BBC WS reports what the BBC website didn’t on the Argentina football story

As we saw yesterday, a BBC News website report concerning the Argentinian Football Association’s cancellation of a friendly match with Israel framed the background to the decision as being about “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza” and/or the fact that “Palestinians […] were angered by a decision to relocate the game” to Jerusalem.

Although the article was later amended to include the full quote from Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain rather than the truncated version used in earlier editions, the BBC News website still avoided telling its audiences about the threats received by Argentinian players and their families which were – according to the head of the Argentinian Football Association and the Argentinian foreign minister – the real reason for the game’s cancellation.

In contrast, listeners to the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on June 6th heard a more accurate version of the story (from 45:05 here) than the one presented by the BBC News website.

Presenter Tim Franks asked his interviewee – an Israeli journalist “with the Argentinian team at their training camp in Barcelona” – why the match was cancelled.

Franks: “The Argentinian team itself; ehm…why did they decide in the end – or why did their football association decide in the end – that they couldn’t go ahead with this friendly game?”

Emmanuel Elbaz-Phelps replied that “the official explanation was that the association – the football association of Argentina – doesn’t want to take any risk for the players” and also noted that:

Elbaz-Phelps: “But we also heard that the decision came yesterday afternoon [Tuesday, June 5th]  after the players were having a training session in the morning and there were some protesters and they heard them, they saw them and then they read everything going on in the news about the demonstrations also happening in Argentina and the players had this meeting; they had this talk and they decided they won’t go ahead with the game. Some actually told us that Messi was the person who first made the decision and – as the captain – so everybody was behind him. Another version says that he’s the captain but it was a group decision.”

Franks: “Because Lionel Messi himself was singled out by the head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub, saying if Lionel Messi plays in Jerusalem, we will make sure that he is boycotted, he is targeted around the world.”

Elbaz-Phelps: “Yeah and even more there are reports that threats were made to Messi’s family and to the families of the players.”

Elbaz-Phelps reported having been told that “there were threats on the social media, they got letters and that the players were actually scared about the situation”.

Obviously there are BBC journalists who know that the reason for the cancellation of the match has nothing to do with “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza”. The question that therefore arises is why the BBC News website’s report – which, unlike the Newshour report will remain permanently available to the public – has not been amended accordingly.  

Related Articles:

How BBC News framed the Argentina-Israel football match story

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BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.

Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.

Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”

Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”

As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.

Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.

Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”

Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”

Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support – tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.

Five years of BBC reports on one story show impartiality failure

For the past five years the BBC has been reporting on a proposed housing project in the south Jerusalem district of Givat HaMatos.

Givat HaMatos

In December 2012 BBC audiences were told that:

“…on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”

And, quoting the EU:

“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.

In October 2014 the BBC told audiences that:

“Israel has been criticised this month for approving new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos neighbourhood in East Jerusalem”

Two months later, in December 2014, the BBC’s Tim Franks revisited the same story.

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Audiences heard just one view on the topic from a representative of the political NGO ‘Ir Amim’ which has received funding from foreign sources – including from the EU.

In late January 2017 Tim Franks returned to the same location and BBC audiences again heard one view of the story; this time from the inadequately introduced founder of that same political NGO.

Franks: “This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible.”

None of the BBC’s various reports on Givat Hamatos has informed audiences that part of the planned housing units have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighbourhood of Beit Safafa.

To date, not one brick has been laid in the proposed project on which the BBC has already produced four reports and the JCPA recently published a backgrounder that explains why that is the case.

“The plan to build a Jewish residential neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem was already approved by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee in 2014. However, it has been frozen for four years.

Under pressure from the United States, Germany, and other European Union countries, the issuing of the construction tenders has been suspended time after time. […]

Germany is playing a central role in pressuring Israel not to build Givat Hamatos; other European countries oppose it as well. In October 2014 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the decision to build homes in Givat Hamatos threatened the two-state solution: “One cannot claim to support a solution and at the same time do things against without consequences being drawn.” In October 2017, the European Union requested clarifications from Israel about plans for housing units in Hamatos, saying that such building “is likely to harm severely the continuity and the existence of a future Palestinian state.””

