BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first part of an item about the Gaza Strip aired in the September 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘ (from 26:30) which ended with presenter Paul Henley saying:

Henley: “Najla – a mother of two young children with impeccable English who lives in Gaza. And she paints a grim picture of a place to live, of a quality of life, Stewart.”

Studio guest Stewart Purvis for some reason responded by bringing up an unrelated BBC linked story and misleading listeners with regard to Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 during which all the communities in – rather than “around” – Gaza were of course evacuated. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Purvis: “Yes; very, very depressing to listen to and it’s actually about ten years since I was last in Gaza visiting the BBC bureau there and I came away pessimistic and I suppose my pessimism was partly confirmed when a few months later the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was taken hostage, if you remember, and happily was later released. But I just…I mean at that point the Israelis had withdrawn from settlements around Gaza and there was some sense of momentum. But that momentum seems to have completely disappeared and there is really so little signs of anything positive happening almost on any front.”

While one might have expected the discussion to turn at that point to relevant topics such as the 2007 violent Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip, the terror organisation’s subsequent escalation of attacks on Israeli civilians and its Israel erasing agenda or the decade-long rift between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, instead Henley turned (at 36:03) to his other guest, Jane Kinninmont, with a topic much less helpful to audience understanding of the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Henley: “The residents of Gaza have been off the news radar a bit, haven’t they Jane?”

In the eight months between January and August 2017, the BBC itself has produced at least 18 reports about the Gaza Strip on its English language services alone. In addition to its regular reporting, since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC has broadcast a documentary on that topic and produced special ‘anniversary’ coverage both six months and twelve months after the war. How Henley reached the conclusion that Gaza is “off the news radar” is therefore unclear but his guest played along with that notion.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely; partly because it’s a story that doesn’t change. There’s coverage when there is a conflict but I think the repetitive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to it really falling off the news agenda. People are much more interested in other parts of the Middle East. But there may be changes to come for Gaza.”

Henley: “Because of the new US administration or what?”

Kinninmont: “Partly and because of the row that’s been simmering in the Gulf between Qatar – which is the major donor to Gaza – and the UAE, Saudi and Egypt on the other side.”

Henley: “Go on, explain.”

Listeners then got to hear a version of a story which the BBC has been ignoring for months.

Kinninmont: “So it’s an interesting little-noticed thing that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt really want to try to rein in Qatari influence over Islamist groups throughout the region and they are trying to see if they can broker some kind of deal that would bring a Fatah strongman into power in Gaza – so someone from the same party as Mahmoud Abbas. Ah…it’s a man called Mohammed Dahlan who’s been a kind of strongman in Palestinian politics for many years – now believed to be resident in Abu Dhabi – and they are trying to cook up some kind of offer where Gaza would see more ability to trade in return for internal political changes. Now who knows; there have been many attempts to open up Gaza’s economy and solve politics through economics and none have worked so far. But there is at least some attempt going on just now.”

Clearly listeners would not understand from that portrayal that Dahlan is Abbas’ bitter rival and that some of the measures imposed by the Palestinian Authority in recent months that have contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip have been linked to the Hamas-Dahlan overtures.

Henley then promoted another questionable notion:

Henley: “Najla sounds like an outward-looking woman interested in world affairs but she’s not particularly interested in the politics. She hasn’t got time to worry about the greater picture when she’s struggling to stop food rotting in her cupboards when the fridge is off.”

A quick look at Oxfam employee Najla Shawa’s Twitter timeline would have relieved Henley of that mistaken impression. This, for example, is a Tweet relating to the July 14th terror attack in which two Israeli policemen were murdered in Jerusalem by three Arab-Israeli terrorists from Umm el Fahm.

Jane Kinninmont closed the item with another comment that did nothing to enhance audience understanding of the stated subject matter of this item.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely. Palestinians are preoccupied with daily fire-fighting. But it is interesting they have some of the highest rates of social media usage in the world. When people can actually get online – when they have enough electricity to do so – because of the isolation and immobility many Palestinians are trying to be politically active online, trying to change opinion here in the West.”

So as we see, in this very long item the BBC World Service promoted a carefully framed picture of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which once again failed to adequately clarify its background. While excluding Hamas terrorism from audience view, the item did however steer listeners towards the erroneous belief that the crisis involving electricity, water, medical and sewage has some connection to the blockade imposed by Israel, while completely ignoring the topic of why that measure is necessary.  

