BBC ME editor makes Gaza Strip ventilators disappear

On March 30th the BBC announced that:

“Some of BBC News’ best-known voices are reading their favourite poems of comfort and hope as part of a series on Radio 4’s Today programme.”

On April 3rd it was the turn of the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen (from 2:28:42 here) and, as he himself Tweeted, he used that opportunity to bring up the Gaza Strip.

Bowen: “And, you know, I’m going to be as cheerful as possible because this is a very hard time and is miserable for so many and people are dying. But you know we’re gonna get through it. Ahm…there have been some comparisons made with this fight against the virus and a war and I think that’s valid, without the bullets. Now a reason why this is so shocking is because usually in this country and in most other developed countries we have pretty secure – most of us – and stable lives and in wars that mass security gets taken away. I’ve seen it all over the world many times and that’s what the virus is doing. Now it’s not a competition of course but many people around the world never have that kind of safety and security that usually we’re used to. Untimely death is always part of it for them. And so think about all that and the fact that, you know, we have the NHS and many countries don’t and figures I’ve seen lately: 40 ventilators in Gaza for 2 million people, 3 ventilators in the Central African Republic for 5 million. So it’s a time to count our blessings I suppose is what I’m saying.” [emphasis in italics in the original]

As of the day on which those statements by Bowen were aired, over 3,600 people had died of Covid 19 in the UK. In the Gaza Strip there had been no fatalities.

On March 13th and 14th listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio were told by a World Health Organisation representative that there are “between 50 to 60 ventilators” in the Gaza Strip.

On March 25th BBC Radio 4 listeners were informed by a doctor in the Gaza Strip that “throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units”.

On March 26th listeners to BBC World Service radio heard the UNRWA director in the Gaza Strip say “what I’ve been told is we have at maximum 60 ICU beds”.

On March 31st listeners to the same radio station heard from an Oxfam representative that “the number of ICU beds are hardly 87 if we count the private and the public hospitals”. 

So with the BBC having reported for weeks that there are between 50 and 87 ventilators in the Gaza Strip (the head of the regional WHO mission says 87 – i.e. 43.5/million people), where did Bowen get the considerably lower number of 40? That is unclear because he refrained from providing a source for the claim he promoted on prime-time BBC radio.

In mid-March it was reported that NHS Scotland had about 190 “Level 3 Intensive Care Unit beds with ventilatory support in addition to other organ support” for that country’s population of 5.5 million – i.e. 34.5/million. While efforts have been made to improve that ratio, ITV reports that in the Hebrides, where three cases of Coronavirus have been diagnosed:

“There are no Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds with ventilators on the islands, it’s a long, long way to the nearest hospital, and any medical evacuation to the mainland could be weather-dependent.”

Nevertheless, Jeremy Bowen thought it appropriate to promote his unsupported chosen political narrative while telling the BBC’s domestic audiences to count their blessings.

Examining BBC reports on Corona-related cell phone tracking

On March 17th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard the following report in a news bulletin (from 2:08:05 here):

Newsreader: “Israel’s government has approved measures for its security agencies to use mobile phone data to track the location of suspected Coronavirus patients. The move has led to criticism from civil rights groups. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The emergency measures allow the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, to harvest information, including location data, from the mobile phones of confirmed Coronavirus patients and those suspected of having the disease. The regulations were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval. The mobile phone data showing an individual’s movements will be passed to the Ministry of Health to alert others who they may have come into contact with and will also be used to enforce quarantine regulations. Israel has more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus. Civil rights groups called the move dangerous. The government said it was trying to strike a balance between health needs and people’s rights.”

On the same day the BBC News website published an article headlined “Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers”. Written by BBC Technology cyber-security reporter Joe Tidy, the report includes analysis from Tom Bateman.

“The Israeli government has approved emergency measures for its security agencies to track the mobile-phone data of people with suspected coronavirus.

The new powers will be used to enforce quarantine and warn those who may have come into contact with infected people.

The temporary laws were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”.

Such powers are usually reserved for counter-terrorism operations.”

