Was BBC News reporting of the Pope’s Christmas address accurate and impartial?

On December 25th visitors to the BBC News website’s main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page found a report presented as follows:

Contrary to the impression given by that presentation, the Pope’s Christmas address did not include any mention whatsoever of the US president or his December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC article reached by clicking on that link – titled “Urbi et Orbi: Pope calls for peace for Jerusalem” – is 401 words long. Twenty-one of those words related to the US president:

“US President Donald Trump recently announced that America recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The controversial move drew international condemnation.”

Seventy-four words were devoted to the topic of the non-binding resolution passed the previous week by the UN General Assembly.

“Last week, UN members decisively backed a non-binding resolution that said any decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem were “null and void” and must be cancelled. […]

Guatemala has said it plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following Mr Trump’s announcement.

It joined the US and Israel, and Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo, in voting against the UN resolution.

However, 128 countries backed the resolution while others abstained.”

A total of 155 words were used to provide background information – in part politically partisan and lacking sufficient historical context – concerning Jerusalem.

“Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their future capital, and all countries currently keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. […]

Jerusalem is home to sites sacred to Judaism and Islam, and because of its role in the life of Jesus, the city is also one of the holiest places for Christians.

The city’s status 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 Palestinian 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.”

The Papal address itself was given 151 words of coverage with one hundred and three of those words relating to Israel and the Palestinians and a mere 25 words relating to the rest of the world.

“Pope Francis has used his traditional Christmas Day message to call for “peace for Jerusalem” and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Acknowledging “growing tensions” between them, he urged a “negotiated solution… that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states”. […]

The Roman Catholic leader gave his Urbi et Orbi speech, which in Latin means “To the city and world”, in Saint Peter’s Square.

“On this festive day let us ask the lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land,” he told the crowd.

“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

The pontiff’s speech touched on other pressing international issues, from the migration crisis to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, from Venezuela to North Korea.”

BBC audiences would clearly get the impression from that report that the focus of the Pope’s address was on Israel and the Palestinians and that he merely “touched on” other issues.

However, examination of the actual 932 word address delivered by the Pope shows that while he used 118 words to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he devoted 439 words to speaking about other topics including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa, Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Myanmar, Bangladesh, children of unemployed parents, migrants and child labour.

So while 80.5% of the BBC’s coverage of the speech related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in fact that topic featured in just 21.2% of the parts of the address relating to specific countries and issues and in 12.7% of the speech as a whole.

Obviously the BBC News website cannot claim to have reported that Papal address in a manner that accurately and impartially reflects its content and its focus.

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BBC corrects ‘angel of peace’ claim after two complaints

Last month we noted that a BBC News website article promoted inaccurate information which the BBC itself had already clarified twenty months earlier.

“The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.”

angel-of-peace-para

After having had one complaint on the matter rejected, Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a second complaint to the BBC to which he received a response that includes the following:abbas-us-embassy-art

“I’m sorry that our initial response did not address your concerns. After considering them further we’ve since amended this piece to now explain that:

Israeli relations with the Vatican were further strained after it was reported that Pope Francis described President Abbas as “an angel of peace” during the canonisation ceremony of two Palestinian nuns at the Vatican in 2015. The Vatican later clarified that this was an encouragement to Mr Abbas rather than a description of him.

We’ve also added correction note at the bottom of the article outlining this change.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and please accept our apologies both for the inclusion of this error and that it wasn’t recognised when you first complained.”

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footnote-angel-of-peace-art

The changes made to the article can be seen here.

BBC’s Yolande Knell touts the ‘1967 borders’ illusion on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sundayclaims that it gives listeners “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”. However, the lead item in its January 15th edition fell outside that mission statement and, as its description in the programme’s synopsis shows, was in fact a transparently political story.r4-sunday-us-embassy-15-1

“Yolande Knell reports on the implications of a proposal by President elect Trump to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 00:61 here) as follows:

“Will Donald Trump follow through with his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? The answer to that question could have huge implications for the Middle East. We’re joined from Jerusalem by our correspondent Yolande Knell. Yolande; it matters because the status of Jerusalem is absolutely crucial to the two-state solution that people, until now, say they want.”

