Examining UNHRC statements uncritically amplified by BBC News

On May 18th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel’s Gaza response ‘wholly disproportionate’ – UN rights chief” which was largely devoted to uncritical amplification of statements made by the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The UN human rights chief says Israel used “wholly disproportionate” force against Palestinian border protests which have left over 100 people dead.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein told a meeting in Geneva that Gazans were effectively “caged in a toxic slum” and Gaza’s occupation by Israel had to end. […]

Mr Zeid told the emergency session on Gaza that the “stark contrast in casualties on both sides is… suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response” by Israel.

An Israeli soldier was “reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone” on Monday, he said, while 43 Palestinians were killed at the site of the protests. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed away from what he called the “hot spots”.

He said there had been “little evidence of any [Israeli] attempt to minimise casualties”. Israel’s actions might, he said, “constitute ‘wilful killings’ – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.

Mr Zeid said he supported a call for an “international, independent and impartial” investigation into the violence in Gaza, adding that “those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable”.

“The occupation must end,” he said, “so the people of Palestine can be liberated, and the people of Israel liberated from it.

“End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear.””

Of course Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip almost thirteen years ago but “the violence” on Hamas’ part has only increased since.

Without clarifying either that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people or that it was occupied by Egypt between 1948 and 1967, the BBC told readers of this article that:

“Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. Although it withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005, the UN still considers the territory occupied because Israel retains control over the territory’s air space, coastal waters and shared border.”

This is not the first time that the BBC has made that claim regarding the UN’s approach. As has been pointed out here before:

“In January 2012, responding to a question from UN Watch, the UN’s chief spokesperson explained why the UN still refers to the Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’ even though Hamas has said it is not and Israel disengaged from the area in 2005.

Spokesperson:  “Under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East peace process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The United Nations will accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view.”

Question:  “Can I follow up on that?  It is the legal definition of occupation and why is Gaza considered occupied?”

Spokesperson:  “Well, as I have just said, there are Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that cover this.  For example, there was a Security Council resolution adopted on 8 January 2009 — 1860 — and that stressed that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967.  And as you know, Security Council resolutions do have force in international law.

Furthermore, there is a resolution from the General Assembly from 20 December 2010, and while it noted the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, it also stressed, in quotes, “the need for respect and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.  So just to repeat that the United Nations will continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view on the matter.””

In other words, no mention of “air space, coastal waters and shared border” whatsoever but the assertion that if part of the territory is occupied, then all of the territory is considered occupied, since there are UN resolutions declaring that the two territories are considered united.

The only criticism of Zeid Raad al-Hussein’s statements seen in this article came in the form of 66 words describing generalised reactions from Israel’s Ambassador and The US Chargé d’Affaires. The BBC itself did not attempt to provide audiences with information which would enable them to judge the accuracy of his claims. 

UN Watch, however, has done just that in a useful article titled “Examining Statements by Top UN Human Rights Officials on Gaza Violence” which analyses statements made by Zeid Raad al-Hussein (who also appeared on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 18th) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Michael Lynk who likewise appeared in BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ – see here and here.

For example, with regard to Zeid’s claim that “[t]he stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response…” UN Watch notes that:

“This is a completely incorrect statement of the law. As explained above proportionality in IHL [International Humanitarian Law] is not a comparison of the numbers, but a question of whether the military commander made the assessment that the expected civilian casualties would not be excessive in relation the anticipated military gain in that situation. According to Zeid, Israel must allow its soldiers and citizens to be attacked and killed before it can fight back in self-defense. That is not the law.”

With regard to Zeid’s quoting of Hamas-supplied casualty statistics without any independent verification (“…43 Palestinians were killed at the site of the protests. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed away from what he called the “hot spots”.”), UN Watch comments:

“Saying how many “Palestinians” or “demonstrators” were killed wrongly implies that all those killed were peaceful, non-violent protesters. This is an outright lie. Hamas’s own political bureau member Salah al-Bardawil, admitted on May 16, 2018 that 50 of those killed in the previous day’s clashes had been Hamas operatives, and called them “martyrs.””

The BBC’s uncritical and unquestioning amplification of Zeid’s statements includes the claim that:

“Israel’s actions might, he said, “constitute ‘wilful killings’ – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.”