On March 29th listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 37:10 here) by Krassi Twigg of BBC Monitoring about “fears that some countries are seeing new levels of intrusion which could have a damaging effect on societies”.

The report mentioned South Korea, Italy, France and (from 40:57) Israel.

Twigg: “…and Israel has ordered its domestic security agency to track the mobile phone data of suspected Coronavirus cases. The Shin Bet normally uses such surveillance methods on Palestinians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis. Joel Greenberg, BBC Monitoring’s Israel specialist, said the use of these methods against [sic] Israeli citizens has been hugely controversial.”

Greenberg: “Critics of the policy have challenged it in the Supreme Court and they argue that it’s a dangerous invasion of privacy by the government. The government has said that the use of mobile phone tracking will be strictly limited to the battle against the Coronavirus but still the critics say that there may be no going back. Once the Shin Bet has begun tracking the cell phones of ordinary Israelis, the policy may be used again.”

The story is however by no means as simple as those three BBC reports spread over a period of twelve days tell audiences. Only in the written report was it made it clear that “Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the new powers will last for 30 days only”.

The chain of events actually began two days before the BBC picked up the story, on March 15th, as reported by the Times of Israel.

“The government on Sunday approved a proposal to allow the Shin Bet security service to perform mass surveillance on Israelis’ phones without requiring a court order in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting major concerns of privacy and civil liberty violations.

The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee. […]

In recent weeks authorities in Taiwan and Singapore, among other countries, have used cellular phone data to ensure that citizens were abiding by required quarantine orders.

Those tools — the Israel Police and Health Ministry already have similar means at their disposal — are not what was approved by the government Sunday.

Instead, the Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters (6.6 feet) of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.

“The information will be given only to the Health Ministry, to specific people with security clearances, and it will be erased immediately after it is used,” a senior Justice Ministry official told Channel 13 news.”

However the Knesset subcommittee did not vote on the matter and on March 19th the Supreme Court ruled that the tracking could not continue for more than five days without Knesset oversight.

“In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice said Thursday that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament fails to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.”

Following a request from the State Prosecutor and the re-establishment of the subcommittee, the Supreme Court lifted the injunction on March 24th on condition that legislation concerning the surveillance measures would be put in place.

“The High Court warned that if the legislation was not advanced in the coming weeks, it would once again be forced to intervene.

The judges noted that, given the additional government restrictions expected to be approved to further curb movement, the surveillance should be used as little as possible to minimize privacy violations.”

Especially given that, as the BBC has reported, the UK is also considering the employment of technological measures to combat the pandemic, one would have expected BBC journalists – including BBC Monitoring’s “Israel specialist” – to be able to report the story more accurately and with at least some mention of the safeguards put in place rather than focusing primarily on the speculative claims promoted by inadequately presented political NGOs such as ACRI and Adalah.  

BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Following the election in Israel at the beginning of March we documented the BBC’s provision of brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map, with the exception of one list.

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

As efforts to form a coalition government proceed, that practice continues.

Listeners to a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th heard a report from Tom Bateman (from 2:09:05 here) about the president of Israel having tasked the leader of the Blue & White party with forming a government after he received the most endorsements from members of the Knesset.

Newsreader: “Benny Gantz, the main political rival to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been given the chance to form a government after winning the support of two key parties. There have been three inconclusive elections in Israel in the last 12 months. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The backing for Benny Gantz is a blow to Benjamin Netanyahu but it does little to break the deadlock that has paralysed Israeli politics. Most MPs supported Mr Gantz for the first go at putting together a coalition but their appetite to dislodge Mr Netanyahu is all some of them really agree on. The groups backing Mr Gantz include the Arab Israeli parties who won record support in the election and a nationalist, hawkish former defence minister who turned on Mr Netanyahu a year ago. The under pressure prime minister is seeking, among other options, to forge an emergency government to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.”

In other words, while BBC audiences heard Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party – described as “nationalist, hawkish”, no political categorisation was given for the Joint Arab List.

A written report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days” and with the tag “Coronavirus pandemic”. There readers found the following:

“The election on 2 March was Israel’s third in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.

