Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

In part one of this post we saw how Mustafa Barghouti was given an unchallenged platform on two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday‘ from which to promote anti-Israel propaganda and falsehoods while supposedly discussing the US administration’s withholding of donations to UNRWA.

In a later edition of that same programme – presented by Lawrence Pollard and Shaimaa Khalil – listeners heard from Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank before Mustafa Barghouti was brought in (from 05:02 here) for yet another interview. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Well let’s speak now to Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council which was the parliament of the occupied territories. Welcome back to the programme, sir. Very briefly, what will the effect of this move be?”

Barghouti: “Well this is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision of President Trump. It represents an act of collective punishment against the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. It’s a collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees and it will affect their humanitarian needs. This means that hundreds of thousands of children will not be able to go to school. This means that hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to receive healthcare. It means that hundreds of thousands of elderly people and disabled will be deprived from humanitarian support and it is a political act. It is clearly a political act from the side of the president of the United States…”

Pollard: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “…who is complicit in Israeli policies to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees to come home to the place they were displaced from which is an international United Nations resolution.”

The resolution to which Barghouti refers is of course UNGA resolution 194 which is non-binding but Pollard failed to clarify that fact to listeners just as he avoided informing them that there is no factual basis to Barghouti’s egregious claims of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians by Israel.

Pollard: “As I understand it there is now going to be a shortfall in the budget but it’s not an immediate cessation of the budget so there is time for other countries to step forward. Don’t you think that there are plenty of countries that are going to be more than happy to embarrass – as they would see it – Donald Trump and step up and pay? So the real effect – I mean you’re talking about the effect as if the money disappeared now – but the real effect on the ground might not be so bad in practice.”

Barghouti: “Not really because UNRWA itself is already suffering from a deficit that happens every year because during the last few years UNRWA is not getting sufficient support to run all the services.”

Pollard: “OK that’s…I’m really sorry to interrupt you but you just heard our previous talker saying that was because of poor administration. You would reject that?”

Barghouti: “It’s not true. It’s not true. The poor administration lies in the fact that the United States is giving $4 billion [sic] to Israel for building a huge army and building nuclear power. The bad administration and bad planning relates to United States USAID agency which is actually spreading corruption in many countries instead of doing development. And if Mr Trump wants to reform, he should start with his own. He should start with reforming USAID agency before attacking a United Nations agency that is providing very basic humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.”

Making no effort to correct Barghouti’s inaccurate claims regarding US military aid to Israel, Pollard went on:

Pollard: “OK, that’s an interesting distinction. Can I ask; in the background – I think most people agree – is not…I mean, you know, the main issue is not a complaint about administration of aid; it’s a bigger political story. It’s intended to drive the Palestinians – as Mr Trump would say – back to the talking table. From the comments for example of Mahmoud Abbas, there’s no chance of that happening. Would you agree with Abbas?”

Barghouti: “No, Mr Abbas didn’t say that. Mr Abbas said we never left the table of negotiations but it is Israel that is refusing to negotiate. And Mr Abbas said that President Trump has taken off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the issue of settlements and wants us to come to an empty table. How can we negotiate when Mr Trump and Netanyahu, with whom he is complicit, are removing all issues of negotiations and deciding the outcome before negotiations start?”

Pollard: “Mmm.”

Barghouti: “The problem is that there is an Israeli military occupation that has become the longest in modern history for 50 years and a problem of refugees who were displaced by ethnic cleansing since 70 years by Israel. That is the problem and you cannot have peace unless those issues are resolved and unless Palestinians are given the right to be living in peace and equality to everybody else.”

Pollard: “Right and can I ask in your opinion – because we’ve heard pretty dire warnings from inside the UN agencies themselves – about how this will increase extremism, anger and so on. Do you think that is the effect that you will see? You were mentioning the practical effect on the ground in terms of clinics and schools but in terms of mentality, in terms of attitudes, what effect will this have?”

Barghouti: “This is…this is seriously dis…this is an act that is seriously going to affect the stability in the region for sure. This is going to affect people in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria – which is suffering a lot already – and of course it will be destabilising but more important, it eliminates any ability of the United States administration to play a positive, constructive role in any future peace process.”

Pollard: “And just at the time that we’re expecting their latest peace proposals. Mustafa Barghouti – many thanks indeed – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

As we see, listeners to ‘Newsday’ on January 17th heard very generous coverage of the “top story” concerning the US decision to withhold part of its donations to UNRWA. The majority of the opinions heard, however, were strongly critical of the decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story. Barghouti was not asked about the Palestinian Authority’s own prioritisation of payments to convicted terrorists over schools and healthcare for people registered as refugees but living under its control even though Schanzer did raise that issue. And of course not only were Barghouti’s repeated falsehoods concerning Israel allowed to stand unquestioned but no right of reply was given to enable rebuttal of those propaganda smears.

Related Articles:

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th heard two very similar opinions on the story of US aid donations to UNRWA from NGO head Jan Egeland and from the UN agency’s spokesperson Chris Gunness.

In a later edition of the same programme, Gunness was interviewed again (from 02:09 here) by presenter Shaimaa Khalil.  

