In which BBC Radio 4 insists on describing a fence as a wall

As readers most likely know, 95% of the anti-terrorist fence constructed from 2002 onward in order to prevent terrorists from Palestinian Authority controlled areas reaching towns and cities in Israel is made out of wire mesh and the remaining 5% is constructed from concrete in order to prevent shooting attacks in sensitive locations.  

The BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs its staff to use the term ‘barrier’ to describe the structure.

“BBC journalists should try to avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute. 

The BBC uses the term ‘barrier’, ‘separation barrier’ or ‘West Bank barrier’ as an acceptable generic description to avoid the political connotations of ‘security fence’ (preferred by the Israeli government) or ‘apartheid wall’ (preferred by the Palestinians). 

The United Nations also uses the term ‘barrier’. It’s better to keep to this word unless you have sought the advice of the Middle East bureau.   

Of course, a reporter standing in front of a concrete section of the barrier might choose to say ‘this wall’ or use a more precise description in the light of what he or she is looking at.” 

Nevertheless, on February 27th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the anti-terrorist fence repeatedly and predominantly described as a “wall” during a forty-minute edition of ‘Start the Week‘ titled “‘Build That Wall’: Barriers and Crossings” (available here).start-the-week-feb-27

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“On Start the Week Kirsty Wark explores what it means to live either side of a wall, and whether barriers are built to repel or protect. Supporters of the US President urge him to ‘build a great wall’ along the Mexican border but the journalist Ed Vulliamy points out that there is already a wall and border guards, supported and funded by US Presidents for decades. And yet still drugs, guns, money and people continue to move north and south. Israel has been building its own separation barrier since the turn of the century, but Dorit Rabinyan is more interested in psychological barriers that drive Palestinians and Israelis apart. The map-maker Garrett Carr travels Ireland’s border to explore the smugglers, kings, peacemakers and terrorists who’ve criss-crossed this frontier, and asks what it will become when the United Kingdom leaves the EU. The historian Tom Holland looks back at the successes and failures of wall-building from Offa’s Dyke to Hadrian’s Wall and asks whether they work more as statements of power than as insurmountable barriers between people.”

Presenter Kirsty Wark introduced the programme as follows:

Wark: “Hello. Trump, Brexit: the talk is all about building walls and controlling borders. But there’s nothing new in that. Today we’re setting out to explore the real and the imaginary walls and borders that exist – some of them from almost two millennia – and what use they are. Do they keep people out, or in? Do they fulfil some visceral need to mark territory, to set us apart, to keep out the barbarians – whoever they may be? And what does it mean to live either side of the border?”

Israel’s anti-terrorist fence made its first appearance in the discussion at 09:42 with Wark describing a structure which is 95% wire mesh as looking like a “solid thing”.

Wark: “And just talking to you about that, Dorit, because the thing about the security barrier is that it is there, you can see it, separation barrier is there. It is a physical fact. People who look out on it – and although it’s got a lot of crossing points – it looks like a solid thing…”

Dorit Rabinyan then raised a point rarely heard by BBC audiences:

Rabinyan: “Yes, it’s actually a scar in the landscape. It’s really ugly and it’s nasty but we must agree, we must look on reality that the past 15 years that the wall is up and separating Israeli territories to the Palestinian territories, there’s a huge reduction on the number of terror attacks that we knew in the mid-90s and early years of millennium.”

Wark, however, chose to take the conversation in a different direction, ignoring the fact that around a million people cross the fence each month and that special gates provide access to Palestinian farmers:

Wark: “But when it went up, the idea was it was to be temporary.”

Rabinyan: “Yes.”

Wark: “And of course, when is the end of temporariness [sic]? Because although it stops terror attacks – as you would say – it also separates Palestinian farmers from their agricultural land. It separates families who are on this side because it is not a perfect thing, a wall. It’s got displaced people on both sides.”

Rabinyan: “This path that the wall goes through is decided only upon the Israeli government; it’s not agreed on with the Palestinians. That’s what makes it so high and what makes it into a barrier and not a border line. This not agreed, this is disputed by those Palestinians living nearby. But it’s actually based more or less on the ’67 lines.”

Wark: “On the ‘green line’?”

Rabinyan: “Yeah.”

The conversation moved on to extensive and often unrelated discussion of Rabinyan’s novel, towards the end of which (15:50) Wark even went so far as to impugn Rabinyan’s description of the structure as a fence.

Wark: “…but what absolutely separates you is this idea that there has to be this physical wall, this – as you call it – ugly scar, that Hilme [a character in the novel] thinks is for no good reason at all but your view, I think, through your character and also your own view is that in order to be good neighbours we need a wall rather than being bad enemies. And of course that is entirely disputed by the Palestinians.”

Rabinyan: “In Israel we don’t call it a wall; we call it a fence…”

Wark [interrupts]: “Yes, but it is a wall.”

Still later in the conversation, after Rabinyan described borders as being “something that protects you”, Wark opined:

Wark: “Is that possible when the two sides do not agree at all on the reason and the nature of the wall? Because, you know, if it is to protect you, it is not to protect the Palestinians…”

As readers may recall, Rabinyan’s novel has on several occasions been inaccurately described in previous BBC content as being ‘banned’ and Radio 4 had to edit a recording after a complaint from BBC Watch was upheld. The myth of the ‘banned’ book surfaced in this programme too – and was challenged – when Wark noted (from 18:16) that mixed Catholic and Protestant marriages were a “problem” in Northern Ireland and Garrett Carr responded:

Carr: “Yes, although such books…there were similar love stories told by Northern Irish writers but they were certainly never banned in schools; in fact they were encouraged.”

