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

If the phrase ‘over the top’ comes to mind in relation to the volume of coverage of the US president’s announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel that has appeared on the BBC News website, that is not surprising. 

Between December 4th and the morning of December 7th inclusive, the website published the following reports:

December 4th:

1) “Jerusalem: Opposition to mooted Trump Israel announcement grows” – earlier version discussed here

December 5th:

2) “Jerusalem: Turkey warns Trump against crossing ‘red line’” – discussed here

3) “Trump’s Jerusalem calls spark warnings from Arab leaders

December 6th:

4) “Why Jerusalem matters” – filmed backgrounder by Yolande Knell, discussed here

5) “US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

6) “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, says Donald Trump

7) “Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace

8) “Jerusalem: Trump move prompts negative world reaction

9) “Palestinians and Israelis on US Jerusalem recognition” – filmed

10) “Trump on Jerusalem: ‘I am delivering on promise’” – filmed

December 7th:

11) “Jerusalem status: World condemns Trump’s announcement

12) “What Trump’s Jerusalem decision means for peace” – filmed, Lyse Doucet

13) “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift”  – Barbara Plett Usher, discussed here

Clearly the language used in most of the headlines of those nine written articles portrays the US announcement as a negative development to audiences even before they have read the actual articles. A review of the content of those articles shows that their framing of the story is no less uniform.

In none of those nine written reports were readers given an accurate and comprehensive overview of the history behind the story. Accounts of Jerusalem’s history, when given, invariably begin in 1967 with some articles making a cursory but unexplained reference to Jordan’s occupation of parts of Jerusalem but no mention made whatsoever of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from parts of the city in 1948 or of the fact that Jerusalem is situated in the territory assigned by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

Five of the nine written articles and one of the four filmed reports described certain neighbourhoods of Jerusalem as “settlements” and presented a partisan portrayal of “international law”. All but one of the nine written reports promoted partisan maps of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem and – in one case – UN OCHA that include among other things portrayal of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as a ‘settlement’.

The majority of the written reports – seven – unquestioningly portrayed Jerusalem as being the “thorniest” issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eight of the nine, along with two of the filmed reports, told BBC audiences that the US announcement endangers or even destroys the ‘peace process’ – even though that process made no progress for the past 24 years, despite the US embassy being located in Tel Aviv.

None of the BBC’s reports informed readers that the Palestinians have previously been presented with peace offers that included considerable Israeli compromises on Jerusalem – which they refused.   

All of the written reports gave copious amplification to condemnations of the US announcement by assorted parties with some even uncritically amplifying threats of violence as though that were a legitimate response. Any dissenting views presented came solely from Israeli politicians.

The sole mention of the fact that Russia recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back in April was found in Lyse Doucet’s filmed report. An announcement relating to Jerusalem from the Czech Republic has at the time of writing not been covered by the BBC.

The essential context of the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ was provided to readers of just three of the nine written reports and subsequently added to one other many hours after initial publication. The context of the related June 2017 resolution passed by the US Senate was absent from all the BBC’s reports. Only two of the total thirteen reports mentioned that previous US presidents had made similar campaign promises to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

The BBC framed the US president’s announcement as being intended to appeal to specific sectors.

In article 5 readers were told that:

“Mr Trump would also direct the state department to begin the process of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem – but this could take several years as it still has to be designed and built and security concerns would need to be addressed.

He originally promised the move to pro-Israel voters during his campaign for the presidency.”

Article 6 included the following:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition have already thanked the president in a New York Times ad. The group is backed by Republican and Trump campaign mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.”

In article 11 readers were told that:

“Despite warnings of regional unrest over any such move, the decision fulfils a campaign promise and appeals to Mr Trump’s right-wing base.”

Article 13 informed BBC audiences that:

“…there’s far more evidence he [Trump] was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

And that:

“…this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.”

In fact, as noted by Michael Totten, the issue is far more bipartisan that the BBC would have its audiences believe.