This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Mr Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see that while the BBC apparently thinks it useful to provide audiences with tools to navigate the Israeli political map, it does not provide any such signposting regarding the Joint Arab List. Instead, that list is portrayed as “representing Israel’s Arab minority” – the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Information about the politics and ideologies of the four parties that make up the Joint Arab List is however crucial for members of the BBC’s audience who wish to understand both this story about Gantz trying to form a coalition government and another alternative apparently on the table but not adequately explained by the BBC – an emergency government. As Haviv Retting Gur notes at the Times of Israel:

“The Arab factions united in the Joint List are a diverse collection of liberals, Islamists, progressives and ultra-nationalists. Most are openly anti-Zionist and some have expressed proud and open support for ruthless terrorists responsible for some of the most infamous atrocities ever inflicted on Israelis. […]

One signal of a political faction’s seriousness can be found in its willingness to soberly prioritize its many goals and to sacrifice less-important ones for those that matter more. That may sound obvious, but a party like Balad, one of the four factions that make up the Joint List, had proved over the years that it could not look past its obeisance to radical Palestinian nationalism. Its members have joined the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, praised a murderer of Israeli children, and even spied for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.”

So while the BBC is capable of identifying “religious” parties allied to the Likud and describes Yisrael Beitenu as “nationalist”, it refrains from informing its audiences that, for example, one of the parties making up the Joint Arab List (Ra’am) is also a religious group and another (Balad) is no less nationalist.

Another point worthy of note in this BBC report concerns the following statements:

“Meanwhile, Mr Gantz also criticised what he said were “the illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice”.

Mr Netanyahu had been due in court on Tuesday to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. But the hearing has now been postponed until at least 24 May because of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Readers trying to make up their own minds about that statement from Gantz would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.

 

 

 

 

BBC promotes linkage between elections on two continents

Among the BBC News website’s generous coverage of the US administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal in late January was an article by Aleem Maqbool in which readers were told that:

“White Evangelical Christian Americans formed a strong voting block for Donald Trump in 2016, with around 80% voting for him.

Many Evangelical Christians believe that God promised the Holy Land to Jews and that their return to power across the whole territory will bring about the Second Coming of Christ.

But that is not only helping to shape policy because President Trump wants their votes again in November.

There are also Evangelicals within the Trump administration itself, like Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have reportedly been pushing for the kind of support for Israel’s expansionist aspirations as detailed in the new plan.

Those aspirations all but do away with the notion of having sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side, as previous US administrations had said they wanted.”

Readers were not provided with any context. For example AP reported in January that:

“Trump won a clear majority of white evangelical Protestant votes in 2016 […] [b]ut those evangelicals’ alignment with the Republican Party predated Trump and has risen steadily since 2009, according to data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.”

And:

“Trump has not greatly outperformed his GOP predecessors with white evangelicals”.

Neither did Maqbool’s monochrome portrayal provide any information concerning the prominence of the issue of Israel in comparison to other issues (such as abortion or social justice) among Evangelical voters.

Listeners to the March 2nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme however found that narrative repeated, along with the promotion of linkage to the election in Israel.

Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 46:47 here) with the inaccurate claim that the US proposal concerns only “the Palestinians”: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Israelis are voting today in their third general election in a year after neither prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor opposition leader Benny Gantz were able to form a government on the previous two occasions last year. This time Mr Netanyahu is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century on the Palestinians. And this is a vote that could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November as his stance on Israeli policies is linked to that of his Evangelical Christian supporters. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports.”

Bowen began his report at the archaeological site of Megiddo, claiming that: 

Bowen: “This place gives you an idea of the power and influence of Christian Evangelicals’ view of Israel has in the US. I can see one, two, three, maybe five groups of American pilgrims praying, reading the bible and who share this strong belief that America needs to support Israel because of the vital part it plays in their religious beliefs.”

He spoke to one of those tourists, Ray Armstrong.

Bowen: “Now Christian Evangelicals in the US have a strong interest in Israel, don’t you? You feel a strong affinity.”

