More uncritical amplification of a HRW report from BBC News

On September 22nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Egypt ‘demolishes thousands of homes’ for Sinai buffer zone“. That article is in fact yet another piece of ‘churnalism‘, with almost its entire content being devoted to amplification of a report by one of the BBC’s most frequently quoted and promoted political NGOs – Human Rights Watch (HRW).HRW report Rafah

Despite the fact that the HRW report is based on information gathered from selected media reports, anonymous witnesses and unidentified ‘activists’, the BBC uncritically repeated its claims, with variations of the phrase “HRW says” appearing seven times throughout the article and no attempt made to provide readers with further relevant background material. Thus, for example, readers were steered towards the view that no justification exists for Egypt’s actions on its border with the Gaza Strip.

“The [Egyptian] military aims to eventually clear an area of about 79 sq km (30 sq miles) along the Gaza border, including all of the town of Rafah, which has a population of about 78,000 people, HRW says.

The government says the operation will allow the military to close smuggling tunnels it alleges are used by jihadists to receive weapons, fighters and logistical help from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

But HRW said little or no evidence had been offered to support this justification, citing statements from Egyptian and Israeli officials that suggested weapons were more likely to have been obtained from Libya or captured from the Egyptian military.”

Were the BBC’s own record of reporting on the subject of collaboration between the Sinai based Salafists and elements within the Gaza Strip less dismal, it would of course have been able to provide readers with background information crucial to their being able to put that HRW claim into context. As the Times of Israel reported in January 2015:

“Egyptian intelligence has specific information on assistance that Sinai terrorists have been receiving from the Gaza Strip. Many activists trained in Gaza, and received arms there that they have been using against Egyptian forces.

That is the source of the urgency around creating the buffer zone: the goal is to cut the jihadis off from their Gaza supply route. On Monday Egyptian media reported on a jihadist cell that enjoyed considerable help from Hamas, and tried to infiltrate Sinai through tunnels. Most of the tunnels aren’t open, but occasionally smugglers on both sides of the border manage to build a new one. The Egyptian army recently uncovered a 1,700-meter passage.”

As has been the case on many past occasions, the BBC makes no effort to inform readers of this article of HRW’s political agenda – despite the need to do so being clearly stated in the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality.

That recurrent omission is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that in earlier this year, HRW (once again) took up the BBC’s case at the United Nations periodic review of Rwanda.

“The HRW’s Submission for the Universal Periodic Review March 2015 contains the following recommendations for Rwanda: […]

Allow the BBC Kinyarwanda service to resume its broadcasts in Rwanda.”

Public impressions of BBC impartiality and independence will of course not be enhanced by the appearance of articles uncritically amplifying content produced by a political NGO which just happens to have used its UN platform to promote the BBC’s interests.

Related Articles:

BBC fails to meet its remit in article about Rafah tunnels

Advertisements

BBC contributors on the ‘flood libel’ bandwagon

Readers who follow our colleagues at CAMERA will know that they recently exposed a fabricated story by AFP’s Yahia (or Yahya) Hassouna in which it was claimed that Israel had deliberately flooded areas of the Gaza Strip by opening dams. The same fictitious story was also promoted by Al Jazeera, the Daily Mail and Russia Today, among others.

“In the video, Ead Zino, a resident of Al-Maghraqa, accuses Israel: “Every four years there is a war but here in Maghraqa every year there is a flood. This water comes from Israel. This is political. All Israel wants is to destroy us.”

 In addition, AFP’s caption at the beginning of the video is “Gaza village flooded as Israel opens dam gates.”

AFP did not include any Israeli voice to refute the false charge.

 Regarding the claim that Israel opened dams, thereby flooding Gaza, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told CAMERA:

‘The claim is entirely false, and southern Israel does not have any dams. Due to the recent rain, streams were flooded throughout the region with no connection to actions taken by the State of Israel.

Prior to the storm, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories allowed the transfer of four water pumps belonging to the Palestinian Water Authority from Israel into Gaza to supplement the 13 pumps already in the Gaza Strip in dealing with any potential flooding throughout the area.’ “

That same malicious ‘flood libelwas also promoted on social media.

Abu Warda 3

Abu Warda 2

Abu Warda 1

Readers may recall that Dr Bassel Abu Warda of Shifa hospital was one of numerous Gaza Strip-based doctors given BBC airtime and column space last summer – ostensibly in order to provide audiences with a supposedly authoritative and objective view of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Another person who promoted the false flooding story on Twitter was Human Rights Watch’s MENA director Sarah Leah Whitson.

Whitson tweet

As regular readers know, Human Rights Watch is one of the NGOs most promoted and quoted by the BBC – including on the topic of the Gaza Strip.

It is always worth bearing in mind that – as cases like this one show – people from whom the BBC sources content may have an underlying political agenda.  That, of course, is why the BBC has editorial guidelines which instruct its staff that “we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”. Unfortunately, adherence to that guideline is highly selective