Rabinyan: “Thank you for defending me on this.”

Wark: “But of course Dorit’s book’s not been banned from the point of view of being…”

Carr: “Just not included on the curriculum.”

Wark: “Yes.”

Carr later promoted another myth – that of ‘1967 borders’ – while apparently not being aware of the fact that the 1949 Armistice line and the ‘green line’ are one and the same thing. 

Carr: “And I was struck – you could almost call it a cruelty for the Palestinians and the Israelis – that their nations are not framed in a way that seems like an important…seems like an important absence for people. That you need to know the shape of where you’re from and for both those peoples the edges of the country shimmer completely and there is that sense of not being located on the map and having…yes…your sense of nationhood framed cleanly. And even though Ireland’s border’s contested and probably always will be, it is still a clean line that actually hasn’t changed in a hundred years. […] Whereas Israel Palestine have been denied that. Their frame’s still more about…there’s the ’48 borders, ’67 borders, the green wall….ah the green line…and the wall.”

Discussing the US-Mexico border and the question of “what do people want”, Ed Vulliamy opined (21:25):

Vulliamy: “I mean maybe when you say what do people want, they want to see what the Israelis have built because that’s a real bloody wall and, you know, good enough for Banksy to have to do the wonders he does with it with his, with his…all the marvelous graffiti. I think that’s what people want.”

The fact that around a third of this programme was devoted to Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, together with the numerous additional references to it as a “wall” in spite of clear BBC guidance, leaves little doubt that listeners would have gone away with misleading and inaccurate impressions of a structure which is in fact 95% fence.

Related Articles:

In which BBC Radio 4 links Israel’s anti-terrorist fence to Donald Trump

Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

 

 

 

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How BBC Radio 4 squeezed Israel into programme on Irish history

h/t JG

“Israel offers a florid illustration of how disastrously collective memory can deform a society.”

The man who expressed that opinion in an article promoting his new book  which was published in the Guardian on March 2nd 2016 – David Rieff – was invited two weeks later to take part in a programme marking the centenary of the Easter Uprising which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’ show. Listeners heard a panel of historians and writers discuss various aspects of that chapter of Irish history in what was overall an interesting and informative programme.Start the Week

At around thirty minutes into the broadcast the discussion turned to the topic of collective memory with writer David Rieff telling listeners that:

“…collective memory isn’t memory in the historical sense. It is the series of…ah…it’s cherry picking the past, if you will, in the service of the present or some political view struggling for dominance in the present – that’s what it is.”

Listeners may have been somewhat surprised when – at 33:54 – presenter Tom Sutcliffe elected to introduce the Holocaust into a programme about Irish history.

TS: “OK: what about the classic instance of the duty of remembering the Holocaust? Err…would it be better if we forgot that?”

DR: “Well first of all, with respect, eventually we’re going to do. And second – I’m sorry again to bring in geologic time but it is surely at least worth taking to some extent into account. And the second thing is it seems to me…ah…that memory is different as long as there are people alive, or at least people alive who knew people who were alive. So that yes; as long as there are survivors of the camps – of which there are a few – as long as there are the children of those people – of which there are many – and grandchildren, fine. But in a hundred years? In two hundred years? Yeah, I think it might be time to let it go. And, even in terms of the memory of the Holocaust, it seems to me the memory of the Holocaust as it is deployed in Israel has been nothing but negative.” [emphasis added]

Given that Rieff had previously laid out his views on Israel’s ‘deformed’ society in that Guardian article (of which the producers of this programme must surely have been aware), the appearance of that latter throwaway politicized comment cannot have been too difficult to predict – especially following the presenter’s introduction of the Holocaust cue. Nevertheless, Sutcliffe refrained from challenging it –and not least the very interesting choice of the word “deployed” with its military connotations – before moving the conversation along.

And so – entirely predictably – uninformed listeners who had presumably tuned in because they wanted to hear a programme about Irish history therefore went away with the added ‘expert’ impression that Israel exploits the memory of the Holocaust for “negative” ends.

Related Articles:

HMD edition of BBC One’s ‘The Big Questions’ not exempt from political propaganda

“Significant strands of thought” at the BBC

As we have noted here before, Abdel Bari Atwan – the Gaza-born editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper ‘Al Quds Al Arabi’- is a regular guest on several BBC programmes on both radio and television, despite his frequent voicing of often frankly offensive opinions. 

Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that Atwan is now promoting the notion that:

“… the French military intervention in Mali is designed not only to protect its own interests in the region but to benefit Israel.”

Atwan’s latest tinfoil hat moment is, however, unlikely to dissuade BBC producers from inviting him to contribute what passes as analysis.  Indeed the BBC sometimes appears to actively court bizarre opinions, as was the case in the February 4th edition of ‘Start the Week’ with Bridget Kendall which focused on “the roots and reach of Islamist terrorism from Afghanistan to Africa”.

Start the Week

In that programme (available as a podcast here) listeners were informed (at 13:57) by guest Christina Hellmich that the  Al Qaeda attacks on the US in 2001 were the “consequences” of the West’s actions “in Palestine” and elsewhere. Later (from around 22:20) guest Nadeem Aslam opined that the passengers and crew on the United Airlines flight 93 on September 11th 2001 shared the same motivations as Islamist suicide bombers. Neither of those remarks was adequately challenged by the presenter. 

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”

One cannot help but sometimes wonder whether the BBC’s idea of a “significant strand of thought” matches that of its audiences.