BBC Radio 4 fails to give the full picture on new Labour MP

Following the announcement of the result of the Peterborough by-election on June 6th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard comment on one aspect of that story on several programmes.

‘Today’, 7/6/19:

During an interview with Labour MP Andy McDonald, presenter John Humphrys asked (from 2:23:00 here):

“Quick word about antisemitism: are you entirely comfortable that your new MP had to apologise for approving a post on social media…”

Listeners were not told what it was about that post that made an apology necessary.

‘Six O’Clock News, 7/6/19:

[08:50 here] Newsreader: “The election of Lisa Forbes in Peterborough has not been universally welcomed inside the Labour party. A number of MPs have expressed misgivings and some in the party have already called for her suspension over allegations of antisemitism, which Miss Forbes strongly denies. Here’s our political correspondent Chris Mason.”

Mason: “….Miss Forbes had liked a Facebook post which said the prime minister had a Zionist slave masters agenda alongside a video of children praying after the New Zealand terror attack. Labour said she hadn’t read the text accompanying the video. Lisa Forbes said antisemitism was something she condemned completely. Last summer the new MP signed a letter calling on Labour’s National Executive Committee to resist calls to adopt all eleven examples accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism into the party’s code of conduct. The letter said this could silence free speech on Israel. Labour later did accept the full definition and say Lisa Forbes now accepts this too. […] Peterborough’s new MP has repeated that she believes antisemitism is abhorrent.”

‘The World Tonight’, 7/6/19:

[18:12 here] James Coomarasamy: “Well Labour’s new MP for Peterborough hasn’t enjoyed much of a honeymoon period. Lisa Forbes has been criticised by some of her new colleagues for liking social media posts with antisemitic content. She had for example given the thumbs up to one Facebook post which said that Theresa May had a – quote – Zionist slave masters agenda, alongside a video of children praying after the New Zealand terrorist attack. The Jewish Labour Movement has already called for the whip to be removed from her and that explains why Lisa Forbes’ interviews this morning sounded at times more like an apology talk than a victory lap. Here she is speaking on Sky News.”

Listeners heard Forbes claim in reference to that video that she “hadn’t paid much attention to the text above it”.

‘Today’, 8/6/19:

[09:00 here] Martha Kearney: “Labour’s relief at winning the Peterborough by-election may be tempered by the arguments over its new MP Lisa Forbes.”

Kearney then brought in BBC political reporter Peter Saull, saying “and this is all over a Facebook post”.

Saull: “Yeah, that’s right. So Lisa Forbes liked a Facebook post which said that the prime minister had a Zionist slave masters agenda and that line of text was alongside a video of children praying after the New Zealand terrorist attack and Labour said that she hadn’t actually read that text that was accompanying the video. That’s one thing. The second is that she signed a letter…you remember at the time Labour was going through a conversation about whether it should adopt the full international definition of antisemitism as set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. She signed this letter saying that the party shouldn’t adopt all eleven examples of antisemitism because it could silence free speech on Israel.”

So do those homogeneous portrayals of the controversy surrounding the new Labour MP for Peterborough tell the whole story?

The letter urging the party not to adopt all the examples accompanying the IHRA definition of antisemitism was circulated by the anti-Zionist fringe group ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ but BBC audiences were not given that relevant information. As the Jewish Chronicle reported:

“The letter appeared to call for the dismantling of the state of Israel, which is suggested was not “democratic” but an “apartheid state” and suggested instead a one state solution “in the form of a democratic state that grants equal rights to everyone lawfully residing within its borders.”

Ms Forbes backed the claim that: “Claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour is not the same as denying Jewish people the right to self-determination.

“It is denying such self-determination at the cost of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people. It is denying self-determination in the form of an ethno-nationalist state.”

The letter added: “Our Palestinian members must be able to speak freely about the Nakba and about the current system of apartheid and ongoing ethnic cleansing just like our Jewish members must be able to speak freely about the Holocaust.”

It also expressed support for the Boycott Divestment, Sanctions movement, saying: “To endorse the BDS movement or to suggest that the State of Israel in its historic and current form is a racist endeavour are not expressions of antisemitism.””

Obviously the BBC’s domestic audiences were not given the full picture as to why Lisa Forbes’ signing of that letter caused controversy.

As for the social media post that the Labour party claims Forbes did not read, claiming that “Theresa May had a Zionist slave masters agenda” (or, if one arrives at the conclusion that its writer does not know how to use a possessive apostrophe, that Theresa May is controlled by ‘Zionist slave masters’) – here it is:

Forbes also commented on another post by the same Facebook user in which he claimed that the CIA and the Mossad created ISIS but that went unmentioned by the BBC.