However, UN Watch explains that:

“…Palestinian rioters directly participating in hostilities are not entitled to the protection afforded to civilians. Article 51(3) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1949) permits attacks on civilians “for such time as they take direct part in hostilities.” According to the ICRC commentary, this means “acts of war which by their nature or purpose are likely to cause actual harm to the personnel and equipment of the enemy armed forces.” Therefore, engaging in violent acts intended to breach Israel’s border fence with Gaza and/or cause harm on the Israeli side of the fence would cause rioters to lose protected civilian status.”

It comes of course as no surprise whatsoever to see the BBC unquestioningly amplify statements made by the head of a UN body that the BBC regularly quotes and promotes uncritically, especially as those statements dovetail with many of its own regularly promoted themes such as ‘disproportionate’ Israeli actions and ‘occupation’ of the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC cannot claim to be providing audiences with information that will help them “understand” this subject – as it is obliged to do – by blindly regurgitating statements ostensibly based on facts and law without establishing their accuracy and while failing to provide any alternative view.

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BBC News website corrects Palestinian envoy’s title

As noted here earlier in the week, a March 31st BBC report relating to the previous day’s violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip closed by telling readers 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.”

The BBC News website responded:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that the Israeli military has warned it could take action against “terrorist targets” inside the Gaza Strip. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43603199)

You raise a fair point and we’ve since amended this sentence to refer to “The Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour…””

No footnote has been appended to the report and the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that anyone who read this article in the first three days after its publication will still be under the erroneous impression that the UN has an envoy “for Palestine” called Riyad Mansour.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

On January 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” on its ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages. Readers were told that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m. […]

The US funds almost 30% of the UN agency’s work overall and gave $370m to UNRWA last year. The money withheld is part of this year’s first instalment.”

Later on in the report more details on funding were provided under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?” – with the BBC finding it necessary to inform readers that:

“By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that the vast majority of that different kind of aid is conditioned on it being spent on American defence contractors.

Readers also found the following:

“”This is not aimed at punishing” anyone, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, adding that it was due to a US desire to see reforms at the agency.

The $65m is being withheld “for future consideration”, a US official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official added.”

BBC Audiences were not told what such “reforms” might entail although, according to a report in Ha’aretz, Ms Nauert did clarify that point in her remarks.

‘”This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” Nauert said during her daily press briefing. “The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around,” she added. 

According to Nauert’s explanation, “the United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.” Nauert compared the decision regarding UNRWA to the Trump administration’s push for members of NATO to increase their defense spending: “Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.”‘

Under the sub-heading “What is Israel’s position?” readers were told that:

“Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called for aid to UNRWA to be scrapped completely.

He accused the agency of misusing humanitarian aid and supporting “anti-Israel propaganda”.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” he said.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Danon’s statement included additional points which the BBC apparently chose to edit out.

‘“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” he said.  

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities.  It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed toward their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” Danon added.’

As readers may recall, the BBC did not report on the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau. Stories about Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools have also been ignored – as have those concerning antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees and political campaigning by a senior official at UNRWA.

The BBC does not have an online profile for UNRWA but a profile of the United Nations published in 2011 gives descriptions of the two UN agencies dealing with refugees:

“UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – safeguards rights and well-being of refugees; based in Geneva

UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) [sic] – dedicated agency providing assistance solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants”

Readers of this article (and many previous BBC reports) were not provided with relevant background information such as the fact that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries. Audiences were not informed that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status.  

Readers were not told why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. Neither were they informed of the fact that while the UNHCR is “mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement” of refugees, no such mandate currently applies to UNRWA.

While that relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO.

“The withdrawal of funds would, he [Egeland] said, have “devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who depend on the agency for their education”.

It would also “deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare up in the conflict”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group for Palestinian factions, tweeted that the Trump administration seemed to be following an Israeli policy of dismantling “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees”.”

Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

 

 

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of the UN GA Jerusalem vote – part one

The session concerning the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city that was held at the UN General Assembly on December 21st was the subject of several articles published on the BBC News website.

The day before the meeting took place – December 20th – an article headlined “UN Jerusalem vote: US ‘will be taking names’” which was previously discussed here appeared on the BBC News website.

