Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC World Service radio, beginning with programmes aired before the vote took place.

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

1) ‘OS‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Nuala McGovern, from 00:30 here.

McGovern: “You may have heard me say at the very top of the hour about the United Nations; that they’re preparing to vote on a resolution that would condemn president…US President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, she’s just been speaking.”

Listeners then heard a segment from the US ambassador’s speech which would be repeated in additional BBC radio items relating to the same story.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.

But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered. Thank you.”

McGovern then brought in the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, adding her own editorialised comments. 

McGovern: “Ahm…very strong words. I was struck by them listening to Nikki Haley. She is not prepared to apologise in any way obviously for the embassy moving but also seems to be standing firm as in there will be consequences to this vote.”

During the conversation with Zurcher, listeners heard a recording of statements made by the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the UN which were also repeated in other programmes.

Cavusoglu: “Before this meeting a UN member state threatened all the other members. We were all asked to vote no or face the consequences. Some are even threatened with the development aid cut. Such an attitude is unacceptable. This is bullying and this chamber will not fall to do that. It is unethical to think that the words and dignity of member states are for sale. Let me put it this way: we will not be intimidated. You can be strong but this doesn’t make you right.”

Later on in the same programme, listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Sally Nabil at the UN.

2) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Julian Marshall, from 33:04 here.

Marshall: “Members of the UN General Assembly have been threatened by the Trump administration ahead of a vote later today on US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Monday the United States vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the US to withdraw its recognition. That same resolution will now go before the UN General Assembly and ahead of the vote President Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that go against the US.”

Marshall later brought in the BBC’s Nada Tawfik who told listeners that “when you speak to member states they do expect about 180 countries possibly out of 193 at the UN General Assembly to support this”. When the vote later took place, fifty-two fewer countries supported the resolution than predicted by Tawfik.

The item also included an interestingly timed report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 37:31) concerning evangelical Christian groups from the US touring Israel, with Bateman claiming that members of such groups had voted for Trump in huge numbers and were one of the reasons – together with “support from Jewish donors in the US” – for the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC World Service also aired an item on the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

3) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Tim Franks, from 35:58 here.

Franks: “Not all votes at the United Nations are equal. Ones emanating from the UN General Assembly are non-binding but the effects of today’s vote in the assembly could, at least according to President Trump, be long-lasting. He’s warned that the US will remember those countries which voted for the resolution overwhelmingly passed today. The resolution calls on the US to withdraw its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr Trump said that the list of yea-sayers would be recounted next time they come asking for aid or help from Washington.”

Listeners then heard the same recording of the Turkish foreign minister’s statements aired in other programmes as well as part of the statement made by the US ambassador to the UN GA.

Franks next interviewed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi and began by asking him if he was “concerned about that threat from Nikki Haley and indeed from President Trump”.

Al Mouallimi: “Yes I do hope that this vote will be remembered by the United States because it is a vote in which the entire [sic] international community is making the point that the move taken by the United States is not within its right and it’s not appropriate and should not have been made – certainly not at this time and not outside the parameters of an agreed solution to the situation.”

Franks later asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador what he thought about the statement made by Nikki Haley according to which – in Franks’ own words – “the UN seems to have a particular thing about Israel and a particular thing about Jerusalem and its business is skewed towards taking what they hope are free hits against Israel and against Jerusalem”. Audiences heard the following unchallenged response.

Al Mouallimi: “Well the United Nations should have a special thing about Israel because Israel is an occupying power. It continues to occupy the Palestinian land for now more than 50 years. It continues to deny the Palestinians the right for self-determination. It continues to claim Jerusalem as its own capital without regard to the interests of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the city and in the area.”

As we see, the BBC World Service was far more preoccupied with informing audiences about what it portrayed as “threats” issued by the United States than it was with providing them with the context to this UN GA resolution and vote. Notably, with the exception of the recording of Nikki Haley speaking at the General Assembly, listeners did not hear the views of either American or Israeli officials on the story. 

 

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BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

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

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Unnecessary BBC correction does a makeover on Nasrallah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with Lebanese academic Amal Saad who was presented only as a “political analyst and author” and who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The evening edition of the programme – again presented by Rebecca Kesby – ran with the Saad Hariri resignation story as its lead item (from 00:48 here). Kesby began by telling listeners that an unidentified “many” suspect that Hariri “was coerced at the very least” into resigning from his post as prime minister of Lebanon before going on to amplify more Hizballah hyperbole.

