BBC World Affairs editor misleads on women’s rights in Iran

This week Freedom House published its ‘Freedom in the World’ map for 2019. Once again the vast majority of the Middle East is ranked ‘not free’ with the only country that is ranked ‘free’ being Israel.

The full reports on individual countries are not yet available but here are some excerpts from the Freedom House 2018 report on Iran – which last year too was ranked ‘not free’.

“Women remain significantly underrepresented in politics and government. In 2017, Rouhani appointed two women among his several vice presidents but failed to name any women as cabinet ministers. No women candidates were allowed to run for president.”

“Women do not receive equal treatment under the law and face widespread discrimination in practice. For example, a woman’s testimony in court is given only half the weight of a man’s, and the monetary compensation awarded to a female victim’s family upon her death is half that owed to the family of a male victim.”

“The penal code criminalizes all sexual relations outside of traditional marriage, and Iran is among the few countries where individuals can be put to death for consensual same-sex conduct. Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community face harassment and discrimination, though the problem is underreported due to the criminalized and hidden nature of these groups in Iran.”

“Freedom of movement is restricted, particularly for women and perceived opponents of the regime. Women are banned from certain public places, such as sports stadiums, and can obtain a passport to travel abroad only with the permission of their fathers or husbands.”

“Women are denied equal rights in inheritance matters.”

“Women are subject to obligatory rules on dress and personal appearance, and those who are deemed to have inadequately covered their hair and body face state harassment, fines, and arrest. Men are subject to less strict controls on personal appearance. Although Tehran’s police chief announced in December 2017 that city authorities would no longer make arrests for breaching rules on personal appearance, instead mandating education sessions by police officials, the change apparently applied only to the capital, and repeat offenders could reportedly still face detention.”

“Women do not enjoy equal rights in divorce and child custody disputes.”

“The government provides no protection to women and children forced into sex trafficking…”

In contrast, here is an excerpt from an article by the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson which appeared in the ‘features’ section of BBC News website’s Middle East page on February 1st under the title “The plane journey that set Iran’s revolution in motion”.

“Today, Iran is a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women’s dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women’s rights in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia.

Iranian women run businesses, own property, drive cars and play an important part in politics.

The present government is probably more liberal than any other since the revolution.” [emphasis added]

The World Economic Forum publishes an annual ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ which ranks countries in terms of women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. The 2018 report put Iran in slot 142 out of 149, with Saudi Arabia one place higher. Despite Simpson’s claim that “Iranian women…play an important part in politics”, the WEF’s sub-index on political empowerment ranks Iran 141 out of 149. Saudi Arabia is ranked 127th.

This is by no means the first time (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC has whitewashed the specific issue of women’s rights in Iran as well as the general picture of human rights in that country. But this is not some junior reporter dashing off a report: this is the BBC’s highly paid world affairs editor – no less – writing a feature, with time to check facts in order to avoid misleading audiences.

Yet again we see just how seriously the BBC takes its constitutional 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:

How the BBC whitewashed the issue of women’s rights in Iran

BBC News coverage of Iranian election touts ‘moderate’ Rouhani yet again

Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant

BBC does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

 

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BBC Asian Network’s eyebrow raising phone-in question

The BBC’s Asian Network radio station managed to raise some eyebrows on January 9th when it posted – and later deleted – a Tweet promoting a phone-in programme.

The synopsis to that programme – which was titled using the asylum seeker’s name Rahaf Al-Qunun – described the phone-in’s subject matter as follows:

“How do you feel about a Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Qasa is asking this after 18 year old Rahaf Al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia and defied her family by leaving Islam.”

Listeners to the programme heard an introduction from presenter Qasa Alom which included the following:

“How do you feel then about the 18 year-old Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Rahaf Al-Qunun is 18, she’s from Saudi and recently she began a journey to leave the country and try to make it to Australia and appeal for asylum because she doesn’t believe in Islam any more and felt like her life was in danger. The law in Saudi states that anyone who renounces Islam is punishable by death. Now the teenager was stopped in Thailand where she’s now staying at a Thai government shelter while the UN refugee agency assesses her case. […] She’s currently also refusing to see her family and claims her father and brother want to take her back to Saudi. So I want to know how do you feel about this situation? Do you think she’s brave for taking a stand for her principles? Regardless of whether you agree or not, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to leave their religion? Or do you think that this is a girl that’s only 18 years old and she needs to give her family a chance? And also you can remain anonymous about this.”

Yes, a publicly funded UK-wide BBC radio station really did offer listeners the opportunity to express anonymous opinions for or against the death sentence for apostates. That, however, may come as somewhat less of a surprise if one recalls that in 2017 the same radio station had to apologise for Tweeting the question “what is the right punishment for blasphemy?”. 

Related Articles:

BBC interviewees appear in report on extremism in UK charities

Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

BBC’s Saudi women’s rights reports fall short

 

BBC’s Saudi women’s rights reports fall short

Two articles relating to the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ in recent days:

Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi woman ends airport hotel standoff  January 7th

Why a Saudi woman can be arrested for disobeying her father January 8th

Among the ‘related reading’ offered to BBC audiences in both those articles is a link billed “Saudi women on what life’s really like” which leads to a video produced by the BBC in November 2017 in which just two women from Saudi Arabia were interviewed, one of whom was quoted in the video’s synopsis as follows:

“There’s a huge misconception of Saudi women: We are guided by men, or driven by men. That is not true.”

While that link may seem like an odd choice for inclusion in two reports relating to the story of a Saudi Arabian woman trying to flee male members of her family, this is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen the corporation downplaying the issues faced by women in Saudi Arabia.