An additional article published on the same day ran under the headline “Jerusalem UN vote: Trump threatens US aid recipients” and like the day’s earlier report, it too promoted the partisan map of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem that has been regularly featured in past BBC content and – inter alia – portrays the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem as an ‘Israeli settlement’. The article also included the exact same copy/paste context-lite background concerning Jerusalem seen in previous reports. 

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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.”

Following the UN GA vote on December 21st, the BBC News website published an article titled “Jerusalem: UN resolution rejects Trump’s declaration” which was amended numerous times. That article too included the exact same ‘background’ concerning Jerusalem and the partisan B’tselem map. Readers were provided with a break-down of the results.

“The non-binding resolution was approved by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine others voting against.”

Later on readers were also told that:

“There were 21 countries who did not turn up for the vote.”

Despite 63 nations (33.7% of the total) not having voted in favour of the resolution, the apparently mathematically challenged BBC Breaking News Twitter account declared that “three quarters” of the 193 UN members had voted for the resolution.

On December 22nd the BBC News website published a ‘guide’ titled “How did your country vote on the Jerusalem resolution?” and on December 23rd an article by Nada Tawfik was published under the title “US plays hardball at UN over Jerusalem vote“.

In that article Tawfik portrayed the chronic anti-Israel bias at the UN as a ‘claim’ made by the current US administration.

What a difference a year, and a new administration, makes. When the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made her debut at the UN headquarters in New York, she warned: “For those who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names.”

The new Trump administration came in openly hostile toward the international body for being, it claimed, biased against Israel.”

Tawfik’s article also promoted a quote concerning international law that is liable to mislead audiences.

“French ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution adopted “only confirms relevant international law and provisions on Jerusalem. This vote must not divide or exclude”.”

In summary, the BBC News website published five articles pertaining to the December 21st UN GA vote, three of which included inadequate historic background and promoted a partisan map produced by a political NGO. The additional two articles did not provide any information whatsoever that would enhance audience understanding of the background to the story.

Once again we see that the BBC’s coverage of the topic of Jerusalem is focused on promoting a specific political narrative rather than on providing audiences with the full range of information and opinions needed for them to make up their own minds on the subject.  

Related Articles:

BBC News still promoting information on Jerusalem from partisan NGOs

The BBC WS finds a use for the word terror, misleads on Jerusalem

Listeners to the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ on December 13th heard two items relating to that day’s meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Turkey.

The first item (from 14:05 here) was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy thus:

“Muslim leaders from around the world have been meeting in Istanbul today to formulate a response to President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was convened by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and he called Mr Trump’s announcement illegal and provocative.”

Listeners then heard a voiceover translation of Erdogan’s remarks.

V/O: “With this decision Israel – the perpetrator of crimes such as occupation, siege, illegal settlements, demolishing houses, displacement, property and land grabs, disproportionate violence and murder – has been rewarded for all its terror acts. Although he’s alone, this reward is given by Trump.”

That defamation went completely unchallenged by Coomarasamy who simply went on to say:

“Well we hope to be speaking to our correspondent in Istanbul a bit later in the programme.”

That indeed was the case, with Coomarasamy introducing the second item (from 18:54 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “And let’s return to that story in Istanbul and the meeting of the heads of government from Islamic countries around the world, meeting to agree a formula about their response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We can speak to our correspondent in Istanbul Mark Lowen now. So Mark, what have they actually agreed?”

Lowen: “Well it was a 23-point statement, Jamie, that was put out by the Organisation for [sic] Islamic Cooperation, calling on countries to recognise Palestine as an independent state and East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine. Other highlights in the statement included rejecting and condemning Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem as null and void and also calling on the UN to reaffirm the legal status of Jerusalem – i.e. as the capital of two future states.”

Mark Lowen’s claim that the “legal status” of Jerusalem is already defined by the UN as “the capital of two future states” is clearly inaccurate and misleading to audiences. Just days before, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process stated that the city’s status depends on negotiations between the parties concerned.

“The United Nations position was clear, he emphasized.  “Jerusalem is a final status issue for which a comprehensive, just and lasting solution must be achieved through negotiations between the two parties and on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions and mutual agreements.””