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

Kesby: “Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said the move amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon and the Reuters news agency quoted today an unnamed senior Lebanese official quoting the President Michel Aoun saying that he’d told foreign diplomats that he believed Mr Hariri had been kidnapped by Saudi Arabia.”

Listeners then heard from the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher who reported on a statement put out by Hariri’s party before remarking that “the mystery, internationally, is growing”.

From 04:30 Kesby continued:

Kesby: “Over the past few days many nervous eyes have been watching the Middle East as Saudi Arabia ordered its nationals to leave Lebanon with immediate effect earlier this week and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was warning yesterday that other countries should not use Lebanon for proxy conflict – he called it – a comment that seems to have been aimed at Riyadh potentially. So could this tense situation spill over into a new war in the region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who’s a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of Kesby’s previously broadcast interview with Saad – up to and including the allegation that “Saudi Arabia is […] paying Israel money”, thereby “pressuring it to invade Lebanon” along with amplification of additional Hizballah propaganda.

Following that interview, Kesby continued to promote the theme of Israeli involvement in the Hariri story.

08:17 Kesby: “So what could the implications of Mr Hariri’s apparent resignation be for the region and what role might Israel play?  I’ve been speaking to Amos Harel the defence correspondent at Ha’aretz and I asked him first was there any genuine appetite in Israel for a fresh war with Hizballah militants in Lebanon.”

After Harel responded that there is no such “appetite”, Kesby went on:

Kesby: “Even so though, there are some analysts – and even the former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro – have been suggesting that Israel could actually find itself manipulated or provoked somehow into another war with Hizballah. Is that something that would concern you?”

Harel replied that such a possibility always exists, pointing out that if Hizballah’s hundreds of thousands of missiles were used to attack Israeli civilians it would not be “taken lightly”. Kesby continued:

Kesby: “I wonder what you make then of these reports circulating that Prime Minister Netanyahu has apparently sent a memo out to Israeli ambassadors to advocate in favour of Saudi Arabia in the past week or so. If those reports are true, does it make you rather nervous that this relationship could be getting a bit too cosy with the Saudis?”

Harel pointed out that the claim – reported by Israel’s Channel 10 – “doesn’t mean action” and that Saudi Arabia and Israel “see eye to eye on Iran”.

The item ended after the rest of that interview with Harel, meaning that listeners once again heard nothing at all to counter the Hizballah (and Iranian) talking points promoted by Amal Saad.

Obviously Kesby’s bland presentation of Saad as a “political analyst and author” was not conducive to aiding audiences to understand her “particular viewpoint” – as required by the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality – and thus be able to put her assertions and allegations into their appropriate context.

Even a cursory look at Saad’s Twitter account gives ample insight into the views of the academic who claims to have had her contract with a US think tank “terminated because of my ‘biased’ work on Iranian foreign policy” and does not consider Hizballah to be a terrorist organisation but describes it instead as a “grassroots resistance movement”.

We do not of course know whether or not the ‘Newshour’ team actually bothered to research Amal Saad’s political agenda before inviting her to be the sole ‘analyst’ of the Hariri resignation story in these two episodes of ‘Newshour’. What is clear, however, is that her completely unchallenged recycling of Hizballah propaganda contributed nothing to helping BBC audiences better understand the story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

The November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with a person presented only as a “political analyst and author” who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The item in afternoon edition of the programme (from 30:00 here) – presented by Rebecca Kesby – opened with an introduction that made no mention of the relevant context of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation.

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

Kesby: “Now the shock resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri a week ago has thrown the Middle East into diplomatic confusion. He made his announcement from Saudi Arabia. That fact alone has caused great unease in Lebanon with many suspecting that he was coerced into that decision. Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah said Mr Hariri’s resignation had been orchestrated by the Saudi government and its actions amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of Nasrallah’s speech that had been aired in the previous evening’s edition of ‘Newshour’.

Nasrallah (v/o): “In short it is clear that Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon and on Hizballah in Lebanon. But I have to say, this is a war on Lebanon.”

Kesby: “So just how serious is this situation for Lebanon and the wider region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who is a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard uncritical repetition of the claim made by the head of the Lebanese terror organisation from the BBC’s chosen ‘analyst’.

