BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

In two previous posts concerning the December 17th ‘Today’ programme live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (here and here) we saw how well-worn BBC themes were promoted in that programme.

In a third ten minute-long segment (from 1:16:27 here) listeners once again heard from representatives of international organisations rather than the “people on both sides of the divide” as promised by presenter Mishal Husain.

The two themes of blaming the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip on counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel (with a cursory mention of Egypt) and providing unquestioning and context-free promotion of UNRWA were repeated in that segment too.

Husain began with misrepresentation of a press release put out by UNOCHA, claiming that its appeal for funding is intended to provide aid to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “As the United Nations appeals for funds to support 2 million Palestinians who live here [Gaza] saying that living conditions are deplorable, the UK has today pledged £5 million in emergency food aid.”

The UNOCHA statement actually describes the scope of its appeal thus:

“The 2019 HRP appeals for $350 million to provide basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation to 1.4 million Palestinians, who have been identified as most in need of humanitarian interventions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

In other words, Husain once again misled BBC audiences by claiming that all 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip are in need of foreign aid. She continued with repetition of previously heard messaging.

Husain: “But the dire economic reality is taking immense toll on people’s lives. Unemployment is at 50%. Even those who have jobs often receive only half their salary. The economy has been impacted by a blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt citing security reasons. Incomes have also been affected by Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas which has been in full control of Gaza since 2007. In recent weeks aid from Qatar has been making a difference but it will only last till April.”

As was the case in the first hour of the programme, listeners were told nothing of the Hamas terrorism which has made counter-terrorism measures in the form of restrictions on the movement of people and dual-use goods necessary. Once again the very relevant issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population went unmentioned. Likewise the topic of “Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas” was not expanded and so listeners were unable to comprehend what aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip (e.g. electricity shortages, shortages of medicines, unpaid wages) have been brought about by internal Palestinian disputes rather than by Israeli actions.

Husain similarly failed to tell listeners why there are still Palestinian refugees in a place that has been ruled by Palestinians for over 13 years before re-introducing her next guest.

Husain: “More than half of Gaza’s population are registered refugees and Matthias Schmale – head of Gaza operations for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – took me to see one of the eight camps in this small stretch of land.”

During Husain’s walkabout with Schmale listeners heard that “more than 90% of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water” and that “the desalination system in Gaza has broken down” because of “electricity”. No effort was made to clarify the full background to those statements or to explain that – as the BBC knows – the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip (and resulting problems with water and sewage) has nothing to do with “the blockade”.

Listeners heard more repetition of this programme’s prime messaging.

Husain: “When you say that people are living in poverty, why is that?”

Schmale: “The answer to that is twelve years of blockade. We live in a place that is very small; 40 kms by 6 to 12 kms in width and there’s almost 2 million people living in this constrained space and it’s completely sealed off from the rest of the world.”

Husain: “Hamas is governing Gaza. Shouldn’t it be providing for people here rather than you?”

Schmale: “Yes, I think the responsibility of host authorities is to cater to essentials – provide essential services like electricity, like water, like proper sewage and I think the fact that much of that is non-functional is a reflection of ten years of failed government by the Hamas authorities.”

That of course would have been the ideal moment for Mishal Husain to explain to listeners how Hamas has spent millions of dollars on the construction of cross-border attack tunnels and other terror infrastructure but instead listeners heard about “warm winter sunshine”. Husain likewise avoided the highly relevant topic of Hamas terrorism in the part of her conversation with Schmale concerning fishing.

Husain: “There’s a young man I can see in a small boat just beneath us by the water’s edge. What about fishing? Can people make a living from fishing?”

Schmale: “One of the constant debates with Israel is the fishing zone because in order to fish for safe fish that are not contaminated by the water we see coming out of that pipe you need to be a distance out and they say…”

Husain: “How far are they allowed to go out?”

Schmale: “At the moment 3 miles and 3 miles is not enough.”

Husain then did another pointless tick of the impartiality box which contributed nothing to audience understanding.

Husain: “Israel says the blockade is maintained for security reasons and indeed Egypt also blockades on Gaza’s other border.”

Husain and Schmale visited an UNRWA food distribution centre in the Shati refugee camp.

Schmale: “About 60% of the million people that get food from us [are] living with abject poverty as we call it. That means on about a dollar – just a bit more than a dollar – a day. So about 600 thousand people really depend on this food. They would not survive if they didn’t have this.” […]

Husain: “Who pays for all of this food?”

