Half a story time with the BBC’s Middle East editor

The August 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“The humanitarian disaster in Syria continues to unfold but there’s little pressure from outside to stop the killing of civilians. Our correspondent considers the contradictions.”

And:

“Television footage from Idlib in northern Syria continues to provide distressing evidence of civilian suffering. But the world’s leading nations are unwilling or unable to intercede. Jeremy Bowen recalls his visits to the region in former, peaceful times but sees no end to the current violence.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:38 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Events in Idlib province in Syria in 2011 led to a devastating war and Idlib still remains a centre of resistance to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Civilians there are enduring appalling conditions as the Syrian army has driven rebel groups out of other towns and villages elsewhere in the country. Idlib is now the last major bolt-hole against Assad but, says Jeremy Bowen, that may not be for much longer.”

The following day – August 4th – a slightly different version of the same item was aired on BBC World Service radio’s version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As President Bashar al Assad’s forces advance on Idlib province, one of the last pockets of armed resistance to his regime in Syria, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen weighs up what is really at stake, and what course the civil war might take from here onwards.”

Presenter Anu Anand introduced the item (from 06:20 here) as follows:

Anand: “In recent weeks there’s been a surge of violence in the civil war still tearing away at the fabric of Syria and particularly at the country’s north-west and the province of Idlib. This is a part of the Middle East that’s seem millennia of human history and been witness to many an autocratic regime, to countless bloody conflicts and innumerable fighting forces. And since the protests broke out in the Spring of 2011 it’s always been a centre of resistance to the regime of Bashar al Assad. By 2017, as President Assad’s military drove rebel groups out of one urban centre after another elsewhere in Syria, Idlib became the last major bolt-hole for his opponents. But, as Jeremy Bowen explains, that may not be true for much longer.”

Both those introductions – including the highlighted sentences – fail to adequately clarify to listeners that the Assad regime methodically ensured that ‘evacuation agreements’ reached after fighting in other parts of the country often included the transportation of rebels and their families to Idlib province. For example in March 2018 in eastern Ghouta near Damascus:

“Fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to rebel-held Idlib province in two batches starting on Thursday, the Hezbollah military media unit said.”

In April 2018 civilians and rebel fighters from southern Damascus were also sent to Idlib and in July 2018 some 4,000 people were evacuated from south-west Syria to Idlib, with AP noting at the time that:

“The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement. More than half of Idlib’s population of two million is of displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military offensives and evacuations.”

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

“Backed by Russia, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have conquered swathes of territory in recent months. In a now-familiar pattern of evacuation agreements, they have effectively corralled fleeing civilians, moderate rebels and also hardline jihadis into the northern province. The battle Assad is expected to launch on Idlib will likely be one of the final showdowns against the embattled opposition, and possibly mark a bloody end to the civil war.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern for the nearly 3 million people trapped in Idlib. […]

The UN said this week it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for fighters and civilians. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned on Thursday that as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin. He said he feared the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime and al-Qaeda.” 

That important context – along with the fact that in September 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province – was likewise absent from the account given by Jeremy Bowen, which began with a description of his own family trip to the district in 2010 before going on:

Bowen: “Since the [Syrian] regime and its Russian allies launched an offensive against the province three months ago, 450 civilians have been killed. Idlib is the last big piece of land and major population centre they still haven’t recaptured. A few days ago, in a speech overflowing with frustration and anger, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that 440,000 people had been displaced within the Idlib enclave and the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century was in the making. ‘Are you going to shrug your shoulders?’ he asked them ‘or are you going to listen to the children of Idlib and do something about it?’. But the Security Council will not, cannot act. The five permanent members are deeply divided over Syria. The result is a deadlock that discredits an organisation that’s only as strong as the political will of its members.”

Bowen however stopped short of clarifying to audiences that his euphemistic portrayal of a “deeply divided” UN Security Council in fact means Russian vetoes – as reported by AP in June.

“Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. […]

The Security Council has struggled to speak with one voice on Syria in recent years. In one notable example, a 2017 Russian veto put an end to an initiative that determined accountability for chemical attacks in Syria. That effort was run jointly by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

“Russia has used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria.”

After reminiscing about another trip to the Idlib region in 2012, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “Turkey and Russia are the outside powers that matter in Idlib. The regime needs Russia’s power. Turkey wants a big say in the future of land just across its border and to destroy the power and national aspirations of Kurds who did the hard fighting on the ground against IS. And caught in the centre of it all are three million people in Idlib province. That includes tens of thousands of armed men loyal to a range of militias under an alliance led by a Salafist jihadist fighting group, some of whose leaders come from Al Qaeda. The regime and the Russians say they’re fighting terrorists. Many in the West would not disagree even as they deplore their methods.”

Just as was the case when he reported from Syria in 2015, Bowen made no effort to balance that promotion of a Syrian regime talking point by clarifying to BBC audiences that many more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes.

And so, once again, BBC audiences get a carefully framed story on Syria which omits relevant information essential for its proper understanding from the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.  

Related Articles:

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

As can be seen below, the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the  1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.

“The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the Alpha side of the ceasefire line. […]

Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return to the Bravo side. However, the security situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to full redeployment of UNDOF troops. Council members continue to support the eventual complete return of UNDOF to the Bravo side but are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.”

As the UN Security Council noted when it last extended UNDOF’s mandate, the so-called demilitarized zone has long failed to live up to its name.

“Stressing that there should be no military forces in the area of separation other than those of UNDOF,

Strongly condemning the continued fighting in the area of separation, calling on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operations and to respect international humanitarian law,

Condemning the use of heavy weapons by both the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the ongoing Syrian conflict in the area of separation, including the use of tanks by the Syrian armed forces and opposition during clashes,”

Moreover, it was recently reported that Syrian regime troops have taken over an abandoned UNDOF position in the DMZ in violation of the 1974 agreement.

While the UNSC stated that “the ultimate goal is for the peacekeepers to return to their positions in UNDOF’s area of operations as soon as practicable” that is currently not the case and so the BBC’s portrayal of the DMZ as being an area in which UNDOF has a physical presence is inaccurate and misleading to audiences.

 

 

 

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

On the morning of March 31st the BBC News website report published a report that was originally titled “Gaza-Israel border: UN seeks investigation over protest deaths”. Some seven hours afterwards that headline was changed to “Gaza-Israel border: Palestinians mourn border dead” and, like many versions of an article on the same topic that preceded it, the report refrained from informing BBC audiences that the mass protest on the Gaza border, which on March 30th included numerous violent incidents, was initiated and organised by Hamas and additional terror factions in the Gaza Strip.

Rather, BBC audiences were steered towards the view that this was some kind of spontaneous protest:

“Protesters are returning to a tent city put up near the border in preparation for the demonstration to resume, said AFP news agency. Palestinians have also called a general strike.

Thousands of Palestinians marched to the border at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed the Great March of Return. […]

Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border.”

The BBC’s explanation of the purpose of the six-week stunt was as follows:

“Hundreds were wounded at the start of protests demanding a right for Palestinians to return to former family homes in what is now Israel. […]

The aim of the protest is to assert what Palestinians regard as their right to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

As in the previous report, no effort was made to inform readers that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution or that – as noted by David Horovitz – its aim is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

“Organizing and encouraging mass demonstrations at the border in the so-called “March of Return” to face off against Israeli troops, while sanctimoniously and disingenuously branding the campaign non-violent, is merely the latest iteration of Hamas’s cynical use of Gazans as the human shields for its aggression.

Just in case anybody forgot, demanding a “right of return” to Israel for tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants is nothing less than a call for the destruction of Israel by demographic means. No Israeli government could accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.”

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that the basis for that demand is a non-binding UN GA resolution dating from December 1948 that was opposed at the time by Arab states and which (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees and – contrary to often heard assertions – does not grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. Rather, it recommends that refugees be allowed to return to their homeland if they wish to “live at peace with their neighbours”.

The BBC’s report also told readers that:

“The UN Security Council condemned the violence after an emergency session.

UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the council: “Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law,” he said.”

