Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q1 2017 – part one

Between January 1st and March 31st 2017, a total of ninety-one reports with content relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Seven of those reports were carried over from December 2016.

Some of the reports were produced by other departments (e.g. BBC Business) or appeared on other pages of the website (e.g. ‘Europe’ or ‘US & Canada’) but were also posted on the Middle East page.

Although the Israeli security services recorded 321 terror attacks during the first quarter of 2017 (see ‘related articles’ below), just one of those attacks received coverage on the BBC News website.

(The dates in brackets represent the period of time in which a report was available to visitors to the website’s Middle East page.)

Jerusalem lorry attack: Four Israeli soldiers killed (8/1/17 to 9/1/17) 

Jerusalem attack: Uncle of the lorry driver speaks out (8/1/17 to 12/1/17)

Jerusalem attack eyewitness: ‘I saw the truck hitting the soldiers’ (8/1/17 to 17/1/17) 

Jerusalem lorry attack: ‘I fired until my magazine was empty’ (9/1/17 to 18/1/17) 

Netanyahu: ‘We will overcome terror attacks’ (8/1/17) 

Jerusalem lorry attacker ‘was IS supporter’ (9/1/17 to 10/1/17)

One article (carried over from December) related to a terror warning issued by the Israeli security services:

Israel warns of New Year terror threat in India (30/12/16 to 1/1/17) discussed here

Two articles related to Hamas:

Israel will no longer return bodies of Palestinian Hamas militants (1/1/17 to 2/1/17) discussed here

Israeli soldiers ‘caught in Hamas online honey trap’ (12/1/17 to 13/1/17)

Two articles related to Syria:

Syria accuses Israel of bombardment (13/1/17 to 15/1/17) discussed here

Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit’ (17/3/17 to 20/3/17) discussed here

In all, 12.09% of the BBC News website’s reports in Q1 covered stories relating to security/terrorism. The additional topics found in the BBC’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians during the first quarter of 2017 will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – January 2017

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – February 2017

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – March 2017

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2016 – part two (includes links to previous reports) 

BBC’s ME editor suggests Syria chemical attack related to Israel

The day after the chemical weapons attack in Syria that shocked the world, the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” took to Twitter to promote his own conjectures concerning the incident in Khan Sheikhoun.

Yes, the BBC’s Middle East Editor really is promoting the “theory” that the Assad regime slaughtered children in Idlib province because Israel has allegedly carried out strikes in Syria against Iranian/Syrian weapons shipments to the Hizballah terror organisation.

It is worth remembering that the man publicly promoting that bizarre ‘rationale’ is the gatekeeper of all ‘accurate and impartial’ BBC reporting concerning the war in Syria – as well as coverage of Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC’s Davies suggests ulterior motives for IDF Sarin report

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

 

 

BBC reports development in Hizballah story, fails to update original report

Earlier this month we revisited a BBC story from May 2016 in which audiences were initially told that Israel had killed a Hizballah commander.

“…the final version of the article – which is still available on the BBC News website – points BBC audiences towards the assumption that Israel may have been responsible for the killing.”

In that post we noted that an investigation conducted by the Al Arabiya network (unreported by the BBC at the time) suggested that Mustafa Badreddine’s assassination was in fact carried out by Hizballah and its Iranian backers and hence:

“…we would of course now expect to see the BBC revisiting this story, reviewing its steering of audiences towards the default conclusion that Israel was likely to have been involved and checking the accuracy of this particular example of “historical record”.” 

On March 21st the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel: Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine ‘killed by own men’” which opens as follows:

“The Israeli military’s chief of staff has added weight to Arab media reports that Hezbollah was behind the killing of its own commander in Syria in 2016.

Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot said Israeli intelligence had similarly concluded that Mustafa Amine Badreddine was assassinated by his own men.”

Later on readers were told that:

“Earlier this month, the pan-Arab news network al-Arabiya said its investigation into Badreddine’s death had concluded that the commander was killed on the orders of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The report said Hassan Nasrallah was put under pressure to remove Badreddine by Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite overseas operations arm and a key adviser to the Syrian military.”