Saad: “Well it’s definitely a serious one. Now when we talk about war, I’m not quite sure that military warfare is the only way this situation could escalate. I mean obviously that is an option but I don’t think it’s a very likely one at this moment. Just to kind of like centre Lebanon into this discussion, Lebanon is basically the new battleground where this regional escalation is…basically might take place, right? And Saudi Arabia has now basically declared war on Lebanon and in so doing, is also attempting to weaken Iran –of course focusing on Hizballah here in Lebanon. Now pundits are saying and a lot of people are very concerned that this could actually mean a Saudi-Israeli aggression on Lebanon. I think that’s quite unlikely at the moment. Obviously there isn’t going to be a Saudi-Iranian war so to speak. So what’s most likely to happen I think is a kind of security, possibly de-stabilisation of Lebanon. There might be an attempt to do that. And definitely some kind of economic war on Lebanon, which could actually harm Lebanon quite a bit – not just Hizballah. And the reason I say that is it’s very unlikely that the Israelis are going to allow themselves to do Saudi’s dirty work for them. First of all Saudi is definitely not going to launch any war on Lebanon on its own and definitely not one where it has to actually be at the forefront. It wants Israel to do most of this work.”

Kesby: “And why is that? Because it’s involved in actions elsewhere like Yemen?”

Saad then inaccurately told listeners that the coalition fighting in Yemen is “led by” the US, which – according to the BBC itself – is actually supplying “logistical and intelligence support”.

Saad: “Well that’s one reason of course and even in Yemen where it’s fighting an asymmetrical war against the much, much weaker Houthis, it’s still faring miserably. And it’s not only fighting there alone but fighting alongside an entire coalition – an international and Arab coalition – led by the US. So I really don’t see how the Saudis could expect to fare any better if they chose to confront Hizballah in Lebanon and of course Hizballah is far more sophisticated as a military power than the Houthis are. The Houthis have actually been accused, and so has Hizballah, of aiding the Houthis which means the Houthis are seen as a potential Hizballah model. But Hizballah is definitely here the template they fear the most so if they’re not doing very well fighting the Houthis, then it’s going to be much harder for them to fight Hizballah.”

Kesby: “OK, so let’s unravel why they see Hizballah as such a threat and whether that’s a growing threat in recent years. Obviously Hizballah has been around since the ’80s but there is this concern in the region certainly from the Saudis, isn’t there, that there’s this corridor – geographical as well as political and militarily – linking Hizballah in Lebanon, through Syria, to Iran. Why are they so threatened by Hizballah?”

Saad avoided answering that question, instead opting to amplify more Hizballah propaganda and present a context-free account of the second Lebanon war instigated by Hizballah that went completely unchallenged by Kesby.

Saad: “Well Hizballah has been perceived by Saudi Arabia as an enemy for many years now, especially over the past ten or twelve years. Yesterday, in fact, Nasrallah suggested that Saudi Arabia is not only now basically paying Israel money, pressuring it to invade Lebanon – now it actually did so in 2006 – and that’s because Hizballah is seen by Saudi Arabia as an impediment and a huge obstacle for its regional ambitions inside Lebanon.”

Saad then amplified another Hizballah talking point:

Saad: “It wants to dominate Lebanon and we’ve seen that very clearly over the past few days now with the arrest of the Lebanese prime minister Saad al Hariri. And it’s also being seen as a close ally of Iran and clearly Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its main rival in the region.”

Kesby: “Now we know that President Aoun hasn’t actually accepted Hariri’s resignation. We understand that he is planning to meet or meeting foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries today. I don’t know if you can tell us any more about that and what sort of support he might be seeking and how likely he is to get any support.”

Saad again parroted Hizballah messaging in her response – once again with no challenge at all from Kesby, despite the fact that the BBC had itself reported the previous day that “France’s foreign minister said France believed Mr Hariri was able to move freely”.

Saad: “Well he’s already asked European officials – in fact we saw the French yesterday as well. They issued a statement saying they too…it suggested that Hariri might be being held against his will. So I do think that Aoun’s activities borne some fruit so far because there is a concern among many European capitals and diplomats and I’ve been reading in Western media in fact that they do fear that Hariri is being held under some kind of house arrest and they are attempting to broker some kind of an agreement whereby he could be released. At the very least constitutionally he has not resigned until he comes back and submits a written resignation. This is one of the reasons why many people also believe he’s under house arrest as he’s not being allowed to do that. He’s not even making his resignation official. It was done in a very shoddy, lazy kind of manner on TV. He didn’t even come and submit an official resignation and at the very least, I think, what many of Lebanon’s diplomats in Lebanon would like to see is for at least this issue to be resolved because the government now is kind of suspended. It’s in a state of suspension. It’s not able to meet without their prime minister and yet it’s not a caretaker government either so it’s a very kind of fluid situation and one that isn’t at all conducive to Lebanon’s stability.”