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BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part one

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BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part one

h/t RB

An edition of the BBC World Service radio news and current affairs programme ‘Weekend‘ that was broadcast on September 3rd included an item promoting some noteworthy framing of the Gaza Strip but before that, presenter Paul Henley introduced his studio guests (from 26:30) Stewart Purvis – formerly of ITV and OFCOM – and Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House.

Leading up to the Gaza related item, listeners heard some interesting signposting (from 28:09) concerning radicalisation and terrorism which dovetails perfectly with the BBC’s chosen narrative on those topics.

Henley asked Kinninmont: [all emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Henley: “How much…when you’re looking at causes of instability and the endless problems that you concentrate on there [the Middle East], how much do you put down to unemployment, which seems to be the big social and economic problem?”

Kinninmont: “Absolutely. We need to look at the political economy of the region and the sense of injustice that’s created for many young people because they see corrupt people succeeding and they see so little opportunity for themselves even if they are hard-working, even if they are highly educated. These are probably more important things to look at than the ideology that the media obsesses over when thinking about terrorism; not least because you can actually address some of these economic problems.”

Henley: “And because of the interest in terrorism and…and where it comes about, do you have particular countries that you’re more interested in?”

Kinninmont: “Well we cover the whole region and we try very much in our team of analysts to speak about the 99% of people from the Middle East who have nothing to do with terrorist groups. Ah…I fear that the oxygen of publicity is still an issue; that there is a kind of media obsession with terrorism over and above all other problems.”

Following that (at 29:22) Henley turned listeners’ attentions to the topic of the UN Secretary General’s recent visit to Israel, the Gaza Strip and the PA controlled territories: a topic previously very briefly covered by BBC News in one report. While referencing Israeli and Egyptian counter-terrorism measures, Henley did not bother to inform listeners why they are necessary.

Henley: “Last week the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Israel and the Gaza Strip for the first time since he took office. Speaking at a UN run school, Mr Guterres said urgent solutions were needed to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A recent UN report says living conditions for the two million people who live in Gaza – which is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt – are deteriorating rapidly. Mr Guterres stressed that resolving the crisis also required political will and he called on the Palestinians to end the division between Hamas – which rules Gaza – and Fatah – which governs the West Bank. In a speech in Tel Aviv he said he’d never shied away from criticising all sides in the conflict if he felt their actions weren’t moving towards a peaceful solution.”

Guterres’ remarks at a UNRWA school in Gaza also included “an appeal for unity” between the Palestinian factions engaged in a decade-long dispute along with a call to “avoid the buildup of the militantism” that is the cause of the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Significantly – given the later framing in this item – listeners were not told of those remarks.

The “recent UN report” to which Henley referred was previously presented to BBC World Service listeners in a problematic report that failed to clarify the real reasons for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Guterres’ “speech in Tel Aviv” was delivered at the Museum of the Jewish People and listeners then heard the small part of it that the BBC chose to highlight – but without being informed of the crucial fact that Hamas rejects the two state solution.

Recording Guterres: “It’s my deep belief that the two state solution is the only way forward; the only path towards the historic compromise that can settle this conflict and lead to a better future for all. That is why I have been – and will continue to be – expressing my disagreement when it’s the case with unilateral measures and facts on the ground that can or could undermine that solution, including settlement activities but also continued violence, terror and incitement.”

At 30:40 Henley gave a brief introduction to a guest who was allotted almost half the air-time of the entire item. Her unchallenged claims were also separately promoted by the BBC World Service in a related programme.

Henley: “So away from the talk of the so-called important people, what is life like for the people of Gaza? Najla is a mother of two children. She was born in Gaza and she’s lived there all her life.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, that first name only introduction clearly does not allow listeners to understand who the speaker actually is or what her affiliations and “particular viewpoint” are.

Najla Shawa appeared on the BBC World Service over two years ago and then too the introduction was inadequate with the fact that she works for the politically partisan NGO Oxfam and was previously employed in various roles by the UN left unclarified. With Shawa having studied for three years at Birzeit University near Ramallah and subsequently at George Mason University in the US, Henley’s claim that she has “lived in Gaza all her life” is obviously misleading.

Shawa began with the promotion of the ‘Gaza prison’ theme. On the last working day before this item was aired, 638 people had entered or exited the Gaza Strip, seven ambulance crossings had been facilitated and 18,157 tons of goods in 577 trucks had entered the territory on one day alone.

Shawa: “The entire population is simply living in a big prison. We are unable to move, there’s no way to travel so the restriction of movement is on everything; on people and on goods – at least from Gaza to the outside world. Gaza has some input such as food and basic items but there’s no way for any economic activity to take place.”