Clearly domestic BBC audiences were not given the full range of information which would allow them to understand why some members of Lisa Forbes’ own party “have expressed misgivings” and some “have already called for her suspension over allegations of antisemitism”.

 

 

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

On the evening of June 6th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell was aired on two BBC radio stations. In both cases the item was introduced with a reference to the appointment of MK Amir Ohana to the post of acting minister of justice, with audiences told that the appointment had taken place “today” when in fact it had been announced the previous evening.

On the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks introduced the report (from 38:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “As gay pride parades take place around the world this month, they don’t just celebrate LGBTQ communities; they also often highlight the struggle that many still face for acceptance and equal rights. Although Israel is proud of its diversity – indeed today [sic] the first openly gay man to become a minister in Israel has been appointed by the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

On the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ the item was billed “What Jerusalem’s Gay Pride march reveals about Israeli divisions” and presenter James Coomarasamy told listeners (from 26:36 here) that:

Coomarasamy: “Today’s gay pride march in Jerusalem has coincided with a first for Israel’s LGBTQ community. Amir Ohana was appointed the country’s acting justice minister today [sic], becoming its first openly gay cabinet member. 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. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that the only country in the Middle East where she could ‘join the crowds’ at such an event is Israel, Knell opened her report:

Knell: “It’s late afternoon and thousands of people have already gathered here at Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell park. They’re in high spirits for this march celebrating gay pride and tolerance.”

After a vox pop interview with an unnamed woman, Knell went on:

Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.”

While civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”), ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state. Knell then interviewed an unidentified man, asking him:

Knell: “What rights would you like to see for gay people in Israel?”

The man replied that he sees surrogacy and gay marriage as the main issues. Knell failed to remind listeners that gay marriage has only been possible in her own country for the past five years, that it is still not permitted in Northern Ireland or that surrogacy law in the UK is currently under review.  She refrained from informing listeners of the current situation on those issues in Israel, as explained here.

“The institution of marriage within the borders of the state are religious and not civil, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim etc, as it is with most of the Middle East.
These religious bodies hold the monopoly of recognized marriage ceremonies, and, as it stands today, none support civil unions.

That said, same-sex marriages performed outside of Israel are in fact recognized within the State and registered as such with the Ministry of Interior, which affords same sex married couples all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

The second is access to surrogacy, on Israeli soil, by same sex couples.
Again, using surrogacy services outside of Israel, is permitted and children brought to Israel, as a result of surrogacy, receive Israeli citizenship and are recognized as legal children to their parents.”

Knell then brought up the topic of a request refused by the Jerusalem municipality.

Knell: “There are plenty of rainbows drawn on people’s faces all around me. They’re on people’s shirts and there are flags too on display, although Jerusalem’s chief rabbi had asked the local council not to hang them up. But to encounter more vocal anti-gay sentiment, I’ve just got to cross the road. The people here are chanting ‘it’s not pride, it’s obscenity’. This is a protest organised by a far-Right group and there are signs around me ‘Jerusalem is not Sodom’, ‘stop the LGBT terror’.”

Following comment from one of the participants in that protest by a few dozen people, Knell continued:

Knell: “Now the pride march is on the move, we’re advancing up the road led by a drag queen dressed in gold, young and old Israelis. There’s a heavy police presence here – even a helicopter overhead – and this is why: we’re now passing the spot where 15-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death just four years ago at the pride parade.”

Knell then proceeded to amplify unattributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “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.”

Following an interview with an Arab Muslim participant in the march – and while carefully avoiding the topic of the rights of LGBTQ Palestinians – Knell closed her report:

Knell: “It’s the end of the procession now but the pride party is going to carry on here through the evening. It’s eighteen years since the first Jerusalem march and there’ve been big advances for the local gay community in that time. But in this holy city, today’s march is also a reminder of some of the deep divisions that aren’t going away.”

This report’s take-away message for BBC audiences in the UK and around the world is amply clear: the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties”, reflecting “deep social and religious differences” and “deep divisions” and the Jerusalem pride march was  the topic of “angry protests” by “a far-Right group”.

Interestingly though, Knell’s portrayal of the event she described as “celebrating gay pride and tolerance” did not include another ‘angry protest’ seen at the Jerusalem pride march.

“[Amir] Ohana walked through the crowds, some of whom booed at him, apparently due to his being a member of the ruling Likud party, seen as to the right of many in the gay community.

“What have you done for the gay community,” some shouted at him.”

Some of those protesting against the newly appointed justice minister gave out pre-prepared signs using his photograph.