“In 1995, the United States Congress, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, passed a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” This law, passed by a whopping 93-5 when Bill Clinton was president, had no effect whatsoever on the Camp David Peace Process which would have given East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as the capital of their sovereign state had Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said yes instead of no and chose peace rather than war.

That law was reaffirmed in the United States Senate just six months ago by a unanimous vote. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, co-sponsored the bill. And just two months ago, Schumer slammed Donald Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize reality.”

As we see, BBC audiences got ample – but monochrome – coverage of this story over those three and a half days. While failing for the most part to provide essential context and refraining entirely from providing the relevant historical background necessary for understanding of the story, the coverage was uniformly focused on promotion of a partisan political narrative.

 

 

 

 

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How did the BBC portray a story about an attack on Bar Mitzva hikers?

On the afternoon of November 30th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli settler in West Bank” on its Middle East page.

The incident that report purports to describe had taken place a few hours earlier when a group of 22 children and two adults on a Bar Mitzva hike in Samaria were attacked by a large group of Palestinians throwing rocks. Like the headline, the report’s opening paragraph ignored that relevant background.

“A Palestinian man has been shot and killed by an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank, officials say.”

The report then went straight on to describe the event’s circumstances as being disputed.

“There are conflicting reports about the circumstances surrounding the incident near the village of Qusra.”

Five of the report’s seventeen paragraphs described an IDF statement concerning the incident. The word “students” – rather than pupils – was used to describe the children.

“Israel’s military said the settler had opened fired in self-defence after Palestinians threw rocks at a group of hiking settlers and students. […]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday’s incident took place while a group of 20 Israeli boys, who were accompanied by adults, went on a hiking trip near Qusra.

“A disturbance broke out… involving dozens of Palestinians, during which one of the hikers shot at the rioters in self-defence,” the Jerusalem Post quoted a statement as saying.

“The hikers barricaded themselves in a cave near the village. IDF forces arrived at the site and rescued all the hikers.”

“One of the rioters was hit by gunfire,” the statement added.”

A further five paragraphs portrayed the ‘conflicting’ view, but without clarifying the quoted official’s relevant job description and his dubious record of unsupported allegations.

“But Palestinian officials said the dead man was a farmer who had been working his land when settlers attacked him.

They identified him as Mahmoud Odeh, 48, and said he was shot in the chest. […]

A Palestinian Authority official disputed the Israeli military’s account of the incident.

Ghassan Daghlas told the Associated Press that Mr Odeh had been at work when a group of settlers trespassed on to his land and then ordered him to move. When Mr Odeh refused, one of them shot him, Mr Daghlas added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killing of Mr Odeh, calling it a “cowardly act and evidence to the world of the ugly crimes conducted by settlers against unarmed Palestinians”.”

The report’s final three paragraphs were devoted to framing of the story, with readers clearly being steered towards the view that it should be seen as being about “settler violence”. Readers also found the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ that fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that conflict with the corporation’s chosen narrative.

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says tensions between settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been on the rise.

A UN agency that monitors incidents said earlier this year that an increase in settler violence had occurred alongside a major rise in Palestinian attacks against Israelis, the vast majority of which involved stone-throwing at vehicles.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The report paraphrased by Bateman was produced by the notoriously partisan UN agency OCHA.

In addition, readers were provided with a link to a BBC backgrounder on ‘settlements’ and a frequently recycled partisan map produced by the political NGO B’tselem.

In other words, in just seventeen paragraphs the BBC managed to turn a story about a violent attack by Palestinians against children on a Bar Mitzva hike and the unfortunate ensuing death of a man when one of the accompanying adults had to use his firearm in self-defence, into a story about “settlements” and “settler violence”.

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

For years the BBC has been steering its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for the chronic shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

For years too, the BBC has unquestioningly promoted maps, information and allegations – often inaccurate – put out by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian AffairsUN OCHA – despite the less than neutral and impartial stance taken by that organisation.

It therefore did not come as much of a surprise to find quotes from and links to UN OCHA material promoted in an article published on the BBC News website on October 23rd under the headline “Gaza conjoined twins ‘need life-saving treatment abroad’“.

