BBC’s Bowen recycles the ‘contiguity’ myth on World Service radio

On the morning of September 13th the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, sent a context-free tweet to his 170,000 followers.

Later that day, Bowen was to be found reporting on the same story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘. Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 45:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “Israel now, and security forces have today dismantled several shacks built by Palestinian protesters near Khan al Ahmar – the Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank which Israel has targeted for demolition. The village houses around 180 Bedouin but has become a symbol of something bigger and many European countries have urged Israel to stop the demolition. I’ve been speaking to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. I asked him first to map out the geography of this village.”

Neither Iqbal nor Bowen bothered to adequately clarify to listeners that the structures removed on the morning of September 13th had actually been placed there deliberately just days earlier by Palestinian activists on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and were not part of the encampment itself. 

Bowen commenced his report by failing to explain to listeners that what he described as “a road” is actually a major highway – Route 1.

Bowen: “There’s a road going down from Jerusalem – a steep road going downhill to the Dead Sea and to Jericho – and about a third of the way down that road, I suppose, there is this very small village Khan al Ahmar which is…it’s like a typical Bedouin settlement in that most of the dwellings there are shacks. And it’s just opposite an absolutely massive Jewish settlement called Ma’ale Adumim and so the argument being made by those on the Israeli side who say it’s got to go, they say that it’s unsafe, it’s in the wrong place, it shouldn’t be happening. People on the other side say they’re just trying to get rid of it so Israel can tighten its grip even further on that bit of territory.”

As can be seen on the UNOCHA produced map below, Khan al Ahmar is not located “just opposite” Ma’ale Adumim but further to the east and neither is it located in the area known as E1. Bowen did not bother to clarify to listeners that the location of the story is in Area C which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations.

Nevertheless, Iqbal and Bowen went on to advance a false narrative about ‘contiguity’ that the BBC has been promoting for years.

Iqbal: “And that bit of territory, from the Palestinians’ perspective, is the idea from their point of view is that the Israelis want to cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, both of which the Palestinians seek for an independent state.”

Bowen: “Yeah. 1967 was when they captured East Jerusalem. Israel has built a string of settlements that essentially…ahm…ring East Jerusalem and separate it from the rest of the West Bank. Now there is one gap and the gap is quite a large area and this very small settlement is part of it. But Israel has a whole master plan for developing that particular gap – it’s an area known as E1 – and the argument the Israelis say for it is that this is their territory; that they need to develop their capital. And the argument against it is that if the Palestinians ever want a hope of some kind of contiguous state, then the fact that East Jerusalem – where there are many Palestinians – is ringed in by these settlements is going to make it next to impossible.”

Iqbal then went on to ask Bowen whether or not the Israeli Supreme Court had got its facts right.

Iqbal: “The Supreme Court rejected petitions to stop this from happening, siding with the authorities, and they said that the village was built without the required permits. That’s right, is it?”

Carefully avoiding inconvenient details of the story – such as the fact that the residents of Khan al Ahmar do not even claim to own the land on which they built illegal structures without planning permission – Bowen went on:

Bowen: “Yeah, it wasn’t built with permits and a lot of Palestinians build without permits because they can’t get permits. The whole planning process in Jerusalem and in the occupied territories – in East Jerusalem – is highly politicized. For Israel, once it was more about security but now I’d say it’s mostly about nation building and mostly about hanging on to territory. And planning reflects the wider needs of the state and they don’t encourage Palestinians to build, even though the Palestinian population is growing, and as a result of that Palestinians don’t get permits to build. They build anyway and then quite often those dwellings get knocked down.”

Iqbal: “This particular village, Khan al Ahmar, is a Bedouin village as you described. It affects just under 200 people but it’s symbolic of much more and that clearly has been recognised by European Union countries urging the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plan. Presumably that’s all going to fall on deaf ears.”

Obviously at that point it would have been appropriate for BBC audiences to have been told that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at that site and others in the vicinity. It would also have been helpful to listeners to know that under previous peace proposals, the area of E1 was set to remain under Israeli control.  

Bowen: “Well they’ve urged the Israelis many times not to expand their settlement activities in the occupied territories and it’s always fallen on deaf ears. The only voice that was ever listened to by successive Israeli governments was the American one and the American voice now under the Trump administration is really quite different. I think under Obama, and before that under previous administrations as well, moves to develop this area E1 were always strenuously objected to on the grounds that it makes the pursuit of peace even more difficult. Just recently the American ambassador to Israel – close ally of Donald Trump – said he doesn’t know why Israel needs to ask permission of the US before it builds. So that, I think, is another green light for Israel to go ahead and push as much as it wants. Having said that, they are aware of international opinion and they’re sensitive to it. But that doesn’t change – based on history – the objective.”

Iqbal: “Complicated story – unpacked expertly there by our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen speaking to me from Jerusalem.”

Yes – despite Bowen’s faulty geography, his amplification of the ‘contiguity’ myth and his failure to provide BBC audiences with the full background to this story (not least the fact that related court cases have been going on for nine years and the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land on which to build homes nearby) and notwithstanding his erasure of the politically motivated interventions by the Palestinian Authority and the EU in this case, BBC World Service listeners were told that they had just heard an ‘expert’ explanation.

Related Articles:

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

THE LA TIMES, THE BEDOUIN OF KHAN AL AHMAR AND ‘THEIR LAND’  (CAMERA)

MEDIA EMBRACE E1 FALSEHOODS  (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ inaccurately portrays Israeli legislation

The final item in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on July 17th was introduced by presenter Razia Iqbal (from 48:53 here) as follows:

Iqbal: “Now, Parliament in Israel has passed a law that could see groups critical of the government prevented from entering Israeli schools and speaking with pupils. The amendment to the education act grants new powers to the education minister Naftali Bennett – head of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party – to order schools to bar certain groups from giving lectures to students.” [emphasis added]

So is Iqbal’s portrayal of the story accurate?

First of all the legislation which passed its third reading in the Knesset on July 17th is an amendment to an existing law – the 1953 Law of State Education. The legislation adds a clause to the second section of that law in which the objectives of state education are defined. The new clause adds the objective “to educate to significant service in the Israel Defence Force or to civilian national service…” and goes on to state:

“The minister [of education] will establish rules in order to prevent activity in an educational institution on the part of an individual or organization who is not part of the educational system whose activity grossly contradicts the mission of the state educational system outlined in sub-clause (a) and rules to prevent activity in an educational institution of an outside party which initiates legal processes outside Israel against IDF soldiers for activity that they undertook as part of their service.”

