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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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.

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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

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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

 

Reviewing the sourcing of BBC Radio 4 December 26 news bulletins

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on December 26th heard some interestingly sourced news bulletins concerning an alleged Israeli attack on sites in Syria late on the evening of December 25th. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Among the headlines at the start of BBC Radio 4’s December 26th “Midnight News” programme was:

Israel has attacked a weapons site in Syria and says it’s intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards its territory.”

There was however no confirmation at that stage of that highlighted claim.

Later on (from 02:31 here) listeners were told that:

Newsreader: “Syria says its air defences have intercepted missiles fired by Israeli aircraft close to the capital Damascus but it acknowledged that an arms dump had been hit. Youssef Taha has more details.”

Taha: “A Syrian military official said that most of the missiles were brought down before they reached their targets but he acknowledged that a weapons dump near Damascus was hit. Video footage shown on state media showed an object moving over the city being intercepted and then the sound of a loud explosion followed by a burst of artillery shelling. Israel confirmed the attack and said it later activated its air defence system to bring down a Syrian missile. Israel has on numerous occasions targeted Iranian and Hizballah sites in Syria that it regards as threats to its own security. An Israeli army spokesman said there were no injuries among Israeli troops and no damage.”

Contrary to the claim from Youssef Taha that “Israel confirmed the attack”, at that stage – a few minutes after midnight UK time on December 26th – Israel had not confirmed anything of the sort and in fact no official statement has been made to date. The only Israeli announcement at that stage concerned the activation of an aerial defence system “in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria“.

As we see Taha’s newsgathering was based entirely on unverified claims made by the Syrian military and Syrian state media – neither of which is renowned for its honesty and accuracy.

Despite the absence of official confirmation from Israel, later that morning listeners to a news bulletin broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were likewise told that (from 02:53 here):

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked an arms depot near Damascus. It said it had also intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards Israeli territory. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

The IDF statement did not actually include the word ‘intercepted’ in either Hebrew or English but Knell went on to repeat that claim.

Knell: “Syrian air defences shot down missiles fired by Israeli war planes from Lebanese air space according to the official Syrian news agency. But it says that an arms depot was damaged by an Israeli strike. The Israeli military declined to comment on the report but said that Israel’s aerial defence system had intercepted a rocket launched from Syria. Israel has previously carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah, the Iranian backed Lebanese militant group.”

Once again BBC newsgathering consisted of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media and the same unreliable source was quoted in a news bulletin aired in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ (from 04:22 here) on the afternoon of the same day.

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked a weapons storage site near the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian state media says three soldiers were injured. Reports say that two suspicious cargo planes bound for Iran had taken off from Damascus just before the airstrikes. The Israeli military hasn’t commented but says its air defences intercepted a missile fired from Syria last night. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying over southern Lebanon fired missiles at targets near Damascus according to the official Syrian state news agency. It says most were shot down but an arms depot was damaged. Israeli media say that 2 Iranian planes bound for Tehran left Damascus airport just before and at around the time of the airstrikes. Reports have previously linked their airlines to weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. The Israeli military has only confirmed that its air defences intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria after the time of the reported air raids. Israel has previously said it struck some 200 targets in Syria over the past 2 years, saying it acts to stop Iranian entrenchment and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah.”

A news bulletin in the radio 4 programme ‘PM’ (from 03:19 here) on the afternoon of the same day promoted claims from a source which – like official Syrian media and the Syrian military – had been shown to have repeatedly lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in recent years.

Newsreader: “Russia says that 2 passenger planes were directly threatened last night by Israeli airstrikes on Syria. The defence ministry in Moscow said that the endangered flights had been landing in Damascus and Beirut. Israeli war planes damaged an arms depot near Damascus and wounded three soldiers. Israel hasn’t commented.”

On the evening of December 26th the same unverified claim was amplified in a news bulletin aired in the Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 03:20 here).