Armstrong: “We do. So we are a large – at this time, for better, for worse – a large political influence.”

Bowen: “Now President Trump has been very forward in his support for Israel, recently in his Deal of the Century as he calls it [sic]. Do you think that’s the kind of thing that Evangelicals would support?”

Armstrong: “I think there will be those Evangelicals who will. I think we need to be thorough in our thinking. I think we need to understand consequences of our words. We just need to be careful in what we do and how we go about it.”

That rather vague response did not deter Bowen from continuing to tout his debatable hypothesis.

Bowen: “It is only about six months since the last election and this is the third time in a year but the Americans, by publishing Donald Trump’s plan, have made changes to the political landscape. It’s enabled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that this is a great deal for Israel and if you want it, vote for me; I’m the only person who can deliver it.”

Ignoring the obviously highly relevant fact that the US proposal was rejected by the Palestinians even before it was published, Bowen moved on to Shiloh where he promoted very dubious linkage between the beginning of construction of a school and the US proposal published in late January.

Bowen: “And it’s not just politics: the physical landscape of the place is changing, as it’s changed over many years, with the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land.”

Notably, throughout Bowen’s report BBC audiences were given no evidence to support Mishal Husain’s opening claim that the outcome of the March 2nd Israeli election “could affect Mr Trump’s re-election hopes in November”.

Bowen’s efforts to link the Israeli election to the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal (even though the election cycle began over a year before that proposal was published) were also evident in a filmed report aired on BBC television news programmes.

Bowen: “The prime minister is claiming credit for Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century – an attempt to end the conflict on Israel’s terms. It allows Israel, in defiance of international law, to annex settlements built on land Palestinians want for a state.”

Viewers were also given an inaccurate and simplistic view of the background to the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Bowen: “And as ever, it’s come down to control of the land. That’s always been at the centre of the conflict, a century ago and today.”

In addition they heard Bowen (who only last October asserted that “there haven’t been all that many” Palestinian terror attacks “in recent years”) claim that US policies of the past three years are “sharpening the conflict on the ground” with no concrete evidence provided to support that allegation.

Bowen: “The big changes, political and diplomatic and especially President Trump’s out and out support for the Israeli government is sharpening the conflict on the ground and you can see it in places like this. Conflict is normal for yet another generation. The election won’t change that.”

The narrative the BBC has chosen to promote is very clear: the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan – which has been portrayed by Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues in a uniformly negative light since even before it was made public – is, according to the corporation’s Middle East editor, first and foremost the product of Trump’s dependence upon Evangelical Christian support to get re-elected in November, and has the added effect of aiding Netanyahu’s election campaign by creating “changes to the political landscape”.

On the Israeli front, that “highest calibre” analysis has yet to bear fruit, with Netanyahu’s party (after 99% of the votes were counted) having secured just one more seat in the Knesset than it did in April 2020 – nine months before the US plan was made public.

Related Articles:

How will the BBC cover Israel’s election?

BBC News promotes non-starter topic to advance Israel election narrative

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

 

 

BBC Complaints invokes ‘common parlance in the media’

As documented previously, on January 28th listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio repeatedly heard Husam Zomlot described as “the Palestinian ambassador to the UK” and “the Palestinian ambassador to London”.

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that the BBC had corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title in 2018 and that although the UK does not currently recognise a Palestinian state, by referring to Mr Zomlot as an ambassador the BBC suggests that it does and therefore misleads audiences.

On February 6th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the Today programme and Newshour, both broadcast on Tuesday 28th January.

We have spoken with senior staff about your concerns. We acknowledge the point that Husam Zomlot is not strictly speaking an ambassador, although the phrase is in common parlance in the media. We will remind editors of his actual title, but it is clear from our wider reporting that the UK does not recognise Palestine as a state.”

In other words the BBC is obviously not concerned by the fact that members of the public who access any of those three programmes during the time they are still available online will be misled by the misrepresentation of Zomlot’s title because it is “common parlance in the media” – which apparently takes precedence over BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy.  