Obviously the reference to “the minister” does not mean merely the current minister named by Razia Iqbal and the amendment does not relate to “groups critical of the government” as she inaccurately claims.

Razia Iqbal then went on to introduce MK Sharren Haskel who was allowed to say six sentences before Iqbal jumped in with the following portrayal of a foreign funded political NGO regularly quoted and promoted in BBC content:

Iqbal: “Let’s deal with one of the organisations that’s going to be affected by this law – it’s called ‘Breaking the Silence’ and it’s made up of Israeli citizens, veteran combatants, who have served in the IDF and they endeavor to stimulate public debate and going into schools and talking about what life is like for a soldier working in the occupied territories, they want to convey that as an issue of debating, so why is it that you are stopping that from taking place?”

Iqbal of course did not clarify to BBC audiences that much if not most of the activity of ‘Breaking the Silence’ takes place outside Israel and is not designed to “stimulate public debate”. When her interviewee noted that information promoted by the NGO has been proven false, Iqbal interrupted her.

Iqbal: “There is a member of the Knesset who belongs to the Zionist Union, Shelly Yachimovich, and she says that her two children grew up in Tel Aviv, they were exposed to all sorts of pluralistic views at school, including lectures by ‘Breaking the Silence’ and her two children served significant service in the IDF and they were officers. She doesn’t seem to think that ‘Breaking the Silence’ is a dangerous group. What is it that you are so afraid of?”

After Haskel had clarified that she doesn’t think the group is dangerous either and that there is no limitation on their activities outside of schools, Iqbal continued on the same theme.

Iqbal: “There are other Knesset members in addition to the one that I quoted to you who are saying that this law is dangerous, that the education system is not the property of a minister. Surely schools should be allowed to make decisions about which groups they allow in?”

With Iqbal focusing audience attentions primarily on ‘Breaking the Silence’, listeners did not get to hear that the legislation would apply to other groups as well.  

Clearly Iqbal’s introductory portrayal of this domestic Israeli story gave inaccurate and misleading impressions of the legislation to listeners, which the rest of the item did nothing to dispel. 

 

 

Inaccuracy, partial language and speculation on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

As we saw in an earlier post, viewers of ‘Newsnight’ saw the Israeli prime minister being interviewed by Evan Davis on June 7th. However, BBC World Service radio listeners heard extracts from that interview several hours before it was broadcast on BBC Two in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘.

“During his trip to the UK the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tells the BBC recent protests in the Gaza Strip were violent riots aimed at killing at Israelis.”

Presenter Razia Iqbal began (from 01:08 here) by giving an account of the purpose of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Europe which was soon shown to be inaccurate by Netanyahu himself.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “We begin though with a visit by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UK. London is the last stop in a series of meetings he’s had with European leaders about the Iran nuclear deal. Mr Netanyahu has always opposed the deal and was delighted when President Trump decided to pull out of it. The Israeli prime minister has made it his business to persuade the other signatories to follow suit – especially since they have all said they will continue to see if it’s possible to keep the framework of the deal intact despite Washington’s departure. Today in an interview with my colleague Evan Davis of the BBC TV programme ‘Newsnight’, Mr Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal is dead. He said he would do everything in his power to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu: “…pressure can be of various kinds and I’ve seen in the past that when Iran faced very strong pressure – yes, a credible military response too but also by primarily paralysing sanctions – they came to the…”

Davis [interrupts]: “You’re not going to get the world behind sanctions.”

Netanyahu: “It’s already happened, Evan. I didn’t come here – contrary to news reports on another network that I’m going to try to persuade the E3, the Europeans, to leave the deal. That wasn’t my discussion. I said the deal is dead. It’s done; because of the force of the economic sanctions…”

Unsurprisingly (particularly given the fact that Iqbal allowed herself to shout inaccurate claims at an Israeli MK during live coverage of the rioting on the Gaza Strip-Israel border) listeners were not told that 53 of the people killed on May 14th were claimed by terror groups. Audiences did however hear Evan Davis’ editorialising.

Iqbal: “Well Israel has of course also been recently criticised internationally after more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers on one day on the border between Israel and Gaza. The shooting happened on the day the US opened its embassy in Israel in Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu described that moment as a glorious day. Evan Davis asked him, given the deaths of so many Palestinians, would he still use the words it’s a glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “On the moving of the embassy; for sure. Look…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Well, both things were happening…both things were related, weren’t they? It was the moving of the embassy that caused the protests in Gaza.”

Netanyahu: “It was glorious in Jerusalem and it was regrettable in Gaza…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Regrettable? It was tragic. Absolutely tragic. Your troops killed sixty-one…”

Netanyahu: “Tragic sounds like almost some force of nature. It wasn’t a force of nature. It was a deliberate policy of Hamas to push people into the line of fire, to try to kill Israelis and to present it as though this is Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t Martin Luther King. It wasn’t Mother Theresa. These were not peaceful protests. This was violent riots directed at killing Israelis.”

Using an obviously partial term to portray the Israeli prime minister’s description of the events of May 14th, Iqbal then brought Lyse Doucet into the discussion.

Iqbal: “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, speaking to Evan Davis. Let’s talk now to our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. Lyse – not in the least bit surprising that Benjamin Netanyahu should be defiant about what happened on that day on the border between Gaza and Israel.”

Doucet: “No; he has said it time and again. For him, of course, and for many who watch these events unfold, who watch the years of tensions between the two sides, that Israel has a right to protect its own security. It has a right to stop people from penetrating the security fence.”

Doucet then backed up her messaging using a quote from a German media interview with a disgraced former Israeli PM trying to make a political come-back and promoted some old BBC favourites: ‘disproportionate’ and the ‘Gaza prison’ theme.  

Doucet: “But what people are questioning – and even today the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert – and I’ll tell you what he said when he was interviewed about it. He says ‘I have doubts and questions over the use of lethal weapons against protesters near the Gaza border fence’. When you have that many people including children approaching the fence, what kind of force you use and it’s the question of disproportionate force and the fact that yes, of course Hamas was part of it and yes, Hamas militants did get killed but there are also peaceful activists including so many people, so many young people who are basically imprisoned in the Gaza Strip and see no hope.”

