BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip has suffered from shortages of medical equipment and supplies for many years because of the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA which is responsible for healthcare both in the areas under its control and the Gaza Strip.

Throughout that time the BBC has repeatedly steered its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for that chronic shortage of medical supplies by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

As we noted here in 2014 when Yolande Knell did precisely that, there is not – and never has been – any restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip with the exception of items classed as dual use equipment which has the potential to be used for terrorism. 

“The long-standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza emanates primarily from a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatment for patients outside of Gaza.

The healthcare system in Gaza is marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment and an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza due to issues of non-payment.

COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] works to facilitate the transfer of medication and medical supplies both through the international community and the private sector, however shortages remain.”

Throughout 2019 COGAT coordinated the entry of 800 truckloads of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote the false narrative according to which the sorry state of affairs in the Gaza healthcare system is attributable to Israel – a narrative also promoted by Hamas.

The March 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item promoting an appeal put out by the United Nations.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 07:29 here).

Iqbal: “Life in some of the wealthiest countries in the world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate and in that respect a leveller. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly adversely affect those who already have so little and to address that, today the United Nations has launched a $2 billion funding drive to help vulnerable countries fight Covid 19. The UN says all of humanity is at risk. In countries already affected by conflict, natural disasters or climate change, the death toll from the virus will be higher.”

Later in that item Iqbal interviewed Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of UNOCHA. Before that, however, she sought to illustrate the points made in her introduction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “The warning comes from [sic] after the confirmation of two cases in the densely populated Gaza region – where a decade-long blockade has devastated the health services – and the first case in Syria reported on Sunday. What are the additional challenges facing crisis zones when trying to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus and are they certain to get the help they need? A short time ago I spoke to Khamis Elessy, a doctor in Gaza.”

Listeners were not informed that in addition to being a doctor, Elessy is also an associate professor at the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza. Several hours after this interview his opening statement concerning two cases of Covid 19 in the Gaza Strip was no longer accurate.

Elessy: “Thanks God that we only have 2 cases confirmed out of 155 cases so we’re assisted. And those two cases were not from Gaza. They come from Pakistan. The healthcare system is barely coping with ordinary cases. Around 40% of essential drugs are lacking inside Gaza. Many of the equipments need spare parts and need repair. Throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units. But if we think of best scenario for Corona outbreak, we have to think of at least 100 beds so we need to add another 50 beds. They are not available here in Gaza because we don’t have factories or respirators, ventilators and other [unintelligible] of core equipment and we don’t have the medicines like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and other things that are needed. So far the two cases which were diagnosed inside Gaza their condition is stable, they’re in good health so far. And we hope that we will not have any other cases and maybe for the first time we have something out of the siege. Maybe this gave us one advantage that we’re not open to the rest of the world and that’s why there is no regular flow of people into Gaza and out of Gaza.”

Of course Iqbal had already told listeners that the counter-terrorism measures employed by Egypt and Israel are responsible for ‘devastating’ the health services in the Gaza Strip and so it was unsurprising to see that audiences received no information whatsoever concerning the real cause of the lack of essential medicines. Equally predictable was Iqbal’s failure to challenge Elessy’s promotion of the false notion of a “siege”.  

Turning to the much favoured BBC theme of population density, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “I wonder though if you could reflect for us on the possibility of the outbreak affecting Gaza in a bigger way. Do you think, Doctor, that it would be possible to self-isolate in a densely-populated area?”

Elessy: “No, no because unfortunately all families here belong to an extended family class. So the parents living in the same home, their sons, their grandsons. So you see in the same building around 80 or 70 people living in the same building. So self-isolation is difficult, it is impossible and this is actually the scary scenario if, God forbid, we have a huge number of cases that is infected and we need to isolate them, we can’t isolate them.”

Interestingly, in the interview with Mark Lowcock which followed on from this he noted that in relation to weak health systems:

Lowcock: “Gaza in fact is a little bit better than some of the other places we’re talking about like Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.”