Schmale: “The biggest donor until the beginning of this year was the United States. For Gaza we need roughly $110 million per year. Last year – 2017 – we got 90 million of 110 million from the United States. 80 million of that was food. As a result of their dramatic cut in the beginning of the year, we ran out of money for this at the end of June. We were only able to continue it and what you’re seeing today because the rest of the organisation [the UN] gave us an advance. We took a loan.” […]

Husain: “So what are you going to do in the long run?”

Schmale: “My hope is that appeals to the international community to prevent Gaza sliding into a Yemen-style situation of massive hunger will be heard.”

Remarkably, listeners were then told that the situation in the Gaza Strip is not connected to armed conflict.

Husain: “You’ve worked all over the world. What do you think of what you see here? How does it compare with what you see elsewhere?”

Schmale: “The disasters I have encountered were either natural – a tsunami, an earthquake – or man-made in terms of war. This is the first time I’m confronted with a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made as a result of the blockade. But if people had their own jobs and earned their own money, which they could have, we would not need to do this. Natural disasters are uncontrollable. This is controllable.”

The interview closed with the repetition of a statement from Schmale that had already been heard earlier on in the programme.

Husain: “If there was a different security situation – Israel would say it’s not possible with the current reality, the current stance of Hamas towards it.”

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Once again listeners did not hear any Israeli response to the idea that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable safety” – despite the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip.

With UNRWA’s politicised messaging having gone completely unchallenged and with no effort having been made to provide vital background information concerning that organisation and its mission, Hamas terrorism, Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare and the Hamas-Fatah split, Husain then handed over to the BBC’s economic correspondent who – as we shall see in the next post – interviewed yet another person who does not fall into the “ordinary people” category.  

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

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BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, one of the themes promoted during the first fourteen minutes of a live broadcast from the Gaza Strip in the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme was the claim that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. 

An additional theme which is not new to BBC reporting and was again promoted in this broadcast is that of US cuts in donations to UNRWA – but, as ever, without any explanation of the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding the UN agency that are vital to proper understanding of that story.

The second part of the ‘Today’ programme’s live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (from 36:07 here) was introduced by Mishal Husain with a reference to an announcement from the UK government mentioned earlier by the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “The government has announced £5 million worth of emergency food aid for Palestinians in Gaza as the UN appeals for funds to prevent 2 million people who live here slipping deeper into poverty.”

In contrast to Husain’s claim that all two million residents of the Gaza Strip are living in poverty, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported in June of this year that 53% of the territory’s residents were actually defined as such. Husain then introduced her Jerusalem based colleague Yolande Knell.

Husain: “The economic position in Gaza has long been dire, Yolande, is international concern now growing?”

Knell: “It does seem to be and there is this report that’s been published by the UN humanitarian office here talking about how there are deepening needs among Palestinians. But what’s really interesting is the fact it’s launching this appeal for $350 million today for humanitarian relief for Palestinians but it says that it’s actually targeting fewer people – half a million fewer – than it targeted here just in this last year. And the report is very frank about how it is because of record low funding and of course over the past year what’s happened is the US has slashed its funding to the Palestinians including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million refugees across the Middle East. It has promised $365 million but ended up paying just $60 million and on top of that it cut aid – 200 million – to development projects. And that really links to this other announcement that we’re seeing this morning from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – UNRWA – where the UK’s Department for International Development saying it’s going to give this money – £5 million – to provide emergency food to over 60,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

Later on in the same programme (2:06:21 here) listeners heard a news bulletin which also included a report from Knell.

Newsreader: “The United Nations is launching an appeal to raise £280 million for people living in the Palestinian territories. It says that many are in critical humanitarian need after a big drop in funding from the United States. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “This report describes a worsening situation in the Palestinian territories. In Gaza health services have been overwhelmed by casualties from protests along the perimeter fence with Israel. But the UN humanitarian affairs office says that next year it will target just 1.4 million people here – half a million fewer than this year. Its local head points to record low funding and what he calls attacks to delegitimise humanitarian action. This year as tensions grew with Palestinian leaders, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for development and for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Through an emergency appeal much of UNRWA’s deficit has been filled and today the UK says it will provide new funds for over 60,000 refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

The UNOCHA press release on which this news item is based can be seen here.

