BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the topic of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Jenny Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour”, with listeners hearing nothing at all about that fringe group’s agenda.

Having declared herself “absolutely horrified” by Mirvis’ article, Manson began by disputing a statement made earlier on in the programme by the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Martin Bashir concerning the number of British Jews represented by the Chief Rabbi before going on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Manson: “…these allegations – I’ve just had a quick look through the letter [sic] – many of them have been…ehm…repudated [sic] by JVL if you’d like to look at our website. We’ve proper evidence, we’ve even had lawyers pouring over them in relation to the Labour MPs who’ve left citing antisemitism, in relation to the mural.”

Listeners were not informed by Shah what that opaque reference to “the mural” actually means before Manson went on.

Manson: “He [the Chief Rabbi] mentions in his letter [sic] the EHRC’s investigating institutional antisemitism – that is not true. They are investigating the processes. If he’s looked at the EHRC site you can see this.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission website clarifies that it is investigating more than “processes”.

Shah however made no effort to clarify that point.

Shah: “But the fact that there is an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the Labour party is something that may concern many people. He also says…”

Manson: “OK. Can I…can I just…”

Shah: “Indeed but can I just mention one point. The Chief Rabbi says that ‘convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics and rightly so. However challenging racism in all its forms is not a matter of politics: it goes well beyond that’.”

Manson: “Oh absolutely. I mean we challenge racism every time and any racism we see either in the Labour party or anywhere else, we call out. But let me go back to the EHRC. Both the Conservative party and the Labour party had sent the EHRC…had…sorry…the EHRC has received complaints about the Conservative party and the Labour party. You don’t hear about that, about the Conservative party. They received many complaints. They had to investigate many complaints. What they decided to do – if anyone wants to look at their website – was to investigate the processes not the party.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge that claim.

Shah: “OK well you’ve made that point but the thing that will stand out in people’s minds is that the Chief Rabbi has chosen to make an intervention – he uses the phrase with the heaviest of hearts – at what is clearly a very sensitive time in the run-up to an election; we’re weeks away. Why do you think he would have felt the need to do this if he didn’t believe the problem was very, very serious?”

Manson: “What I think must have happened is that we’ve had three and a half years of – in my view and in the view of my colleagues – extremely biased reporting. We have put out statements. Nobody picks them up. There’s been one side of this issue – it’s not only been on the BBC – but if anyone wants to look at the facts, I say they abound.”

Shah made no effort to question that claim from Manson or to point out that members of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – including Manson herself – have made regular appearances in BBC content over the past couple of years before her interviewee went on:

Manson: “So that many Jews have got genuinely frightened. What we know because we really do know the facts – I say we look at them very carefully – is there was a serious new threat to Jews on the Far-Right. There is no threat to Jews in the Labour party. There has been some people who’ve said foolish things. There’s some people who say foolish things in the Lib Dem party and in the Conservative party but only the Labour party is being looked at [by] the Chief Rabbi and his colleagues and I have to ask why about that too. But let’s just say that there’s been…they’ve been misled badly and I think to intervene in the election at this time is very, very poor stuff. It won’t go down well with people who are…who are open-minded, who know, who look at the evidence. It’s a bad day for me as a Jew to hear false allegations being repeated yet again.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge Manson’s claims before closing the interview at that point.

The next day Manson appeared on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 34:59 here) and was interviewed by Razia Iqbal directly after an interview with Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Iqbal: “Joining me in the studio now is Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn. […] What’s your response to what you’ve just heard Mike Katz saying?”

Manson: “Well I’m actually appalled at the lack of truth in some of those comments. For example the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is not investigating the Labour party’s institutional antisemitism. Because of the number of complaints it was sent – many of which turned out not to be true is my guess – they are looking at the processes of the Labour party.”

Once again listeners heard no challenge to that spin.

Manson: “It’s not whataboutery to say that all political parties have a problem with antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia and all forms of xenophobia. There have been Conservative and Lib Dem candidates withdrawn in the last few weeks over antisemitism. It’s not a Labour party problem and it is relevant to say why should there be so much attention to the existence – I’m thankful to say – of a very small amount of antisemitism in the Labour party and almost no attention on the other political parties and no recognition of the work done by Jeremy Corbyn. I am personally offended by this continuous attack on him, who I know.”

