No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

Related Articles:

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Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

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In which BBC Radio 4 re-divides Jerusalem

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 15th heard the following (from 05:06 here) in a news bulletin presented by Alan Smith. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “Australia says it now recognises West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but it won’t be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv at this stage. The prime minister Scott Morrison has also acknowledged the aspirations of Palestinians for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The divided city, where the Israeli parliament is located, is not internationally recognised as the country’s capital. Phil Mercer reports from Sydney.”

Apparently BBC Radio 4 – along with the BBC’s correspondent in Sydney – is so used to using the politically partisan term “East Jerusalem’ that it has forgotten that although Jerusalem was indeed divided during the nineteen-year period of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation that began in 1948, it was reunited in June 1967.

Mercer: “Australia says it won’t be moving its embassy to West Jerusalem but could do so in the future if the city’s status is finalised under a peace settlement. In October the prime minister Scott Morrison said he found arguments in favour of relocating Australia’s diplomatic presence from Tel Aviv to be persuasive. He denied his comments were an attempt to influence Jewish voters in a by-election in Sydney. There was support from the Israeli government but Palestinian leaders said Australia risked becoming an international pariah. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been acknowledged internationally. Last December President Trump overturned decades of US neutrality when he recognised the divided city as Israel’s capital, prompting widespread condemnation. The American embassy was moved from Tel Aviv in May.”

In 1990 the US Congress passed a resolution stating that it “acknowledges that Jerusalem is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel”.

Five years later the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ – a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

In June 1997 the US Congress passed a resolution stating, inter alia, that it “calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to affirm publicly as a matter of United States policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel”.

In 2002 the US Congress passed an act in which it declared that “[t]he Congress maintains its commitment to relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and urges the President, pursuant to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, to immediately begin the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”

In June 2017 the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating that “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected”.

And yet the BBC’s Sydney correspondent – like many of his colleagues before him – would still have the corporation’s audiences believe that “President Trump overturned decades of US neutrality” in December 2017 while failing to clarify that presidential waivers of the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act were signed on the grounds of protecting the national security interests of the United States rather than for reasons of “neutrality”.

Interestingly, when Russia recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in April 2017 in a statement similar to that made by the Australian prime minister, the Palestinians and the Arab states did not protest and the BBC did not produce any coverage of that announcement, with a sole brief mention of it came in a report aired the following December. Moves by the Czech government have also not been reported to BBC audiences who continue to receive monochrome and partisan coverage of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city which does not include news such as a related statement made by Bahrain’s foreign minister

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to sell audiences short on Jerusalem

 

BBC News continues to sell audiences short on Jerusalem

Following the December 15th announcement by the Australian prime minister the BBC News website published an article titled “Australia recognises West Jerusalem as Israeli capital“.

As has been the case in several previous articles relating to recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a problematic backgrounder video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was promoted in this latest report. 

Also in common with similar previous reports, readers were told that:

“US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.”

The fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Under the sub-heading “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” readers saw the background to the story portrayed thus:

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

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In December 2017, UN member states voted decisively at the General Assembly in favour of a resolution effectively declaring US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “null and void” and demanding it be cancelled.”

Similar or identical portrayals have often been seen by visitors to the BBC News website in the past; most recently in November 2018 and October 2018.  

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to understand the background to this story they need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They also need to be informed of the belligerent Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

Once again readers of this report found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld.

With every new announcement by a foreign government of recognition of Israel’s capital it becomes more and more obvious that the BBC’s chosen framing of the story is not intended to meet its obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

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

BBC continues to deny audiences relevant Jerusalem background information

 

 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Among the channels offered to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer is one called S4C.

While S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru – Channel Four Wales) is not a BBC channel, it does get some of its programming from the BBC under what the director of BBC Wales has called “a partnership”. S4C receives most of its funding from the obligatory licence fee paid by UK households and currently also gets funding from the UK government. Its content, as seen above, is available on BBC iPlayer which is subject to OFCOM regulation.

Among the Welsh-language programmes produced by that media organisation which are currently available to users of BBC iPlayer are three episodes of a series called ‘Y Wal’ (‘The Wall’). One of those episodes is described as follows in Welsh:

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

And in English:

“Presenter Ffion Dafis visits the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

According to the credits at the end of the programme – which is one of the least impartial pieces of content that we have seen aired on any British channel for a long time – it was made with the cooperation of the Welsh government. The person presenting this programme – Ffion Dafis – is apparently an actress (rather than a journalist) on her first visit to the region and she makes no effort whatsoever to present audiences with an accurate and impartial account of its subject matter.

