BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

On the afternoon of November 6th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report is illustrated with an image credited to You Tube and captioned “The Old City of Jerusalem is a Unesco World Heritage site” but readers are not informed that it is in fact a “screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley”.

The report opens with a description of the plan which includes clear framing. [emphasis added]

“A controversial plan to build a cable car network in Jerusalem’s Old City to transport visitors to one of Judaism’s holiest sites has been approved by Israel’s housing cabinet.

The cable cars will ferry up to 3,000 people an hour about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s government says the project will reduce traffic congestion.”

It then quickly moves on to present the views of various opponents, including a link to a campaigning video.

“But opponents say it will damage the area’s historic landscape.

They intend to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to stop it.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working to defend cultural heritage, has previously warned that the cable car network will alter the skyline of the Old City – a Unesco World Heritage site – and have a detrimental impact on Palestinian residents of the Silwan area living under the proposed route.

It has also alleged that the project “serves a highly political agenda” and that it was “fast-tracked” through the planning process.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: [emphasis added]

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Readers are however told nothing of that foreign funded political NGO’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” before the report moves on to promote a link to an as yet uncorrected BBC backgrounder from 2014 and highlight additional objections.

“The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government – the custodian of the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – have also expressed concern about the impact on the Old City.”

Readers then see an edited version of a problematic video made by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell in 2017 and at the end of the report they are told that:

“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.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC reporting, while the corporation adopts and uses PLO approved language such as “occupied East Jerusalem”, audiences are told nothing of the Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or of the fact that until June 1967 – as shown in Article 24 of the original PLO charter from 1964 – the Palestinians specifically stated that they had no claim to territory occupied at the time by Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The result is that, as usual, BBC audiences are fed a politically partisan account which deliberately omits relevant context.

Related Articles:

BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC Complaints makes it up as it goes along

Back in August listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard a report from Yolande Knell on the topic of property transactions carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

Inaccurate and partial BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem’s Old City

In his introduction to the item presenter Justin Webb told audiences that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“The development’s taking place amid a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank…”

We noted here at the time that:

“Webb provided no evidence to support that misleading claim of “a recent increase in settlement building”. Even if his intention was to comment on construction within existing communities rather than to assert that an increased number ‘settlements’ had been recently built, the basis for that claim is unclear because the available statistics run only until the end of March 2019 and they show a decrease in construction completes in Judea & Samaria.

Both Justin Webb and subsequently Yolande Knell told BBC audiences that the story is about “the sale” of properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is not the case: the story is actually about 99-year leases for three properties (rather than two as claimed by Webb).”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those issues on August 28th. On September 5th we were informed by BBC Complaints that “it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On September 24th we received a message informing us that “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On October 2nd we received the following response from BBC Complaints:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the Today programme, broadcast on Thursday 22nd August.

Firstly, we’re sorry about the delay in getting back to you. We know people appreciate a prompt response and unfortunately we’ve taken longer to reply than usual – please accept our apologies.

We have spoken with the Today programme team about your concerns. In the intro to Yolande’s report we said, “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers from taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the city’s old Christian quarter. The Greek Orthodox Church has filed a new lawsuit trying to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on the sale of their hotels saying it was clear proof of corruption. The developments are taking place amid an increase in settler building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as Yolande now reports.”

While it is correct that the disputed sale of the Imperial Hotel happened around 15 years ago, we consider it was made clear both in the report and in the intro that this report was specifically focussing on the current lawsuit. Yolande also made it clear within her report that Walid Dajani has been renting the lease on the hotel, rather than being the owner of this building.

On your point about the size of the settler population, it is an established fact that number has been increasing over the past decade. The phrasing used is perfectly acceptable in a short intro, where not every detail can be explained.

We hope this has clarified the issues being raised within this report. We don’t consider that this report contained any inaccuracies on these points.”

BBC Watch then submitted a second (Stage 1b) complaint pointing out that although Knell did indeed state that Dajani had been renting the lease on the hotel, in contrast to that one statement, listeners heard three references to the “sale of the hotels”, “bought the building” and “sale of the property” which are inaccurate and misleading.

