BBC WS breaches impartiality guidelines with Ben White interview on Peres

“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.” (Source: BBC Editorial Guidelines – Impartiality – News, Current Affairs and Factual Output)

Early on the morning of September 28th one of the lead stories on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was the death of Shimon Peres which, as the presenters of the 06:06 edition of the show pointed out, had been announced just two and a half hours previously.newsday-28-9-0606

Opening with an interview with Professor Guy Ziv – author of a book about Peres – the programme later went on to broadcast an obviously pre-prepared segment by Kevin Connolly which also appeared in other programmes. Following that – at 31:45 – presenter Julian Keane told listeners:

“Just worth noting: a lot of reaction of course to the death of Shimon Peres coming through on Twitter, by text message, also on Facebook. It’s fair to say it’s a mixed picture with – just to quote some people – you’ll hear a lot of people talking about a great man, an old soldier, a wise man but also many people describing Shimon Peres as a war criminal, a terrorist. So clearly mixed views depending on where you’re coming from on the death of Shimon Peres.”

After listeners heard from former MK Yossi Beilin, presenter Bola Mosuro also propagated a similar theme.

“Eh…a different view – if you like – is being seen…I’m just looking on Twitter here and the journalist and author Ben White has said ‘Shimon Peres epitomised the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and the reality of its bloody colonial policies in Palestine’, adding ‘his many victims – Palestinians and others, the displaced and the bereaved – will see Shimon Peres eulogised as a man of peace’.”

The editorial considerations behind the BBC World Service’s showcasing of anonymous baseless libels such as “war criminal” and “terrorist” against a person already unable to exercise the right of reply are obviously just as much of an issue as those which allowed amplification of the false notion of “bloody colonial policies”. But clearly the misleading portrayal of one of the UK’s most vocal pro-Hamas ideologues – who has made a career out of anti-Israel activism – as a mere “journalist and author” is a breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Moreover, a later edition of the same programme at 08:06 saw those editorial guidelines breached yet again after ‘Newsday’ editors elected to provide the promoter of that false notion with further amplification. At 27:20 presenter Lawrence Pollard told listeners:newsday-28-9-0806

“Now more on the death of the former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres. He’s died aged 93. Tributes have come in from leaders around the world including former president Bill Clinton who signed the Oslo Accord [sic] with him; the first peace agreement with the Palestinians. Mr Peres, he said, was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation, not conflict. The warmth hasn’t been universal however. Let’s get a reaction from Ben White: a journalist who’s written extensively on Middle East affairs. He’s based in Cambridge and joins us now. We’ve heard many tributes to Shimon Peres – what’s your view? A giant figure? What’s his historical record?”

White: “Good morning. Thanks for having me on. I think there’s just a couple of points to make, for me, particularly this morning after his passing. Firstly the historical record shows that his image, particularly in the West, as a dove or perhaps as a hawk turned dove; that image is belied by the facts. So for example his military and political career; he was responsible for…he had a key role really in beginning Israel’s clandestine nuclear programme in the ’50s and ’60s. In the ’70s he also had an important role in beginning the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land that was expropriated. And in 1996, notoriously, he was prime minister during a particularly brutal Israeli operation in Lebanon that included the massacre at Qana. So there is the historical record which by and large is being omitted really…”

Pollard: “OK – that’s interesting because this narrative is, I think, in a lot of the obituaries; that he starts as a hawk and then moves towards a sort of reconsideration. I mean [laughs] we spoke to someone who knew him quite well [who] said ‘well, he came to see some errors of judgement’. Let’s talk about the settlements. He may well have been part of the government that began the settlements on what most people refer to as occupied land but the fact that he came to see that as a stumbling block to peace –it’s quite a great thing for a man to change his mind, isn’t it?”

White: “Yeah – OK. So actually that’s an important point because this idea of him changing actually helps us to take a critical look at how something like the Oslo Accords – presented as his greatest achievement – what they actually achieved and what Israel’s purpose was with them. To go back to the time, Itzhak Rabin – of course the assassinated prime minister, fellow Labour member with Shimon Peres – shortly before he was assassinated in 1995, so two years after the first Oslo Accords were signed, Rabin said to the Knesset that what Israel wanted through those peace agreements was – quote, unquote – a Palestinian entity that would be less than a state. And he made it very clear that Israel intended to keep Jerusalem as its united capital and that Israel would also in the long term annex and maintain key settlement blocs in the West Bank. Now this was the vision at the heart of Israel’s understanding of the Oslo Accords and of course, you know, it’s 20 – more than 20 years later – and we’ve seen just sort of continued encroachment and colonisation.”

