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.

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

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.

The BBC’s biased Bethlehem binge continues

Yesterday we documented an overtly politicised Christmas report by Barbara Plett Usher which was aired on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Global News Podcast’ on Christmas Eve.

BBC politicisation of Christmas continues on WS radio

An extended version of that audio report was also broadcast on three additional BBC radio programmes on December 24th with the following introductions:

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

1) BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’ (from 46:37 here)

Mishal Husain: “Now, Bethlehem relies on tourists at this time of year and this Christmas looks like being the best for some years after a time of relative peace. It is a Palestinian city in the West Bank which is feeling the economic effect of the Israeli occupation. Israel has restricted movement out of the West Bank and confiscated some Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements and what it calls a security barrier around the city. Barbara Plett Usher reports from there.”

2) BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’ afternoon edition (from 45:04 here)

Tim Franks: “Bethlehem is preparing for what it hopes will be the best Christmas in years as the city now boasts a fragment of wood believed by some to have formed part of Jesus’ manger. The relic’s been returned from the Vatican where it’s been since the 7th century. But even with that boost, the biblical town revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ remains fragile. The once thriving local Christian community is dwindling – partly because of the economic effect of the Israeli occupation with restrictions on freedom of movement which Israel argues are for security reasons, which Palestinians say damage not only their economy but their dignity as well. Barbara Plett Usher has more from the town in the spotlight this Christmas.”

3) BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’ evening edition (from 36:59 here)

Julian Marshall: “Pilgrims from around the world are preparing to begin Christmas celebrations with midnight mass in Bethlehem, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. Modern Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Its holy sites are administered by the Greek Orthodox and Latin patriarchies. But the once thriving Palestinian Christian community has dwindled. Israel has restricted movement out of the West Bank and confiscated some Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements and what it calls a security barrier around the city. Palestinians say these measures significantly harm their freedom and their economic prospects. Barbara Plett Usher has more from the town in the spotlight at Christmas.”

Once again we see BBC journalists using the term “Israeli occupied” without any mention of the fact that Bethlehem came under complete Palestinian Authority control twenty-four years ago in December 1995.

Yet again listeners were not informed that no “restrictions on freedom of movement” existed until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada in the year 2000 and they heard nothing at all about the Palestinian terrorism that murdered and wounded thousands of Israeli civilians and which brought security measures such as checkpoints and the anti-terrorist fence into existence.

The BBC practice of describing an area still subject to negotiation under the terms of an agreement signed by the Palestinians as “Palestinian land” was once again in evidence, as was promotion of the false claim that there is a wall “around Bethlehem”.

And yet again BBC audiences were not provided with the context which would enhance their understanding of why the Palestinian Christian community is ‘dwindling’ – including the issue of Palestinian Authority persecution and discrimination – or any significant information concerning Bethlehem’s economy beyond the trite politicised slogans blaming Israel.

The extended version of Barbara Plett Usher’s report (a filmed version of which was also aired on BBC television on Christmas Eve) includes an interview with a man dressed up as Santa in Manger Square during which listeners heard that “Bethlehem is a city of peace” despite the fact that it has been the source of many terror attacks and plots. The part of Plett Usher’s report describing St Catherine’s church and an Airbnb in Deheishe are expanded and we discover that she badgered more than one American tourist in order to promote her own political agenda.

Plett Usher: “What comes to mind when you come to Bethlehem? What’s the main impression?”

Tourist 1: “Oh well it’s overwhelming because of just how…I mean this is where our lord saviour was born and, my goodness, I mean this is it where everything started.”

Plett Usher: “But what about the wall around Bethlehem now? The big cement wall – what do you think of that?”

Tourist 1: “Oh yes, that was substantial of course and you can tell that people that lived in the old times, how protected they felt by the big wall and how amazing it is today.”

Plett Usher: “It’s a new wall but anyway…”

Tourist 1: “Oh, that’s a new wall?”

Plett Usher: “Yes.”

Tourist 1: “Oh OK, it’s a new wall then. That so it’s about the future as well.”

Tourist 2: “We’re from the US, yes.”

Plett Usher: “And what do you think of Bethlehem?”

Tourist 2: “Ah, it’s beautiful.”

Plett Usher: “What about the politics? Do you know…”

Tourist 2: “I don’t know much about it. All I know is my saviour Jesus Christ. That’s all I know. That’s all I care about. I just want to learn more about him. Yeah, and my eyes are open now that I’m here.”

Plett Usher: “What have you seen now that your eyes are open?”

Tourist 2: “Oh well, it’s as if I was coming to life, so yes.”

There is of course nothing novel about a BBC journalist exploiting the ‘season of goodwill’ to promote her own political agenda which includes misinformation about a structure built to protect Israeli civilians of all faiths and ethnicities from Palestinian terrorism. Many BBC employees have done the exact same over the years while studiously avoiding any serious reporting on the topic of the beleaguered Christians living under Palestinian Authority and Hamas rule.

