Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part one

Even before the US president had made his announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel on December 6th, the BBC was already setting the scene.

As documented here previously, the BBC News website published several pre-emptive reports that framed the story according to a very particular narrative and thus shaped audience views of it even before anyone knew what the US president was actually going to say. Some BBC radio stations adopted the same strategy, with listeners hearing no small amount of speculative commentary prior to the actual event.

On the morning of December 6th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ devoted much of the airtime in its various editions to the topic of the anticipated announcement. The commentary included contributions from several people selected to present ‘the Palestinian view’ that were remarkable for gross inaccuracies and distortions.  

Did the programme’s presenters challenge those inaccuracies or did BBC audiences go away with misinformation and misleading impressions that would colour their view of the story in advance?

The early edition of ‘Newsday’ opened (from 00:34 here) with an introduction by presenters Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach that was immediately followed by a statement from Fatah official Nabil Shaath. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Now let’s begin in the Middle East and…err…history and symbols hugely important there and there must be no more powerful symbolic expression than the city of Jerusalem.”

Peach: “Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital. Israel, which controls the city, claims it entirely as theirs. In circumstances such as these it’s not surprising that most other countries have kept well out of it until now and maintain their embassies in the Israeli financial capital of Tel Aviv, in the process withholding recognition of the Israeli claim to the entire city of Jerusalem.”

Pollard: “But now American president Donald Trump is preparing to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv. America’s allies in Europe and the Arab world have been warning against the plan: a plan which President Trump promised on the campaign trail.”

Peach: “Lots of reaction coming for you, including this from Nabil Shaath – who’s a senior advisor to the Palestinian president – who says Mr Trump is throwing away his credibility.”

Shaath: “That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker. That takes away honest, takes away broker, takes away chaperone of peace, takes away the deal of the century and makes them behind us – gone into the files of history.”

Listeners then heard commentary from Ha’aretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer. Later on (from 26:55 here) the programme returned to the same topic.

Peach: “First, later today the US president Donald Trump is expected to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Pollard: “He’s not likely to immediately move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, partly because it will take several years, it’s said, to build a new embassy.”

Peach: “We’re told the US president has already telephoned several Middle East leaders to inform them of these plans. His regional allies were strongly against it all, warning of dangerous consequences.”

Pollard: “We’ve heard from Israel. Let’s get the opinion now of a member of the Palestinian parliament. Dr Mustafa Barghouti joins us once again on the programme. Dr Barghouti – welcome back. This has been a possible move for decades; now it’s coming. What’s its significance in your opinion?”

Pollard’s presentation of Barghouti as “a member of the Palestinian parliament” is of course misleading because not only has the Palestinian Legislative Council not functioned for over a decade since the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip, but – like the rest of the PLC members – Barghouti’s term of office ended years ago.

Barghouti opened with a spurious reference to ‘international law’ that went completely unquestioned and went on – likewise unchallenged – to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Barghouti: “It’s very significant but it’s very reckless – from a president who seems to be risk reckless on many issues. And it means the United States is officially participating in violating international law. And it is showing such a level of bias to Israel that it is killing any future role of the United States in any future peace process. As a matter of fact Mr Trump is aborting his own peace initiative before it is born. And the worst thing is that he’s making a dangerous move that will definitely destabilise the region and will consolidate, or help consolidate, a system of apartheid that Palestinians suffer from.”

Pollard: “Sorry. Let me just ask you about immediately what you think the consequences will be. First off, in the street – do you think that there is a risk of a violent response to this in terms of demonstrations and attacks?”

Barghouti: “No. From the Palestinian perspective we don’t want violence. We have opted for non-violent resistance but for mass popular non-violent resistance which was very successful last July in Jerusalem and we managed to defeat Netanyahu and force him to remove all obstacles he put in front of the people in Al Aqsa Mosque.”

