BBC impartiality – a case study

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: (update: link to new version here

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

And:

“Across our output as a whole, we must be inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion.  We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts.  We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. […]

Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item.  Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output.”

The corporation’s coverage of the recent US initiated economic workshop in Bahrain provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage ahead of a debate in the UK Parliament on that topic on July 15th.

Between June 20th and June 26th 2019 various BBC departments put out content relating to the conference in Bahrain. Common threads running through that coverage included:

  • Heavy promotion of Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points both by BBC journalists and by means of interviews with Palestinians.
  • Promotion of the notion of ‘the Palestinians’ as a homogeneous entity under one leadership with no mention of the long-standing splits between Palestinian factions and the fact that the PA and PLO do not represent the Palestinians as a whole.
  • The absence of any mention of the fact that Hamas and additional factions reject the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
  • Exclusive promotion of the PLO’s interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.
  • Use of partial terminology such as “illegal settlements”.
  • The absence of any mention of the participation of Palestinian businessmen in the conference and subsequent events.
  • Downplaying – and in most cases, ignoring – Palestinian terrorism and its role in creating the need for counter-terrorism measures.

While the table below is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligation to “give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument” and to reflect “a breadth and diversity of opinion”.

As we see, the BBC chose to provide air-time to three times more Palestinian officials than Israeli officials and did not include any interviews with US officials in its coverage at all. Audiences saw or heard extensive and repeated comment from Palestinian civilians while just two Israeli voices were heard in a single item. Interviews were conducted with two representatives from US think tanks, one Saudi Arabian journalist and one inadequately presented UN official. 

[1] BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

[2] More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one & More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

[3] BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

[4] https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141985649131757569 & https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141986084525674496

[5] Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

[6] BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

[7] More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743663

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743429

[10] BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one & BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

[11] BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

[12] BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one & BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

Across a variety of BBC platforms, audiences were given a very specific and overwhelmingly one-sided view of the Bahrain economic workshop and the US peace initiative in general. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear “a breadth and diversity of opinion” at all. 

Whether or not the fact that BBC journalists were given a ‘briefing’ by a Palestinian Authority representative three days before coverage began (a BBC decision which in itself is detrimental to “perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”) had an effect on the chosen framing is of course difficult to determine but certainly the corporation’s coverage of the Bahrain economic workshop did not live up to its supposed standards of editorial impartiality. 

The purpose of those editorial standards is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports. 

Related Articles:

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

No BBC reporting on arrest of Bahrain workshop participant

 

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

The June 26th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“Also in the programme: Jared Kushner’s conference to bring “Peace to Prosperity” to Palestinians takes place in Bahrain…without the Palestinians.” 

Presenter Paul Henley introduced the item (from 30:04 here) thus:

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

Henley: “’President Trump and America have not given up on you’ Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told Palestinians. But they weren’t there to hear him at a conference in Bahrain focusing on the economic aspects of the Middle East peace plan Mr Kushner has been working on. He wants fifty billion dollars-worth of investment to be put into the Palestinian economy. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian authorities are attending the event. It’s not discussing a political resolution.”

In fact the plan speaks of $50 billion of investment to be divided between the Palestinian economy and three neighbouring Arab countries over ten years. Henley went on:

Henley: “Well, we’ll be looking at the plan in a moment. First, our Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at how the Palestinian economy is doing.”

Listeners then heard the same report by Knell that had been aired the previous day on ‘Newshour’ and on BBC Radio 4. Although the final interviewee in that report is Issam the fruit seller, Henley continued:

Henley: “Palestinian builder Rasmi ending that report by Yolande Knell. So how is the conference going given that the people who are being discussed – the Palestinians – are boycotting it? The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has said ‘what will be presented at the conference has nothing to do with reality’. ‘It’s nothing to do with occupation’, he said, ‘the best part of it will be the coffee break’.”

Following that uncritical promotion of PA talking points, Henley introduced an interviewee – a journalist covering the conference for a newspaper considered close to the Saudi Arabian regime.  

Henley: “Faisal Abbas is editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based Arab News and he joins me now from the conference, which is happening at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manama which is the capital of Bahrain. […] Is it strange that this conference is being attended by Gulf billionaires, by Israeli businessmen and the likes of Tony Blair and Christine Lagarde, all discussing a project that the Palestinians have already rejected?”

Once communication problems had been resolved, Henley repeated his question, yet again failing to inform listeners that a number of Palestinian businessmen did attend the economic workshop.

Henley: “Tell me if you think it’s strange that this conference is discussing something Palestinians have already rejected in their absence.”

Abbas: “Ahh…so it is absolutely strange. I, like all the Arabs participating here, we are here because we do care about the Palestinian cause and, you know, in our hearts, in our actions we will do anything to support the Palestinians. So I respect the decision of the Palestinian leadership but I perhaps don’t think…I don’t agree that it was the best course of action. I think it would have been much better for somebody to be here to fight the cause and explain the point of view as to why this is rejected and make fresh demands if needed.”

Henley next promoted more PA/PLO messaging.

Henley: “What’s being discussed are economic solutions. Some people have said – Palestinians have said – it amounts to bribes for them to give up their demands for a political solution: a two-state solution.”

Abbas: “Ah, look, if that is the case…this is what I was saying, you know, participating and listening does not equate to an approval. If that is indeed the case then neither them or any of the Arabs would support such an equation. You know, this is, you know, just the advantage of being here. You have to look at the plan and from an economic point of view it makes a lot of sense. It does bring hope and there is nobody that ever spoke about it that said that this is a conditional for the Palestinians agreeing to terms that they might not agree. Everybody has been saying that this only be subject to approval of both sides and subject to a reception of the political side of the peace plan which will be revealed in a few months’ time.”

Henley’s next question also had nothing to do with the US plan presented at the workshop beyond mentioning one of the participants.

Henley: “Shlomi Fogel, who’s an Israeli shipping magnate attending this conference, says he thinks the Arab world is sick and tired of the Palestinians and their cause and just wants the conflict out of the way. What do you think?”

Abbas: “Ahm, I don’t think that’s true. We sympathetic with our Palestinian brothers. We stand by them. We think it’s unjust, it’s unfair what they’ve had to go through for decades. We’re…look we’ve tried various solutions – sometimes military, sometimes non-military. Nothing has worked so far and one of the definitions of insanity is trying something over and over again and expect a different result. You have a serious…”

Henley did not even allow his interviewee to complete his sentence before closing the item.