While the views of representatives of an EU funded political NGO have been amplified in half of the BBC’s four reports on the story and the EU itself quoted in one other, audiences have not heard any alternative views whatsoever.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport. […]

When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.” [emphasis added]

Obviously BBC reporting on the proposed housing project in Givat HaMatos throughout the past five years has not complied with those guidelines. Rather, it has exclusively promoted monochrome framing of the story that has denied audiences access to information and perspectives that contradict the BBC’s chosen narrative.

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC News website’s coverage of the session held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st. In this post we will look at coverage of the same topic on BBC World Service radio, beginning with programmes aired before the vote took place.

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

1) ‘OS‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Nuala McGovern, from 00:30 here.

McGovern: “You may have heard me say at the very top of the hour about the United Nations; that they’re preparing to vote on a resolution that would condemn president…US President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, she’s just been speaking.”

Listeners then heard a segment from the US ambassador’s speech which would be repeated in additional BBC radio items relating to the same story.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.

But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered. Thank you.”

McGovern then brought in the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, adding her own editorialised comments. 

McGovern: “Ahm…very strong words. I was struck by them listening to Nikki Haley. She is not prepared to apologise in any way obviously for the embassy moving but also seems to be standing firm as in there will be consequences to this vote.”

During the conversation with Zurcher, listeners heard a recording of statements made by the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the UN which were also repeated in other programmes.

Cavusoglu: “Before this meeting a UN member state threatened all the other members. We were all asked to vote no or face the consequences. Some are even threatened with the development aid cut. Such an attitude is unacceptable. This is bullying and this chamber will not fall to do that. It is unethical to think that the words and dignity of member states are for sale. Let me put it this way: we will not be intimidated. You can be strong but this doesn’t make you right.”

Later on in the same programme, listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Sally Nabil at the UN.

2) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Julian Marshall, from 33:04 here.

Marshall: “Members of the UN General Assembly have been threatened by the Trump administration ahead of a vote later today on US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Monday the United States vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the US to withdraw its recognition. That same resolution will now go before the UN General Assembly and ahead of the vote President Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that go against the US.”

Marshall later brought in the BBC’s Nada Tawfik who told listeners that “when you speak to member states they do expect about 180 countries possibly out of 193 at the UN General Assembly to support this”. When the vote later took place, fifty-two fewer countries supported the resolution than predicted by Tawfik.

The item also included an interestingly timed report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 37:31) concerning evangelical Christian groups from the US touring Israel, with Bateman claiming that members of such groups had voted for Trump in huge numbers and were one of the reasons – together with “support from Jewish donors in the US” – for the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC World Service also aired an item on the story after the UN GA vote had taken place.

3) ‘Newshour‘, BBC World Service radio, 21/12/17, presented by Tim Franks, from 35:58 here.

Franks: “Not all votes at the United Nations are equal. Ones emanating from the UN General Assembly are non-binding but the effects of today’s vote in the assembly could, at least according to President Trump, be long-lasting. He’s warned that the US will remember those countries which voted for the resolution overwhelmingly passed today. The resolution calls on the US to withdraw its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr Trump said that the list of yea-sayers would be recounted next time they come asking for aid or help from Washington.”

Listeners then heard the same recording of the Turkish foreign minister’s statements aired in other programmes as well as part of the statement made by the US ambassador to the UN GA.

Franks next interviewed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi and began by asking him if he was “concerned about that threat from Nikki Haley and indeed from President Trump”.

Al Mouallimi: “Yes I do hope that this vote will be remembered by the United States because it is a vote in which the entire [sic] international community is making the point that the move taken by the United States is not within its right and it’s not appropriate and should not have been made – certainly not at this time and not outside the parameters of an agreed solution to the situation.”

Franks later asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador what he thought about the statement made by Nikki Haley according to which – in Franks’ own words – “the UN seems to have a particular thing about Israel and a particular thing about Jerusalem and its business is skewed towards taking what they hope are free hits against Israel and against Jerusalem”. Audiences heard the following unchallenged response.

