BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

On February 28th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN” which opened as follows:

“Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes while responding to Palestinian protests on the Gaza border last year, UN human rights experts have said.

A commission of inquiry investigated the killing of 189 Palestinians between 30 March and 31 December 2018.

It found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognisable as such.

Israel’s acting foreign minister said it rejected the findings outright.”

As has been documented here over the past eleven months, the BBC’s reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting has uniformly portrayed the events as “protests” and “demonstrations” and has repeatedly downplayed or erased their violent nature. This latest report continued that framing.

“Palestinians have been taking part in protests along the border since last March as part of a campaign, dubbed “the Great March of Return”, in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

As has been the case in previous BBC reporting, no explanation of the significance of that “declared right” and the fact that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state was provided to readers.

Over the past eleven months we have also repeatedly documented the fact that the BBC has downplayed or erased Hamas’ role in initiating, organising and facilitating the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In this report, however, the BBC had no choice but reflect the UNHRC’s acknowledgement of Hamas’ role.

“The campaign has been organised by the militant Hamas movement – which dominates Gaza and is designated a terrorist group by Israel – and other groups.”

Hamas is of course also designated as a terrorist group in whole or in part by additional countries and bodies including the EU, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Japan and Canada.

Obviously this report could not be complete without provision of an overview of both the UNHRC’s longstanding anti-Israel bias and the one-sided mandate of the specific ‘investigation’ which led to the publication of the report which is its subject matter. The BBC however failed to provide readers with that crucial information.

“The commission of inquiry, which was set up by the UN Human Rights Council in May, said on Thursday that more than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by military snipers at designated protest sites over nine months.

It investigated the deaths of 189 Palestinians at the sites on official protest days and found that Israeli forces had killed 183 with live ammunition. Thirty-five of the fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists, the commission found. […]

Unless undertaken lawfully in self-defence, intentionally shooting a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.”

The BBC’s article continues to quote the UNHRC report and its authors at length, including the following:

“Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer and a member of the commission, said: “We are saying that they have intentionally shot children. They have intentionally shot people with disabilities. They have intentionally shot journalists.”

The BBC’s article made no effort to explain to audiences that the fact that some of the fatalities were children or “clearly marked paramedics” or “clearly marked journalists” does not exclude the possibility of links to terror organisations.

For example in May 2018 the BBC published a report in which it was claimed that “one paramedic was killed and several others were wounded on Monday as Israeli troops opened fire during the protests.” That same paramedic appeared in a poster released by Hamas showing some of its members killed on May 14th.

Journalists killed during the ‘Great Return March’ rioting have also been shown to have links to terror groups:

“An examination of Ahmed Abu Hussein’s identity revealed that in addition to being a media person, he was also a PFLP operative. The PFLP’s military wing issued formal death notices for him on its website. […]

According to Israeli security sources, Yasser Murtaja had served for years as an officer with the rank of captain in the Hamas security services in the Gaza Strip. The same sources added that he was an active operative in the security services and greatly assisted them in their activity on a daily basis.”

Among the under-18s killed were those with direct links to Hamas who were sent to sabotage the border fence while others – such as Ahmad al-Sha’ar [also al Shaer] who is named on page 9 of the UNHRC report – were terror operatives (see page 20 here).

In fact around 80% of those killed during the ‘Great Return March’ have been shown to be affiliated with terror factions – a fact totally ignored by the BBC in its unquestioning amplification of this UNHRC report.

Thus BBC audiences were denied the ability to judge for themselves the UNHRC’s preposterous claim that the violent rioting is “civilian in nature”.

“…it [the commission] concluded the demonstrations were “civilian in nature”, with clearly stated political aims, and that despite some acts of significant violence they did not constitute combat or military campaigns.”

So much for the BBC’s public purpose 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:

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

Why did the BBC News website erase an accurate statement?

Examining UNHRC statements uncritically amplified by BBC News

UK government’s UNHRC statement not newsworthy for the BBC

BBC radio audiences get whitewashed picture of youth participation in Gaza riots

BBC again amplifies Gaza claims from political activist medic

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Later on in the conversation, Maitlis asked Urban:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part two

A review of the content produced by the BBC a decade ago at the time of the Second Lebanon War shows that many of the themes found in that coverage resurfaced eight years later in the corporation’s reporting of a different summer war: the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other assorted terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

SONY DSC

One theme found very early on in the BBC’s coverage of the 2014 war was the promotion of the unsubstantiated notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip, based on unverified claims from political NGOs – some of which were already engaged in lawfare against Israel.