Apparently it has not occurred to Lyse Doucet that genuinely “peaceful activists” would most likely avoid mixing with terrorists committing attacks and infiltrations at a border fence, especially in light of seven weeks of prior experience. Doucet next promoted an anecdote from an anonymous source.

Doucet: “I was recently speaking to someone who has been working for years in the Gaza Strip trying to bring about a peaceful negotiation between Israel and Hamas and he said decades ago when he would speak to the young Gazans they would all say when we grow up we want to be teachers and doctors and lawyers. Now he said they all say we want to be martyrs; suicide martyrs.”

Perhaps if Lyse Doucet had carried out a more in-depth investigation into Gaza terror groups’ indoctrination of children when she had the chance, she would be able to report to BBC audiences on how the anecdote she chose to recount is connected to over a decade of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Razia Iqbal then made the following claim:

Iqbal: “Lyse, the United Kingdom has asked Mr Netanyahu to open an independent inquiry into those deaths in Gaza. Earlier this month the British government abstained from a UN Security Council resolution which called for an inquiry into the deaths. I mean, one wonders if Mr Netanyahu would have responded in the affirmative to the prime minister Theresa May.”

According to both the UK government announcement and media reports, Theresa May did not repeat the call she made on May 15th  for an ‘ independent inquiry’ (ironically while standing next to the Turkish president) during Netanyahu’s visit.

Doucet: “I think historically Israel has investigated its own incidents. It has not wanted international involvement. It believes that…you know Israel has always been regarded as having very strong judicial institutions. Of late questions have been raised about that but it has investigated and at times has been found to be wanting and fault has been found with the way Israel has responded to incidents like this. So I think it’s very much in keeping with how Israel responds to it. It is interesting the United Nations tried to introduce a new resolution at the UN Security Council last week and the only one who voted for it was the United States.”

Iqbal then gave Doucet the obviously pre-arranged cue for promotion of some remarkable speculation:

Iqbal: “Let’s talk in the brief time that we have left about the Iran nuclear deal which the BBC also asked Benjamin Netanyahu about. When Netanyahu says that the sanctions are already going to be put in place, that the deal is dead and that that isn’t going to change, do you think that the ultimate goal here of the United States and Mr Netanyahu is regime change in Iran? To put so much pressure on the country…because there have been appeals to the Iranian people by…specifically by the Secretary of State Pompeo and Mr Trump.”

Doucet: “Israel has never hid its desire to see regime change in Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has always seen Iran as an existential threat to Israel. That hasn’t been helped by some of the comments that come out of some of the more radical politicians and clerics in Iran. And what you have now in power is you have Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, you have Donald Trump in the White House, you have Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. They want to see an end to the theocracy in Iran. President Trump’s…his national security advisor now, John Bolton, has for the years he was out of power been associating with groups which are bent on regime change in Iran. There were speeches about how he wants to see regime change in Iran. That is widely seen to be the real agenda behind trying…proclaiming the nuclear deal is dead. The nuclear deal is all but dead but the European…European powers who also signed the deal – Russia, China – they are trying to save the deal but there is a real worry that without the United States and with not just US sanctions but the secondary sanctions against any other companies who do business in Iran, it will be all but impossible to save the deal.”

John Bolton does indeed have past associations with anti-regime groups but he also stated last month that regime change in Iran “is not the Trump administration’s current policy”. As for Doucet’s claim that “that is widely seen to be the real agenda”, she does not inform listeners that “widely seen” in fact means a theory bandied about by some journalists, pro-regime lobbyists and commentators including Stephen Walt of ‘Israel lobby’ infamy.

The use of partial language and editorialising together with the promotion of inaccurate claims, one-sided quotes, anonymous anecdotes and unsupported speculation clearly signpost the overt bias in this relatively long item.   

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

BBC flouts its own editorial guidelines with Iran talks interviewees

Editorialising, omission and inaccuracies from BBC’s Evan Davis

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ coverage of Gaza mortar and rocket attacks

Right at the end of the May 29th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ listeners heard a short item relating to the mortar and rocket fire by terror groups in the Gaza Strip that had, at the time of broadcast, been going on for over nine hours.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that report – from 51:03 here – as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “And just before we go, there has been some significant activity on the border between Gaza and Israel. The BBC’s Tom Bateman joins us now on the line from Jerusalem. Ah, Tom, this has been the heaviest military exchange of fire for some time.”

Located over a hundred kilometres away from the scene of the events he was reporting, Tom Bateman began in typical BBC ‘last-first’ mode by describing Israel’s response to – by that time – four rounds of attacks on civilian communities. In line with BBC editorial policy he refrained from describing the people responsible for those attacks as terrorists.  

Bateman: “Yeah, well this is a series of Israeli airstrikes that the Israeli military is describing as its largest response in Gaza since the war of 2014. It says it carried out airstrikes on 30 targets. Eh…speaking to colleagues in Gaza City…I mean they heard very loud explosions over a period of about three hours from around lunchtime. The Israeli military says it’s been targeting militant…ah…groups’ sites there and this follows this morning…ehm…rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. Now most of those mortars were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system but at least two landed in Israeli communities…eh…and one – the Israelis say – in the garden of a children’s nursery that was empty at the time. But the Israeli prime minister said there would be a forceful response. The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that this has been a massive and powerful strike and it seems that rocket alert sirens are continuing in southern Israel, so there are signs that this may escalate yet further.”

Notably the first three barrages (at around 07:00, 08:00 and 09:30 local time) got just fifty words of coverage from Bateman, who did not bother to inform listeners how many mortars had been fired (28) but added the unnecessary qualification “the Israelis say” to his portrayal of the landing site of one of them. By the time Bateman’s live report was aired, the IDF had announced the destruction of a cross-border tunnel but ‘Newshour’ listeners heard nothing of that.  

Iqbal: “And nothing, no…eh…statement from Gaza at all yet?”

Bateman: “Well we know that, as I say, there has been an escalation since…on Sunday an Islamic Jihad military post was targeted by the Israelis. Three Islamic Jihad militants were killed in that but we await further statements from the groups in Gaza themselves.”

The BBC did not report on that incident on May 27th and so audiences would be unaware of the part missing from Bateman’s account: the fact that the Israeli fire on the PIJ observation post came after the terror group had planted an explosive device on the border fence.