Iqbal: “OK but the Chief Rabbi has talked about this as a ‘new poison which has been sanctioned from the very top’ and he also says that the claim by the Labour party that all cases of antisemitism in its ranks have been investigated is ‘a mendacious fiction’. I mean these are incredibly strong things to say.”

Manson: “They are incredibly…and incredibly the wrong things to be saying not only in an election campaign; at any time. It’s 0.0% [sic] of…point six of the Labour party members have been accused of antisemitism. When the party investigates they investigate it properly. Again, no point…this whataboutery but I hear that some of the people suspended for Islamophobia in the Tory party find themselves back in a couple of weeks later.”

Iqbal did not demand any evidence from Manson for that allegation.

Manson: “The Labour party’s very thorough. To have 100 cases that haven’t been heard is to do with the process. We do a proper process. We have lawyers acting. This idea, this multiplication of non-facts of the last four years against all the evidence. We have evidence and ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – we are by the way…you have…to be a full member of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ you have to be Jewish and in the Labour party. The Jewish Labour Movement do not make that requirement. We speak for Jews in the Labour party. We’ve investigated cases for example why some of these Labour MPs have left. We have the evidence of…”

Failing to challenge that highlighted spurious claim, Iqbal interrupted with a decidedly pointless question given the fact that the entire purpose of JVL is to act as cheerleaders for Corbyn.

Iqbal [interrupts]: “OK well let me ask…you say that you know Jeremy Corbyn. Can you categorically say that he has never made an antisemitic comment, that he is not antisemitic in any way?”

Manson: “I can absolutely confirm that and in a way my knowing him is not…I’m very pleased to know him but even before I knew him, when I was first involved in this campaign, I knew that this man has a great hatred of racism on all sides. What has been done is things that he’s done over the last ten years have been picked over. He has always supported, as I do, Palestinian rights very strongly. So he has a meeting – as many people were suggesting he should do including Parliament at the time – with various groups. When they sit down he addresses everybody there as friends. How in any way that can be typified as antisemitism is utterly beyond me. These are the kind of stories that have been built on for four years since he became leader in an attempt to get rid of him as leader.”

Iqbal made no effort whatsoever to explain to listeners around the world what Manson was referring to with that story or to challenge her inaccurate account. Even Corbyn himself does not deny that he called members of Hamas and Hizballah friends – rather than “everybody there” as claimed by Manson. Iqbal could and should have informed listeners that in the same speech Corbyn spoke about Hamas – an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel under its overtly antisemitic founding charter – as follows:

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

Corbyn also clearly expressed his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state: a stance categorised as antisemitism under the IHRA working definition.

“We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people. […] Our argument – and I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian we’re anti-Semitic: it’s nonsense. What we’re in favour of is a Palestine where everybody can live. They can’t live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”

Instead, Iqbal let Manson’s lies stand and posed her last question.

Iqbal: “Just very briefly, do you accept though that this is going to be hugely damaging to him and the Labour party?”

Manson: “Well strangely enough I don’t think it’s going to be and the reason is this has been going on a long time and the reason that it’s not going to damage the party as much as I think people think is because Jeremy’s character, as has been shown in the debates recently, is so clearly sincere and genuine that if it had been some lesser man perhaps this story would have been believedbut people are sceptical. They say this doesn’t sound right.”

Iqbal: “OK we will leave it there. Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – joining us live here in the ‘Newshour’ studio – thanks.”

As we see, despite having brought in an unabashed cheerleader for Jeremy Corbyn to comment on this story, neither Shah nor Iqbal made any effort to challenge her distortions, spin and downright lies, with the result being that both domestic audiences and those worldwide heard nothing in the two interviews with her which would contribute to their understanding of the issues that lie behind the Chief Rabbi’s unprecedented step.