The BBC however chose not to interview a doctor from any of those places but did use the opportunity to once again promote the false and entirely context-free notion (in a programme which will remain available for over a year) that the problems affecting the Gaza Strip’s healthcare services are attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

 

 

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The March 6th edition of the BBC radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 16:48 here) which suggests that following the discovery of seven Coronavirus cases in Bethlehem on March 5th and the subsequent introduction of measures by the Palestinian Authority which included the closure of the Church of the Nativity, the BBC decided to send a reporter to that town.

Presenter Shaun Ley introduced the item. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ley: “Now, as governments try to contain the spread of Coronavirus, some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world are in place in Israel, where 21 cases gave been reported. So far, it’s closed its borders to more than ten countries, and ordered travellers recently arrived from places like France Germany and Spain to self-isolate for fourteen days. Yesterday the first cases were confirmed in the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem. Within hours the main checkpoint from there into Israel had been shut down. The prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he’s unafraid to take harsh measures to try to contain the virus. But how stringently are they being followed and is there a wider economic impact to consider? Our Middle East correspondent Anna Foster begins her report in Bethlehem.”

Anna Foster commenced with the debatable claim that the Church of the Nativity is “the world’s oldest church” and by promoting the notion that Bethlehem – which has been under exclusive PA control for nearly a quarter of a century – is “occupied”.

Foster: “The sight of the ancient wooden door being firmly locked made headlines. The world’s oldest church where Christians believe Jesus was born, forced to close its doors as Coronavirus reached the occupied territories. I watched as the final visitors scrambled to touch the metal star that marks the spot. Hand after hand rubbing it without any soap and water in sight.”

Foster spoke to some German tourists who did not seem to be paying particular attention to instructions concerning self-isolation before going on:

Foster: “In Israel tens of thousands of locals and tourists are now in self-quarantine. But if you’re on holiday and not following the Hebrew media, how do you find out if you’re affected and what you should be doing?”

Listeners were not told that there are numerous non-Hebrew media outlets in Israel reporting daily on that topic or that both the Ministry of Health and the ambulance service provide information and help lines in English and other languages. Instead, Foster asked a worker at a hotel in Jerusalem:

Foster: “Should you be trying to tell them more though, because the government would want you to pass that information on for them, wouldn’t they?”

Moving on to the Old City in Jerusalem, Foster noted the reduction in the number of tourists.

Foster: “Israel is proud of its proactive approach to containing Coronavirus but shop owners like Mohammed can already see the impact of keeping tourists away.”

When her interviewee complained that business was already in decline because of “the situations between the Israel and the Palestinians” Foster did not explain to listeners the effects of Palestinian terrorism and violence on the tourism industry.

As we see, listeners to this superficial report did not in fact find out why the Israeli government has implemented “some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world” or what steps are being taken to help sectors impacted by the situation.

Neither did they hear anything of the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has included the evacuation of tourists from PA controlled areas and the supply of testing kits and training.

“COGAT has been working in the past two weeks to assist the Palestinian Authority in curbing and preventing a coronavirus outbreak in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.  Under the stewardship of Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA. Furthermore, joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel were organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.

In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak.  The information published in Arabic is available to the entire Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.”

That information would of course have been far more useful to BBC audiences trying to understand how Israel is handling the situation than interviews with a couple of random tourist industry workers in Jerusalem.  

BBC Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 5th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’, presented by Shaun Ley, included a pre-recorded interview with David Miliband, president and CEO of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

During that interview (from 24:42 here) Miliband spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, which is under attack from the Assad regime and its Russian allies along with Iranian militias. He noted that hospitals and health centres are being bombed and that vehicles “carrying displaced people are also being targeted”. Ley raised the topic of war crimes in relation to ambulances being targeted and Miliband referred to “international humanitarian law” and “war crimes”.

However in the course of that interview, Miliband also made the following statement (from 26:43):

Miliband: “I want to say to your listeners, we already have one Gaza in the Middle East, in Gaza itself, with about two million people crammed in. There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

One can of course find several points on which to take issue with Miliband’s simplistic, if not sensationalist, comparison of Idlib to the Gaza Strip. For example, in that province in Syria hospitals have – as the BBC knows – been deliberately bombed by Russian jets. In the Gaza Strip, not only is that not the case but hospitals receive medical supplies transferred by Israel (139 tons in the week in which this programme was aired alone) and additional products such as food and building materials are also supplied.