Al Mouallimi: “Well the United Nations should have a special thing about Israel because Israel is an occupying power. It continues to occupy the Palestinian land for now more than 50 years. It continues to deny the Palestinians the right for self-determination. It continues to claim Jerusalem as its own capital without regard to the interests of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the city and in the area.”

As we see, the BBC World Service was far more preoccupied with informing audiences about what it portrayed as “threats” issued by the United States than it was with providing them with the context to this UN GA resolution and vote. Notably, with the exception of the recording of Nikki Haley speaking at the General Assembly, listeners did not hear the views of either American or Israeli officials on the story. 

 

A BBC journalist’s chosen Twitter header compromises impartiality

Readers may recall that in January 2016 the BBC refrained from reporting a story concerning an activist with the non-transparently funded political NGO ‘Ta’ayush‘ – Ezra Nawi – that appeared in the Israeli media.

“Key activists in two of Israel’s best-known left wing NGOs were caught on camera admitting that they entrapped Palestinians interested in selling land to Israelis and then reported them to the Palestinian Authority, despite knowing that these Palestinians faced near-certain torture or murder at the hands of the PA’s secret police.

The story was first reported yesterday by Uvda, a prestigious Israeli television news magazine that is the local equivalent of 60 Minutes. The two activists are Nasser Nawaja, a Palestinian and a prominent field researcher for the human rights group B’Tselem, and Ezra Nawi, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem and a key figure in the pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS group Ta’ayush. They were secretly recorded by members of another NGO, called Ad Kan, who then delivered the tape to Uvda’s reporter Omri Assenheim.

“He’s not the first to call me, he’s maybe the fourth,” Nawi bragged on tape, while speaking of a Palestinian real estate agent who contacted him with offers of land for sale to Israelis. “And right away I send their pictures and their phone numbers to the Palestinian security services.”

Speaking off camera, an unnamed Ad Kan activist asks Nawi what the PA does then.

“They catch these guys and they kill them,” Nawi says.

“Physically kills them?” asks the Ad Kan activist, sounding surprised.

“Yes,” Nawi replies, grinning widely.”

Several days after that programme was aired, Nawi tried to leave the country.

In 2009 Ezra Nawi was convicted of assaulting police officers and rioting. Shortly before Nawi was sentenced, the BBC’s Tim Franks – at the time based at the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau – produced a report for BBC Radio 4 titled “Non-Jews ‘treated worse than fifth class'”.

“A peace activist [sic] in Israel is due to be sentenced today after being found guilty of assaulting Israeli paramilitary policemen in the West Bank. Ezra Nawi was protesting about the Israeli demolition of a Bedouin shack deep inside the occupied West Bank in 2007, and his arrest was filmed and posted on youtube. Middle East correspondent Tim Franks, returned with Ezra Nawi back to the same West Bank Bedouin encampment.”

In 2011 an Irish politician abandoned a presidential bid after it emerged that in 1997 he wrote a letter on official Irish parliamentary stationary appealing for clemency for his partner at the time – Ezra Nawi – who had been convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year-old Palestinian boy. The BBC reported that story too – albeit with incorrect representation of Nawi’s name.  

Given Ezra Nawi’s record and the blatantly partisan agenda of the political NGO with which he is linked, one might perhaps have thought that one of the last places one would find a photograph of him (apparently from 2009) would be on the header of the official Twitter account (active since 2010) of a BBC journalist committed to editorial standards of impartiality – including in relation to social media – particularly as that journalist still produces content relating to Israel and the Palestinians.

However, one would be mistaken.

Related Articles:

The NGO story the BBC avoided

More tepid BBC coverage of anti-Israel bigotry in sport

The BBC’s track record on reporting anti-Israel bigotry in international sport is not particularly laudable. While some incidents are simply ignored, others get coverage that is often tepid and euphemistic.

That approach was again evident on November 27th in two BBC reports concerning an Iranian wrestler who was instructed by his coaches to lose a match so as to avoid meeting an Israeli in the next round of a championship.