Predictably, Knell’s response had the history of the millennia-old city beginning just fifty years ago, with no mention of the preceding 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

Knell: “That’s right and Jerusalem has proven time and time again to be one of the most explosive issues; one of the most difficult issues to solve in this decades-old conflict, not least because of its holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians. And of course Israel captured the east of the city – which includes the Old City – in 1967 in the Middle East war. It went on to annex East Jerusalem, declare all of Jerusalem its united, eternal capital – although that’s never been recognised internationally. And the Palestinians are basically saying that any move for a US embassy – bringing it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – would kill the two-state solution; this long-standing goal of international policy on this conflict. It’s enshrined in UN resolutions: the idea of creating a Palestinian state to live peacefully alongside Israel. It will be based in Gaza, the West Bank and have East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Stourton: “I think I’m right in saying the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been in the Vatican this weekend. He’s been talking about some of this, hasn’t he?”

In her response to that question, Knell introduced the falsehood of “pre-1967 borders” – a concept which not only does not exist, but was specifically and deliberately rejected by the parties to the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Knell: “That’s right – very deliberate timing. He was actually at the Vatican to inaugurate an embassy for the State of Palestine. This is after the Vatican recognised a State of Palestine on pre-1967 borders and he was there for talks with the Pope. He told reporters while he was there that this…again, this move would destroy the two-state solution and he talked to the Pope about the need for Jerusalem to be an open city for three religions, we’re told. The Vatican’s position is that it seeks an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem: a status that would safeguard its sacred character.”

Stourton: “The…Donald Trump is not the first American president to have talked about the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Ahm…it hasn’t happened though in the past. How strong is the evidence that he’s really serious about this?”

Knell: “Well, because Donald Trump made this campaign promise and so many previous presidential contenders have – George W Bush and Bill Clinton at least and then they didn’t do it – that means that people really didn’t take it very seriously at first. But then we heard from one of his advisors – from Kellyanne Conway – that this was for him a very big priority. There was also the State Department official who came out saying to the press that it had been asked for logistical advice on a move. And then we know as well that the nominee for ambassador to Israel chosen by Mr Trump, David Friedman – somebody with very hardline views – he wants this very much. He issued a statement when he was nominated saying that he looked forward to moving the US embassy to Israel’s eternal capital Jerusalem: those were his words. So when I’ve been briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days – one of their fears is this announcement could come in the inauguration speech of Mr Trump.”

According to reports from the time, the words Knell claims to quote were actually these:

“In the statement, Freidman said he was “deeply honored and humbled” that Trump selected him to represent the US in Israel, and that he aimed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.””

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “What about the international background to all this because there’s this…as we have in the news, there’s this conference in Paris today on this question.”

Knell: “Yes and it’s also coming after a UN Security Council resolution was passed last month restating this commitment to the two-state solution and well-informed sources are basically saying that a draft statement from the Paris talks is going to come out with a similar kind of statement. It will affirm also the international community will not recognise changes to the pre-1967 lines for Israel unless they’re agreed with the Palestinians. It will make clear that a negotiated solution is the only way to ensure enduring peace but it’s also going to warn, I think, against unilateral moves. That could be a reference to the idea of Donald Trump moving…eh…moving the embassy because that would basically recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”

In fact, the reference to “unilateral steps” in the text of the conference’s closing statement specifically relates to the two parties to the conflict rather than to the US or any other outside country.

Stourton: “And, Yolande, finally: do you detect internally any appetite for renewed negotiations between the two sides?”

Once again, BBC audiences heard a sanitised version of the breakdown of negotiations in 2014 that promotes false equivalence in Knell’s response to that question. However, Knell made sure to close with some very clear signposting with regard to which side listeners should view as being responsible for the lack of current negotiations.

Knell: “Ahm…both sides say that they’re ready to have talks but then the talks have been frozen since April 2014. They fell apart and I think that’s why there is now this…a lot of frustration from the international community. You have 70 countries and international bodies like the EU, the UN, the Arab League, other organisations, coming together for these talks. When you talk to analysts they really see these as a last-ditch attempt to try to save the moribund peace process but they don’t expect much to come out of these talks because – as much as the Palestinians are supporting them – the Israelis say that these are futile, they’re rigged, this pushes peace backwards and they’re not even going to go for a meeting with President Hollande in the coming weeks to be debriefed on what happened.”

Fatah Facebook account

Fatah Facebook account

Since mid-December the BBC has produced several items concerning or mentioning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. All those reports – including this one – have amplified the Palestinian messaging on that topic but BBC audiences have yet to hear any opposite viewpoint – as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality demand.

Seeing as we now know that Yolande Knell is “briefed by Palestinian officials – even in just the last few days”, that lack of due impartiality is perhaps more comprehensible.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of the Paris conference

 

 

 

 

The consequence of BBC failure to make online corrections

On May 16th 2015 the BBC News website ran a story titled “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’” which was discussed here. A link to that article was included in an additional report that was published the following day.

