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.  

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

As documented here last week, one of the BBC News website’s three written reports relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State promoted the false claim that the current US administration had changed a “four-decades-old position”.

“Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.” [emphasis added]

We noted that:

“Secretary Pompeo’s statement marks a return to the policy of US administrations between 1981 and December 2016. In other words, the “position” described by the BBC is three years old rather than “four-decades-old”.”

Remarkably, both later on in that report as well as in an earlier one, the BBC made it evident that it knows that full well:

“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.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 reports on the same story received no such explanation and instead were repeatedly fed that “four decades” spin.

In the November 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ presenter Ritula Shah told her audience (from 17:11 here) that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that Washington no longer considers Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank to be illegal. The move breaks four decades of State Department policy.”

Returning to the topic later on in the programme, Shah brought in BBC News’ North America correspondent Aleem Maqbool (from 36:14) who promoted the same myth.

Maqbool: “…it’s certainly I suppose consistent with what we’ve seen from the Trump administration over the last couple of years in recognising, for example, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and also recognising Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights – another area of course that was occupied during the Six Day War of 1967. But 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.”

Maqbool then came up with another falsehood:

Maqbool: “One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumimcuts the West Bank in half.”

‘Cuts in half’ obviously means divides into two parts but Ma’ale Adumim does nothing of the sort.

Of course similar inaccurate claims have been made by journalists in the past but Maqbool’s false statement clearly materially misleads BBC audiences.

Maqbool also repeated his inaccurate “four decades” claim in a report aired in the November 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 08:43 here).

Maqbool: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in that sentence overturned more than four decades of official US policy. It was under President Carter the State Department decided that, in keeping with much of the rest of the world, that Israel’s building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land was not allowed under international law.”

That ‘four decades’ spin which the BBC knows full well to be false and misleading continued in later BBC Radio 4 broadcasts, as will be seen in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part two

Financial Times corrects editorial alleging ’40 year US policy’ calling settlements “illegal”  (UK Media Watch)

Economist corrects article alleging ’40 year US policy’ that settlements are “illegal”  (UK Media Watch)

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

 

 

BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ are promised “in depth reporting, intelligent analysis and breaking news from a global perspective”. Here is what those listeners heard (from 03:39 here) in the news bulletin which opened the programme’s August 15th edition. [emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “Israel has banned two US Democrat Congresswomen from entering the country because they’ve been critical of its policies towards the Palestinians. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar had been expected to begin a tour of the Palestinian territories later this week. Ms Omar has accused the Israelis of implementing President Trump’s ban on Muslims. Tom Bateman reports from Jerusalem.”

Bateman: “The Congresswomen – Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia and grew up in the US, and Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent – have both supported the movement to boycott Israel. They were due to visit the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem next week in a trip that had become the focus of controversy. Israel passed a law two years ago allowing it to ban entry to supporters of the boycott movement. Earlier on Thursday, President Trump tweeted that Israel would show weakness to allow them in, calling them a disgrace and accusing them of antisemitism. Israel’s interior ministry later said it would not allow them entry. The not-for-profit group that was organising the visit called the move an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision makers from around the world.”

That sixty-six second item prompts several observations:

1) Tlaib and Omar were not denied entry “because they’ve been critical” of Israel’s – unspecified – “policies towards the Palestinians”. They were refused entry to Israel because they openly support a political campaign which negates Jewish self-determination but as ever BBC audiences heard absolutely nothing about the obviously relevant topic of the BDS campaign’s aims in this bulletin.

2) There is no “ban on Muslims” either in the US or in Israel. In fact:

“A record number of visitors from Muslim countries came to Israel last year, including nearly 55,000 from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.

According to figures provided by the Population and Immigration Authority on Monday, 72,109 citizens of Egypt and Jordan (the only Arab countries with which Israel has full diplomatic ties), Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia visited Israel in 2018.”

3) Once again BBC audiences heard nothing about the political NGO ‘Miftah’ – opaquely described by Bateman as a “not-for-profit group” without any mention of its agenda and record. Neither were they told that earlier this month Palestinian leaders met with no fewer than 72 Democrat and Republicandecision makers” from the US Congress.

Given the failure by Tom Bateman to provide any relevant background information on the BDS campaign or the political NGO ‘Miftah’, given that listeners were misled with the claim that Tlaib and Omar were not permitted to enter Israel because “they’ve been critical” and given this item’s unquestioning and uncritical amplification of falsehoods from Omar and ‘Miftah’, readers can decide for themselves whether Radio 4 audiences got the “in depth reporting” and “intelligent analysis” touted on this programme’s webpage.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

 

Revisiting a BBC correspondent’s claims on gay marriage in Israel

Back in June listeners to two BBC radio stations heard three different broadcasts from the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell about a gay pride march in Jerusalem.