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

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

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

And:

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

BBC World Service radio:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BBC Radio 4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC impartiality – a case study

 

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Half a day before the launch of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan on January 28th, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired an edition which included several reports concerning a document which had at that stage not yet been made public.

Listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman (at 10:03 here), a news bulletin (at 2:02:46) during which Bateman told audiences that “the Palestinians say it [the US plan] would entrench apartheid” and another report by Bateman (at 2:48:40) based on vox pop interviews with people in Jerusalem.

The main item in that programme (from 2:10:04) included interviews with three people. Presenter Nick Robinson began by once again promoting the unsupported claim that the US administration calls the document ‘the deal of the century’ and adding another. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “It will be the deal of the century Donald Trump has long boasted; a plan which he’ll unveil today and which it’s claimed can produce what has eluded the world for decades – peace in the Middle East. It has though been drawn up without consultation with the Palestinians. The president of the Palestinian Authority has refused to even take a call from Donald Trump. That is in stark contrast to the presence at the White House yesterday of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.”

Listeners first heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who repeated a speculation he had already made on the same programme three days earlier, claiming that “the agenda followed by Israel’s prime minister Mr Netanyahu has very much been absorbed by the Trump plan”. Bowen’s talking points included the claim that the plan is unlikely to succeed “if the objective is to bring peace to the area” and promotion of the Palestinian narrative concerning the Oslo Accords, which of course do not mention the two-state solution at all.

Bowen: “Since Oslo in 1993 – the Oslo Agreements – the underlying principle under all the negotiations that have been taking place is the so-called two-state solution. An independent Palestine alongside Israel. But the indications are that Trump wants to change that and perhaps get to a point where they say to the Palestinians ‘look, you’re not going to get it. Accept it; take what we’re offering now, much less than what you hoped for’.”

Bowen went on to promote additional speculation concerning “the timing of this initiative” – speculations which were shown later in the item to dovetail with PLO talking points.

Bowen: “…they [Trump and Netanyahu] are both men who need something else going on […] I think that the message from Netanyahu is ‘look, you don’t want to see me in court or even in jail’.”

In fact, more or less as Bowen was promoting that hypothesis, Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.

Robinson’s next interviewee (from 2:13:12) was former national security advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yaakov Amidror and, refraining from reminding listeners that the US administration has been working on the plan for several years, he began by “putting to him the thought that this was really all about domestic politics” – a theory dismissed by Amidror.

Robinson went on:

Robinson: “…is what we call the two-state solution – the idea of a separate Palestinian state – is that going to be buried today?”

Amidror: “ As far as we know the deal includes an independent Palestinian state and if it will be adopted by the Israelis – by the Knesset or by the government – it will be the first time that formally Israel is adopting such [a] solution which was not mentioned in the Oslo Accords at all.”

Despite the BBC having repeatedly promoted the myth that the Oslo Accords were based on the concept of a two-state solution, Robinson showed no interest in expanding that point in order to enhance audience understanding and instead went on to ask whether “that state will be what they, the Palestinians, want as a state”.

Amidror: “No, it will not be the state that the Palestinians want. The state the Palestinians want does not include Israel at all. They want a Palestine all over from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River. As always the Palestinians say no before they know the details of the plan. Never in the history did the Palestinians agree to negotiate with the Israelis based on any offer by us or by the Americans.”

Robinson did not ensure that listeners heard any further detail on the obviously relevant topic of the Palestinian agenda.

The final interview in that item (from 2:17:24) was with a person Robinson had earlier described as “the Palestinian ambassador in this country”.

Robinson: “Listening there to that in the studio is the Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Ambassador Husam Zomlot joins us.”

In 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Despite the US plan not having been published at the time this interview was conducted, listeners nevertheless heard from Husam Zomlot (who, as readers may recall, gave a briefing to BBC journalists before the related 2019 economic workshop) that “this is neither a deal nor a plan and it definitely has nothing to do with peace”. Zomlot’s hyperbolic description of the US plan as “the scam of the century” and “fraud on every count” was not challenged by Robinson before Zomlot went on to inadvertently demonstrate the similarity of his talking points to those of the BBC’s Middle East editor.