Related Articles:

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

Reviewing BBC R4’s ‘World at One’ background on the Labour Party story

 

 

 

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

Coverage on BBC radio stations of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times on November 25th was understandably extensive and reports heard by listeners to two programmes on different stations are of particular interest.

Both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the story.

One of those interviewees was Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement which has been affiliated to the UK Labour party since 1920.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Mr Katz was introduced (from 25:17 here) as “Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement” and on ‘Newshour’ he was presented (from 30:07 here) as “Mike Katz who is the national chair of Jewish Labour”.

Listeners were given no information concerning the JLM’s long history, the fact that it is one of the oldest socialist societies to be affiliated with the Labour party or the number of members in the organisation.  

The other interviewee was Jenny Manson of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ which was launched two years ago in late September 2017. Writing several weeks after that launch, Robert Philpot noted that:

“…it was JVL’s opposition to JLM’s attempt to change Labour’s rules to crack down on anti-Semitism — a change backed by Corbyn himself — which provoked most controversy.

During the debate on the measure, which was adopted by the party, JVL’s vice-chair, Leah Lavane, railed against JLM and those who “make that accusation [of anti-Semitism] every time you criticize the despicable behavior of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people.”

For JVL, the tightening of the party’s rules represents an “anti-democratic restriction on political debate” which “runs the risk of giving the stamp of approval to those opposed to Corbyn’s leadership to drive out more of his supporters.”

It particularly objects to the party judging allegations of anti-Semitism by using the definition drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and adopted by the British government because, it claims, this restricts criticism of Israel.

In fact, the IHRA definition explicitly makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.””

BBC radio audiences however heard nothing about JVL’s background and agenda. On ‘The World Tonight’ Ms Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour” and on ‘Newshour’ – appearing after Mr Katz – she was described (from 34:59 here) as “co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – Jewish Voice for Labour – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn”. [emphasis added]

In other words, listeners to two different BBC radio stations were given the erroneous impression that those interviewees represented two comparable Jewish groups linked to the Labour party and – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – they were told practically nothing of the obviously relevant issue of the “particular viewpoint” of the fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour.

During the ‘Newshour’ interview with Mike Katz, (from 30:07 here) listeners heard Razia Iqbal twice ask him whether he thought that the Chief Rabbi’s article was the “right thing to do” and when her interviewee pointed out that antisemitism in the Labour party “is not an issue that has suddenly come out of nowhere” Iqbal interrupted him and the following exchange was heard: [emphasis in italics in the original]

33:18 Iqbal [interrupts]: “But even today, Mike Katz, even today Jeremy Corbyn says that he has made it very clear that there is no place whatsoever – I’m quoting him now – ‘for antisemitism in our society, our country or in my party. There never will be as long as I’m leader of the party’.”

Katz: “So, Razia, why hasn’t he taken proper action against it? Why has he allowed this state of affairs to flourish so that the party gets referenced to and taken up by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission? Why is it the case actually that there are still more than 100 outstanding cases before the National Constitutional Committee on antisemitism?”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “But there’s…I mean, you know…I just…I just wonder if I can point you…I wonder if I can point you to the other really big issue that does exist inside the political discourse in this country which is the presence of Islamophobia in the Conservative party and I wonder to what extent you feel that this is just a targeting of Jeremy Corbyn when there are…there are equally difficult thorny issues for the Conservative party to deal with.”

Yes – apparently ‘Newshour’ producers really did think that the understanding of audiences around the world of a story concerning unprecedented criticism of the leader of the UK Labour party from the Chief Rabbi would be enhanced by that blatant ‘whataboutery’ from Razia Iqbal.

In part two of this post we will look at the two interviews with Jenny Manson.  

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

As documented here last week, one of the BBC News website’s three written reports relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State promoted the false claim that the current US administration had changed a “four-decades-old position”.

“Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.” [emphasis added]

We noted that:

“Secretary Pompeo’s statement marks a return to the policy of US administrations between 1981 and December 2016. In other words, the “position” described by the BBC is three years old rather than “four-decades-old”.”