Iqbal: “Tom Bateman joining us live from Jerusalem on that increased military activity – heavy exchange between Gaza and Israel.”

Still located in Jerusalem, Bateman returned to report on the same story in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ (from 50:14 here). Presenter Julian Marshall stuck to the BBC’s editorial line by failing to inform listeners that over 80% of the people he portrayed simply as “Palestinians” were linked to terrorist groups.  

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “And we go now to Israel’s border with Gaza: the scene earlier this month of mass protests during which more than a hundred Palestinians were killed by Israeli live fire. And there’s been a further upset of violence today with massive Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in response to a barrage of shells from Palestinian militants. I heard more from the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem.”

Bateman began with the inaccurate claim that “sirens sounded across southern Israel” when in fact that they were initially confined to areas close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “Well it was early on Tuesday morning that…ah…rocket sirens sounded across southern Israel. There was then a…what Israel describes as a barrage of rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. Now most of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. There were more than 25 fired all together but at least two landed in Israeli communities. Israel is saying one landed in the…in a kindergarten yard. There was no-one there at the time. And after this, which the Israeli military has described as…ehm…the biggest event of its kind from the Gaza Strip since the war in 2014, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised a forceful response and then around lunchtime for around three hours there were intensive Israeli airstrikes at locations across the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says that they targeted more than 30 sites. I was speaking to colleagues in Gaza City. I mean there were incredibly loud explosions that could be heard from there and it appears these were targeting – as far as the Israelis were concerned – Hamas and Islamic Jihad military sites. They believe that most of the rocket and mortar fire had come from Islamic Jihad and from Hamas as well.”

Two and a half hours before this programme went on air it had already been reported that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has issued a statement claiming joint responsibility for the attacks. Bateman’s description of that as something that “the Israelis…believe” is therefore both superfluous and misleading. Failing to adequately clarify that the IED was placed at the border fence by PIJ activists, he continued:

Bateman: “That…it appears to have been in response to an event on Sunday when Israelis fired tank fire at a military post inside the Gaza Strip, killing three Islamic Jihad members. That, the Israelis said, was in response to an explosive device being laid at the Gaza perimeter fence. And so what you have here is a serious escalation.”

Marshall: “And will it escalate further, Tom?”

Bateman: “Well this is a question that was asked of the Israeli military this afternoon and they have said – which is what they always say in these events – that they do not seek an escalation but they won’t tolerate missiles – rockets or projectiles – coming from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli communities. Now there were more rocket sirens whilst Israeli airstrikes were going on. More interceptions it seems and the Israeli media is reporting that at least three Israelis have been wounded from shrapnel. They don’t seem to be very serious injuries but of course that may yield yet another wave of responses from Israel.”

By the time that report from Bateman was aired residents of the western Negev had been rushing to shelters for sixteen hours and at least 70 rockets and mortars had been fired into Israeli territory with more hits recorded than the two mentioned in this report. The number of projectiles portrayed in Bateman’s report – “more than 25” – was accurate thirteen and a half hours before it was aired. Once again listeners heard nothing about the cross-border tunnel running from the Gaza Strip into Egypt and then into Israel which had been destroyed some seven hours previously.

Obviously the total of just over five minutes of reporting that BBC World Service audiences heard in these two editions of ‘Newshour’ did not provide them with the full picture of this story – and not least the fact that the two organisations that initiated the violence with massive mortar attacks are terrorist groups rather than “militants”.

Related Articles:

BBC News website coverage of Gaza terrorists’ mortar attacks

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

In previous posts we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border were portrayed as they happened in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ (available here).

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

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

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

In this post we will look at what BBC audiences worldwide were told in real-time about the context to the poorly portrayed violence along that border.

The long introduction given by presenter Razia Iqbal included misrepresentation of the locations of previous ‘Great Return March’ events – which actually were confined to the Gaza Strip border. Iqbal also promoted the blatant falsehood that the displacement of all Palestinians in 1948 was “forced”.

01:28 Iqbal: “Dates are significant here. It is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel and there has been a six-week protest by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and – the most deadly – in Gaza. Scores have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to culminate on May the 15th, tomorrow, called the Nakba or catastrophe by Palestinians as the day when they were forced from their land and homes as Israel was established.”

In contrast to the very clear – but inaccurate – impression given by Razia Iqbal, the facts are of course much more nuanced:

“Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.”

The vast majority of the context to what was, as we saw earlier, overwhelmingly portrayed as “peaceful marches” and “protests” came in Yolande Knell’s report near the beginning of the programme.

05:15 Iqbal: “Yolande, just remind listeners that this has been going on for several weeks now and it’s very specifically to mark a day tomorrow for the Palestinians.”

Knell: “That’s right. This has been called the Great March of Return by the Palestinians. It was organised in Gaza over the past 6 weeks. The 15th of May is always a date of protest for Palestinians when they remember how, back in 1948, more than 700,000 people lost their homes on land that became part of Israel. [….] The people [Knell spoke to in Gaza] were saying that they really felt that the historic injustice as they saw it was at the heart of all the modern-day problems that they have in Gaza, where they have chronic electricity shortages, this long-time blockade that’s been enforced by Israel and Egypt which now means that the Gaza Strip is an extremely poor place – it suffers from extremely high unemployment.”

Obviously the fact that there are chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip has nothing whatsoever to do with the refugee issue (it is, as Knell well knows, in fact due to infighting between Hamas and Fatah) and neither do the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel and Egypt in response to the surge in terrorism since Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Knell went on:

Knell: “One woman told me ‘I wouldn’t have come down here if Gaza wasn’t in the state it was but people need to see what the issues are for us’. They felt that this was putting back the suffering of people in Gaza back into the spotlight. Also a lot of concern…they think that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is a key issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict – they feel that there have been attempts – particularly by Washington – to try to push this off the table of any future negotiations. They say that because of course earlier this year the US did announce big cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.”

Yolande Knell (nor anyone else in this programme) made no effort to inform listeners why Palestinians – even when living under PA or Hamas control – are still kept in refugee status by UNRWA, their own leaders and the leaders of Arab countries seventy years on.