For the producers of ‘The World Tonight’, however, that redundant comparison was apparently the most important thing that Miliband said during his five-minute interview – as shown by the fact that it was used to promote the item in the programme’s introduction (from 00:55) along with a reference to war crimes.

Ley: “Also in the programme, the UN Security Council meets tomorrow to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria. The former foreign secretary David Miliband tells me that Western indifference has contributed to a situation in which war crimes are being committed.”

Miliband: “There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

Apparently the BBC considers that invalid and irrelevant comparison to be consistent with its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza

A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.” 

And:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s public purposes commit the corporation to providing:

“…duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world.”

And:

“…a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”

The corporation’s coverage of the recently released US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage – in this case on the BBC domestic radio station Radio 4 and on BBC World Service radio.

While the tables below are not exhaustive, they give an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligations to provide “a range and depth of analysis” and to reflect “a range of views”.

Programmes aired before the US plan was made public are marked with a pale gold background.

Commentators and BBC journalists who provided a neutral view of the US proposal are marked in blue, those promoting a positive view in green and those promoting a negative view are marked in red.  

BBC World Service radio:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fk0q7  from 14:06 David Makovsky

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fm2df  from 30:05 discussed here, Husam Zomlot, Aaron David Miller

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fmxmb  from 00:11, 14:06, 45:07, Husam Zomlot, Logan Bayroff (J Street), discussed here and here

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575fpz9j  from 30:06, Shlomo Ben Ami, Rashid Khalidi

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wq5575ftqfj  from 30:06 Mohammad Shtayyeh

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csyv7l  from 00:00

 

BBC Radio 4:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dr9s  from 1:47:16 discussed here

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dphy  discussed here (including times of reports) Husam Zomlot

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpkh  from 45:43, Jan Egeland,  Karin von Hippel

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpkm  from 08:22, Mustafa Barghouti

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpl0   from 01:32  and 07:51, Diana Buttu

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dpl6  discussed here

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000dqf8  from 2:49:20

 

As we see, the BBC chose to provide airtime to Palestinian officials while no interviews with Israeli officials were included in any of the programmes and one interview with a former US official was heard on each of the two stations. Interviews were conducted with two Israeli representatives from think tanks (one neutral and one negative), three representatives from US or UK think tanks (one neutral, two negative), two US-Palestinian academics (both negative), one representative of a political NGO (negative) and one lobbying group representative (negative).

The majority of reports from the BBC’s own staff presented a negative view of the topic.

Both those BBC radio stations gave audiences were given an overwhelmingly one-sided view of the US peace initiative (in all twelve times more negative views than positive ones), starting even before it had been published. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear a balanced “range of views”.

The purpose of the editorial guidelines is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is once again abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports offering a “wide range of significant views”. 

Related Articles:

BBC impartiality – a case study

 

BBC’s Guerin gratuitously inserts ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance coverage

h/t GB

On the evening of January 22nd BBC audiences were presented with audio and filmed versions of a report by the corporation’s Istanbul based international correspondent Orla Guerin about an Israeli Holocaust survivor.

Listeners to BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ and those tuning in to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard an audio version of Guerin’s report (from 18:13 here and from 20:38 here) in which her usual commitment to accuracy was on display:

Guerin: “Rina takes us to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial centre: a sprawling compound hewn out of stone.” [emphasis added]

Yad Vashem was of course constructed using concrete.

However it was the filmed version of Guerin’s report – aired on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ and available here – which caused offence to many viewers. Towards the end of that report Guerin told audiences:

Guerin: “In Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, images of the dead. Young soldiers troop in to share the binding tragedy of the Jewish people. The State of Israel is now a regional power. For decades it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.” [emphasis added]

Given Orla Guerin’s long record of problematic Israel-related reporting one might wonder about the degree of judgement behind the BBC’s decision to send her to cover such a sensitive subject as Holocaust remembrance.