Remarkably, both later on in that report as well as in an earlier one, the BBC made it evident that it knows that full well:

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 reports on the same story received no such explanation and instead were repeatedly fed that “four decades” spin.

In the November 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ presenter Ritula Shah told her audience (from 17:11 here) that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that Washington no longer considers Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank to be illegal. The move breaks four decades of State Department policy.”

Returning to the topic later on in the programme, Shah brought in BBC News’ North America correspondent Aleem Maqbool (from 36:14) who promoted the same myth.

Maqbool: “…it’s certainly I suppose consistent with what we’ve seen from the Trump administration over the last couple of years in recognising, for example, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and also recognising Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights – another area of course that was occupied during the Six Day War of 1967. But the timing has surprised some people because, you know, many Palestinians will feel – even over those four decades during which the United States did consider the building of settlements inconsistent with international law, it never really stopped those settlements expanding at a rapid rate to the point now where some of them are as big as cities.”

Maqbool then came up with another falsehood:

Maqbool: “One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumimcuts the West Bank in half.”

‘Cuts in half’ obviously means divides into two parts but Ma’ale Adumim does nothing of the sort.

Of course similar inaccurate claims have been made by journalists in the past but Maqbool’s false statement clearly materially misleads BBC audiences.

Maqbool also repeated his inaccurate “four decades” claim in a report aired in the November 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 08:43 here).

Maqbool: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in that sentence overturned more than four decades of official US policy. It was under President Carter the State Department decided that, in keeping with much of the rest of the world, that Israel’s building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land was not allowed under international law.”

That ‘four decades’ spin which the BBC knows full well to be false and misleading continued in later BBC Radio 4 broadcasts, as will be seen in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part two

Financial Times corrects editorial alleging ’40 year US policy’ calling settlements “illegal”  (UK Media Watch)

Economist corrects article alleging ’40 year US policy’ that settlements are “illegal”  (UK Media Watch)

Political advocacy journalism distorts coverage of US Policy on settlements  (CAMERA)

 

 

Inaccuracy left unchallenged and unedited on BBC R4 ‘Any Questions?’

BBC Radio 4 describes its programme ‘Any Questions?’ thus: [emphasis added]

“Any Questions? is the flagship political panel programme that goes out live on Friday evenings at 8pm on BBC Radio 4 (repeated on Saturday afternoons at 1.10pm). It was first broadcast in October 1948 and its current chair is Jonathan Dimbleby. Each week Any Questions? visits a different part of the country with a diverse panel of four speakers who answer questions from the audience. The programme provides the opportunity for people to challenge leading politicians, policy makers, writers and thinkers.”

The programme’s web page offers audiences the possibility of listening to past episodes – currently 521 of them – going back over a decade.

One would hence assume that the BBC would ensure that any issues arising which were not taken care of by means of the live show’s broadcast delay would be ironed out before the repeat airing and certainly before the recording was added to the archive of past episodes.  

Such issues might include what the BBC’s editorial guidelines call “a Serious Incident in a Live Broadcast” such as “offensive comments” or “factual errors”.

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we may need to consider making an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Potentially offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype. If offensive comments are made when, for example, football fans chant racist abuse we should consider making an on-air apology for broadcasting the comments.”

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.”

The edition of ‘Any Questions?’ which was broadcast on August 23rd and repeated on August 24th included the following question (from 34:28 here) from a member of the audience:

“Should we understand and learn the lessons of history rather than attempting to pay for them?”

Presenter Ritula Shah explained the background to that question:

Shah: “This of course follows the announcement that the University of Glasgow’s agreed to spend £20 million in reparations after finding out it benefited by tens of millions of pounds from the slave trade…”

The third of the programme’s panellists to respond to the question (from 37:24) was the Conservative MEP for South East England Daniel Hannan.