We also pointed out that although it was claimed in the reply that Justin Webb referred to “an increase in settler building” he did not – he in fact used the words “a recent increase in settlement building” – and we noted that:

“There is a difference between settlers (people) and settlements (places). While the number of people the BBC brands “settlers” may have “been increasing over the past decade” the number of communities of the type the BBC labels “settlements” has not. Webb referred to “settlement building” which reasonable members of the audience would take to mean the building of settlements rather than the number of people living in such communities. Listeners would therefore understand – erroneously – that the number of communities had increased recently and would therefore be misled.”

On October 15th we received a reply which BBC Complaints took it upon itself to declare a Stage 1a response, thereby making up the rules as it goes along.

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

I’m sorry you had to come back to us and I appreciate why. We always aim to address the specific points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. Your [sic] previous reply didn’t tackle the exact issue you raised and we’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.”

BBC Complaints then admitted that it had misrepresented Webb’s words in the previous reply.

“We have spoken further with the Today programme about your concerns. They would like to respond with the following:

“We have listened again to the broadcast and you are right to say that the introduction spoke of “a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank” not “an increase in settler building.” We’re sorry for the misquotation in our reply.

You suggest there is a difference “between settlers (people) and settlements (places)” but in this case we think this is a distinction without a difference.

Settlements invariably expand on their existing sites, and last month, for example, the AP news agency reported that in the first two years of Trump’s presidency, authorities had approved 1,861 housing units in East Jerusalem settlements, a 60% increase from the 1,162 approved in the previous two years. The figures, obtained by ‘Peace Now’, showed that 1,081 permits for settler housing were issued in 2017 alone, the highest annual number since 2000.

More generally, the Israeli government has approved approximately 6,100 settlement housing units this year, according to the UN. By comparison, it approved 5,600 housing units in all of 2018.
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24881&LangID=E
 
Rising Violence, Settlement-Expansion Continue to Spark Israeli-Palestinian Tensions as Talks Remain Stalled, Top Official Tells Security Council
https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13930.doc.htm

As we see the BBC not only cites the notoriously biased UN Human Rights Council and its highly controversial ‘special rapporteur’ but also the partisan political NGO ‘Peace Now.

We also see that the BBC cites third party reports of on-paper-only building permits as ‘proof’ of an increase in building, rather than actual construction completes. As we have noted here in the past, that long existent practice denies audiences of accurate information essential for proper understanding of the topic.

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part one

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

Data published by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics last month concerning construction in Area C of Judea & Samaria clarifies that the BBC’s claim of “a recent increase in settlement building in…the West Bank” – even if one takes that to mean construction in existing communities – is questionable.

Notably the second response received from BBC Complaints did not address the issue of audiences being misled by Webb’s claim of “a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank”. One would of course expect the BBC (of all media outlets) to have sufficient command of the English language to prevent confusion between three different topics: the size of the ‘settler’ population, the rate of housing construction in existing communities and the number of new ‘settlements’ established.

The BBC Complaints response continues:

“Let me now turn to your previous points about the report itself.
 
It was clear from the report that Mr Dajani’s family were not the owners of the hotel but had been renting the building for decades – it stated that “his father started renting this hotel in 1948 but now Jewish settlers have bought the building” – and that it was in this respect that they would be affected by the sale.  It was also made clear that they had landlords, the Greek Orthodox Church.  Again, we think it is a distinction without a difference to suggest we should have emphasised more than we did that the sale of a lease was involved. The practical impact of the sale of a long-term lease is the same as that of a freehold. In terms of the date of the original, disputed, transaction in 2004, our report clearly focused on the current lawsuit to try to overturn the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of the sale, as the introduction made clear.”

The response then repeats the inaccurate claim of sale of properties:

“You are right to suggest that the sale of Greek Orthodox-owned properties to settlers involved three properties.  But our introduction in fact said “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers from taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the city’s old Christian quarter.” This was correct.  The two, former regal, properties are the New Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel, which are both in the Jaffa Gate plaza.
 
There was, as you imply, a third property involved in the lawsuit, a house in the Muslim Quarter, which was bought for $55,000 in 2004 (as opposed to $1.75 million for the two hotel leases).

We do not believe this makes a material difference to the story, and as you know the report clearly focused on the New Imperial Hotel.  The battle is over the two hotels at the entrance to the Old City, and the symbolism of their being occupied by settlers.”

In other words it is clear that the BBC is far more concerned that audiences should understand the politicised “symbolism” of this story than it is with giving them an accurate account of events – or running an efficient and professional complaints system which responds on time and without trying to fob off complainants by misquoting its own content and relying on irrelevant data.