Newsreader: “Russia says an Israeli missile strike on targets in Syria last night directly threatened 2 civilian planes. The Russian foreign ministry described the attack as a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty. In the past Israel has acknowledged carrying out 200 missile strikes in Syria over 2 years with the aim of stopping Iran entrenching itself in the country and preventing advanced weapons reaching the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Kell.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying in Lebanese air space targeted an arms storage site near Damascus according to the official Syrian news agency. Russia’s defence ministry says 14 of the 16 missiles they fired were shot down and that Israel’s actions threatened 2 passenger planes, one landing in Beirut and the other in the Syrian capital. Israel’s military hasn’t commented on the reports but said that its air defences had intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria. Relations between Israel and Russia became strained in September when Syria shot down a Russian military plane during an Israeli airstrike, killing 15 people on board. Afterwards Russia announced that it had delivered its advanced S300 air defence system to Syria despite Israel and the US urging it not to.”

Late on the evening of December 26th the AP news agency published what it said was confirmation of the strikes in Syria – and a response to the Russian claims – from an anonymous “Israeli security official”.

However as we see, the BBC’s presentation of the story during the first 24 hours after it broke was primarily based on statements put out by official Syrian and Russian sources which the BBC repeated unquestioningly without independent verification.

Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news bulletins.

Related Articles:

BBC News recycles seven month-old misinformation

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

BBC News website promotes an ‘Israeli attack’ that wasn’t

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

 

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

In this post we continue to take a look at some of the topics that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’.

Another campaign amplified by the BBC related to the Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar. On September 5th Israel’s High Court rejected a petition to prevent the demolition of the illegally constructed encampment after a protracted court case. That story was reported on the BBC News website on the same day.

5th September 2018, BBC News website:

Khan al-Ahmar: Israel court approves demolition of Bedouin village

Discussed here.

“…in addition to the serious omissions in the BBC’s representation of this story, audiences saw four times more comment (and two links) from outside sources opposing the evacuation of the illegally constructed settlement than they did opinions in favour.”

A week later – as the demolition order was due to be lifted – the BBC’s London-based Middle East editor flew in and the corporation’s radio and TV audiences saw and heard a further five reports in the space of six days.

13th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

“…despite Bowen’s faulty geography, his amplification of the ‘contiguity’ myth and his failure to provide BBC audiences with the full background to this story (not least the fact that related court cases have been going on for nine years and the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land on which to build homes nearby) and notwithstanding his erasure of the politically motivated interventions by the Palestinian Authority and the EU in this case, BBC World Service listeners were told that they had just heard an ‘expert’ explanation.”

17th September 2018, BBC One, BBC News channel, Jeremy Bowen:

The West Bank village facing demolition

Discussed here.

“Notably the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – chose yet again not to tell the BBC’s funding public that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at Khan al Ahmar and other sites in the vicinity or that the Palestinian Authority and various NGOs have for years used the encampment’s residents as political pawns. To do so would of course hamper the narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and which he elected to promote in this report…”

17th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

17th September 2018, BBC Radio 4, ‘The World Tonight’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

18th September 2018, BBC World Service radio, ‘World Update’, Jeremy Bowen:

Discussed here.

“Once again Bowen deliberately refrained from informing listeners that if the residents of Khan al Ahmar had not been exploited by the Palestinian Authority for entirely political purposes they could, like other members of their tribe, have relocated to a site nearby offering free plots of land, utilities and a school, with no need whatsoever for the community to ‘suffer’. Those facts, however, do not help advance the political narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and so in these three radio items – just as in his previous filmed and audio reports – they were erased from the one-sided and politicised picture he presented.”

When the demolition of Khan al Ahmar did not take place as he had anticipated, Jeremy Bowen jetted off back to London. The encampment’s residents were subsequently given until October 1st to demolish the illegally constructed structures themselves. That did not happen and the encampment remains in situ, with the BBC having – for the time being at least – lost interest in the story to which it provided one-sided, politicised amplification in six reports in less than two weeks.

Related Articles:

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

BBC’s Wyre Davies plays wingman to anti-Israel NGOs

The LA Times, The Bedouin of Khan Al Ahmar and ‘Their Land’  (CAMERA)