Hannan: “…I think it’s important to look at and learn from things but it’s also important to remember the basis of modernity, the basis of post-enlightenment civilisation, which is that every individual is responsible for himself and that we shouldn’t define people through membership of a group. We should all ultimately stand in defence of our own actions. It’s striking to me that when…very often the kind of people who say ‘well, you know, we need to have reparations or we need to have kind of collective identity on these things’, when the same argument is made in the case of…I dunno…eh…Israel flattening a Palestinian village as a collective punishment, they are quite rightly the first to say ‘well hang on; you don’t do collective guilt. It’s banned by the Geneva Conventions’. And they’re right the second time. So we should never lose sight of the fact that everyone is ultimately responsible for himself.” [emphasis added]

Neither Ritula Shah nor anyone else challenged that highlighted offensive and factually inaccurate statement at the time that it was made. The BBC allowed it to remain in situ in the repeat broadcast and it appears in the archived version of the programme which will be available on demand for a very long time to come, thus leading the BBC’s funding public to wrongly believe that Israel ‘flattens’ Palestinian villages “as a collective punishment”. 

Once again we see just how seriously the BBC takes its own editorial guidelines.  

BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of an item aired in the June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which had commenced that morning.  

Following a report from Yolande Knell which included a statement from the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Shah went on (from 24:37 here) to introduce an interviewee. That interview is notable because for the first time in the six days that the BBC had been covering the story (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences heard an alternative view of the topic.

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

Shah began by quoting unnamed ‘critics’.

Shah: “Well critics of the plan say it’s little more than a remix of early attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they claim the document includes photos of Palestinians involved in aid programmes that have been cut by the Trump administration. Jon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and served as a deputy to the UN ambassador Nikki Haley [US ambassador to the UN – Ed.]. I put it to him that people have criticised the absence of any discussion of political issues such as Israeli settlement building or prospects for Palestinian statehood. So why didn’t he see that as a problem?

Lerner: “It’s not an obstacle because that portion of it is still to come. This is a phased plan where the initial phase is to discuss the economic aspects of it and the political aspects that they’re referring to will be outlined at a later date. The administration felt that outlining the rewards or the benefits of peace might be helpful in concentrating everybody’s minds.”

Once more Shah took to paraphrasing the supposed arguments of unidentified commentators.

Shah: “But there are those who would argue that some indication of the political decision-making of the Trump administration might already have been indicated by the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which sends a very clear signal to the Palestinians, some might argue. So there have been hints of the direction of travel which perhaps are not fair, perhaps are one-sided, but yet Palestinians are left with the view that perhaps their views are being under-represented.”

Lerner: “Yes, well that’s where the Trump administration has parted with previous efforts and I think has done so quite intelligently. They’ve taken certain questions like the question of whether Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel – a question that, you know, any serious person already knows the answer to – and they’ve said we’re going to exercise our judgement on that and recognise the reality that that is not a subject of future negotiations. There is no conceivable peace plan under which Jerusalem would cease to be the capital of Israel and so by merely recognising that reality, that does not pre-judge any of the more difficult questions…”

Interrupting her guest, yet again Shah used the ‘many people’ tactic without clarifying their identities.

Shah [interrupts]: “But that…many people would say that if you think back to the peace talks of the 1990s and the question of Jerusalem was left to be decided later because for many Palestinians that is a very important part of what they see as their future peace settlement and if you…”

Lerner: “Yes and we remember that same plan was unsuccessful and unagreed to. We should not look to the failures of the past as our guide for the future.”

Shah: “Do you think it might have built confidence with the Palestinian leadership, who are clearly very sceptical, have made no secret of their views of the Trump administration – do you think it would have helped to build confidence if perhaps there had been a mention of illegal settlements and so on: that those issues which are clearly important issues for the Palestinians – absolutely priority issues – had actually been front and centre of this plan?”

Lerner: “No I don’t. In fact the issue of settlements has been largely a distraction for a long time. It is certainly a topic that will be negotiated…”

An audibly irritated Shah once again interrupted her interviewee.

Shah [interrupts]: “Well is it a distraction if you…but is it a distraction if the ultimate goal is a two-state solution?”

Lerner: “The ultimate goal is peace. Whether it’s two states or one state or any number, any other formulation is to be determined. But by making the issue of settlements the dominant one in the discussion of the challenges facing the Middle East and facing the Palestinians, you actually take attention away from the more critical issues.”