Gunness began by telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

While Gunness has been promoting that claim for years, it bears closer examination because, as pointed out by Steven J Rosen:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

Rosen notes that:

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees” though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.”

Regarding Gunness’ claim “that is the case with UNHCR refugees”, Rosen notes:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Unchallenged by Khalil on that important point, Gunness (who in his previous interview claimed to “maintain the highest standards of neutrality”) continued:

Gunness: “And the refugees we serve are not only just going up in number but the vulnerabilities they face are also intensifying. In Syria there’s this cruel war raging into its 7th year. In Gaza we see a blockade – a collective punishment in violation of international law – and in the West Bank we’ve seen 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

That Gunness failed to offer any legal basis for his allegations concerning the blockage and refrained from mentioning the terrorism that made it necessary is not surprising. As former UNRWA senior official James Lindsay has noted:

“In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza […]. In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel). This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well.”

Gunness continued:

Gunness: “What we need to resolve UNRWA’s budget problems is a political settlement. We need a just and durable solution for 5.3 million Palestine refugees who to this day, 70 years after their original exile and dispossession, have remained exiled. They remain stateless and in many cases they are deeply vulnerable. That is what causes UNRWA’s budget problems. UNRWA is an expression of the political failure of the political echelons to bring dignity and resolution to a community that for far too long has been deprived of those things.”

As also noted by Lindsay, UNRWA’s idea of a “political settlement” echoes Palestinian claims of ‘right of return’:

“Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.”

Shaimaa Khalil made no effort to question Gunness on the issue of the estimated 2 million people defined as Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship before going on to ask:

Khalil: “But what do you say to the point being made that the United States has the right to know where the money is going and the point that UNRWA has poorly planned the resources?”

Gunness’ answer to that question repeated claims he made in the first interview of American ‘praise’ for UNRWA during a visit by its commissioner-general to Washington last November. Khalil went on:

Khalil: “Just on the point that your budget is over a billion dollars – this is just $125 million [sic] that’s being withheld. Don’t you think that other countries could step in and provide that amount?”

After Gunness answered that UNRWA is “going after other donors”, Khalil asked him “how will this shortfall affect your operations?” to which (despite having claimed in the previous interview that “what is at stake [is] nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East”) he replied:

Gunness: “Well let us be clear. The commissioner-general said in his statement that we intend to robustly defend our mandate and we are determined that services will not be impacted. And that remains our position. It is premature to talk about cuts. We will do everything I can…we can a) to go after additional funds and b) to protect the mandate and make sure that the dignity of these people living in such fragile and vulnerable circumstances can continue to be protected with the services that we deliver.”

As we see, not only was Gunness not asked any in-depth questions about UNRWA’s record and agenda that would help BBC audiences understand this story better but his inaccurate and misleading claim concerning hereditary refugee status and his politically motivated allegations concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures were not challenged at all.

Moreover, not only was the same interview rebroadcast in a later edition of the same programme (from 00:35 here) but the BBC World Service also chose to promote a slightly edited version of it on social media.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

BBC WS fails to disclose Iranian regime connections of ‘expert panel’ member

As we have had to point out here on numerous previous occasions, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that the affiliations of interviewees should be made clear to audiences. 

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.” [emphasis added]

In addition, the BBC’s previous ‘Key Terms’ guide stated:

“MIDDLE EAST EXPERT”
“Some “experts” may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another even if they have no overt affiliation. 

It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.

In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase “Middle East expert” implies the BBC thinks this person’s views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement – that’s fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase. 

Overall, we should seek a precise description – for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?”

In other words, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that BBC audiences are not misled by partisan opinions disguised as impartial expertise, but those safeguards cannot be effective if the BBC ignores them – as it has done on numerous occasions.  

On November 25th 2013 the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ hosted what its presenters termed a “panel of experts” in order to discuss the proposal that “the world is now a safer place” in the wake of the P5+1 deal signed with Iran. 

Newsday

Of the three panel members, only one – Chris Doyle – was introduced together with the name of his organization CAABU. Michael Goldfarb was described as an “American commentator in London”, with no mention made of the fact that he works for the Global Post and for BBC radio. Most egregiously, the founder of CASMII – Abbas Edalat – was introduced merely as someone who “campaigns against Iranian sanctions”.

CASMII (established in the UK in 2005 and in the US in 2006) is of course known for its connections to the Iranian regime and its lobbying activities on behalf of that regime. 

The ‘Newsday’ panel discussion is spread throughout the first hour of the programme (available here for a limited period of time), with Doyle and Goldfarb very much taking a back seat and Edalat dominating the discussion and exploiting in full the platform provided by the BBC for the amplification of undiluted Iranian propaganda both on the subject of the recent agreement and on wider regional issues. 

From 08:33 Edalat says: 

“Yes, the.. ah.. Iranian people see this as a historic victory for them, for their struggle, for their inalienable rights of …em…em…mastering the fuel cycle and having a home-based enrichment programme. And it reverses the 1953 coup [in] which the Iranian people struggled to nationalize their oil industry and it led to this coup. Now this whole thing is reversed and the West, headed by the US, has recognized Iran’s right under the NPT, including the home enrichment of uranium.”

When asked by presenter Shaimaa Khalil if it is “too soon to celebrate” Edalat answers:

“I don’t think so. I think the United States has had a lot of failed interventions – military interventions – in the region. It’s reached complete impasse. Until now it’s been listening to Israel and it’s now decided that it’s no longer in its interests to listen to Israel, so it’s seeking a rapprochement with Iran so that to get the support of Iran, to stabilize the region, to have a stable Afghanistan, to have a stable Iraq, to have a stable Syria and do away with terrorism and all these war zones in the region.”

The notion of a theocratic terror-financing regime which persecutes its own citizens as a ‘stabilising’ regional element is not challenged by Khalil.

From 24:30 Edalat really gets into his stride:

“There are actually two distinct points in that document [the Geneva P5+1 agreement] which assert that Iran can continue and will continue to enrich uranium. Both are for producing fuel rods for energy production, but also the important point here is that…emm…the world is a safer place now not because of any danger that at any time Iran had the desire to develop nuclear weapons. Iran never had that desire – Iran had never had a weapons – nuclear weapons – programme and there’s been a fatwa reiterated many times by Ayatollah Khamenei.”

As we have noted here before:

“There is of course much debate surrounding that unwritten fatwa […]. Readers may find this essay by a former BBC Persian analyst helpful in understanding the significance – or lack of it – of such a fatwa.”

In rising – almost hysterical – tones, Edalat goes on:

“The world is now a safer place because the deal on Sunday is a historic defeat for the war-mongers. It is a historic defeat for Israel, is a historic defeat for Saudi Arabia, a historic defeat for the neo-conservatives whose strategy was to use the Iranian nuclear programme as a pretext in a fabricated crisis that Israel prodded the West to put sanctions on Iran in the hope of a regime change in Iran. They wanted to duplicate, to have a repetition of the Iraqi scenario in Iran – a regime change – and that failed.”

Again, Edalat’s conspiracy theories are broadcast unchallenged by the BBC World Service presenter. 

At 36:23 listeners get an interesting glimpse into the Iranian regime’s view of the whole issue via Edalat’s words:

“Well actually Iran’s position has really never changed. I mean since 2003 Iran has repeatedly said that it wants its nuclear rights to be recognised and in return for the right to have a home-based enrichment [of] uranium it’s prepared to go well beyond its obligations to be transparent, to allow inspections of the IAEA – intrusive visits. So Iran’s position has not changed in the last ten years at all and I think this is what’s going to continue. It’s the US and its allies who have retreated from their 2005 position because in 2005 Iran, which only had 164 centrifuges, offered to keep these for research and development and implement and ratify the additional protocols that the EU3 under the pressure of the United States just rejected. So now Iran has got a thousand times more centrifuges. It has mastered the fuel cycle and therefore it’s won the game. I mean and it will continue to fight against these sanctions. The sanctions have been cracked and they will continue to crack and eventually I think there will be a complete rapprochement between the United States – a renormalization of relations.”

None of the other contributors make any effort to balance Edalat’s claim to the “right” to enrich uranium, thus leaving audiences with the distinct impression that such an undisputed right exists under the terms of the NPT.

At 51:00, in reply to the question of whether the Iranian nuclear programme can “come back on track” despite the Geneva agreement, Edalat says:

“Well there’s a fatwa in place in Iran against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction. When Iraq, with support from the West, used chemical weapons against Iran, Iran – although it had the capacity to develop chemical weapons and retaliate in kind – it refused to do so. So the track record of Iran is very clear. Iran is not going to go in that path. But I think there is a real fact that there is a nuclear threat against Israel and that nuclear threat against Israel comes from Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Because Israel, backed by its nuclear arsenal, has made – waged – aggression against its neighbours in a brutal way, treated Palestinians…and because of that nuclear arsenal has gone away with impunity, this aggression….”

At that point Edalat is finally interrupted by Goldfarb who says:

“Wait a second, that’s just ridiculous. I mean Israel and its neighbours have engaged in many wars. Its neighbours in the last twenty years have been propped up by Iran – long after the Arab armies had stood back and engaged in a diplomatic process, so that’s not entirely true.”

That, however, is the only counter to Edalat’s flow of regime propaganda.  

Edalat rounds off with yet another ‘gem’ in response to a question about the wider tensions in the Middle East:

“Well I think the sectarian tensions and conflict in the region has been promoted by Saudis in an unholy alliance with Israel actually. And this fact was only created – produced – because of the intervention of the United States in the region. Before that this [Sunni – Shiia] division did not exist at all. I think Iran can play a very constructive role because Iran has never taken an anti-Sunni position. Never.”

So there we have it: undiluted Iranian regime propaganda broadcast to tens of millions of listeners around the world by the ‘reputable’ BBC World Service in the guise of an “expert” opinion, and with complete abandonment of the editorial obligation to make the connections of that “expert” known to audiences.

Related articles:

The fast-tracking of a complaint to the BBC

The unstated connections of a BBC R4 Middle East ‘expert’

Why does the Guardian get Middle East analysis wrong?