Zomlot: “It’s fraud on every count as was alluded to by your correspondent Jeremy just now. Today the Israeli Knesset is discussing the criminal charges and the immunity. Today – is that a coincidence? The impeachment process and hearing also today and yesterday. Is that a coincidence?”

Zomlot later went on to state (as he has done in the past) that the two-state solution is a “concession”.

Zomlot: “It was actually a concession we made to accept international legality, international legitimacy that decided that the resolution of this will be on the basis of two-state solution on the 1967 borders, that Israel will end its occupation that began in 1967 and there will be a sovereign independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution to the issue of refugees.”

Robinson made no effort to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or to ensure that listeners understood the thinking behind Zomlot’s later declaration that the Palestinians will not “further compromise the 22% of Palestine”. He did however later tell listeners that “Trump and Netanyahu” are “obsessed with Hamas” because they “believe that Iran is the greatest threat on the planet, that Hamas is allied to them”.

Zomlot’s later attempt to create equivalence between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, did not prompt any challenge from Robinson.

Zomlot: “…it isn’t about Palestine now. It is about the premise and the heart of international order that was established by Europe, by the United Kingdom, by your legal brains. It’s about the horrors of the Second World War. Only yesterday we remembered the never again of what happened in the Second World War.”

While there is nothing remotely surprising about Zomlot’s talking points there is sadly also nothing surprising about Robinson’s failure to challenge them in a way which would help BBC audiences see past the propaganda and develop a more rounded view of the topic – a view which is likewise noticeably absent from the BBC Middle East editor’s analysis. As we see, half a day before the US administration had released its plan into the public domain, BBC Radio 4 had already framed the topic in overwhelmingly negative terms.

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Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

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The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

BBC Radio 4 listeners hear a context-free story from Jeremy Bowen

As we saw earlier the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included speculations from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen concerning the US president’s then upcoming meeting with the leaders of two Israeli political parties.

After that short (two minutes and 46 seconds) discussion, presenter Sarah Smith turned (from 1:50:02 here) to the topic of PTSD, in connection with the announcement by the BBC’s Africa editor that he would be giving up his position due to that condition. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “You’ve talked in the past about your own experiences with it and yesterday our much-admired colleague Fergal Keane announced he’s stepping down as the BBC’s Africa editor as a result of PTSD he suffered from his experience of reporting. Did you know this was something that Fergal was going through?”

Bowen: “He’s been wrestling with these kinds of things for quite some time and I assume it’s up to him to talk about all of this. But, you know, I think for all of us journalists – and it’s something that’s particularly ingrained in us in the BBC – is that, you know, it’s not about us. We don’t particularly like [laughs] talking in public about these things.”

Examples of Bowen not particularly liking “talking in public about these things” include:

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

BBC’s Bowen tells his annual Lebanon story on Radio 4

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

The BBC ME editor’s response to criticism of his recent reporting

Bowen later went on:

Bowen: “During the course of being particularly, you know, involved in particularly dangerous moments in wars I had my own brush with PTSD. I didn’t develop the full condition but I suffered from the symptoms, which is one stage on the road, after a Lebanese colleague of mine was killed by the Israelis. They fired a tank shell into the back of his car. I’d just got out. I was only about 100 yards away. He managed to force his way out through the window before he died. He was on fire. I couldn’t get up there. When I tried to get up there the Israelis tried to kill me. They opened fire on me with a heavy machine gun.”

At no point during that four minute and 22 second-long item were listeners provided with any explanation of the context to that event and Bowen referred to “the Israelis” as a group as having “tried to kill me” without clarifying the actual situation. 

As we have documented here in the past, early on the morning of Tuesday May 23rd 2000 – the day before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon – a tank crew stationed on the border fence near Kibbutz Menara received an intelligence alert concerning the likelihood of terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. Later in the day, the crew spotted a Lebanese vehicle transporting men in civilian clothing and suspected that these were Hizballah terrorists carrying equipment for firing an anti-tank missile. The tank crew was given permission to fire at the suspected terrorists. 