Both the purple shirt worn by the person in that photograph and the placards themselves bear the logo of an organisation called ‘Omdim Yachad’ or ‘Standing Together’. That name should be familiar to the BBC because less than two weeks earlier, Tim Franks had interviewed a representative from that organisation in an item about the Israeli Left (from 45:04 here), describing it as “a new joint Arab and Jewish activist movement”. BBC audiences were not told, however, that the foreign funded political NGO was co-founded and is headed by a member of the far-Left party ‘Hadash’.  

So while Yolande Knell’s report included several references to the Right of the political map, a narrative-conflicting demonstration of far-Left intolerance which took place right under her nose was whitewashed from the account of the 2019 Jerusalem pride march heard by BBC audiences.

 Related Articles:

BBC News reports on new Israeli justice minister

BBC Radio 4 misleads on conscription in Israel

The May 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 24:05 here) introduced by presenter Julian Worricker as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “Now, political developments in Israel tonight. As we came to air the deadline passed for the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to form a new coalition government. His Likud party, along with its Right-wing and religious allies, won 65 seats out of 120 in the Knesset in the April election and victory celebrations followed. But coalition talks have not gone to plan, thanks principally to the demands of the former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. He wants ultra-orthodox Jews to perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis and he won’t bring his nationalist group of five parliamentarians on board unless he gets agreement on that. Ultra-orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament, oppose that measure and Mr Netanyahu needs both groupings to back him to form a government.”

Of course “Jewish Israelis” are not the only ones in Israeli society who are conscripted to “mandatory military service”. Military service has also been compulsory for males from the Druze sector since 1956 and for Circassian males since 1958. In addition, members of other religious and ethnic groups can serve on a voluntary basis.

Listeners would be unlikely to be able to fill in that missing information for themselves. The last time BBC audiences heard anything about the fact that the IDF is made up of people from many different backgrounds and faiths was in 2016 in a programme which gave extensive promotion to an opponent of enlistment by members of Israel’s minority ethnic communities.

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The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part two

In part one of this post we saw how, on a visit to the Golan Heights, ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks purported to interview a resident of the community set to be expanded and renamed after the US president. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

As we showed, the man concerned does not live in Beruchim and that meeting was not with “government officials”.

Following that interview, Franks’ long report (from 30:06 here) in the May 22nd afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ continued with a trip to Majdal Shams which he insisted on describing as a “village” even though it has over 11,000 residents and once again using the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Golan’s Druze residents identify as such.

Franks: “You get a different view further north in the Golan Heights. In this Druze village – Majdal Shams – you literally get a different view because you can see from its slopes into Syria. For decades this frontier marked by this sinuous ceasefire fence was the quietest that Israel had. That changed with the Syrian civil war. Militant Islamist groups and Iran building up a presence just the other side of these hills. […] So what does this leave the Syrian Druze in Majdal Shams feeling? One good place to try to get a thoughtful response is the owner of the local bookshop, Amal Safadi.” […]

Having already signposted his interviewee’s response and once again failing to inform listeners that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights 38 years ago, Franks went on:

Franks: “With the American announcement that they would recognise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, what’s your attitude towards the idea of the local people here taking Israeli citizenship? Have you taken Israeli citizenship?”

Franks obviously must have known the answer to that ‘question’ before he asked it. Safadi has made her views clear in other media interviews (as have some members of her extended family) and she was obviously selected in advance by his production team to represent a certain side of the story. Listeners heard a translated version of her responses in Arabic.

Translator: “She says I will never think to take the citizenship. Our citizenship as Syrians is historical. We’re here from thousand years. This decision is political: nothing will change on the ground.”

Franks did not bother to try to clarify where “here” is and hence avoided the need to remind listeners that Syria as an independent state came into existence in 1946 or tell them that Majdal Shams was settled in the 18th century.

Franks then brought up imaginary scenarios which have not been proposed by any Israeli official either recently or in the past 38 years since the Golan Heights Law was passed.

Franks: “If the Israeli government decides now that you have to take citizenship or maybe they will say you don’t deserve all the rights of living here.”

Translator: “She is saying we had the same story in 1982 and they tried to force us to take the citizenship. Even we were less educated by then but now we are more stronger and our decision will be more strong these days.”

Franks: “People around the world listening to you might understand that you’ve got a very strong sense of identity – that you are a Syrian Druze – but they’ll also say just look over there inside Syria where there’s chaos, there’s conflict. At least here you’ve got rights and you’ve got relative prosperity as well. Why aren’t you happy to be here and take the advantages that Israel can give you?”

Translator: “She says you have a mother, right? If your mother is sick will you leave her? No, you will stay there and support her. Syria is our mother and we need to support our mother instead of leaving her.”