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Follow up to a story the BBC reported in April

Over the years BBC audiences have seen several reports concerning two zoos in Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

April 2012: Gaza zoo resorts to displaying stuffed animals

“Mohamed Owaida from the Khan Younis Zoo says it is proving too costly to feed his living animals, and he can not always get live specimens through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.”

August 2016: The last tiger to leave Gaza zoo

“He [the tiger] has lived with me through three wars. He saw disaster and terror. He lived through difficult nights. Like all of us, like me.”

“Dozens of animals died during fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel.”

August 2016: BBC Radio 4 ‘PM’, Yolande Knell

“Akram Mahali says daily life is a struggle. Neither he nor his six children have ever seen life outside Gaza and they’re not likely to any time soon. With Hamas in control of the Palestinian territory, both Israel and Egypt impose tight border restrictions and limit travel.”

“Then, just after dawn, the animals leave Gaza. Their suffering will soon be over but they leave behind Palestinians who continue to feel trapped.”

April 2019: Gaza zoo animals evacuated to Jordan by Four Paws group

“Mr Jomaa blamed the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and bad economic conditions for the squalid conditions in the zoo.”

Now the Times of Israel reports that the Rafah zoo has reopened.

“In April, international animal rights charity Four Paws took all the animals to sanctuaries, receiving a pledge the zoo would close forever.

But last month, it reopened with two lions and three new cubs, penned in cages only a few square meters in size.

Critics say the owners want to bully Four Paws or other animal welfare organizations into giving them thousands of dollars to free the animals into their care.

Four Paws paid the zoo’s owners more than $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments, food and caretakers. […]

The newly reopened zoo’s manager, Ashraf Jumaa, from the same family that owned the old one, said they brought the new lions through tunnels from Egypt.”

Given the BBC’s previous record, should it decide to cover this latest development in the story it reported in April we can no doubt expect to see more politicised commentary blaming the conditions suffered by animals in Gaza zoos on inadequately explained Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC News claims Hamas rule in Gaza ended 5 years ago

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

 

 

 

 

 

Inaccurate and partial BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the past two years listeners to BBC Radio 4 religious programming have heard a couple of inaccurate and misleading reports on the topic of property transactions carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

BBC Radio 4, ‘religious freedom’ and a half-told story

BBC R4 ‘Sunday’ adds more confusion to Jerusalem church story

Listeners to the August 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard another item in that genre which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb (from 43:46 here) as follows:

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

Webb: “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The Greek Orthodox Church has filed a new lawsuit to try to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on the sale of the hotels, saying it was clear proof of corruption. The development’s taking place amid a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Yolande Knell reports.”

Webb provided no evidence to support that misleading claim of “a recent increase in settlement building”. Even if his intention was to comment on construction within existing communities rather than to assert that an increased number ‘settlements’ had been recently built, the basis for that claim is unclear because the available statistics run only until the end of March 2019 and they show a decrease in construction completes in Judea & Samaria.

Both Justin Webb and subsequently Yolande Knell told BBC audiences that the story is about “the sale” of properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is not the case: the story is actually about 99-year leases for three properties (rather than two as claimed by Webb).

Knell’s report commenced as follows:

Knell: “There’s a rush of tourists entering Jerusalem’s walled Old City through Jaffa Gate. They’re here to visit the sacred sites of three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Over the centuries this place has been the crucible of conflict. Today the struggle is between Israelis and Palestinians and I’m looking up at the impressive façade of a nineteenth century landmark which is now on the front line of that. Wow! So this is the Imperial Hotel.”

Knell then introduced her report’s main protagonist – again inaccurately claiming that “the building” has been “bought”.

Knell: “Abu Walid Dajani’s family has lived in Jerusalem for generations. His father started renting this hotel in 1948. But now Jewish settlers have bought the building and he could soon be thrown out.”

The transaction did not occur “now” as claimed by Knell but a decade and a half ago in 2004.

Dajani: “The only thing I wish that God would give me the help and for my children to continue the battle of my life. We’ve been here for the last 600 years and inshallah we will continue.”

Knell then once again inaccurately referred to “the sale of the property” and told audiences of “a corrupt official” despite the fact that in 2017 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that “the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was unable to establish that the deals, made in 2004 […] were fraudulent or involved bribery” and in June 2019 the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Knell: “During a long court battle the landlords – the Greek Orthodox Church – argued the sale of the property for just over a million dollars was carried out by a corrupt official. But Israel’s Supreme Court found it was legal. Mr Dajani says the buyers were driven by ideology.”