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Tim Franks – included an item (from 18:51 here) on that story introduced as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Franks: “We’re often told that sport and politics don’t mix – or at least shouldn’t mix. But at the under-23 world championship of wrestling currently being held in Poland, there is intense speculation that sport and politics did collide and sport lost. Some Iranian wrestling fans on social media are claiming that their man deliberately lost a match on Saturday in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round. Houchang Chehabi is an Iranian-born professor of international relations at Boston University. What’s the evidence that the bout was thrown?”

Interviewer and interviewee then discussed a video showing the coach instructing the wrestler to lose the match.

Chehabi: “The evidence seems to be that he was told to do so.”

Franks: “Right. And…ehm…he was told to do so – what – midway through the bout.”

Chehabi: “Yes, apparently. That’s what the video seems to show.”

Despite the Iranian government and the Iranian wrestling federation having praised the wrestler’s “noble and heroic action”, Franks was apparently still not convinced.

Franks: “How plausible do you think it is that a coach would issue instructions like that because of fear of having to meet face-to-face, arm-to-arm, leg-to-leg an Israeli in the next round?

Chehabi: “Yes, well, that’s nothing new. Traditionally Iranian wrestlers simply did not show up when they had to fight an Israeli because the idea was that doing so would lend legitimacy to the Israeli state which the Islamic republic does not accept. So…ahm…under some circumstances obviously the Israeli athlete would be declared the winner and I can only guess that somebody decided that losing a real bout against a Russian was preferable to being declared the loser in a non-bout against an Israeli.”

After a conversation about the popularity of wrestling in Iran, listeners heard the claim that Iranians have been “deprived of medals”.  

Franks: “…I just wonder also now how much this might become a ‘thing’ in Iran: that a practitioner of a popular sport has been told – or appears to have been told – to lose in order not to run afoul of the authorities.

Chehabi: “Ahm…as I said this is really nothing new. Many Iranian athletes over the last 30 years have been deprived of medals because they refused to fight an Israeli. So whether they do it by not showing up or by losing the preliminary round, really at the end of the day it doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Franks: “But do you think wrestling fans…I mean clearly some are upset about it but do you think the majority would be thinking well, you know, it’s just one of those things?”

Chehabi: “Yeah, exactly. I would…I would go with that.”

Franks then appeared to bring up an ‘interesting’ way of avoiding such situations which – notably – did not involve the Iranians giving up their bigoted approach.

Franks: “And in terms of the Iranian sort of…trying to avoid this sort of thing in the future, have they ever tried to make appeals to the people who run world sport to avoid embarrassing clashes or do they realise that that is simply a power that they cannot wield?”

Chehabi: “Oh I’m sure that’s a power that they cannot wield. I mean some measures were taken by Arab countries: Israel a few decades ago was expelled from the Asian Games for instance. Until the 1970s Israel took part in the Asian Games and then Arab countries made sure that they could no longer do. But in the case of world championship, there’s no way one can exclude one country.”

Remarkably, the only explanation listeners to this item received regarding the political background relevant to this story was the tepid and euphemistic observation that “the Islamic Republic does not accept” Israel. Iran’s regular violent threats against Israel and its funding of terror groups dedicated to bringing about the country’s demise did not even get a mention in Franks’ portrayal of this story.

Also on November 27th the BBC News website published an article titled “Outrage as Iranian wrestler ‘forced’ to lose match” in the features section of its Middle East page. The same article – by BBC Trending – appeared on the ‘wrestling’ page of the BBC Sport website which, despite its usually displayed interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport, did not produce any coverage of this story itself.

The political background provided to readers of that article was similarly sketchy:

“Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events.”

The article also included a link to a fifteen month-old report by BBC Sport which – as pointed out here at the time – inaccurately named the Israeli judoka Or Sasson as ‘Os’. The same uncorrected  inaccuracy appeared again in this latest article.

“Also in the Rio Games, Egyptian Islam El Shehaby was booed by the crowd after refusing to shake hands with Israeli opponent Os Sasson.”

It is of course highly unlikely (one hopes) that BBC coverage of any story about sportspeople repeatedly encountering discrimination, bigotry and state-ordered boycotts because of their skin colour, gender or sexual orientation would be quite as lukewarm as is the corporation’s repeated portrayal of those concerning Israelis.