And:

Tweet to 14.3 million followers promoting the BBC’s original article on May 13, 2016

“On Tuesday, Gen Eisenkot said the Arab media reports that Hezbollah had killed Badreddine matched the “intelligence we have”.”

The BBC’s original article – including the repeated suggestion that Israel may have killed Badreddine – is of course still available online. In light of the developments in the story, best practice would of course necessitate its amendment to include the information in this latest BBC report.

To date, such an update has not been added.

Related Articles:

BBC News amplifies unreliable source on Hizballah commander’s death

Revisiting a BBC ‘Israel did it’ story from May 2016

BBC Radio 4 documentary on Syrian patients in Israel

Over two years have passed since the BBC last reported on the topic of sick and wounded Syrians receiving medical treatment in Israel.

On March 19th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour long documentary titled “Tim Samuels’ Sleepover: Inside the Israeli Hospital“.

“Tim Samuels spends twenty-four hours immersed in an extraordinary medical scene – Israeli doctors tending to Syrians who have been smuggled over the border for life-saving treatment into a country Syria is technically still at war with.

In the Ziv hospital in the northern Israeli town of Safed, Tim follows two doctors on their rounds as they treat Syrians – both civilians and fighters – who have been seriously wounded in their country’s civil war. Unable to get proper medical attention at home, they are amongst several thousand Syrians who have headed to the border and into Israel for treatment. Tim meets a Syrian man shot during conflict; once his leg has been repaired he intends to head back to rejoin the fight.

On the children’s ward, a mother who has brought her son for treatment describes how her trip to Israel must remain a secret – or she fears she could be killed when they return. On the Syrian border, Tim sees two badly wounded fighters smuggled into Israel by the IDF as they are rushed to Ziv for emergency attention.

In the hospital – staffed by Jewish, Muslim and Druze medics – the doctors talk about the psychological toll of treating the war wounded. A hospital social worker describes waking up repeatedly through the night at home to check that his young son wasn’t injured. The doctors at Ziv say they hope their work is at least a sliver of humanity in a dark region.

Tim explores what motivations might underpin Israel’s assistance to those coming from enemy territory – and how such an unusual situation, even by Middle Eastern standards, has come about.”

Although at times his search for alleged ulterior motives is over dominant and listeners were not informed that the Ziv hospital is just one of several institutions in Israel treating Syrian patients , Tim Samuels has managed to produce an interesting and objective report on a topic the BBC has not covered for quite some time.

 

BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

On March 17th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit’“. The article opens with a ‘last-first’ summary of the story:

“Israel has shot down a Syrian missile using its most advanced anti-missile system for the first time, Israeli media say.

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say.

The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria.”

The article goes on:

“In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles.”

However, only in the report’s seventh paragraph do BBC audiences find out what those “several targets” actually were.

An insert of analysis from the BBC’s defence correspondent tells readers that:

“It is rare for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria though there have been reports of at least four similar raids against Hezbollah weapons shipments since the start of December last year. […]

It’s a signal perhaps to all concerned that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is ready to escalate its air campaign.”

In the body of the article readers find the following:

“Air strikes, said to have been carried out by Israel, have hit sites in Syria on numerous occasions, reportedly targeting weapons shipments for Lebanon’s Shia militant movement Hezbollah.” [emphasis added]

As is inevitably the case in content relating to such stories, the BBC refrains from giving an accurate description of Hizballah as a terror organisation and no background information concerning the suppliers of these “weapons shipments” is provided. Also as usual, this article fails to provide BBC audiences with the very relevant context concerning UN Security Council resolution 1701’s requirement of “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” and its ban on “sales or supply of arms and related material” to Hizballah or any other Lebanese militia.

The same omissions were evident in coverage of the story on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 30:04 here), with presenter Julian Marshall describing the terror organisation Hizballah as “militants in Lebanon”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s news from southern Syria front: for Arabic speakers only

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

BBC’s Bowen tells WS listeners Israel bombs Syria ‘regularly’

Confused and conflicting BBC reporting on Syrian jihadists

When the Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in late July 2016, the BBC told its audiences that the group had “split from al-Qaeda“:

“Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant].”

The BBC News website published an additional article on the same topic by an outside contributor titled “What drove Syria’s Nusra Front to detach itself from al-Qaeda?“.