Once more describing her sole interviewee as a “Lebanese political analyst”, Kesby closed the item there.

Parts of this interview were re-broadcast in the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day, which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

Back in June BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of ‘The Media Show’ which is still available online and includes an item (from 00:46 here) which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“Saudi Arabia and her allies have demanded that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets as a condition of ending the crisis in the region. David Hearst is editor in chief of Middle East Eye. Crispin Blunt MP is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.”

Readers may recall that at the time a number of Arab states issued a list of demands (which was later modified) to Qatar that included:

“…stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. […]

…the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.

Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” 

The framing of the story by ‘The Media Show’, however, portrayed it solely as an issue of press freedom and made no effort to examine whether or not there was any substance to the Saudi claims concerning the named media organisations – including ‘The New Arab’, founded by Azmi Bishara  and Al Jazeera.

Presenter Amol Rajan – who is the BBC’s media editor – introduced the item as follows:

Rajan: “But first more on a story we’ve been covering on ‘The Media Show’. It’s the demand by Saudi Arabia that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets. Qatar is currently being isolated by its neighbours who claim the country supports terrorism. The closure of the Qatari funded TV network Al Jazeera is near the top of Saudi Arabia’s list of demands to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia says Al Jazeera is Qatari propaganda; a charge denied last week on this programme by Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera English.”

After listeners heard a recording of Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera English insisting that his outfit “cover[s] the world without favouring any point of view”, Rajan continued:

Rajan: “Since that interview we’ve learned that it’s not just Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia and her allies want shut down. In fact some of the media organisations on the list are based in the UK. One is ‘The New Arab’ and the other is ‘Middle East Eye’ whose editor in chief is David Hearst and he’s with me now.”

Listeners then heard former Guardian employee David Hearst – who never had much of a problem rubbing shoulders with Islamists – insist that “we’re totally independent of Qatar” before Rajan asked him “why have they targeted “Middle East Eye’?”.

Hearst: “Well one of the things that’s going on is…well the business model of ‘Middle East Eye’ is that we sell our journalism to people who translate it into Arabic and other languages. And these regimes, unfortunately, do not want their citizens learning about what’s going on.”

Rajan’s next question was “who funds ‘Middle East Eye?”.

Hearst: “So, we fund it ourselves. And we…ah…we sell our journalism to people who translate it. It’s not a big operation…it’s not some sort of shadowy organization. It’s twenty journalists in London. It’s a British-based company and it’s about 700 contributors. And it’s been growing because it is a space in which people can actually discuss real issues and we actually bite every hand. Actually if you look at our coverage…ah….we’re critical of the Qataris, we’ve had really good reports from Kurdish areas of Turkey so you can’t say we’re funded by the AKP.”

Rajan then asked Hearst whether “the Saudis basically contend that you are sort of essentially Qatari agents”. In his response Hearst raised the legitimate issue of state censorship of the media in many Arab countries while avoiding answering that question directly. When later asked if the Qatari government had ever asked him “to adjust an editorial line”, Hearst’s answer was negative.

Having introduced Crispin Blunt, Rajan stated:

Rajan: “It’s completely unacceptable, isn’t it, for another country to demand the closure of a UK-based news source.”

Later on Rajan asked Blunt “why is the house of Saud targeting media organisations?” with Blunt replying that he does not know but opining that Al Jazeera English’s editorial standards “look pretty similar to the BBC” and that the outlet “looks pretty impeccable”. Admitting that he knows “less” about Al Jazeera Arabic , Blunt went on to compare Qatari funding of Al Jazeera with BBC funding by British tax-payers via the licence fee, again claiming that Al Jazeera’s editorial standards are similar to those of the BBC.

Listeners subsequently heard Rajan assert that the Saudi demands would “make it even harder to cover the Middle East properly” and after Rajan portrayed Hearst as a champion of free speech, the latter replied:

Hearst: “…the people who want to close us down believe in sort of weaponisation of the media. They believe the media is an instrument and it is a lever – it doesn’t exist in its own right.”