Later it emerged that the men were actually a BBC film crew headed by Jeremy Bowen and that driver Abed Takkoush had been killed. The IDF investigated the incident and issued an apology. Understandably, that tragic incident appears to be still very much at the forefront of Bowen’s mind, although he does not appear to accept that it was possible to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing. 

Jeremy Bowen’s accounts of the trauma he experienced nearly 20 years ago must of course be considered within the framework of the position he chose to accept five years later – Middle East editor.

That position makes it incumbent upon him to tell that story responsibly, by including the relevant background information and context.

When Jeremy Bowen fails to do that and instead, as in this case, gives a completely context-free account of “Israelis” trying “to kill me”, the result is the spread of that partial and distorted version of events in the public sphere such as in this subsequent report in the Daily Express.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

 

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

The January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 1:47:16 here) relating to an invitation extended two days earlier to two Israeli leaders to meet the US president in Washington.

The White House press secretary’s statement read:

“President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House on January 28, 2020. LTG. (Res.) MK Benjamin Gantz, Blue and White Chairman, has also accepted the President’s invitation to come to Washington. The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests.”

On the same day the US Vice-president said:

“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week for talks” on regional issues, including peace…” 

‘Today’ presenter Sarah Smith introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “Donald Trump, using his usual humility, calls it ‘the deal of the century’: a proposed Middle East peace deal that he might be ready to unveil next week.”

As we have noted on these pages in the past (see for example here and here) when the BBC has promoted that highlighted claim, it is – as documented by AFP journalist Joe Dyke – unsupported and the hook for Smith’s snide reference to “humility” is actually a media generated myth. She continued:

Smith: “Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, will be there if he does. Good morning Jeremy. Some of the details of this came out of course via Twitter – being that this is President Trump – where he said ‘reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative’. But given that he put that on Twitter himself, that is presumably as good as an announcement that he’s ready to reveal it.”

In fact no “details…came out” at all via that one Tweet from Trump but Bowen was ready to play along with Smith’s speculations, adding more than a few of his own about possible elements of the US plan which he appears to have gleaned second-hand from the same Israeli media outlets which reported that Gantz would refuse the invitation to go to Washington. On the evening of January 25th, the accuracy of such journalistic speculations was evident when Gantz announced his intention to travel to Washington the following day.

BBC audiences learned nothing concrete or factual at all from Bowen’s repetition of speculations in unidentified “reports”. They did however see how the BBC is already framing this topic, portraying the as yet unpublished US plan as one “which will absolutely include all of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel’s agenda”.

So much for the BBC’s obligation to offer audiences “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”.

Reviewing BBC coverage of the Likud leadership primary

How much coverage would one consider it necessary for the BBC to give to the topic of leadership primaries in one political party in a foreign country?

BBC coverage of the Likud leadership primary which took place on December 26th included the following:

December 26th:

BBC News website:

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in party leadership challenge

BBC Radio 4:

‘Today’programme – the first item in the opening news bulletin was a report by Barbara Plett Usher (from 01:39 here).

BBC World Service radio:

‘Newsday’ – the lead item (from 00:37 here) was a four-minute interview with Israeli journalist Noga Tarnopolsky.

‘Newshour’ –  the lead item was a four-minute report (from 00:12 here) by Barbara Plett Usher.

December 27th:

BBC News website:

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu comfortably wins party leadership challenge

BBC Radio 4:

‘Today’ programme – a report from Barbara Plett Usher (from 33:44 here) and an additional report from the same journalist in a news bulletin (from 1:03:38 here).

BBC World Service radio:

‘Newsday’ – a four-minute and twenty-second report from Barbara Plett Usher (from 14:09 here).

‘Newshour’ – a report by Barbara Plett Usher (from 45:04 here).

Yes, the BBC apparently really did consider it efficient use of public funding to produce at least nine multi-platform reports in two days on the topic of a leadership poll conducted by one political party in a foreign country in which less than half of the 116,000 members eligible to vote returned a predictable result.