having taken place in areas controlled by the PA, the article opens:

“The Palestinian Authority’s security forces have arrested more than 100 members of the militant Hamas movement in the occupied West Bank.” [emphasis added]

Bearing in mind that the BBC has refrained from informing its audiences about Hamas’ attempts to strengthen its presence in PA controlled areas and that English language coverage of the recent uptick in terror attacks against Israelis has been virtually non-existent, readers must have found the following paragraphs very confusing.

“The PA, which is dominated by the rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, said it wanted to prevent Hamas undermining the territory’s security.” […]

“A spokesman of the Palestinian Authority, Adnan al-Dameri, said those arrested would be put on trial on the charge of threatening security and stability.

“We will not let Hamas undermine our security and draw our country to bloodshed. We will not let Hamas carry out attacks in the West Bank,” he told the Associated Press.”

Also included in the report were the following statements:

“A Hamas spokesman said the arrests were an effort to stop a spate of deadly attacks on Israelis in the West Bank.

Husam Badran accused Palestinian security forces of working for Israel and said Hamas held Mr Abbas personally responsible.

The Islamist group, which dominates the Gaza Strip, called for the immediate release of its members and warned of “consequences”.”

BBC audiences were not informed that Husam Badran was named in connection with the recently publicized exposure of Hamas activity in Nablus (Schem) and hence are unable to put his amplified claims into their correct context. The exposure of that Hamas cell was not reported by the BBC at the time and in this article readers are merely told that:

“Earlier, Israel’s internal security agency said it had uncovered a Hamas militant cell operating in the Nablus area of the West Bank.”

Readers are also informed that:

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the issue of security co-ordination between Israel and PA security forces remains highly sensitive.”

“Highly sensitive” to whom is not clarified but it is notable that only a few weeks earlier the BBC told its audiences that the Palestinians were to end security cooperation with Israel.

The article goes on:

“Such developments will raise concerns about renewed divisions between the two factions despite a formal reconciliation deal last year and the creation of a unity government, our correspondent adds.”

As anyone who followed the progress of the short-lived Palestinian Unity Government will be aware, the divisions between Hamas and Fatah are far from “renewed” and “reconciliation” never got off the ground.

Next comes a highly sanitized description of Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip with no mention made of the fact that the legitimate elected mandates of Hamas, the PLC and the PA president long since expired.

“The two factions had governed separately since Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007, leaving the PA governing just parts of the West Bank.”

The last eight paragraphs of the article are a hodge-podge of unrelated news.

“Also on Friday, an Israeli general accused Hamas of providing support to an affiliate of the jihadist group Islamic State in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Maj-Gen Yoav Mordechai, named members of Hamas’s military wing who he alleged were involved in training militants from the affiliate, known as Sinai Province, and smuggling those wounded in clashes with Egyptian security forces into Gaza for medical treatment.

“We know that Hamas, and I have verified information, that Hamas in Gaza is assisting Sinai Province both in organisation and armaments,” he said. […]

Hamas has repeatedly rejected accusations of collusion with IS and said Gen Mordechai’s comments were an attempt to damage its relations with Egypt.”

Those wishing to view Major General Mordechai’s interview with Al Jazeera Arabic (interesting not least for the ‘journalistic’ approach taken by the interviewer) can do so here.

The BBC’s article closes:

“In a separate development in the West Bank on Friday, an Israeli officer shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian who was throwing stones at his vehicle. The Israeli military said the brigade commander had first fired warning shots at the boy.”

Details of that incident can be found here.

Despite chronic under-reporting of the subject of Hamas’ attempts to undermine the PA by strengthening its presence in PA controlled areas and the lack of adequate coverage of the recent rise in terror attacks, like their colleagues at the BBC World Service the website’s journalists made no attempt to provide audiences with information needed to properly understand this story and its wider implications. Very rarely does the BBC cover internal Palestinian affairs and hence such superficial reporting is all the more unfortunate. 