Readers were not informed that the UNSC “emergency session” was called by Kuwait (which expelled most of its Palestinian residents in 1991) or that:

“The Security Council meeting was initially held behind closed doors, but it was later moved to an open hearing after it became clear the 15-member body could not agree on a statement condemning the clashes.”

In fact, contrary to the impression given by the BBC, no resolution was issued by the UNSC.

The article closed by telling BBC audiences that:

Riyad Mansour is of course not “[t]he UN envoy for Palestine”: he is a Palestinian envoy to the UN who holds the title “Permanent Observer of Palestine”. BBC Watch has requested a correction to that inaccuracy.

Over twelve hours after its original appearance the article’s headline was amended yet again. The two later versions of the article titled “Gaza-Israel violence: Israel warns of action inside Gaza” included information about the identity of some of the people killed during the previous day’s rioting.

The BBC, however, was apparently unable to find the Hamas statement concerning five members of its Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades for itself and instead resorted to citing second-hand news. Despite having reported the previous day that Omar Samour was described by the IDF as having been engaged in “suspicious activity” near the border fence, the BBC failed to provide that information in this report.

The BBC did not bother to inform its audiences that at least ten of the sixteen people killed during the violent incidents on March 30th were identified as members of terror groups and later on in the article readers were told that:

“Although most protesters stayed in the encampments, some groups of youths ignored organisers’ calls to stay away from the fence and headed closer to Israeli positions.” [emphasis added]

The BBC also continued to avoid telling audiences in its own words that Hamas and additional terror factions initiated and organised the ‘protests’.

“Brig Gen Ronen Manelis told journalists that Hamas – the militant group that controls Gaza – was using Palestinian protests as a cover for launching attacks on Israel. […]

Later Gen Manelis said Friday’s events were “not a protest demonstration” but “organised terrorist activity” by Hamas.

“If it continues, we shall have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip against terrorist targets which we understand to be behind these events,” he said according to AFP news agency.”

Obviously BBC audiences will not be able to understand this story fully if they are not informed by the BBC in its own words that this stunt was initiated organised by Hamas and additional terror factions in the Gaza Strip and if they are not given the full picture regarding the motivation behind Palestinian demands for the so-called ‘right of return’. To date, after three days of reporting on this story, the BBC has failed to provide that essential information. 

Related Articles:

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA) 

 

BBC News still promoting information on Jerusalem from partisan NGOs

In recent days the BBC News website published two reports concerning campaigns at the UN directed against the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as announced two weeks ago.

On December 18th the website published a 533 word report titled “Jerusalem: US vetoes UN resolution rejecting Trump’s declaration“. Fifty-six of those words were used to promote the theme that the US announcement has caused Palestinian violence. Explanation of the motion presented to the UN Security Council by Egypt (including a link) was provided in 137 words and Palestinian reactions to the US veto were given 61 words of coverage. Remarks made by the US Ambassador to the UN got just 70 words of coverage and BBC audiences were not informed of the points raised in Ms Haley’s explanation of why the US vetoed the draft resolution.

Some minimal background information on Jerusalem was presented to readers in 104 words – mostly recycled from previous BBC articles in recent weeks.

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Seeing as the BBC chose to provide readers with a link to the text of the Egyptian draft resolution and given that the document states that the motion reaffirms “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”, one might have thought that the BBC would have put more effort into explaining how “the east” of Jerusalem came to be “previously occupied by Jordan” and the significance of that fact.

The article also includes a map of Jerusalem produced by the partisan political NGO B’tselem which – among other things – portrays the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as an “Israeli settlement”.

On December 20th the BBC News website published a report headlined “UN Jerusalem vote: US ‘will be taking names’” which relates to the next upcoming stage of actions against the US announcement concerning Jerusalem.

“The US says it “will be taking names” during a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution criticising its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Permanent representative Nikki Haley warned member states that President Donald Trump had asked her to report on “who voted against us” on Thursday.

The draft resolution does not mention the US, but says any decisions on Jerusalem should be cancelled.

On Monday, the US vetoed a similar motion at the UN Security Council.”