Remarkably, Amol Rajan failed to make any effort to question Hearst on the issue of his own organisation’s use of the media as “an instrument”.

At no point in this item were listeners were told that the ‘Middle East Eye’ stable of contributors includes political activists infamous for their “weaponisation” of the media such as the occasional Guardian and BBC contributor Ben White, the anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein, the former ‘Russel Tribunal’ coordinator and Al Jazeera contributor Frank Barat, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Kamel Hawwash, ‘Palestine Chronicle’ founder Ramzi Baroud, the Palestinian Return Centre’s Sameh Habeeb who has been linked to Muslim Brotherhood campaigns and also produces the ‘Palestine Telegraph’ and even ‘CAGE’ activist Moazzam Begg and well-known Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi.

Neither did Amol Rajan ask Hearst why the ‘Middle East Eye’ website was originally registered by a person – Adlin Adnan – connected to the Hamas linked charity ‘Interpal‘ or who actually owns the company and why the only name on its official records is that of Jamal Awn Jamal Bessano – a Dutch national of Palestinian/Kuwaiti origin with previous links to both Al Jazeera and a Hamas TV station in Lebanon.

At no point did Rajan address the topic of the type of content produced by ‘Middle East Eye’ which includes sympathetic coverage of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood such as the following anodyne portrayal of Yusuf Qaradawi by David Hearst himself:

“Rival preachers are cast as terrorists – but not because their interpretation of Islam is more extreme. It’s their moderation the Saudi clerics fear.

One of the objects of Emirati (and Israeli) ire comes in the form of an eminent Muslim Brotherhood scholar, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who lives in Doha. Qaradawi is no social liberal. He is not about to embrace homosexuality or Western feminism. But it is not those qualities that have put him on the Saudi terror list.

In May 2008, Qaradawi issued a fatwa permitting the building of churches in Muslim countries. He said it is allowed in Islam and Muslims have to respect and protect them.”

As we see listeners to this edition of ‘The Media Show’ were told a story framed as an assault on media freedom that by no means provided them with the full range of information concerning either the issue itself or the media organisation that is its focus. David Hearst was at the time doing the rounds at various media outlets to present his side of the story and Amol Rajan’s softball interviewing refrained from making any real effort to challenge Hearst’s narrative.

Would BBC audiences have gone away with a better understanding of this story? Quite the opposite.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part one

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

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

BBC Business airbrushes abuse of foreign workers in Qatar

Op-ed at UK site edited by former Guardian editor claims Israel intentionally murders children  (UK Media Watch) 

 

 

 

BBC coverage of missile attacks in two ME locations

As regular readers will be aware, since the beginning of this year there have been five separate incidents in which missiles were launched into Israel from the Sinai peninsula and nine additional  missile attacks from the Gaza Strip. 

The BBC’s English language services have not reported any of those fourteen attacks.

Fortunately – and not least because Israeli civilians are well-drilled in taking appropriate precautions when such incidents take place – none of those attacks resulted in serious injuries or fatalities.

On November 4th a missile fired at the Saudi Arabian city of Riyadh from Yemen was intercepted and no injuries were reported.  

The BBC News website published two written articles and one filmed report on that incident, reporting that:

‘”The missile was launched indiscriminately to target the civilian and populated areas,” said Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.’

And:

“Human Rights Watch said the launch of an indiscriminate missile at a predominantly civilian airport was an apparent war crime.”

Readers of the second report were also provided with a guide to the “Houthi missile threat to Saudi Arabia” that noted one previous incident in 2016.

So while one attack against Saudi Arabia was covered in three English language reports, fourteen separate attacks against Israel have not prompted even one word of coverage on the BBC News website. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Trump trip report flunks on Iran

As was noted here in an earlier post, the lead story in the May 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ concerned the US president’s visit to Israel.

In addition to repeated promotion of the ‘apartheid’ calumny, in the first of two items relating to that story listeners had heard BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman telling them that the Israeli government ‘says’ that Iran arms Hizballah.

Razia Iqbal: “You mentioned Iran and there was some criticism of Iran when the president was in Saudi Arabia and he has underlined that criticism again today in Israel hasn’t he?”