June 6th 2019: BBC World Service radio ‘Newshour’ and BBC Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’

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.” [emphasis added]

June 13th 2019: BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option.” [emphasis added]

As was pointed out here at the time:

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

Our colleagues at CAMERA recently secured a correction on the same topic from the Reuters news agency.

“CAMERA has prompted correction of a Reuters article which incorrectly reported that gay marriage is illegal in Israel. […]

While the state does not recognize gay marriages performed in Israel, it is incorrect to describe such marriages as “illegal,” since the couple is not in violation of any Israeli law. There is no law against holding the ceremony in Israel, nor in maintaining marital life in the country. Ha-Aguda, a leading NGO which advocates for recognized same-sex marriage in the country, explains (CAMERA’s translations and bracketed notes):

‘…the State of Israel recognizes same sex couples as Yedu’im BeTzibur [lit. “known in public”, i.e. unregistered cohabitation in the form of common-law marriage]. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the State is now obligated to include couples who provide a recognized [i.e. foreign] marriage certificate in the Ministry of Interior’s registry. Another ruling forced the State to enable a divorce process to such couples’ – Ha-Aguda, Association of LGBTQ Equality in Israel (link in Hebrew)

Notably, Ha-Aguda does not characterize same-sex marriages carried out in Israel as “illegal.”

Gay marriages, like all marriages involving Jewish citizens which are performed outside the Rabbinate (including intermarriages, non-Orthodox weddings, and even traditional weddings carried out by a rabbi not recognized by the Rabbinate) are not recognized by the state, but are not illegal.”

Reuters swiftly corrected the inaccuracy as follows:

“Gay marriages are not against the law, but neither are they legally recognised as valid in the country of 9 million, although weddings performed abroad are recognised.”

Yolande Knell – please take note. 

BBC impartiality – a case study

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: (update: link to new version here

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

And:

“Across our output as a whole, we must be inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion.  We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts.  We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. […]

Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item.  Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output.”

The corporation’s coverage of the recent US initiated economic workshop in Bahrain provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage ahead of a debate in the UK Parliament on that topic on July 15th.

Between June 20th and June 26th 2019 various BBC departments put out content relating to the conference in Bahrain. Common threads running through that coverage included:

  • Heavy promotion of Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points both by BBC journalists and by means of interviews with Palestinians.
  • Promotion of the notion of ‘the Palestinians’ as a homogeneous entity under one leadership with no mention of the long-standing splits between Palestinian factions and the fact that the PA and PLO do not represent the Palestinians as a whole.
  • The absence of any mention of the fact that Hamas and additional factions reject the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
  • Exclusive promotion of the PLO’s interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.
  • Use of partial terminology such as “illegal settlements”.
  • The absence of any mention of the participation of Palestinian businessmen in the conference and subsequent events.
  • Downplaying – and in most cases, ignoring – Palestinian terrorism and its role in creating the need for counter-terrorism measures.

While the table below is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligation to “give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument” and to reflect “a breadth and diversity of opinion”.

As we see, the BBC chose to provide air-time to three times more Palestinian officials than Israeli officials and did not include any interviews with US officials in its coverage at all. Audiences saw or heard extensive and repeated comment from Palestinian civilians while just two Israeli voices were heard in a single item. Interviews were conducted with two representatives from US think tanks, one Saudi Arabian journalist and one inadequately presented UN official. 

[1] BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

[2] More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one & More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

[3] BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

[4] https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141985649131757569 & https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141986084525674496

[5] Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

[6] BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

[7] More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743663

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743429

[10] BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one & BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

[11] BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

[12] BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one & BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

Across a variety of BBC platforms, audiences were given a very specific and overwhelmingly one-sided view of the Bahrain economic workshop and the US peace initiative in general. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear “a breadth and diversity of opinion” at all. 

Whether or not the fact that BBC journalists were given a ‘briefing’ by a Palestinian Authority representative three days before coverage began (a BBC decision which in itself is detrimental to “perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”) had an effect on the chosen framing is of course difficult to determine but certainly the corporation’s coverage of the Bahrain economic workshop did not live up to its supposed standards of editorial impartiality. 

The purpose of those editorial standards 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 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. 

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BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of an item aired in the June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which had commenced that morning.  