Lowen continued:

Lowen: “So this was an attempt by 57 member OIC to come together to bridge differences and to harden its response to Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. The problem is that of course some Muslim leaders are more pro-Trump than others, so for example Egypt and Saudi Arabia only sent ministers to this meeting – not heads of state – possibly to keep the US on board. And really, beyond the kind of tough talk and this call, will there be any kind of hard bite? It’s hard to know really and certainly it is unlikely to change White House policy.”

Coomarasamy: “Yeah, I mean is it simply –as you say – really an attempt to show a united face even if perhaps there isn’t quite one there? And as you say, does this organisation have any sort of track record in influencing global opinion?”

One would have course have expected at this point that listeners would have been told something of the OIC’s persistent anti-Israel activities at the UN and of the relevant aims laid down in its founding charter – but that was not the case.

Lowen: “Not really and you know it’s hard to see this more than a talking shop. I mean yes there will be a call at the UN to…to bring this to the table. The joint communique says that if the UN Security Council does not act to reaffirm the status of Jerusalem, then the UN General Assembly must do so. But when you’ve got the US as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, you know, anything that would kind of go against White House policy is going to be vetoed.”

Lowen did not bother to inform listeners that UN General Assembly resolutions are non-binding before going on:

Lowen: “So, you know, the US is fairly isolated on this although of course it’s got the support of Israel and according to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, there are other countries that say they want to follow suit but at the moment none have spoken up. We’ll have to see whether or not this can…the statement today can really give a proper semblance of unity to the Islamic world because up until this conference the Turkish prime minister for example accused some Arab countries of a very weak response and being timid towards the US. So I think there are really certainly divisions among Muslim leaders themselves.”

Coomarasamy: “Do they have any proposals for who might be a broker in a future peace process?”

Lowen’s answer to that question included noteworthy use of the word ‘forthright’ – a synonym for which is ‘honest’.

Lowen: “They’ve called on the UN to replace the US as a peace broker. The protagonists at this conference – Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was very forthright: he accused the US of bullying the rest of the world and said Israel was a state of terror – the Palestinian president, the Jordanian king, all saying that the US has lost its position as a sort of impartial peace broker and that the declaration by Donald Trump has disqualified the US as an impartial player in the peace process, so they’ve called the UN now to take its position. We’ll have to see whether the United Nations can come together and respond to it.”

Coomarasamy: “And interestingly they talk about the potential this decision has to increase terrorism – I guess sort of using the sort of language that Donald Trump, they hope, will resonate with him.”

Lowen: “Yeah, I suppose so. I mean they accuse the Israelis of…Turkey’s accused the Israelis of terrorising Palestinians and Turkey said that by supporting Israel the Americans – or the US – is complicit to terror. So I suppose yeah, they’re kind of taking a tone that Donald Trump might listen to or might hear but probably not heed.”

Remarkably the BBC – which of course serially refrains from describing terror attacks on Israelis as terrorism (supposedly in order to avoid appearing “to be taking sides“) and uses the euphemism ‘militants’ to describe terror organisations such as Hamas, the PIJ and Hizballah – obviously has no problem with unquestioning and uncritical repetition and amplification of the Turkish president’s use of the word terror for the purpose of delegitimisation and defamation of Israel.

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BBC 2’s ‘Newsnight’ squeezes Israel into Bosnia report

Next week the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is due to deliver its verdict following the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

On November 16th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ aired a report on that story (available in the UK here) by the programme’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban who previously covered the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

In addition to Urban’s filmed report viewers saw a discussion between programme presenter Emily Maitlis and Mark Urban, with the former introducing the item as follows:

Maitlis: “It’s time for the closing arguments in the most serious war crimes trial since Nuremberg at the end of World War Two.”

Later on in the conversation, Maitlis asked Urban:

Maitlis: “We have seen more conflicts since then; will we expect more prosecutions?”

Describing Mladić as “the architect of ethnic cleansing”, Urban noted that “he is coming up for sentencing and it is very unusual” before going on to name Syria’s Bashar al Assad and Libya’s Gaddafi.

In the same breath, he then went on to tell viewers that:

“…some people would like to see the Israelis in front of the criminal court and all of these cases have been vetoed…”

Of course some (and indeed many of the same) people would also like to see Britain in front of the International Criminal Court – particularly in relation to its military action in Iraq – but Mark Urban did not mention that.