Shah: “So just finally; we have yet to see this political road map or political plan that you talk about but should Palestinians in a sense still keep their hopes up that there could be a two-state solution under the Trump administration’s proposals?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. They should engage in it. They should continue to keep their hopes up because the goal of the Trump administration’s plans is to settle all of the disputes, have a peace agreement and improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Remarkably, Shah’s line of questioning throughout this whole interview mirrored the Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points complaining that the economic section of the plan does not include the political issues which – as had already been clarified – will be in its second part. Predictably, the only ‘political issue’ promoted twice by Shah was “illegal settlements” but she had nothing to say on relevant issues such as the Hamas-Fatah split or the fact that Hamas is not interested in a two-state solution or any other type of resolution of the conflict.

So while Radio 4 listeners did finally get to hear a different view of the Bahrain economic workshop in this interview, Shah nevertheless ensured that it avoided subjects far more relevant to the issue of the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than ‘settlements’.

Related Articles:

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More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

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Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one

The June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – included an item (from 18:39 here) concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which commenced that day.  

Shah began by claiming that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “President Trump calls it ‘the deal of the century’. The official title is ‘Peace to Prosperity – the economic plan: a new vision for the Palestinian people’. It’s the basis of a discussion with Arab investors that’s underway in Bahrain. The White House wants donor countries to contribute around $50 billion for a newly created development fund. Just over half the money would go to projects in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – areas the Palestinians want for an independent state – and the rest would go to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s leading the US delegation, admitted that the plan doesn’t address the need for a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But, he said, agreeing on an economic pathway was a necessary precondition for peace. He also didn’t seem to realise that it was his father-in-law who talked about ‘the deal of the century’.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Mr Kushner speaking at the conference.

Kushner: “Some people have mockingly called this effort ‘the deal of the century’ but at its core it is not just about making a deal. In fact this effort is better referred to as the opportunity of the century, if leadership has the courage to pursue it. This is about creating an opportunity for the Palestinian people. This is about creating opportunity for the people throughout the Middle East.”

Shah’s claim that Trump “calls it ‘the deal of the century’” and her snide dig that Kushner “didn’t seem to realise” that is unsupported. AFP journalist Joe Dyke looked into that claim, which has also been promoted in previous BBC content.

“It has become common in recent months for media reports to say that US President Donald Trump calls his proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan the “deal of the century,” a phrase seen as indicative of Trump’s real estate style of diplomacy.

Major international media, including AFP, have said the name was given by the president, but in fact it appears there is no record of him using it in public.

It seems the first major usage of the phrase originates from a 2017 meeting between Trump and Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Since then it has been used widely in the Arab world and by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, particularly by those opposed to the deal. […]

On April 3, 2017, Trump met President Sissi. In Arabic-language remarks, the Egyptian leader told Trump he was fully supportive of Trump’s attempts to find a “solution to the issue of the century with the deal of the century.” […]

After the meeting the term deal of the century began to be discussed in Arabic media and online.”

In other words, not only does the BBC appear to have failed to fact check Shah’s claim that the phrase ‘the deal of the century’ was coined by Mr Trump, it has adopted the language used by Palestinian officials who opposed the US initiative before it was even made public.

Ritula Shah went on:

Shah: “Well Palestinian leaders have rejected the plan and won’t be in Bahrain. Israeli officials haven’t been invited because of the Palestinians’ absence.  Several Arab countries agreed to attend but, out of solidarity with the Palestinians, have sent more junior ministers.”

While that may be the case as far as Egypt and Morocco are concerned, Shah’s portrayal obviously does not give listeners an accurate portrayal of the event because it fails to clarify that the finance ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain participated in the workshop along with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the head of the IMF, the president of the World Bank and ten Palestinian businessmen.

Shah: “But the White House says they’re interested instead in appealing to ordinary Palestinians keen to improve their parlous economic prospects. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been speaking to some of them.”

Listeners then heard the same report from Knell that was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on the same day – a report that was similar to both a televised report billed Palestinian poverty which she produced for BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on June 20th and an article she wrote which was published on the BBC News website on June 25th under the headline “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank”.