As is usual in BBC content we see uncritical amplification of UN claims and campaigns with no effort made to provide audiences with background information concerning questions such as why there are “5 million [Palestinian] refugees across the Middle East”, why people living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are still classified as refugees or what were the reasons behind the US administration’s decision to cut donations to UNRWA.

Entirely predictably Yolande Knell’s reporting failed to inform BBC audiences that the sum cited in the appeal launched by UNOCHA and the PA’s Minister for Social Development (who Knell apparently ‘forgot’ to mention) is similar to that allocated by the Palestinian Authority in its 2018 budget to payments to convicted terrorists and terrorists’ families. As PMW points out:

“Instead of the UN asking donor countries to contribute $350 million to provide for Palestinian humanitarian needs, the UN should be joining the unequivocal call from many governments that the PA immediately stop squandering the $355 million dollars of its own funds on its “Pay for Slay” policy that incentivizes and rewards terrorism, and instead spend that money on needy Palestinians.

Were the UN to adopt this basic and elementary moral requirement, it would strengthen the international forces that are mobilizing against the PA’s terror support.  

Abolishing the “Pay for Slay” policy would re-open the door for the PA to receive the approximately $215 million dollars of US aid to the PA withheld by the Taylor Force Act. Abolishing the PA’s “Pay for Slay” policy would also avert the imminent deduction by Israel of the PA’s expenditure on the salary program from the tax revenues Israel collects and transfers to the PA. Moreover, it would ensure that the PA would not lose its Australian funding and part of its funding from The Netherlands.”

The story told to BBC Radio 4 audiences, however, excludes any mention of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas shared priority of funding and rewarding terror over meeting the needs of their people. Instead Yolande Knell and her colleagues prefer to promote a simplistic story about poor, hungry Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

 

A source quoted and promoted by the BBC gets corrected

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC often uncritically quotes and promotes information and statistics – particularly Gaza casualty figures – provided by the UN agency OCHA.

On November 21st another political NGO that has appeared in BBC content – MAP – promoted UNOCHA supplied figures in a tweet.

However (unsurprisingly to those familiar with UNOCHA’s  methodology) it turned out that those statistics were not all that they were made out to be when the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) later replied to that tweet.

And yet UNOCHA – often presented to BBC audiences as merely ‘the UN’ – continues to be among the partisan NGOs frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC, despite the corporation’s supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. 

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to promote dubiously sourced Gaza statistics

Revisiting the BBC’s source of 2014 Gaza casualty data

Reviewing BBC WS ‘Newshour’ coverage of events in Israel and Gaza – part one

As readers are no doubt aware on the evening of November 11th an Israeli Special Forces unit engaged in a covert operation east of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip was exposed. In the ensuing firefight one Israeli officer was killed and another injured. Six members of Hamas and one member of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) were also killed. Later the same night terror factions in the Gaza Strip fired 17 projectiles at Israeli civilian communities in the Western Negev.

At around 16:30 the next day (November 12th) an Israeli soldier was injured when Hamas attacked an Israeli bus using a Kornet anti-tank missile. That was followed by an intense barrage of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities with direct hits on homes and businesses in Ashkelon, Netivot, Sderot and at least three kibbutzim. One man was killed in Ashkelon and dozens were wounded. The attacks continued into the next day. Israel responded with some 150 strikes on targets belonging to terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip. Six fatalities were reported – at least four of whom were claimed by the PFLP and PIJ terror factions.

So how did BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ report those events and did that reporting adhere to the BBC’s editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality?

Listeners to the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on November 11th heard a brief mention of the incident near Khan Younis in a news bulletin (from 25:25 here): [all emphasis in italics in the original, all emphasis in bold added]

“The Israeli army says it’s been involved in an exchange of fire with Hamas militants in Gaza. Media reports quoting Palestinian sources say at least 2 people, including a Hamas commander, were killed in the clashes.”

That incident was the lead story in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on November 12th which was titled “Gaza: Eight Killed in Covert Israeli Operation” with the synopsis telling BBC audiences that:

“A covert Israeli operation in the Gaza strip has killed seven Palestinians – including one Hamas military commander – and one Israeli soldier. The unrest threatens to upend a fragile and unofficial ceasefire between Israel and Hamas since March.”