Making no effort to get beyond Safadi’s slogans and examine factors such as the relevant fact that many Druze residents of the Golan Heights have relations in Syria for whose safety they fear, Franks next told listeners that “elsewhere in Majdal Shams though, the taboo is beginning to crack”.

In fact there has been a rise in the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 

Majdal Shams

Franks then interviewed a Majdal Shams resident who did so two years ago.

Franks: “He needs it, he says, so he can travel more easily for work and also so that once abroad, he doesn’t get hassled or intimidated for having no declared citizenship.”

After his interviewee had told him that opinions for and against the move among people he knows were “fifty-fifty”, Franks responded:

Franks: “I don’t really need to tell you this but the argument that is used by a lot of people here is that this is occupied territory; it doesn’t belong to Israel. One day it will go back to Syria.”

Following his interviewee’s reply to that and an additional question, Franks took the time to stress to listeners that his decision was “the pragmatic, non-ideological decision to take Israeli citizenship”.

The final section of Franks’ report was introduced with another undated reference to “annexation”, an unexplained reference to “strategic importance” and a misleading statement concerning water.

Franks: “So what’s driving the actions of the Israeli state up here? Given Israel’s decision to annex the territory, given the government’s delight at Donald Trump’s recent support for that annexation, given the Golan’s strategic importance, militarily and in terms of the country’s water supply, has there ever been serious thought to a territorial exchange with the Syrians? Well the answer is yes – all the way from the 1990s until as recently as the start of this decade. […] What stopped everything was – no surprise – the Syrian civil war.”

Franks’ final interviewee was former national security advisor Uzi Arad who explained how the war in Syria had led to “the notion that Israel would now forfeit” the Golan Heights looking “recklessly silly”. Franks was however far more interested in Arad’s assessment of “the American move”.

Arad: “Don’t press the point. Clearly this Assad is a real (bleeped out) as a person, as a leader. Clearly Syria needs something better but he had successfully won the nation and he has support to that from Russia. If you provoke him you would make him insist that for him the liberation of the Golan remains a priority. So why? Why pushing them into that corner? We stay there anyway.”

Franks then closed his report:

Franks: “The Golan is beguiling and beautiful. It’s also deceptive. The struggle with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in Gaza – that’s the most visible, most frequently violent manifestation of Israel’s uneasy place in the Middle East. But it’s away from them, up in the north, that the potential for the greatest conflict may come.”

In the years since the Syrian civil war began BBC audiences have seen reports from a number of BBC and other journalists visiting the Golan Heights, most of which have presented a drearily monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze that fails to reflect changes in their society. In addition to being blighted by basic inaccuracy and omission of relevant context, Tim Franks’ almost thirteen-minute-long report largely stuck to the same jaded political narrative and even promoted irrelevant and imaginary scenarios concerning the Israeli government.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another long report (from 30:06 here) by Tim Franks in the programme’s May 22nd afternoon edition. The same report was also aired in the May 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ (from 35:30 here).

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

Franks: “Two days ago I was reporting for you from what we tend to think about when we talk about occupied territory: the congested, contested area of the West Bank and Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Today we’re gonna head to the north-eastern tip of Israel – to the Golan Heights. This is a small country so from here – Jerusalem – to the Golan it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and into stunning landscape.

This is also occupied territory but, my goodness, it feels so different to the West Bank. Despite the signs you come across occasionally as you travel through this place warning you to keep out of minefields, this is quiet, it’s beautiful, in parts mountainous, in parts fertile. It’s the slice of land that separates Israel from south-west Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967 leaving thousands of Syrian Druze this side of the ceasefire line. There’s now about twenty thousand of them who, back in March, heard the news that Donald Trump was – unlike the rest of the world – going to recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory. We’ll find out later what some of those Syrian Druze make of that in a moment.”

Significantly, Franks’ portrayal of history as beginning in June 1967 – a typical BBC practice – failed to inform listeners why Israel “captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War” and what happened in the years before that to prompt such a move. Additionally, while repeatedly referring to “annexation” of the region, Franks failed to clarify to listeners at any point that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights thirty-eight years ago.

Notably, Franks elected to exclusively use the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Druze population of the Golan Heights identifies in that manner.

Franks: “First though, I’m going to meet one of the twenty thousand Israelis who live in the Golan Heights. He’s called Menachem Ender. He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

Although Franks refrained from naming that “tiny hamlet”, as the Jerusalem Post and others reported ten days before his report was aired, the community tapped to be the location of that “new settlement” is Beruchim.

“Makor Rishon reported last week that the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim, where plans for a previous settlement were approved in 1991, and where there have been unsuccessful efforts over the years to establish a community.”