Listeners were also told that:

Knell: “Now on top of that, another key issue – the future status of Jerusalem. That is also at stake and of course that’s just added fuel to the flames, brought more people out for these demonstrations. “

As we see, listeners to this broadcast were wrongly led to believe that Palestinians were ‘protesting’ on the border because of a bad electricity supply, high unemployment and poverty – even as the BBC serially ignored the repeated attacks by ‘protesters’ on the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Additional factors cited included “the future status of Jerusalem” and the anniversary of a “historic injustice” which Knell failed to put into its correct context. Interestingly, while BBC reports on previous bouts of ‘Great Return March’ violence had touted the ‘right of return’ that is supposedly the publicity stunt’s raison d’être (see for example here and here), in this report that topic was largely avoided and listeners were not informed of the basic fact that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means rejection of the two-state solution and that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. 

Listeners also heard nothing of the fact that the ‘Great Return March’ events were organised by factions including Gaza-based terror groups. They were not told of the payments made by Hamas to participators or of the organisers’ calls for breaching of the border fence and martyrdom. Even Yahya Sinwar’s March 31st statement of intent – “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – did not receive any BBC coverage either in this programme or elsewhere.

Sadly it is all too obvious that both of the topics covered in this May 14th ‘split screen’ edition of Newshour – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting on the Gaza border on the same day – were presented in a manner intended to amplify a specific political narrative rather than to provide BBC audiences with “accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.

In the context of the question of whose interests this edition of ‘Newshour’ served, it is worth noting what Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar had to say about the Western media’s ‘split screen’ reporting two days after this BBC programme was broadcast:

“Our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world. There was supposed to be a romantic picture of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on the world’s television screens, but our people, in their collective consciousness, forced the whole world to split the television screens between the footage of fraud, deception, falsehood, and oppression, manifest in the attempt to impose Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state, and between the image of injustice, oppression, heroism, and determination painted by our own people in their sacrifices – the sacrifice of their children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”

Related Articles:

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

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

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

BACKGROUNDER: PALESTINIAN ARAB AND JEWISH REFUGEES (CAMERA)

 

 

 

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

Last week we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was reported live in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’.

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

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

The same programme – presented by Razia Iqbal and available here – concurrently gave listeners a portrayal of events along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on that day – as described in its synopsis.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

That content related to two topics: what was happening along the Gaza border and why. In this post we will first take a look at the ‘what’: how the events themselves were portrayed.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

03:34 Iqbal: “Thousands of Palestinians have gathered on the edge of the border between Gaza and Israel fanning out along the fence that separates Palestinian territory from Israel. There have been demonstrations by Palestinians in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.”

Listeners heard a report from Yolande Knell who began by failing to inform listeners that the “Palestinian health officials” she quoted are in fact Hamas employees.

03:56 Knell: Well the latest we’re hearing from Palestinian health officials is that at least 37 people have been killed, one of them as young as 14. Many hundreds of people have been injured – several of them are journalists – and this, of course, is on top of at least 40 people who’ve been killed by Israeli soldiers during the past 6 weeks of protests…eh…during the demonstrations themselves. So really a very deadly day: the bloodiest day since the war in Gaza back in 2014.

Knell – who had previously been described by Iqbal as being in Ramallah – refrained from describing the events in the BBC’s own words.

Knell: “We’re hearing there are about 35,000 Palestinians spread across 12 locations. These are figures from the Israeli military. They say that Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks along the border. They said that they are sticking to what they call the usual rules of engagement. They have been warning they expected hundreds of Palestinians to try to approach the perimeter fence, to try to cut their way through it and break into Israeli territory and they made it clear that they would open fire in such cases to stop people from attacking the fence and from possible attacks being carried out on the Israeli communities that live nearby.”

She went on to promote the view of additional people not actually present on the Gaza border but, like her, commenting from Ramallah.

Knell: “But the PA government is accusing the Israeli military of carrying out a terrible massacre in Gaza.”

That portrayal of Israeli army statements from Yolande Knell in the first five minutes of the programme was in fact also the last account listeners heard of what the Palestinians at the border were actually doing. Throughout the rest of the programme they heard a series of context-free statements from Razia Iqbal such as the following during an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel.

12:11 Iqbal: “If I could just get your response to what is happening not very far away from where the embassy is being inaugurated. Gazans are being shot dead by Israeli forces.”

13:22 Iqbal: “Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. These clashes come as the United States formally opens its embassy in Jerusalem.”

At one point – as Haskel spoke of “violent riots in the attempt to break the border” – Razia Iqbal abandoned journalistic impartiality altogether:

15:07 Iqbal [interrupts, shouting]: “They’re unarmed, Sharren Haskel! They’re unarmed! It’s the Israeli forces who are armed and shooting at them.”

Listeners also heard a portrayal of the events along the Gaza border from yet another person located over a hundred kilometres away in Ramallah – Mustafa Barghouti.

16:46 Barghouti: “And now the Israelis are thinking that they got a green light from the Americans to do whatever they want. What we see today is a real massacre. So far Israel is responding to peaceful marches. They respond to us with lethal weapons. So far they killed 20 Palestinians and injured no less than 900.”

Despite the fact that many of those killed in prior bouts of rioting over the previous six weeks had been identified as members of Hamas and other terror groups (information that was not disclosed to listeners of this programme) Razia Iqbal provided Mustafa Barghouti with the cue to disseminate more propaganda.

19:11 Iqbal: “Those who speak on the side of Israel and Israeli security forces in particular will argue that Hamas is using in some cases children as human shields. Is there any truth to what they say?”

19:24 Barghouti: “Not at all. They are shooting civilians. The people who are killed are 30 years old. Some of them are children also. But no; people are marching peacefully. But Israel is shooting us. The world must take a stand here and must tell Israel enough is enough. You can’t continue to kill Palestinians as if they are not equal human beings.”

Later on in the programme Iqbal interviewed a Palestinian from Gaza.

33: 26 Iqbal: “Not very far from where people were hearing President Trump there are protests going on along the border between Gaza and Israel. We have just got through to a Palestinian activist. His name is Fadi Shamala…”

Shamala spoke of “tear gas” and “seeing hundreds of the youth are getting shot and killed”, claiming that:

Shamala: “More than 41 Palestinians is killed in these demonstration and more than also thousand of Palestinians were got injured.”