Dajani: “Distorted history. Where this is the land that God give. Who gave you? God was never a real estate man. All right; you can buy but you can do a deal in an honest way.”

Knell next claimed that Jerusalem’s Old City is “East Jerusalem”.

Knell: “Outside the hotel local church leaders pray for peace. They’ve appealed to the Vatican, to Moscow and Washington to intervene to stop a Jewish take-over of Christian properties in the Old City. For Palestinians this is also about protecting their presence in East Jerusalem and the idea of creating the capital of their hoped-for future state here.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified man claim that:

Man: “Every small land here in Jerusalem for Palestinians is very important but here is very like main area for tourists to come in so they see the flag, they see like returns to Israeli but it’s not – it’s Palestinian.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that there has never been a Palestinian state – let alone one which had sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem – Knell went on:

Knell: “But come down to the Western Wall – this crowded spot which is the holiest place where Jews can pray – and Israelis have a very different perspective. They see a united Jerusalem as their eternal capital.”

Listeners then heard two vox pop interviews with people who barely speak English replying to Knell’s question “you wouldn’t give up part of Jerusalem for peace with the Palestinians?”.

The Old City is of course not just any old “part of Jerusalem” but Knell made no effort at all to inform listeners of the fact that it is a location where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed by Jordan for a period lasting nineteen years.

Moreover, Knell then went on to promote a politically motivated narrative long embraced by the BBC: the notion that any and all Jews living in the Old City are ‘settlers’ and their homes ‘illegal settlements’.

Knell: [shouting] “A Palestinian woman screams after she’s evicted from her Old City home earlier this year so Jewish students can move in. Settlements are seen as illegal by most countries but Israel disagrees and in East Jerusalem one group – Ateret Cohanim – is behind a lot of the house purchases. Its director Daniel Luria recently told me he hopes to see many more Jews living here.”

Following that short and obviously carefully edited interview, Knell closed her report.

Knell: “Back at the Imperial Hotel an Israeli court worker serves Abu Walid Dajani with a new lawsuit, freezing his assets. The pressure on him from the settlers is mounting. At the heart of this deeply contested holy city, real estate has much more than just a financial value. It has an emotional and political one too.”

Not only did this report repeatedly promote inaccurate information concerning the properties which are ostensibly its subject matter but Yolande Knell has clearly exclusively embraced the Greek Orthodox Church’s narrative.

More gravely, Knell unquestioningly promoted the partisan political narrative she long since adopted with her framing of Old City houses inhabited by Jewish Israelis as ‘illegal settlements’, the inhabitants as ‘settlers’ and her uncritical amplification of the claim that the location is “Palestinian”.

Clearly this report does not meet the standards of either accuracy or impartiality laid down in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.  

Related Articles:

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

Resources:

 

‘Homemade’ Palestinian weapons return to BBC news reporting

Back in November 2012 a BBC TV presenter told viewers that Hamas was ‘only’ firing “home-made contraptions” at Israeli civilians.

Not enough Israelis killed by “home-made contraptions” for BBC’s Mishal Husain

During the conflict in the summer of 2014, BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondents repeatedly described the missile arsenals of the Gaza Strip based terrorist organisations as “homemade rockets”.

BBC continues to promote theme of “homemade” rockets

As was noted here at the time:

“The obvious intention is to steer audiences towards a view of these weapons as being crudely and simply made, with the implication that they are ineffective and do not present such a dangerous threat to Israeli civilians.”

Five years on, BBC audiences were told of a “homemade” improvised explosive by one of the same BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondents in the August 24th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 17:23 here).

The newsreader began by framing the story according to BBC editorial policy – i.e. by failing to describe a violent politically motivated attack on civilians as terrorism and by using politically partisan language to portray a geographic region. [emphasis added]

Newsreader: “An Israeli teenager has been killed and her father and brother injured in a suspected Palestinian militant attack near a settlement in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military says an improvised bomb was used. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Yolande Knell chose to use the Arabic pronunciation of the name of an Israeli city and – in line with BBC policy throughout the past 18 months – to portray violent rioting that included the throwing of explosives, grenades and Molotov cocktails as “protests”.