Pollard failed to challenge Barghouti’s false claims of ‘non-violent resistance’ or to inform listeners of the incitement to violence from Hamas, the PA and Fatah even before the US announcement had been made. He also failed to clarify to listeners that his interviewee’s mention of “last July in Jerusalem” in fact refers to events triggered by a violent terror attack near Temple Mount or that those so-called “obstacles” were metal detectors and security cameras.

Pollard: “OK, so no violence in the street. OK, that’s an important point. What about…”

Barghouti: “I cannot guarantee it. I cannot guarantee that there will be no violence…”

Pollard: “Of course.”

Barghouti: “…in other places because this action is provoking the feelings of 1.6 billion Muslims, 2.2 billion Christians and 360 million Arabs.”

Pollard: “And politically, what difference does it make? You mentioned that in a sense – if I can put words into your mouth – it’s kind of destroyed the idea of America as the honest broker. Who else moves into that vacuum therefore? There is no-one else, is there?”

Barghouti used that question as a cue to promote the PA agenda of internationalisation of the conflict but listeners were not informed of the existence of that policy and so were unable to put his comments into context.

Barghouti: “There can be no one single country but I think we have…we moving in this world from unipolar system to multipolar system and if there would be a serious peace process it has to be an international conference with participation of many countries like China, Russia, European Union for sure. France tried to lead the road and it was obstructed by the United States and by Israel.”

Pollard: “But do you think that in any international arena…we have seen time and again an American veto used. Do you not think that simply any appeal or any hope that you’re now raising of an international effort to do it will simply be blocked or vetoed by the super-power; by the United States?”

Barghouti: “More than that. Any peace initiative will be blocked by Israel because Israel does not want peace, which is giving us a message. We the Palestinians have waited 25 years for the peace process to work. Now we receive the message it’s dead. Fine; we will choose an alternative path. We have to concentrate on changing the balance of power first. And that can happen only through popular resistance and a very wide large enhancement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel like the apartheid system was treated in South Africa. We are fighting for our freedom in every possible way.”

Listeners were not reminded of the second Intifada terror war instigated by the Palestinians in 2000 or of the repeated Palestinian refusals of peace offers. Pollard failed yet again to challenge Barghouti’s promotion of the ‘apartheid’ smear as well as his promotion of the BDS campaign.

Pollard: “If America has gone against the opinion of many of its allies  – European allies as well as Arab allies as well – do you think that this means that they have made themselves so close to the Israeli position that other groups such as for example the Europeans will be freer to have a more independent line?”

Barghouti: “Absolutely. But the Europeans need to be courageous. And they need to move forward and they need to move forward fast and quick. The problem they face is that they don’t have unity inside Europe. And that’s why I don’t think it should be a full European Union initiative.”

Pollard: “Right.”

Barghouti: “It should be an initiative by several countries like France, Germany and others.”

Pollard: “Now can you just clarify one thing because we’ve heard conflicting comments on the programme so far. This is a sort of technical point. In your opinion, by recognising the entirety of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, does that de facto preclude East Jerusalem being a potential capital of a Palestinian authority?”

Barghouti: “It will…it will…of course. It means that it is considering East Jerusalem as part of Jerusalem because for Israel, Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel. Jerusalem is unified and that means that the annexation – the illegal annexation – of East Jerusalem which was occupied in ’67 and which is not accepted by anybody in the world, is considered part of the Israeli capital. That’s why unless the president says very clearly that East Jerusalem…I recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, he’s practically participating in the crime.”

Refraining from providing listeners with any of the crucial historical context diligently erased by Barghouti, Pollard closed the conversation.

Pollard: “Right. Thank you for that.”

As we see, not only was Mustafa Barghouti not challenged on any of his falsehoods but he was allowed to promote his distorted narrative completely unquestioned. If that were not enough, the BBC World Service chose to further amplify some of Barghouti’s spurious claims in an edited clip from the interview promoted on Twitter.