 Related Articles:

Tepid BBC report on Lebanese Olympic team’s bigoted agitprop

BBC Sport reports snub to Israeli judoka – but gets his name wrong

BBC Sport whitewashes Islamist bigotry with a euphemism

BBC News and BBC Sport ignore Judo tournament anti-Israel bigotry

BBC WS radio on US withdrawal from UNESCO – part one

As we saw in a previous post, the BBC News website’s reporting on the October 12th announcement from the US State Department regarding withdrawal from UNESCO did not provide BBC audiences with the background information essential for understanding of one of the three cited reasons for that action – anti-Israel bias. Rather, in addition to repeatedly placing that phrase in scare quotes, the article told readers of “perceived anti-Israel bias” at an organisation that passed no fewer than 46 anti-Israel resolutions between 2009 and 2013.

So did listeners to BBC World Service radio fare any better? The same story was the topic of an item aired in the October 12th edition of the programme ‘Newshour‘ which was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 17:57 here) as follows:

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

Franks: “The US has announced it’s pulling out of the UN’s cultural organisation UNESCO and it’ll be joined by Israel. The State Department said that the decision comes out of concerns with what it called ‘continuing anti-Israel bias’ at the agency. The formal withdrawal will come into effect at the end of next year.”

Franks then introduced the item’s sole interviewee:

Franks: “Crystal Nix-Hines was President Obama’s appointee as the US ambassador to UNESCO until earlier this year.”

Nix-Hines: “I think it’s a terrible decision for the US to withdraw from the organisation it helped found in…right after World War Two to promote peace and international cooperation around the world. And it’s, you know, yet another example of the Trump administration withdrawing from the international community and abdicating its leadership role.”

Franks: “Well you say it was set up in the wake of the Second World War with noble intentions; the argument now is that it has departed from those aims and it is a highly politicised and – in the words of its critics – anti-Israel talking shop.”

Nix-Hines: “Well there’s no question that the resolutions have come out of the executive board adopted by member states have been incredibly inflammatory and quite frankly…ah…offensive. But the thing that people don’t realise is that because the United States has a seat at the table on the executive board, we’re able to block the implementation of those resolutions. We vote no every single time. Sometimes we’re the only member to do so and because of that the UNESCO secretariat does not enforce the resolutions because they aren’t adopted by consensus. By staying out of the organisation, giving up our seat on the executive board, we now lose that critical ‘no’ vote and the resolutions are free to proceed.”

Franks made no effort to pursue the topic of the factors lying behind the politicisation of UNESCO or to explain to listeners that the stream of resolutions (sponsored and supported by assorted Arab states) that erase and deny Jewish history and heritage in the region are part of a long-standing Palestinian campaign to delegitimise Israel. With the BBC often failing to report – or reporting badly – on Palestinian actions at UNESCO, most listeners would be unable to fill in the blanks for themselves. He continued:

Franks: “Well except that I suppose the argument could be used that, I mean, essentially you’re accepting the criticism of UNESCO for having a slant – a bias – against Israel, for denying the Israeli or the Jewish cultural and religious and historical links to sites in Jerusalem, the site in Hebron and actually, you know, using your veto is one thing but actually walking away from the organisation is a…a braver and more honest thing to do until it sorts itself out.”

Nix-Hines: “I disagree. You can’t effect change if you’re not part of the organisation and working to encourage positive change.”

Nix-Hines went on to claim that “UNESCO is the only international organisation that teaches Holocaust education” and “the only organisation that is really doing anything serious to develop educational tools to help young people resist violent extremism and encourage tolerance and multiculturalism” before making a statement that Franks chose not to explore further.

Nix-Hines: “And why should, you know, a power like the United States let the Palestinians and their supporters drive us out of an organisation that we helped found and we’re moving in the right direction?”