Knell: “As the funeral took place for seventeen-year-old Rina Shnerb in the central Israeli city of Lud [sic – Lod], her father – a rabbi – and older brother remained in hospital, being treated for their injuries from the explosion. In the hilly area of the West Bank, Israeli soldiers searching for the girl’s killer have blocked roads leading to Palestinian villages. Unusually, a homemade bomb is said to have been used. It’s thought it was planted close to a natural spring in a popular hiking spot and detonated as the family approached it. There’s been a recent rise in Palestinian attacks – several linked to the Islamist movement Hamas – raising concerns about a possible upsurge in violence ahead of next month’s Israeli elections. In Gaza, where there was a large turn out for the regular Friday protests along the border fence with Israel, the Hamas leader praised the latest attack in the West Bank but didn’t say whether his group was responsible.”

Since the beginning of this year the Israel Security Agency has recorded monthly use of improvised explosive devices and pipe bombs in attacks carried out in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem:

January – 15 attacks using pipe bombs

February – 11 attacks using IEDs

March – 16 attacks using IEDs

April – 21 attacks using IEDs

May – 4 attacks using pipe bombs

June – 15 attacks using pipe bombs

July – 6 attacks using pipe bombs

Since the BBC has refrained from reporting the majority of those attacks (with four of those seven months seeing no reporting on terrorism against Israelis whatsoever) it is hardly surprising that Yolande Knell portrays this latest attack using an IED as being ‘unusual’.

As for Knell’s claim that the device was “homemade”, the Times of Israel reports that:

“The army said an improvised explosive device was used in the attack. Police sappers determined that the bomb had been planted earlier at the spring and was triggered remotely when the family approached it. […]

Channel 12 quoted unnamed officials as saying that the size and complexity of the device indicated that one of the major terror groups was behind the attack.”

Channel 13’s military correspondent Alon Ben David reported that the IED weighed between three and four kilos and contained a large amount of shrapnel, adding that the incident was “planned and organised – and not a spontaneous or improvised terror attack”.

Yolande Knell’s use of the term “homemade” does not convey that information to BBC audiences and – as was the case when she used it in 2014 – downplays the gravity of events.

Related Articles:

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PA’s ban on LGBTQ group gets two minutes of BBC airtime

Some four hours after BBC Watch noted the absence of any BBC reporting on a story concerning a Palestinian Authority ban on the activities of a LGBTQ group a two-minute item appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ (from 13:57 here) on August 19th.

Newsreader: “Gay rights activists in the West Bank have been threatened online after the Palestinian police announced a ban on their campaigns and meetings and called for help to arrest them. The prohibition of the main local LGBTQ group was announced despite the Palestinian Authority having signed up to various international human rights treaties. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “In a statement posted on Facebook, a police spokesman described the actions of the LGBTQ group al Qaws – or rainbow – as a blow to the ideals and values of Palestinian society and against the monotheistic religions. Same sex relations aren’t against the law in the West Bank but homosexuality remains largely taboo, as it is across the Arab world. Those involved with the group have been threatened with arrest, accused of sedition after a recent event in the West Bank. In response to the statement announcing the ban – which has now been deleted from Facebook – members of the Palestinian public posted angry messages. ‘Arrest them and burn them all’ read one. Mohammed Abu Ramilla [phonetic] from al Qaws criticised the police for creating an atmosphere of persecution and intimidation.”

Knell did not clarify where her interviewee is located: a factor obviously relevant to his participation in this item.

Abu Ramilla: “That was so shocking to us. For the police to release such a statement that incites people to follow or to report anyone that knows anything about the organisation, which translates to people reporting anyone they know who might be LGBT or Queer in their lives…well. And we think that’s very dangerous, obviously.”

Knell: “Other activists suggest the Palestinian Authority could be in breach of UN treaties on human rights which it signed to try to strengthen its hand in the conflict with Israel. When contacted by the BBC, the Authority’s police refused to comment. The EU funded mission which trains Palestinian police said it was continuing to give advice – including on LGBT rights – and that it was trying to clarify the circumstances of the statement.”  

The same item was aired six hours later on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 20:13 here).

In short, listeners to one domestic BBC radio station heard a two-minute item in two news bulletins, neither of which will be available to the public a month from now.  

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Disparity in BBC LGBTQ Middle East reporting

 

Disparity in BBC LGBTQ Middle East reporting

Two months ago BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio aired reports by Yolande Knell relating to Pride events in Israel.