As readers are no doubt aware, the anti-terrorist fence constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers is mostly – over 90% – a metal fence. Viewers of this programme, however, do not see even one camera shot of those parts of the fence: throughout the entire 48 minute programme they are exclusively shown dozens of images of the minority part of the structure that, due to danger from snipers, is made out of concrete. Throughout the whole programme viewers also hear the entire structure called a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate.

Another feature of this programme is its exclusive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s style guide instructs journalists that “There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel” and hence “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.

The programme begins with an airbrushed account of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Dafis: “The year 2000 – and once again there was increasing tension between Palestine and Israel. A wave of terror attacks swept through Israel. Israel responded with the full force of its military might. In 2002, Israel decided to build a wall. A wall to stop the killings and restore peace. But the wall has bred hatred on both sides. I’m going to visit one of the world’s most controversial walls. I want to understand why it was built and see the effect it has had on life in Palestine. As we meet brave individuals who dare to challenge the system, what are the chances of us seeing this wall coming down?”

After the Welsh actress on her first visit to the region has told viewers that Jerusalem “is a familiar sight to me even though I’m looking at it for the first time” because she “went to Sunday School as a child and I suppose it’s part of my history”, she goes on:

Dafis: “But people have fought over this holy land for generations. While some have tried to build bridges, others have fuelled the conflict.”

Viewers then [02:05] see an image of the US flag and hear a recording of the US president saying “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” So much for media impartiality.

Additional commentary that does not meet any definition of journalistic ‘due impartiality’ (and concurrently promotes inaccuracies) is seen throughout the entire film.

[04:30] Dafis: “What goes through my mind as I stand here is the audacity of the wall. Just the way it ploughs through villages, through streets, through rivers and orchards. The devastation it leaves in its wake is plain for all to see. But according to the Israelis, it is here for a purpose [shrugs].”

[15:23] Dafis: “This wall has been built on foundations of fear and a need to protect. But the major question I have is where is the respect? This isn’t a cute white picket fence in a garden but a huge monstrosity knocked into the front room of a neighbour. Maybe one side feels safe but the other side definitely feels like it’s being suffocated.”

[19: 04] Dafis: “It’s clear that I’m standing in one of Palestine’s most fertile valleys. That much is evident. What’s also clear is that there’s a monstrosity being built on both sides of this valley. But the truth is that until you sit with an 84 year-old [Palestinian] woman who could be my grandmother, until you look into those eyes and realise the pain and the injustice then I don’t think people will ever understand one another. Maybe that is fundamentally the problem. I don’t know.”

[25:36] Dafis: “I think it’s extremely important for them [children in Aida refugee camp] to realise that growing up like this, without rights and surrounded by a high wall, is not right. It’s not normal for any child.”

[30:03] Dafis: “Imprisonment is the only word to describe what Palestinians go through here. Going through the checkpoints is like being in a big livestock mart. The wall is ludicrous. There is no other word.”

[46:58] Dafis: “The horrors taking place here can no longer be denied. Names like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Jericho are part of a great silent war. These are not peaceful places at all. I’ve touched and met people in these places and if something like this doesn’t alter me then I don’t think my heart is actually beating.”

One possible clue as to why this film is so one-sided comes at 31:37 when Dafis tells the camera that “our sound man, our driver and our fixer are Palestinian” while claiming that “they could end up being detained overnight”.

Referring to a non-incident in which she and her crew could not proceed along a particular road due to maintenance work being carried out, Dafis told viewers: “That experience with the Israeli army really shook me” and viewers then saw the unidentified fixer launch into a long monologue which provides some context to the backdrop to this film.

Fixer: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? To die? Many people have died before us for Palestine. We are not more precious than they are or than their life. You just say ‘OK, whatever, let it happen how it is or let it come’. Many people start to think OK only God protects me and others say what if I die now? Nothing will happen. So that’s why we lose the sense of life. No-one cares and then we face fear, we face…we see our rights being smashed on the floor and that we are treated as if we weren’t even human beings with soul and feelings and emotions. It’s like creatures or insects anyone can step on then and just walk. So when you feel that you stop caring.”

Part of a fixer’s job is to set up interviews and in this film viewers see twice as many Palestinian participants as Israelis. In addition to three farmers with unsubstantiated stories, a resident of al Walajah and Ahmad Sukar, head of the Wadi Fukin village council, viewers hear from representatives of assorted NGOs without any explanation being given of the political agenda of organisations including the Society of St Yves, al Rowwad, Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle Families Forum.