Two days after the appearance of the original article – on May 18th 2015 – a follow-up article was published under the headline “Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments” but as was noted here at the time, no action was taken regarding the two previous articles.

“The section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy which deals with the subject of ‘managing online content’ states that:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

Given that and the appearance of this latest article, one would of course expect to see clarifications appended to the two previous reports in which the inaccurate claim was promoted. At the time of writing, no such clarification appears in either article.”

The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.

angel-of-peace-para

The link in that paragraph leads to a filmed report by the BBC’s Vatican correspondent David Willey dating from May 17th 2015 which also does not include any notification based on the BBC’s subsequent report clarifying the Pope’s remarks. Viewers are told:

“Prominent among the guests at the Vatican ceremony was Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine. He was told by Pope Francis that he’s an angel of peace. […]

The saints are the first from Palestine to be named by the church since the earliest days of Christianity.” [emphasis added]

The BBC Academy’s style guide of course advises the corporation’s staff 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. […]

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, 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.”

An additional noteworthy aspect of the January 14th report is its portrayal of the comments made by Mahmoud Abbas which are reflected in its title.abbas-us-embassy-art

“Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has warned that peace could suffer if President-elect Donald Trump carries out plans to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. […]

On Saturday, President Abbas reiterated his concern over President-elect Trump’s plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and said he had written to Mr Trump to warn him of the risks of such a move.

“If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen,” President Abbas told reporters outside the Vatican.

Palestinian officials say the plan would undermine chances of a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, in which Palestinian and Israeli states would live side-by-side.

“Not only would this move deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas was quoted earlier as saying in French paper Le Figaro.”

Remarkably, the BBC made no effort to provide audiences with information which would help them reach their own conclusions concerning the veracity of Abbas’ claim that relocation of the US embassy to seemingly any location in Jerusalem would “undermine” the chances of a peace agreement and did not update this report to include later related threats made by a Fatah spokesman.

Seeing as the BBC regularly informs its audiences – including in this report – that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state”, it would of course have been appropriate for this article to clarify why Mahmoud Abbas should object to the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim. 

Still no BBC correction on inaccurate “first new saints” claim

A BBC News website article published on May 13th informed readers that:

Saints article

As was already pointed out here a couple of weeks ago, that claim is inaccurate.

“In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.”

The BBC was not the only media outlet to initially mislead audiences with inaccurate claims concerning the new saints. However, as our colleagues at CAMERA and UK Media Watch have recorded, several other outlets have already corrected their reports – including Ha’aretz, the Washington Post, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail.

Unfortunately, despite the BBC’s Vatican correspondent having been informed of the error, visitors to the BBC News website continue to find the above inaccurate information in situ. 

BBC WS’s ‘Newshour’ exploits Pope’s canonizations for promotion of propaganda

BBC coverage of the Pope’s recent canonization of four nineteenth century nuns has focused exclusively on the two who were born in places which were at the time part of the Ottoman Empire: Jerusalem in the Mutassariflik of Jerusalem and Ibillin in the Acco (Acre) Sanjak. The Ottomans of course did not recognize ‘Palestine’ as a separate entity but divided the Levant into provinces, governorates and districts.

On May 17th the BBC devoted two written articles and two items in radio broadcasts to the story.

Vatican boost for Christians in Holy Land” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website

Pope Francis canonises two Palestinian nuns” – BBC News website

‘Newshour’ – “Palestinian nuns become saints” – Julian Marshall, BBC World Service radio (from 00:32)

Sunday‘ – Edward Stourton with Fr David Neuhaus, BBC Radio 4 (from 00:57)

All those items include an element of politicization of the topic by means of promotion of two women who would have been extremely unlikely to self-define as Palestinians as “Palestinian nuns”.

An idea of the aims of such politicization of what is, after all, an event of religious significance can be gleaned from an article published by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

“Rifaat Kassis, a prominent political community activist and coordinator of Kairos, a local Christian group, says the canonization is significant on many levels, notwithstanding the recognition that Palestinians under Ottoman rule were part of a diverse, productive society, contrary to the mainstream sidelining of Palestinians from the region’s history.

“This puts Palestine on the map, among not only the catholic world, but the whole world, and I think this will also help people to understand Palestine and the occupation,” he told Ma’an.” [emphasis added]Newshour nuns

Not content with the geographical politicization of the topic, the ‘Newshour’ item went even further and a report supposedly about the canonization of two nuns quickly became a platform for the promotion of political propaganda when presenter Julian Marshall brought into the conversation Oliver McTernan of the Hamas-supporting ‘Forward Thinking’ and a Palestinian Christian from Beit Sahour named only as Ghassan Bannoura who appears to have worked variously for Oxfam GB, and the IMEMC media arm of the ISM-linked Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People.