After telling the story of the conjoined twins, the report concludes:

“Israel and Egypt have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza for a decade in an attempt to prevent attacks by militants based there.

The restrictions, repeated cycles of armed conflict, Palestinian political divisions and budget cuts have led to a serious deterioration in the availability and quality of health services in the territory, according to the UN.

Severe power shortages earlier this year forced hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, discharge patients prematurely, and reduce cleaning of medical facilities.”

As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the restrictions placed on the import of dual-use goods (i.e. items which can be used for terrorist purposes) to the Gaza Strip do not apply to medical supplies. The party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which has in recent months exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. Likewise, it is the Palestinian Authority which is solely responsible for those “severe power shortages” in the Gaza Strip that have affected medical services as well as additional fields.

The BBC knows that full well and yet, rather than telling this straightforward story clearly and accurately, through omission and implication it continues to steer its audiences towards the inaccurate assumption that the dire state of medical services and electricity supply in Gaza is connected to Israel, using ‘reports’ produced by a partisan body as back-up.  

Related Articles:

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC’s Knell inaccurately attributes shortage of medical supplies in Gaza to Israel

BBC Radio 5 live broadcasts inaccurate claim on shortage of medicines in Gaza

BBC WS amplifies former ISM activist’s falsehoods about Gaza blockade

BBC News parrots inaccurate claim from a politicised UN agency

BBC editorial policy on terror continues in Har Adar attack report

Just over an hour after a terror attack took place in Har Adar on September 26th the BBC News published its first report on the incident under the superfluously punctuated headline “Palestinian gunman ‘kills three Israelis’ in West Bank”.

Over the next six hours numerous amendments were made to that report as information emerged but – in line with usual BBC policy – none of its versions described the incident as terrorism or the attacker as a terrorist.

From its second version, readers of the report found promotion of PLO messaging in what has over the past two years been a standard insert in BBC reports on attacks against Israelis.

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

From version five onward, readers also found standard – though partial – BBC messaging on the topic of ‘settlements’.

“The issue of settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians, who see them as an obstacle to peace.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

From version six onward readers found yet another mantra which, although frequently promoted by the BBC, fails to provide audiences with the information and background necessary for full understanding of the reasons for the breakdown of that round of negotiations.

“Peace talks between the two sides broke down amid acrimony in April 2014.”

Later versions of the article included a version of a previously used partisan map credited to UNOCHA and the political NGO B’tselem.

The BBC’s report notes praise for the terror attack from Hamas and the PIJ:

“No group has taken responsibility for the attack, although Gaza-based Palestinian militant organisations Hamas and Islamic Jihad welcomed it.”

Fatah’s reaction is portrayed by the BBC as follows:

“The head of the Information Office of Fatah, the political faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Israel bore responsibility for the attack, because of its “continuous aggression” against the Palestinians.”

BBC audiences were not told of Fatah’s glorification of the terrorist  – “A morning scented with the fragrance of the Martyrs” – and threats of additional violence. Nor were they informed of the relevant issue of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s scheme of financial rewards for terrorists.

While the BBC’s report names the terrorist and provides some of his personal details, despite the fact that by 1 p.m local time the names of all three of the murdered victims had been released for publication, the BBC did not update its article to inform audiences of their names: Border Policeman Solomon Gavriyah, aged 20 from Be’er Ya’akov and civilian security guards Youssef Ottman from Abu Ghosh and Or Arish of Har Adar, both aged 25.  

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s policy on naming and personalising victims of terror

BBC’s double standards on terror get OFCOM rubber stamp 

BBC News parrots inaccurate claim from a politicised UN agency

On April 27th an article titled “Palestinian Authority ‘stops paying Israel for Gaza electricity’” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  

“The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has told Israel that it will stop paying for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials say.

There was no confirmation from the PA. But President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened “unprecedented steps” to end the political division with the rival Hamas movement, which dominates Gaza. […]

On Thursday, the Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) announced that it had been notified by the PA that payments for electricity supplied to Gaza would stop immediately.”