There were, however, additional editions of ‘Newsday’ to come and they will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

 

Advertisements

A BBC journalist’s chosen Twitter header compromises impartiality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Nawi replies, grinning widely.”

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

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

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

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

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

However, one would be mistaken.

Related Articles:

The NGO story the BBC avoided

BBC News changes headline, deletes Tweet after anger at portrayal of terror attack in Jerusalem

On the evening of June 16th three Palestinian terrorists from a village near Ramallah carried out a combined attack in Jerusalem. Border Police officer Hadas Malka was critically wounded while responding to the incident and doctors were unable to save her life. In addition, four more people were wounded. While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, Hamas rejected that claim:

“Early on Saturday morning, Hamas rejected IS’s claim of responsibility, saying the three belonged to Palestinian terrorist organizations.

“The claim by the Islamic State group is an attempt to muddy the waters,” said Sami Abou Zouhri, spokesman for the terrorist group which runs the Gaza strip.

The attack was carried out by “two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas,” he said.”

The BBC’s report on the attack currently appears on the BBC News website under the headline “Israeli policewoman stabbed to death in Jerusalem“. However, the article was originally titled “Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem” and that was also how the BBC portrayed the incident on social media – much to the ire of many Twitter users.

As we see, that headline and sub-heading both fail to inform BBC audiences that the “Palestinians killed” were the terrorists who carried out the “deadly stabbing”.

As a result of public pressure, the BBC deleted that Tweet and posted a replacement some 24 hours after the attack took place. Readers may recall that this is by no means the first time that a BBC headline concerning a terror attack in Israel has prompted public outrage

As is inevitably the case in BBC coverage of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel – and in stark contrast to BBC portrayal of similar attacks in Europe – the article does not describe the incident as a terror attack.

Moreover, in the later version of the report readers found the following representation of a statement from Israeli officials saying that there was no indication that the terrorists were connected to ISIS:

“Police said there was “no indication” of a link between the suspects and a terror group.”

In fact – as the Times of Israel reported:

“All three of the assailants were members of Palestinian terrorist organizations, according to… Israel’s Shin Bet…

The attackers were identified by the Shin Bet internal security agency as Bra’a Salah and Asama Atta, both born in 1998, and Adel Ankush, born the following year. They were shot dead by security forces as they carried out their attacks.

The three were from Deir Abu-Mashal, a village near Ramallah. All had previously been arrested for or involved in terrorist activity, a Shin Bet statement said.”

Erasing the foreign nationals (including one Palestinian) murdered by Palestinian terrorists over the last 21 months, the report tells readers that:

“Forty-two Israelis have been killed in knife, gun and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs since October 2015.

In late 2015 and 2016, such attacks happened with near-daily frequency but the rate has declined in recent months.”

That latter inaccurate claim is recycled from a previous BBC report. In fact, while in late 2015 the frequency of attacks was far beyond “near-daily”, around a hundred attacks still take place every month meaning that they remain on average a daily occurrence on average, notwithstanding the BBC’s failure to cover the vast majority of attacks.

As readers then see, the BBC continues to employ the “Israel says” formula in its portrayal of Palestinian terrorists killed while carrying out attacks.

“More than 240 Palestinians – most of them attackers, Israel says – have also been killed in that period. Others have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.” [emphasis added]

The article closes with a mantra that the BBC has been promoting for many months:

“Israel says Palestinian incitement has fuelled the attacks. The Palestinian leadership has blamed frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation.”

Once again, it is worth remembering that since the surge in terror attacks began in late 2015, the BBC has consistently failed to provide its audiences with any serious reporting on the topic of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian officials. Readers are hence unable to judge for themselves whether or not what ‘Israel says’ is accurate.

Likewise, it is noteworthy that the portrayal of terrorism as being attributable to “frustration rooted in decades of occupation” conforms to a guidance document for members of the international media put out by the PLO in November 2015.