Instead, after Maitlis had set the scene with a reference to the Nuremberg Trials and just seconds after viewers had heard two references to ethnic cleansing, he casually put an entire nation – “the Israelis” – in the same category as named heads of regimes infamous for their extreme acts of cruelty towards their own people.

BBC News website tones down Assad regime propaganda

The recently released report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) concerning the chemical weapons attack in April in Khan Sheikhoun was of course covered by many media organisations.

Once again many Western outlets (e.g. Reuters, NYT, Guardian, Telegraph) managed to strike an appropriate balance between portraying the report’s findings and putting the related denials of the Assad regime and its Russian patrons into appropriate perspective.

However, the BBC News website’s October 27th report on that story – “Assad forces behind deadly Syria sarin attack – UN” – yet again displayed false balance with its extensive promotion of responses from those sources.

“However, Syria’s foreign ministry said on Friday it “categorically denies” the report’s conclusions.

“This report and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth and distort the exact information on what happened at Khan Sheikhun,” the statement said.

The ministry went on to accuse the report of being a tool with which the UN could “exert more political pressures”, according to news agency AFP.

Syria’s opposition and Western powers have blamed the incident on a government air strike on the area, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia have repeatedly said the incident was fabricated.

Damascus and Moscow say an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical munitions. […]

Speaking to the Interfax news agency, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the UN report had “many inconsistencies”.

He said: “Even the first cursory read shows many inconsistencies, logical discrepancies, using doubtful witness accounts and unverified evidence.”” [emphasis added]

The BBC did not provide a link to the AFP report from which it ostensibly quoted the highlighted statement above but one of AFP’s articles on the story includes the following:

“”Syria categorically denies the content of the joint report between the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“This report and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth and distort the exact information on what happened at Khan Sheikhun.” […]

The Syrian statement, quoted by official media, denounced the “method of investigation”, saying it was based on “the words of the criminals who committed this immoral act in Khan Sheikhun and on dubious witnesses”.

The ministry said the UN report was written on the basis of “instructions from the US administration and Western countries to exert more political pressure” on Damascus.”

In other words, while the BBC tells its audiences that the Syrian statement said that the report “could” potentially be used by the UN in the future to exert political pressure on the Assad regime, AFP in fact reports that the Syrian statement claimed that the JIM report was intentionally written for that purpose.

A look at the report put out by the Syrian Ministry of Information linked state media organisation SANA confirms that the Assad regime is in fact claiming that the report’s findings were dictated in advance by “Western countries”. [emphasis added]

“Syria rejected the report of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which was announced yesterday, stressing that it came in implementation of the instructions of the US administration and Western countries to exert more political pressures and threats to Syria’s sovereignty. […]

The source said that since the establishment of this mechanism, Syria has repeatedly expressed that the Joint Investigative Mechanism needs to carry out its work in a professional and impartial manner and that if its reports were prepared in advance by the Western intelligence services then its work would be ineffective, noting that the manner of its investigative procedures showed the dominance of Western countries over it.”

Moreover, the Assad regime goes on to accuse some Western countries of supporting “the terrorist parties” that it alleges were in fact responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

“The source asserted that Syria has cooperated with the UN-OPCW mechanism and did not delay or hesitate to work with them in various fields, including providing accurate information required to show the fact that the terrorist parties had used chemical weapons directly and indirectly and are supported by parties in the region and beyond, particularly the US, France, and Britain, and their tools in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and other countries.”

This of course is far from the first time that BBC audiences have seen amplification of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box and give an impression of ‘balanced’ reporting. This time, however, that propaganda was apparently too ridiculous even for the BBC and so it was toned down and distorted into an inaccurate representation of the Syrian Foreign Ministry statement.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

BBC News ignores a case of UN anti-Israel bias

Back in March 2016 the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel rejects database of settlement-linked firms” that related to a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council the previous day and which was discussed here.

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the database will provide a resource for any organisation wanting to divest from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

It will potentially include a number of Israeli and international firms working in industries from banking to construction and security services, our correspondent adds.”

Recently an Israeli communications company received a letter from the UNHRC which has been making local news.