Referring to her first interview with Sharren Haskel, Iqbal asked:

34:41 Iqbal: “Fadi – so I was speaking to an Israeli member of the Knesset earlier and she was saying that the Palestinians are being provocative, they are armed and they are threatening Israel. Were you carrying a weapon today? Did you see other people who were protesting with you carrying weapons?”

After a sarcastic quip, Shamala replied:

Shamala: “No absolutely not. We were just thousands of Palestinian protesters who are unarmed. Just making a peaceful – a very peaceful – demonstration inside the Palestinian side. I mean they are till now are in the Palestinian side and around 3,000 journalists are seeing what is going on in the Palestinian side and also the activities of the demonstration, the protests themselves.”

During a later conversation with former Senator Joe Lieberman, Iqbal again gave a context-free portrayal of the day’s events:

41:07 Iqbal: “I wonder if I can just ask you to reflect then on the word ‘peace’ because today we are seeing Israeli forces shooting dead currently at least 16 protesters on the border between Gaza and Israel proper.”

41:52 Iqbal: “Since I did that interview with Senator Lieberman the number of Palestinians dead has gone up to 37.”

Later on, she repeated the exercise:

44:11 Iqbal: “Not very far from where the ceremony was taking place, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border.”

Iqbal’s final interview was with the head of an American political NGO.

48:20 Iqbal: “And what do you think then is going to be the direct result of what President Trump has done? I mean we’re seeing today coinciding with the opening of the embassy, continuation of protests on the border between Gaza and Israel and the death toll of Gazans is going up by the hour. What are we to make of those two parallel – almost parallel – universes that are existing today?”

Freidman: “This is part of a shifting, a recalibration of relations around Israel-Palestine and we don’t know where it goes just yet. It is currently being measured in blood.”

As we see, BBC World Service audiences were presented with a very blinkered view of what actually happened along the Gaza border on May 14th. Yolande Knell told listeners that the IDF had said that “Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks” but BBC audiences heard nothing at all about the more violent incidents that took place before and during the time that this programme was on air – including attempts to breach the border.

  • “At around noon an IDF force near the fence in the Rafah region, the site of one of the main riots, prevented a three-man squad of armed terrorists from placing an IED. The force shot and killed the terrorists.
  • Also during the afternoon, two shooting attacks were carried out against IDF forces. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked a Hamas post in the Jabalia region (northern Gaza Strip).
  • At around 1500 hours an IED exploded near the fence in the northern Gaza Strip. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked 11 Hamas targets. IDF tanks shot at Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip.”

BBC audiences did however repeatedly hear descriptions of “peaceful marches” and “protests” and were led to believe time and time again that the IDF was shooting unarmed civilians, with Hamas’ role in organising the riots mentions erased from audience view. On two occasions the events were described as a “massacre” – even as the BBC concealed the more violent incidents from listeners.

Like the programme’s portrayal of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the information and descriptions heard by BBC World Service listeners were obviously intended to steer audiences towards a very specific and one-sided understanding of events.

As Rod Liddle summed it up at the Times:

“Having listened to and watched the BBC news all last week, I am of the firm opinion that the fascist, apartheid state of Israel has been guilty of genocide against the peaceable Palestinian teenagers and toddlers who simply wanted to hold a kind of alcohol-free fundraising gala near that border fence, to celebrate diversity and niceness and raise money for worthy concerns. It is outrageous that the Israelis should have fired on unarmed civilians simply when they were running a tombola.

Some people will have been taken in by stuff less extensively reported by the BBC. Such as that more than four-fifths who were shot by Israeli soldiers were members of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Or that Hamas had ordered and in many cases paid demonstrators to breach the border and “tear the hearts out of the Jews”. Or that Egypt had summoned Hamas’s leader and told him to stop the bloodshed. Or that Molotov cocktails were thrown.

None of this has shifted my opinion, because it was not reported by our impartial state broadcaster. So it cannot possibly be true, can it?”

Related Articles:

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

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

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

The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.

Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]

Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”

Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”

Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.

Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”

Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”

Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.

Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”

Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.

Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”

Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”

After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.

Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”

At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Iqbal told listeners:

Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”

That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:

Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:

Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”

Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.

Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”

She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.

Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.

At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.

Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.

Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”

Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”

Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”

Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”

And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.

As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.

Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem  BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.

Related Articles:

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

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

Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:

“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.

Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.

The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.

The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”

BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.

In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.

Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”

Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.

Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.

03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”

30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”

At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.

Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”

The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included the provision of a platform for blatant Iranian propaganda that went completely unchallenged and uncorrected.

Later the same day the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ also allowed the same interviewee to promote gross falsehoods without any effort made to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impressions they received from an Iranian academic who is infamously close to the Iranian regime and who, in 2009, was asked by a CNN interviewer:

“Do you worry that you will be seen in history as a mouthpiece for a dying, repressive regime in its death throes? That 20 years from now you’ll look back, and the world will look back at you, the way it did some of those smooth-talking, English-speaking, Soviet spokesmen who were telling us right in the middle 1980s, that the Soviet Union was all just fine and democratic and wonderful?”

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 00:59 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now we begin though with Israel, Iran and Syria and a military confrontation overnight which could mark a significant escalation of tension in the Middle East. Israel has for some time been conducting what some describe as a shadow war against Iran, inside Syria.”

Iqbal made no effort to inform listeners of the crucially relevant fact that what her unnamed sources “describe as a shadow war” in fact relates to weapons transfers by Iran to the widely proscribed terror group Hizballah in violation of UN SC resolution1701. She went on:

Iqbal: “Iran has a military presence there supporting the government of President Bashar al Assad and overnight it responded to Iran firing 20 rockets from Syria into the Israeli-controlled territory of the Golan Heights. Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israeli forces have hit most of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria in that wave of overnight airstrikes. Mr Lieberman said he hoped the latest round of exchanges between Israeli and Iranian forces was now over.”

After listeners had heard a voice-over recording of a statement from Lieberman, Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “State television in Iran says seven Iranian military advisors were killed in those Israeli strikes in Syria.”

Iqbal did not clarify that the incident to which she refers took place on April 9th at the T4 airbase or that the “advisors” were in fact members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Neither did she bother to remind listeners that two months earlier, an armed Iranian drone launched from that base had infiltrated Israeli territory.

Iqbal then interviewed the prime minister of Israel’s spokesperson to foreign media, David Keyes. Interestingly, the vast majority of her five questions steered audiences towards the view that Israel’s actions are causing “escalation”.