However, when one considers that by the time Guerin’s filmed report went on air, visitors to the BBC News website had already seen the gratuitous shoehorning of a context free reference to ‘occupation’ into an article ostensibly about the World Holocaust Forum event in Jerusalem, those editorial considerations perhaps become clearer.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance report

BBC Complaints contradicts BBC News website article

Last month we noted that in a report by Aleem Maqbool which was aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on November 18th listeners were told that the announcement made by the US Secretary of State concerning the US administration’s change of position regarding Israeli communities in areas that came under Israeli control during the Six Day War “breaks four decades of State Department policy”. [emphasis added]

Listeners also heard Maqbool say that:

“…the timing has surprised some people because, you know, many Palestinians will feel – even over those four decades during which the United States did consider the building of settlements inconsistent with international law, it never really stopped those settlements expanding at a rapid rate to the point now where some of them are as big as cities.”

And:

“One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumim – cuts the West Bank in half.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those two inaccurate claims which included a link to a BBC News website report from the same day in which it was explained that:

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

On December 2nd we received a response telling us that BBC Complaints had “referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On December 21st BBC Complaints informed us that “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On December 30th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us The World Tonight on November 18. Firstly, we apologise for the delay in replying here – it’s taken longer than normal and we’re sorry for the undue delay. Your concerns about accuracy and impartiality were raised at the time and the programme team respond here as follows:

‘We stand by the assertion that President Trump’s policy is a significant change of a decades-long approach by the State Department to the issue of the legality of settlements in the West Bank.

Successive US administrations have largely avoided the expression of a public opinion on the issue of legality, although in 1980 the US voted for UN Security Council resolution 465 and in 2016 the US did not veto a UN resolution that declared Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[s] a flagrant violation under international law”.

With regards to Ma’ele [sic] Adumim and the settlements around Jerusalem: it is clear that their expansion has made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line, significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank.’”

UN SC resolution 465 dates from the time of the Carter presidency and the 2016 resolution (2334) from the end of the Obama administration. In other words, the BBC has chosen to ignore the interim thirty-six years during which – according to the BBC itself – “the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations”.

Obviously Israeli construction in Ma’ale Adumim or other locations has not “made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line” at all. That line remains as it was when drawn and is specifically defined in that agreement as being “agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

However Aleem Maqbool did not claim that construction in Ma’ale Adumim had had the effect of “significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank” – he claimed that it “cuts the West Bank in half”. That statement of course remains inaccurate, as does the claim that the US Secretary of State’s announcement “breaks four decades of State Department policy”.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

Political advocacy journalism distorts coverage of US policy on settlements  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 reporting on the ICC prosecutor’s statement

Listeners to the December 20th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ heard the following (from 06:01 here) in the opening news bulletin read by Luke Tuddenham. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Tuddenham: “The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says she will launch a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories at the earliest opportunity. Fatou Bensouda says she believes serious offences have been committed but Israel has questioned whether she has the jurisdiction to open an inquiry. Our Middle East analyst Alan Johnston reports.”

Johnston: “The ICC prosecutor has conducted a preliminary investigation of Palestinian complaints regarding the situation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Now she says she’s satisfied that war crimes have indeed been committed there. But she’s asked the court to confirm that it has jurisdiction over these areas before she launches a full investigation. Israel has vigorously denied that the ICC has any legal authority in the Palestinian territories and says the case should have been thrown out. If Ms Bensouda does proceed with her investigation charges might be filed against Israelis and Palestinians.”

A couple of hours later those listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ heard this portrayal of the same story (from 19:57 here).

Newsreader: “The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says she will launch a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories at the earliest opportunity. Fatou Bensouda believes serious offences have been committed and has asked the court to confirm that it has jurisdiction over the areas in which she wants to conduct an investigation: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC had no authority in these areas.”

Obviously neither of those items provided the BBC’s domestic audience with even the minimum of background information needed to properly understand the story. The BBC’s blanket portrayal of “the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza” as “Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories” – despite the fact that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip over 14 years ago and agreements signed by the Palestinians place parts of Judea & Samaria under Israeli control and define the final status of those areas as well as parts of Jerusalem as being subject to negotiation – obviously muddied the picture.

Listeners heard no explanation as to why “Israel has vigorously denied that the ICC has any legal authority” in the said areas or what sort of ‘war crimes’ the prosecutor claims have been committed. Neither was it clarified why charges “might be filed against Israelis and Palestinians” and the relevant issue of the “principle of complementarity” was not mentioned at all. 