In the spring of 2015 the BBC produced several reports informing audiences that “progress” was being made by women in Saudi Arabia despite what the BBC euphemistically chose to term “social restrictions”.

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

On International Women’s Day 2016 the BBC asked visitors to its website “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?”.

BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

The January 8th article mentions that Saudi Arabia “ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2000” while noting the “concern” of “UN experts” at “the country’s failure to adopt a specific law prohibiting discrimination against women”.

The BBC did not however bother to inform readers that in October 2018 the same United Nations announced that Saudi Arabia would continue to be a member of the Human Rights Council and that in 2017 Saudi Arabia was elected to a four-year term on the UN’s women’s rights commission.

BBC silent on Saudi Arabia’s new UN commission seat

As we see the BBC still appears to consider it necessary to promote an ‘alternative’ view of the issue of women’s rights in a country it describes as “conservative” but which – despite lately granting women the right to drive, watch football and take sports lessons in school – is still one of the worst places on earth for gender equality. And once again we see that the BBC has nothing at all to say about a country ranked 141 out of 149 on women’s rights just last year being given a seat on UN human rights bodies.

 

 

 

BBC News flunks on Palestinian internal affairs yet again

As has been noted here in the past, BBC coverage of internal Palestinian affairs is typically decidedly sparse.

In July 2014 the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy told audiences that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

The BBC’s interpretation of what “the story” is about is however very limited and its coverage focuses overwhelmingly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the conflict is clearly just one story among many in the region, only very occasionally do audiences see stand-alone reports about Palestinian affairs which are not framed within that context and do not have an Israel-related component.

Insight into internal Palestinian politics which would enhance audiences’ comprehension of Palestinian society (as well as the conflict) is relatively rare in BBC coverage. Reporting on social and human rights issues within Palestinian society is even more scarce and thus BBC audiences see a blinkered and largely one-dimensional view of Palestinian life.

Throughout the whole of 2017 (see ‘related articles’ below) the BBC News website published a total of twenty-eight articles relating to Palestinian affairs. In contrast, Israeli affairs were the topic of eighty-two BBC reports.

Six of the 28 reports related to the topic of the chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip:

Gaza electricity crisis: Hamas breaks up protest discussed here

Angry protests in Gaza over crippling power shortages Rushdi Abu Alouf, discussed here

Gaza power cuts: Man shares his tricks discussed here

Palestinian Authority ‘stops paying Israel for Gaza electricity’ discussed here

Gaza residents left in the dark amid Palestinian power struggle Yolande Knell, discussed here

Gaza’s only power plant resumes after Egypt fuel delivery

Four of the reports related to Hamas’ leadership and policy document:

Hamas hardliner Yehiya Sinwar elected as Gaza leader discussed here

New Hamas policy document ‘aims to soften image’ discussed here

How much of a shift is the new Hamas policy document? Yolande Knell, discussed here

Hamas chooses Ismail Haniya as new leader discussed here

Two articles reported on executions carried out by Hamas:

Hamas executes three ‘Israel collaborators’ in Gaza

Gaza Palestinians: Hamas kills three ‘collaborators’

One reported related to the economic situation in the Gaza Strip:

Qatar Gulf row threatens cash crisis for Gaza Yolande Knell, discussed here

Three reports related to social stories from the Gaza Strip:

Gaza conjoined twins ‘need life-saving treatment abroad’ discussed here

Gaza amputees explain their unique friendship discussed here

Gaza commemorates Yasser Arafat anniversary

Three reports related to Palestinian Authority/US relations:

Trump Middle East: Palestinian leader invited to White House discussed here

Palestinians ‘could freeze US ties’ over Washington office closure

Palestinians recall envoy to US  discussed here

One report related to PA censorship:

Palestinian Authority ‘detains rights activist over criticism’ discussed here

Six reports related to the Hamas-Fatah unity deal which did not transpire:

Hamas says it is ready to hold first elections since 2006 discussed here

Palestinian PM in rare Gaza visit as rift with Hamas eases discussed here

Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah end split on Gaza discussed here

Palestinian unity deal: Gazans hope for end to feud Yolande Knell

Hamas must disarm to join Palestinian unity government – US discussed here

Hamas hands PA control of Gaza border crossings discussed here

Two reports related to travel/tourism:

The ancient path through Palestine BBC Travel

The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy BBC Travel, discussed here

On February 19th 2018 what appeared at first glance to be a rare report on a Palestinian social issue appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Gaza women’s TV channel blocked by Hamas” and an Arabic language version of the report was posted on the BBC Arabic website.

“Authorities in Gaza have blocked the launch of a women’s television channel there, just before it was due to go on air.

Officials from the Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas, which dominates the territory, said Taif TV had not obtained the necessary licences.

However the channel said it had met all the legal requirements.”

The vast majority of the article’s word-count (78%) was devoted to quoting claims and counter-claims regarding the TV channel’s licence.

Notably – in contrast, for example, to the Times of Israel report on the same story – the BBC’s article did not inform readers of angry reactions to the Hamas decision from members of the Palestinian public.

Although the BBC chose to raise the subject of women’s rights in the Gaza Strip in this report, it devoted remarkably little of its word-count to that topic.

“Civil liberties groups have long criticised Hamas for what they say is a poor record on women’s rights in Gaza.” […]

Hamas has long been accused of discriminating against women since it reinforced its hold on power in Gaza after ousting its secular Fatah rivals in 2007.”

That link leads to a report by Freedom House in which just one of the thirty-nine paragraphs gives a very brief and generalised portrayal of the situation of women in the Gaza Strip.

In other words, once again the BBC has failed to make the most of an opportunity to provide audiences with meaningful insight into social issues within Palestinian society.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q1 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q2 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q3 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News coverage of internal Palestinian affairs