Henley [interrupts] “Thank you very much. I’ve got to stop it there, I’m afraid.”

In the introduction to this item listeners were told that it would be “looking at the plan” presented at the Bahrain economic workshop. In fact, audiences heard nothing at all about what that plan includes and how it might advance the economic well being of the Palestinian people.

Instead BBC World Service radio listeners once again heard a superficial report which did little more than amplify Palestinian Authority talking points and contributed nothing to proper audience understanding of the story.

Related Articles:

More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

 

 

BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one

The June 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ – presented by Ritula Shah – included an item (from 18:39 here) concerning the economic workshop in Bahrain which commenced that day.  

Shah began by claiming that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “President Trump calls it ‘the deal of the century’. The official title is ‘Peace to Prosperity – the economic plan: a new vision for the Palestinian people’. It’s the basis of a discussion with Arab investors that’s underway in Bahrain. The White House wants donor countries to contribute around $50 billion for a newly created development fund. Just over half the money would go to projects in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – areas the Palestinians want for an independent state – and the rest would go to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s leading the US delegation, admitted that the plan doesn’t address the need for a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But, he said, agreeing on an economic pathway was a necessary precondition for peace. He also didn’t seem to realise that it was his father-in-law who talked about ‘the deal of the century’.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Mr Kushner speaking at the conference.

Kushner: “Some people have mockingly called this effort ‘the deal of the century’ but at its core it is not just about making a deal. In fact this effort is better referred to as the opportunity of the century, if leadership has the courage to pursue it. This is about creating an opportunity for the Palestinian people. This is about creating opportunity for the people throughout the Middle East.”

Shah’s claim that Trump “calls it ‘the deal of the century’” and her snide dig that Kushner “didn’t seem to realise” that is unsupported. AFP journalist Joe Dyke looked into that claim, which has also been promoted in previous BBC content.

“It has become common in recent months for media reports to say that US President Donald Trump calls his proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan the “deal of the century,” a phrase seen as indicative of Trump’s real estate style of diplomacy.

Major international media, including AFP, have said the name was given by the president, but in fact it appears there is no record of him using it in public.

It seems the first major usage of the phrase originates from a 2017 meeting between Trump and Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Since then it has been used widely in the Arab world and by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, particularly by those opposed to the deal. […]

On April 3, 2017, Trump met President Sissi. In Arabic-language remarks, the Egyptian leader told Trump he was fully supportive of Trump’s attempts to find a “solution to the issue of the century with the deal of the century.” […]

After the meeting the term deal of the century began to be discussed in Arabic media and online.”

In other words, not only does the BBC appear to have failed to fact check Shah’s claim that the phrase ‘the deal of the century’ was coined by Mr Trump, it has adopted the language used by Palestinian officials who opposed the US initiative before it was even made public.

Ritula Shah went on:

Shah: “Well Palestinian leaders have rejected the plan and won’t be in Bahrain. Israeli officials haven’t been invited because of the Palestinians’ absence.  Several Arab countries agreed to attend but, out of solidarity with the Palestinians, have sent more junior ministers.”

While that may be the case as far as Egypt and Morocco are concerned, Shah’s portrayal obviously does not give listeners an accurate portrayal of the event because it fails to clarify that the finance ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain participated in the workshop along with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the head of the IMF, the president of the World Bank and ten Palestinian businessmen.

Shah: “But the White House says they’re interested instead in appealing to ordinary Palestinians keen to improve their parlous economic prospects. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been speaking to some of them.”

Listeners then heard the same report from Knell that was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on the same day – a report that was similar to both a televised report billed Palestinian poverty which she produced for BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on June 20th and an article she wrote which was published on the BBC News website on June 25th under the headline “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank”.

The remainder of the item will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

 

 

 

 

 

More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

The top story in the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on June 25th was described as follows by presenter Tim Franks in his introduction to the programme: {emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “It’s eluded the Israelis, the Palestinians and countless US administrations but now this White House says it has a brand new detailed plan for Middle East peace. Today we got part one: the economic vision for the Palestinians. It’s our top story.”

The item itself (from 00:57 here) was presented thus:

Franks: “We’re used to big, bold talk from President Trump but on one thing we can probably all agree: that were his administration to be able to conjur a full peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, it would indeed be – as Mr Trump put it – the ultimate deal. Today we got the long-awaited first part of the plan, drawn up under the aegis of one of his closest – if not the closest advisor – his son-in-law Jared Kushner. At what’s been billed as an economic workshop in Bahrain, he’s laid out his proposals for fifty billion dollars’ worth of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries. Mr Kushner appealed for open minds and for patience.”

After listeners had heard two segments of recordings of Kushner speaking at the conference, Franks went on:

Franks: “The White House says this is about trying a new approach to improve the Palestinians’ prospects after many years of political stasis if not outright failure. Palestinian leaders though are boycotting the event, furious about what they say is the Trump administration’s bias against them. White House officials say they’re unmoved by that show of intransigence. They’re interested instead in appealing to ordinary Palestinians keen to improve their parlous economic prospects. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been speaking to some of those Palestinians.”

Listeners then heard a report from Yolande Knell which was similar to both a televised report billed Palestinian poverty which she produced for BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on June 20th and an article she wrote which was published on the BBC News website on June 25th under the headline “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank”.

Knell: “It’s not long after four o’clock in the morning. It’s still pitch-black but the street here is teeming with people. There’s a small, informal market place that’s popped up overnight and some are stopping to buy some breakfast, some falafel sandwiches, a cup of coffee. These are Palestinian workers heading into the Israeli checkpoint.”

Listeners heard a voiceover translation of a man saying:

“The economic situation isn’t good. That’s why we have to go to Israel to work because there are no job opportunities.”

Knell: “Rasmi, from Hebron, has nine people depending on him and earns three times more in Israel as a builder than he could at home. With the West Bank economy in dire straits, it relies heavily on the tens of thousands of labourers like him with Israeli work permits. But here at the Taybeh Brewery near Ramallah they say business could be fizzing as much as the bottles of beer on their production line if it wasn’t for the tough political situation.”

Woman: “Doing business in this country is unlike anywhere else in the world. We are a Palestinian company under occupation and we don’t have our own borders, we don’t have control over the water, electricity. Anything that comes in and out of the country is through Israel.”

The Taybeh Brewery is situated in Taybeh which is in Area B and has been under Palestinian Authority civil control and Israeli security control since the year the brewery was founded, 1995. Just as the representatives of the Palestinians agreed to the zoning into Areas A, B and C, they also agreed to arrangements concerning water and electricity. The Palestinians have their own Water Authority and get some of their electricity from the Israel Electric Corporation – to which the Palestinian Authority currently owes hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debt.

Knell: “Instead of the White House promising aid or outside investment, Mdees Khoury says a lot could be achieved by finding ways to ease Israeli restrictions – measures Israel says are for its own protection. For her family’s firm, these can mean costly delays of imports and in distribution to local and foreign markets, which is via Israeli checkpoints and ports.”

Knell of course did not bother to mention the Palestinian terrorism which made checkpoints necessary.

Khoury: “Palestinians are very smart people. They’re very determined, they’re very hard-working and they’re very highly educated and if they just get the chance to be left alone they could thrive and succeed and this country would be amazing.”

Knell: “But in Gaza, where the economy’s stagnated in the past decade, there’s less optimism. Israel and Egypt tightened border controls, citing security concerns, after Hamas – which is widely seen as a terrorist group – took over. Hamdi has no job and lives with his six children in one room. They struggle to get by on Qatari donations of $100 a month. ‘That money isn’t enough’ he says, ‘it just goes to pay our debts’.”

Once again Knell sidestepped the crucial issue of the terrorism which brought about the situation she describes. Listeners next heard shouts of ‘go home’ but Knell did not bother to inform them that the “protests” she went on to describe were organised by the PA’s ruling Fatah faction.

Knell: “Already there’ve been Palestinian protests against the Trump administration’s economic plan. While Israel says it’s keeping an open mind, it’s been rejected outright by Palestinian leaders. The prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, says a political solution is needed.”

Shtayyeh: “This workshop is simply a political laundry for settlements and the legitimisation of occupation. The Palestinian leadership is not part of it and we think that the outcome is going to be fruitless and it is simply nonsense.”

Knell: “Back at the turnstile of the Bethlehem checkpoint, Rasmi the builder is returning home, tired at the end of a 16-hour day. He stops to buy grapes from Issam, a farmer turned fruit seller who sets up a stall here each afternoon. He tells me that there’s no work in his village.”

Issam: “Our officials can’t open new buildings or factories. They don’t have the resources.”

That of course would have been the ideal opportunity for Yolande Knell to point out that some 7% of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget – around $330 million a year according to a BBC report from a year ago and more according to other sources – is spent on payments to terrorists and their families. Knell however refrained from providing listeners with that relevant information.

Knell: “Can President Trump fix the Palestinian economy?”

Issam: “No. From what we saw when he became the president, he has done nothing to help the Palestinian economy unfortunately.”

Knell: “With financial woes at the heart of so much suffering here, it’s easy to see why White House aides view the economy as a way to exert influence. But so far, few Palestinians are buying their argument that the ‘deal of the century’ could be their opportunity of the century.”

The rest of that nearly twelve minute-long item was given over to a conversation between Tim Franks and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank who attended the workshop in Bahrain.  During that conversation Mr Makovsky observed that “solving the whole conflict” is “easier said than done”, noting – as a former Obama administration official – that:

“We had a president who was very engaged on the Palestinian issue and we couldn’t get even an answer from the Palestinian Authority…”

Tim Franks chose not to follow up on that statement and once again BBC audiences heard a long yet monochrome report on the Bahrain economic workshop which avoided the key issue of the Hamas-Fatah split and sidestepped the topic of Palestinian terrorism.  

BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

A filmed report titled “Is peace between Israel and Palestinians out of reach?” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on June 24th. Narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, the video does not appear to have been filmed recently if the winter clothes worn by Knell and other people appearing in it are anything to go by.

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

Against a background of archive footage from the September 1993 signing of the declaration of principles – Oslo I – at the White House, Knell opened the report by asking:

“How did we get from this…to yet more of this?”

The second “this” was spoken as viewers saw footage of an air-strike in the Gaza Strip.

One answer to that question is the fact that such air strikes come in response to acts of terror by Hamas and other factions which were never included in the Oslo peace process but viewers of Knell’s report were not informed of that fact at any point and she went on to promote the misleading notion that “the Palestinians” as a whole were party to the Oslo Accords, continuing:

“It’s more than 25 years since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to make peace. But right now, as many see it, actual peace seems more out of reach than ever.”

After a heading reading “Why has it got harder to make peace?”, Knell went on:

“Politics has shifted on both sides. In recent years, Israeli coalition governments have been increasingly dominated by right-wing, nationalist and religious parties that are more hard-line and don’t believe giving up land will bring peace.”

Knell made no attempt to explain that such views are the result of Israel’s experiences after having withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Neither did she bother to point out that the thirty-third Israeli government conducted negotiations in 2013/14 despite including the types of parties she specifies.

“During the campaign for the last election, won by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was little talk of the two-state solution. Public support has fallen for this idea of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Among Palestinians, a deep political split has left the nationalist project in disarray. On one side you have the Islamist movement, Hamas, widely seen as a terrorist group. It doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist.”

Viewers then saw an interesting portrayal of the violent coup conducted by Hamas in 2007 – and its result.

“Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 but after in-fighting, ended up just governing Gaza.”

Knell went on:

“Then there’s the Palestinian Authority which governs parts of the West Bank. It’s headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the ageing president. He’s led past peace talks with Israel. Nowadays, many Palestinians feel disillusioned with their leaders.”

Viewers were then led to believe that Palestinians have been “promised” a state.

“Palestinians say their promised state is becoming less viable because of a big increase in the number of Israeli settlers living in occupied areas. There were just over 200,000 in 1990. Now the number is three times bigger.”

Next viewers discovered that the BBC’s long-standing and partial mantra on ‘international law’ has been expanded to include not only places but people.

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

Apparently the BBC has no qualms about portraying over half a million Jewish Israelis as “illegal”.

Knell went on:

“Palestinians say they won’t return to peace talks without a freeze on settlement building.”

Knell did not bother to tell viewers that when such a freeze was imposed in 2009/10, the Palestinians refused to “return to peace talks” for nine out of ten months or that they rejected another offer of such a freeze in 2013.

While showing viewers only parts of the mostly wire-mesh anti-terrorist fence constructed from concrete, Knell then promoted the “land-grab” fiction seen in so much past BBC reporting.

“And here’s something else that’s changed since the 1993 peace deal – this wall is part of Israel’s West Bank barrier. Work on it started during the second Palestinian uprising. Israel said it was to protect Israelis against attacks but the Palestinians see it as a land grab as it encroaches on land they want for their future state.”

Knell then promoted equivalence between Israeli victim of terrorism and Palestinian casualties resulting from either responses to terrorism or rioting and attempted attacks.

“Of course violence increases mistrust and thousands of people have been killed in this conflict in recent years. Many weren’t soldiers or militants. Israeli civilians have been killed and injured by Palestinians in suicide bombings and rocket attacks and in stabbings, shootings and car rammings. On the Palestinian side, many civilians have been killed and injured in Israeli air strikes or have been shot by Israeli security forces mostly during operations or clashes.”

Knell did not bother to clarify that the “Israeli air strikes” come in response to the rocket attacks.

“For a long time, the US had the job of peace mediator. But the Palestinians cut off ties with the Trump administration saying it was biased towards Israel. They’re furious at its decision to recognise contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open this embassy here and with the issue dropping down the agenda for Arab states, there’s now no peace broker trusted by both sides.”

Once again we see that in the run-up to the Bahrain economic workshop, the BBC’s pre-emptive framing of the topic does little to contribute to in depth audience understanding of the issues at hand.

 

 

 

 

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

A week after her audio report about the Jerusalem pride march had been broadcast on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio 4, Yolande Knell recycled the same material in an item aired in the June 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As Pride events take place all over the world this month to recognise LGBT communities and to highlight ongoing campaigns for equal rights, Yolande Knell reports on Pride in Israel.”

With listeners once again not informed that the only country in her Middle East patch where Knell could produce such a report is Israel, presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 05:54 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s the month of campaign and celebration for LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender – communities. Equal rights are by no means recognised universally and in Israel tomorrow tens of thousands are expected at the Tel Aviv pride parade. Last week the country appointed its first openly gay cabinet minister but a staged mass wedding for gay couples and trouble at the pride march in Jerusalem highlight unresolved tensions according to Yolande Knell.”

Exactly how Knell defines “trouble” would emerge later on in the report. She began however with an event which took place in the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv on June 4th. Interestingly, Knell’s account included messaging and motifs seen in an AP report about that event.

Knell: “Beaming, Nikita stomps on a glass wrapped in foil to cries of muzl [sic] tov – congratulations. But this isn’t a traditional Jewish wedding: it’s a symbolic one. Nikita and his long-time partner Roy are in a row of 23 gay couples hugging and kissing. All walked down the aisle and took vows at an open-air mass ceremony in Tel Aviv.”

Although the Sarona complex is an open-air venue with no “aisle” to walk down, that phrase was also found in AP’s report.

AP: “Tuesday’s event involved an unofficial wedding ceremony for 23 gay couples, who walked down the aisle, took vows and danced at a banquet, cheered by friends, family and supporters.”

Knell went on:

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. ‘We participated so everyone would see us and know we exist’ Nikita says. ‘We love each other, we want to be married and have a normal life’.”

As was the case in her earlier report, 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.

The AP report states:

AP: “The annual pride parade, set for June 14, draws flocks of foreign visitors to Israel, which flaunts itself as one of the world’s most gay-friendly tourist destinations.”

Yolande Knell told Radio 4 listeners that:

Knell: “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. Every year its pride parade along the beach has a carnival atmosphere. Young and old, gay and straight join the huge party, many dressed in flamboyant outfits or skimpy swimming costumes.”

The AP report goes on:

AP: “Yet political rights for Israel’s gay community lag behind increasingly widespread cultural acceptance.”

Yolande Knell went on:

Knell: “But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

AP readers were told that:

AP: “Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties, which wield significant influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government and have a monopoly over matters of religion and state, have rejected legislation that condones homosexuality, which they see as defying Jewish law.”

Yolande Knell’s listeners were told that:

Knell: “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.”

Describing Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government” rather than its capital – in accordance with BBC editorial policy – Knell went on:

Knell: “That makes the pride march in Jerusalem – the holy city and Israel’s seat of government – feel more like a protest, although there’s still fancy dress. ‘I can do whatever I want in Tel Aviv and that’s great’ says Shlomit who’s with her gay friend, wearing a unicorn hat. ‘But if I’m not marching in Jerusalem, doing leg-work to demand the rights some people still don’t have, then I don’t have the right to call myself an ally’.

As was the case in her earlier report, Knell made no effort to inform Radio 4 listeners what rights LGBTQ people do have in Israel such as the fact that same sex couples who married abroad enjoy all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

Listeners then learned that Kate Adie’s previous reference to ‘trouble’ in fact means a protest which received an advance permit.

Knell: “Near the start of the parade there’s a reminder of the strong opposition faced by Israel’s gay activists. A small group’s demonstrating against what it calls LGBT terrorism. Its leader Bentzi Gopstein belongs to a far-Right political party which struck a controversial deal with Mr Netanyahu ahead of the last election to shore up conservative votes. ‘This isn’t pride; it’s an abomination’ he shouts over a loudspeaker. ‘It’s not pride if someone can’t contain their lust. Keep Jerusalem holy’.”

In fact, prior to the April election Gopstein’s party ‘Otzma Yehudit’ joined the Jewish Home and National Union parties to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties. 

Knell: “With hundreds of police officers lining their route, the marchers pass the spot where a girl of 15 was fatally stabbed by an ultra-orthodox Jewish man during the parade four years ago. Many like Ronni stop to lay a red rose. ‘It’s very sad. It really shows what happens when you allow hatred to flourish’ she says. This crowd brings together secular and religious activists, all calling for greater tolerance even as they reveal conflicting currents in Israeli society. I meet liberal orthodox rabbis and their followers upset at how Jerusalem’s chief rabbi wrote to the mayor asking him to stop rainbow flags being displayed in the city. ‘Judaism’s a pluralistic religion’ says Ze’ev who wears a kippa or skullcap. ‘We’re here for the alternative’.”

Apparently for Knell, religious and secular people automatically ‘conflict’ rather than being simply diverse and co-existing “currents in Israeli society”. Once again she resurrected the story about the city’s chief rabbi’s letter without clarifying that the Jerusalem municipality rejected his request.

Next we discover that – in contrast to the impression given in her previous report – Knell did see the protests against MK Amir Ohana which took place at the Jerusalem march. She did not however bother to inform listeners which organisation was behind those protests and the pre-prepared placards – or of its political leanings.

Knell: “Then, there’s a decidedly mixed reaction to the appearance of Amir Ohana, the newly appointed openly gay justice minister who’s a loyalist of the prime minister. While some shake his hand, others yell ‘shame’ and ‘go home hypocrite’, accusing him of doing little for the LGBT community.”

As in her previous report, Knell amplified inadequately attributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “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.”

Before closing her report Knell managed to get a reference to the ‘peace process’ into an item ostensibly about pride marches in Israel while giving an imaginative portrayal of the country’s current “political climate”.

Knell: “This year pride in Israel takes place in a febrile political climate. After a recent bitterly fought election, Mr Netanyahu looked set to form a new government but failed to do so. Now the country must vote again. The campaign’s unlikely to see much talk of peace with the Palestinians but issues of religion and state will be hotly contested once more. Many of those flying rainbow flags this month will be hoping for political changes but they won’t have to look far for proof of how tough those will be.”

And so, for the second time in a week, Knell’s message to BBC audiences in the UK was that the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Jewish ultra-orthodox parties” – with no mention of how Arab parties in the Knesset relate to that issue. Yet again Knell failed to inform Radio 4 listeners what LGBTQ rights in Israel do include, while the issue of “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality” in Palestinian society and the wider region is obviously of no real interest to the BBC’s Middle East correspondent.   

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

 

 

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

On the evening of June 6th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell was aired on two BBC radio stations. In both cases the item was introduced with a reference to the appointment of MK Amir Ohana to the post of acting minister of justice, with audiences told that the appointment had taken place “today” when in fact it had been announced the previous evening.

On the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks introduced the report (from 38:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “As gay pride parades take place around the world this month, they don’t just celebrate LGBTQ communities; they also often highlight the struggle that many still face for acceptance and equal rights. Although Israel is proud of its diversity – indeed today [sic] the first openly gay man to become a minister in Israel has been appointed by the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

On the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ the item was billed “What Jerusalem’s Gay Pride march reveals about Israeli divisions” and presenter James Coomarasamy told listeners (from 26:36 here) that:

Coomarasamy: “Today’s gay pride march in Jerusalem has coincided with a first for Israel’s LGBTQ community. Amir Ohana was appointed the country’s acting justice minister today [sic], becoming its first openly gay cabinet member. 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. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that the only country in the Middle East where she could ‘join the crowds’ at such an event is Israel, Knell opened her report:

Knell: “It’s late afternoon and thousands of people have already gathered here at Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell park. They’re in high spirits for this march celebrating gay pride and tolerance.”

After a vox pop interview with an unnamed woman, Knell went on:

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.”

While civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”), ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state. Knell then interviewed an unidentified man, asking him:

Knell: “What rights would you like to see for gay people in Israel?”

The man replied that he sees surrogacy and gay marriage as the main issues. Knell failed to remind listeners that gay marriage has only been possible in her own country for the past five years, that it is still not permitted in Northern Ireland or that surrogacy law in the UK is currently under review.  She refrained from informing listeners of the current situation on those issues in Israel, as explained here.

“The institution of marriage within the borders of the state are religious and not civil, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim etc, as it is with most of the Middle East.
These religious bodies hold the monopoly of recognized marriage ceremonies, and, as it stands today, none support civil unions.

That said, same-sex marriages performed outside of Israel are in fact recognized within the State and registered as such with the Ministry of Interior, which affords same sex married couples all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

The second is access to surrogacy, on Israeli soil, by same sex couples.
Again, using surrogacy services outside of Israel, is permitted and children brought to Israel, as a result of surrogacy, receive Israeli citizenship and are recognized as legal children to their parents.”

Knell then brought up the topic of a request refused by the Jerusalem municipality.

Knell: “There are plenty of rainbows drawn on people’s faces all around me. They’re on people’s shirts and there are flags too on display, although Jerusalem’s chief rabbi had asked the local council not to hang them up. But to encounter more vocal anti-gay sentiment, I’ve just got to cross the road. The people here are chanting ‘it’s not pride, it’s obscenity’. This is a protest organised by a far-Right group and there are signs around me ‘Jerusalem is not Sodom’, ‘stop the LGBT terror’.”

Following comment from one of the participants in that protest by a few dozen people, Knell continued:

Knell: “Now the pride march is on the move, we’re advancing up the road led by a drag queen dressed in gold, young and old Israelis. There’s a heavy police presence here – even a helicopter overhead – and this is why: we’re now passing the spot where 15-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death just four years ago at the pride parade.”

Knell then proceeded to amplify unattributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “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.”

Following an interview with an Arab Muslim participant in the march – and while carefully avoiding the topic of the rights of LGBTQ Palestinians – Knell closed her report:

Knell: “It’s the end of the procession now but the pride party is going to carry on here through the evening. It’s eighteen years since the first Jerusalem march and there’ve been big advances for the local gay community in that time. But in this holy city, today’s march is also a reminder of some of the deep divisions that aren’t going away.”

This report’s take-away message for BBC audiences in the UK and around the world is amply clear: the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties”, reflecting “deep social and religious differences” and “deep divisions” and the Jerusalem pride march was  the topic of “angry protests” by “a far-Right group”.

Interestingly though, Knell’s portrayal of the event she described as “celebrating gay pride and tolerance” did not include another ‘angry protest’ seen at the Jerusalem pride march.

“[Amir] Ohana walked through the crowds, some of whom booed at him, apparently due to his being a member of the ruling Likud party, seen as to the right of many in the gay community.

“What have you done for the gay community,” some shouted at him.”

Some of those protesting against the newly appointed justice minister gave out pre-prepared signs using his photograph.

Both the purple shirt worn by the person in that photograph and the placards themselves bear the logo of an organisation called ‘Omdim Yachad’ or ‘Standing Together’. That name should be familiar to the BBC because less than two weeks earlier, Tim Franks had interviewed a representative from that organisation in an item about the Israeli Left (from 45:04 here), describing it as “a new joint Arab and Jewish activist movement”. BBC audiences were not told, however, that the foreign funded political NGO was co-founded and is headed by a member of the far-Left party ‘Hadash’.  

So while Yolande Knell’s report included several references to the Right of the political map, a narrative-conflicting demonstration of far-Left intolerance which took place right under her nose was whitewashed from the account of the 2019 Jerusalem pride march heard by BBC audiences.

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BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get distorted view of medical permits – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the May 31st edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme ran an item which included a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell ostensibly about Palestinians from the Gaza Strip travelling to Jerusalem for healthcare.

That was followed by an interview with a British MP who had been taken on a four-day paid trip to Jerusalem by the anti-Israel NGO ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ and who falsely claimed that two premature infants born to a mother from the Gaza Strip had ‘died alone’ in a Jerusalem hospital because of “inhumane” Israeli security checks before entry permits are given to Gaza Strip residents.

Not only did presenter Mishal Husain fail to challenge the inaccurate version of the story told by her interviewee Rosena Allin-Khan, but she went on to embellish it with fictions of her own. 

Following that, Husain introduced her final interviewee ( from 01:53:29 here) and in her opening statements, once again promoted the falsehood that she and Allin-Khan had woven – this time in the plural.

Husain: “…Sharon Bar-li is Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UK. […] What would you say to that point that Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has…has made that the system at the moment means that there are Palestinian children who die alone in hospitals in Jerusalem?

Bar-li: “…the policy is such that no child, no patient, should go into Israel to receive medical treatment by itself. Every patient should be accompanied and when it comes to children, it should be accompanied preferably by a parent, by the mother or by family member…”

Husain continued to inflate her own chimera, using a story from Knell’s report in which one child traveled to Jerusalem for chemotherapy with a grandparent as the base for the unevidenced claim that “often” parents do not get a permit to accompany their child.

Husain: “Yeah. I mean you know that it often doesn’t…from what we’ve heard in that report, often it is not the parent that for whatever reason – a security reason I imagine – the parent does not receive…ehm…the permit to enter Israel. But what kind of security risk is really posed by the parent of a child who’s going for chemotherapy or indeed a mother who’s just given birth to triplets?”

Once again Husain used a strawman argument: obviously the mother of the triplets was not deemed a security risk because she got a permit to travel to Jerusalem for the birth in the first place and later was given another permit to travel to collect her daughter from the hospital.

Bar-li: “As you know, Gaza is controlled by Hamas which is a terror organisation and there’s been plenty of cases in the past where unfortunately Hamas has abused – cynically abused – patients, many times without their knowledge, planting on them explosives, money, other information or devices, in order to instigate terror attacks. There are…”

As is all too often the case when Mishal Husain interviews Israelis, she then became noticeably impatient and proceeded to repeatedly interrupt her interviewee.

Husain [interrupts]: “Parents of children who are going to Israel for chemotherapy?”

Bar-li: “They don’t know. There has been cases in [the year] two thousand…”

Husain [interrupts]: “How many cases?”

Bar-li: “There has been several cases like this. Imagine when you go into hospital carrying a medical tube and this medical tube actually has an explosive in it. Can you imagine what would happen if it will explode in a hospital? And even if there were only…”

Husain [interrupts]: “Sorry, just to be clear: has that actually happened? When did it happen? How many times did that happen?”

Had the BBC bothered to report that story (and many similar ones) at the time, Husain would perhaps have known what her interviewee was talking about.

Bar-li: “It happened in 2017. There was a case of two sisters, one of them was a cancer patient. Her sister accompanied her and without their knowledge they were given medical tubes in which there were explosives. And it was revealed and a great disaster was prevented. There are also interviews with Hamas militants that were arrested in which they are exposing the methods and in which they are testifying to this method. Hence security measures need to be taken and we have to be extra vigilant. It’s important also to mention the role of the Palestinian Authority in…in delaying or preventing some of these permits.”

Husain obviously was not interested in having the deputy ambassador tell listeners about Palestinian Authority policies relevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion.

Husain: “OK yes because it’s a complicated process of getting approvals from different points.”

Bar-li: “Not just…not just because of the complication of the process…”

Husain [interrupts]: “There are many layers of it.”

Bar-li: “Actually recently…”

Husain [interrupts]: “You heard…you heard what we’ve been…it’s just that we understand the process is complicated but we can see from the figures that the approvals for patients who are travelling from Gaza into Israel, the numbers of those have been going steadily down over the years. In 2012, which was after Hamas came to power, it was something like more than 90% and it’s now down to around 65%. There are lives that are being lost in the process.”

Bar-li: “Over the years tens of thousands of Palestinians exit Gaza, entered into Israel to receive life-saving treatment. We of course sympathise with any person in need but at the same time we should remember that there is a complex situation. Actually, when you look at the numbers of [for] 2018, you see a 15% increase in humanitarian permits being issued to Gazans in comparison to 2017.”

Husain: “It’s currently 65% of permits that are approved according to the WHO. Those were the figures from March 2019 which is down from where they were in 2012.”

A closer look at the World Health Organisation data supposedly quoted by Husain shows that while indeed 65% of the 2,004 applications for travel permits for patients were approved in March, it is not the case that – as listeners would naturally have concluded – 35% were refused. In fact 32% of the total requests were delayed and 4% denied.

Husain then indulged herself with some blatantly brash editorialising which once again used the falsehood that she and Allin-Khan had earlier cooked up:

Husain: “The fact remains that healthcare restrictions are being used to dehumanise the Palestinian people and no child should die alone.”

As Sharon Bar-li tried to respond, Husain cut her off and closed the item there.

It is of course all too clear that this long item was not news but over twelve minutes of journalistic activism based primarily on a false story irresponsibly promoted by a British MP who was taken on a paid jaunt by an organisation devoted primarily to anti-Israel campaigning for decades.

Not only did the BBC clearly make no effort to check that story and its dubious source, but Mishal Husain deliberately spun it into ‘fact’ in order to influence audience opinion on this topic, thereby providing backwind for existing political campaigning by that anti-Israel NGO and others.

That of course is ‘fake news’ according to this definition:

“Fake news is a problem for different reasons.

The first kind of fake news – deliberate lies – is a problem because it can make people believe things that are completely untrue.

The second kind – when people publish something without checking that it’s completely right – can make people have less trust in the media, as well as make everyone believe something that might be inaccurate.

People also only tend to share things that they agree with. So if people are sharing a lot of fake news, and lots of people believe it, it’s easy to get sucked into a bubble that is actually completely different to the real world – and a long way from the truth.”

That definition was produced by the BBC itself within the framework of its claim to counter fake news. In fact, as we see in this example, the BBC itself contributes to the phenomenon. 

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BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

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BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

For years the BBC’s portrayal of the topic of healthcare in the Gaza Strip has failed to give audiences an accurate and impartial view of the subject.

BBC News passes up the chance to set the record straight on Gaza shortages

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

No BBC follow-up on story used to mislead on Gaza medical services

Moreover, while the BBC knows full well that issues such as shortages of medical supplies and medicines – along with refusals to cover treatment costs and late or non-existent applications for entry permits into Israel for Palestinian patients – are the results of Palestinian Authority policies, it continues to frame such topics as being first and foremost connected to Israeli security measures.

“There is a considerable impact through the blockade on health facilities and that was shown…for example I did a report that ran last night on the ten o’clock news and you could see how medical facilities are suffering.” Mishal Husain, ‘Today’, BBC Radio 4, January 18th 2019

Not infrequently, BBC audiences have been told partially portrayed stories about children and infants to illustrate such reports.

“Because the blockade restricts the movement of people, patients need to request permission to leave. This two-day old baby with a congenital heart defect was waiting for an exit permit when we filmed him. Four days later he died. His permission hadn’t come through.” Mishal Husain, BBC One ‘News at Ten’, January 17th 2019

And it’s becoming more difficult to get Israeli permits to transfer seriously ill patients out of Gaza, partly because the PA is giving fewer guarantees it will cover their medical costs elsewhere. The doctor tells me how, days ago, he broke this news to the parents of a newborn with a congenital heart condition who went on to die. ‘How did I do this?’ he asks me. ‘I’m speaking to you not as a doctor but as a human being’.” [emphasis added] Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4, July 22nd 2017 [emphasis added]

The latest BBC report in that genre was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 31st. Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the long item (from 01:45:37 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Being diagnosed with a serious medical condition such as cancer in Gaza, where many medical treatments are not available, means a series of complex problems beyond your diagnosis. With a financial crisis and a deep rift between Hamas – which rules Gaza – and Fatah – which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – many drugs are in short supply.”

If listeners thought that they were about to hear more about that “deep rift” and how it and PA policy translates into a long-standing crisis in the health system in the Gaza Strip and reduced referrals for treatment elsewhere, they were mistaken.

Husain: “Treatments and travel are also restricted by the tight blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. Often, a patient’s best hope is to get to one of the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. The final stage of that process is a permit from the Israeli authorities. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “There’s a crowd of cancer patients at the Augusta Victoria reception from early morning. Many come from Gaza and have had long hold-ups for potentially life-saving treatment.”

Woman [voiceover]: “My treatment is going to take longer as my tumour grew because of the delay. The longer you wait, the scarier it gets with this disease.”

Knell: “And yet these patients say they’re lucky as they’ve reached East Jerusalem. Those aged 16 to 55 have gone through more thorough Israeli security checks. Now, they’re in the only Palestinian hospital where Israel allows radiation treatment and it has the drugs they need.”

According to a study published in October 2018:

“In 2013, the first radiation oncology service in the Palestinian territories opened in the August-Victoria Hospital. There are now three linear accelerators in the Palestinian territories…” [emphasis added]

The report continued:

Woman [voiceover]: “In Gaza it’s difficult. All they do is check you. You live, you die, that’s it. The travelling is exhausting but this is the only place to get treatment. Getting permits is hard unless you’re in your 50s or 60s. Many younger people just have to stay in Gaza.”

Knell: Increasingly, hospitals in Gaza lack essential medicines including for cancer. The territory’s run by Hamas but a rival administration – the Palestinian Authority – is responsible for sending medical supplies. The PA also authorises patients getting treated outside. Then, the Israeli authorities decide who gets an exit permit. The bureaucracy for Gazans exasperates oncologist Dr Yussuf Hamamra [phonetic].”

Hamamra: “They have to go through a very complicated process. That’s mean two thirds of them they are coming to us in very advanced stage unfortunately. They need to have permission to come from the Israeli side and also financial coverage from the Palestinian minister [ministry] of health and you know sometimes here the politics of course will affect strongly the situation and [unintelligible] the patients they need to come to my clinic within 2 weeks, they need at least 2 months.”

Knell: “Upstairs, in the children’s ward, 13-year-old Mahmoud sings for his nurses while he’s hooked up to a drip for his chemotherapy. The lyrics about homesickness are poignant but for the first time in a year, Mahmoud does have his mum with him instead of an elderly grandparent. She’s now got security clearance from Israel.”

With no identifying details given, it is of course impossible to check out Knell’s story and understand why the mother allegedly did not initially receive a permit. Knell made no effort to fill in those obviously relevant details for listeners before going on to tell of more than one baby “on their own” but actually providing details of just one case.

Knell: “And here, in the neo-natal ward at the Makassed hospital, there are some tiny patients on their own. After the militant group Hamas took over Gaza more than a decade ago, Israel tightened its restrictions on people’s movements, citing security concerns. The Israeli authorities say it’s their policy for sick children to be accompanied by a parent but that doesn’t always happen. Baby Shahd was born prematurely in January, the only survivor of triplets. She’s now healthy, smiling at me in her cot. For over two months she’s been waiting to be taken home. Her mother was sent back to Gaza shortly after giving birth. This cash-strapped hospital had no place for her to stay.” […]

When I watch, it’s a nurse feeding Shahd but later I’m told of a happy reunion. Her mother was finally able to come and collect her this week. The staff are delighted. Here, at the East Jerusalem hospitals, they care for some of the most vulnerable Palestinian patients – tough financial and political realities only adding to the serious conditions they’re in.”

The background to that story promoted by Knell – which had been reported on May 29th by an Israeli media outlet and which again came up moments later in the same item – is actually as follows:

“In January, the Gazan woman, pregnant with triplets, arrived at the Makassed Hospital for urgent surgery. She went into labor and gave birth but two of the siblings, both boys, died days later.

The mother returned to Gaza to bury her two sons while Shahd, the girl, stayed behind in Jerusalem, where she was taken care of by hospital staff.

The hospital repeatedly asked the Palestinian Authority to request a permit from the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories for Shahd’s mother or father to come back to Israel, but the efforts failed. […]

COGAT said in a statement that it received just one previous request for a permit, but it was faulty and therefore not approved.”

Mishal Husain then (from 01:50:54) introduced the next part of the item.

Husain: “Well Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is a Labour MP and has recently returned from Jerusalem and the West Bank where she was visiting hospitals and doing medical work. […] And one of the cases you saw was that of this little baby.”

Allin-Khan did indeed visit the region between April 4th and 8th this year on a trip paid for by the political NGO ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) as she went on to state. However, listeners heard nothing from her or from Mishal Husain about that NGO’s political agenda and its history of anti-Israel campaigning.

Allin-Khan then proceeded – unchallenged by Husain – to give a false account of the story.

Allin-Khan: “Yes, I met baby Shahd when I went to East Jerusalem with Medical Aid for Palestinians to help them and support their work that they do there. I met baby Shahd who sadly was the only baby surviving of three triplets born to a mother that wasn’t able to stay in the hospital and the sad case was that the staff in the hospital had to tell the mother over the phone that her other two babies had died. Being a clinician myself I cannot imagine what that must be like. But being a mother, I cannot imagine the incomprehensible pain to hear that you cannot be with your children as they take their dying breath.”

Rather than correcting the inaccurate version of the story told by her interviewee, Husain embellished it.  

Husain: “Because she had gone back to…eh…Gaza or her permit didn’t allow her to remain and the three new-born babies were in this…were in this neo-natal unit.”

Allin-Khan: “Yes.”

Husain: “What about the children who are having cancer treatment? There was one of them reflected in that report who had his mother with him on that day but there are other times when they’re receiving chemotherapy without their parents being allowed to have come to Jerusalem with them.”

Allin-Khan then came up with a completely unsupported claim that likewise went unquestioned.

Allin-Khan: “It’s very rare for them to have their parents with them. I went to the paediatric oncology ward that was featured in the piece and it’s full of children whose eyes are full of fear and sadness. Some as young as 2 or 3 facing chemotherapy alone without their mother. And we wouldn’t find it acceptable in the UK for children to endure the most unspeakable pain such as going through cancer chemotherapy without their mother there and some of them were so distressed that they couldn’t even communicate with their parents over the phone.”

Husain: “I mean there’s a complicated security situation – we’ll be talking to the Israeli deputy ambassador about that in a moment – but what could be done do you think to improve this? At least for the children.”

Allin-Khan: “Fundamentally this is a humanitarian crisis born out of political choice. The cases described today are not uncommon and frankly inhumane. Permit delays are in fact permit denials which in many cases cost lives and I’m going to be calling on the UK government to apply pressure on the Israeli government because I would hope that everyone, regardless of their politics, has enough humanity to accept that no child should die alone or endure painful treatment on their own.”

So what did Radio 4 listeners actually get here? Yolande Knell picked up a story which had appeared two days earlier in the Israeli media and made an item out of it which dovetails nicely with the BBC’s existing framing of the topic of Israeli counter-terrorism measures. The ‘Today’ programme then brought in a British MP with a vague connection to the same story to promote commentary that serves the long-standing political campaign by MAP and other anti-Israel NGOs concerning the ‘blockade’.

Listeners did not hear the word ‘terror’ once throughout those seven minutes but they did hear a false version of the core story which enabled promotion of the notion that children “die alone” and undergo “painful treatment on their own” (even when a grandparent or another family member is present) because of Israeli policy – which was clearly signposted to listeners as being “inhumane”.

The rest of this item will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

As we have most recently seen in BBC coverage of the Israeli election and in an article by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent, the corporation’s framing a US administration peace plan which has not yet even been made public continues.

That framing has included the failure to clarify to audiences that the Palestinian Authority has already rejected the US initiative even before its publication, the failure to clarify that, significantly, the Palestinian Authority does not represent all the Palestinian factions and a total absence of information concerning Palestinian rejection of past peace proposals.

Additionally, BBC audiences have seen the two-state solution presented as “the formula for peace negotiations” but with that term only partially explained: the all-important phrase “two states for two peoples” is consistently absent from BBC presentation.  Instead, audiences repeatedly see the two-state solution defined according to the Palestinian interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s framing portrays the success of the as yet unpublished peace plan as dependent upon Israeli actions alone, with the Palestinian side reduced to a passive entity.

That pre-emptive framing continued in two items aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on April 16th. Listeners first heard a report (from 37:28 here) from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell introduced by co-presenter Justin Webb.

Webb: “Israel’s political parties meet the president today following the election of course. Yolande Knell is our correspondent in Jerusalem. What happens then, Yolande?”

Knell gave an explanation of the process of the president’s consultation with the heads of the parties which gained seats in the recent election in order to decide which party leader will be tasked with trying to form a new government before going on:

Knell: “…it’s extremely likely that it will be Benjamin Netanyahu that’s allowed to form the new government because he did win the greatest number of seats in the new parliament [not accurate – Ed.] and because he has support, we know, from the smaller Right-wing and pro-settler parties, he’ll be able to control the majority seats. And Israelis saying this is most likely to be the most Right-wing government in Israeli history. That was also the boast of the last government too. And of course this new government will be put in place – he’ll have 28 days to decide – Mr Netanyahu – if he can put…how he’ll put his government together…ahm…but this will come at a really important time.”

The item continued with pure speculation based partly on an article in a newspaper.

Webb: “Well an important time because Donald Trump says he has a peace proposal and a peace proposal that is acceptable to…ahm…err…the Netanyahu government potentially. In that case, if that were to be announced relatively soon, what would it be?”

Knell: “Well we’ve been looking for a lot of clues. Ahm…of course the big question is could the US abandon the two-state solution: this long-time international formula for peace that envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. It’s been written up in UN resolutions and it’s also been the cornerstone of US policy for over two decades now. But we had yesterday the Washington Post reporting that the US proposal probably wouldn’t include a fully sovereign Palestinian state and then the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a series of congressional hearings over the last two weeks and in questioning he didn’t give too much away for sure ahead of the publication of this long-awaited Trump administration peace plan but he did say that…or he seemed to imply that the idea of the two-state solution was bunched in with what he called ‘a failed old set of ideas not worth re-treading’ and he kept talking, as we’ve heard before, about recognising realities.

What’s also been pointed out really importantly is that the Trump administration and Mr Pompeo didn’t speak out against a campaign promise that was made very controversially by Mr Netanyahu in the last days of the election campaign where he promised to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank where there are Israeli settlements…ah…put them under full Israeli control. And…err…of course settlements seen as illegal under international law but the Palestinians say that would leave them with no contiguous territory for a Palestinian state.”

As we see Knell’s speculative portrayal adheres to the BBC’s standard framing seen to date. The second item on the same topic in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.

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