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports one pride march protest, erases another

BBC’s Yolande Knell recycles her Jerusalem pride report – with a little help

Listeners heard that:

“Although Israel is proud of its diversity […] today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route.” 

“As last month’s Eurovision Song Contest showed, Israel likes to demonstrate its diversity but the angry protests at today’s march also highlighted the deep social and religious differences that remain.”

“Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation – which it recently flaunted while hosting the Eurovision Song Contest – draws many same-sex Israeli couples to live here as well as lots of foreign visitors. […] But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

“In the Right-wing coalition governments of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties have had an influential role. They reject any proposed legislation which they see as condoning homosexuality, saying it defies Jewish law.”

Knell used a cameo of gay Arab Jerusalemites to amplify delegitimisation of Israel by means of accusations of ‘pinkwashing’.

“Now while the anthem of this march is all about celebrating diversity, you don’t see many Palestinian Jerusalemites here. One reason is the social taboo around homosexuality. But some accuse Israel of pinkwashing: highlighting gay rights at events like this while neglecting Palestinian rights.”

“There are also strong differences of opinion among gay Palestinians. Social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality mean they don’t have their own pride events so some with access to the Israeli parades embrace them, like an East Jerusalemite drag queen in a tight black dress and bright red lipstick. Others, like Zizou, choose to boycott. ‘Pride week just helps Israel pinkwash its image’ he complains, accusing the country of presenting itself as progressive, liberal and LGBT friendly to distract from its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Listeners heard nothing more about that “social taboo” or those “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality”.

In July the BBC News website published an article about a “Palestinian singer blurring gender lines” which failed to provide readers with any substantial information on the issue of the challenges faced by LGBTQ Palestinians living under Hamas or Palestinian Authority rule.

Also last month the BBC chose to ignore a story about the stabbing of a youth from the Arab Israeli town of Tamra outside a Tel Aviv LGBTQ hostel, allegedly by members of his family.

“…Hebrew media have already reported that the youth had moved to Tel Aviv to escape family pressures to adopt a religious lifestyle.

Security camera footage showed one of the suspects stabbing the boy several times before getting into a car and fleeing the scene.

According to Beit Dror [hostel] staff, the teenager identified the assailant as his brother before he collapsed to the ground.

Doctors at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said Sunday that they had managed to stabilize the youth’s condition, which was upgraded to moderate, after he underwent surgery.”

Another example of BBC self-censorship on the issue of gay rights in Palestinian society comes following the publication of an article by Khaled Abu Toameh.

“The Palestinian Authority banned members of the Palestinian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community from carrying out any activities in the West Bank.

The ban came after the grassroots group Al-Qaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (Arabic for “the bow”), which engages and supports Palestinians who identify as LGBTQ, was planning to hold a gathering for its members in Nablus at the end of the month. […]

Explaining the decision to ban the LGBTQ group from operating in PA-controlled areas, Luay Zreikat, spokesperson for the PA Police, said that such activities are “harmful to the higher values and ideals of Palestinian society.”

Zreikat said that the group’s activities were completely “unrelated to religions and Palestinian traditions and customs, especially in the city of Nablus.”

He accused unnamed “dubious parties” of working to “create discord and harm civic peace in Palestinian society.”

The PA police will chase those behind the LGBTQ group and see to it that they are brought to trial once they are arrested, Zreikat warned. He further appealed to Palestinians to report to the police about any person connected to the group.”

Although that story has received quite a lot of coverage in local and international media, Yolande Knell and her BBC colleagues in Ramallah have to date shown no interest in reporting it. 

Update: 

PA’s ban on LGBTQ group gets two minutes of BBC airtime

 

BBC approach to gender-segregated events differs with location

On August 12th a report titled “The Kenyan dance parties where men are banned” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ page.

Readers of that sympathetic report were told that:

“The team behind a new event in Nairobi argues all-women’s dance parties can create safe nightlife spaces for women. […]

“You have to be so strict in a place with men. You just want to go out with your friends and men interfere,” says Jane, 26, who’s come to the party with her best friend Shani.

“So having a space where it’s all women immediately feels safe and you feel you are with people who understand you.””

And:

“Munira, 22 and Khadija, 25 are best friends. As practising Muslims, they often find themselves with minimal options when it comes to night life.

They say that, although women from all faiths attend the all-women parties, they particularly suit Muslims.

“Some of us have to remove our hijabs to blend in when we are out dancing. When they see you with a hijab, people are surprised and wonder what you are doing there.

“A space like this is also better because we are forbidden from freely mingling with men,” Khadija says.”

Apparently short of UK domestic news, on the following day – August 13th – BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ aired an item (from 27:16 here) introduced by presenter Corrie Corfield as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Corfield: “Israeli women’s rights groups are urging the mayor of Haifa to cancel a planned concert for a men-only audience by two popular ultra-orthodox Jewish singers. The controversy comes after one of the artists cancelled another event when a court ruled that organisers couldn’t force men and women in the audience to sit separately. Under a strict interpretation of Jewish laws, men and women are not supposed to mingle at social events. Our correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Jerusalem.”

Yolande Knell began her report with a claim which – coincidently or not – is also found in the opening lines of the singer’s Wikipedia page. Listeners discovered that Corfield’s reference to “groups” in the plural is inaccurate.

Knell: [Music] “Mordechai Ben David is often called the king of Jewish music. He’s due to perform in Haifa later this month with a younger star of Hassidic pop, Motty Steinmetz. Their concert, which is getting city funding and support, is meant to be for men only and that’s the problem. A rights group – Israel Women’s Network [Shdulat Ha Nashim B’Israel] – says it amounts to illegal discrimination.”

She went on:

Knell: “Its objections have infuriated members of the ultra-orthodox community. They came just days after legal action by the same organisation led to Motty Steinmetz pulling out of a concert in a public park in the city of Afula because men and women might not be separated. A judge ruled that while Haredi audience members were free to seat themselves as they wanted, keeping to their religious customs, the event organisers couldn’t force gender segregation on others.”

The judge’s ruling to which Knell refers was made two days before her report was aired, on August 11th. However the next day the political party Shas petitioned against that ruling and on August 14th a different judge at the same court gave a different ruling.

“The Nazareth District Court ruled to allow the Afula municipality to hold a gender-segregated concert Wednesday evening, accepting an appeal against a controversial decision it made just days earlier barring the northern city from putting on such an event. […]

As part of his Wednesday ruling, Judge Atef Eilabouni recommended that the municipality agree to a compromise in which the amphitheater be split in three for the concert, with a woman’s section above a men’s section as well as a mixed-gender area.”

The Motty Steinmetz concert in Afula – which both Corfield and Knell told listeners was cancelled – in fact took place on August 14th.

Knell continued, referencing a story from 2017 which was described by the local media at the time as “unusual” to support her claim of “not uncommon”:

Knell: “The decision sparked a heated political debate. One ultra-orthodox politician described it as evil while the head of a secular party praised it, saying Israel was not Iran. It’s not uncommon for musical events in Israel to lay bare the religious-secular divide. Two years ago another conservative singer stirred up controversy by blindfolding himself with duct tape on stage to avoid seeing women dancing to his song. But with the ultra-orthodox population here growing fast, it’s not just its pop stars becoming more influential. Its religious leaders are too and that’s having a cultural and political impact.”

While everyone is entitled to their opinion on gender-segregated events, the understanding of this story by the BBC’s British audiences would obviously have been enhanced had Knell bothered to inform them that in Afula that concert was:

“…the only one of over 300 events put on by the city over the summer to have segregated seating as it was aimed at the local ultra-Orthodox population.”

Had they been provided with that information, listeners may have been able to make up their own minds about the validity of Knell’s closing claims concerning “cultural and political impact” and reach their own conclusions about why two BBC reports on gender-segregated events on consecutive days were so different in tone.

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Revisiting a BBC correspondent’s claims on gay marriage in Israel

Back in June listeners to two BBC radio stations heard three different broadcasts from the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell about a gay pride march in Jerusalem.

June 6th 2019: BBC World Service radio ‘Newshour’ and BBC Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’

Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.” [emphasis added]

June 13th 2019: BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option.” [emphasis added]

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Knell did not bother to inform listeners that while civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”) for either heterosexual or homosexual couples, ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state.”

Our colleagues at CAMERA recently secured a correction on the same topic from the Reuters news agency.