BBC avoids yet another Hamas story

Over the past year we have on several occasions had cause to note the fact that the BBC has consistently avoided telling its audiences about efforts to strengthen and increase Hamas’ presence in Palestinian Authority controlled areas of Judea & Samaria in general and those directed by senior Hamas figures residing in Turkey in particular.No news

Equally absent from the reporting provided to BBC audiences has been information concerning the links of Hamas’ Qatar-based branch to terrorist activity in the same area – for example in January 2013 and June 2014 – and the connections between the Turkey and Qatar-based branches of the terrorist organisation.

On July 1st the Israel Security Agency announced that, together with the IDF and the Israeli police, it had exposed extensive Hamas activity in the Nablus (Schem) area and that some forty arrests had been made. As Ha’aretz reported, the ISA noted the role of Hamas spokesman Husam Badran (also spelt Hossam or Hussan) in the plot.

“Several of the detainees have already been charged in the military court in Samaria, and more charges are expected in the coming weeks. Two of those arrested are considered to be the top Hamas operatives in Nablus: Ghanem Salme, who the Shin Bet defines as the Hamas commander in the region, and Samih Aliwi, owner of a gold shop in the city who was responsible for the Hamas HQ’s finances. Several of the arrested activists had previously served time in Israeli prisons for involvement in Hamas activity.

The establishment of the headquarters in Nablus, the Shin Bet believes, was assisted by Hamas spokesman Husam Ali Badran, who used to be the commander of the organization’s military wing in the Samaria area. Badran was released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap and expelled to Qatar. According to the Shin Bet, he is currently operating in Turkey under Saleh Aruri, who is in charge of Hamas operations in the West Bank. […]

The Shin Bet claims that Badran was involved in the decision to recruit operatives for the new headquarters in Nablus, transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to them in order to finance their activity.”

Seeing as it has been covered extensively by the Israeli media as well as by foreign news agencies it is of course highly unlikely that the staff of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau are unaware of this story’s existence. Nevertheless, there has once again been no coverage of this latest link in the chain of Hamas efforts to strengthen its presence in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps next time the BBC approaches Khaled Masha’al for a quote or invites him to do a sympathetic interview it could also make the most of the opportunity to do some journalism on a topic which would undoubtedly contribute to meeting its remit of building “understanding of international issues”.

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two

On April 24th visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article by Lina Sinjab extolling the virtues of Qatari foreign policy. Headlined “Qatar casts size aside with assertive foreign policy“, the report tells readers:Qatar 2

“But Qatar is not satisfied with being just a wealthy country – it wants to be seen as a serious regional power as well.

It is a role it is already carving out for itself, for example having mediated in peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, and having opened offices in Doha for the Afghan Taliban.

And, in sharp contrast to its neighbours, Qatar openly supports both the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the militant Hamas movement. It has hosted Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal since he was kicked out of Damascus for supporting the anti-government protests.

It is a foreign policy principle of Qatar that in the search for peace and stability no-one should be excluded and everyone should be engaged with.” [emphasis added]

Sinjab’s first two supporting arguments for that debatable claim are provided by none other than the leader of Qatar’s protégé terrorist organization Khaled Masha’al and the editor of a newspaper with a vice-chairman and managing director from the Qatari ruling family which, unsurprisingly, takes a pro-government stance.

“It is an example of what Jaber al-Harmi, editor-in-chief of Al Sharq, one of Qatar’s leading papers, sees as an attempt by the emirate to forge a new approach to dealing with the region’s problems.

“Qatar tried to suggest a new attitude in the Arabic sphere and wanted to say that there is another view to what’s prevailing,” he said.

This became apparent at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Qatar’s government publicly supported protests in the region and its leading pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera gave voice to those opinions.

“Qatar believed that it had to side with the Arab streets, the people and their aspirations for reforms and freedoms. What distinguished Qatar is its transparency in its policies,” said Mr Harmi.”

At this point any journalist truly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality would surely have told audiences about the Qatari regime’s lack of transparency and its disregard for “reforms and freedoms” in its own back yard.

“Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, both print and broadcast media content are influenced by leading families. The top five daily newspapers are privately owned, but their owners and boards include members of the ruling family. In 1996, Hamad permitted the creation of Al-Jazeera, which has achieved global reach. Although it is privately held, the government has reportedly paid for the channel’s operating costs since its inception. As a result, Al-Jazeera generally does not cover Qatari politics. All journalists in Qatar practice a high degree of self-censorship and face possible jail sentences for slander. In October 2013, a 15-year prison sentence was upheld for poet Mohamed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who was convicted in 2012 for insulting the emir through his poetry. Local news outlets were reportedly ordered by a Qatari court to refrain from covering the 2013 trial of two members of the royal family convicted for 19 deaths in a 2012 shopping mall fire.

In 2012, the Advisory Council approved a draft media law that would prevent journalists from being detained by authorities without a court order, and would allow them to protect their sources unless required to reveal them by a court. However, it also would impose fines of up to $275,000 for publishing or broadcasting material that criticizes the Qatari regime or its allies, insults the ruling family, or damages national interests.”

Sinjab’s next interviewee is Al Jazeera’s Director General and her report includes the following – apparently written with a straight face.

“Mr Abou Hilaleh says, contrary to a popular view, Al Jazeera’s coverage is not dictated by Qatar’s foreign policy.

“When I worked for Al Jazeera as a correspondent and now as a director, in both cases, we have nothing to do with Qatar’s foreign policy. But in certain countries, our offices are treated as embassies for Qatar.”

Let’s take a look at what Mohamed Fahmy – one of the Al Jazeera journalists detained and tried in Egypt – recently wrote in the New York Times.

“When Al Jazeera was started in 1996, Qatar was widely praised for its enlightened thinking. […]

Like many young Arabs, I was impressed. Al Jazeera seemed a model of courageous broadcasting in a region not known for upholding freedom of speech. That was still my view when I became Cairo bureau chief in September 2013.

I have since realized how deeply I, like the viewing public, was duped. I came to see how Qatar used Al Jazeera as a pernicious, if effective, tool of its foreign policy. […]

The Doha management also neglected to tell me that it was providing Brotherhood activists in Egypt with video cameras and paying them for footage, which it then broadcast, without explaining its political provenance, on the banned Arabic channel. During my detention, I met a number of prisoners who told me how this worked, and I have seen court documents confirming it.

Al Jazeera’s managers crossed an ethical red line. By attempting to manipulate Egypt’s domestic politics, they were endangering their employees.”

Those familiar with Al Jazeera’s record will of course not be surprised by Mr Fahmy’s words.

Lina Sinjab’s final ‘character witness’ is, like Khaled Masha’al, apparently also dependent on Qatari generosity.

“Husam al-Hafez, a former Syrian diplomat who defected to Doha, sees Qatar’s policy as pragmatic.”

In other words the BBC’s glowing – but cringingly superficial – portrayal of Qatari foreign policy is based entirely on the testimonies of two journalists from media outlets with links to the Qatari ruling regime and two people dependent upon that regime’s hospitality. No effort is made whatsoever to provide audiences with views which do not adhere to the party line or analysis from contributors not in some way dependent on the Qatari regime.

“One of the things about Qatar’s foreign policy is the extent to which it has been a complete and total failure, almost an uninterrupted series of disasters,” says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. “Except it’s all by proxy, so nothing bad ever happens to Qatar.”

So much for the BBC’s self-awarded title of “the standard-setter for international journalism“.

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Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part one

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part one

Qatar is – to put it mildly – not one of the most frequently covered countries on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and its domestic issues in particular usually remain far away from the BBC’s spotlight. On the comparatively rare occasions upon which BBC News does publish an article about Qatar, it is sometimes worth taking a closer look at the source of the information provided to BBC audiences – as the examples in this series of posts will show.Qatar 1

On March 6th 2015 the BBC News website’s Middle East section published an article by Dr David Roberts of King’s College London titled “Is Qatar bringing the Nusra Front in from the cold?“. Readers were informed in the article’s opening sentence that the Jabhat al Nusra militia operating in Syria was “rethinking its allegiance to al-Qaeda, in a move allegedly partly engineered by Qatar”. Later on the article states:

“Being a directly affiliated al-Qaeda group, the Nusra Front is nearer the IS end of the spectrum.