Update:

According to Ynet, the BBC has released the following statement:

“We accept that our original headline did not appropriately reflect the nature of the events and subsequently changed it. Whilst there was no intention to mislead our audiences, we regret any offence caused.”

Related Articles:

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

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

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

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

BBC’s ‘rationale’ for its double standards on terror crumbles again 

 

 

 

 

BBC News inaccurately rewords the Archbishop of Canterbury

On May 10th the BBC News Twitter account informed its 19.5 million followers that ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury says there could be a “moment of opportunity” for Middle East peace efforts’.

The link in that Tweet led to a filmed report titled “Time for Middle East peace efforts, says Justin Welby” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and is presented with the following synopsis:

“The Archbishop of Canterbury says there could be “moment of opportunity” for Middle East peace efforts.

Justin Welby, who’s on a tour of the Holy Land, was speaking after meeting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Yolande Knell met the archbishop in Jerusalem.”

So did the archbishop actually say that ‘there could be a “moment of opportunity” for Middle East peace efforts’ as both the Tweet and the synopsis claim?

Welby’s actual words are as follows:

“Something that was discussed in both meetings was whether we…whether there is – for all kinds of reasons – a moment of opportunity. And one of the things I was particularly emphasising was the need – particularly of the poor and the weaker in the area; the minority communities – for peace. That this…although some people can endure these situations for years, for others it becomes unendurable and I’m thinking perhaps of some of the Christian communities around.”

As we see, the BBC paraphrased the contemplation “whether there is […] a moment of opportunity” as meaning that the archbishop had determined that “there could be “moment of opportunity” for Middle East peace efforts”.  While remarkable, the promotion of that misrepresentation is completely in step with Yolande Knell’s previous efforts to make Welby’s trip conform to her own agenda.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports on Archbishop of Canterbury’s ME visit

 

 

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

As noted in a recent post, the April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included a monologue from a person described as “the mother of a Palestinian inmate”. The monologue was also promoted to the BBC World Service Twitter account’s 303,000 followers and those who listened to the clip heard the following in a voice-over:

“I haven’t seen or visited my son for around maybe ten months. Israeli security won’t let me see him. When I used to visit Diya I felt as if I owned the world. Every visit request I put in only comes back with rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m 67 years old. What risk am I to Israel’s security? I am of no danger. All I want is to see my son, to check on him and he can check on me. This is all I want but they deprive even a mother from seeing her son and a son from seeing his mother.”

While BBC audiences are no strangers to the promotion of pathos-rich stories from the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists, the fact that listeners were not told who the speaker is or why her son is in prison and did not hear any response to her allegations from the Israeli authorities obviously does not inspire confidence in the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting of this story.

So who is this “mother of a Palestinian inmate”? A clue to that question comes in a video that appears on the BBC Arabic website and is also embedded in an Arabic language article titled “More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails begin hunger strike” that, like its English language equivalent, promotes the notion that Palestinian “detainees” might be seen as “political prisoners”.

The woman extensively profiled in that BBC Arabic video is called Najat al Agha and she lives in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Mrs al Agha is by no means publicity shy: she recently told a very similar story to the one promoted by ‘Newsday’ to ‘Amnesty International’ which, predictably, is supplying publicity for the current Fatah hunger strike.

“Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges.  He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

“I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.

“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I haven’t seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.””

Moreover, Najat al Agha – who actually has had two sons serve time in prison in Israel – appears to come forward to tell her story quite frequently and – perhaps not unrelatedly – has been the recipient of ‘honorary gifts’ from the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

The son she names in the ‘Newsday’ clip is Diya Zakariya Shaker Al-Agha “Al-Faluji”. He was convicted of the murder of Amatzia Ben Haim from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in a greenhouse in Ganei Tal in October 1992.

“…Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children.”