The article promotes the exact same context-lite background concerning Jerusalem seen in the previous report. It also includes – yet again – the same map of Jerusalem produced by B’tselem.

Between December 4th and December 20th visitors to the BBC News website were shown the partisan maps of Jerusalem produced by UNOCHA and/or B’tselem in no fewer than eleven reports including the two above.

December 4thJerusalem: Opposition to mooted Trump Israel announcement grows” 

December 5thJerusalem: Turkey warns Trump against crossing ‘red line’”, Trump’s Jerusalem calls spark warnings from Arab leaders

December 6thUS to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital“, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, says Donald Trump“, Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace

December 7thTrumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift” 

December 8th: “Jerusalem: Trump’s envoy Haley berates ‘outrageous UN hostility’

December 13th: “Muslim nations urge recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital” 

Both B’tselem and UNOCHA are active in political campaigning against Israel.

“In 2016 alone, OCHA-oPt requested $571 million from international donors towards various causes. Among other things, the money was designated for highly biased NGOs, including: Islamic Relief Worldwide, which, in June 2014, was outlawed by Israel for its alleged role in funneling money to Hamas (a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S., EU and Canada); the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a leader of anti-Israel “lawfare” campaigns used to demonize Israel and harass Israeli officials; and the pro-BDS Ma’an Development Center.

UN OCHA also manages “Thematic Clusters” – for biased, political, radical NGOs to manipulate and circulate unconfirmed, false, and distorted statistics to the UN and media. For example, during the 2014 Gaza war, the OCHA “Protection Cluster” designated Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Mezan, and B’Tselem, to provide “data” regarding casualty statistics. These NGOs, which lack credible methodologies for analysis of casualty claims, appear to have been repeating information originating with Hamas officials in Gaza.”

How the BBC – committed as it is to the provision of “accurate and impartial” reporting to its audiences – thinks it can justify its serial promotion of one-sided maps produced by partisan NGOs that advance a blatant anti-Israel agenda remains unclear.  

 

 

BBC ignores calls for UNIFIL mandate change – in English

At the end of this month the mandate of the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon – UNIFIL – will expire and its renewal is scheduled for discussion at the UN Security Council.

That mandate of course includes clauses which have not been met throughout the last eleven years:

“Assist the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] in taking steps towards the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an free [sic] of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL deployed in this area;

Assist the Government of Lebanon in securing its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel.”

However, this time round the mandate’s renewal may perhaps not be as automatic as in previous years. On August 7th the US mission to the UN put out a press release:

“On Friday, August 4, UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted a letter to the Security Council recommending that the Council renew the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is due to expire on August 31. In the letter, the Secretary-General called for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the authority of Lebanon’s government. He also noted the illegal presence of armed personnel, weapons, and infrastructure inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, and his intention to look at ways in which UNIFIL could enhance its efforts against them.

“We share the Secretary-General’s strong desire to enhance UNIFIL’s efforts to prevent the spread of illegal arms in southern Lebanon,” said Ambassador Haley. “These arms – which are almost entirely in the hands of Hizballah terrorists – threaten the security and stability of the region. UNIFIL must increase its capacity and commitment to investigating and reporting these violations. The United States will continue to raise the threat posed by Hizballah as we seek significant improvements to UNIFIL when the Security Council renews its mandate this month.””

The UN Secretary General’s letter to the Security Council stated:

“The government of Lebanon must exercise effective authority over all Lebanese territory, prevent hostile actions from its territory, ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, in addition to United Nations personnel, and also ensure the disarmament of all armed groups”.

Whether or not those demands based on UNSC resolution 1701 will finally be met is obviously questionable given the make-up of the current Lebanese government.

Nevertheless, reports concerning Ambassador Haley’s intention to seek “significant improvements” to UNIFIL’s mandate were seen on many media sites – but the story did not receive any coverage on the BBC’s English language platforms.

In contrast, editors at the BBC Arabic website did consider that story newsworthy and an AFP report on the topic was translated into Arabic for publication on that site.

Related Articles:

BBC News yawns over another violation of UNSC resolution 1701

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701