Ynet added:

“Today, Beruchim is the home of 10 people, and several other newcomers who wish to establish a leadership seminar for pre-army teens in the settlement.

The community was established in 1991, by then-housing minister Ariel Sharon, who sent a group of new immigrants from the Soviet Union to live there. It was established near Qela [Kela Alon] and meant to be a thriving extension of it, but failed to live up to the expectations.

Residents of Qela were outraged about the decision to change their existing community’s name, and hung signs protesting the move on their entrance gate, apparently under the impression that the entire perimeter of Qela and Beruchim will become the new Trump community.

However, the residents had false information, and it was clarified Sunday [May 12th] that the new settlement will not replace Qela, but rather built on top of Beruchim; a draft plan already exists and offers 110 new homes be built in Beruchim, that will house both religious and secular residents.”

An article published by Ha’aretz on the same day that Frank’s report was broadcast shows that he apparently did not bother to check facts adequately in the four days between recording and going on air. The man interviewed by Franks – Menachem Ender – appears in the Ha’aretz report where he is identified as a resident of nearby Kela Alon rather than a resident of the site of the new community to be named after the US president.

“Some 200 meters (650 feet) from Beruchim lies a very different place: The well-tended, middle-class settlement of Kela Alon, home to 85 families. Officially, Kela Alon and Kela-Beruchim are part of the same municipal entity, known simply as Kela. This led to confusion among Kela Alon residents when they heard of the Trump plan through the media, believing their settlement would be expanded and renamed for the U.S. president.

Their unhappiness is still visible on the main road to the neighborhood: Two homemade signs, one leaning against a tractor, read “Kela Alon is not for sale” and “Ramat Trump — not here!”

Mene [Menachem] Ender, 72, says the initial opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the government’s plans.

Ender, who moved to the Golan 45 years ago “out of Zionist motivation — I’m not ashamed to admit it” — after fighting in the Yom Kippur War, has lived in Kela Alon for the past two years. He says members of his community were disturbed by initial details of the plan, about which they had not been consulted. They feared it would transform their town.”

Franks’ claim that “tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials” is also shown to be inaccurate in the same Ha’aretz report.

“In a damage-control effort, the regional council has sought to calm the community, explaining that any new development would take place in Beruchim, not Kela Alon.

On Sunday, leaders of the Golan Regional Council met with 150 concerned residents and assured them that the new “Trump town” would be a separate entity from their own and that they would only benefit from its presence.”

That meeting with local council officials – not “government officials” – took place on May 19th – the day that Tim Franks was in the Golan Heights. We can identify the date of Franks’ visit because later on in the item he tells listeners that:

Franks: “Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties, particularly against Iranian positions [in Syria]. There was an airstrike just last night.”

That incident – which has not been acknowledged by Israel and was not reported by the BBC at the time – took place on the night of May 18th.

The rest of Franks’ report will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘shift to the Right’ dogma challenged on just one radio show

As has been documented in our analysis of the BBC’s coverage of the recent general election in Israel, one very dominant trend has been (not for the first time) the repeated promotion in a significant proportion of the reports of the notion of a ‘shift to the right’ in Israel.

The April 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ featured several items concerning that day’s election including one (from 12:51 here) in which presenter Ritula Shah interviewed Sharren Haskel of the Likud party and former Labour and Independence parties MK Dr Einat Wilf.

At 14:56 Shah introduced that widely seen BBC claim. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “Einat Wilf, are you concerned that the narrative, certainly the narrative that’s been set out during the course of this election, is that Israeli politics is shifting towards the Right, leaving your party of the traditional Left far behind?”

The reply to that question probably came as something of a surprise to both listeners and the presenter.

Wilf: “This, it’s almost amusing because every election I go on BBC and always it’s like ‘Israel is shifting to the Right’ when every time the numbers are literally the same. I mean Israel is split in the middle. Israel has been split in the middle for decades now.”

Shah [interrupts] “But don’t you think the Black & White coalition which is challenging Mr Netanyahu – Blue & White; I apologise – the Blue & White coalition that’s challenging Mr Netanyahu is much further to the Right than your party would be?”

Wilf: “In many ways Blue & White – which is also the party I voted for this time – is channelling what the old Labour party was. Many people think of the Labour party as a very Left-wing party but Rabin on the eve…”

The conversation was cut off at that point and after communication was re-established, Wilf repeated her previous statements, adding that Labour:

Wilf: “…was very centrist and in many ways to the Right party. The positions of Rabin on the eve of his assassination were positions that are more to the Right of positions that were voiced by Benjamin Netanyahu. So Blue & White is very much where the old Labour party used to be and what we’re seeing now has really been a bit of a return to the traditional two-party system in Israel. The parties are now larger than they have been in quite some time and the Blue & White is a centrist party. You do not have a shift of Israelis to the Right. You have the decades-long split between Right and Left. In many ways the positions of the Israeli public are much more to the Left than they were decades ago.”