Franks’ final question related to the possibility of change at UNESCO that might “persuade the US to reverse its decision”.  His interviewee’s response included further political comment:

Nix-Hines”…we [the US delegation] encouraged the organisation to return to that depoliticised time. And they could still do that and it would be a positive step in the right direction. But nonetheless it’s important to stay engaged in these international organisations – as the Obama administration realised – to promote real change.”

Listeners to this item once again heard superfluous qualification appended to the phrase anti-Israel bias. They heard one particular view of the US administration’s announcement – along with one particular shade of political comment – with no alternative view offered.

They did not however hear Tim Franks present any sort of serious challenge to the person who represented the United States at UNESCO for two and a half years on the question of why she and others failed to make any progress in ‘depoliticising’ the organisation in that time.

Listeners to another BBC World Service radio programme the next day heard a repeat of some of Nix-Hines’ comments. That broadcast will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC policy on portrayal of UN anti-Israel bias on display again 

PA’s anti-Israel campaign at FIFA gets BBC WS amplification again

For years Jibril Rajoub has been exploiting his various sports-related positions in the Palestinian Authority to advance delegitimisation of Israel.

In May 2012, he volunteered to lead a campaign to have Israel expelled from all Olympic unions and committees, stating that he opposes any form of ‘normalisation’ with Israel, including in the field of sports. In June 2012 Rajoub demanded that UEFA cancel Israel’s hosting of the 2013 European Under-21 Championship. 

Not infrequently, Rajoub’s assorted campaigns have been covered on BBC platforms: see for example here, here and here. Over the last two years, the BBC has repeatedly amplified Rajoub’s current campaign against the Israeli football association at FIFA (which is supported by the political NGO HRW) on multiple platforms:

BBC frames anti-Israel delegitimisation campaign as a sports story

Wind in the sails of Jibril Rajoub’s anti-Israel campaign from BBC WS WHYS

Kevin Connolly continues the BBC’s amplification of anti-Israel delegitimisation

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC’s Knell relegates impartiality to the bench in campaigning football report

The latest installment in the BBC’s coverage of Rajoub’s campaign was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 9th.  The report by Tom Bateman (from 14:00 here) was introduced by presenter Tim Franks as follows:

Franks: “One of the great myths perpetuated by sports administrators is that sport somehow transcends politics; can fill a pristine space unsullied by grubby squabbling and nationalism. Well this week football’s world governing body FIFA is being asked to wade into one of the most intractable conflicts of the lot: that between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s being asked to rule whether football clubs from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should be allowed to carry on playing in Israel’s official leagues. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

As is almost inevitably the case in BBC content, the BBC’s new man in Jerusalem ignored the context to the events which led to Israel taking control of areas previously occupied by Jordan for 19 years.

Bateman: “Fragments of past conflict are hard to avoid here. Beyond Jerusalem’s suburbs, past the checkpoint soldiers under a weight of flack-jackets in the afternoon sun, you can hear the sound of bagpipes. This particular British military remnant belongs to the band of a Palestinian football club in the West Bank premier league – Hilal al Quds. On the sidelines – at least for the match if not in his political life – is Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association. Israel, he believes, is breaking FIFA’s rules by allowing in its leagues at least six clubs based in Jewish settlements on the West Bank: land captured by Israel 50 years ago.”

Rajoub: “It’s a crime by the international law. The Israeli federation has no right to organize and administer an official league within occupied territories. The Israeli federation has the right to develop the game within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.”

Bateman: “The Israelis say you’re politicising football.”

Rajoub: “No, I’m playing football and I hope that Israelis do understand that they cannot from one side enjoy the statutes and from the other side deny it for the Palestinians.”

Bateman then went to meet the chairman of the football club in Ariel, Shai Berntal.

Bateman: “Well we’re just driving west at the moment and we are heading to Ariel which is one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Shai Bernthal [sic] founded the football team when he came here in the 1980s.”

Berntal: “I feel that I belong to this land because [it] is the land of our fathers and mothers from the Bible era. I want to manage the football and to manage the very, very important mission to do a good and genuine football club in Ariel – that’s all.”

Erasing the fact that Ariel is situated in one of the areas that would remain under Israeli control in any realistic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Of course Palestinians will say that this land, this very turf that we’re standing on here is the land that they want for their future state.”