Tom Bateman: That’s right and, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be the last of it and of course it’s a message that resonates with Israel because Israel’s government is extremely concerned about Iran. They believe that…ah…because of its action, that they say it’s arming Hizballah just north of Israel here in Syria [sic], that that brings an even greater threat – in fact its greatest threat in the form of Hizballah just over its border in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]

As was noted in our previous post:

“One would of course expect a BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem – new or not – to be capable of informing BBC audiences that Iranian financial and military support for Hizballah (in violation of UNSC resolution 1701) is not just something that the Israeli government ‘says’ but a fact about which Hizballah has been open and at least one Iranian official has admitted.”

Later on in the same programme’s second item on that story (from 45:05 here) presenter Razia Iqbal returned to the topic of Iran in a conversation with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

Listeners learned nothing from that conversation about the Iranian regime’s policy of supporting and enabling terror groups in the region and the real reasons why some Middle East countries have long viewed the Iranian regime as a threat to regional stability were not conveyed to BBC audiences. What they did hear, however, is a portrayal of the subject that would doubtless have gone down very well in Tehran. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Razia Iqbal: “Let’s return to our top story now; the second leg of President Trump’s visit to the Middle East. Today he is in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We’re joined now from Jerusalem by Newshour’s Lyse Doucet. Ah…Lyse: you were in Saudi Arabia following President Trump there and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke directly about the fact that the president flew from Riyad to Tel Aviv and though there were no diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. I wonder if there is a sense here that the Gulf states are making common cause with Israel in the context of their mutual fear of Iran?”

Doucet: “Yes, it’s very interesting isn’t it? This little diplomatic milestone: President Trump flying for the first time on this first direct flight. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu said he looks forward to the day when an Israeli prime minister can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyad. And I think it’s a story that doesn’t get enough attention; that there have been behind the scene, very discreet meetings between Israelis and Saudis. Very senior Saudis have come to Israel before because they do want to make common cause.”

Of course one of the media outlets not giving “enough attention” to that story is the BBC itself. Doucet continued:

“You’ve mentioned one of the biggest reasons to do so and that is their shared animosity towards Iran. That was one of the main issues in the centrepiece speech that President Trump delivered to a gathering of some 40 Arab and…leaders from the Arab and Islamic world. Not just the fight against extremism but a fight against Iran and he’s brought that message here. He spoke of…he said I’ve come from the Arab world with the common understanding that is shared by you that Iran is the main threat. So things are definitely shifting.”

Of course “things” actually ‘shifted’ quite some time ago – as Gulf state reactions to the 2015 P5+1 deal with Iran concerning its nuclear programme indicated – but neither Iqbal nor Doucet (who has written about that topic in the past) bothered to remind listeners of that.

Iqbal: “It’s interesting to hear you say they’re shifting because of course Iran on the ground in Iraq and in…in…certainly in Iraq is doing quite a lot to fight against the Islamic State group. So one wonders about these tectonic shifts, if you like, and how they’ll manifest itself [sic] given that President Trump is really keen to make inroads with eliminating Islamic State.”

Doucet: “Yes, and welcome, President Trump, to the Middle East. At some point we may hear him say – as he said about the Affordable Care Act in the United States; Obamacare, – I didn’t realise that it was so complicated. As you know, take Syria that you just mentioned [sic] – he wants to push back Iran; that is the Saudis’ main goal. But interestingly, President Trump did not mention Russia in his speech in Riyad. And arguably Russia and Iran are working together, first to bolster President Assad but also to fight against so-called Islamic State and at the same time to push back some of the forces which have been trained and financed by the United States.

And what the Iranians would say is that they are in Syria because they’ve been asked to be there. They’re in Iraq because they’ve been asked to be there and they see no reason why they should leave. I think there’s growing concern about what will come next at a time when Iranians have shown that in the re-election of Hassan Rouhani, they want an engagement with the wider world. The message from Riyad – and it will be the message as well from Jerusalem – is that their enemies want to isolate them in the world.”

Iqbal: “Just, Lyse, very briefly; his next trip is to the Palestinian territories?”

Doucet: “Yes. The Palestinians have been surprised. They thought that President Trump would be only focusing on Israeli interests and Israeli views but his ear has been bent by King Abdallah of Jordan, by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and this is why we’re not going to see the announcement of a move of the American embassy to Jerusalem. He is trying to be a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinians.”

Doucet offers no factual evidence for that extraordinary claim.