The remainder of the item will be discussed in part two of this post.

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More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘shift to the Right’ dogma challenged on just one radio show

As has been documented in our analysis of the BBC’s coverage of the recent general election in Israel, one very dominant trend has been (not for the first time) the repeated promotion in a significant proportion of the reports of the notion of a ‘shift to the right’ in Israel.

The April 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ featured several items concerning that day’s election including one (from 12:51 here) in which presenter Ritula Shah interviewed Sharren Haskel of the Likud party and former Labour and Independence parties MK Dr Einat Wilf.

At 14:56 Shah introduced that widely seen BBC claim. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “Einat Wilf, are you concerned that the narrative, certainly the narrative that’s been set out during the course of this election, is that Israeli politics is shifting towards the Right, leaving your party of the traditional Left far behind?”

The reply to that question probably came as something of a surprise to both listeners and the presenter.

Wilf: “This, it’s almost amusing because every election I go on BBC and always it’s like ‘Israel is shifting to the Right’ when every time the numbers are literally the same. I mean Israel is split in the middle. Israel has been split in the middle for decades now.”

Shah [interrupts] “But don’t you think the Black & White coalition which is challenging Mr Netanyahu – Blue & White; I apologise – the Blue & White coalition that’s challenging Mr Netanyahu is much further to the Right than your party would be?”

Wilf: “In many ways Blue & White – which is also the party I voted for this time – is channelling what the old Labour party was. Many people think of the Labour party as a very Left-wing party but Rabin on the eve…”

The conversation was cut off at that point and after communication was re-established, Wilf repeated her previous statements, adding that Labour:

Wilf: “…was very centrist and in many ways to the Right party. The positions of Rabin on the eve of his assassination were positions that are more to the Right of positions that were voiced by Benjamin Netanyahu. So Blue & White is very much where the old Labour party used to be and what we’re seeing now has really been a bit of a return to the traditional two-party system in Israel. The parties are now larger than they have been in quite some time and the Blue & White is a centrist party. You do not have a shift of Israelis to the Right. You have the decades-long split between Right and Left. In many ways the positions of the Israeli public are much more to the Left than they were decades ago.”

Shah responded to that with:

Shah: “Well if we accept that analysis for a moment…”

Wilf responded to a subsequent question regarding Netanyahu’s “unchallengeable” world view as follows:

Wilf: “What Netanyahu has done – and this is something that needs to be acknowledged – for an entire decade on his watch the number of Jews and Arabs who have died as a result of violent conflict has been the lowest in the entire history of the conflict. It’s not the stuff of Nobel peace prizes but people have been waking up alive after years of suicide buses and being blown to bits in cafés…”

Shah [interrupts] “So security is the key issue.”

Wilf: “Security in the sense of really knowing that people in the midst of a very chaotic Middle East, people have been able to lead a Western life-style which, if you think of it, is quite amazing.”

Shah interrupted her interviewee again at that point and the item ended not long afterwards.

Unfortunately for BBC audiences, that item was the exception to the rule. Only late evening listeners to one domestic BBC radio station heard that informed rebuttal of the BBC dogma of a ‘shift to the Right’. Those reading, viewing or listening to the hours and reams of additional BBC content concerning the Israeli election saw that notion go completely unchallenged. 

So much for ‘due impartiality’. 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

The February 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item concerning Venezuela which presenter Ritula Shah brought to a close with a question (from 23:31 here) on a different topic to one of her interviewees – Chris Williamson – whom she had earlier introduced as a “Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn”.

The question related to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party held on the same evening.

Shah: “I want to ask you one more question. Labour MPs tonight have unanimously passed a motion calling for the party leadership to do more to tackle antisemitism and the MPs accuse the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who was at the meeting, of ignoring the demands and refusing to give the answers they wanted. You weren’t at that meeting, I know, but you have been at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure. I wonder what you make of tonight’s move.” [emphasis added]

Williamson: “Well I think it’s an incredibly unfair criticism of Jennie Formby. She’s done more than any previous general secretary to address a backlog of complaints, including antisemitism. She’s appointed an in-house counsel. She’s expanded the national constitutional committee that deals with serious…ehm…accusations of mis…of misdeeds and she’s increased staff to deal with this matter.”