Shah responded to that with:

Shah: “Well if we accept that analysis for a moment…”

Wilf responded to a subsequent question regarding Netanyahu’s “unchallengeable” world view as follows:

Wilf: “What Netanyahu has done – and this is something that needs to be acknowledged – for an entire decade on his watch the number of Jews and Arabs who have died as a result of violent conflict has been the lowest in the entire history of the conflict. It’s not the stuff of Nobel peace prizes but people have been waking up alive after years of suicide buses and being blown to bits in cafés…”

Shah [interrupts] “So security is the key issue.”

Wilf: “Security in the sense of really knowing that people in the midst of a very chaotic Middle East, people have been able to lead a Western life-style which, if you think of it, is quite amazing.”

Shah interrupted her interviewee again at that point and the item ended not long afterwards.

Unfortunately for BBC audiences, that item was the exception to the rule. Only late evening listeners to one domestic BBC radio station heard that informed rebuttal of the BBC dogma of a ‘shift to the Right’. Those reading, viewing or listening to the hours and reams of additional BBC content concerning the Israeli election saw that notion go completely unchallenged. 

So much for ‘due impartiality’. 

 

 

BBC R4 newsreader refers to a state the BBC knows does not exist

As we all too frequently have cause to note here, the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” (published in the wake of the 2006 Thomas Report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) states:

There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on the evening of March 25th heard an item (from 02:24 here) presented as follows by newsreader Zeb Soanes:

Soanes: “President Trump has signed a proclamation recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – a strategically important plateau which was seized from Syria in 1967. Syria’s government has described Mr Trump’s action as a blatant attack on its integrity. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu witnessed the signing at a ceremony in the White House. He said it was important for his country’s security.”

Following a recording of Netanyahu speaking at that ceremony, Soanes went on:

Soanes: “Mr Netanyahu cut short his visit to Washington because of escalating violence between Israel and Palestine. Israel launched airstrikes across the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a long-range rocket attack which injured 7 people near Tel Aviv. The targets included the office of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas says a ceasefire has been agreed but there’s been no confirmation from Israel.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no point in having a style guide if journalists, presenters and producers – particularly it would seem at BBC Radio 4 – ignore its guidance. Given that the style guide correctly states “there is no independent state of Palestine today”, there is obviously no reason whatsoever for BBC staff to be promoting the inaccurate impression that such a state exists – and even more so when they are in fact referring to a terror organisation that violently seized power from the representatives of the Palestinians recognised by the international community.

Related Articles:

Increase in breaches of BBC’s style guide

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 tells listeners that Gaza rioters were ‘innocent civilians’

As we saw in a previous post, a BBC News website article uncritically amplified the findings of a UN Human Right Council inquiry into the ‘Great Return March’ while portraying violent rioting as “protests”, failing to explain the aim of the demand for ‘right of return’, refraining from noting the long-standing UNHRC bias against Israel, failing to clarify the inbuilt bias of the inquiry’s mandate, ignoring the fact that a significant proportion of those killed in the violent rioting have been shown to be linked to terror groups and promoting the false notion that under-18s, paramedics and journalists are exclusively ‘civilians’.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard reports on the same story – but were they any better?

The February 28th edition of ‘The World Tonight’ included a news bulletin (from 03:45 here) in which audiences were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Israel has rejected a UN report which found that the country may have committed crimes against humanity when its soldiers fired on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip last year. In nine months of demonstrations 189 people died including 35 children. Investigators said there could be no justification for killing children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics. The Israeli government described the document as a new record of hypocrisy and lies.”

In addition to failing to clarify that the report was commissioned by the partisan UNHRC, that portrayal once again frames violent rioting as “demonstrations” and the people taking part as “protesters”. As in the BBC’s written report, the investigators were blindly quoted with no clarification of the fact that some of those “children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics” have been shown to have links to terror groups.

Later on in the same programme (from 20:35), presenter James Coomarasamy interviewed one of the report’s authors in relation to what he began by describing as “a highly critical report by the Human Rights Council”.

Coomarasamy: “It examined the deaths last year of nearly 200 people who were shot by Israeli soldiers during protests along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossein is one of the report’s authors.”

Coomarasamy did not clarify to listeners that none of the report’s three authors have any expertise in military operations.