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

After the fighting had ended, the BBC continued to amplify the agenda of NGOs including Human Rights Watch (“More BBC promotion and amplification of lawfare NGO“) and in particular Amnesty International:

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Amnesty International’s Gaza report

More BBC wind in the sails of NGO’s lawfare campaign

BBC amplification of Amnesty’s lawfare agenda again compromises impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ amplifies Israel delegitimising lawfare campaign

The green shoots of that editorial policy were apparent – albeit on a smaller scale – eight years earlier when – just eight days into the Second Lebanon War – the BBC News website ran an article headlined “UN warning on Mid-East war crimes” which was based on statements made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time. An additional article published on the same day told BBC audiences that:

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, warns that those involved in the spiral of violence between Israel and Lebanon could face war crimes charges if they are found to have deliberately attacked civilians”

On August 23rd 2006 the BBC News website promoted a report by Amnesty International under the headline “Israel accused of war crimes“.

“Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. […]

The document details what it describes as “massive destruction by Israeli forces of whole civilian neighbourhoods and villages”, together with attacks on bridges “in areas of no apparent strategic importance”, on its list of supporting evidence. […]

“Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks,” said Ms Gilmore.”

In September 2007 the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel accused over Lebanon war” which amplified a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“A human rights group has accused Israel of carrying out indiscriminate air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Human Rights Watch said Israel showed “reckless indifference” to the fate of civilians and queried its argument that Hezbollah used them as human shields.”

Despite the existence of publicly available evidence discrediting the claims made by AI and HRW (see for example here and here) the above BBC reports (and others) remain available online  – without any clarifying footnote – as ‘historical record’.SONY DSC

Another theme seen in BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War was promotion of the notion of ‘disproportionate’ (and by implication, illegal) actions by Israel – already from day two of the conflict.

“A Lebanese cabinet minister said the Israeli response was disproportionate, and called for a ceasefire. […] France and Russia condemned Israel’s “disproportionate use of force”.” (July 13, 2006)

“The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel.” (July 13, 2006)

“President Jacques Chirac of France called Israel’s acts “disproportionate” while Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an end to fighting. […]But he said Israel’s response was “completely disproportionate”, adding: “One can ask oneself whether there isn’t a sort of desire to destroy Lebanon.”” (July 14, 2006)

“Amnesty’s report said Israeli attacks into Lebanon were “indiscriminate and disproportionate”. (November 21, 2006)

Seeing as the BBC did not make any effort at the time (or since) to inform its audiences (and its own staff) of what the principle of proportionality in warfare actually means, it is not surprising to see that the ‘disproportionality’ theme regularly resurfaces in BBC reporting.

In June 2015, for example, viewers of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ saw Evan Davis promote the false notion that proportionality means equality in death and suffering. During the summer 2014 conflict BBC audiences heard and read generous amplification of equally uninformed comment from assorted British politicians and in November 2012 listeners to the BBC World Service heard Julian Marshall tell an Israeli spokesperson:

“I think one of the observations made by critics of Israel is that you always respond disproportionately and – ah – in a way the figures tell the story. Since this offensive of yours began, 39 Palestinians have been killed, three Israelis. There’s a disproportionate use of force going on here.”

In the next instalment of this post we will take a look at additional common themes found in the BBC’s 2006 reporting from Lebanon and its subsequent coverage from the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part one

 

Source of BBC’s ‘war crimes’ allegations lies about Palestinian victim of terror

As our CAMERA colleague Tamar Sternthal recently noted, a Palestinian victim of a terror attack which took place at Alon Shvut junction on November 18thShadi Arafa from Hebron – has been falsely described by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) as having been killed by Israeli forces.

PCHR Arafa

As readers may recall, the PCHR was one of the sources relied upon by UNOCHA for the compilation of casualty figures and civilian/combatant ratios in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Those figures were unquestioningly quoted, promoted – and defended – by the BBC without any independent verification.

Moreover, the PCHR was the source of serious allegations concerning ‘war crimes’ which appeared in BBC content less than 24 hours after the beginning of the conflict and the organisation’s head was interviewed by the BBC on several occasions.

As has been noted here previously, the PCHR is one of several NGOs uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC which is active in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

Of course the PCHR also promoted inaccurate claims concerning the cause of the death of Omar Masharawi in 2012.