The report provides readers with accurate background information relating to the chronic power crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel currently provides Gaza with 125MW, which accounts for 55% of the territory’s usual electricity supply. Israeli media say the cost is about $11m a month, which Israel deducts from tax revenue collected on behalf of the PA. […]

On 17 April, the Gaza Power Plant, which produced about 30% of the territory’s electricity supply, was forced to shut down completely after exhausting its fuel reserves and being unable to replenish them due to a shortage of funds.

Days later, malfunctioning power lines coming from Egypt, which accounts for 15% of the supply, exacerbated the outages.”

However, the broader background to the article’s subject matter is less accurately portrayed.

“On 12 April, Mr Abbas said Palestinians faced a “dangerous and tough situation” and that he was “going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division [between Fatah and Hamas]”.

He did not elaborate, but the PA has already cut the salaries of civil servants based in Gaza and taxed Israeli fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the salary cuts would stay in place until Hamas moved towards reconciliation.

“I think there is a golden and historic chance to regain the unity of our people,” he said. “Hamas should relinquish control of Gaza.””

Those “civil servants based in Gaza” are of course the former PA employees who have been paid to stay at home for almost a decade. As for the PA’s policy of demanding payment of fuel taxes, it is not – as suggested by this report – new, having first been introduced in 2015.

The BBC’s report does not provide readers with any further information concerning the apparent reasons behind Abbas’ moves – as explained at the Times of Israel two days previously.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to issue a dramatic ultimatum to the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers, demanding that they either hand over governance of the area or face a funding freeze, sources close to the Palestinian leader said. […]

Among Fatah’s leadership there is a consensus supporting the measure. More than one senior official told The Times of Israel that there is no sense in maintaining the current situation.

“This time, Abbas is serious” one official said on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t plan to drag things out and is unwilling to allow Hamas to continue to play games and drag its feet. It can either hand over authority in Gaza to us, or take responsibility and start to pay.”

Officials said that while Hamas is collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes from the residents of Gaza, it is in no hurry to help the PA pay to run the Strip.

“It’s incomprehensible,” one official said. “In the past 10 years Hamas’s coffers have been enriched by more than a billion dollars in taxes, and yet they never shared the [financial] burden of the Strip. They invested most of it in their military wing.””

The ToI has also noted that:

“The renewed push by the PA to regain a foothold in Gaza comes ahead of Abbas’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House next week. Ahead of the Washington confab, Abbas was under pressure to show that he represents all Palestinians, including those in Gaza.

In March, Hamas announced it would form an administrative committee to further its governance in Gaza. The announcement infuriated Abbas, who immediately began taking steps to squeeze Hamas out of power.”

As usual, readers of the BBC’s article were given a toned-down portrayal of the violent coup which led to the terrorist group taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

“In 2006, Hamas won Palestinian Legislative Council elections. It reinforced its power in Gaza the following year after a violent rift with Mr Abbas’ Fatah faction.”

And yet again, the BBC could not resist promoting the false notion that the chronic shortage of electricity in the Gaza Strip is in part attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

“Gaza’s electricity supply has been also affected by restrictions on the import of goods imposed by Israel as part of a land, sea and air blockade that is now in its 10th year. Egypt is meanwhile blockading Gaza’s southern border.

Israel and Egypt maintain the blockades as a measure against attacks by Islamist militants based in Gaza.”

Interestingly, an almost identical statement is to be found in a document produced by UN OCHA to which a link is provided in this article’s fifth paragraph:

“Gaza’s longstanding electricity deficit has been also affected by the restrictions on the import of goods imposed by Israel as part of a land, air and sea blockade, now in its 10th year.”

Obviously if BBC journalists conducted their own research rather than blindly parroting claims made by a highly partial and politicised UN body, their reporting would be more likely to meet the BBC’s professed standards of accuracy.