Pollard: “You see what interests me is that a man who then becomes something as great as the president – I mean the highest office of state – he then writes articles – rather thoughtful articles – saying, you know, what our problem is that we are obsessed with land. And I say again, you know, a man who changes his mind in his own analysis of his own political record is a rare thing and I would have thought, something to mark and honour but you seem to disagree quite strongly. You don’t seem to give him credit for sort of changing his mind that way.”

White: “Well I think…a few years ago for example Shimon Peres described the Palestinians as – quote – self-victimising and, to me at least, that kind of language from a person with his track record; a person say, you know, who if he’d had a similar governmental role in other countries would be described as a war criminal…”

Pollard: “But he did – but to be fair to him – he did also strike a deal with the Palestinians. He didn’t impose the Oslo Accords on anyone. He signed it and won the peace process [sic – prize] with Yasser Arafat the much respected and much-loved Palestinian leader amongst Palestinians.”

White: “Absolutely – but at the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords many Palestinians were – and that number has only grown – highly critical of the framework that was being signed and of the sort of political process that was being entered into there. Remember of course that, you know, the Qana massacre for example, you know, more than a hundred civilians killed in Lebanon…”

Pollard: “After which he immediately lost the election, didn’t he?”

White: “Yes, and sort of shockingly of course. That military venture by Peres – and remember; this is ’96: this is sort of 3 years after his apparent sort of conversion to the cause of peace – that campaign was widely seen by people as a pre-election move. OK: so killing Lebanese civilians is a pre-election gesture even if it didn’t…even if it didn’t work. And I think the reason why I think it’s important to have these elements in our sort of…an examination of his life is that too often the victims of Israeli policies – primarily Palestinians but also people in the wider region – are forgotten when their leaders like Ariel Sharon a few years ago, Shimon Peres now, are eulogized – particularly by Western leaders.”

Pollard: “Ben – many thanks indeed. Ben White; journalist based in Cambridge. Ehm…interesting the point that he raises about the direction of the obituaries that we’ve been hearing in the past few hours since the death was announced.”

Anyone familiar with Ben White’s record – and the sole raison d’être behind his ‘journalism’ – would not be surprised in the least by his promotion of propaganda tropes such as “war criminal”, “illegal settlements” and “colonisation” or his false claims concerning a supposed “pre-election move” which erase from audience view both the Hizballah missile attacks against Israeli civilians which preceded Operation Grapes of Wrath or the post-Oslo surge in Palestinian terror attacks which were the real cause of Peres’ failure to win the 1996 election.

However, the vast majority of listeners to this programme around the world would of course have no idea of who Ben White is, no familiarity with his monochrome political agenda and no appreciation of the motives behind his appearance on this programme. And the trouble is that – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines – no effort was made by the ‘Newsday’ presenters to provide listeners with the relevant information concerning White’s “particular viewpoint” which would enable them to put his quoted Tweets or his long and cosy chat with Pollard into their appropriate context.

Related Articles:

Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part two

 

 

 

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part two

Following his afternoon appearance on the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’, Mustafa Barghouti was back again on BBC radio on the evening of September 28th.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included an item (from 35:36 here) concerning the death earlier in the day of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres. Listeners heard one minute of recordings of statements by the Israeli prime minister and the leader of the opposition and Iqbal read short statements from the US President and Secretary of State as well as the Pope before introducing her next contributor.peres-the-world-tonight-r4-28-9

Iqbal: “Let’s get the perspective from a Palestinian now. Dr Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian legislator.”

Barghouti: “Well I believe of course it’s a sad moment for his family, for his colleagues but one has to say the political opinion about this person; I think to me he represents a very controversial figure. From one side when you compare him today with the leaders of Israel like Netanyahu, Lieberman and Bennett – who are extreme racists rejecting any possibility for peace – of course he looks moderate in comparison to them. But on the other hand one cannot forget that he was the father of settlement policies in the West Bank: the same settlement activities that are killing today the potential and possibility for peace. And he was personally, in my opinion, responsible for the flaws of Oslo Agreement which he orchestrated – the biggest of which was that the agreement was concluded without freezing or stopping settlement activities as we were demanding in Madrid. Instead of one hundred eleven thousand settlers then, we already have now 700 thousand settlers. So one wonders was it just a mistake or an intentional policy? Specially that I didn’t see Shimon Peres unfortunately advocate or call for the recognition of the Palestinian state although he kept talking about two state solution.”