A media organisation truly committed to accurate and impartial journalism would of course have provided its audiences with information concerning the “Palestinian inmate” and the act of terror he committed. The BBC World Service, however, chose to give completely context-free amplification to his mother’s claim that Israel is ‘depriving’ her of seeing her son, without any mention of the fact that her son deprived three children – the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time – from ever seeing their father again.

That, of course, is not accurate and impartial journalism but self-conscription to a political campaign.

Related Articles:

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

The BBC, the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists and Twitter

 

BBC’s ME editor suggests Syria chemical attack related to Israel

The day after the chemical weapons attack in Syria that shocked the world, the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” took to Twitter to promote his own conjectures concerning the incident in Khan Sheikhoun.

Yes, the BBC’s Middle East Editor really is promoting the “theory” that the Assad regime slaughtered children in Idlib province because Israel has allegedly carried out strikes in Syria against Iranian/Syrian weapons shipments to the Hizballah terror organisation.

It is worth remembering that the man publicly promoting that bizarre ‘rationale’ is the gatekeeper of all ‘accurate and impartial’ BBC reporting concerning the war in Syria – as well as coverage of Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC’s Davies suggests ulterior motives for IDF Sarin report

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

 

 

BBC’s ME editor ditches impartiality in portrayal of ‘international law’

h/t RM

When Jeremy Bowen was appointed to the post of Middle East editor in 2005, that role was described as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

On February 15th a report by Jeremy Bowen concerning that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’. Revisiting the ‘blank cheque’ theme he promoted days earlier on BBC 5 live radio, in that report, Bowen told viewers that:

“Before he was elected president Mr Trump seemed ready to give Israel a blank cheque on the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu authorised thousands more homes for Jews in the occupied territories, in defiance of international law, within days of Mr Trump’s inauguration.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are used to reading and hearing the BBC narrative on international law which goes along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In this case, Bowen not only did not bother with the qualification “Israel disputes this” but, despite his remit of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”, failed to inform viewers of the existence of alternative legal opinions on that issue.  

Moreover, when challenged on Twitter, Bowen appointed himself legal expert, ruling that alternative views to the narrative he chooses to promote are false.

bowen-tweets-intl-law-3

The BBC knows full well that the legal position on this issue is not unanimous. The backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that was first published in late December on the BBC News website states:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter. […]

A UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

Nevertheless, the man charged with enhancing BBC audience comprehension of ‘complex stories’ and providing information which would throw light on context that is ‘disputed’ obviously prefers to reduce this particular one to facile black and white.

This example raises an additional issue too. When the BBC covers stories concerning disputed territory in places such as Cyprus or in Western Sahara it does not find it necessary or appropriate to provide its audiences with an opinion on what is legal or illegal. The difference of course is that the BBC has not adopted a campaigning role in relation to those locations.  

 

Reviewing BBC reporting on social media incitement in Europe and Israel

In October 2015 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder which underwent extensive editing during the ten days following its original publication and is currently available online under the headline “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?“.backgrounder

As was noted here at the time, the backgrounder failed to provide BBC audiences with a comprehensive view of its purported subject matter.

“The question posed in its headline is addressed in a relatively small section of the report (fewer than 200 words) which actually does little to inform readers of the scale and significance of the role of incitement spread via social media in fueling the current wave of terror, of the kind of content appearing on such platforms or of the use of social media by official Palestinian groups other than Hamas – including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.” 

Moreover, incitement to violence and glorification of terrorism on official social media accounts belonging to Fatah was downplayed in another section of the backgrounder: [emphasis added]

“The stabbing attacks seem to be spontaneous and although they have been praised by militant groups and supporters of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on social media, Mr Abbas has said Palestinians are not interested in a further escalation.”

In July 2016 the BBC published two articles relating to the topic of Palestinian incitement of terrorism against Israelis on Facebook: “Israel angered by Facebook hatred rules“ and “Facebook sued by Israeli group over Palestinian attacks“. The first article opened with the following interestingly punctuated statement:FB art technology

“Government ministers in Israel have accused Facebook of failing to tackle “inciteful” posts against the country on the social network.”