For years BBC journalists – and not least Lyse Doucet and Razia Iqbal in person – have been playing down the Iranian regime’s regional aggression and patronage of terrorism and the corporation has also repeatedly propagated the myth of ‘moderates’ within the Iranian regime.

If BBC audiences are to understand why Israel may have common interests relating to Iran with some of its neighbours in the Middle East, then clearly they need to be provided with a factually accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the Iranian regime’s policies, positions and activities rather than whitewashed, vacuous and unhelpful commentary of the type broadcast to millions worldwide in this item.  

Related Articles:

No wonder BBC WS presenter Razia Iqbal got Iranian threat to Israel wrong

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

BBC’s summary of Khamenei speech censors pledge to support terror

BBC WS Newshour promotes ‘apartheid’ smear in Trump visit coverage

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Middle East Quarterly, Efraim Karsh discusses “An Inevitable Conflict“.

“It has long been conventional wisdom to view the June 1967 war as an accidental conflagration that neither Arabs nor Israelis desired, yet none were able to prevent. Had Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser not fallen for a false Soviet warning of Israeli troop concentrations along the Syrian border and deployed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the standard narrative runs, the slippery slope to war would have been averted altogether; had Israel not misconstrued the Egyptian grandstanding for a mortal threat to its national security, if not its very survival, it would have foregone the preemptive strike that started the war. In short, it was a largely accidental and unnecessary war born of mutual miscalculations and misunderstandings.

This view could not be further from the truth. If wars are much like road accidents, as the British historian A.J.P. Taylor famously quipped, having a general cause and particular causes at the same time, then the June 1967 war was anything but accidental. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood, starkly demonstrated by the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth and the unwavering determination to rectify this “unfinished business”—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.”

2) At the Tablet, Israel’s State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick reveals previously unpublished transcripts from the Six Day War.

“The Six-Day War was run by a committee. A highly classified committee, whose transcripts have never been seen for 50 years. Until now: here they are.

Israel has no commander-in-chief. The military is subordinate to the cabinet, where each minister, prime minister included, has one vote. Often the cabinet sets up a smaller committee called the security cabinet (SC), to which it delegates supervising and commanding the military. Facing exceptional decisions, the prime minister may declare that the entire cabinet is the SC. This ensures secrecy, because leaking information from the SC has serious penalties. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol often reminded his colleagues that the very fact that they had met was itself a state secret.

The security cabinet of 1967 appears in these never-published transcripts as a group of serious, professional, and responsible decision-makers. While the ministers brought their worldviews to the table, they often didn’t vote on party lines, often did listen to one another, and generally managed to make decisions, albeit slowly and through compromises. These characteristics were not helpful in the maelstrom of the Six-Day War, when the cabinet receded in the face of its two most enigmatic members: Levi Eshkol, who can be read either as a weak figure or a master manipulator; and Moshe Dayan, who comes across as an arrogant but talented prima donna.”

A link to the Israel State Archives website section on the Six Day War is available in the ‘Library’ section on the menu bar above.

3) At the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen interviews Iran analysts on the topic of the presidential election in that country.

‘“The election in Iran is a tightly controlled and stage-managed process that has been designed to produce the favorable result to the regime,” said Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian political analyst.

Saeed Ghasseminejad — an Iran Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) — observed that Rouhani was starting his re-election bid from a weak position, having achieved little over his four-year term other than the nuclear deal with six world powers in July 2015, which many ordinary Iranians complain has not yielded any meaningful economic benefits.

“However, Raisi is an even weaker candidate,” Ghasseminejad said. “He does not speak well, he is known for his ruthlessness (as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor) in the 1980s, he is inexperienced. The middle-class Iranians are really afraid of him, which pushes them to reluctantly vote for Rouhani.”’

4) David Andrew Weinberg and David Daoud discuss the Saudi Arabian approach to Israel at the Forward.

“Breathless observers have recently declared that Saudi Arabia and Israel are becoming cozy allies due to their shared concerns about Iran. Analysts have claimed that Riyadh’s “government and the establishment media – and their spin-offs and allies – are pursuing a deliberate strategy” of conveying praiseworthy tolerance toward Israel and Jews. Rudy Giuliani, a figure close to President Donald Trump, even went so far as to argue that Riyadh has done an about face on Israel and that this should guide U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

These observers are fundamentally wrong.”