Following a report from Yolande Knell which included a statement from the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Shah went on (from 24:37 here) to introduce an interviewee. That interview is notable because for the first time in the six days that the BBC had been covering the story (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences heard an alternative view of the topic.

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

Shah began by quoting unnamed ‘critics’.

Shah: “Well critics of the plan say it’s little more than a remix of early attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they claim the document includes photos of Palestinians involved in aid programmes that have been cut by the Trump administration. Jon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and served as a deputy to the UN ambassador Nikki Haley [US ambassador to the UN – Ed.]. I put it to him that people have criticised the absence of any discussion of political issues such as Israeli settlement building or prospects for Palestinian statehood. So why didn’t he see that as a problem?

Lerner: “It’s not an obstacle because that portion of it is still to come. This is a phased plan where the initial phase is to discuss the economic aspects of it and the political aspects that they’re referring to will be outlined at a later date. The administration felt that outlining the rewards or the benefits of peace might be helpful in concentrating everybody’s minds.”

Once more Shah took to paraphrasing the supposed arguments of unidentified commentators.

Shah: “But there are those who would argue that some indication of the political decision-making of the Trump administration might already have been indicated by the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which sends a very clear signal to the Palestinians, some might argue. So there have been hints of the direction of travel which perhaps are not fair, perhaps are one-sided, but yet Palestinians are left with the view that perhaps their views are being under-represented.”

Lerner: “Yes, well that’s where the Trump administration has parted with previous efforts and I think has done so quite intelligently. They’ve taken certain questions like the question of whether Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel – a question that, you know, any serious person already knows the answer to – and they’ve said we’re going to exercise our judgement on that and recognise the reality that that is not a subject of future negotiations. There is no conceivable peace plan under which Jerusalem would cease to be the capital of Israel and so by merely recognising that reality, that does not pre-judge any of the more difficult questions…”

Interrupting her guest, yet again Shah used the ‘many people’ tactic without clarifying their identities.

Shah [interrupts]: “But that…many people would say that if you think back to the peace talks of the 1990s and the question of Jerusalem was left to be decided later because for many Palestinians that is a very important part of what they see as their future peace settlement and if you…”

Lerner: “Yes and we remember that same plan was unsuccessful and unagreed to. We should not look to the failures of the past as our guide for the future.”

Shah: “Do you think it might have built confidence with the Palestinian leadership, who are clearly very sceptical, have made no secret of their views of the Trump administration – do you think it would have helped to build confidence if perhaps there had been a mention of illegal settlements and so on: that those issues which are clearly important issues for the Palestinians – absolutely priority issues – had actually been front and centre of this plan?”

Lerner: “No I don’t. In fact the issue of settlements has been largely a distraction for a long time. It is certainly a topic that will be negotiated…”

An audibly irritated Shah once again interrupted her interviewee.

Shah [interrupts]: “Well is it a distraction if you…but is it a distraction if the ultimate goal is a two-state solution?”

Lerner: “The ultimate goal is peace. Whether it’s two states or one state or any number, any other formulation is to be determined. But by making the issue of settlements the dominant one in the discussion of the challenges facing the Middle East and facing the Palestinians, you actually take attention away from the more critical issues.”

Shah: “So just finally; we have yet to see this political road map or political plan that you talk about but should Palestinians in a sense still keep their hopes up that there could be a two-state solution under the Trump administration’s proposals?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. They should engage in it. They should continue to keep their hopes up because the goal of the Trump administration’s plans is to settle all of the disputes, have a peace agreement and improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Remarkably, Shah’s line of questioning throughout this whole interview mirrored the Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points complaining that the economic section of the plan does not include the political issues which – as had already been clarified – will be in its second part. Predictably, the only ‘political issue’ promoted twice by Shah was “illegal settlements” but she had nothing to say on relevant issues such as the Hamas-Fatah split or the fact that Hamas is not interested in a two-state solution or any other type of resolution of the conflict.

So while Radio 4 listeners did finally get to hear a different view of the Bahrain economic workshop in this interview, Shah nevertheless ensured that it avoided subjects far more relevant to the issue of the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than ‘settlements’.

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BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one

The June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – included an item (from 18:39 here) concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which commenced that day.  