At the time we asked “Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?” and a subsequently published BBC profile of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham used rather more guarded language.

“The Syria-based jihadist group al-Nusra Front changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant) at the end of July 2016, reportedly cutting ties with al-Qaeda at the same time.

It is thought that the public severing of links with al-Qaeda may not be as total as portrayed…”

However, when the BBC News website reported a double terror attack in Damascus on March 11th, the article included the following statement:

“A double suicide bombing in the Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed at least 10 people.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said it was behind that attack.” [emphasis added]

The next day – March 12th – the BBC News website published a follow-up report concerning the claim of responsibility for that terror attack.

Titled “Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate claims twin bombing in Damascus“, the report opens:

“A Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a twin bombing on Friday [sic] in the capital Damascus that killed at least 40.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham said the attack was “a message to Iran” over the country’s support for Syrian president Bashar al Assad.” [emphasis added]

Later on readers were told that:

“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation) is a new group formed from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously al-Nusra Front) and four smaller factions.”

Readers of this article would therefore understand that the BBC is telling them that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – including its Jabhat Fateh al-Sham faction – is “a Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda”.

However, just one day before the same website had told them that the largest faction in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was a “former al-Qaeda affiliate” and less than eight months prior to that it had told them that the same faction had “split” from al-Qaeda.

Although (as noted here at the time) Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was formed around the end of January 2017, the BBC did not cover that story until a month later when, on February 28th, BBC Monitoring published an article titled “Tahrir al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s latest incarnation in Syria“. Confusingly, however, that report opened:

“The Syrian jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda last July, has rebranded itself again.

A statement issued on 28 January announced that it had agreed to merge with four smaller factions and form a new alliance, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation). […]

On 9 February, Abu Jabir delivered a message in which he insisted Tahrir al-Sham was an “independent entity and not an extension of former organisations and factions”.

It appeared to be an attempt to further distance the group from al-Qaeda.” [emphasis added]

Less than two weeks later, we now see the BBC describing Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as being “affiliated with al-Qaeda”.

Clearly there is a great deal of confusion among BBC reporters regarding this topic and obviously the appearance of conflicting and confusing information on the BBC News website is not contributing to meeting the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “global understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

The BBC, jihadists and Islamists

Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?

Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

Inaccuracies in BBC’s Jabhat al Nusra profile

 

Revisiting a BBC ‘Israel did it’ story from May 2016

As was documented here back in May 2016:

As was noted here at the time, although that information did not in fact come from Hizballah, subsequent versions of the BBC’s report inaccurately told readers that the terror group had “rolled back” the claim.

Nevertheless, the final version of the article – which is still available on the BBC News website – points BBC audiences towards the assumption that Israel may have been responsible for the killing.

“An initial report by Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV said that Badreddine, 55, died in an Israeli air strike. But a later statement by Hezbollah on al-Manar’s website did not mention Israel.

Israeli media reported that the government refused to comment on whether it was involved in Badreddine’s death.

Israel has been accused by Hezbollah of killing a number of its fighters in Syria since the conflict began.”

And – under the sub-heading “Key questions”:

“Who could have killed Mustafa Badreddine?

Any of the armed groups seeking to overthrow Mr Assad might have sought to kill the man co-ordinating Hezbollah military activities. However, suspicion is likely to fall on Israel, which fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006.

Israel has been accused of killing several of the group’s leaders over the years, although it has never officially confirmed its involvement.

Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008 that US intelligence officials said last year was a joint operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

In January 2015, a suspected Israeli air strike in the Syrian Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters, including Mughniyeh’s son Jihad, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general.

And in December, Hezbollah said one of its senior figures, Samir Qantar, was killed when missiles fired by Israeli jets struck a block of flats in Damascus.

Israel has also reportedly conducted air strikes aimed at preventing advanced weapons shipments from Iran from reaching Hezbollah via Syria.”

On March 8th 2017 the Israeli news website Walla reported that an investigation by Al Arabia suggests a different answer to the question “who could have killed Mustafa Badreddine?” than the one promoted by the BBC.  