“Readers no doubt recall the tragic incident in which the infant son of a BBC employee was killed in November 2012 by what the BBC – and the PCHR – claimed at the time was an Israeli airstrike.

“…an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house… Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months.  Additionally, a child from the same family was wounded”.

A UN HRC report later determined that the deaths had been caused by a short-falling missile fired by one of the terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip.”

It remains to be seen whether this latest example of PCHR dishonesty will do anything to convince the BBC that it is not a reliable and unbiased source of information worthy of unchallenged promotion by a corporation committed to accurate and impartial reporting.

 

 

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

It is an issue which has been raised here on many occasions in the past, but on May 4th the BBC once again demonstrated that its commitment to the obligation laid down in its editorial guidelines to “clearly describe the ideology” of organisations from which stories are sourced and/or to which interviewees are linked is not only selective and blatantly lacking in consistency, but also appears to be influenced by political considerations.

As readers are no doubt already aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state in section 4.4.14:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

In 2013 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”.

According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem, the statement below appeared in a 2014 email from the BBC in response to a PSC complaint to the effect that the organization to which an interviewee on BBC News belongs was not adequately described to viewers as stipulated in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.”

How then did the BBC News website describe the foreign funded Israeli NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ – described by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz in 2009 as an organization which “has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a human rights organization” – when it published an article on May 4th titled “Israeli military ‘fired indiscriminately’ in Gaza” which is based entirely on a report put out by that NGO on the same day?BtS written

An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year’s Gaza war.” [emphasis added]

Breaking the Silence, a group of serving and ex-soldiers, said its report contained interviews with more than 60 unnamed active duty and reserve Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel who took part in Operation Protective Edge.” [emphasis added]

Clearly those anodyne descriptions do nothing to inform BBC audiences of the political motivations and agenda behind the “viewpoint” and “ideology” which underlie this latest addition to ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaigning on the subject of last summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Similarly, listeners to the May 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:45 here) heard presenter Tim Franks introduce his ‘Breaking the Silence’ interviewee Avichai Stoller thus:BtS audio

“Today, an Israeli activist group has accused the military of using a policy of indiscriminate fire which caused the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Indeed the group – which is called ‘Breaking the Silence’ – says that the rules of military engagement for the seven week war were – in its words – the most permissive it had seen.” [emphasis added]

Obviously that introduction – like Frank’s closing description of the organization as an “Israeli advocacy group” – fails to clarify to audiences the political aims behind ‘Breaking the Silence’ and notably Tim Franks made no effort to challenge Stoller with regard to his claim that “we are not subcontractors of anybody” despite the group’s considerable foreign funding.

Another interesting aspect to the BBC’s multi-platform promotion of the claims made by ‘Breaking the Silence’ is the fact that its booklet of testimonies was published on the same day that the two above BBC reports appeared and yet as of the morning of May 4th, the booklet was only available in Hebrew. Despite that fact, the BBC managed to produce a written report in English within a matter of hours and to arrange World Service radio interviews not only with Stoller but also with the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and with the IDF spokesman with similarly impressive alacrity.

No less remarkable was Tim Franks’ promotion of the notion of ‘war crimes’ on two occasions during the twelve-minute segment. Franks asked Stoller:

“If you’re imputing that war crimes were committed – and it sounds as if you are – isn’t that the province of the International Criminal Court?”

He later asked Bensouda:

“In terms of the allegations that have been made today, how far would they constitute war crimes if they could be substantiated?”

The BBC’s clear flouting of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of the underlying “ideology” of the group which supplied the source material for these two reports – as well as for further opportunistic BBC promotion of the notion that Israel committed ‘war crimes’ during the summer 2014 conflict – is yet another example of the way in which political motivations repeatedly trump editorial standards in the BBC’s coverage of Israel.

Related Articles:

Guardian amplifies Breaking the Silence’s baseless allegation of Israeli racism (UK Media Watch)

Breaking the Silence and the British Media (CAMERA)

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Comparing BBC coverage of civilian casualties in Yemen and Gaza

As readers no doubt recall, within twenty-four hours of the commencement of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, the BBC had begun promoting the theme of ‘Israeli war crimes’. In the first week of the conflict, BBC audiences were also told that Israel deliberately targeted civilians and heard claims of ‘collective punishment’ and a ‘disproportionate’ Israeli response to the actions of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Throughout the BBC’s coverage of the seven week-long hostilities, the topic of civilian casualties was by far the most prominent with thousands of words and hours of air-time devoted to emotive reporting of the plight of civilians in the Gaza Strip and Hamas-supplied casualty figures quoted unquestioningly.