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s 2013 PA funding audit story

More BBC disinformation on Gaza power crisis

Gaza Strip background the BBC does not provide

BBC News again avoids telling audiences real reasons for Gaza power crisis

BBC’s sketchy reporting on Gaza power crisis highlighted

 

BBC News continues to promote dubiously sourced Gaza statistics

On February 28th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Netanyahu criticised over 2014 Gaza war preparations“.mevaker-report-art

Relating to a report on Operation Protective Edge published by Israel’s state comptroller, the article includes background information concerning the 2014 conflict, part of which relates to the subject of casualties.

“The 50-day war left at least 2,251 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,462 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,231 others injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

Since the end of that conflict the BBC has published varying accounts of casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip, all of which cite the UN as their source. In August 2014 a graphic told BBC audiences:

“2,101 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 70% of deaths are civilians”Graphic Op PE

In October 2014 the same graphic was amended to read:

“2,104 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 69% of deaths are civilians”

In December 2014 the BBC told its audiences that:

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and militant groups led by Hamas left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

So where has the figure 2,251 cited in this latest article come from? Its source is the controversial report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council more than a month before the conflict ended and originally headed by William Schabas that was published in June 2015. Section V of that report states:

“In Gaza, in particular, the scale of the devastation was unprecedented. The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians, of whom 299 women and 551 children and 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured, of whom 10 per cent suffered permanent disability as a result. While the casualty figures gathered by the United Nations, Israel, the State of Palestine [sic] and non-governmental organizations differ, regardless of the exact proportion of civilians to combatants, the high incidence of loss of human life and injury in Gaza is heartbreaking.”

A footnote states that the quoted figures come from:

“Data compiled by the OCHA Protection Cluster, 31 May 2015. For its methodology, see A/HRC/28/80/Add.1, para. 24, footnote 43.”

That reference leads to a footnote which states:

footnote-43

As we see, the footnote reveals that the Hamas-run “Ministry of Health in Gaza” is one source of the report’s data, together with “the Protection Cluster”. As has been noted here previously, that “Protection Cluster” includes political NGOs, some of which also have a financial relationship with UNOCHA.

“During the 2014 Gaza war, three NGOs from the cluster – B’Tselem, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – were designated to provide casualty statistics. In turn, their statistics were repeated without question by OCHA and other UN bodies, the media, European officials, and the Schabas-Davis commission. […]

Al Mezan and PCHR are also leaders in promoting “lawfare” cases against Israelis in Europe and the International Criminal Court (ICC).Their lack of credibility is also reflected in their highly politicized agenda, including accusations that the IDF (“Israeli Occupation Forces” in NGO parlance) is responsible for “massacres,” and “war crimes,” as well as “disproportionate” and “criminal” attacks against civilians.”

Those sources are of course the same ones that produced data promoted by the BBC almost from the very beginning of the 2014 conflict – as BBC Watch revealed at the time.

Readers may also recall that last August the BBC Trust published  the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output. That report included “10 Golden Rules”, one of which is:

“Check your source. Is it likely to be someone with a vested interest in interpreting findings in a particular way?”

The UNHRC is of course notorious for its anti-Israel bias and to describe it – as well as the Hamas health ministry, UNOCHA, the PCHR, B’tselem and Al Mezan – as having “a vested interest” would be gross understatement.

Nevertheless, as we see, over thirty months since the 2014 conflict ended the BBC is still amplifying casualty figures and debatable civilian/combatant casualty ratios supplied by Hamas and NGOs involved in ‘lawfare’ campaigning against Israel that were funneled through a UN agency and subsequently promoted in a controversial and biased UNHRC report.

Related Articles:

BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part one

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part two

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

As was documented here earlier this month, in late December 2016 the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which opened as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

We observed at the time that the backgrounder “includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years”.

Six days after its initial publication on December 29th 2016, amendments were made to the article (on January 4th 2017) including a change of description for one of the political NGOs quoted in the report from “the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now” to “the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now”.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 23rd 2017 were offered that backgrounder as part of the ‘related reading’ appended to the main story of the day.

settlements-backgrounder-on-hp-23-1

However, the backgrounder now has a new date stamp and has undergone further amendments since its initial publication.