In fact, in June 2017, 1,304 tons of goods were exported from the Gaza Strip. Shawa continued with a presentation of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip which did not clarify to listeners that it is the product of the internal dispute between Fatah and Hamas and is completely unconnected to the previously mentioned “blockade”.

Shawa: “People are continually living uncertainty and challenged by different issues every day. The last few months there was the electricity situation that worsened and has really deepened the humanitarian situation in Gaza and affected everyone, and particularly affects people who have less financial ability or less ability to access things like food or basic items. You know, in Gaza unemployment is at really alarming rate: some 60% among people who are able to work; in a working age. Poverty is also at very high rates. “

Shawa appears to be passing off rounded-up youth unemployment figures as general unemployment rates: according to the World Bank, the general unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip in 2016 was 42%, with youth unemployment at 58%. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has slightly different figures and notes the very low workforce participation rate among females over the age of 15. The CIA World Factbook cites a poverty rate of 30%. Shawa continued:

Shawa: “Again, electricity; this is something that we’ve been living with for many years – I would say at least 10 years. But the last few months we are getting only 3 to 4 hours of electricity every day. You can imagine people’s refrigerators are turning into closets. We joke about it but there’s no way to keep things in your fridge. And you can imagine what this means to poor people who can’t afford simply to buy things every day. We adapt to schedules; we are going to have electricity from this hour to this hour so yeah we plan for laundry, we plan to maybe go out and do whatever. I mean, you know, you simply want to get out of the house.

You can also look at like small producers, small enterprises; they have shut down. Even big, larger ones are affected; they’re having to endure large amount of money just to survive, just to keep their business going and keep their work going. If we talk about water, water is the major, major threat problem in Gaza since many years. The way we get water, you need electricity for water to be pumped. You need water to be in a good quality. We have very salty water. There’s very little infrastructure. There is very little room for even doing any solutions for water. The majority of the sea is polluted with sewage. I mean real sewage – like raw sewage – and this is another huge problem. It’s causing a real environmental problem. We simply cannot eat the fish that is from the sea because it’s only full of sewage. We’re in the summer season and the heat and humidity in Gaza is very high and living under these conditions, children – I’m thinking about health – the simple, simple daily activity of people is extremely challenging.”

Yet again, no effort was made to clarify to listeners that the issues concerning sewage and water are rooted in the internal dispute between Hamas and Fatah and the all-important issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of replenishing and expanding its military infrastructure over civilian needs was not brought to audience attention.

Henley then inserted linkage to his previous conversation with Jane Kinninmont concerning ‘reasons’ for radicalisation.

Henley: “And I know you consider yourself relatively privileged but there are an awful lot of poor people judging by the rate of unemployment.”

Shawa: “That’s correct. I mean you’re talking about 80% of the Gaza Strip depends on aid. The Palestinian internal divide is also causing an additional layer to these problems that the Gazans are facing.”

No attempt was made to explain to listeners what that passing reference to “the Palestinian internal divide” actually means or how it affects Gaza residents.

Henley: “And when the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres comes to Gaza and calls for an end to the blockade, is he seen as an ally by people there? I mean the demonstrators were greeting him angrily.”

Henley did not clarify that the demonstrations were in support of convicted terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons.

Shawa: “Of course. I mean people here appreciate the role of the UN because it is providing basic services to the majority of the population of Gaza. I mean we know that people considers as their right because the majority of the Gazans are refugees and the services are provided by UNRWA in addition to other agencies. However, there is a great deal of anger because the UN is simply not doing much on the political level of things and this is purely a political issue and everybody knows that. Expressing concern and calling for an end of blockade is not enough and we’ve heard it again and again. And a generation – maybe after a generation now talking the blockade for the last 10 years, but you are talking about the general picture that the occupation is the issue here. That’s why people are angry because nothing is changing on the ground.”

Henley did not intervene to explain to audiences why, after nearly 70 years, the “majority of the Gazans” are still classified as refugees or how their status is different from that of refugees in the rest of the world. Neither did he remind audiences that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip 12 years ago and – predictably – did not clarify that the territory is not ‘occupied’. Shawa closed her unchallenged and unquestioned monologue with the promotion of claims she did not support with statistical evidence.

Shawa: “You know, this pressure will simply lead to extremely negative phenomena. Young people are committing suicide. I mean I cannot talk about rates or numbers but we are seeing this every day. We are seeing more crime. We never heard of so much crime in the last years; only a few months we’re hearing so many incidents. And this is really worrying and again, people have the right to be angry.”