“According to an investigation by the ‘Al Arabia’ network, the General Secretary of the organisation [Hizballah – Nasrallah], together with the commander of the Iranian Quds Force [Soleimani], planned the assassination of the organisation’s senior figure [Badreddine], who died in a ‘mysterious explosion’ at Damascus airport. Hizballah blamed the Syrian opposition – which in turn blamed Hizballah.”

Whether or not that allegation is true is unclear but Al Arabia’s report is certainly no less reliable that the one from Al Mayadeen claiming that Badreddine had been killed by an Israeli airstrike which the BBC elected to amplify without independently confirming the claim.

As we know, the BBC relates to its online content as “historical record”:

“Our online news is far more accessible today than the newspaper archives of libraries. But in principle there is no difference between them: both are historical records. Fundamentally it is in the public interest to retain them intact.”

Given that, we would of course now expect to see the BBC revisiting this story, reviewing its steering of audiences towards the default conclusion that Israel was likely to have been involved and checking the accuracy of this particular example of “historical record”. 

 

BBC reporting on Israeli offer to take in Syrian refugees

On January 26th the BBC produced two reports concerning the previous day’s announcement by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri that Israel will take in one hundred orphaned Syrian refugees.

The BBC News website published an article titled “Israel ‘to take in 100 Syrian orphans’” which, while understandably tagged “Syrian civil war’, did not include an ‘Israel’ tag – apparently because, as noted here several months ago, such a tag has not been instated to date.syrian-orphans-art

The article itself gives an accurate account of the story, although the term “dormitories” could have been better translated as boarding schools.

“Under the plan, the orphans would be housed in dormitories to begin with, then absorbed into the education system, Israel’s Channel 10 News reported.”

On the same day, the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an interview by Tim Franks (from 18:40 here) with Gal Lusky of the charity ‘Israel Flying Aid’.

“Millions of Syrians have fled the civil war. Their search for refuge has become one of the defining stories of recent years. Now there’s been an unusual offer for 100 orphans from Syria to be given homes in Israel. They share a border, Israel and Syria, but they also consider each other enemy states.”

The fact that the BBC managed to report this story accurately, impartiality and without needless politicisation should not of course be noteworthy – but it is.

The BBC, jihadists and Islamists

Back in December 2014 the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “What is jihadism?” which included the following section:

islamists-vs-jihadists-backgrounder

In other words, audiences can apparently conclude that when the BBC uses the term ‘jihadist’ it is telling them that the group described as such uses violence and that when the term ‘Islamist’ is employed, they can understand that those described in that way are non-violent.

With that in mind, it is interesting to see how an article published on January 26th under the headline “Syria war: Rebels unite after attack by Idlib jihadists” describes differing factions in Syria. [all emphasis added]ahrar-al-sham-art

“Insurgent factions in Syria have joined together to fight off an assault by a powerful jihadist group which launched an attack on rebels this week.

Several militias formed an alliance with key Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham amid some of the worst inter-factional clashes in recent times.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has accused the rebels of conspiring against it at peace talks in Kazakhstan this week. […]

JFS has been involved in clashes with rebels in Idlib and neighbouring west Aleppo since Tuesday.

Ahrar al-Sham, which has rejected calls by outside powers to dissociate itself from JFS, blamed the jihadists for starting the fighting. […]

On Thursday, Ahrar al-Sham said JFS had rejected its attempts to mediate. The Islamists warned JFS that any attack on its members would be considered a “declaration of war”, according to Reuters news agency.”

The Reuters article also provides more detail:

“Rebel factions Alwiyat Suqour al-Sham, Fastaqim, Jaish al-Islam’s Idlib branch, Jaish al-Mujahideen and al-Jabha al-Shamiya’s west Aleppo branch said in a statement they had joined Ahrar al-Sham.

The Ahrar al-Sham statement also mentioned a sixth group, the Sham Revolutionary Brigades, and said “other brigades” had joined.”

In other words, based on the information previously provided in the BBC’s backgrounder, audiences are encouraged to believe that while Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al Nusra) is a jihadist group that uses violence, Ahrar al-Sham is an ‘Islamist’ group which – by the BBC’s definition – does not. That is clearly not the case at all and obviously the terminology used by the BBC in this report is not sufficiently accurate.