In the first section – titled “What are settlements?” – a link to the Peace Now website has been added and that joins the existing link to the B’tselem website that appeared in the original article.

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In the second section, which is titled “Why are settlements so contentious?”, an inaccurate and misleading paragraph has been added.

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There are not “hundreds” of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea & Samaria and many of those which do exist are in fact crossings located along Israel’s border with Palestinian controlled areas. So where did the BBC get that misleading information? While no source is provided, one possibility is a webpage titled “Restriction of movement” which was posted on the B’Tselem website on January 1st 2017 and in which an unsourced reference to “hundreds of physical obstacles […] in the form of concrete blocks, piles or dirt, or trenches” is found.

In the latest version of this backgrounder, an entirely new chapter has been added after the second section under the title “What difference will Donald Trump make?”.

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The next section is titled “What makes Jerusalem a special case?” and there a problematic and partial map produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA (which first appeared in BBC content in October 2015) has been added. That map tells BBC audiences that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem – a place where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years – is an “illegal settlement” and that Temple Mount is located in a “Palestinian urban area”.

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In the last section of the backgrounder – titled “Are settlements illegal under international law?” – another amendment has been made.

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When this article – which is supposedly intended to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information on the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem – first appeared we noted that: 

“While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.”

Rather than leaving be or making changes which would enhance that nuance and provide more of the context usually denied to BBC audiences, the backgrounder has instead been unnecessarily amended to promote more even more partisan information produced by the campaigning political NGOs Peace Now and B’Tselem as well as the latter’s partner UNOCHA

Related Articles:

Revisiting the BBC’s source of 2014 Gaza casualty data

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

 

 

 

 

Revisiting the BBC’s source of 2014 Gaza casualty data

Readers may recall that a few days into the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, BBC Watch decided to try to track down the source of the casualty figures being quoted and promoted by the BBC at the time.

“Earlier BBC reports cited casualty figures provided by the notoriously unreliable ministry of health in Gaza. That ministry is still run by Hamas and the personalities quoted in previous conflicts and incidents have not changed. Later reports stress figures supplied by what Bowen describes as “the United Nations”. In fact he – and those other BBC reports – refers to a document put out by UN OCHA on July 11th which can be seen here. That report does indeed state:

“114 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the Gaza emergency, of whom 88 (77%) are civilians.” 

The question is, of course, where did UN OCHA – an organization which has itself been the subject of controversy in the past – get its information?

So – BBC Watch telephoned the person who complied that report in order to find out.”Knell filmed PCHR

What we discovered was particularly worrying considering that at the time the BBC had already broadcast several reports which included false allegations from one of the parties supplying UN OCHA with information.

“Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselemthe PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.”

NGO Monitor recently published a report which, among other things, casts more light onto UN OCHA’s relationship with those primary sources.

“OCHA coordinates several “Thematic Clusters,” whereby UN agencies, government donors, and NGOs collaborate on campaigning. […]

OCHA operates Clusters in the areas of Protection; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Shelter; Health and Nutrition; Education; and Food Security.

The Protection Cluster

The Protection Cluster, which is responsible for “[m]onitoring and document[ing] violations,” “[p]rovision of legal aid,” and “[a]dvocacy and interventions with Israeli authorities (among other issues) is one of the most problematic in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  • During the 2014 Gaza war, three NGOs from the cluster – B’Tselem, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – were designated to provide casualty statistics. In turn, their statistics were repeated without question by OCHA and other UN bodies, the media, European officials, and the Schabas-Davis commission. […]
  • Al Mezan and PCHR are also leaders in promoting “lawfare” cases against Israelis in Europe and the International Criminal Court (ICC).Their lack of credibility is also reflected in their highly politicized agenda, including accusations that the IDF (“Israeli Occupation Forces” in NGO parlance) is responsible for “massacres,” and “war crimes,” as well as “disproportionate” and “criminal” attacks against civilians.