Following an overview from Hossein of the inquiry’s findings, Coomarasamy noted that:

22:14 Coomarasamy: “You call them civilian protests. You acknowledge though that there were militants among the protesters. They were organised by Hamas.”

Hossein: “We don’t actually say that the protests were purely organised by Hamas. We say that Hamas as a political body had involvement in the organising and that Hamas members did take part in the protests as well.”

Coomarasamy failed to challenge Hossein’s absurd claim of a distinction between ‘political’ Hamas and its ‘armed wing’.

Later on in the interview (23:50) Coomarasamy did raise the topic of UNHRC institutional bias against Israel but despite acknowledgement of that issue by former UN officials, presented it using the BBC’s favoured ‘Israel says’ formula.

Coomarasamy: “The Israeli government says that you have […] an obsessive hatred of Israel, essentially saying that you single out Israel for these kinds of investigations and other countries in the region simply do not get the same kind of scrutiny.”

Hossein responded with the claim that “we’ve carried out the task that was given to us”, to which Coomarasamy replied:

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that Israel gets singled out, that it gets far deeper and closer scrutiny than other countries in the region?”

Hossein: “We interpreted our mandate as being to look at all parties and to look at their responsibility in the context of the protests.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate predetermined that the ‘Great Return March’ events were “civilian protests” and instead moved on to the question of “what do you expect Israel to do with this?” to which Hossein replied:

Hossein: “We have said they should cease the killings of civilians. I cannot see why that is not an acceptable recommendation to make. Why is the killing of an 11 year-old or a 13 year-old or a 14 year-old or a double amputee or a paramedic or a journalist – why and in what context can that be justifiable?”

Rather than informing listeners of the numerous cases in which under-18s, journalists and paramedics have been shown to have links to terror organisations and asking Hossein why the commission ignored Hamas’ own statements regarding the affiliations of many of the dead, Coomarasamy closed the conversation there.

That crucial omission was likewise relevant in Coomarasamy’s subsequent interview with Israel’s representative at the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter. During that conversation Coomarasamy repeatedly promoted the UNHRC’s talking points.

Coomarasamy: “But in the context of what happened – the deaths for example of the children, of people in wheelchairs – how can you justify using live ammunition against them? Was it a mistake by the Israeli Defence Forces? Were they following the rules of engagement?”

Coomarasamy: “…but the question that this report is posing is why did Israeli soldiers fire live rounds at people who were identifiable as children. That must be a question that Israel needs to ask itself.”

Coomarasamy: “So are you disputing that children and people with disabilities were killed by fire from the Israeli forces?”

Coomarasamy: “Is Israel looking into those deaths though of the children and others – innocent civilians.”

As we see, Coomarasamy promoted the absurd notion that minors, people with disabilities (the UNHRC report includes one example of a deaf person, though how IDF forces were supposed to know that is not made clear), paramedics or people wearing ‘Press’ vests are automatically “innocent civilians” regardless of their affiliations or actions at the time.

Previously the same day Radio 4 listeners had heard another dose of unchallenged UNHRC messaging – although significantly, that body was not mentioned by name – in the ‘World at One’ news bulletin (from 05:14 here).

Newsreader: “A UN investigation into the deaths of nearly 200 Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip last year has concluded that war crimes may have been committed. 35 children were among the dead. Israel has rejected the report as a theatre of the absurd. Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.”

Foulkes: “The investigators say there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers and children even though they were clearly recognisable as such. Israel has always said its actions were a defence against terrorism but the UN report concludes the protests were civilian in nature with clearly stated political aims. The report does however criticise Hamas for failing to stop some of its supporters using incendiary balloons which caused fear and some damage to property in southern Israel.”

Once again we see uncritical and unquestioning amplification of the UNHRC report, including the term “war crimes” which, as NGO Monitor explains, is inapplicable given the legal framework selected by the commission.

“…according to the Commission, the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was not a “military” or “combat” situation and therefore human rights law was the appropriate standard. Therefore, its conclusion that “human rights violations may also constitute “war crimes” is baseless, since war crimes can only where the laws of war are applicable.”

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ has been highly unsatisfactory over the past eleven months, meaning that audiences come to this latest story without the background information necessary for its proper understanding. As we see, rather than try to make up for the serial failure to clarify that what it uniformly portrays as “protests” and “demonstrations” is actually violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts, the BBC elected to unquestioningly amplify the UNHRC report which dovetails with its own existing politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

The BBC’s ‘Great Return March’ great disappearing act

 

 

BBC Radio 4 fails to clarify a commentator’s ‘particular viewpoint’

The February 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item concerning Venezuela which presenter Ritula Shah brought to a close with a question (from 23:31 here) on a different topic to one of her interviewees – Chris Williamson – whom she had earlier introduced as a “Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn”.

