BBC reporting on Abu Ein incident: the numbers and the narrative

In addition to the grossly inaccurate account of the circumstances preceding the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein presented in the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 10th, the programme’s evening version, presented by Tim Franks, included a report on the same topic by Kevin Connolly (available from 00:39:00 here).Newshour 10 12 Franks

As has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting on this subject, Connolly failed to provide listeners with an accurate representation of the circumstances behind the demonstration at Turmus Aya, saying:

“A group of demonstrators set out for the village of Turmus Aya because they believe that Israel’s marking out land there to build a new settlement of the sort regularly condemned by the international community near the existing settlement of Shilo.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. The demonstration – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 07:24) – was intended to garner publicity for that move, as the presence of film crews obviously informed of the event in advance also indicates. Whilst Connolly may have been told that the demonstrators “believe” there are plans to build a new community in the area, he obviously did not bother to fact-check the existence of any such plans before repeating that hearsay.

Once again, Connolly’s account of the sequence of events is also misleading.

“The Palestinians found the Israeli security forces waiting for them and a confrontation which was perhaps inevitable began quickly. In television images you can see an old man pushed to the ground and getting up and striking Israeli soldiers with a flag pole. There is a lot of violent shoving and tear gas is used. In the midst of it, Ziad Abu Ein finds a camera and begins telling the crew what’s going on. Listen carefully and you can hear him fighting for breath before he begins to speak.

Voiceover: They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is their terrorist army; practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.

Connolly: Now, within minutes of recording that brief interview Ziad Abu Zain [sic] had died in an ambulance taking him to hospital and it’s still not clear exactly what caused his death. At one point an Israeli Border Police officer was seen to grab him by the throat but perhaps very briefly. He would have inhaled tear gas and there are also stories of him being hit and shoved.”

Connolly fails to clarify that the use of tear gas was in response to an attempt by the demonstrators to approach Adei Ad and that the media interview given by Abu Ein occurred after his provocation of and altercation with the Border Police officer rather than beforehand, as clarified by Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon here (Hebrew) from 03:16.

Connolly then uses an extended version of the interview with Hanan Ashrawi (who was not present at the scene) also found in his television report on the subject from the same day and, despite the lack of any evidence proving that Abu Ein was “killed”, nevertheless includes that allegation in this item.

Ashrawi: “Well first of all it’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way. But I’m also…I have a sense of outrage. Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people: that we save the land where Israel was attempting to steal the land.”

No mention is made in this report of Abu Ein’s conviction for the murder of two Israeli teenagers and the injury of over 30 others in a terror attack on Tiberias market in 1979. Neither are listeners informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli special forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

The next day, December 11th, the evening version of Newshour (also presented by Tim Franks) included a report by Yolande Knell (from 00:45:00 here) which contained a statement from Saeb Erekat similar to the one used in her television report from the same day.Newshour 11 12 Franks  

Knell’s description of the previous day’s events is as follows:

“Yesterday television crews filmed Mr Abu Ein as he joined dozens of protesters in a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. After scuffles broke out an Israeli Border Policeman briefly grabbed Mr Abu Ein’s throat and later he fell to the ground, clutching his chest. An Israeli doctor was present at the Palestinian post-mortem examination and Chen Kugel from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine gave Israel’s conclusions.

Kugel: The findings of the autopsy were that the cause of death was a heart attack. Now this type of heart attack is caused by stress and apparently he had a stressful event just before – we all saw it – and we found some bruises in the muscle layer and the sub-cutaneous layer of the neck.

Knell: For the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, it was more clear-cut.

Erekat: Ziad Abu Ein was killed in cold blood. The autopsy report said he had an explosion in the major artery. What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible.”

As was the case in her filmed report, Knell refrains from informing audiences that there is no evidence to show that Abu Ein was “killed” or ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten’. Note too how she places the evidence-free rhetoric of Erekat on the same level as the scientific opinion of a senior physician. Neither is any attempt made by Knell to inform listeners of Abu Ein’s past conviction for terrorism.

A look at the coverage of this incident across various BBC platforms (see related articles below) shows that in two filmed reports for television, two written articles and three World Service radio programmes, the picture presented to audiences adheres predominantly to the Palestinian narrative.

In addition to hearing or reading differing and conflicting reports from unidentified Palestinian “witnesses”, “medics” and local reporters for foreign news agencies, BBC audiences were presented with two interviews with Hanan Ashrawi, one interview with Abdallah Abu Rahma and two interviews with Saeb Erekat, who was also quoted in one of the written articles. Despite the lack of any supporting evidence, audiences have been told that Ziad Abu Ein’s collapse and subsequent death was caused by inhaling tear gas, being hit and/or shoved, being hit by a tear gas canister, being beaten up, being suffocated and being hit on the head with a helmet – to name but some of the proffered accounts. They have also been told on two separate occasions across all platforms that Abu Ein was “killed” and on three further separate occasions that he was “killed in cold blood”.

In contrast, audiences heard one interview with an Israeli official (the pathologist) and in two other reports the BBC paraphrased statements concerning Abu Ein’s medical condition made by the Israeli authorities. Abu Ein’s terror conviction was only briefly mentioned in one of these reports.

The amplification of unproven, inaccurate hearsay, rumour and propaganda from obviously interested parties is not ‘impartiality’ as demanded by the BBC editorial guidelines. It is the BBC’s job to present its audiences with the verified facts behind a story in order to enable them to become better informed about events – not to blindly repeat the narratives promoted by anyone and everyone willing to speak to journalists.

Unfortunately, this kind of jumble sale journalism, in which all the tales offered to the BBC – however bizarre or disconnected from the facts – are promoted and presented as legitimate news, seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in BBC Middle East reporting.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in Kevin Connolly’s filmed BBC report on death of Ziad Abu Ein

BBC’s Knell at Abu Ein funeral: all the rumour not worth reporting

BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

Palestinian activist gets open mic for propagation of lies on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

 

 

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Multiple inaccuracies in Kevin Connolly’s filmed BBC report on death of Ziad Abu Ein

On December 10th the BBC produced several reports concerning the death of PA official Ziad Abu Ein after an altercation with Israeli security forces near Turmus Aya.

One of those reports was a filmed item by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which appeared on BBC television news programmes as well as on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian minister dies during West Bank protest“. In fact, Abu Ein was not a “Palestinian minister” at the time of his death; his title (since September 2013) was head of the PLO’s ‘Commission Against the Separation Wall and Settlements’. Previously Abu Ein had held the position of deputy minister for prisoners’ affairs. The synopsis to that report amplifies assorted unverified rumours concerning the cause of his death:Abu Ein filmed Connolly

“A Palestinian minister has died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the West Bank.

Palestinian medics told the BBC Ziad Abu Ein had died from complications related to tear gas exposure.

But several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers. One said he had been hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by them.”

The report opens with Kevin Connolly informing viewers that:

“The Palestinian protesters came to Turmus Aya in the occupied West Bank because they believe Israel has earmarked this land for its own future development. It’s near an existing Jewish settlement. The demonstrators came to plant olive trees: a way of saying the land is theirs.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 7:24). Connolly continues:

“Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. The clashes were nothing new in this bitterly contested place. Israeli troops used tear gas as the confrontation developed. Ziad Abu Ein appeared, breathless, before the cameras to condemn Israel.”

Viewers then see footage of Abu Ein speaking to the media with a voiceover translation of his words:

“They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is a terrorist army, practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.”

The BBC News website also saw fit to publish a separate filmed item under the title “They’re assaulting us – Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein” with a synopsis also amplifying unverified rumour.Abu Ein filmed 2

“There are conflicting reports about his death – medics told the BBC he died from complications related to exposure to tear gas, but several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers.”

Returning to Connolly’s report, he then tells viewers:

“Then, Mr Abu Ein – a veteran Palestinian official – emerged at the centre of the angry scenes. Apparently grabbed by the throat at one point by an Israeli border police officer, he fell to the ground and was treated at the scene. But minutes after these images were captured, he had died on his way to hospital.”

Connolly’s chronology of events is in fact inaccurate. Reporter Roy Sharon from Channel 10 was at the scene and standing by Abu Ein at the time of the altercation. According to Sharon, who also filmed the events (see here from 8:25 and here from 3:16 – Hebrew), the security forces used tear gas in response to an attempt by the protesters to approach the outpost (not mentioned by Connolly), the altercation between Abu Ein and the Border Police officers took place about 15 minutes after the tear gas had been used and the interview given by Abu Ein to the media took place after his provocation of the security forces – not before as Connolly claims. Some four minutes later Abu Ein sat down on a rock feeling unwell, an Israeli paramedic approached him to offer help and roughly five minutes after that an ambulance arrived to transport him to hospital. Sky News correspondent Tom Rayner who was also at the scene tweeted:

Abu Ein Rayner tweet

A subsequent autopsy showed that Ziad Abu Ein died of a heart attack.

“The deceased suffered from heart disease, and there was evidence that plaque buildup were clogging more than 80% of his blood vessels, as well as signs that he had suffered heart attacks in the past.”

Connolly’s report goes on to show an interview with Hanan Ashrawi who, despite not having been present at the scene as far as is known, states:

“Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people.”

Despite seeing fit to amplify Ashrawi’s baseless propaganda, Connolly did not find it necessary to inform BBC audiences that Ziad Abu Ein was a convicted terrorist responsible for the deaths of two Israeli boys and the wounding of thirty others in a bomb attack on the market in Tiberias in 1979. Neither were audiences informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

Connolly closes:

“As news of Ziad Abu Ein’s death spread the Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning. It hasn’t said how it will respond politically but Mr Abu Ein’s death will further escalate the tension that’s been steadily rising here. Israel says it’s sorry for his death, is investigating and has offered to help with the autopsy. But Palestinian anger runs deep.”Abu Ein Davies Tweet

In fact, shortly after the incident Jibril Rajoub stated that the PA would halt security coordination with Israel – although such a move does not appear to have been implemented so far.

One thing, however, is certain: inaccurate reporting of the kind seen in Connolly’s report and on from BBC employees on social media can only add to the already incendiary cocktail of rumour and propaganda surrounding Abu Ein’s death and hence contribute to a potentially dangerous escalation of tensions.