Furthermore, the report notes the financial relationship between UN OCHA and, among others, the PCHR

“OCHA oversees and facilitates government funding via several aid frameworks to some of the most biased and politicized regional NGOs, including a number that are very active in promoting BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) and “lawfare” campaigns against Israel:

1) Humanitarian Repose Plan (HRP) The aforementioned Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) is one of the primary frameworks through which OCHA-oPt coordinates funding to NGOs. The HRP outlines OCHA’s politicized approach regarding its activities in the region, as well as which NGOs should receive vast amounts of international government funding. In 2016, OCHA-oPt requested $571 million in aid from international donors for some of the most highly biased and politicized NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Participating Organizations & Funding Requirements” in the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan include: […]

Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – Leader of anti-Israel “lawfare” campaigns, such as an intensive campaign vis-à-vis the International Criminal Court and exploiting courts in democratic countries in order to harass Israeli officials with civil lawsuits and criminal investigations.”Bowen 14 7 Newsday Sourani

In other words, the data on casualties in the Gaza Strip that was quoted and promoted by the BBC during the summer 2014 conflict was supplied by NGOs involved in ‘lawfare’ campaigning against Israel after having been funnelled through a UN agency which in turn facilitates NGO funding.  

Despite the dubious sourcing of the data having been apparent at the time, there was no evidence of any attempt by the BBC to carry out independent verification of the casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios supplied by interested parties. The corporation not only defended its use of that unverified data but rejected related complaints from members of the public claiming that:

“The UN has made claims as to the number of Palestinians killed and the number of those who are civilians. The BBC reports these numbers attributed to the UN which is of course an internationally recognised organisation. The UN has a large staff in Gaza who compile these reports.”

In fact, as we see above, the UN’s reports were not based on information gathered by its own “large staff in Gaza” at all and that raises the question of whether the BBC even bothered to check out UN OCHA’s methodology before promoting its data. The BBC’s inference that UN supplied data is beyond reproach obviously does not hold water given both UN OCHA’s own politicized agenda and the records of the NGOs from which the data was sourced.

Obviously the BBC’s unquestioning use of unverified UN OCHA supplied data during the conflict of summer 2014 did not meet the standards one would expect from a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting. Before the next round of conflict breaks out, the corporation obviously needs to revisit its policy of blind promotion of UN supplied data if it wishes to be perceived as an impartial media organisation rather than a channel for the amplification of the agendas of campaigning NGOs. 

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In which the BBC rehashes a press release and calls it news

On February 11th the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “UN and Palestinian Authority appeal for $571m aid“. A significant proportion of the article is little more than a rehashed version of a press release put out the previous day by the Palestinian Authority and UN OCHA.aid appeal story

The BBC’s report tells readers that:

“The Palestinian Authority and the United Nations have made a joint call for funding to provide humanitarian assistance to 1.8 million Palestinians.

Most of the $571m (£395m) requested for this year will be spent on food aid.

One Palestinian official warned that any food shortage could see the already volatile situation in the Palestinian Territories “explode”. […]

The funding sought by the UN and Palestinian Authority will provide aid to roughly a third of the 4.75 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Almost $323m of the funding is sought to help the 1.6 million people who the UN has assessed as moderately to severely food insecure.

A further $112m is needed to provide shelter for vulnerable people, including 92,000 still displaced inside Gaza by the 50-day conflict between Palestinian militants and Israel in 2014.

Appealing to donors, UN Assistant Secretary-General Robert Piper warned that “the coping capacity of many Palestinian households is at the point of exhaustion”.”

Completely absent from this BBC report is any mention of Hamas’ appropriation of building materials imported into to the Gaza Strip and the connection between the diversion of construction materials to terrorism and the fact that thousands of people in the Gaza Strip still lack adequate shelter. That issue has of course been serially avoided by the BBC throughout the last year and a half and so audiences reading this report do not have the necessary background information to enable them to put this story into its correct context.