Among the four Israeli interviewees one is a staff member at a Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and two are members of an NGO which self-describes as “a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative”. The only Israeli interviewee to have lost a family member in a Palestinian terror attack is also co-director of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. Despite Palestinian terror being the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence which is supposedly this programme’s subject matter, that information is only revealed to viewers three-quarters of the way into the programme, just after Elhanan has told viewers:

[34:02] Elhanan: “The Palestinians live in their cages unable to go out in any way. The Israelis are sitting in their coffee houses, drinking coffee. They don’t want to know what is going on down [under] their noses, 200 meters behind their backs. They prefer not to know. The Israeli media is cooperating with this and the whole situation is like a false paradise. A bubble if you like.”

As the above examples show, this S4C programme does not even pretend to present its subject matter in an impartial fashion. In part two of this post we will review the programme’s accuracy.  

Related articles: 

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

A BBC programme from Jerusalem – and you can take part

The BBC television and radio programme ‘Global Questions’ will be visiting Jerusalem next month.

“As the state of Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Jerusalem to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, Israel has been dominated by conflict with Palestinians and its neighbouring Arab states. Is more conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war?

The Middle East is awaiting President Trump’s much anticipated peace plan – billed as the “deal of the century”. But the Palestinians see America’s Embassy move to Jerusalem as a dangerously provocative gesture.

Global Questions brings together a high-profile panel and an audience of young Palestinians and Israelis to see whether they believe the next 70 years could bring an end to the conflict that has scarred the region for so long.”

Members of the public can take part in that December 5th programme by emailing globalquestions@bbc.co.uk.

Alternatively, questions can be submitted using the webform here.

BBC continues to deny audiences relevant Jerusalem background information

On November 2nd the BBC News website published its latest report on the proposed relocation of a foreign embassy to Jerusalem – “Israel’s Netanyahu welcomes Brazil Jerusalem embassy vow“.

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed a decision by Brazil’s president-elect to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu praised it as “historic, [and] correct”. Palestinians called the move “provocative and illegal”.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician, expressed strong support for Israel during his election campaign.

Jerusalem’s status is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for Palestinian state.”

As was the case in an article published last month, a problematic backgrounder video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was promoted in this latest report. Later on readers found a typical BBC ‘nothing worth mentioning happened before 1967’ portrayal of the story’s background:

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

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to understand why Israel regards united Jerusalem as its capital they would need to be told of the inclusion of the city in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They would also need to be informed of the belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

However, since the BBC began covering stories relating to the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem in late 2016 and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy in December 2017, that background information has been serially denied to audiences.

Readers of this report also found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

While there is nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for their understanding of the background to these stories concerning the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem, the fact that it adopts that editorial policy – committed as it is to “due impartiality” under BBC editorial guidelines and even as it repeatedly tells audiences that “Jerusalem’s status is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians” – is truly remarkable.

Related Articles:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

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

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

 

 

A politicised BBC report on a new train line

On November 1st an unattributed filmed report titled “On board the new Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page with the following synopsis:

“It’s been a long time coming, but Israeli commuters are finally able to board double-decker high-speed trains on a new link from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Construction has been plagued by engineering and planning challenges, and the last section of the line is still not open. The route has also angered some Palestinians, as part of the track runs in tunnels under the occupied West Bank.

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz hopes it will eventually whisk passengers from secular, liberal Tel Aviv to a “Donald Trump Station” next to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.”

Roughly halfway into the film, its focus changes from the subject of the new train line itself to politicised messaging.

“But Palestinians in this village in the occupied West Bank are angry. A tunnel runs under part of the area but many Palestinians don’t have permits to enter Israel, so can’t use the train.”

Issa Odeh al-Jamel, Beit Surik resident:

“This train passes through Beit Surik land and we are not even allowed to use it. This is itself is a catastrophe for us.”

“Palestinians say Israel is illegally using occupied territory.”

The village of Beit Surik is located in Area B and its residents are Palestinian Authority citizens. The land under which – rather than “through” – the railway tunnel runs is located in Area C which, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control – including planning. Of course the BBC did not bother to clarify to audiences that it was the Palestinian Authority instigated Second Intifada which made permits necessary for residents of PA controlled areas. Neither were viewers told that there are no stops near Beit Surik or anywhere else along the line running from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.

The film continues:

“Villagers fear they may lose access to some of their land.”

Muhammed Abdul Razik, Beit Surik resident:

“We don’t have enough information about the route of the train. It definitely passes under the lands of the village of Beit Surik but whether it is above the land or under the land, it is the same problem. For us the damage is the same. I am sure we will not have the freedom to work on our lands.”