Six days after the commencement of airstrikes on Yemen on March 26th by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition, the UN estimated that almost a hundred civilians had been killed and some 364 injured. The actual figure can be reasonably assumed to be higher by now.

The BBC has to date refrained from ‘parachuting in’ to Yemen star reporters such as Lyse Doucet and Jeremy Bowen as it did during last summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and it is interesting to ponder the question of whether the corporation’s reporting on civilian casualties in Yemen is affected by that fact.

In an article titled “Saudi Arabia launches air strikes in Yemen” published on the BBC News website on March 26th readers were informed that:Yemen 1

“A civil defence source told the AFP news agency that 13 civilians were killed when seven homes near the al-Dulaimi air base were destroyed. The Houthis’ al-Masirah TV quoted the health ministry as putting the death toll at 18.”

The BBC refrained from making any pronunciations with regard to the legality of the airstrikes or their ‘proportionality’. Likewise, no accompanying claims of ‘deliberate targeting of civilians’ appeared in the BBC’s March 28th article titled “Yemen crisis: Saudis lead fresh air strikes on Houthis” which informed readers that:

“Since the air campaign began, at least 39 civilians – including six children under the age of 10 – have been killed, Yemen health ministry officials say.”

An article titled “Yemen crisis: Dozens killed by ‘air strike’ near refugee camp” published on March 30th was guarded in its presentation of information not independently verified by the BBC.

“An air strike has killed at least 40 people at a refugee camp in northwest Yemen, aid workers have said.

State media said Saudi planes were responsible, but the Yemeni foreign minister said “artillery strikes” by Houthi rebels were to blame.”

An article published on April 1st under the title “Yemen crisis: Blast at Hudaydah factory ‘kills 35’” also presented the story in cautious language, acknowledging that the causes of incidents are not always immediately clear.Yemen 2

“At least 35 workers have been killed by a blast at a dairy factory in western Yemen, medics say, as Saudi-led air strikes continue against Houthi rebels.

There were conflicting reports about the cause of the overnight explosion in the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah.

Witnesses said coalition aircraft hit warehouses belonging to the factory. Anti-aircraft guns then returned fire, before the factory itself caught fire.

The UN has expressed alarm at the rising number of civilian casualties.”

The article also states:

“The Saudi-led coalition also bombarded Houthi positions in Aden overnight. A military official told the AFP news agency that there were “many dead and wounded”.

The coalition has insisted that it is trying to avoid killing civilians.

“Collateral damage can happen… but I confirm to you that the coalition takes all care,” spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri was quoted as saying by AFP.

But on Tuesday Amnesty International accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of “turning a blind eye to civilian deaths”, and the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) reported that at least 62 children had been killed and 30 hurt over the past week.”

Jeremy Bowen was not on hand to inform the world that Saudi Arabia “has serious questions to answer”.

An additional article from April 1st – “Yemen crisis: Where does Saudi offensive go next?” by Frank Gardener – is equally cautious in attributing responsibility:

“At least 35 civilians were killed on Tuesday night in an attack on a dairy factory suspected of being used by rebels as a weapons cache, although the cause of the deaths was unclear.”

An April 2nd report titled “Yemen crisis: Fighting intensifies in Aden” has a subsection headed “Civilian deaths” which states:

“As the fighting continues, concern over casualties has risen.

A spokeswoman for the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told the BBC that its hospital in Aden had received more than 500 injured people from all sides in the conflict over the last two weeks.

Coalition spokesman, Gen Ahmed Asir, told the BBC’s Frank Gardner in Riyadh that “it was a hard task to target” the rebels.

The coalition was “using all intelligence resources to make sure they are not hitting the wrong target. We do not hit any target without making sure it is a Houthi or troops loyal to former President Saleh,” he said.

The UN has also expressed alarm at the rising number of civilian deaths in Yemen.”

So what caused BBC reporting on civilian casualties in the first week of conflict in Yemen to be so different from its reporting on the first week of last summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and why are audiences not reading or hearing the same amateur opinions on ‘international law’ or accusations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, collective punishment and deliberate targeting of civilians?

The all too obvious answer to those questions is that in this case the BBC’s correspondents are not focused on promoting a pre-existing politically motivated narrative and amplifying unquestioned and unchallenged messaging from NGOs with a similar political world view to that held by visiting journalists. Instead, they are reporting the news.