What these two superficial reports do promote to domestic BBC audiences, however, is the take away messaging that an international legal body is “satisfied that war crimes have indeed been committed” by Israelis.

Related Articles:

Superficial and one-sided BBC reporting on ICC statement

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the topic of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Jenny Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour”, with listeners hearing nothing at all about that fringe group’s agenda.

Having declared herself “absolutely horrified” by Mirvis’ article, Manson began by disputing a statement made earlier on in the programme by the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Martin Bashir concerning the number of British Jews represented by the Chief Rabbi before going on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Manson: “…these allegations – I’ve just had a quick look through the letter [sic] – many of them have been…ehm…repudated [sic] by JVL if you’d like to look at our website. We’ve proper evidence, we’ve even had lawyers pouring over them in relation to the Labour MPs who’ve left citing antisemitism, in relation to the mural.”

Listeners were not informed by Shah what that opaque reference to “the mural” actually means before Manson went on.

Manson: “He [the Chief Rabbi] mentions in his letter [sic] the EHRC’s investigating institutional antisemitism – that is not true. They are investigating the processes. If he’s looked at the EHRC site you can see this.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission website clarifies that it is investigating more than “processes”.

Shah however made no effort to clarify that point.

Shah: “But the fact that there is an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the Labour party is something that may concern many people. He also says…”

Manson: “OK. Can I…can I just…”

Shah: “Indeed but can I just mention one point. The Chief Rabbi says that ‘convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics and rightly so. However challenging racism in all its forms is not a matter of politics: it goes well beyond that’.”

Manson: “Oh absolutely. I mean we challenge racism every time and any racism we see either in the Labour party or anywhere else, we call out. But let me go back to the EHRC. Both the Conservative party and the Labour party had sent the EHRC…had…sorry…the EHRC has received complaints about the Conservative party and the Labour party. You don’t hear about that, about the Conservative party. They received many complaints. They had to investigate many complaints. What they decided to do – if anyone wants to look at their website – was to investigate the processes not the party.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge that claim.

Shah: “OK well you’ve made that point but the thing that will stand out in people’s minds is that the Chief Rabbi has chosen to make an intervention – he uses the phrase with the heaviest of hearts – at what is clearly a very sensitive time in the run-up to an election; we’re weeks away. Why do you think he would have felt the need to do this if he didn’t believe the problem was very, very serious?”

Manson: “What I think must have happened is that we’ve had three and a half years of – in my view and in the view of my colleagues – extremely biased reporting. We have put out statements. Nobody picks them up. There’s been one side of this issue – it’s not only been on the BBC – but if anyone wants to look at the facts, I say they abound.”

Shah made no effort to question that claim from Manson or to point out that members of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – including Manson herself – have made regular appearances in BBC content over the past couple of years before her interviewee went on:

Manson: “So that many Jews have got genuinely frightened. What we know because we really do know the facts – I say we look at them very carefully – is there was a serious new threat to Jews on the Far-Right. There is no threat to Jews in the Labour party. There has been some people who’ve said foolish things. There’s some people who say foolish things in the Lib Dem party and in the Conservative party but only the Labour party is being looked at [by] the Chief Rabbi and his colleagues and I have to ask why about that too. But let’s just say that there’s been…they’ve been misled badly and I think to intervene in the election at this time is very, very poor stuff. It won’t go down well with people who are…who are open-minded, who know, who look at the evidence. It’s a bad day for me as a Jew to hear false allegations being repeated yet again.”

Once again Shah failed to challenge Manson’s claims before closing the interview at that point.

The next day Manson appeared on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 34:59 here) and was interviewed by Razia Iqbal directly after an interview with Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement.

Iqbal: “Joining me in the studio now is Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn. […] What’s your response to what you’ve just heard Mike Katz saying?”

Manson: “Well I’m actually appalled at the lack of truth in some of those comments. For example the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is not investigating the Labour party’s institutional antisemitism. Because of the number of complaints it was sent – many of which turned out not to be true is my guess – they are looking at the processes of the Labour party.”

Once again listeners heard no challenge to that spin.

