Disparity in BBC LGBTQ Middle East reporting

Two months ago BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio aired reports by Yolande Knell relating to Pride events in Israel.

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports one pride march protest, erases another

BBC’s Yolande Knell recycles her Jerusalem pride report – with a little help

Listeners heard that:

“Although Israel is proud of its diversity […] today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route.” 

“As last month’s Eurovision Song Contest showed, Israel likes to demonstrate its diversity but the angry protests at today’s march also highlighted the deep social and religious differences that remain.”

“Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation – which it recently flaunted while hosting the Eurovision Song Contest – draws many same-sex Israeli couples to live here as well as lots of foreign visitors. […] But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

“In the Right-wing coalition governments of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties have had an influential role. They reject any proposed legislation which they see as condoning homosexuality, saying it defies Jewish law.”

Knell used a cameo of gay Arab Jerusalemites to amplify delegitimisation of Israel by means of accusations of ‘pinkwashing’.

“Now while the anthem of this march is all about celebrating diversity, you don’t see many Palestinian Jerusalemites here. One reason is the social taboo around homosexuality. But some accuse Israel of pinkwashing: highlighting gay rights at events like this while neglecting Palestinian rights.”

“There are also strong differences of opinion among gay Palestinians. Social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality mean they don’t have their own pride events so some with access to the Israeli parades embrace them, like an East Jerusalemite drag queen in a tight black dress and bright red lipstick. Others, like Zizou, choose to boycott. ‘Pride week just helps Israel pinkwash its image’ he complains, accusing the country of presenting itself as progressive, liberal and LGBT friendly to distract from its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Listeners heard nothing more about that “social taboo” or those “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality”.

In July the BBC News website published an article about a “Palestinian singer blurring gender lines” which failed to provide readers with any substantial information on the issue of the challenges faced by LGBTQ Palestinians living under Hamas or Palestinian Authority rule.

Also last month the BBC chose to ignore a story about the stabbing of a youth from the Arab Israeli town of Tamra outside a Tel Aviv LGBTQ hostel, allegedly by members of his family.

“…Hebrew media have already reported that the youth had moved to Tel Aviv to escape family pressures to adopt a religious lifestyle.

Security camera footage showed one of the suspects stabbing the boy several times before getting into a car and fleeing the scene.

According to Beit Dror [hostel] staff, the teenager identified the assailant as his brother before he collapsed to the ground.

Doctors at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said Sunday that they had managed to stabilize the youth’s condition, which was upgraded to moderate, after he underwent surgery.”

Another example of BBC self-censorship on the issue of gay rights in Palestinian society comes following the publication of an article by Khaled Abu Toameh.

“The Palestinian Authority banned members of the Palestinian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community from carrying out any activities in the West Bank.

The ban came after the grassroots group Al-Qaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (Arabic for “the bow”), which engages and supports Palestinians who identify as LGBTQ, was planning to hold a gathering for its members in Nablus at the end of the month. […]

Explaining the decision to ban the LGBTQ group from operating in PA-controlled areas, Luay Zreikat, spokesperson for the PA Police, said that such activities are “harmful to the higher values and ideals of Palestinian society.”

Zreikat said that the group’s activities were completely “unrelated to religions and Palestinian traditions and customs, especially in the city of Nablus.”

He accused unnamed “dubious parties” of working to “create discord and harm civic peace in Palestinian society.”

The PA police will chase those behind the LGBTQ group and see to it that they are brought to trial once they are arrested, Zreikat warned. He further appealed to Palestinians to report to the police about any person connected to the group.”

Although that story has received quite a lot of coverage in local and international media, Yolande Knell and her BBC colleagues in Ramallah have to date shown no interest in reporting it. 

Update: 

PA’s ban on LGBTQ group gets two minutes of BBC airtime

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell recycles her Jerusalem pride report – with a little help

A week after her audio report about the Jerusalem pride march had been broadcast on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio 4, Yolande Knell recycled the same material in an item aired in the June 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As Pride events take place all over the world this month to recognise LGBT communities and to highlight ongoing campaigns for equal rights, Yolande Knell reports on Pride in Israel.”

With listeners once again not informed that the only country in her Middle East patch where Knell could produce such a report is Israel, presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 05:54 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s the month of campaign and celebration for LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender – communities. Equal rights are by no means recognised universally and in Israel tomorrow tens of thousands are expected at the Tel Aviv pride parade. Last week the country appointed its first openly gay cabinet minister but a staged mass wedding for gay couples and trouble at the pride march in Jerusalem highlight unresolved tensions according to Yolande Knell.”

Exactly how Knell defines “trouble” would emerge later on in the report. She began however with an event which took place in the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv on June 4th. Interestingly, Knell’s account included messaging and motifs seen in an AP report about that event.