The report also avoids the topic of Hamas’ preference of spending millions of dollars on the reconstruction of cross-border tunnels rather than providing food and shelter for the population it controls. That again is a topic to which the BBC has avoided giving adequate coverage.

Likewise, the report makes no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities which include giving grants and salaries to convicted terrorists  from its general budget (supplied mostly by foreign donors) to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

“In 2013, the Palestinian Authority (PA) paid more than £60 million to those convicted of terror offences; of this, £9 million was paid as bonuses when terrorists were released. In February, the Palestinian Authority announced that this bonus pot would be increased to £27 million.”

That too is a story which the BBC has studiously avoided telling over the years and yet another part of the essential context missing to readers of this latest story.

However, this article does include the standard “Israel says” qualification concerning Palestinian terrorists killed during the recent wave of violence.

“A recent wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis has led to some 190 deaths.

Twenty-nine Israelis have been killed in stabbing, shooting or car-ramming attacks by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs since October.

More than 160 Palestinians – mostly attackers, Israel says – have also been killed in that period.” [emphasis added]

It also includes by now no less predictable messaging – which is also to be found in the PLO’s guidance for foreign journalists – whilst continuing to avoid any serious reporting on the topic of incitement.

“The Palestinians blame the violence on frustration at the failure of peace talks to end Israeli occupation and perceived encroachment of a contested holy site.

Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and social media.”

This BBC article is yet another example of ‘churnalism‘ – the uncritical amplification of a press release put out by interested parties – with a bit of embellishment in the form of standard mantra-like inserts seen in numerous previous reports. It obviously does not provide audiences with information concerning the many issues lying behind the press release’s subject matter and so does nothing to meet the BBC’s remit of enhancing audience understanding of this particular international issue.

Related Articles:

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Don’t mention the money! Where’s the BBC reporting on PA funding of convicted terrorists?

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

The millions of people who visit the BBC News website on a regular basis have been told on countless occasions throughout the years that:

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

In breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC consistently fails to advise its audiences that the view promoted in that frequently used mantra is just one of several legal opinions on the issue and never presents them with any alternative views.

Concurrently, the BBC repeatedly avoids informing its audiences of the fact that some of the communities it brands as ‘illegal settlements’ are located on land purchased by Jews even before Israel came into existence and that Jews lived in those areas until the Jordanian invasion in 1948.

Thus, according to the BBC’s narrative, is completely irrelevant that Jewish communities were expelled during an unprovoked act of aggression by the Jordanian army in 1948 and that the places in which they lived were placed under Jordanian occupation (unrecognised by the international community) for 19 years. Rather, the BBC promotes the narrative that any area conquered by Jordan (or any of the other Arab countries which took part in the military campaign to destroy the nascent Israeli state) is “Palestinian land”.

Whilst we are long used to reading and hearing that narrative, recently the BBC News website managed to outdo even itself by taking it to the absurd.

An article originally published on the BBC News website on October 15th under the headline “Is social media driving Israel-Palestinian violence?” has since been amended numerous times and its later versions – retitled “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?” – include a map displayed under the sub-heading “What is the East Jerusalem connection in all of this?”.

The map – sourced from OCHA and its partner the political NGO B’tselem – purports to show “Palestinian urban areas” in a greenish hue and “Israeli settlements” – i.e. those places the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences are “illegal”, with the obvious implication being that Jews should not be there – in dark red. In addition, the article provides readers with a link to a B’tselem article which promotes the view that all ‘settlements’ should be ‘evacuated’.

As readers can see for themselves below, that map tells BBC audiences that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem – a place where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years – is an “illegal settlement” and that Temple Mount is located in a “Palestinian urban area”.

BBC map settlements

That, however, is what happens when journalists uncritically embrace a narrative promoted by political NGOs and become activists instead of reporters. But whilst such ‘journavism’ undoubtedly serves a predetermined ideological cause, it certainly does not serve the interests of members of the funding public who whom the BBC is obliged to provide information which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues” and it causes serious damage to the BBC’s reputation as a broadcaster of accurate and impartial news.