Manson: “It’s not whataboutery to say that all political parties have a problem with antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia and all forms of xenophobia. There have been Conservative and Lib Dem candidates withdrawn in the last few weeks over antisemitism. It’s not a Labour party problem and it is relevant to say why should there be so much attention to the existence – I’m thankful to say – of a very small amount of antisemitism in the Labour party and almost no attention on the other political parties and no recognition of the work done by Jeremy Corbyn. I am personally offended by this continuous attack on him, who I know.”

Iqbal: “OK but the Chief Rabbi has talked about this as a ‘new poison which has been sanctioned from the very top’ and he also says that the claim by the Labour party that all cases of antisemitism in its ranks have been investigated is ‘a mendacious fiction’. I mean these are incredibly strong things to say.”

Manson: “They are incredibly…and incredibly the wrong things to be saying not only in an election campaign; at any time. It’s 0.0% [sic] of…point six of the Labour party members have been accused of antisemitism. When the party investigates they investigate it properly. Again, no point…this whataboutery but I hear that some of the people suspended for Islamophobia in the Tory party find themselves back in a couple of weeks later.”

Iqbal did not demand any evidence from Manson for that allegation.

Manson: “The Labour party’s very thorough. To have 100 cases that haven’t been heard is to do with the process. We do a proper process. We have lawyers acting. This idea, this multiplication of non-facts of the last four years against all the evidence. We have evidence and ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – we are by the way…you have…to be a full member of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ you have to be Jewish and in the Labour party. The Jewish Labour Movement do not make that requirement. We speak for Jews in the Labour party. We’ve investigated cases for example why some of these Labour MPs have left. We have the evidence of…”

Failing to challenge that highlighted spurious claim, Iqbal interrupted with a decidedly pointless question given the fact that the entire purpose of JVL is to act as cheerleaders for Corbyn.

Iqbal [interrupts]: “OK well let me ask…you say that you know Jeremy Corbyn. Can you categorically say that he has never made an antisemitic comment, that he is not antisemitic in any way?”

Manson: “I can absolutely confirm that and in a way my knowing him is not…I’m very pleased to know him but even before I knew him, when I was first involved in this campaign, I knew that this man has a great hatred of racism on all sides. What has been done is things that he’s done over the last ten years have been picked over. He has always supported, as I do, Palestinian rights very strongly. So he has a meeting – as many people were suggesting he should do including Parliament at the time – with various groups. When they sit down he addresses everybody there as friends. How in any way that can be typified as antisemitism is utterly beyond me. These are the kind of stories that have been built on for four years since he became leader in an attempt to get rid of him as leader.”

Iqbal made no effort whatsoever to explain to listeners around the world what Manson was referring to with that story or to challenge her inaccurate account. Even Corbyn himself does not deny that he called members of Hamas and Hizballah friends – rather than “everybody there” as claimed by Manson. Iqbal could and should have informed listeners that in the same speech Corbyn spoke about Hamas – an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel under its overtly antisemitic founding charter – as follows:

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

Corbyn also clearly expressed his opposition to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state: a stance categorised as antisemitism under the IHRA working definition.

“We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people. […] Our argument – and I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian we’re anti-Semitic: it’s nonsense. What we’re in favour of is a Palestine where everybody can live. They can’t live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”

Instead, Iqbal let Manson’s lies stand and posed her last question.

Iqbal: “Just very briefly, do you accept though that this is going to be hugely damaging to him and the Labour party?”

Manson: “Well strangely enough I don’t think it’s going to be and the reason is this has been going on a long time and the reason that it’s not going to damage the party as much as I think people think is because Jeremy’s character, as has been shown in the debates recently, is so clearly sincere and genuine that if it had been some lesser man perhaps this story would have been believedbut people are sceptical. They say this doesn’t sound right.”

Iqbal: “OK we will leave it there. Jenny Manson, co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – joining us live here in the ‘Newshour’ studio – thanks.”

As we see, despite having brought in an unabashed cheerleader for Jeremy Corbyn to comment on this story, neither Shah nor Iqbal made any effort to challenge her distortions, spin and downright lies, with the result being that both domestic audiences and those worldwide heard nothing in the two interviews with her which would contribute to their understanding of the issues that lie behind the Chief Rabbi’s unprecedented step.