Knell: “Beaming, Nikita stomps on a glass wrapped in foil to cries of muzl [sic] tov – congratulations. But this isn’t a traditional Jewish wedding: it’s a symbolic one. Nikita and his long-time partner Roy are in a row of 23 gay couples hugging and kissing. All walked down the aisle and took vows at an open-air mass ceremony in Tel Aviv.”

Although the Sarona complex is an open-air venue with no “aisle” to walk down, that phrase was also found in AP’s report.

AP: “Tuesday’s event involved an unofficial wedding ceremony for 23 gay couples, who walked down the aisle, took vows and danced at a banquet, cheered by friends, family and supporters.”

Knell went on:

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option. ‘We participated so everyone would see us and know we exist’ Nikita says. ‘We love each other, we want to be married and have a normal life’.”

As was the case in her earlier report, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that while civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”) for either heterosexual or homosexual couples, ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state.

The AP report states:

AP: “The annual pride parade, set for June 14, draws flocks of foreign visitors to Israel, which flaunts itself as one of the world’s most gay-friendly tourist destinations.”

Yolande Knell told Radio 4 listeners that:

Knell: “Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation – which it recently flaunted while hosting the Eurovision Song Contest – draws many same-sex Israeli couples to live here as well as lots of foreign visitors. Every year its pride parade along the beach has a carnival atmosphere. Young and old, gay and straight join the huge party, many dressed in flamboyant outfits or skimpy swimming costumes.”

The AP report goes on:

AP: “Yet political rights for Israel’s gay community lag behind increasingly widespread cultural acceptance.”

Yolande Knell went on:

Knell: “But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

AP readers were told that:

AP: “Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties, which wield significant influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government and have a monopoly over matters of religion and state, have rejected legislation that condones homosexuality, which they see as defying Jewish law.”

Yolande Knell’s listeners were told that:

Knell: “In the Right-wing coalition governments of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties have had an influential role. They reject any proposed legislation which they see as condoning homosexuality, saying it defies Jewish law.”

Describing Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government” rather than its capital – in accordance with BBC editorial policy – Knell went on:

Knell: “That makes the pride march in Jerusalem – the holy city and Israel’s seat of government – feel more like a protest, although there’s still fancy dress. ‘I can do whatever I want in Tel Aviv and that’s great’ says Shlomit who’s with her gay friend, wearing a unicorn hat. ‘But if I’m not marching in Jerusalem, doing leg-work to demand the rights some people still don’t have, then I don’t have the right to call myself an ally’.

As was the case in her earlier report, Knell made no effort to inform Radio 4 listeners what rights LGBTQ people do have in Israel such as the fact that same sex couples who married abroad enjoy all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

Listeners then learned that Kate Adie’s previous reference to ‘trouble’ in fact means a protest which received an advance permit.

Knell: “Near the start of the parade there’s a reminder of the strong opposition faced by Israel’s gay activists. A small group’s demonstrating against what it calls LGBT terrorism. Its leader Bentzi Gopstein belongs to a far-Right political party which struck a controversial deal with Mr Netanyahu ahead of the last election to shore up conservative votes. ‘This isn’t pride; it’s an abomination’ he shouts over a loudspeaker. ‘It’s not pride if someone can’t contain their lust. Keep Jerusalem holy’.”

In fact, prior to the April election Gopstein’s party ‘Otzma Yehudit’ joined the Jewish Home and National Union parties to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties. 

Knell: “With hundreds of police officers lining their route, the marchers pass the spot where a girl of 15 was fatally stabbed by an ultra-orthodox Jewish man during the parade four years ago. Many like Ronni stop to lay a red rose. ‘It’s very sad. It really shows what happens when you allow hatred to flourish’ she says. This crowd brings together secular and religious activists, all calling for greater tolerance even as they reveal conflicting currents in Israeli society. I meet liberal orthodox rabbis and their followers upset at how Jerusalem’s chief rabbi wrote to the mayor asking him to stop rainbow flags being displayed in the city. ‘Judaism’s a pluralistic religion’ says Ze’ev who wears a kippa or skullcap. ‘We’re here for the alternative’.”

Apparently for Knell, religious and secular people automatically ‘conflict’ rather than being simply diverse and co-existing “currents in Israeli society”. Once again she resurrected the story about the city’s chief rabbi’s letter without clarifying that the Jerusalem municipality rejected his request.

Next we discover that – in contrast to the impression given in her previous report – Knell did see the protests against MK Amir Ohana which took place at the Jerusalem march. She did not however bother to inform listeners which organisation was behind those protests and the pre-prepared placards – or of its political leanings.

Knell: “Then, there’s a decidedly mixed reaction to the appearance of Amir Ohana, the newly appointed openly gay justice minister who’s a loyalist of the prime minister. While some shake his hand, others yell ‘shame’ and ‘go home hypocrite’, accusing him of doing little for the LGBT community.”