Yet, while the Qatari relationship with the Nusra Front appears to be far from straightforward with some of the state’s initiatives failing, indicating some distance between the two, according to recent reports, Qatar appears to want to reform this relationship.”

As the link to a Reuters article provided in that latter paragraph shows, the BBC was not the only media outlet at the time promoting the claim that Qatar was about to steer Jabhat al Nusra into the fold of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel groups – a claim which appears to have had origins among assorted Qatari sources . Roberts later wrote:

“If the state [Qatar] can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria.”

Making no mention of Qatar’s material and ideological support for the Islamists of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, Roberts’ contextualization of Qatar’s alleged links with Jabhat al Nusra included the following:

“…the fact remains that Qatar is a key Western ally. It hosts a critical US military base, it grafted US and UK higher-education institutions and ideas onto its education system, and has long promoted the Middle East’s most visible and powerful woman, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the Emir’s mother.

These are transparently not the policies of a state with sympathies for the likes of IS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, there is no chance that Qatar is doing this alone: the US and UK governments will certainly be involved in or at least apprised of Qatar’s plans.”

And:

“Qatar is not the first state to reason that it is time to talk to groups that are unpalatable and extreme, but who are, nevertheless, influential.”

The literal bottom line of this article was to persuade readers that:

“…in a context where the best that can be hoped for is the “least worst” solution, Qatar’s plan is as viable as any other.”

Three days after the appearance of this article Jabhat al Nusra reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda and denied the Qatari promoted claims of a potential split.

So how come BBC audiences were fed obvious Qatari spin by a British academic described as “a lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London”? Perhaps if readers had also been alerted to the fact that Dr Roberts’ department currently holds a contract with Qatar apparently worth £26 million, their ability to put the information promoted in this article into proportion and context would have been enhanced. 

BBC playing wingman for Qatar’s damage control in the UK?

The lead article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 27th (also appearing on the site’s main homepage) was headlined “Qatar officials dismiss IS funding claims“. Coincidentally or not, the report appeared just hours before the Emir of Qatar is due to arrive in the UK for a three-day official visit aimed at “enhancing bi-lateral relations” between the two countries.Qatar art on HP

BBC audiences are reassured in the report’s opening sentences that:

“Senior officials from Qatar have strongly denied claims the country is supporting terrorist groups in Syria such as Islamic State.

They told the BBC that Qatar had only provided support to moderate militants, in co-ordination with the CIA and other Western and Arab intelligence agencies.

Strict financial controls had been put in place, they added.”

So that’s alright then. Or maybe not….

The article goes on to state:

“In the past, wealthy individuals in the emirate are believed to have made donations and the government gave money and weapons to hardline Islamist groups in Syria. Doha is also believed to have links to the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

But officials, including Qatar’s director of Intelligence, told the BBC the country had nothing to hide over its support for groups in Syria fighting President Assad’s regime.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner said the officials conceded that there had been constant shifts in allegiances in Syria’s civil war and some people previously considered moderate had later joined hard line Islamist militias.

They said since Qatar’s intelligence agency had taken over responsibility for its Syria policy in 2012, the new financial controls had been brought in and a number of suspect financiers had been arrested.”

So is the BBC trying to tell us that the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front with its known (not “believed” as the BBC claims) links to Qatar should be viewed as one of the groups of “moderate militants” which Qatar says it supports rather than as a terrorist organisation? Notably Frank Gardner did not find it necessary to inform readers that the UN, US, UK, Australia and Turkey have all designated the Al Nusra Front. 

Clearly readers of this report are being herded towards the belief that lax Qatari regulation which gives a green light to terror financing is now a thing of the past. However, the US obviously does not believe that is the case, as the WSJ reported just four days before the publication of this BBC report.

“The U.S. said Qatar and Kuwait aren’t doing enough to block the financing activities of the extremist group Islamic State, exposing a sore point in a coalition formed to fight the militants. […]

But Qatar and Kuwait are still “permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing,” said David Cohen , Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. […]

In the Gulf region, Kuwait has set up a financial intelligence unit, and Qatar has passed a law regulating charities blamed for funneling cash to extremists. Kuwait arrested one of its citizens on the list as he returned from Qatar in August, as well as at least two other financiers, Kuwaiti officials have said.

But Mr. Cohen said the countries are still enabling financiers designated by U.S. and United Nations sanctions.”

And as the Telegraph reported at the beginning of this month:

“An al-Qaeda financier jailed for his role in funding the mastermind behind 9/11 is once again raising money for Islamist terrorists after being freed by the Qatari authorities, The Telegraph can disclose.

Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy – a Qatari citizen who was said to have provided ‘financial support’ for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – was jailed for terrorist offences in 2008 but released after only six months.

He is now accused of funding Islamist terrorists fighting in Syria and Iraq.”

Of course the very pertinent issue of Qatar’s financing of radical Islamists in the Middle East is by no means limited to Syria and Iraq or to the activities of individuals.Qatar art

“Few outsiders have noticed, but radical Islamists now control Libya’s capital. These militias stormed Tripoli last month, forcing the official government to flee and hastening the country’s collapse into a failed state.

Moreover, the new overlords of Tripoli are allies of Ansar al-Sharia, a brutal jihadist movement suspected of killing America’s then ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and of trying to murder his British counterpart, Sir Dominic Asquith.

Barely three years after Britain helped to free Libya from Col Gaddafi’s tyranny, anti-Western radicals hold sway. How could Britain’s goal of a stable and friendly Libya have been thwarted so completely?

Step forward a fabulously wealthy Gulf state that owns an array of London landmarks and claims to be one of our best friends in the Middle East.

Qatar, the owner of Harrods, has dispatched cargo planes laden with weapons to the victorious Islamist coalition, styling itself “Libya Dawn”.”

And as readers are no doubt aware, Hamas (designated by the US and the EU, among others) is also on the list of Qatari protégés, with Fatah apparently also now angling for Qatari cash.

Whilst Qatari officials may well be delighted by this latest BBC-supplied opportunity to amplify their denials of funding of the West’s current bête noire – ISIS – the emirate’s policy driven approach to the funding of Islamist extremists should be seen in the context of a statement made by the country’s Emir during an interview with CNN last month.

“We don’t fund extremists,” the Emir told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday. “If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them terrorist movement.”

“I know that in America and some countries they look at some movements as terrorist movements. … But there are differences. There are differences that some countries and some people that any group which comes from Islamic background are terrorists. And we don’t accept that.”

Qatar’s selective and opportunistic approach to defining terrorism – and hence what constitutes terror financing – should of course also be viewed in the context of its financial relations with the West.

“… it is vital to remember Qatar’s role as a provider of natural gas to Europe, and its investments in both Europe and the U.S. Qatar sits on 26 trillion cubic meters of natural gas—the world’s third largest reserve. It has a sovereign wealth fund of $85 billion. And European countries are currently seeking private investment as they emerge out of austerity into growth.

The Qataris have money to spend, and have already invested heavily. They own, for example, London’s tallest skyscraper, the Shard, and London’s most exclusive shop, Harrods. This is a friendship which the British and other Europeans naturally wish to preserve. If this means permitting Qatar to play the outsize role it seeks in Mideast diplomacy, there are few signs of objection from the Europeans. If it includes championing an organization the European Union considers a terrorist group, at least one aligned against Israel, this doesn’t seem to present too much of a problem either.

Among Western European countries, the notion that the appropriate response to terror groups is dialogue, or at least keeping the possibility of dialogue open, is prevalent. Thus the Qatari desire to promote Hamas is easy to accept.”

It seems that the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” is quite happy to go along with Qatar’s attempts at damage control intended to mitigate the growing political pressure on the Emir’s British hosts by failing to fully inform BBC audiences on the topic of Qatari funding of Hamas, Jabhat al Nusra and other terrorist organisations or the activities of individuals with links to the Qatari regime.