Related Articles:

BBC politicisation of Christmas continues on WS radio

BBC News again self-conscripts to Banksy’s Israel delegitimisation

BBC WS radio airs anti-terrorist fence falsehoods

BBC Radio 4 religious show airs anodyne report on Palestinian Christians

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

 

 

 

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include the following in the section concerning ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Hizballah was designated in its entirety by the UK earlier this year and so we must presume that an interview with the terrorist organisation’s deputy leader by Jeremy Bowen that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 6th (as well as a longer filmed version which was promoted by BBC News) was approved in advance by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.

The question that therefore arises is of what journalistic value was that specially approved interview? Did it provide BBC audiences with “a range and depth of analysis and content” which could not otherwise be achieved and did it contribute to their being better “informed citizens”?

‘Today’ co-presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:36:22 here) with a pinch of Iranian propaganda.

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

Husain: “Protests in Iraq, Lebanon and in Iran where Iranian state television has said that those killed by security forces during last month’s mass protests against the petrol price rise were thugs and rioters. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen joins us now. What’s your reading of those protests, Jeremy?”

Bowen: “Well Mishal, you know, what’s interesting is that there are others who say that they weren’t thugs and rioters but they were protesting and they started protesting as well against the regime and that is why the security forces opened fire in the way that they did and killed so many people. Now it’s clear that the Iranians have got a big set of problems at the moment. Ah…the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home. Maximum pressure as Trump calls them, American sanctions and also what’s important for them is they project power through their allies and in Iraq and Lebanon where there’ve been demonstrations – and those are generally regarded as Iranian allies – many people there see Iran as part of their problems.”

It is not clear what Bowen intended to communicate with that reference to “the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home” and his description of Lebanon – rather than Hizballah – as an Iranian ally clearly does not enhance audience understanding of the topic.

Bowen: “It’s really hard for us to try and work out what’s going in Iran [laughs] partly because they won’t let us in there. Ahm…so one good way of doing it is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah who are in Lebanon and they are Iranian proteges but they’re very powerful as well. One of Israel’s big enemies along with Iran itself. Now I’ve just come back from Beirut and while I was there I talked to the deputy leader of Hizballah who’s a man called Naim Qassem. He’s late 60s, he wears robes, he’s got a white turban, gives the impression of being very shrewd actually, and intelligent and strong views about the region. And he doesn’t talk much so it was a good opportunity to talk about the Middle East and they’re uncomfortable about what’s happening. They like the status quo. So anyway I started off by asking Naim Qassem of Hizballah about the crisis in Lebanon.”

Obviously any interview with a representative of a terrorist organisation needs to be very carefully edited and presented so that audiences can put its inevitable propaganda into the appropriate context. Bowen’s sartorially focused introductory portrayal of Qassem clearly did not provide any meaningful background information about the terror group’s record or agenda. Neither were listeners given sufficient information about the current political crisis in Lebanon before they were exposed to Qassem’s allegations.  

Qassem [voiceover]: “Of course the situation in Lebanon is very dangerous. Consequently you can see how the economic situation is collapsing. And you can see how people are suffering from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. We cannot accept things to continue like this. So for this reason we said very clearly that the government has to be formed in order to put an end to this collapse and decline. And unfortunately there are some who are trying to cause damage to Lebanon and especially the United States. And every two or three days the US Secretary of State Pompeo makes statements and says he doesn’t want to see Hizballah in the government. And Hizballah is part of the people. So let America put a stop to its meddling.”

Bowen: “Now Secretary Pompeo in the US, like the British government, regard your organisation as a terrorist organisation. That’s why he says the things that he says.”

Qassem: “What concerns us is how our people view us. We as Hizballah in the minds of our people, we are a resistance that liberated the land. A party which serves the interests of the people and also serves for a better future for the people. And because America and Britain support Israel which is an occupying power, a power of aggression, a criminal power, they are taking political stance against Hizballah. If they label us as terrorists this doesn’t mean that their designation is right. We consider America to be the leading terrorist entity because it does not serve the interests of the people. The same goes for Britain as well.”

Bowen made no effort to inform listeners of the real background to the designation of Hizballah by the US, the UK and other nations and bodies or to provide factual information concerning the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Hizballah, including their military entrenchment in Syria.

Bowen: “You’re part of a coalition led by Iran that faces off against Israel and by implication against the United States as well. Iran is in real trouble at the moment, isn’t it? There are anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq, there is feeling against Iran in this country and there’ve been big demonstration inside…demonstrations inside Iran itself. Your friends in Iran are in trouble, aren’t they?”

Qassem: “First of all we don’t deny that we are part of an axis led by Iran because Iran advocates the causes of the people’s rights and also supports the resistance. It believes in justice. It believes in the liberation of Palestine. Now, when it comes to the problems within Iran because of the decision to increase the price of gasoline, this is a domestic matter related to Iran.”

Audiences should of course have been informed at this point that in Hizballah-speak “the liberation of Palestine” means the annihilation of Israel.

Bowen: “Now with your allies in Iran you have amassed an enormous arsenal of rockets and missiles including guided missiles that presumably you’d use in a war with Israel. Under what circumstances would you use that arsenal of weapons?”

Qassem: “We are a resistance and we are defending. If Israel were to launch an aggression or attack us, we will respond. And so we don’t have any plans when it comes to initiating any confrontation with Israel. But we are determined to respond to Israel if it were to attack. Israel understands this language only. It won’t be deterred except if we are strong.”

Bowen made no effort to counter that propaganda by, for example, reminding listeners that it was Hizballah which initiated the 2006 conflict and Hizballah which just a year ago had its cross-border tunnels exposed and destroyed. Neither did he bother to clarify the background to any hypothetical attack on Iran’s “nuclear facilities”.

Bowen: “What if Israel or the US attacked Iran; attacked its nuclear facilities? Would you then use your weapons against Israel?”

Qassem: “I don’t know what could happen but what I do know is that any aggression of such scale could ignite the whole region. And those who initiated the aggression will take a big responsibility and also take responsibility for very large-scale reactions. My estimation is that war with Israel is unlikely at this stage. The balance of deterrence is what contributes to the absence of war because they are not convinced of what the results would be if a war were to take place.”

The interview ended there with a laconic statement from co-presenter Martha Kearney.

Kearney: “And that report was by Jeremy Bowen.”

In his introduction Bowen claimed that “one good way” to try to “work out” what is going on in Iran “is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah”. Whether or not that was also the rationale given when approval was sought to interview a senior figure in “an organisation […] designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary” is of course unknown but obviously this interview contributed nothing at all to that supposed aim.

In fact all audiences heard was over four minutes of barely challenged propaganda from the number two in a notorious terrorist organisation: propaganda that they could just as easily have found on Hizballah’s own media channels – and without paying a licence fee.

Related Articles:

Why the new BBC editorial guidelines may not mean less terror showcasing

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC again ignores its own editorial guidelines in London terror reports

BBC reporting on the fatal stabbing attack in London on the afternoon of November 29th once again highlighted the corporation’s double standards on terrorism.

The BBC’s current editorial guidelines on ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ (which came into effect in mid-July 2019) state: [emphasis added]

“11.3.5 Our reporting of possible acts of terror should be timely and responsible, bearing in mind our requirement for due accuracy and impartiality. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We should not use the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.

11.3.6 The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as ‘bomber’, ‘attacker’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’ and ‘militant’. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

As has been the case when terror attacks have taken place in the UK in the past, those guidelines were appropriately disregarded in some of the corporation’s reporting on the November 29th incident. For example:

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As regular readers know, the BBC has reported countless fatal attacks against Israelis using knives or other methods without using the words terror, terrorism or terrorist.

In April of this year BBC News’ editorial director stated:

“On the issue of terror and terrorism our guidance is clear. There is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist. If we use the word we want to attribute it…”

 “There is no agreed definition of what a terrorist is. It is disputed.”

“We want to be consistent.”

The BBC is however anything but consistent in the language used in its reporting on terrorism in different locations. While the corporation does use the word terror in reports on attacks in Western Europe or attacks against British tourists, it time and time again fails to employ the same terminology in its reporting on attacks against Israelis.

As we have noted here in the past, that double standard is evidence of precisely the type of “value judgements” which the BBC claims that its above editorial guideline is designed to prevent.

Related Articles:

BBC reports on Kiryat Arba attack without using the word terror

Another fatal terror attack; another miserable BBC News headline

BBC claims attacks on Israelis in Judea & Samaria are “rare”

BBC News flunks headline of report on Jerusalem terror attack

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

BBC senior editor defends double standards on terrorism

 

 

 

Reviewing the impartiality of BBC radio reports on the Pompeo statement

Earlier this week we reviewed inaccurate claims made in reports aired on BBC radio stations about a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

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

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

BBC WS radio materially misleads listeners with ’40 years’ spin

Some of those reports included recorded statements from or interviews with people other than BBC journalists and the overall picture indicates that audiences did not get a balanced view of the story.

November 19th, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 01:38 here)

Erekat: “Once the Trump administration decide to undermine international law, once they become an administration that’s pro Israel’s occupation, pro Israel war crimes, this is constitute a major threat to international peace and security.”

November 19th, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newsday’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 06:09 here)

Erekat: “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes and the statement of Mr Pompeo is absolutely rejected and must be condemned because once superpowers, once the Trump administration decide to undermine international law, this is constitute a a major threat to international peace and security and this is turning the international community from the rules of international law, the rules of solving conflict by peaceful means, into the rules of the jungle.”

Interview with Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post (from 07:29 here)

Interview with Palestinian journalist and former PA spokesperson Nour Odeh (from 06:23 here)

November 19th, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

Recorded statement from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat (from 14:06 here)

Erekat: “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes and the statement of Mr Pompeo the Secretary of State of the United States is absolutely rejected and must be condemned and this is turning the international community from the rules of international law, the rules of solving conflict by peaceful means, into the rules of the jungle.”

Interview with Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi (from 34:07 here)

In short, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard comment from one side only – the PLO’s side – while listeners to BBC World Service radio heard four times more comment from the Palestinian side than from the Israeli side.

Apparently the BBC believes that meets its obligation to ‘due impartiality’.