As in her previous report, Knell amplified inadequately attributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “There are also strong differences of opinion among gay Palestinians. Social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality mean they don’t have their own pride events so some with access to the Israeli parades embrace them, like an East Jerusalemite drag queen in a tight black dress and bright red lipstick. Others, like Zizou, choose to boycott. ‘Pride week just helps Israel pinkwash its image’ he complains, accusing the country of presenting itself as progressive, liberal and LGBT friendly to distract from its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Before closing her report Knell managed to get a reference to the ‘peace process’ into an item ostensibly about pride marches in Israel while giving an imaginative portrayal of the country’s current “political climate”.

Knell: “This year pride in Israel takes place in a febrile political climate. After a recent bitterly fought election, Mr Netanyahu looked set to form a new government but failed to do so. Now the country must vote again. The campaign’s unlikely to see much talk of peace with the Palestinians but issues of religion and state will be hotly contested once more. Many of those flying rainbow flags this month will be hoping for political changes but they won’t have to look far for proof of how tough those will be.”

And so, for the second time in a week, Knell’s message to BBC audiences in the UK was that the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Jewish ultra-orthodox parties” – with no mention of how Arab parties in the Knesset relate to that issue. Yet again Knell failed to inform Radio 4 listeners what LGBTQ rights in Israel do include, while the issue of “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality” in Palestinian society and the wider region is obviously of no real interest to the BBC’s Middle East correspondent.   

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports one pride march protest, erases another

 

 

BBC repeats misrepresentation of Bar Noar shooting

Readers may remember that back in August we noted that a BBC World Service radio programme on the subject of Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Week included – inter alia – inaccuracies attributable to the fact that the programme makers had not bothered to amend it to reflect developments in the investigation into the 2009 shooting at the Bar Noar youth centre.

At the time, we noted that a filmed version of the programme was also scheduled for broadcast.

“Let’s hope that these issues are dealt with before the television version of this documentary is broadcast so that what otherwise could be an interesting programme is not marred by failures of accuracy and impartiality.”

The television version of the documentary appeared on October 5th in the programme ‘Our World on the BBC News Channel. 

Our World BBC News

Unfortunately, as can be seen in this version of the filmed programme (also available on iPlayer for a limited period of time for those in the UK), the Bar Noar shootings are still being misrepresented as an anti-gay hate crime and the political associations of Professor Aeyal Gross are still not being made clear to BBC audiences, in clear breach of editorial guidelines. 

BBC documentary on Tel Aviv gay pride fails to keep up with the news

Last week a message dropped into the BBC Watch mailbox promoting a BBC radio documentary. The e-mail came from the programme’s presenter – Tim Samuels – who also informed us that a television version of the documentary is scheduled for broadcast later in the year. 

The radio version – titled “Tel Aviv Comes Out” – was broadcast on August 11th on the BBC World Service in the series “The Documentary“. Samuels recorded the programme in June 2013 and that fact seems to have contributed to issues regarding the accuracy of the synopsis which appears on the BBC website and in the documentary itself. 

WS documentary TA comes out

The synopsis states:

“Tel Aviv’s march to gay epicentre hasn’t always been smooth – or organic. In 2009, the Mayor embarked on a multi-million dollar mission to rebrand the city as the ultimate gay destination. In that same year, a gunman – who has never been caught – opened fire on a gay youth club killing two people. Hostility is never far away.”

The trouble with that statement is of course that a suspect in the Bar Noar shootings has been caught (in fact he was arrested during the time that Samuels was in Tel Aviv making the programme) and was charged with two counts of murder and attempted murder on July 8th 2013. The implication that the shootings were purely an anti-gay hate crime is also problematic given the information which emerged after the arrests.  

That means that whoever wrote that synopsis has either not bothered to keep up with the facts of the case – and hence misleads audiences by making inaccurate statements – or that the facts of the case do not tailor themselves to the message he or she is trying to get across. Clearly, that synopsis needs to be corrected. 

Tim Samuels’ programme itself is in parts very good, including interesting interviews with Professor Uzi Even, former MK Yael Dayan and others. Unfortunately, he – or his producers at Tonic Productions – also do not appear to have kept up with progress in the Bar Noar case – despite obviously being aware of the fact that arrests had been made. From around 31:35, Samuels can be heard saying:

“…Tel Aviv’s self-confident tolerance was suddenly shattered in 2009 right in the heart of the city… […] A gunman walked into the gay youth centre and opened fire, killing two and wounding fifteen. An unexpected and incongruous attack that brought about some serious national soul-searching. […] Today’s papers are reporting some extra news about the shooting in 2009 at the gay youth centre. They’re saying that finally – nearly four years later – arrests have been made in connection to the shooting…”

It should be pretty standard practice for a documentary maker involved in a project which includes reporting on a criminal investigation to keep up with developments in that investigation and update and amend the programme accordingly – rather than going ahead with the broadcast of inaccurate and misleading information which is two months out of date.  That should clearly apply even more so when the programme is to be broadcast by the BBC, which purports to demand the same editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality from commissioned work as it does in its own content. 