In the second of those reports the BBC found it appropriate to amplify a statement from Hamas:

“Hamas called the lawsuit an Israeli attempt to blackmail Facebook. […]

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Israel of trying to turn it [Facebook] into a spy tool against Palestinians. […]

“The real test for the owners of Facebook is to reject this pressure,” he said.”

Despite quoting a report by the Quartet which “identified “the spreading of incitement to violence on social media” by Palestinians as a key issue” (an aspect of the report downplayed in previous BBC reporting), the second article nevertheless used the frequently seen qualifying ‘Israel says’ formula to describe the links between incitement on social media and acts of violence.

“Israel says Palestinian incitement on social media has fuelled a wave of attacks since October, which have killed 35 Israelis and four people of other nationalities.

In October 2016, listeners to a programme broadcast on the BBC World Service relating to the Twitter hashtag ‘Facebook Censors Palestine’ were told:

“And this is really the problem: narrative. With two completely opposing views on events, what Israelis see as inciting violence, the Palestinians see as telling the truth and vice versa.”

To date – notwithstanding recognition of the issue by the Quartet and Facebook – the BBC has yet to provide its audiences with information which would broaden their understanding of the connection between official and unofficial Palestinian incitement and terrorism.

In contrast, on December 6th 2016 BBC Technology produced an article titled “EU criticises tech firms for slow action on hate speech“.eu-social-media

“Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are falling short of a commitment to tackle hate speech quickly, research suggests.

The European Commission looked into whether the tech giants were meeting a pledge to remove hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported. […]

The pledge was made in May when the firms signed up to a “code of conduct” brokered by the Commission.”

Notably, the BBC did not find it necessary to amplify statements made by those posting online hate speech and incitement in Europe suggesting that the monitoring and removal of such posts amounts to “a spy tool”.

In the link directing readers to the EU’s press release concerning the “code of conduct”, BBC audiences find the following:

“Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said, “The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred. […]

Following the EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in October 2015 on ‘Tolerance and respect: preventing and combating Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe’, the Commission initiated a dialogue with IT companies, in cooperation with Member States and civil society, to see how best to tackle illegal online hate speech which spreads violence and hate.

The recent terror attacks and the use of social media by terrorist groups to radicalise young people have given more urgency to tackling this issue.”

Ms Jourova is also quoted twice in the body of the article itself:

‘”The last weeks and months have shown that social media companies need to live up to their important role and take up their share of responsibility when it comes to phenomena like online radicalisation, illegal hate speech or fake news,” said Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova in a statement. […]

“It is our duty to protect people in Europe from incitement to hatred and violence online,” said Ms Jourova. “While IT Companies are moving in the right direction, the first results show that the IT companies will need to do more to make it a success.”‘

Notably, the BBC did not find it necessary to qualify the EU’s statements describing such social media posts as incitement or to question the EU’s linkage between online hate speech and violence. Indeed, the caption to the image illustrating the article informs readers that:

“Terror attacks in Europe led the Commission to seek support from tech firms in tackling hate speech”

Neither did this report find it appropriate to portray racist posts on social media as “narrative” or to suggest to audiences that hate speech might be seen as “telling the truth”.

While Israel and the EU are both trying to tackle the problem of online hate speech and incitement to violence in similar ways, we see that the BBC’s approach to the story differs according to geography. 

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s ‘explanation’ of the current wave of terror

Poor BBC reporting on Palestinian incitement again mars audience understanding

BBC still portraying incitement as an ‘Israel says’ story

BBC Trending presents Palestinian incitement as ‘narrative’

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”

The BBC’s guidance on social networking states:

“Impartiality is a particular concern for those working in News and Current Affairs. Nothing should appear on their personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC. For example, News and Current Affairs staff should not:

  • advocate support for a particular political party;
  • express views for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate;
  • advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate.” [emphasis added]

A story which was not reported by the BBC but which was recently “an issue of current public controversy or debate” in Israel concerns the decision of the political NGO B’Tselem to participate in an informal session at the UN Security Council. As Ynet reported ahead of the session:

“The Palestinian delegation to the United Nations successfully initiated an informal meeting of the Security Council on Israeli settlements in the West Bank that is to be held on Friday and to be attended by representatives of B’Tselem.