Berntal: “The Jews live here from 2,000 years before them.”

Citing unidentified “critics”, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “He is interested in football, he tells me, not politics. But critics say the two cannot be disentangled in this case. These settlements are considered illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.”

As we see, despite only recently having taken up the post of Middle East correspondent, Bateman has embraced the BBC’s standard mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that contradict the corporation’s chosen narrative.

Listeners then heard the sound of a clip from a film.

Bateman: “As a new spoof documentary – ‘The 90 Minute War – suggests one of the world’s longest conflicts can be solved in a football match, the real drama may be played out at FIFA’s congress this week. The dispute between the two football associations is now several years old. Israel rejects the complaints. It has long accused Palestinian officials of using sport to glorify terrorism.”

Of course BBC audiences are consistently denied the information which would enable them to know whether “Palestinian officials” do indeed use sport to glorify terrorism and Bateman failed to inform listeners that just a day prior to his report, Rajoub’s Palestinian Football Association organised a tournament named after a terrorist responsible for the murders of 125 Israelis.

Listeners then heard a voice say “I think it’s just a game”. Failing to provide listeners with necessary context concerning Rajoub’s political standing within the PA and Fatah – information which the BBC has repeatedly refrained from providing to its audiences – Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Opponents of the Palestinian FA focus on its boss. Jibril Rajoub – once jailed by Israel for throwing a grenade at a military convoy – has high political ambitions, they say. Alan Baker – a former Israeli diplomat – knew him well. They became Jacuzzi partners during Israeli-Palestinian talks.”

Baker: “We spent hours and hours and hours negotiating and he’s in this for the political power that this gives him among the Palestinian public. The Palestinians are taking an honourable organisation whose purpose is to regulate international football and hijacking it for political ends and politicising it.”

Bateman: “FIFA’s role as referee in this dispute has already seen any decision delayed. This week’s congress may see that extra time extended even further.”

In fact –as Bateman knows – FIFA issued a press release exactly to that effect prior to the broadcast of his report.

The BBC World Service chose nevertheless to broadcast this report once again amplifying Rajoub’s campaign.

While Bateman’s report is certainly not one of the BBC’s worst on this topic, his pseudo-impartial ‘he said-she said’ presentation does not contribute to audience understanding of the story. Considering that BBC audiences have a permanent deficit of information concerning Palestinian glorification of terrorism through sport (and in general), that they rarely receive information on Palestinian Authority internal politics and that their understanding of delegitimisation campaigns against Israel is decidedly limited, it would have been appropriate for Bateman to supply listeners with actual facts rather than repeatedly and unhelpfully telling them what “Israel says”.  

BBC’s Knell tells audiences that convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’

When some mostly Fatah-linked Palestinians serving sentences in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike on April 17th, the BBC produced three reports on that story on consecutive days. As was noted here at the time:

“…in all three of the reports, readers find (not for the first time) amplification of the PLO’s narrative concerning Palestinian prisoners – as promoted, for example, in a PLO ‘media brief’ from June 2015. [emphasis added]

Report 1: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 2: “Palestinians say the detainees are political prisoners, while Israel describes them as “terrorists”” (photo caption)

                  “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 3: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis.”

The idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may be defined in such terms.”

On May 2nd the BBC went one step further. Apparently not content with the above uncritical and unqualified amplification of the partisan narrative of the PLO, Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell dispensed with the nicety “Palestinians regard”, electing to describe convicted terrorists as “political prisoners” in her (and hence the BBC’s) own words.

Knell’s audio report was broadcast to Radio 4 audiences in the programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 39:09 here) and an almost identical version of the report was broadcast to BBC World Service audiences in the programme ‘Newshour’ (from 38:11 here).

After listeners heard the sound of chanting, Knell began her report as follows: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Chants of support for Palestinian political prisoners in Israel jails who’ve been refusing food for two weeks in a protest about conditions. As President Abbas prepares to meet President Trump, tensions are rising back home, leading to renewed clashes with Israeli soldiers. In Ramallah I meet Fadwa Barghouti. Her husband Marwan – a popular figure in the president’s Fatah faction – is serving five life sentences for murder in Israel and is leading the hunger strike. She says Palestinians care deeply for the prisoners.”