Related Articles:

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

BBC News not sure whether Corbyn controversy mural antisemitic or not

Reviewing BBC R4’s ‘World at One’ background on the Labour Party story

 

 

 

BBC radio coverage of the Chief Rabbi’s article – part one

Coverage on BBC radio stations of an article by Britain’s Chief Rabbi published by The Times on November 25th was understandably extensive and reports heard by listeners to two programmes on different stations are of particular interest.

Both the November 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – and the November 26th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included interviews with two people presenting opposing perspectives on the story.

One of those interviewees was Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement which has been affiliated to the UK Labour party since 1920.

On ‘The World Tonight’ Mr Katz was introduced (from 25:17 here) as “Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement” and on ‘Newshour’ he was presented (from 30:07 here) as “Mike Katz who is the national chair of Jewish Labour”.

Listeners were given no information concerning the JLM’s long history, the fact that it is one of the oldest socialist societies to be affiliated with the Labour party or the number of members in the organisation.  

The other interviewee was Jenny Manson of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ which was launched two years ago in late September 2017. Writing several weeks after that launch, Robert Philpot noted that:

“…it was JVL’s opposition to JLM’s attempt to change Labour’s rules to crack down on anti-Semitism — a change backed by Corbyn himself — which provoked most controversy.

During the debate on the measure, which was adopted by the party, JVL’s vice-chair, Leah Lavane, railed against JLM and those who “make that accusation [of anti-Semitism] every time you criticize the despicable behavior of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people.”

For JVL, the tightening of the party’s rules represents an “anti-democratic restriction on political debate” which “runs the risk of giving the stamp of approval to those opposed to Corbyn’s leadership to drive out more of his supporters.”

It particularly objects to the party judging allegations of anti-Semitism by using the definition drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and adopted by the British government because, it claims, this restricts criticism of Israel.

In fact, the IHRA definition explicitly makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.””

BBC radio audiences however heard nothing about JVL’s background and agenda. On ‘The World Tonight’ Ms Manson was introduced (from 13:11 here) as “the co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour” and on ‘Newshour’ – appearing after Mr Katz – she was described (from 34:59 here) as “co-chair of another Jewish Labour group – Jewish Voice for Labour – ahm…which supports Jeremy Corbyn”. [emphasis added]

In other words, listeners to two different BBC radio stations were given the erroneous impression that those interviewees represented two comparable Jewish groups linked to the Labour party and – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – they were told practically nothing of the obviously relevant issue of the “particular viewpoint” of the fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour.

During the ‘Newshour’ interview with Mike Katz, (from 30:07 here) listeners heard Razia Iqbal twice ask him whether he thought that the Chief Rabbi’s article was the “right thing to do” and when her interviewee pointed out that antisemitism in the Labour party “is not an issue that has suddenly come out of nowhere” Iqbal interrupted him and the following exchange was heard: [emphasis in italics in the original]

33:18 Iqbal [interrupts]: “But even today, Mike Katz, even today Jeremy Corbyn says that he has made it very clear that there is no place whatsoever – I’m quoting him now – ‘for antisemitism in our society, our country or in my party. There never will be as long as I’m leader of the party’.”

Katz: “So, Razia, why hasn’t he taken proper action against it? Why has he allowed this state of affairs to flourish so that the party gets referenced to and taken up by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission? Why is it the case actually that there are still more than 100 outstanding cases before the National Constitutional Committee on antisemitism?”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “But there’s…I mean, you know…I just…I just wonder if I can point you…I wonder if I can point you to the other really big issue that does exist inside the political discourse in this country which is the presence of Islamophobia in the Conservative party and I wonder to what extent you feel that this is just a targeting of Jeremy Corbyn when there are…there are equally difficult thorny issues for the Conservative party to deal with.”

Yes – apparently ‘Newshour’ producers really did think that the understanding of audiences around the world of a story concerning unprecedented criticism of the leader of the UK Labour party from the Chief Rabbi would be enhanced by that blatant ‘whataboutery’ from Razia Iqbal.

In part two of this post we will look at the two interviews with Jenny Manson.