Seeing as that tunnel – Tunnel 3 – was completed over four years ago, the claim that the route is not clear is an obvious red herring which the BBC chose nevertheless to include in its report. The BBC provides no evidence to support the specious claim that the existence of the tunnel will have any effect on access to farming land.

The film goes on to tell BBC audiences that:

“The Israeli Transport Ministry has not commented. The full route is not open yet. […] And next, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz wants to tunnel underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City. He wants to build “Donald Trump Station” near the Western Wall after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. More controversy is likely.”

While there are indeed plans to extend the train line from its current final stop in Jerusalem towards the city centre and the Old City, those plans – including the route – are still under Planning Committee discussion and so the BBC’s suggestion that construction will take place “underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City” is at best premature.

As we see just over half of the BBC’s anonymous report on this new train line is devoted to amplification of politicised messaging. Coincidentally or not, that messaging just happens to align with that put out by Saeb Erekat and the PLO when the train line was opened.

 

 

A BBC contributor’s ‘particular viewpoint’

As we regrettably frequently have cause to note on these pages, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality include the following:

All too often, however, BBC audiences are not given the required insight into the “particular viewpoint” of an interviewee which would allow them to put his or her contribution into its appropriate context.

One such example was seen last December when a contributor to a BBC World Service radio item concerning what was at the time still a potential announcement by the US president concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel was introduced as follows:

“We’ve been getting opinions from Israel, from America: now for a Palestinian view of the implications. We’ve been speaking to Professor Saree Makdisi. He’s based in California. He’s the author of ‘Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation’. So, Professor Makdisi, how significant is this move?”

As noted here at the time, listeners were not informed that the US born professor of English literature is a proponent of a bi-national state – and the resulting elimination of the Jewish state – and a supporter of the BDS campaign

In the wake of the recent lethal attack on worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Makdisi had several comments to make.

The people Makdisi claims were killed “in Gaza” on the evening of October 28th were in fact approaching the border fence, in the dark, with a suspicious object

“Three Palestinians were killed Sunday during an IDF airstrike near Khan Yunis after they were identified placing a suspicious object, believed to be an explosive device, on the border fence.

The Palestinians were spotted by a Gaza division observation post while they were crawling in the dark towards the security fence with the suspicious object.”

Makdisi however equated that incident with the deadly attack on Jews in the Pittsburgh synagogue by disingenuously claiming that both cases come under the heading ‘racial violence’. He equated an anti-Semitic murderer with members of the armed forces tasked with protecting civilians from cross-border attacks which have been going on for seven months.

And that is the mindset behind the ‘expert academic opinion’ heard by BBC audiences around the world last December: the obviously highly relevant “particular viewpoint” which the BBC – despite its own editorial guidelines – made no effort whatsoever to clarify.

Related Articles:

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

 

BBC World Service radio adopts the PLO’s language

The October 19th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item relating to the previous day’s announcement by the US Secretary of State concerning the merging of the American embassy and consulate general in Jerusalem into a single diplomatic mission.

Programme presenter James Menendez introduced his interviewee (from 0:45:04 here) as follows: 

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menendez: “Until a few months ago America’s embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv. Its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians was at the consulate general in Jerusalem. But in May – as you may remember – the embassy moved to Jerusalem; America recognising what Israel has always maintained: that Jerusalem is its capital. That was condemned by Palestinians as well as all the other members of the UN Security Council.”

Failing to clarify that no UN Security Council resolution was in fact passed on that topic, Menendez went on:

Menendez: “Well, now another change: the mission to the Palestinians is going to be subsumed into the new US embassy. It’ll be called the Palestinian Affairs Unit. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it’s about achieving efficiencies. Palestinians say it’s just another move to downgrade them. Well let’s talk to Martin Indyk, himself a former US ambassador to Israel, now [at] the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Welcome to the programme. How would you characterise this move?”

Indyk: “Oh I don’t think there can be any doubt that it is a downgrading of US representation to the Palestinians that is consistent with the decision to establish the embassy in Jerusalem – the US embassy to Israel – in Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And in doing so the president – President Trump – made no reference to Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and so I think this is just…just a further symbolic and management act that demonstrates that the last…the symbolic toe-hold for the Palestinians in terms of American policy – their toe-hold in Jerusalem – is now gone.”

Failing to explain that the US president’s December 2017 announcement specifically stated that “[t]he United States continues to take no position on any final status issues” and “[t]he specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders”, Menendez then came up with the following bizarre statement-cum-question:

Menendez: “Eh…I mean in a place where symbols matter hugely, I mean is it also symbolic of this one-state solutionthe Greater Israel as the government there calls it – with everybody being under one roof?”