Question 2 Iqbal: “Are you not concerned that this is a manifestation of an escalation that could bring Israel into the Syrian conflict?”

Question 3 Iqbal: “Mr Keyes: I asked the question – sorry to interrupt you. I’m sorry to interrupt you. I asked the question precisely because you will be well aware that when Israel launched attacks against the T4 airbase back in April, Moscow’s anger was conveyed very clearly; that it felt that what Israel was doing was…was evil in fact – that’s what the state Duma defence committee called Israel’s action. Isn’t there a danger that you are on the verge of getting involved in the war in Syria because the bases that you speak of are not necessarily Iranian bases – they’re Russian bases.”

While – as was reported at the time – the chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee did call what he presumed to be Israel’s action “evil and unfriendly”, it is of course remarkable that the BBC chooses to quote a representative of a regime that has denied Bashar al Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians and accused the UK of carrying out a poisoning attack using a nerve agent on its own soil. Interestingly, Iqbal provided no evidence for her suggestion that the Syrian air force’s T4 base is “Russian”.

Question 4 Iqbal: “This confrontation between Iran and Israel could mark the most significant military confrontation…confrontation between your two…the two countries in the region and the danger of escalating regional tensions is ever-present. How concerned are you that none of this is helping? You continue to defend the reasons why Israel has taken the action that it has but isn’t there a responsibility on the part of Israel to try not to escalate tensions in the region also?

Question 5 Iqbal: “The implication in the question or the presumption in the question is really an acknowledgement that the conflict inside Syria is not just a conflict that deals with Syrians fighting and killing other Syrians. Russia is present in Syria. The United States has a presence in Syria. This is a mini world war and it’s quite possible that the escalation could result in direct confrontation between Syria and Israel.”

Following that conversation, at 07:31 Iqbal introduced her next interviewee.

Iqbal: “The Iranians and Russians have been supporting President Bashar al Assad in his fight to capture territory back from the Syrian opposition as well as ridding the country of Islamic State’s presence. Their involvement has changed the battle for Syria in President Assad’s favour but it has also had serious repercussions for the region. Israel sees Iranian military build-up in Syria as an existential threat to it. To get an Iranian perspective on what’s been happening I’ve been speaking to Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi who is head of North American studies at Tehran University about Iran’s strategic presence in Syria. What’s his reaction first to the comments we just heard from David Keyes?”

Unchallenged by Iqbal, Marandi repeated the same falsehoods aired earlier on the ‘Today’ programme about alleged Israeli support for the group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra and inaccurately claimed once again that “ISIS has never been attacked by Israel”.

Marandi: “Well as far as I remember the Israelis first struck Iranian troops, killing [inaudible] of them. These troops were in Syria to help the Syrian government fight against Al Qaeda. They were nowhere near the border between Syria and the Israeli regime. In fact, the border between the two countries is occupied both by ISIS to the south and Al Qaeda to the north. ISIS has never been attacked by Israel and Al Qaeda is actively supported by Israel – the Nusra Front. They treat their wounded soldiers…or militias…militiamen. But what he said actually about the strike this morning was very misleading because the Israelis carried out over a hundred strikes on Syria and just the night before the Israelis carried out further strikes. So the response that they received from Syria was in retaliation to their own actions.”

Once again failing to provide listeners with the context of Iranian violations of UN SC resolution 1701, Iqbal allowed Marandi to promote the notion that the Iranians may not have launched the May 10th attacks.

Iqbal: “So – sorry to interrupt you – are you saying that the attacks that took place overnight – the 20 missile strikes that Israel is talking about – that it was Syria that launched those and not Iran?”

Marandi: “Everything that happens in Syria is done through the hierarchy that exists in the Syrian government and the Syrian army. So whatever response there is, it’s under the central command of Syria, whether the Americans like to acknowledge that or not.”

Iqbal: “But was it Iran – Dr Marandi – in your understanding was it Iran that launched those 20 missile strikes into the Golan Heights or was it Syria?”

Marandi: “I don’t know. I don’t know about that but what I can say is that his claim that they destroyed Iran…Iranian command and control structures is obvious nonsense. Every Iranian soldier in Syria has a cell phone. All of them are in constant contact with their families. They send pictures. If there’s a single dead Iranian soldier, let’s see the photographs.”

Iqbal: “You dismissed any suggestion that there is a command and control structure that Iran has inside Syria. What infrastructure does Iran have inside Syria?”

Marandi: “Iranians are there to help the Syrian government. I think the Iranian presence is no secret in Syria. The Iranians have been there since 2005 [sic].”

Iqbal: “How big is that presence inside Syria?”

Marandi: “I don’t know the numbers – I’m not in the military. But it’s open: there’s no secret about Iran’s presence.”

Iqbal: “Israel…it has repeatedly accused Iran of being in Syria in order to make it easier for Iran to target Israel. Is there any truth in that?”

Marandi: “Let’s look at the evidence on the ground. The Israelis have murdered Iranians. Did the Iranians murder Israelis? No. The Israelis tolerate….”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “The Israelis…the Israelis dispute that. The Israelis say that if they didn’t have the defence system that they have, if they had not intercepted those missiles that came into the Golan Heights, people could have been killed.”

Listeners then heard more blatant propaganda and lies – including the false claim of an “information blackout” – that went completely unchallenged by Razia Iqbal.

Marandi: “Well first of all, they didn’t intercept them. Almost all the missiles struck their targets and that’s not…the Iron Dome failed last night and the Israelis know it quite well. There’s a black…the information blackout in northern Israel and that’s evidence in itself. I’m not talking about last night. I’m talking about the past few months. The Israelis murdered Iranians – not the other way round.”

Notably, only one of Iqbal’s questions to Marandi related to ‘escalation’ and – in contrast to her conversation with the Israeli interviewee – there was no suggestion on her part that Iran bears a “responsibility […] to try not to escalate tensions in the region”.

Iqbal: “To what extent do you now see that this situation is going to escalate even further?”

Marandi: “Well without a doubt every time that the Israelis hit, they will be hit back because if there is no response, then the Israelis will start striking more intensively and with greater impunity. So from now on the Israelis are going to have to expect to be hit back every time they strike. If the European and the Americans don’t want an escalation, then they should warn the Israelis to sit down and mind their own business.”

Iqbal: “That was Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi from Tehran University.”