McTernan: “I think to the broader Palestinian public it’s the rebuilding of Gaza, the unity of Palestine: terribly important.”

Bannoura: “Well of course living under occupation, the war-torn Gaza strip needs rebuilding of course – that is very important and we should, you know, be focusing on rebuilding Gaza, ending the occupation in the West Bank, stopping the settlements that eating our resources in the West Bank, make it impossible to build any kind of future state in the Holy Land.”

Bannoura: “We can’t get to Jerusalem not because of the Palestinian Authority – our own government and our own police. We can’t get to Jerusalem because of the Israeli occupation and the wall that surrounds the city.”

Clearly the editorial consideration behind the running of this item was not only to inform listeners worldwide of the life and times of the Catholic Church’s new saints. 

BBC News misleads on ‘Arab world’ saints, hides significance of Vatican-PA treaty

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a report titled “Vatican to recognise Palestinian state in treaty“. The main image selected to illustrate that article dates from May 2014 when the Pope visited the Middle East and chose to pray beside a section of the anti-terrorist fence covered in graffiti which included a spurious comparison between Bethlehem and the Warsaw Ghetto.Vatican treaty art

The closing paragraphs of the report state:

“This weekend President Abbas will have talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and on Sunday he will be attend [sic] a canonisation ceremony during which two Palestinian nuns who lived in the 19th Century – when Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire – will be declared saints.

They will be the first new saints from the Arab world to be named since the early days of Christianity.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA have pointed out, that latter statement is not accurate. In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.

As was also the case with many other media outlets, the BBC’s report focuses audience attentions on the political aspects of the story.

“The Vatican is to formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty that will be signed shortly, officials say. […]

The Vatican’s announcement comes amid growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood. Over the last year the European Parliament as well as the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have all passed non-binding motions in favour.

Sweden has gone further, officially recognising Palestine as a state.”

Readers also came across the following opaque generalised statements:

“The Vatican is eager that property and civil rights of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian state is protected, correspondents say.

According to the New York Times, it has strong religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that Pope Francis is making every effort to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East at a time when when [sic] hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians are fleeing Islamic violence. […]

The agreement on Wednesday will define Catholic Church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Holy See said on Wednesday.”

A clue to the context behind those vague statements and insight into a no less significant aspect of the treaty between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority is provided by the Catholic News Service:

“Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states and head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations, said the Vatican wanted the agreement to “promote the life and activity of the Catholic Church and its recognition on a juridical level.” […]
The chapter on “freedom of religion and conscience,” he said, is “very elaborate and detailed.”
Other chapters deal with “various aspects of the life and activity of the church in the Palestinian territories: its freedom of action, its personnel and jurisdiction, its personal status, houses of worship, social and charitable activity (and) means of social communication. Finally, a chapter is dedicated to financial and property questions.

Asked if the agreement could be a model for agreements with other Muslim-majority countries, Msgr. Camilleri said every bilateral treaty deals with the specific situation of the countries involved.
“In this case, because it deals with the presence of the church in the land where Christianity was born, the agreement has a unique value and significance,” he said.
At the same time, though, he said the agreement’s recognition of the church and of religious freedom “could be followed by other countries, including those with a Muslim majority, and demonstrate that such recognition is not incompatible with the fact that the majority of the country’s population belongs to another religion.””

La Stampa’s Vatican Insider adds:

“But the debate over the recognition of the State of Palestine must not overshadow other passages in the agreement which promise to be of significance. They have not been made public yet but they were summarised by the Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Antoine Camilleri, who is head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations.

Having announced that the preamble will express the Holy See’s hope for a two-State solution (entailing the Palestinian side’s full recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel), the prelate explained that the agreement contains a “very elaborate and detailed” chapter on the “freedom of religion and conscience”. The legal agreement then sets out a number of fundamental elements regarding religious freedom and the freedom of conscience for all those living and working in the Palestinian Territories. Guarantees, such as respect for places of worship, the freedom of action of the Church, the protection of its social and charitable activities and the right to promote means of communication, are put down in black and white.”