The question related to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party held on the same evening.

Shah: “I want to ask you one more question. Labour MPs tonight have unanimously passed a motion calling for the party leadership to do more to tackle antisemitism and the MPs accuse the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who was at the meeting, of ignoring the demands and refusing to give the answers they wanted. You weren’t at that meeting, I know, but you have been at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure. I wonder what you make of tonight’s move.” [emphasis added]

Williamson: “Well I think it’s an incredibly unfair criticism of Jennie Formby. She’s done more than any previous general secretary to address a backlog of complaints, including antisemitism. She’s appointed an in-house counsel. She’s expanded the national constitutional committee that deals with serious…ehm…accusations of mis…of misdeeds and she’s increased staff to deal with this matter.”

Shah: “So you don’t think the MPs are justified?”

Williamson: “No absolutely not. I think it’s incredibly unfair. Jennie’s done more than anybody to deal with the cancer of antisemitism and we have to stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and racism and she’s done precisely that.”

The BBC’s domestic audience would of course have been better equipped to judge that predictable messaging from Williamson had they first been informed what Shah meant by “at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure”.

Williamson has not simply disagreed with allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party. In a 2017 interview with the Guardian:

“He said rows over Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and his approach to Venezuela were “proxy wars and bullshit”.

“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”

Williamson subsequently described reactions to those comments as “positively sinister” and in 2018 portrayed antisemitism related disciplinary actions within the Labour party as “ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way”.

While a person who publicly states that antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ and that concerns about racism in the Labour party are “smears” and “bullshit” may not have been the best choice of commentator on the meeting that was the topic of Shah’s question, clearly audience understanding of his comments would have been enhanced had his stance on the core issue been better clarified in line with the BBC editorial guideline concerning the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

On January 13th the IDF announced that with the discovery of a sixth tunnel, it had completed the mission to expose the tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror organisation Hizballah which passed under the international border, infiltrating Israeli territory.

“The tunnel, which had been dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), was the most important one detected since the operation began in December, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

According to him, the stairs were built in the tunnel which contained “railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting equipment and ladders to enter Israeli territory. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel.”

With the latest tunnel discovered and its destruction in the coming days, he added, “the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated.” […]

While the military announced the end of the operation, it noted that it “is simultaneously monitoring several locations where Hezbollah is digging underground structures which have yet to cross into Israel.””

With Operation Northern Shield now coming to an end, this is an appropriate time to review the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of that story throughout the six weeks of the mission.

The story of an internationally recognised terrorist group tunneling under an international border into a neighbouring country with the intention of carrying out a large-scale attack actually got remarkably little BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports throughout the six-week operation:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

Listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard two reports on the same days:

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels December 4th 2018

Razia Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”

Razia Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701 December 19th 2018

The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audiences heard one report the day after the story broke:

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701 December 5th 2018

Ritula Shah: “UN Security Council 1701, by the way, called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hizballah back in 2006.”

Ritula Shah: “Mr Netanyahu’s critics argue that he’s using the discovery of the tunnels to bolster his image at a time when his governing coalition is faltering and he faces mounting legal problems.”

In addition to Razia Iqbal’s unwarranted questioning of the purpose of the tunnels and the promotion by both her and Ritula Shah of the baseless notion that the operation was motivated by political considerations, audiences saw three main characteristics throughout the BBC’s reporting on this story.

In all but the first BBC News website report – where the information was added later – audiences were not given an accurate portrayal of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by numerous countries and bodies. The subject of Iran’s funding and supplying of the terror organisation was grossly downplayed in the two written articles and ignored in the three audio reports.

In all of the reports the crucially relevant topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 was either completely ignored or inadequately presented. Not one of the five BBC reports gave audiences an accurate explanation of that resolution or how it has been repeatedly violated by Hizballah for over twelve years. Moreover, in the second BBC WS radio report listeners were inaccurately led to believe that the only violation of that resolution comes in the form of tunnels that cross into Israeli territory.

Relatedly, BBC audiences were not given the full picture of the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to identify cross-border tunnels dug over a significant period of time literally under its nose and its serial failure to prevent violations of the UNSC resolution. In the second BBC WS radio report a UNIFIL spokesman’s statements went unchallenged.

Martin Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Not only was it suggested to audiences in forty percent of the BBC’s reporting that Operation Northern Shield was actually a cynical politically motivated exercise but the corporation failed throughout six whole weeks to produce even one item which would provide its funding public with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of the story of a complex operation which, had it been managed and executed less efficiently, could have sparked a major conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

BBC News side-lining cross border tunnels story

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

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