“The UNHRC recently sent a letter to the CEO of Bezeq, a major Israeli telecoms firm, accusing it of promoting settlement activity in Israel and of providing cellular services to areas that the Council believes are Palestinian territory. […]

The UNHRC threatens to add Bezeq to its database of companies operating in what it claims are Israeli settlements and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Bezeq owns approximately 40 real estate properties in the West Bank used for telecommunications infrastructure, and operates antennas throughout the West Bank,” the UNHRC wrote in its letter.”

“Bezeq provides landline, cellular, internet, and cable TV services to residents of settlements in the West Bank,” according to the UNHRC, which considers this activity a violation of its accords.”

Apparently some 150 such letters have been sent by the UNHRC.

“The United Nations reportedly sent letters to some 150 Israeli and overseas companies, threatening to add them to its blacklist of firms operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. […]

An unnamed western diplomat told Haaretz that more than half of the companies that received the warning letter were Israeli, about 30 were from the US and the remainder from countries including Germany, Norway and South Korea. The diplomat added that [UN Human Rights Commissioner] Hussein also sent copies of the letter to foreign ministries of several countries who are home to companies which may be added to the blacklist.”

Despite the fact that numerous international companies do business in additional locations  categorised as occupied territories (e.g. north Cyprus, Western Sahara), the UN Human Rights Council has not passed resolutions mandating the creation of a database of businesses operating in any location other than those it views as being occupied Israel.

In recent days BBC audiences have seen and heard a number of reports concerning the UN (for example here, here and here) in which the phrase anti-Israel bias was placed in scare quotes and that bias was described in qualifying terms such as “perceived”.

The BBC, however, has ignored the story of the letters sent by the UNHRC that demonstrate clear anti-Israel bias at the United Nations. 

Related Articles:

BBC fails to tell the whole story of UNHRC anti-Israel resolution

BBC fails (again) to give audiences the full story in UN HRC article 

BBC policy on portrayal of UN anti-Israel bias on display again

The October 12th announcement from the US State Department regarding withdrawal from UNESCO was the subject of an article that originally appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages under the interestingly punctuated title “US quits Unesco over ‘anti-Israel bias'” and several hours later had its headline changed to “Israel to join US in quitting Unesco“.

The first five versions of the article carried the original headline with versions 2 and 3 telling BBC audiences that:

“…last year, Israel suspended cooperation with Unesco after the agency adopted a controversial resolution which made no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem.”

And:

“…earlier this year, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Unesco for declaring the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank a World Heritage site.”

The UNESCO resolution mentioned in that first paragraph was passed in October 2016 and the site warily described by the BBC as having “Jewish ties” is none other than the holiest place in Judaism – Temple Mount. BBC reporting at the time failed to provide audiences with the background information which would enable understanding of that resolution’s context: the long-standing Palestinian campaign to erase Jewish heritage and history that is part of its tactical delegitimisation of Israel. 

The resolution to which the second paragraph refers was passed in July 2017 and BBC reporting at the time likewise inaccurately claimed that the Israeli prime minister had condemned UNESCO’s designation of the location as a World Heritage site when in fact Israel’s objections were rooted in UNESCO’s designation of the old city of Hebron as a ‘Palestinian’ site – and the consequent erasure of its Jewish history and heritage – rather than in any objection to conservation per se. 

Only in version 4 of this article (which appeared well over two hours after its initial publication) was some clarification added to that second paragraph:

“…earlier this year, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Unesco for declaring the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank a Palestinian World Heritage site.

He accused Unesco of ignoring Judaism’s ancient connection to the city, which includes the crypt where its matriarchs and patriarchs are buried.”

An insert of analysis from Jonathan Marcus that was added from version 4 onward included the following: [emphasis added]

“But it is the organisation’s perceived anti-Israel bias that is the fundamental issue here. It has condemned Israel in the past for its activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and earlier this year it designated the old city of Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site – a step Israel insisted denied centuries of Jewish history there, not least the Tomb of the Patriarchs that dates back to biblical times.”

UNESCO’s bias against Israel is of course more than just “perceived” – as recorded by UN Watch, between 2009 and 2013 inclusive:

“UN Watch has counted no less than 46 UNESCO resolutions against Israel, one on Syria, and zero on Iran, North Korea, Sudan or any other country in the world.” 