The first of the BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – outlines the corporation’s obligation to:

“…provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

Obviously listeners’ understanding of what happened in the Golan Heights on May 10th was not enhanced in the least by their hearing unchallenged Iranian regime propaganda replete with lies and inaccuracies – quite the opposite. And so, once again, the BBC’s faux ‘impartiality’ sells its funding public short. 

Related Articles:

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

 

Jeremy Bowen’s Tamimi PR continues on BBC World Service radio

When two different BBC platforms promoted filmed reports by the BBC’s Middle East editor last week on the topic of Ahed Tamimi and her upcoming trial, many called out the bias and manipulation evident in Jeremy Bowen’s reports and in particular the fact that, while concealing from audiences the fact that the charges against Tamimi include incitement, he disingenuously promoted the false notion that she has been charged with terrorism offences because of a “slap”.

Jeremy Bowen is of course well-known for being impervious to any criticism – which he takes very grudgingly – and so it did not come as much of a surprise to see that, despite the flaws in his report having been called out, five days later an audio version that is very similar to the filmed reports was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme Newshour.  

Presenter Razia Iqbal began (from 45:06 here) by promoting Bowen’s ‘terrorism’ red herring once again. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now, is a slap an act of terrorism? A 16 year-old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, is soon to go on trial in an Israeli military court after she tried to eject two Israeli combat soldiers from her family’s property during a demonstration last month. She slapped one of the men when he wouldn’t go. Her mother, Nariman, videoed what happened. When that went viral, amid a storm of anger in Israel at what Ahed Tamimi had done, soldiers raided their home and took mother and daughter to jail.”

In fact Nariman Tamimi was arrested later and not at her home. Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “Now they’ve both been charged with offences that usually carry stiff custodial sentences. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports now from the Tamimis’ home village Nabi Saleh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Bowen: “I’m on a hill in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village on the occupied West Bank about 45 minutes north of Jerusalem. From this hill I can see a microcosm of the conflict: neighbouring Palestinian village where clouds of tear gas arising from a minor clash. Then, across the valley, an Israeli military base and a Jewish settlement – illegal under international law.”

Bowen refrained from informing his listeners that alternative interpretations of ‘international law’ exist. Predictably, his “microcosm of the conflict” does not include Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state or Palestinian terrorism – even though three members of one family were murdered just last summer in that same “Jewish settlement” seen from his vantage point. He went on:

Bowen: “And behind me is the home of Ahed Tamimi who’s become a symbol of the conflict for both sides. Her mother Nariman filmed her slapping the Israeli soldier and Ahed’s father Bassem – a leading Palestinian activist here – is contemplating the fact that his wife and daughter are facing charges that carry years of jail time.”

Tamimi: “It’s hard for me as a father, as a husband, that my wife, my daughter, in the hands of my enemy. I am scared, worried, proud. It’s like knives in my heart, in my body. Err…”

Bowen: “You know a lot of Israelis have said in any country if you attack a soldier you face the consequences, you’re gonna end up in jail. They’re saying that she shouldn’t have done this.”

Tamimi: “What should she done under the occupation? To give them a rose and welcoming them? I think our responsibility included to resist. She should do what she done. The worst issue that the occupation is continue and she will go out of jail to continue the struggle and maybe she will [be] killed.”

Bowen: “This village Nabi Saleh is steeped in protest against the occupation. They have regular demonstrations here which often end up in stone-throwing, tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammo too. Everybody in the village has been affected by the occupation.”

Bowen had no place in his report for any mention of the victims – and their families – of terrorists from that village or the fact that Bassem Tamimi is one of the main instigators of those “regular demonstrations”. The report continued:

Unidentified voice: “There is no occupation. There is no Palestinian nation. There will never be Palestinian state and we didn’t conquered nothing. We don’t occupied nothing.”

Misrepresenting the charges against Tamimi once again, Bowen introduced that voice:

Bowen: “Some Israelis are horrified about the prospect of jailing a 16 year-old girl for a slap. But many more support the soldiers, who could be their sons or brothers. In Jerusalem, here at Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – a leading right-wing MP Oren Hazan goes much further.”

Oren Hazan is number 30 on his party’s list – hardly a “leading” slot – and is considered a highly controversial figure even within his own party. Despite Hazan having been suspended from Knesset activity on the same day that Bowen’s previous reports were aired, he was still portrayed in this audio report as “a leading right-wing MP”.

Bowen: “Let’s talk specifically about Ahed Tamimi and her case. She’s going to go to court very soon. Potentially she faces time in prison.”

Hazan: “I hope so. We need to send her to rehab: to rehab from terror. You talk about her like she’s some innocent girl that just slapped a soldier. She do it for many years.”

Bowen: “When you saw that video of her slapping the soldier, what went through your mind?”

Hazan: “If I was there she would finish in the hospital for sure. Nobody could stop me. I would kick…kick her face. Believe me.”

Bowen: “She’s a 16 year-old girl.”

Hazan: “No, I don’t look at it like this because today as a 16 year-old girl she punched a soldier. Tomorrow she will stuck a knife in his throat. It’s what she do. Today it’s a slap, tomorrow it’s a knife.”

As was the case in one of his previous filmed reports, Bowen implied to BBC World Service listeners that Israeli military courts lack due process.

Bowen: “The chances are that Ahed Tamimi and her mother will end up with jail sentences. The Israeli military courts usually convict. The occupation has been going on for 50 years and it shows no sign of ending. Incidents like this indicate the level of tension and anger that’s often just below the surface. The question is how long before, once again, it erupts into much more serious violence.”

The BBC and Jeremy Bowen knew very well even before his January 31st reports were aired that the twelve charges against Ahed Tamimi include a count of incitement that relates to a video put out by her mother on social media in which Ahed Tamimi’s “message to the world” – as it was described by Nariman Tamimi – was:

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine”

After his reports appeared numerous people reminded Bowen of that fact on social media. The fact that five days later the BBC chose to broadcast yet another report in which that crucial context was not provided to audiences indicates once again that the corporation and its Middle East editor have self-conscripted to a political campaign that has now included no fewer than ten separate reports on Ahed Tamimi since December 19th.  

 Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen diverts Ahed Tamimi story with a disingenuous red herring

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

BBC’s Bowen revives five year-old grudge in Indy interview

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi

BBC’s Knell reports on the Tamimi case again – and raises a question