Meanwhile, since that January 26th BBC report was published, Reuters and other outlets have reported the formation of another ‘coalition’ in Syria.

“An online statement issued by the Islamist factions announced the formation of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Committee).

It said the alliance was formed to mend splits among insurgent groups and strengthen opposition to the Damascus government.

The signatories were Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group, Liwa al-Haqq, Jaish al-Sunna and Jabhat Ansar al-Din.”

The FDD reports that the leader of that new coalition – which the BBC would presumably have described as ‘jihadist’ had it reported on the topic – was previously the head of the group it portrays as ‘Islamist’.

“In a statement released online, the joint venture partners say they have merged to form Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, or the “Assembly for Liberation of the Levant.” It is led by a jihadi known as Abu Jaber (also known as Hashem al Sheikh), the former head of Ahrar al Sham, which continues to operate under its own name in Syria. […]

Some reports have identified Abu Jaber as a former member of al Qaeda in Iraq. […]

The establishment of Tahrir al Sham comes after weeks of reported clashes and fierce disagreements between different jihadi factions and other insurgents in northern Syria. It is difficult to discern how the situation unfolded, but JFS and Ahrar al Sham have reportedly disagreed over the direction of the insurgency, leading to some clashes. The two groups have long fought side-by-side against the Assad regime and others. Indeed, Ahrar al Sham has its own links to al Qaeda and openly models itself after the Taliban.”

Clearly audience understanding of this complex topic is not enhanced by the BBC’s use of inaccurate and confusing labels.

Related Articles:

Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) As noted at the Tower, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently published an interesting article about a particular outcome of the war in Syria. Weekend Read

“Iran is repopulating Syrian territory from Damascus to Homs with Shiites families from elsewhere in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, turning the area into “zones of influence” that Iran “can directly control and use to advance broader interests,” The Guardian reported earlier this month. […]

Lebanese officials have been paying close attention to what they say has been a systematic destruction of Land Registry offices in areas coming under Assad’s control. It has been confirmed that these offices have been burned in the cities of Zabadani, Darayya, Homs, and Qusayr, meaning that residents who fled cannot prove ownership of their homes.

Abu Mazen Darkoush, a former Free Syrian Army commander, said that after many neighborhoods in Homs were cleansed of their residents, families who returned were refused entry into their homes by officials who cited their lack of proof of ownership.”

2) The Times of Israel has a report on some of the Israeli organisations helping Syrian civilians afflicted by the war in their country.

“In one month, an online crowdfunding campaign, “Just Beyond the Border,” has raised over $350,000 to bring much-needed emergency aid to the children of Syria — more than double its original aim.

The campaign’s title reflects the ideology behind it: that Israelis simply cannot ignore the horrors taking place in neighboring Syria.

Speaking to The Times of Israel recently, Yoav Yeivin, one of the lead organizers of the campaign who is also a Jerusalem city council member for the Hitorerut/Wake-Up Jerusalem movement, said he was inspired by his Holocaust survivor grandmother.

“I was raised with the understanding that apathy could be lethal,” he said.”

3) Although nearly two years have passed since the BBC last reported on the topic, the story of Syrian patients receiving treatment from the IDF and in Israeli hospitals continues – as Reuters recently reported.

“It happens nearly every night. After dark, the Syrian wounded come to known locations on the Israel-Syria front in the Golan Heights, driven by desperation to seek help from an enemy army.

Israeli soldiers on lookout or patrol spot them waiting by the fence and whisk them away to a rear position where army medics soon arrive, according to army officials operating in the Golan Heights.”

4) Israel’s Channel 10 recently reported another development regarding Israeli aid to Syrians.

“Israel is to grant refugee status to 100 orphaned Syrian refugee children, in line with a decision by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Wednesday.

According to Channel 10, the children will receive temporary resident status and become permanent residents after four years, and be able to remain in Israel for their entire lives.

Channel 10 said that the children will be integrated into Arab Israeli families. Furthermore, any of the children’s immediate relatives will also be considered for refugee status.

The government made the final decision on the future of the refugees and will now liaise with the relevant international organizations to bring the orphans into the country.”