UNESCO’s outgoing director general has criticised the body she headed in the past and the previous UN Secretary General admitted ‘disproportionate’ focus on Israel at the UN as a whole, as did his predecessor as far back as 2006. Earlier this year the full complement of US Senators sent a letter to the new UN head demanding an end to the “unacceptable” anti-Israel bias at that organisation and former US officials including  Susan RiceHillary Clinton and Samantha Power have made the exact same point. In March 2015, while speaking to the UN Human Rights Council, the then US Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, decrying the fact that no country other than Israel has a permanent agenda item on the council’s schedule. “The (council’s) obsession with Israel actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization.”

Bizarrely though, the BBC continues to put the phrase anti-Israel bias in scare quotes and to portray endemic UN bias to its audiences as “perceived”.

Related Articles:

BBC report on UNESCO row marred by lack of context and previous omission

Another deficient BBC News report on UNESCO denial of Jewish heritage

Third time unlucky for BBC audiences trying to understand UNESCO charades

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

BBC erases the real story in report on UNESCO’s Hebron resolution

The missing word in BBC R4 reporting on UNESCO Hebron resolution

BBC ME correspondent: Jewish history in Hebron is a ‘view’

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ dodges the issue of UN bias against Israel

 

 

 

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

On September 6th the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report which identifies the Syrian regime as having carried out the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this year.

“As part of an aerial campaign in northern Hama and southern Idlib, on 4 April the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Shaykhun, killing over 80 people, most of whom were women and children. The aerial campaign also targeted medical facilities throughout the area, resulting in a severe weakening of their ability to provide assistance to victims of the sarin attack and a consequent increase in the number of civilian casualties. In Idlib, Hamah, and eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syrian forces used weaponized chlorine. These attacks constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the report notes, which the Syrian Arab Republic ratified in 2013 following a previous sarin attack.”

Naturally that story was given extensive media coverage and many outlets managed to strike an appropriate balance between portraying the UN report’s findings and putting the related denials of the Assad regime and its Russian allies into appropriate perspective.

Washington Post:

“The Syrian government and its Russian backers had insisted that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was the fault of opposition forces in the area, or that it was entirely fabricated. The inquiry found no supporting evidence for either claim.”

Deutsche Welle:

“[UN commission chair] Pinheiro also ruled out claims by Assad and Russian officials following the sarin attack that military strikes had hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces that contained sarin gas.”

Guardian:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, but the report said the Syrian regime’s version of events, that an unknown weapons depot had been hit, was “extremely unlikely”.” 

Reuters:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. It said its strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces, a claim “excluded” by Pinheiro.”

New York Times:

“The panel’s findings are the first authoritative statement to pin responsibility for the attack unequivocally on the Syrian government.

Although a number of foreign governments, watchdogs and news organizations, including The New York Times, had concluded that Syrian forces were most likely behind the attack, the latest report — released by a body tasked with investigating violations by all sides in the conflict — carries more weight and will be harder for the Syrian government and its allies to dismiss as politicized.”

The NYT’s report also includes a video titled “How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike”.

The BBC News website’s report on the story – “Syria government behind Sarin attack – UN investigators” – amplified the Syrian regime’s denials just three paragraphs in.

“UN human rights investigators have concluded that the Syrian Air Force carried out a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in April.

At least 83 people died when a Su-22 jet dropped a bomb filled with the nerve agent Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, a report by a commission of inquiry says.

Damascus insists the incident was faked and denies using chemical weapons.”

Later on readers were told that:

“They [UN investigators] also dismiss statements from the government’s ally, Russia, which has asserted that the Syrian Air Force struck a terrorist chemical weapons depot.”

Towards the end of the report the Syrian regime’s propaganda was repeated.

“President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun – which prompted the US to launch a missile strike on an airbase – was a “fabrication”.

He has insisted his forces destroyed their entire chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by the US and Russia after a Sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013.”

It is clearly evident that the Assad regime (with which a BBC reporter was once again embedded just last month) did not destroy its “entire chemical arsenal” as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 2118 in 2013 and the BBC itself published a report in May that quoted a “Western intelligence agency” as saying that “Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them”.

Nevertheless, BBC audiences continue to repeatedly see false balance in the form of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box. In addition to being plainly ridiculous, that editorial policy clearly undermines the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enhances its understanding of global issues.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

BBC News amplification of unchallenged Assad propaganda persists