Iqbal: “He did – in the run up to the Oslo Agreement – persuade Israel that the Palestine Liberation Organisation – the PLO, under Yasser Arafat – was the organisation that Israel should and could do business with.”

Barghouti: “That’s true but at the same time he made the PLO pay a very high price for that. He was very smart. He was even devious in this manner because he recognised the need of the PLO to get recognised as a partner. But in exchange he pushed the PLO to recognise Israel without demanding the recognition of Israel of a Palestinian state. I remember talking to Yasser Arafat at the very last weeks of his life and he told me something. We were sitting alone and he was in a very bad mood because he was being besieged and frustrated completely with the whole Oslo process and he said to me ‘we fell into a trap; they created a trap for us’. And I think that’s what it was. When we criticised Oslo in ’93/’94 few people listened to us but today, after 23 years, what do we have? More occupation and an occupation that will become 50 years next year – the longest in human history – and an occupation that has transformed into a system of apartheid much worse that what prevailed in South Africa.”

Iqbal: “When you talk about Shimon Peres being devious, here was a man who for the rest of the world was somebody who deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Yasser Arafat.”

Barghouti: “Yes I know. They won peace prize – they won Nobel Peace prize with Itzhak Rabin for concluding the Oslo Agreement. I don’t want to sound ridiculous but at that time I said they deserved not the Nobel Prize but they deserved the Oscar because it was more of a show – a performance – rather than a change of reality. And the results today – 23 years after – are very clear. We still have the occupation, worse than any time before. We still have the settlement activities going at a speed that is unprecedented. We have fragmented Palestinian territories and everybody sees a process of assassination of the possibility of two state solution. This of course worries me at all a lot but at the same time it will not make us lose hope but it makes us more determined as Palestinians to demand our rights in a clear manner. We want real freedom. We want freedom from occupation and not an adjusted situation of occupation.”

Iqbal: “Legislator Dr Mustafa Barghouti with a Palestinian view of Shimon Peres.”

That propaganda rant – rich with inaccuracy and blatant falsehoods completely unchallenged by Razia Iqbal – went on for almost four and a half minutes. In other words, the producers of this programme found it editorially justifiable to allocate 77% of a five minute and 41 second item supposedly about a recently deceased Israeli statesman to “a Palestinian view” which contributed nothing whatsoever to audience understanding of the Oslo Accords, their sabotage by Palestinian terrorism or the reality of the situation today.  

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BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

 

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

The September 28th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service current affairs programme ‘Newshour’ was titled “Shimon Peres: The World Remembers“.peres-newshour-28-9

Starting from 54 seconds into the programme, listeners first heard a recording of the Israeli prime minister talking about the former president who had passed away just hours earlier. Presenter James Coomarasamy then read statements from various world figures and that was followed by an item from former Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly and a conversation with the Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The programme then took a different turn with presentation of reactions from the Palestinian street in Ramallah such as “he [Peres] killed many Palestinians” and “he has a lot of Palestinian blood on his hands”. After that, Coomarasamy introduced the frequent BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti who was given an unchallenged platform from which to exploit Peres’ death for the promotion of nearly four minutes of falsehoods and propaganda.

Barghouti: “The most important issue is that his name is very much related to Oslo Agreement. I know that many people see Oslo as the peace agreement that ended the conflict. In reality it wasn’t and in my opinion Oslo was a big mistake that allowed Israeli settlements to continue to be built and in a way allowed the continuation of the process of killing the two states option. I think Mr Peres probably used his intelligence to deceive the Palestinians but at the end of the day, through Oslo Agreement, he deceived the whole cause of peace. And err….”

Coomarasamy: “But he did argue for a two state solution right to the end, didn’t he?”

Barghouti: “Theoretically, but in fact he never – nor any Israeli leader – ever accepted up till now that a Palestinian state can be a sovereign one; that Palestinians can control their borders; that East Jerusalem could be a capital of the Palestinian state and that Palestinians would have their share in Jerusalem. He never accepted that. Of course his positions on the issue of refugees were very clear, like all Israelis. So saying that they accept the two state solution was never translated into a real acceptance and the question is why didn’t he push for instance for recognising the Palestinian state when you are president of Israel and in all other political positions he had before.”