Shah began by claiming that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “President Trump calls it ‘the deal of the century’. The official title is ‘Peace to Prosperity – the economic plan: a new vision for the Palestinian people’. It’s the basis of a discussion with Arab investors that’s underway in Bahrain. The White House wants donor countries to contribute around $50 billion for a newly created development fund. Just over half the money would go to projects in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – areas the Palestinians want for an independent state – and the rest would go to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s leading the US delegation, admitted that the plan doesn’t address the need for a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But, he said, agreeing on an economic pathway was a necessary precondition for peace. He also didn’t seem to realise that it was his father-in-law who talked about ‘the deal of the century’.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Mr Kushner speaking at the conference.

Kushner: “Some people have mockingly called this effort ‘the deal of the century’ but at its core it is not just about making a deal. In fact this effort is better referred to as the opportunity of the century, if leadership has the courage to pursue it. This is about creating an opportunity for the Palestinian people. This is about creating opportunity for the people throughout the Middle East.”

Shah’s claim that Trump “calls it ‘the deal of the century’” and her snide dig that Kushner “didn’t seem to realise” that is unsupported. AFP journalist Joe Dyke looked into that claim, which has also been promoted in previous BBC content.

“It has become common in recent months for media reports to say that US President Donald Trump calls his proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan the “deal of the century,” a phrase seen as indicative of Trump’s real estate style of diplomacy.

Major international media, including AFP, have said the name was given by the president, but in fact it appears there is no record of him using it in public.

It seems the first major usage of the phrase originates from a 2017 meeting between Trump and Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Since then it has been used widely in the Arab world and by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, particularly by those opposed to the deal. […]

On April 3, 2017, Trump met President Sissi. In Arabic-language remarks, the Egyptian leader told Trump he was fully supportive of Trump’s attempts to find a “solution to the issue of the century with the deal of the century.” […]

After the meeting the term deal of the century began to be discussed in Arabic media and online.”

In other words, not only does the BBC appear to have failed to fact check Shah’s claim that the phrase ‘the deal of the century’ was coined by Mr Trump, it has adopted the language used by Palestinian officials who opposed the US initiative before it was even made public.

Ritula Shah went on:

Shah: “Well Palestinian leaders have rejected the plan and won’t be in Bahrain. Israeli officials haven’t been invited because of the Palestinians’ absence.  Several Arab countries agreed to attend but, out of solidarity with the Palestinians, have sent more junior ministers.”

While that may be the case as far as Egypt and Morocco are concerned, Shah’s portrayal obviously does not give listeners an accurate portrayal of the event because it fails to clarify that the finance ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain participated in the workshop along with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the head of the IMF, the president of the World Bank and ten Palestinian businessmen.

Shah: “But the White House says they’re interested instead in appealing to ordinary Palestinians keen to improve their parlous economic prospects. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been speaking to some of them.”

Listeners then heard the same report from Knell that was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on the same day – a report that was similar to both a televised report billed Palestinian poverty which she produced for BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on June 20th and an article she wrote which was published on the BBC News website on June 25th under the headline “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank”.

The remainder of the item will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

A week after having briefed BBC journalists and four days after his colleague participated in two sympathetic BBC radio interviews, the PA representative in London, Husam Zomlot, was given another opportunity by the BBC to promote PLO taking points ahead of the Bahrain economic workshop.

The June 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a five and a half minute item (from 34:30 here) introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “In Bahrain tomorrow the US government’s Middle East point man Jared Kushner will begin putting into practice his long-trailed plan to bring peace. It’s taken two years to construct but already the foundations of what Mr Kushner’s father-in-law President Trump hopes will be ‘the deal of the century’ look pretty shaky. The decision to put the political questions on pause and instead concentrate on raising billions of dollars for the Palestinian economy has been dismissed by the Palestinian leadership as a bribe. That leadership won’t be in Bahrain and it refuses to engage with an American administration it no longer views as an honest broker after a series of diplomatic decisions, such as moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which have delighted the Israelis. Well this was the pre-Bahrain protest on the streets of the West Bank town of Ramallah today. [recording of shouting] ‘Trump go home’ is what they shout. Well I’ve been speaking about Jared Kushner’s plan to the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, Husam Zomlot.”

Coomarasamy did not bother to inform his listeners that those ‘protests’ – which in some locations included violent rioting – were organised by the PA’s ruling Fatah faction. Listeners first discovered that Mr Zomlot does not understand the meaning of the term money-laundering

Zomlot: “A plan that does not deal with the real issues is really not a plan. Call it whitewashing, money laundering [sic], whatever you want to call it but it’s not a plan. It has nothing to do with peace. Definitely it has nothing to do with us, the Palestinians.” [laughs]

Coomarasamy: “Well the other part of it is prosperity – peace to prosperity is the slogan – and there’s a lot of money – $50 billion potentially – that the Americans would like to see distributed to the Palestinian people and to your neighbours.”