Given that the BBC’s interest in the topic of Middle East Christians has increased of late due to prevailing events on the ground, one might have thought that news of a treaty aimed at protecting their religious freedom in one part of the region would have prompted the self-styled ‘standard-setter for international journalism‘ to break away from the media pack and provide its audiences with informative coverage of the background story of why the rights of Christians need to be protected in an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority. 

 

Update on the BBC’s ‘angel of peace’ story

As was reported here recently, the BBC News website published an article on May 16th in which it was claimed that the Pope had described the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas as “an angel of peace”. The same claim also appeared in an additional article published on the website the following day, together with a link to the first report.Angel art

In fact – as was noted in our report and communicated to the BBC – several Italian language media outlets reported the story somewhat differently and the apparently inaccurate translation seemed to have originated with news agencies.

“So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.”

Two days after the publication of the original report – May 18th – the BBC News website produced an additional article titled “Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments“. Despite the fact that the BBC had been one of many media outlets to promote the dubious claim, in a distinctly detached tone the report informs readers that:Vatican art

“Journalists from leading news agencies reported that the Pope called Mr Abbas “an angel of peace” when giving him a bronze medallion representing one.

But an Italian newspaper says he merely expressed hope that the president might one day become an angel of peace.

The Vatican’s spokesman said he did not hear the exact words, but that they had been meant as an “encouragement”.”

The section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy which deals with the subject of ‘managing online content’ states that:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

Given that and the appearance of this latest article, one would of course expect to see clarifications appended to the two previous reports in which the inaccurate claim was promoted. At the time of writing, no such clarification appears in either article.

BBC lost in news agency translation of Pope’s words to Mahmoud Abbas?

On May 16th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’“. The same messaging is repeated in the article’s opening paragraph:Angel art

“Pope Francis has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, calling him “an angel of peace”.

The Pope made the remark as he presented the Palestinian leader with a medallion.”

Later on in the report readers are told that:

“The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that after 20 minutes of private talks, Pope Francis gave Mr Abbas the medallion depicting an angel of peace adding: “It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace.””

But is that in fact an accurate portrayal of events?

The Italian daily La Stampa’s ‘Vatican Insider’ website reports the story somewhat differently, running with the headline “Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace” in its English language version of the story. The article adds:

“As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: “May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.””

(For comparison, the Italian language version of the same story is here.)

The Zenit agency reported the story in Spanish using the headline “Francisco recibe al presidente palestino y le exhorta: ‘Sea usted un ángel de paz’” – “Francisco receives Palestinian President and urges : ‘ Be you an angel of peace ‘”.

So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.

The source of this possible misunderstanding of the Pope’s words appears to be various news agency reports. As we have seen before, it is not unheard of for the BBC to fail to fact check information provided by news agencies before reproducing their content. Clearly this story too needs urgent review in order to ensure its compliance with BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

 

 

Post Vatican prayer meet missile from Gaza Strip ignored by BBC

The BBC News website’s coverage of the June 8th visit by Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for a joint prayer meeting with the Pope included a written report titled “Pope Francis peace plea at Israel-Palestinian prayer meeting” (changes to which can be seen here) and a filmed report by Alan Johnston titled “Pope hosts Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas at Vatican“.Vatican filmed

Both those vapid reports focus primarily on the ceremony of the emblematic event but do little to clarify its lack of consequence to readers and viewers beyond the following inscrutable one-liner appearing in Alan Johnston’s insert of analysis in the written report and in the filmed version.

“But those most familiar with the harsh realities of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are likely to look on with some considerable scepticism.”

Parts of speeches made by the Pope and his guests are quoted in both reports and readers are informed that the guests “were driven together to the Vatican gardens”, that “[t]he Pope then sat between the two presidents as a chamber orchestra played” and that “[t]he three men then shook hands and planted an olive tree”. They are also told, correctly, that:

“The Israeli president occupies a largely ceremonial position and has no formal role in peace talks. He is due to leave office at the end of this month.”

However, in line with the BBC’s usual practice, audiences are not informed that the Palestinian president’s term of office ended well over five years ago and that he has since held onto power despite holding no elected mandate.

Notably, the BBC’s written report was not updated to include the related news that, on the same evening as the Vatican event took place, Israelis living in towns and villages in the Western Negev once again found themselves running for shelter when terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a missile at civilians in the Ashkelon area.

There is, of course, nothing novel about the BBC ignoring missile attacks on Israeli civilians by Gaza Strip-based terrorist organisations, but the fact that as of the swearing-in of the new PA unity government at the beginning of June, Mahmoud Abbas and the PUG are now officially responsible for the prevention of such terror attacks is relevant and essential information with which BBC audiences have not yet been provided.