Coomarasamy: “So when he’s remembered as a man of peace by Israelis and beyond, for you that is not how you’ll remember him?”

Barghouti: “I cannot deny that he’s definitely not as radical as [former PM Ariel] Sharon – that’s for sure – but I think he undermined – unfortunately I have to say that on this day – he undermined the cause of peace so much by creating a false agreement that is called Oslo Agreement. By not allowing a real agreement to take place: an agreement that would have ended occupation, would have allowed Palestinians to have this little tiny state in the West bank and Gaza Strip and that would have allowed coexistence on the base of peace and justice. Unfortunately after all these years – after 23 years of Oslo Agreement – the number of settlers have increased from one hundred and eleven thousand to more than 700 thousand. After 23 years we are witnessing the continuation of an occupation that has become 50 years: the longest occupation in modern history.”

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that there were forces within Israel working against him – in opposition to him; that he himself may have wanted things to be different?”

Barghouti: “No. In my opinion he had a very good chance – he and Itzhak Rabin – in ’93 to conclude an agreement; to finish the issue by allowing Palestinians to have an independent state by ending the occupation and this would have obstructed extremists like Sharon and Netanyahu today and Naftali Bennett and many others from taking over. If the cause of peace was fulfilled; if what even Israeli people who demonstrated for peace then demanded was fulfilled; if they had allowed a real agreement that would have ended the occupation we would not be in this situation today. In my opinion he was intelligent for sure. He used his smartness, his connections, to squeeze the Palestinians in an agreement that was unjust and eventually that is hurting now both Palestinians and Israelis because the situation is still there; the conflict is still there and the occupation is still there.”

Coomarasamy: “And that was Dr Mustafa Barghouti – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

At the beginning of this item, Coomarasamy told listeners “we’re going to start though by looking back at the life of Shimon Peres…”. Clearly Barghouti’s long – and entirely predictable – rant did nothing to contribute to that aim. Neither did it enhance audience understanding of the Oslo Accords or why they failed to bring an end to the conflict because Coomarasamy’s weak interjections did not include clarification of the fact that the Palestinians signed the agreements as full and willing partners or that the continuation of the process intended to lead to the formation of a Palestinian state was crippled by Palestinian terror.

The editors of this World Service programme undoubtedly knew exactly what they were going to get from Barghouti in this item and as we will see in part two of this post, they were not alone in reaching the bizarre editorial decision to provide an untimely platform for his tirade of falsehoods and propaganda.

Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

As was to be expected, with the announcement of the death of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres on the morning of September 28th came a plethora of BBC reports.

The BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted a clip from a 2013 interview (the full version of which was previously discussed here and here) with Peres by Lyse Doucet under the title “Former Israeli President Shimon Peres has died“.peres-on-me-pge

Visitors to the BBC News website found several articles including “Chief rabbi pays tribute to former Israel PM Shimon Peres” and “Shimon Peres: Tributes from around the world“.

In an article by former BBC Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly which also appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Shimon Peres: Long legacy of Israel’s elder statesman” audiences were told that:

“As times changed over the course of his long political life, Shimon Peres in many ways changed with them.

The man who had been a member of a government that approved the building of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war came to see them as an obstacle to a peace deal.”

Similar messaging was found in a news report on the website titled “Shimon Peres, former Israeli president, dies aged 93“.

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mr Peres later became a leading political dove. He often spoke of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The BBC News website also published an obituary – “Obituary: Shimon Peres, Israeli founding father” – in which readers were again informed that:obit-peres-pic

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Peres became a leading political dove, often speaking of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The obituary also includes a photograph with the caption: “The former Labour leader advocated territorial compromise in the West Bank”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale produced a filmed report titled “Shimon Peres: An emigre who became a world statesman” which appeared on the BBC News website in addition to being aired on BBC television. Landale (who appears not to have had any help from the BBC’s pronunciation unit regarding the surname of the person his report is about) told viewers that:lansdale-on-peres

“As a politician he changed his views over time. He was a member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory but he came to see them later as an obstacle to peace.”

So are the BBC’s various portrayals of Shimon Peres’ views accurate? Did he favour “territorial compromise” and did he really view “Jewish settlements” as an “obstacle to peace”?

Another item appearing among the BBC News website’s coverage is a recycled filmed report from 2013 by Lyse Doucet from titled “Shimon Peres on turning 90“. There, at around 07:30, Doucet poses the following question:

Doucet: “The Palestinians say that you can’t discuss the land for a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build settlements on it. How do you reconcile that contradiction?”

Peres: “There are solutions to it. First of all, the Palestinians agreed there will be three [settlement] blocs. There, Jewish settlers on the West Bank can remain. That was the proposal introduced by President Clinton. It was right and acceptable.”

Also in 2013 – as the Times of Israel and Ha’aretz reported at the time – Peres clearly rejected the notion of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’.

“President Shimon Peres rejected European Union criticism of his country‘s settlement policy during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, arguing that it did not stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy said there would be no sustainable peace until Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, and those of Israel for security, were fulfilled by a comprehensive deal based on the two-state solution.

“For these reasons I have recalled the opposition of the European Union to the illegal expansion of settlements,” Van Rompuy said.

But Peres replied that an acceptable solution to the settlement issue had been found years ago, based on a land swap deal with the Palestinians.

“I don‘t take this criticism that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution,” Peres said, adding that the EU could help to overcome other problems.

The most important difficulty is not settlements but terror,” the Israeli president said. “Take terror out of Gaza and they have a free place, it has nothing to do with Israel.”

“Condemn the Hamas … because they are a center of terror,” Peres said, referring to the movement which controls the Gaza strip. “And Hezbollah the same,” he added.”

Obviously Shimon Peres was of the opinion that “territorial compromise” by both Israelis and Palestinians in the form of land swaps of the kind proposed in the Clinton parameters and the Olmert plan is necessary but he clearly did not regard Jewish communities in Judea & Samaria as an “obstacle to peace” as claimed by the BBC in these reports.  

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s portrayal of the topic of ‘settlements’ regularly fails to inform audiences of the fact that under any realistic scenario, some of the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria would remain under Israeli control – preferring instead to amplify an adopted political narrative. It is of course highly regrettable that in its coverage of the death of a statesman strongly associated with efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC has distorted his views in order to promote that same narrative.  

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BBC’s Evan Davis promotes the chimera of ’67 borders

Over the years we have taken note here of numerous instances (see some examples here, here and here) in which the BBC has misled its audiences by inaccurately referring to the 1949 Armistice Lines (also known as the ‘Green Line’) as ‘the 1967 border’.

As readers are no doubt aware, the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically states that the ceasefire line – which is what the ‘Green Line’ is – is not a border.

“Article II

With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

  1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognized;
  2. It is also recognized that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

“Article VI

  1. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Moreover, the point is made abundantly clear in the BBC’s ‘style guide’.  

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949. […]

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.” 

Nevertheless – and perhaps precisely because this frequent error is rarely if ever corrected – the organization supposedly committed to building “a global understanding of international issues” continues to allow audiences to be misled and misinformed through the repeated use of inaccurate terminology.

The latest example of the use of the inaccurate term “’67 border” came in the May 18th edition of BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight‘ which the corporation has claimed is “routinely being watched by more than 700,000 people”.Newsnight

Whilst interviewing Shimon Peres, presenter Evan Davies asked:

“Can you imagine now any situation – anything the Palestinians could do – in which Israel would agree to go back to this newly defined ’67 border.”

And no – we have no idea what “newly defined” means in this context either.

Also notable is Davis’ promotion of the notion that “it’s warranted to say that [the first Lebanon war] created Hizballah” – with no mention of no less relevant factors such as the Iranian revolution, Iranian policy or the Lebanese civil war.

In response to Shimon Peres’ assertion that “the chances for a two state solution exist”, Davis retorts:

“It doesn’t seem like it from the Israeli government though. Netanyahu didn’t mention it in his opening statement.”

As our colleagues at Presspectiva have pointed out (in Hebrew), none of the Israeli governments during the past two decades have specifically mentioned the two state solution in their founding guidelines. The new Israeli government’s founding guidelines do, however include the following:

“The government will advance the political process and aspire to a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all our neighbours…”

One might assume that a reasonable level of proficiency in the subject matter – including the use of accurate terminology – would be a fairly basic requirement for an interviewer on a flagship news programme. These and other questions posed by Evan Davis raise the issue of whether the purpose of this interview was in fact to inform viewers or to promote the BBC’s own ‘world view’.