Zomlot: “This is the game of deceit. If you really want to unleash the Palestinian economy, given that we have the best human capital there is – you know we have one of the highest PhD per capita graduates worldwide. We have a very young society. We have a very rich natural resourced country. We have shores on the Mediterranean, on the Dead Sea. All what we need is simply freedom, sovereignty – economic sovereignty – and I assure you we Palestinians are absolutely capable to build our very prosperous economy. It’s condescending approach by Kushner telling us and the world that Palestinians are not ready to govern themselves. He knows what’s our interest and therefore he decides it and then he releases a plan – Kushner and his team – that does not mention the word occupation or freedom or statehood or self-determination. It seems these people all what they are thinking about is cash.”

Refraining from raising the relevant topic of the Palestinian Authority’s role in creating its current economic crisis and specifically the issue of its payment of cash rewards for terrorism, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “They say that there is a second stage to this; that there will be a political part of the plan but this is…the first part is to get the cash injection you do need, after all, don’t you?”

Zomlot: “Of course cash is always needed. Of course economic support is always needed but it’s a matter of priority. Cash and economic support has been happening for over 25 years by the international community but it was for a certain purpose. It was for a certain direction which is establishing a Palestinian sovereign state. The UK has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, the US, Europe and what have you and we agreed to that economic assistance. But Kushner is thinking like a real estate man, not like a statesman and he thinks that Israel takes the property and we take the cash. Now Palestine is not for sale, number one. Number two: what cash? The fifty billion is not coming to the Palestinians. Around half of it will be coming to the Palestinians over a period of ten years and half of the half of it is going to be loans that will be incurring a lot of interest. We will be heavily indebted and if you do the math then we will end up with one billion every year from the international community, which we already get – but for a programme that goes towards the two-state solution on the 1967 borders according to international resolution.”

Coomarasamy failed to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” and that Zomlot’s partisan interpretation of the two-state solution does not stand up to scrutiny. Neither did he bother to ask his interviewee why the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected offers based on the principle of the two-state solution throughout the 25 years that they have been receiving the foreign aid Zomlot claims was for that purpose.

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t this though at the moment the only game in town? Don’t you need to be there at the table making your argument?”

Zomlot: “Even if it’s the only game in town, when you are certain that such a game is going to be leading to the opposite direction of your national camp, of your hundred years-old movement towards your rights, then you don’t dance on this tune; you don’t engage in this.”

Coomarasamy: “So what’s the alternative?”

Zomlot: “We have many alternatives and that’s why our president went to the Security Council last year in February and said here is the Palestinian peace plan. We want to see an international peace conference. He said name me one conflict that was not resolved by international mediation and international will.”

Coomarasamy: “If you feel that this current administration in Washington is one that simply does not have your interests at heart, it’s going in a completely opposite direction to Palestinian interests, what do you do? You cannot side-step it, can you? You have to engage in some way.”

Zomlot: “We met Mr Trump himself four times. We met his team, and I was included, more than 32 times. We engaged at full at the most senior level. We have been genuine, transparent, constructive, positive and hopeful. What we learned in every turn that this is a deceitful team; that they have one plan and one plan only which is the endorsement and the legitimisation of Israel’s colonial expansion and the delegitimisation of the Palestinian national project and international legitimacy. Why would they close the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington at the height of our engagement? Because they don’t see the Palestinians as a people. Why would they close the consulate general – the United States of America consulate general that was established in 1844? Because they don’t see us as a nation and they want us to be only part of Israel, part of the Israeli internal discussion. So now we are only a section in the American embassy to Israel. It’s clear what’s their intention. We cannot be just engaging for the sake of engaging.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question Zomlot’s falsehood concerning “colonial expansion” and neither did he clarify that the PLO mission in Washington was closed because the Palestinian Authority instigated moves that contravene US legislation. Likewise, Zomlot’s inaccurate framing of the reasons behind the merger of the US consulate with the US embassy in Jerusalem went unchallenged by Coomarasamy.

And so, as we see, yet another Palestinian official was given unchallenging air-time on BBC radio in order to promote his talking points while yet another BBC interviewer carefully avoided any mention of relevant but inconvenient topics such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority rewards for terrorism, Palestinian rejection of previous peace proposals, the Hamas-Fatah split and the Hamas ideology which renders Zomlot’s claims regarding a Palestinian “national camp” commitment to the two-state solution meaningless.

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