The other problem with this documentary is its mainstreaming of the language of delegitimisation of Israel through its focus on – and promotion of – accusations of alleged “pinkwashing”.  Samuels opens his documentary by asking:

“But has the city’s [Tel Aviv] gay and lesbian cause been co-opted and used as a public relations tool by Israel?”

At 19:45 he says:

“What concerns some is that all this talk of tolerance – and the mayor’s money – is being used to deflect attention from the Palestinians and that gay rights have become a Public Relations tool.”

The trouble is that Samuels does not bother to properly inform his listeners who those “some” are and what their fringe agenda is. Audiences then hear an unidentified woman telling Samuels that “when tourists come here they see all this pinkwashing” and claiming that Israel is to blame for the fact that Palestinians cannot lead openly LGBT lives. Samuels then interviews Eyal (sometimes spelt Aeyal) Gross, whom he introduces merely as “associate professor of law at Tel Aviv university” – failing to inform audiences that Gross is a seasoned activist not only on the LGBT scene, but has also sat on the boards of ‘ACRI and ‘Gisha.

Whilst the opposite point of view to the two interviewees promoting the notion of “pinkwashing” is put by Tel Aviv council member and mayoral advisor on LGBT rights Yaniv Weizman, Samuels fails to adequately inform his audiences that the “pinkwashing” claim is just one tactic used within the wider context of political activism aimed at the delegitimisation of Israel. As we have noted here many times before, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that:

“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.”

The failure to make Gross’ political associations clear and the resulting lack of context to his politically motivated comments clearly breach that guideline.

Let’s hope that these issues are dealt with before the television version of this documentary is broadcast so that what otherwise could be an interesting programme is not marred by failures of accuracy and impartiality.

 

BBC self-censors on gay rights in Middle East

On June 7th 2013 Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride Week – now in its fifteenth year – culminated in a festival attended by over 100,000 participants who were addressed by the city’s mayor and representatives from five political parties among others. 

Picture: Jerusalem Post, Ziv Shemesh

The BBC ignored the event completely, with no reporting on the Middle East page of its website or in the ‘In Pictures’ features for that day or that week

One brief reference to the event was, however, to be found at the bottom of a strangely headlined article concerning the arrest of suspects in the investigation into the shooting at the Bar Noar (not “Bar Noah” as stated in the BBC article) LGBT youth club in 2009 which – contrary to the headline’s implication – appears at this stage not to have been motivated by anti-gay sentiment on the part of the perpetrators.  

HP BAr Noar arrests

Bar Noar article

“The arrests came on the eve of the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, which has one of the largest gay communities in the Middle East.”

The writer of this article does not attempt to explain to its readers exactly how he or she reached the conclusion that a city of 410,000 people – or 3.2 million if one includes the entire Tel Aviv metropolitan area – has “one of the largest gay communities” in comparison with cities such as Tehran (12.2 million), Cairo (9.2 million) or Riyadh (4.7 million). But it is actually highly unlikely that the BBC writer would be able to accurately quantify the LGBT communities in any of those – or other – cities in the Middle East for the simple reason that in the vast majority of them, same-sex relationships are illegal and any gay communities are forced to remain under the radar.

Zebra crossings painted in rainbow colors

Tel Aviv municipality repainted some zebra crossings in rainbow colours. Photo: Ministry of Tourism

Of course the BBC writer should have stated that Tel Aviv is the only city in the Middle East to hold a Gay Pride event at all, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East which affords legal protection and rights to its LGBT population and the only country in the region in which openly gay people serve in the military. 

Using the BBC’s own definition of the Middle East (according to the twenty countries given profiles on its website’s Middle East page), we see that homosexuality is still punishable by death in six Middle Eastern countries and by fine and/or imprisonment in ten additional ones. In Egypt, Lebanon and the PA controlled territories the situation is ambiguous, with homosexuality not specifically outlawed, but often punished under different laws relating, for example, to “morality”. In Iraq and Jordan homosexuality is not illegal, but the state does not defend gay rights and vigilante killings occur. In Israel homosexuality was decriminalized in 1988 – although the law had not been enforced since 1963. 

ME homosexuality

Rather than hiding behind the euphemism of “one of the largest gay communities in the Middle East” the BBC should be accurately informing its audiences about the real situation facing LGBT communities in that region. However, the pernicious combination of self-imposed political correctness – together with an institutional lack of impartiality regarding Israel – instead results in the BBC continuing to self-censor on the one hand, whilst insidiously using the tragic case of a criminal shooting in a gay youth club to once again foster the theme of Israel as an intolerant society on the other.