“CAMERA has prompted correction of a Reuters article which incorrectly reported that gay marriage is illegal in Israel. […]

While the state does not recognize gay marriages performed in Israel, it is incorrect to describe such marriages as “illegal,” since the couple is not in violation of any Israeli law. There is no law against holding the ceremony in Israel, nor in maintaining marital life in the country. Ha-Aguda, a leading NGO which advocates for recognized same-sex marriage in the country, explains (CAMERA’s translations and bracketed notes):

‘…the State of Israel recognizes same sex couples as Yedu’im BeTzibur [lit. “known in public”, i.e. unregistered cohabitation in the form of common-law marriage]. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the State is now obligated to include couples who provide a recognized [i.e. foreign] marriage certificate in the Ministry of Interior’s registry. Another ruling forced the State to enable a divorce process to such couples’ – Ha-Aguda, Association of LGBTQ Equality in Israel (link in Hebrew)

Notably, Ha-Aguda does not characterize same-sex marriages carried out in Israel as “illegal.”

Gay marriages, like all marriages involving Jewish citizens which are performed outside the Rabbinate (including intermarriages, non-Orthodox weddings, and even traditional weddings carried out by a rabbi not recognized by the Rabbinate) are not recognized by the state, but are not illegal.”

Reuters swiftly corrected the inaccuracy as follows:

“Gay marriages are not against the law, but neither are they legally recognised as valid in the country of 9 million, although weddings performed abroad are recognised.”

Yolande Knell – please take note. 

More repetition of the BBC’s partial narrative on construction

On the afternoon of July 31st the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel backs West Bank homes for settlers and Palestinians” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Unfortunately for any reader hoping to gain a better understanding of the broader topic behind the specific story, the report offered nothing but a repeat of well-worn framing intended to advance a particular political narrative.

As usual the report employs partisan terminology to describe Israelis living in places the BBC believes they should not and the communities and region in which they reside. [emphasis added]

“Israel has approved the construction of 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers and 700 homes for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The decision about new homes in settlements further extends the Israeli presence in the West Bank.”

As usual readers are presented with a partial portrayal of ‘international law’.

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Moreover, embedded into the report is a video narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which first appeared in June and in which it is claimed that ‘international law’ not only applies to places but also to people.

 Settlers are seen as illegal under international law but Israel rejects that.” 

Later on – under the sub-heading “Why are settlements such an issue?” – the report claims that:

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.”

Of course Israelis residing in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem which were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 do so because that is their own personal choice and not because they were “settled” there by any Israeli government. The use of that terminology is a nod to the claim that Israeli towns and villages in those regions are ‘illegal under international law’ based on the Fourth Geneva Convention which states “[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The article tells readers that:

“It is not clear whether the Palestinian homes would be new constructions or merely legal approval for 700 already existing homes in what is known as “Area C” of the West Bank – where Palestinian villages often lie close to Israeli settlements, and where Israel has full control of the territory.”

It does not however inform audiences that “Israel has full control” of Area C – including planning -because the Palestinians agreed to that nearly twenty-four years ago and the absence of that information means that readers are unable to put the predictably unquestioned and unqualified Palestinian claims promoted in the next two paragraphs into their correct context.

“The Palestinian leadership dismissed the announcement, saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

It said it was “evidence of the dark colonial mentality of the rules [sic] in Israel and which ignores all United Nations resolutions, international law and the signed agreements”.”

Providing no evidence to support its claim concerning a plan which has not even been published, the report goes on:

“The move comes ahead of a visit by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the White House’s faltering attempts to broker a peace deal.”

As has so often been the case in the past, the BBC conceals the fact that in 1995 the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act’ – 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 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.”

While the BBC continues to ignore allegations of corruption at the top of UNRWA management and the related suspension of funding by Switzerland and the Netherlands, readers are also told that:

“Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949.”

UNRWA was actually only set up in December 1949 and clause 6 of the relevant UN resolution refers to the commencement of “direct relief and works programmes” from January 1st 1950.

Readers see more unquestioning amplification of Palestinian messaging with no alternative view and no information concerning Israel’s past evacuations of communities in Sinai, the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria provided.

“What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.”

The report closes with a characteristically euphemistic portrayal of past events:

“Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.”

Readers are not informed that those negotiations actually collapsed because, in addition to breaching an undertaking to avoid acts of accession to international institutions during the period of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority chose to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas.

As is the case in any BBC report concerning building tenders and construction in the areas occupied by Jordan for nineteen years, the corporation once again demonstrates that its professed commitment to ‘impartial’ reporting is pure fiction.

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