Henley concluded his guest’s appearance with a description no less inadequate than the one in his introduction:

Henley: “Najla – a mother of two young children with impeccable English who lives in Gaza.”

As we see, throughout this lengthy item BBC World Service listeners heard nothing of the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli civilians and of the link between that and Israel’s counter-terrorism measures along its border with the Gaza Strip. While they did hear long and detailed descriptions of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the absence of any adequate explanation of how the lengthy dispute between Hamas and Fatah has adversely affected electricity, water, medical and sewage services in the territory means that listeners would be quite likely to reach the erroneous conclusion that those issues are connected to the ‘blockade’ which is mentioned repeatedly.

However, the item was not over yet and its final section will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

h/t DL

As regular readers know, one topic frequently discussed on these pages is the double standard employed by the BBC when reporting terrorism in Israel and terrorism in other locations.The Media Show

The November 18th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Media Show’ was devoted in part to the subject of media coverage of last weekend’s terror attacks in Paris and one of the topics discussed by host Steve Hewlett and his guests was described as follows in the introduction:

“… should journalists and presenters use the words terrorist and terrorism, as many did without attribution?”

From around 16:30 here, that topic was discussed quite extensively, with contributions from former OFCOM official Stewart Purvis and the BBC’s Controller of Daily News Programmes Gavin Allen providing some interesting insight into the background to the corporation’s lack of consistency in the use of language when reporting terror attacks – despite its apparently recently altered guidelines on the topic stressing the importance of consistency in reporting.

Steve Hewlett: “…the BBC says ‘since there is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or a terrorist act, the use of the word will frequently involve value judgements. As such we should not change the word terrorist when quoting someone else but we should avoid using it ourselves. We try to avoid using the term terrorist without attribution’. So, Stewart, where do you think people should be on this question?”

Stewart Purvis: “Well I think the origin of this problem arises from the difference between broadcasting just for the UK and broadcasting out [side] the UK. I think there are very few people who would say that for instance the bombs that the IRA planted in London – or what happened in Paris, to be blunt – was anything other than terrorism. It was a tactic to shock and terrorise people in a city. But what happens when you talk about what might happen in the middle of Israel or in the Palestinian territories? If a bomb goes off there or they’ve stabbed someone to death, what is the language to describe that? And I think that’s partly why the BBC has taken against this word terrorism because it actually – on its international services – does not want to have to make a judgement in these particular countries. The result is that it doesn’t use it so much in the UK which actually annoys some people who say ‘well how else would you describe what’s going on?’.”

Steve Hewlett: “Gavin; I heard some BBC correspondents use the word unattributed [in reporting on the Paris attacks] …ah….and your guidelines sort of say you shouldn’t.”

Gavin Allen: “They don’t really say that. […] But it doesn’t say don’t use it. It’s quite an important distinction. I mean Stewart’s absolutely right; there are complications about using it when you’re broadcasting on the World Service etc. But actually it’s not that we don’t use the word. I think invariably it’s about how much does it clarify and how much does it cloud.”

This discussion yet again highlights the fact that the BBC’s approach to the use of the word terror and its derivatives when reporting on events in Israel is not rooted solely in the objective of informing audiences of the nature of the events which have taken place. After all, shooting and stabbing passengers on a city bus in Jerusalem is obviously intended to “shock and terrorise people in a city” in exactly the same way as planting a bomb in London or gunning down concert-goers in Paris.

It has been clear for a long time that the BBC employs differing approaches to such obviously similar acts of terrorism because its handling of the topic does not distinguish between method and aims, means and ends. The result is that even though the acts may be identical or similar, the BBC’s use – or not – of the word terrorism hinges on its political judgement of the aims of the perpetrators and the description of the means is adjusted accordingly.

In this discussion, however, we also gain insight into an additional factor which apparently prevents the BBC from reporting terrorism against Israelis consistently and accurately: second-guessing of how the description of, say, the brutal murders of early morning worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue as an act of terror would be received by specific audience groups – and the adjustment of language accordingly. Interestingly, the incident at a mosque in Kuwait in June was described by the BBC as a terror attack on its international services and on social media. 

That bizarre approach clearly not only patronizes and stereotypes BBC audiences worldwide (does the BBC really think that its Middle East audiences for example are too delicate to hear the politically motivated murders of Israelis described as terror?) but obviously also seriously undermines the corporation’s claim that it strives to achieve consistency “across all our services” when reporting terrorism.

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