With Fadwa Barghouti speaking in Arabic in the background, Knell then told listeners:

Knell:”The whole Palestinian people’s been subjected to imprisonment, she tells me. Every Palestinian home knows what it means to have a prisoner, knows suffering and injured pride.”

Of course very many Israeli homes know suffering too: the suffering of having had a loved one murdered by Palestinian terrorists in attacks such as those directed by Fadwa Barghouti’s husband. In her typical style Yolande Knell, however, erased that terrorism and its victims from her pathos-rich yet obviously biased portrayal of terrorists on hunger strike (albeit in waning numbers – which Knell neglected to mention) as “political prisoners”. She continued:

Knell: “Earlier there was another rally in Gaza where Palestinians burnt posters of their president. Here the anger is driven by the damaging internal split between Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas – which controls Gaza – as well as the moribund peace process.”

Knell provided no evidence to back her bizarre claim that the demonstrations in Gaza on May 2nd were motivated by “the moribund peace process”. She went on:

Knell: “At Birzeit University politics professor George Giacaman now sees Mr Abbas in a tricky position in Washington. He thinks he’ll come under pressure to return to peace talks with Israel without a deal to stop Jewish settlement growth on land the Palestinians want for their future state. That would be very hard to sell to the public.”

Making no effort to inform BBC audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – do not place any limitations of construction in Israeli communities in Area C but do state that the final status of that area is to be determined in negotiations and its portrayal as “Palestinian land” therefore amplifies a partisan position, Knell allowed her interviewee to promote the myth of “new settlements”: a notion she and her editors know perfectly well is false. [emphasis added]

Giacaman: “The Palestinian side has insisted throughout the past years that before negotiation starts, there has to be a hold to the settlement process. You have to keep in mind that this occupation of Palestinian land spearheaded by the establishment of new settlements in the West Bank undermines any political process, including of course the two-state solution.”

Listeners then heard a recording from the press conference at the meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the US president earlier in the year.

Trump: “As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made.”

Knell next recycled the ‘policy shift’ theme the BBC has been pushing since mid-February even though it was quickly refuted by US officials.

Knell: “President Trump speaking to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Israel had announced plans for several thousand new settler homes during his first month in office with relatively little criticism. And the new US leader appeared ready to break with long-established American foreign policy backing the creation of a Palestinian state as the only way to end the Middle East conflict.”

Trump: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but, honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like best.”

Knell: “Palestinians don’t expect the meeting between Mr Abbas and Mr Trump to be so friendly. But the Palestinian president has tried to strengthen his hand by meeting the leaders of Washington’s close Arab allies Egypt and Jordan on his way to the White House. So could the US be about to broker another round of peace talks?”

Giacaman: “I doubt if anything would come of it. I don’t think President Abbas has anything new to offer and I doubt Mr Trump is in a position to give the Israeli-Palestinian issue all his concentrations. The exposure to American public opinion and to the American leadership; this will help a lot because they are the only people in the world who can influence the Palestinians, Israelis to go to peace.”

Knell closed her report:

Knell: “Recently Palestinians have seen their cause overshadowed by other regional concerns. Their leaders now hope that the unpredictable approach of Mr Trump could work in their favour. Their official line is that he offers a rare chance for peace.”

Knell’s portrayal of the chances of renewal of negotiations of course airbrushed very pertinent context such as the increasingly acrimonious rift between the PA and Hamas and the related fact that the long since unelected Mahmoud Abbas cannot even set foot in the Gaza Strip, let alone claim to represent all the Palestinians.  

However, Knell’s aim in this report was obviously not to provide domestic and foreign BBC audiences with a realistic, accurate and impartial report on the story but to promote PLO talking points – primarily the false claim that imprisoned terrorists are “political prisoners”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

BBC News promotes PLO narrative in copious coverage of prisoners’ strike

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

Inaccuracies and omissions in BBC News reporting on Abbas White House visit

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC