Looking behind a BBC News Press Team Tweet

On March 23rd the BBC News Press Team put out this Tweet:

The article by freelance journalist Ben Bold which the BBC chose to promote states:

“The BBC has become the most-trusted news brand on coronavirus, with 64% of respondents selecting it as a reliable source of information from a list of media brands. The public-service broadcaster beat Sky News, which was voted for by 29% of participants, followed by The Guardian (15%), according to research from Havas Media Group.

The Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report, which surveyed nearly 1,500 respondents, found that more than half (53%) of Brits are using BBC News more than before Covid-19 hit the UK – more than double the proportion of people for any other channel.

Eva Grimmett, Havas Media’s chief strategy officer, said: “This study really highlights the role that trusted, meaningful media play in times of crisis. While most channels have seen an increase in consumption in response to Covid-19, our research reveals a much greater reliance on live TV and a need for trusted news brands such as the BBC. We’re looking forward to seeing how this behaviour develops as the situation evolves in the coming weeks.”” [emphasis added]

The Havas Media Group is part of the Havas Group – a multinational advertising and PR company.

Havas has long worked with the BBC and opened an office in Manchester after having been contracted to handle the corporation’s strategic media planning in 2015. That contract is apparently currently worth some £25 million according to reports from last August stating that Havas would be tendering to retain the account. Havas Media Manchester still lists the BBC among its clients.

In addition, Havas Media is listed as being contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to TV Licensing.

To summarise: while a UK government consultation concerning the TV license is still ongoing, a PR company contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to television licensing just happened to conduct research at the time of a pandemic which “reveals…a need for trusted brands such as the BBC” and a BBC press team then promoted those findings without clarification of the commercial relationship between the BBC and that PR company.    

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BBC News ‘explains’ Israeli gesture with a Tweet from an American

On February 3rd the BBC News website published a piece by Tom Gerken of BBC News Washington on its ‘US & Canada’ page titled “The many meanings of the pinched fingers emoji”.

As the title suggests Gerken attempted to explain the different meanings of a hand gesture in various countries.

“Is it a way to show disbelief, a way to ask others to be quiet, or a cute gesture popularised by a K-Pop star?

It’s called “pinched fingers” and depending on where you are in the world, a new emoji announced by the Unicode Consortium, which approves standard emojis worldwide, could have a completely different meaning.”

Gerken obviously concluded that the best person to explain the meaning of that gesture in Israeli culture was an American journalist who lived in the country for just three years rather than an actual Israeli.

He also apparently did not bother to read the rest of that thread on Zetter’s Twitter feed.

Gerken’s sloppy portrayal of Israeli culture to the BBC News website’s North American audiences, based on a claim which he obviously did not bother to verify made in one Tweet from a person who has “no patience with Israelis”, is sadly not unrepresentative of the BBC’s commitment to fact checking.

 

A BBC journalist’s portrayal of an armed infiltration from the Gaza Strip

On the evening of January 21st an infiltration took place on the border with the Gaza Strip.

“IDF soldiers opened fire at a group infiltrating the border fence along the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday, hitting three Palestinian suspects who used the inclement weather to hide in a wooded area near Kibbutz Kissufim.

The IDF reported that one of the terrorists hurled a grenade or an explosive charge at a force that surrounded the three.”

As local media reported, the IDF released video evidence of the infiltrator throwing the explosive device.

To date the BBC has not produced any reporting on that incident but the next morning the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman did put out three related Tweets in which he found it appropriate to focus on the age of the armed border infiltrators and unnecessarily qualify the facts of the incident using the well-worn “Israel says” formula.

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BBC deletes Tweet promoting programme about Yiddish

A BBC World Service Tweet advertising a radio programme about Yiddish caused quite a stir on January 3rd.

Several hours later that Tweet was deleted.

Such crass euphemism is fortunately absent from the programme itself – “Yiddish: A story of survival” – and its synopsis states:

“At its height, Yiddish, the language of the European Jews, was spoken by more than ten million people, from Russia in the east to the Netherlands in the West. But by the mid -20th century, these numbers were severely depleted following the Holocaust, and then the creation of the modern-day state of Israel where the speaking of Yiddish was discouraged.”

From 20:35 listeners to the programme get a more comprehensive explanation of “the factors that led to the demise of Yiddish around the mid-twentieth century” from one of the programme’s contributors.

That of course raises the question of whether whoever was operating the BBC World Service Twitter account at the time actually bothered to listen to the programme or at least read its synopsis before composing that miserable Tweet.

BBC News ignores rockets on northern Israel but reports response

When sirens warning of rocket fire from Syria sent residents of the northern Golan Heights and Upper Galilee scurrying for shelter shortly before 5 a.m. on November 19th, the BBC did not find that story newsworthy.

“Four projectiles were fired at northern Israel from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or one of its proxies.”

The Israeli response which came the next day was however considered worthy of BBC News website coverage and on the morning of November 20th a report originally confusingly headlined “Israel hits ‘dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets’” and now titled “Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria” was published on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Apparently not having bothered to verify details of the previous day’s incident itself, the BBC reported it as something that ‘Israel said’ happened.

“The Israeli military says the “wide-scale strikes” responded to rockets fired by an Iranian unit into Israel. […]

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said it had intercepted four rockets fired from Syria towards northern Israel. It said the rockets did not hit the ground.”

As usual in coverage of such incidents, the BBC’s report uncritically amplified claims made by the infamous Syrian state news agency.

“Syria says two civilians died and that Syrian air defences shot down most of the missiles over Damascus. […]

Syria’s state news agency Sana said that the country’s “air defence confronted the heavy attack and intercepted the hostile missiles”.

It said that Syria destroyed “most” of the Israeli missiles.

The news agency added that the strikes on Syrian territory were carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories”.”

Also in line with longstanding BBC editorial policy, the report presented an unnecessarily qualified account of Iran’s activities in Syria.

“Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

It has been trying to thwart what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” there and block shipments of Iranian weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.”

Readers were told nothing of the list of Iranian attacks on Israel throughout the past two years.

Later the same day the BBC News website published an additional article by its diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes” and inaccurately tagged “Syrian civil war”.  

The BBC News Twitter account promoted that article with the claim that “Israel’s strikes in Syria risk broad conflict with Iran”.

So there we have it: according to BBC-think it is not Iran’s funding and arming of terrorist organisations to Israel’s south and north or Iran’s support for the establishment of Hizballah infrastructure in the Syrian Golan or even Iran’s reported deployment of missiles in south-west Syria which raise the risk of “broad conflict” but Israel’s response to Iranian aggression.

Related Articles:

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Slapdash BBC News reporting of events in northern Israel and Syria

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

BBC ignores Twitter’s terror groups suspensions

The news that Twitter had suspended accounts belonging to or associated with terrorist organisations was widely reported on November 3rd.

“Twitter has suspended accounts affiliated with the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups as well as a Palestinian news outlet.

As of Sunday, access to Hamas’s English and Arabic handles as well as several of those belonging to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV was no longer available.

Access to three Quds News Network accounts was also cut off. […]

Asked about the suspended accounts, Twitter told TOI: “There is no place on Twitter for illegal terrorist organizations and violent extremist groups. We have a long history of taking strong enforcement action, using a combination of people, partnerships, and technology.””

A similar quote appeared in an AFP report:

“The television station of Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah protested Saturday that most of its Twitter accounts had been suspended.

Al-Manar accused the US-based social media platform of giving in to “political pressures”. […]

“There is no place on Twitter for illegal terrorist organisations and violent extremist groups,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.”

To date, those searching for coverage of that story under the BBC News website’s ‘social media’ and ‘Twitter’ tags will find nothing.

Perhaps the BBC is having difficulty working out how to square that quote from Twitter with its own euphemistic portrayals of Hamas as a ‘militant Islamist group’ and Hizballah as a ‘political, military and social organisation’. 

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The background to the BBC’s use of inverted commas

Members of the public may have been surprised by the BBC’s use of inverted commas in a Tweet promoting a report about the US House of Representatives’ passing of a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide.

The same punctuation was found in the original version of the report – headlined “US House votes to recognise Armenian ‘genocide’” – but was removed some eight hours later.

The background to that editorial policy can be found in a 2008 ruling by the now defunct BBC Editorial Standards Committee on pages 4 – 7 and 17 – 31 here, including the following on page 26:

“As to the language of how the Armenian massacre and starvation is reported the Committee noted the comments of the Head of Editorial Compliance, BBC News who stated:

“We put ‘genocide’ in inverted commas in our online reports, and in our television and radio reports we use the word in the context of reporting the dispute about premeditated intent. If we failed to do this, contrary to what you suggest, our coverage would indeed be unbalanced and misleading – unbalanced because the Republic of Turkey vigorously denies that its predecessor administration had any such policy and bitterly criticises some if not all of the source material you quote; misleading because we would be through our use of language addressing the issue as if it were decided when the news developments revolve around the disputed nature of the events.”

The Committee endorsed the comments expressed by BBC management, although it was concerned that the use of inverted commas was not always consistent in online content. It considered the use of quotes was not always necessary as long as the piece mentioning the event noted the level of dispute as to the use of the terminology.”

Those following BBC coverage of Israel have long been familiar with the corporation’s use of inverted commas (usually in connection with terrorism) as a way of ticking the ‘impartiality box’ – often with absurd results. For example:

Punctuation, qualification and ‘he said/she said’ reporting mar BBC report on terror attacks

BBC adds superfluous punctuation to US and Israeli statements on Hamas

BBC not sure cross-border tunnel intended for terror?

In which BBC News abandons all pretence of fact checking

Nevertheless, the BBC obviously believes that the employment of such punctuation is the most appropriate way to display ‘balance’ in its journalism. 

A new CST report on UK Labour’s antisemitism crisis

The Community Security Trust (CST) has – together with the data science company Signify – released a report concerning “The online networks behind the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis”.

“The problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party over the past four years has been fuelled by a flow of antisemitic tweets and posts on social media, carried out in the name of the Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Many of these tweets use hateful language to attack Jewish Labour MPs or other people who raise concerns about antisemitism; other tweets claim that any mention of antisemitism is part of a conspiracy to ‘smear’ Corbyn and Labour. […]

This report analyses the behaviour of Labour supporting Twitter accounts, networks and alternative media sites to discover whether (and if so, how) antisemitic narratives have taken root in Labour-supporting online circles. Using up to four years’ worth of tweets, it finds that there is no separation online between generic pro-Labour Twitter accounts and campaigns, and abusive Twitter accounts that claim to act in support of Labour in order to shut down allegations of antisemitism against the party.”

The report states:

“Over the last three years, the Community Security Trust (CST) has recorded a year-on year increase in the number of antisemitic incidents reported in the UK. In 2018, the months in which CST recorded the highest monthly antisemitic incident totals correlated to periods when political and media debate over allegations of antisemitism in Labour was at its most intense. […] Data collected for this report shows that Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Labour leader has seen the baseline level for national online coverage and engagement, across all media, of Labour, antisemitism and related issues, reach a level unprecedented in recent years.”

It shows how:

“…networks of Labour-supporting Twitter accounts endorse or spread the idea that allegations of antisemitism against Labour are a fake smear campaign; allegations that sometimes stray into wider conspiracy theories about a shadowy Israeli, Zionist or Jewish lobby. […]

Underpinning all of this is a network of alternative media sites that have risen to prominence as supporters of the Corbyn leadership and have become influential voices on the left. These websites consistently claim that antisemitism is being weaponised as a smear. […]

The allegation that Jews invent false accusations of antisemitism to prevent people from criticising Israel was named The Livingstone Formulation by the academic Dr. David Hirsh, after Ken Livingstone had written in 2006 that “for far too long the accusation of anti-Semitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.””

Readers are no doubt aware that the BBC has repeatedly promoted the Livingstone Formulation in its reporting on the UK Labour party over the past three years. It has also long promoted another theme to which the CST report refers: the notion of a ‘Jewish lobby’ and/or an ‘Israel lobby’.  

Among the ‘alternative media sites’ named in the CST’s report is ‘Electronic Intifada’ and one of the people named in the report is contributor Asa Winstanley. Another is ‘The Canary’, the editor of which – Kerry-Anne Mendoza – has been a contributor to BBC programmes such as ‘Question Time’, ‘Newsnight’ and political shows.

One of many topics mentioned in the report is “the antisemitic mural that Jeremy Corbyn was criticised over, after it emerged in 2018 that Corbyn had posted a message of support on the Facebook page of the artist”. Readers may recall that at the time the BBC refrained from informing its audiences that the mural was antisemitic.

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

On June 30th the Jerusalem Post published an article which included statements issued by the Palestinian Authority concerning the opening of an archaeological site taking place on the same day.

“The PA Foreign Ministry strongly condemned plans by US Ambassador David Friedman and US special envoy Jason Greenblatt to attend the inaugural ceremony of the discovery of “Pilgrim’s Road” in Jerusalem’s Old City. The expected presence of the American officials at the event will be the first time the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty within areas of the Old City Basin.

The PA ministry said their participation underscores the US administration’s support for the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

“This is a new image of American aggression,” the ministry said. “The American presence [in the ceremony] and celebrating Judaization activities in occupied east Jerusalem are an act of hostility against the Palestinians.”

Greenblatt responded to the claims on Twitter, saying that the PA should recognize history and archaeology and “stop pretending it isn’t true.””

Shortly after Mr Greenblatt had sent that Tweet the BBC’s Middle East editor put out one of his own.

The BBC has of course been promoting the PA approved notion that “The Judaisation of Arab East Jerusalem proceeds apace” for over two decades and when Jeremy Bowen visited the City of David in 2014 he came up with the historically challenged idea that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15-minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention.”

The BBC’s record “says a lot about the attitudes” at the ‘impartial’ BBC – as does this latest Tweet from its Middle East editor. 

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BBC promotion of PA narrative on Jewish heritage sites

 

BBC Radio 4 promotes unsupported allegation concerning Israel

The June 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the previous day’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Presenter Justin Webb first spoke to former US official James Clapper (from 01:36:48 here) before introducing his next guest: Labour peer Lord West of Spithead.

Webb: “Let’s talk to Admiral Lord West, chief of naval staff of course in this country between 2002 and 2006…”

After listeners had heard about the UK’s naval forces in the relevant region and an assessment that “should by any mistake a war start” the United Kingdom would be “very, very involved”, Webb went on (at 1:41:12) to ask his next question. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Webb: “Do we have a way, separately from the Americans, of making our own determination of what is actually going on because at the moment the foreign secretary I think has said he accepts the American view and you just heard James Clapper saying in his view there isn’t any other view of who is responsible. But do we have a kind of a way of sorting out for ourselves what’s actually going on and what our…our…our vital interests are?”

West: “Well certainly our agencies and the defence intelligence staff, for example, will be analysing the tapes and looking at that and our agencies will be looking at any other evidence they’ve got to ascertain whether we are absolutely certain the Iranians are doing it. It does…it does look as though they’re doing that but let’s not kid ourselves: there are powerful groups within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that would – I’m afraid rather stupidly – would rather like some sort of war with Iran because they think there could be some knock-out blow and there’d be a revolution in Iran. They’re deluding themselves; it would be a catastrophe. So because there are those groups and because within Iran itself there are splinter groups, you know I think we need to be quite careful about being sure who exactly is doing this. It does look as though the Iranians are doing it at the moment.”

Rather than asking his interviewee to name those “powerful groups” or challenging the claim that they “would rather like some sort of war with Iran” when that would undoubtedly put Israeli civilians in considerable danger, Webb proceeded directly to his next ‘question’.

Webb: “And also make our own political decisions as well I suppose on what degree of escalation we wanted to take part in.”

As the BBC’s researchers were presumably aware before seeking his participation, that bizarre and unevidenced claim had been made by Lord West of Spithead before – in the House of Lords on May 13th. [emphasis added]

There is no doubt that there are powerful factions within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that feel that an attack on Iran would be a good thing, believe it or not. They think that they would very quickly be able to suppress the enemy capability and then there would be regime change. They are wrong. It would be an absolute catastrophe. The passage of any shipping through the Straits of Hormuz would be problematic for weeks, there would be an outbreak of terrorist attacks throughout the region and there would possibly be some missile attacks.”

As we see, then too no evidence to support his claim was provided by Lord West of Spithead – who also believes that terrorism in the UK is caused by Israeli actions (or cannabis) and told BBC audiences (and others) in April 2018 that it did “not ring true” that the chemical attack in Douma that month was perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Not only did Justin Webb make no effort whatsoever to challenge West’s unsupported statement, but BBC Radio 4 even chose to further highlight it on Twitter.

So much, once again, for the BBC’s obligation to provide “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of…the wider world.”