(Image: Relatives of one of the seven Palestinians killed during an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip, mourn during his funeral. Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 00:11 here) as follows:

Iqbal: “We begin today with Gaza and Israel. There has been a fragile and unofficial ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the wake of the bloodshed since March this year during protests by Palestinians at the border with Israel, dubbed by them as the Great Return March. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. On Sunday a covert Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of seven Palestinians including one Hamas commander and one Israeli soldier – a Lieutenant Colonel. The subsequent firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza threatens to upend an uneasy peace. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned from Armistice commemorations in Europe to meet with his security cabinet.”

In the rest of that item listeners heard from a man identified as Abu Amana – supposedly an eye-witness to the firefight near Khan Younis – before Iqbal conducted a long interview with Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad. As noted here previously, Iqbal once again failed to inform BBC audiences that all of the Palestinians killed in that incident were members of terror factions.

Iqbal: “But there was also a big significant loss on your side. Apart from the six other people who were killed, a senior Hamas commander, Nur Baraka.”

She likewise subsequently failed to challenge her Hamas interviewee’s claim that “they [Israel] killed seven civilians yesterday” or his claim that the Gaza Strip is ‘occupied’.

Iqbal’s final interviewee was Israeli MK Michael Oren to whom she put the claim that Israel had jeopardised the ‘ceasefire’ with a “botched” covert operation in the Gaza Strip.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – November 12th – was titled “Violence Between Israel and Gaza Escalates” and yet again the webpage was illustrated using a photograph taken in Gaza.

“Tensions have increased after a failed Israeli undercover operation. A mother of two young children tells us what it’s like living through the violence in the Gaza strip.”

(photo: Smoke rises after Israeli air strike in Gaza City, 12 November 2018 Credit: EPA/Mohammed Saber)

Presenter Tim Franks opened that lead story (from 01:17 here) as follows:

Franks: “The border between Israel and the Gaza Strip bristles with tension. It has done for years now and particularly in the decade or more that the Islamist Hamas movement has had control of the Palestinian territory. Frequently that tension erupts into violence – even outright war. As night has fallen in this part of the Middle East, there is a fear that events of the last 24 hours could presage another bloody upsurge. On Sunday an Israeli soldier and seven Palestinians – including a commander of Hamas’ paramilitary wing – were killed during an undercover Israeli operation deep inside the Gaza Strip. Since then scores of rockets – the Israeli army has just said 300 – have been fired from the Palestinian territory into southern Israel. The Israeli military for its part has carried out airstrikes – dozens of them – against targets inside the Gaza Strip.”

As we see, a full day after the incident near Khan Younis, listeners to ‘Newshour’ had still not been informed that all the Palestinians killed were members of terror groups.

Having failed to clarify to listeners that while that unattributed rocket fire targeted Israeli civilians, Israel’s airstrikes targeted the assets of terror factions, Franks went on to introduce his first interviewee, failing to challenge her description of the Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’, her inversion of rockets fired by terrorists as the result of Israeli counter-terrorism measures rather than their cause or even her claim that “Palestinians have tried peace”.

Franks: “First, a sense of life tonight in the Gaza Strip. Najla Shawa is an aid worker and mother of two young children who lives to the west of Gaza City.”

As noted here previously, part of that interview with Shawa was also aired on BBC Radio 4 on the same evening.

After that long and very sympathetic interview, listeners heard excerpts from the interviews with Ghazi Hamad and Michael Oren aired in the previous edition of the programme. Franks then quoted casualty figures provided by UNOCHA before introducing the Israeli journalist Anshell Pfeffer on the topic of ceasefire ‘negotiations’.

Towards the end of the programme (49:47) Franks spoke with the BBC’s Tom Bateman and listeners heard for the first time about the anti-tank missile attack on the Israeli bus, the fact that there had been direct hits on homes in some Israeli towns, the fact that Israel’s strikes were directed at “militant sites” and that two “militants” as they were dubbed by Bateman had been killed in the northern Gaza Strip.

In short, over 24 hours following the incident near Khan Younis and hours after the unprecedented barrage of missile attacks against Israeli civilians had commenced, ‘Newshour’ listeners had heard from two Gaza Strip residents, one Hamas spokesman (twice), one Israeli MK (twice) and one Israeli journalist. They had not however heard from any Israelis affected by the attacks. The programmes had repeatedly led listeners to believe that just one of the seven Palestinians killed in the incident near Khan Younis was a member of Hamas, while failing to clarify that in fact all were members of terrorist factions.

In part two of this post we will review the following day’s editions of ‘Newshour’.