According to the UN’s website, the “Arria-Formula meeting,” which is how Friday’s discussion has been defined, is a “very informal, confidential” meeting that enables “Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views.”

 It is believed that this meeting is the Palestinian delegation’s first step in a plan to have the Security Council issue a resolution against Israel regarding the settlements.

Friday’s meeting will take place at 10am EDT (5pm Israel time) and will be co-chaired by Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela. The meeting’s title is ‘illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and Two-State Solution.'”

Predictably, the participation of B’Tselem (which has received funding from UN bodies) in such an event created controversy, as did the actual messaging delivered by its director Hagai El-Ad to the forum. One Israeli politician declared his intention to weigh “the possibility of taking legal action against El-Ad to strip him of his Israeli citizenship”. That, of course, will not happen because not only was David Bitan subsequently advised that there is no legal basis for such action but parliamentarians from across the political spectrum – including his own party – publicly declared their opposition to any such move.  

Nevertheless, Bitan’s declaration did provide the opportunity for some PR posturing from B’Tselem’s director.

el-ad-tweet

And that second Tweet was given further amplification by BBC News producer “in Israel and the West Bank” Michael Shuval who went on to add his own commentary – notably and oddly, in English.

rt-shuval-btselem

shuval-tweet-2

Those Tweets clearly “advocate” a “particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate” and thus contradict the BBC’s guidance and compromise its impartiality. The fact that B’Tselem was the local political NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC throughout 2015 and 2014 makes that lack of impartiality even more worthy of note.

Related Articles:

BBC News, impartiality and the Israeli elections

 

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

Following the publication of the UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism on October 16th, a relatively long article appeared on the UK politics page of the BBC News website under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-Semitism in Labour criticised by MPs“.ha-select-comm-report-art

20.9% of the article’s 1,007 words are describe the report’s criticism of the response to antisemitism within the Labour Party while reactions to that criticism from Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone take up 14.3% of the word count.  The committee’s criticism of the failure of Twitter to combat antisemitism on its platform is described in 7.5% of the article’s word count and 4.5% describes the report’s criticism of the National Union of Students president.

Towards the end of the article, readers are given a superficial account of two aspects of the report.

“The report expressed concern about use of the word “Zionist”, saying “use of the word in an accusatory context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic”.”

In its conclusions the actual report states:

“‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.”

The BBC article also tells readers:

“But it [the report] did say free speech should be allowed on the Palestinian issue, saying it was not anti-Semitic to criticise actions of the Israeli government.”

However that is just part of the story – as Professor Alan Johnson notes at the Telegraph:

“The Committee is very clear about two things. First, criticism of Israel is absolutely acceptable. Second, vile demonisation and conspiracism, with its cartoons dripping in blood and its hook noses and its wild claims of global domination and its Nazi comparisons is not “criticism of Israel”.”

The report itself states:

ha-select-comm-report-crtiticism-israel

Crucially, the IHRA definition of antisemitism recommended by the committee (which was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 31 member countries earlier this year) includes the following example of a manifestation of antisemitism often prevalent among those active “on the Palestinian issue”:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”ha-select-comm-art-related-reading

This BBC article twice offers readers the same ‘related article’ titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?”.

As was noted here when that ‘backgrounder’ first appeared, its problematic aspects (which, regrettably, have not been addressed since publication) include promotion of the Livingstone Formulation.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms and such a proposal was included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

In light of the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation, it would of course be appropriate for the BBC and OFCOM to now adopt the IHRC working definition of antisemitism.