Shah: “So you don’t think the MPs are justified?”

Williamson: “No absolutely not. I think it’s incredibly unfair. Jennie’s done more than anybody to deal with the cancer of antisemitism and we have to stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and racism and she’s done precisely that.”

The BBC’s domestic audience would of course have been better equipped to judge that predictable messaging from Williamson had they first been informed what Shah meant by “at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure”.

Williamson has not simply disagreed with allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party. In a 2017 interview with the Guardian:

“He said rows over Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and his approach to Venezuela were “proxy wars and bullshit”.

“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”

Williamson subsequently described reactions to those comments as “positively sinister” and in 2018 portrayed antisemitism related disciplinary actions within the Labour party as “ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way”.

While a person who publicly states that antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ and that concerns about racism in the Labour party are “smears” and “bullshit” may not have been the best choice of commentator on the meeting that was the topic of Shah’s question, clearly audience understanding of his comments would have been enhanced had his stance on the core issue been better clarified in line with the BBC editorial guideline concerning the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

On January 13th the IDF announced that with the discovery of a sixth tunnel, it had completed the mission to expose the tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror organisation Hizballah which passed under the international border, infiltrating Israeli territory.

“The tunnel, which had been dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), was the most important one detected since the operation began in December, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

According to him, the stairs were built in the tunnel which contained “railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting equipment and ladders to enter Israeli territory. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel.”

With the latest tunnel discovered and its destruction in the coming days, he added, “the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated.” […]

While the military announced the end of the operation, it noted that it “is simultaneously monitoring several locations where Hezbollah is digging underground structures which have yet to cross into Israel.””

With Operation Northern Shield now coming to an end, this is an appropriate time to review the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of that story throughout the six weeks of the mission.

The story of an internationally recognised terrorist group tunneling under an international border into a neighbouring country with the intention of carrying out a large-scale attack actually got remarkably little BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports throughout the six-week operation:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

Listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard two reports on the same days:

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels December 4th 2018

Razia Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”

Razia Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701 December 19th 2018

The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audiences heard one report the day after the story broke:

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701 December 5th 2018

Ritula Shah: “UN Security Council 1701, by the way, called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hizballah back in 2006.”

Ritula Shah: “Mr Netanyahu’s critics argue that he’s using the discovery of the tunnels to bolster his image at a time when his governing coalition is faltering and he faces mounting legal problems.”

In addition to Razia Iqbal’s unwarranted questioning of the purpose of the tunnels and the promotion by both her and Ritula Shah of the baseless notion that the operation was motivated by political considerations, audiences saw three main characteristics throughout the BBC’s reporting on this story.

In all but the first BBC News website report – where the information was added later – audiences were not given an accurate portrayal of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by numerous countries and bodies. The subject of Iran’s funding and supplying of the terror organisation was grossly downplayed in the two written articles and ignored in the three audio reports.

In all of the reports the crucially relevant topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 was either completely ignored or inadequately presented. Not one of the five BBC reports gave audiences an accurate explanation of that resolution or how it has been repeatedly violated by Hizballah for over twelve years. Moreover, in the second BBC WS radio report listeners were inaccurately led to believe that the only violation of that resolution comes in the form of tunnels that cross into Israeli territory.

Relatedly, BBC audiences were not given the full picture of the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to identify cross-border tunnels dug over a significant period of time literally under its nose and its serial failure to prevent violations of the UNSC resolution. In the second BBC WS radio report a UNIFIL spokesman’s statements went unchallenged.

Martin Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Not only was it suggested to audiences in forty percent of the BBC’s reporting that Operation Northern Shield was actually a cynical politically motivated exercise but the corporation failed throughout six whole weeks to produce even one item which would provide its funding public with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of the story of a complex operation which, had it been managed and executed less efficiently, could have sparked a major conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

BBC News side-lining cross border tunnels story

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701