While members of certain parties included in the current Israeli coalition government have proposed annexation of various parts of Judea & Samaria, that is not official government policy. Menendez’s implication that the Israeli government promotes “the Greater Israel” is obviously inaccurate and misleading (especially given his reference to “this one-state solution” which of course has additional meanings) as well as irrelevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion. The likely source of that misleading phrase used by Menendez will be discussed in a moment but in the meantime, the interview continued.

Indyk: “Well I don’t think it forecloses even some Palestinian position in Jerusalem in final status talks as far as the US policy is concerned. Secretary Pompeo was quick to say that. But in practical terms what it signals is this much touted and little revealed Trump peace plan. What’s in it for the Palestinians is going to be slim pickings indeed, especially when it comes to Jerusalem.”

Menendez: “I suppose someone would say, you know, practically it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference given the lack of peace talks anyway at the moment.”

Indyk: “Yes, that is true but it will make a difference in terms of representation to the Palestinians. There’s a lot more than just talking about peace involved in dealings between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. And now there will no longer be even a consul general – not an ambassador but a consul general – to deal with the Palestinian Authority. That person is going to be a more junior person under the authority of the US ambassador to Israel and that’s something that the Palestinian Authority – and certainly its leader Abu Mazen – will have great difficulty relating to and so I think that, you know, with the cut off in all aid to the Palestinians from the United States…eh…the lowering of the political level of engagement – it just means that there’s an overall downgrading of the Palestinians in Trump administration policy.”

Refraining from pointing out to listeners that the US has not “cut off…all aid” to the PA, Menendez closed the interview there.

So where did James Menendez get that phrase “the Greater Israel”? A clue can be found in the promotion of an article on the same topic which appeared on the BBC News website on October 18th.

In the report itself – titled “US to merge Jerusalem consulate general with new embassy” – BBC audiences were told that:

“Palestinians condemned the move.

Senior official Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was working with Israelis to “impose ‘Greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution”.”

That quote was taken from a series of Tweets put out by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department on October 18th and picked up by a BBC producer.

And so we see that a phrase attributed to the Israeli government by James Menendez in fact comes from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat.

This of course is by no means the first instance in which we have seen the BBC promoting talking points and narratives conceived by the PLO:

Reviewing BBC compliance with PLO media guidance

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

PLO recommended terminology continues to appear in BBC content

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

In this latest item BBC World Service audiences heard just one view of the story (which unsurprisingly happens to dovetail with that of the PLO) while the BBC presenter adopted and amplified misleading terminology promoted by the PLO for political purposes and in doing so, compromised the BBC’s objectivity.  

Related Articles:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

 

 

 

 

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

On October 16th the BBC News website published a report titled “Australia considers following US on Jerusalem embassy” on its main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Australia’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

The Australian prime minister’s statements were presented in its opening lines as follows:

“Australia will consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. […]

Mr Morrison said Australia remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Political opponents said Mr Morrison’s comments were a “deceitful” ploy for votes ahead of a crucial by-election.”

Readers were also told that:

“If acted upon, the move would follow a recent policy shift by the US that has drawn criticism internationally. […]

US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.” [emphasis added]

As has been the case in many previous BBC reports about the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in this article the fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Readers were told that “[t]he prime minister said one future scenario could involve Australia recognising [emphasis added] a Palestinian Authority capital in East Jerusalem and Israeli capital in West Jerusalem”. The statement actually said:

“…the Government will carefully examine the arguments put forward by Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, that we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state.” [emphasis added]

The BBC report went on to amplify comment from the Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Maliki but failed to explain to readers why the Palestinian response to a possible outcome that the PLO allegedly seeks should be negative.

Readers were told of announcements:

“Two other countries – Guatemala and Paraguay – announced they would also make the switch, but Paraguay later reversed the decision after a change of government.”

They were not however informed that the embassy of Guatemala has been located in Jerusalem since May 2018.

The article ended with a section headed “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” in which the BBC’s standard framing of related topics was to be found. As usual, BBC audiences were led to believe that nothing of relevance happened before 1967 and they heard nothing of Jordan’s 19-year occupation of parts of the city.  

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

A problematic video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was however recycled in this latest report.

Readers found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Since late 2016 the BBC’s coverage of stories relating to the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem has been characterised by very specific framing of such decisions as ‘controversial’ and the absence of key background information which would enhance audience understanding. As we see in this latest report, that unhelpful editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem