A BBC Jerusalem reporter’s framing of protests against Hamas – part one

On March 18th the BBC got round to telling listeners to one of its radio stations something about the demonstrations against Hamas which have been taking place in the Gaza Strip since last week.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 37:47 here) by Yolande Knell in which – oddly – those and other recent events in the region were framed as being connected to the upcoming general election in Israel.

Presenter Nick Robinson began by referring to the terror attacks that took place the previous morning in Samaria which had hitherto been ignored by the BBC.

Robinson: “Tensions are rising ahead of Israel’s elections. The Israeli army says that a person has been killed and two seriously injured in a shooting near the Ariel settlement on the occupied West Bank. We can talk to our correspondent Yolande Knell. Tell us more about that incident, Yolande, please.”

Knell began by giving an account of the incident which – predictably – did not include the words terror or terrorist.

Knell: “Well the Israeli military is still searching this morning for a Palestinian man who was…ehm…this attacker yesterday in the West Bank. He killed an Israeli soldier of 19 years old and then wounded badly two other people. Basically he stole the gun of the soldier after stabbing him and then started firing at cars heading towards the nearby settlement. He took one of those cars, having injured a man inside, and then drove it to another nearby junction where he shot and badly injured a second soldier before he drove off. So I mean really Palestinian attacks with guns, knives, car rammings; they have continued to occur sporadically in the West Bank but really the frequency of such attacks has decreased a lot from back in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real series of them. But this in very worrying for the Israelis as they head towards the April 9th general election where the prime minister wants to run for his fifth term. He’s really brandishing his credentials as Israel’s Mr Security.”

As recently reported at the Times of Israel, Knell’s portrayal of “decreased” terror attacks since 2015/16 does not tell the whole story.

“…Israeli officials say that slightly more than 200 terror attacks were prevented in 2015, about 350 in 2016, roughly 400 in 2017, and almost 600 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been almost 100 thwarted terror attacks — and these are only of the kind defined as severe: shootings, explosives, vehicle-rammings, and the like. In other words, terrorists are attempting to perpetrate more terror attacks each year, and their motivation remains high.”

Robinson continued with further reinforcement of that questionable framing.

Robinson: “I talked of increasing tensions ahead of those elections. There were rocket attacks on Tel Aviv from Gaza and retaliatory strikes on Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.”

Knell: “That’s right. Quite a lot of unusual things happening in Gaza in just the last few days. Last Thursday night, as Hamas leaders sat down with an Egyptian security delegation which has been trying to mediate a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, there were two longer range rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv. That’s something that has not been seen here since the 2014 full-scale armed conflict…ahm…between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Then the Israel military responded with airstrikes on dozens of Hamas targets.”

Notably Knell failed to inform listeners that residents of communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip had also been targeted with several barrages of rocket fire overnight and the following morning. However we discover that – in contrast to her colleagues at the BBC News website – Yolande Knell was able to tell ‘Today’ listeners who is behind the weekly rioting along the border fence.

Knell: “There was then this insistence from Hamas and the Egyptians that the rocket fire was some kind of mistake and as Egypt tried to broker calm, Hamas called for the cancellation of its demonstrations along the boundary fence last Friday. That’s the first time that’s really happened since those protests began nearly a year ago.”

Knell moved on to another topic:

Knell: “The other thing that’s caught us somewhat by surprise…erm…is…several days of protests in Gaza by another group calling itself ‘We Want to Live’ and they’re really protesting – defying the tight control of the Hamas authorities – protesting about the rising cost of living and high taxes in Gaza. And that’s led to dozens of arrests, people being beaten up by the Hamas security forces including journalists and human rights workers.”

Failing to mention the reports of Hamas’ use of live fire against the demonstrators, Knell then rounded off her report with more dubious framing relating to the upcoming election.

Knell: “And Israeli commentators writing in the papers this morning that there’s kind of a paradox here. Normally Israel would be very pleased with the kind of public protest in Gaza, seeing it as proof that its closure policy in Gaza, which often says could lead to Hamas’ downfall, is working. But right now this is the kind of turmoil that will be more worrying for Israeli officials. It doesn’t want to see some kind of disintegration in Gaza – possibly even leading to another full-armed conflict – just ahead of those elections.”

Despite Knell’s use of the plural, one Israeli commentator wrote one piece in one newspaper claiming a “paradox” on that day. The paper is Ha’aretz and the commentator is Zvi Bar’el. This is what he wrote:

“The paradox is that under other circumstances, Israel would be pleased with the public protest in Gaza and see it as proof of the success of the closure policy, which it believes could lead to Hamas’ downfall. But the turmoil Hamas is experiencing worries Israel too. It needs a partner to take responsibility for running the Strip, stop a disintegration that could lead to a large-scale armed conflict on the eve of the election, and serve as an address for mediation. Suddenly it turns out that the confrontations at the fence are a marginal threat, if at all, compared to the risk of instability of the Hamas government.”

Leaving aside the fact that what Knell and her unnamed source describe as “closure policy” primarily came about because of Hamas’ terrorism against Israeli citizens, the BBC’s domestic audiences now know that their obligatory licence fee goes towards paying for Yolande Knell to sit in a Jerusalem studio and recite almost word for word selected passages from a publication read by less than 4% of the Israeli public which they could actually have found online for themselves.

Knell also used Bar’el’s commentary in a written report published later in the day on the BBC News website as we shall see in part two of this post.

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Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Throughout the month of February 2019, seventeen items relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages.

(dates indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One item related to security issues:

Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN (28/2/19 to 2/3/19) discussed here

Two items related to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Hebron: One Street, Two Sides (18/2/19 to 22/2/19) discussed here and here

Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations (25/2 19 to 26/2/19) discussed here

One item related to Palestinian affairs:

US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Yolande Knell (1/2/19 to 4/2/19) discussed here

Of the reports concerning Israel, three articles concerned foreign and diplomatic relations:

Warsaw summit: Why Iran is the elephant in the room Jonathan Marcus (12/2/19 to 19/2/19)

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment (17/2/19 to 18/2/19) discussed here

Holocaust: Israel summit scrapped in ‘racism’ row with Poland (18/2/19 to 21/2/19)

One item related to trade:

US to buy Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (6/2/19 to 9/2/19) discussed here

One report concerned the upcoming general election:

Israel elections: Netanyahu challengers Gantz and Lapid join forces (21/2/19 to 25/2/19)

Three reports related to legal/criminal cases in Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (28/2/19 to 1/3/19) discussed here

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (28/2/19) discussed here

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption Tom Bateman (20/2/19 to 28/2/19) discussed here

One item related to historical subject matter:

A 2,000-year-old biblical treasure BBC Travel (25/2/19 to 27/2/19)

One item related to science:

Israel’s Beresheet Moon mission gets under way Jonathan Amos (22/2/19 to 25/2/19)

One item concerned social issues:

Why I use a Jewish ritual bath after my period Erica Chernofsky (10/2/19 to 14/2/19)

Two additional items did not actually relate directly to Israel:

Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport Emmanuel Igunza (18/2/19 to 19/2/19) discussed here

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich attacked during break-in (26/2/19 to 27/2/19) discussed here

As has been the case in previous years (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website continues to cover Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – January 2019

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

 

 

 

 

 

Ten days, four reports on the same story on the BBC News website

On February 28th the BBC News website published two reports pertaining to the anticipated announcement from Israel’s attorney general that the prime minister would be charged, pending a hearing, in relation to three separate cases.

February 28

The first of the two reports – titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges” related to the attorney general’s announcement.

In addition to details of the allegations in the three cases (which had previously been reported in an article published on December 2nd), the article included the first brief reference to the factual background concerning relevant Israeli legislation and procedures that audiences have seen in all the BBC’s generous coverage of this story. 

“A final hearing, probably after the election, will determine whether the charges go forward. The prime minister will have an opportunity to make his case then. […]

Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise and there is currently no legal barrier to stop him staying in office if he’s re-elected – even if the attorney general makes a final decision to charge him after a hearing due in the coming months.”

As pointed out at the Times of Israel, “the coming months” is more likely to be early next year.

“Legal officials have taken pains to point out that the hearing is not a simple technical matter but could have significant bearing on the case. Only after a hearing can formal charges be filed.

The right to a hearing is anchored in Israel’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states that “the suspect will be entitled to apply in writing to the prosecution authority… and to make a reasoned petition to abstain from the filing of an indictment.”

Under the law, this request can be made within 30 days of the suspect receiving  notification of the intention to indict him. […]

Mandelblit, in his written statement Thursday, promised to examine the defense team’s arguments “willingly and with an open heart.” His final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu is unlikely to come before early 2020.

February 28

The reasons for the delay are manifold. For one, the attorney general has decided not to release all case files until after the Knesset election, lest they be used for political purposes and campaign propaganda.

In practice, that means that Netanyahu’s lawyers will only be able to view all the charges against their client after April 9. They then need to be given enough time to review the entire material and properly prepare their counter arguments. Given the complicated nature of Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, it appears reasonable to grant them several months to do that.”

The second article published on February 28th is titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations?” and it purports to provide audiences with details of the three cases.

Readers may recall that just days earlier the BBC News website had published a similar filmed backgrounder by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau and that report still appeared on the website’s Middle East page on February 28th.

February 20

The following day, March 1st, an article by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Netanyahu charges: Is Israel PM in more trouble now than ever before?”.

March 1

A significant proportion of that article comprised material recycled from an audio report by Knell that had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on February 6th.

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”

Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Written, 1/3:

“He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively,” says Anshel Pfeffer, a Haaretz journalist who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister.

“The more these indictments create problems for him and the more the challenges on the political scene with a new party, like the Gantz party – and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him – we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”

Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”

Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”

Written, 1/3:

“Likud members firmly back their leader.

“Currently, there’s no-one that’s nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is,” Zohar Tal, a candidate, told me at a Likud primary event last month.

“Netanyahu, I think he’s the best prime minister we had here,” added Iris, a grassroots supporter. “Not just for security but also for the economic situation.””

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Guy Lurie of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”

Lurie: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”

Written, 1/3:

“This is the first time that a serving prime minister has been put on official notice of planned prosecution. While there are currently no legal barriers to him staying on, it creates an uncertain situation.

“We’re in uncharted waters. We don’t know how this will take shape,” says Guy Lurie, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. However, if he is re-elected, indicted and then refuses to resign, it is thought likely that the Supreme Court would rule on his position.

“It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious – potentially multiple – corruption charges and continue to conduct government,” Mr Lurie notes.”

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Written, 1/3:

“Recently, huge billboards were put up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem showing the prime minister with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. “Netanyahu: a different league” read the slogan.

The prime minister aims to show how his close relations with this White House have helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

In summary, throughout all of the ten days between February 20th and March 1st, the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried at least one of four different but remarkably similar reports on this story.

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Revisiting BBC reporting on Palestinian social media incitement

In October 2015 the BBC News website published an article titled “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?”. The question posed in that headline was addressed in fewer than 200 words which did little to inform readers of the scale and significance of the role of incitement spread via social media in fuelling the wave of terror at the time, of the kind of content appearing on such platforms or of the use of social media by official Palestinian groups other than Hamas – including Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party

In July 2016 the BBC published two articles relating to the topic of Palestinian incitement of terrorism against Israelis on Facebook: “Israel angered by Facebook hatred rules“ and “Facebook sued by Israeli group over Palestinian attacks“. 

In October 2016, listeners to a radio programme broadcast on the BBC World Service relating to the Twitter hashtag ‘Facebook Censors Palestine’ were told:

“And this is really the problem: narrative. With two completely opposing views on events, what Israelis see as inciting violence, the Palestinians see as telling the truth and vice versa.”

Earlier this month the BBC News website published a report in which Yolande Knell told readers that:

“The PA denies Israeli accusations that it incites militant attacks.”

Several days after the appearance of Knell’s article, Palestinian Media Watch published a report titled “Fatah’s official Facebook page in 2018 A platform for glorifying murder and promoting terror”.

“This Palestinian Media Watch report demonstrates that the Fatah Movement used its official Facebook page throughout 2018 to glorify terror and terrorists, and to support continued Palestinian terror against Israelis. As its fundamental policy, Fatah glorified terrorists from all periods of its history including mass murderers and suicide bombers. Significantly, immediately following terror attacks, Fatah used Facebook to praise the contemporary terror and glorify new terrorists throughout the year. Although Fatah’s use of Facebook for these purposes is in direct violation of Facebook’s guidelines set out in its Community Standards, Facebook has not deleted these terror glorifying and terror promoting posts, and has not closed down Fatah’s Facebook account.”

While Yolande Knell was not wrong when she wrote that “[t]he PA denies Israeli accusations that it incites militant attacks” (as does Fatah) neither she nor her colleagues have made any effort to inform BBC audiences of the type of material regularly posted on Fatah’s official Facebook page and thereby enable them to judge for themselves whether, despite those denials, the Fatah dominated PA does or does not incite terrorism against Israelis.  

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BBC Trending presents Palestinian incitement as ‘narrative’

 

Keeping Knell’s crystal ball gazing alive on BBC Radio 4

BBC domestic radio would not usually bother to report on closed primary elections held by one of tens of parties set to run in a foreign country’s general election that is two months away.  

That, however, is exactly what listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard on February 6th and to understand why, it is worth recalling Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell’s crystal ball gazing on the same radio station in late December 2018.

Knell’s predictions for the year ahead in the Middle East focused not on Syria, Iran, Yemen or the embattled Kurds but on a story much closer to her own office’s back yard.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Many of those themes were recycled in this latest report from Knell which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain (from 2:41:17 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Husain: “In Israel the Likud party of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been voting on its list of candidates to contest April’s general election. While it faces new competition, polls suggest that Mr Netanyahu is best placed to lead the next coalition government, putting him on course to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister this summer. But he might also become the first sitting Israeli leader to face a criminal trial. There’ll be a decision soon on possible corruption charges. He denies any wrongdoing. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports from Jerusalem.”

Knell: “There’s a big effort here in Jerusalem to put on a positive show as the Likud faithful vote for their preferred candidates in a primary election. But there’s no disguising that the upcoming general election is going to be tough for the party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s facing possible corruption charges and his most formidable political rival in years, a former general, Benny Gantz. Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”

Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Knell continued with portrayal of daily videos posted on Facebook as a television channel.

Knell “And as part of that battle, this week Mr Netanyahu launched Likud TV – his own channel to counter what he describes as fake news. He’s furious at the media coverage of three criminal investigations against him, calling it a witch hunt and insists he won’t step down. Before the election Israel’s attorney general has said he’ll announce whether he intends to prosecute. Guy Luria of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”

Luria: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”

Knell: “At a recent press event the BBC asked the prime minister about his legal predicament.”

Recording Netanyahu: “I believe nothing will come of it because there’s nothing in it. And it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect my support because people believe what I just said and they also believe that we’re doing the right things for the country.”

Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”

Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”

Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”

Knell: “If, as polls predict, Mr Netanyahu is set to win his fifth election, this summer he’ll take over from the founding father David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest ever serving prime minister. But he could also make another record: as the first sitting prime minister to fight criminal charges. The coming months will define his legacy.”

As we see, while this item used the previous day’s Likud primaries as a hook, BBC audiences actually heard nothing at all about the results.  Neither – once again – did they get any information about the policies of the party described by the BBC as “new competition” headed by a “formidable political rival” or news about any of the additional parties which have so far registered.

Rather, the BBC continues to focus audience attention on Yolande Knell’s speculations concerning an indictment which may or may not be issued and a court case which may or may not take place – all the while failing even to provide audiences with relevant factual background

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BBC News inverts cause and effect in US aid story headline

Readers may recall that last month we noted the absence of any BBC coverage of a story concerning the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept a category of US aid.

“The Palestinian Authority has informed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it will no longer accept any American security aid dollars as of the beginning of February, in a development seen as a blow to Israeli-Palestinian security ties.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to Pompeo on December 26, 2018, telling him that the PA would reject US financial support because of a new American law known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act.

Under the law, American courts will have the jurisdiction to rule on cases against any foreign party accused of supporting terrorism that accepts US aid. In practice, that means American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks would be able to file lawsuits against the PA and PLO in US courts for compensation — possibly in the hundreds of millions — if the Ramallah-based body accepts even one penny of American aid.

“The Government of Palestine respectfully informs the United States Government that, as of January 31st, 2019, it fully disclaims and no longer wishes to accept any form of assistance referenced in ATCA…the Government of Palestine unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such assistance,” Hamdallah wrote in the letter, adding that the PA would reconsider its decision if ATCA were changed in a way that would protect it from lawsuits in American courts.”

On February 1st the BBC News website got round to reporting that story in an article by Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell which was presented to audiences with a headline that clearly leads readers to believe that the initiative to stop the aid came from the US administration: “US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza”.

The first five paragraphs of Knell’s report gave readers no indication whatsoever of the fact that the US aid was stopped because the Palestinian Authority told the US Secretary of State that it refused to accept the funds.

“The US has confirmed it stopped all aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a step linked to new anti-terrorism legislation.

More than $60m (£46m) in annual funds for the Palestinian security services has now ended, and – while Israel has backed some previous cuts in US aid for Palestinians – officials have expressed concern about this move.

It is thought that co-operation with Israeli forces, which helps keep relative calm in the West Bank, could be affected.

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Donald Trump last year, has just come into force.

This allows Americans to sue those receiving foreign aid from their country in US courts over alleged complicity in “acts of war”.”

Only in paragraphs six and seven were readers informed that:

“At a news conference on Thursday, senior official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority (PA) had sent a letter to the US state department asking them to end funding because of a fear of lawsuits.

“We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before the courts,” he said.”

Knell went on to tell readers that:

“The PA denies Israeli accusations that it incites militant attacks.”

With BBC audiences serially denied any meaningful reporting on the subject of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian officials and with serious coverage of the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families very few and far between, readers are of course unlikely to be able to judge for themselves whether or not that PA denial holds water.

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No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

Related Articles:

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Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

Reviewing the sourcing of BBC Radio 4 December 26 news bulletins

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on December 26th heard some interestingly sourced news bulletins concerning an alleged Israeli attack on sites in Syria late on the evening of December 25th. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Among the headlines at the start of BBC Radio 4’s December 26th “Midnight News” programme was:

Israel has attacked a weapons site in Syria and says it’s intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards its territory.”

There was however no confirmation at that stage of that highlighted claim.

Later on (from 02:31 here) listeners were told that:

Newsreader: “Syria says its air defences have intercepted missiles fired by Israeli aircraft close to the capital Damascus but it acknowledged that an arms dump had been hit. Youssef Taha has more details.”

Taha: “A Syrian military official said that most of the missiles were brought down before they reached their targets but he acknowledged that a weapons dump near Damascus was hit. Video footage shown on state media showed an object moving over the city being intercepted and then the sound of a loud explosion followed by a burst of artillery shelling. Israel confirmed the attack and said it later activated its air defence system to bring down a Syrian missile. Israel has on numerous occasions targeted Iranian and Hizballah sites in Syria that it regards as threats to its own security. An Israeli army spokesman said there were no injuries among Israeli troops and no damage.”

Contrary to the claim from Youssef Taha that “Israel confirmed the attack”, at that stage – a few minutes after midnight UK time on December 26th – Israel had not confirmed anything of the sort and in fact no official statement has been made to date. The only Israeli announcement at that stage concerned the activation of an aerial defence system “in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria“.

As we see Taha’s newsgathering was based entirely on unverified claims made by the Syrian military and Syrian state media – neither of which is renowned for its honesty and accuracy.

Despite the absence of official confirmation from Israel, later that morning listeners to a news bulletin broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were likewise told that (from 02:53 here):

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked an arms depot near Damascus. It said it had also intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards Israeli territory. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

The IDF statement did not actually include the word ‘intercepted’ in either Hebrew or English but Knell went on to repeat that claim.

Knell: “Syrian air defences shot down missiles fired by Israeli war planes from Lebanese air space according to the official Syrian news agency. But it says that an arms depot was damaged by an Israeli strike. The Israeli military declined to comment on the report but said that Israel’s aerial defence system had intercepted a rocket launched from Syria. Israel has previously carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah, the Iranian backed Lebanese militant group.”

Once again BBC newsgathering consisted of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media and the same unreliable source was quoted in a news bulletin aired in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ (from 04:22 here) on the afternoon of the same day.

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked a weapons storage site near the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian state media says three soldiers were injured. Reports say that two suspicious cargo planes bound for Iran had taken off from Damascus just before the airstrikes. The Israeli military hasn’t commented but says its air defences intercepted a missile fired from Syria last night. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying over southern Lebanon fired missiles at targets near Damascus according to the official Syrian state news agency. It says most were shot down but an arms depot was damaged. Israeli media say that 2 Iranian planes bound for Tehran left Damascus airport just before and at around the time of the airstrikes. Reports have previously linked their airlines to weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. The Israeli military has only confirmed that its air defences intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria after the time of the reported air raids. Israel has previously said it struck some 200 targets in Syria over the past 2 years, saying it acts to stop Iranian entrenchment and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah.”

A news bulletin in the radio 4 programme ‘PM’ (from 03:19 here) on the afternoon of the same day promoted claims from a source which – like official Syrian media and the Syrian military – had been shown to have repeatedly lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in recent years.

Newsreader: “Russia says that 2 passenger planes were directly threatened last night by Israeli airstrikes on Syria. The defence ministry in Moscow said that the endangered flights had been landing in Damascus and Beirut. Israeli war planes damaged an arms depot near Damascus and wounded three soldiers. Israel hasn’t commented.”

On the evening of December 26th the same unverified claim was amplified in a news bulletin aired in the Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 03:20 here).

Newsreader: “Russia says an Israeli missile strike on targets in Syria last night directly threatened 2 civilian planes. The Russian foreign ministry described the attack as a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty. In the past Israel has acknowledged carrying out 200 missile strikes in Syria over 2 years with the aim of stopping Iran entrenching itself in the country and preventing advanced weapons reaching the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Kell.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying in Lebanese air space targeted an arms storage site near Damascus according to the official Syrian news agency. Russia’s defence ministry says 14 of the 16 missiles they fired were shot down and that Israel’s actions threatened 2 passenger planes, one landing in Beirut and the other in the Syrian capital. Israel’s military hasn’t commented on the reports but said that its air defences had intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria. Relations between Israel and Russia became strained in September when Syria shot down a Russian military plane during an Israeli airstrike, killing 15 people on board. Afterwards Russia announced that it had delivered its advanced S300 air defence system to Syria despite Israel and the US urging it not to.”

Late on the evening of December 26th the AP news agency published what it said was confirmation of the strikes in Syria – and a response to the Russian claims – from an anonymous “Israeli security official”.

However as we see, the BBC’s presentation of the story during the first 24 hours after it broke was primarily based on statements put out by official Syrian and Russian sources which the BBC repeated unquestioningly without independent verification.

Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news bulletins.

Related Articles:

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BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

BBC News website promotes an ‘Israeli attack’ that wasn’t

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

 

Yolande Knell’s annual politicisation of Christmas on Radio 4

As usual during the festive season, BBC content on and around Christmas Eve included several politicised reports from Yolande Knell about Christmas celebrations in Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on December 23rd heard a report (from 10:00 here) about St Nicholas Day which, according to presenter Emily Buchanan “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.”

During that report listeners were told by Yolande Knell that:

Knell: “Over the centuries some town’s people claim that St Nicholas has protected them, including in 1948 during the fighting that followed the creation of the State of Israel and the violence of two Palestinian uprisings.”

Although her examples “over the centuries” were limited to events connected to Israel, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that during the Second Intifada Palestinian terrorists used Beit Jala as a position from which to repeatedly attack Israeli civilians in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighbourhood with gunfire and mortars.

In addition to Mishal Husain’s politicised report from the Gaza Strip, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 24th heard a report (from 35:41 here) from Yolande Knell in Bethlehem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Justin Webb: “Christian pilgrims from around the world will be attending a Christmas Eve mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity today, built on the site where they believe Jesus was born. Yolande Knell is our correspondent there. What kind of numbers, Yolande?”

Having stated that “thousands of people” were expected to visit, Knell went on:

Knell: “Tourism here has recovered from a big fall that really began in late 2015 after that series of stabbings and car-ramming attacks. According to the Palestinian tourism ministry this has been the busiest year on record for Bethlehem…”

Later on Webb asked:

Webb: “How easy is it for people to get to it if they want to?”

Knell: “Well on Christmas it does become much easier but of course…ehm…for the Palestinians this is one of their great problems especially when it comes to developing tourism as they’re very reliant on Israel…”

Having reported that Bethlehem’s hotels are fully booked, Knell went on:

Knell: “Things are pretty bleak politically for Palestinians. But the message from officials and from regular people alike is that after some tough years – remember last year there was a lot of unrest that marred the Christmas celebrations, led to a lot of parties being cancelled, after President Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without recognising Palestinian claims to the east of the city: the part that they want as the capital of their promised future state.”

Similar messaging from Knell was heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on December 24th (from 6:04 here) in a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “Thousands of pilgrims have joined Palestinians in Bethlehem for the start of Christmas Eve celebrations. A parade was held in Manger Square with carols sung in Arabic played through speakers. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Bethlehem.”

Having described that parade, Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Tourism here is often hit by flare-ups in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year many parties were cancelled after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without acknowledging Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city which they want as the capital of their promised future state. This year the political outlook remains bleak but the message from Palestinian officials and locals alike is that this should be a joyful Christmas.”

As documented here last December – 2017’s non-religious festivities were cancelled on the orders of Palestinian officials.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

As ever Yolande Knell’s annual Christmas messaging obscures Palestinian actions which affect seasonal tourism in the Bethlehem area. While listeners heard of a “series of stabbings and car-rammings” in 2015 and that tourism is “often hurt by flare-ups in violence”, they were not told who instigated those events, just as they were not informed who ordered the cancellation of Christmas parties last year or of the terrorism launched from Beit Jala in the Second Intifada.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, one of the themes promoted during the first fourteen minutes of a live broadcast from the Gaza Strip in the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme was the claim that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. 

An additional theme which is not new to BBC reporting and was again promoted in this broadcast is that of US cuts in donations to UNRWA – but, as ever, without any explanation of the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding the UN agency that are vital to proper understanding of that story.

The second part of the ‘Today’ programme’s live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (from 36:07 here) was introduced by Mishal Husain with a reference to an announcement from the UK government mentioned earlier by the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “The government has announced £5 million worth of emergency food aid for Palestinians in Gaza as the UN appeals for funds to prevent 2 million people who live here slipping deeper into poverty.”

In contrast to Husain’s claim that all two million residents of the Gaza Strip are living in poverty, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported in June of this year that 53% of the territory’s residents were actually defined as such. Husain then introduced her Jerusalem based colleague Yolande Knell.

Husain: “The economic position in Gaza has long been dire, Yolande, is international concern now growing?”

Knell: “It does seem to be and there is this report that’s been published by the UN humanitarian office here talking about how there are deepening needs among Palestinians. But what’s really interesting is the fact it’s launching this appeal for $350 million today for humanitarian relief for Palestinians but it says that it’s actually targeting fewer people – half a million fewer – than it targeted here just in this last year. And the report is very frank about how it is because of record low funding and of course over the past year what’s happened is the US has slashed its funding to the Palestinians including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million refugees across the Middle East. It has promised $365 million but ended up paying just $60 million and on top of that it cut aid – 200 million – to development projects. And that really links to this other announcement that we’re seeing this morning from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – UNRWA – where the UK’s Department for International Development saying it’s going to give this money – £5 million – to provide emergency food to over 60,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

Later on in the same programme (2:06:21 here) listeners heard a news bulletin which also included a report from Knell.

Newsreader: “The United Nations is launching an appeal to raise £280 million for people living in the Palestinian territories. It says that many are in critical humanitarian need after a big drop in funding from the United States. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “This report describes a worsening situation in the Palestinian territories. In Gaza health services have been overwhelmed by casualties from protests along the perimeter fence with Israel. But the UN humanitarian affairs office says that next year it will target just 1.4 million people here – half a million fewer than this year. Its local head points to record low funding and what he calls attacks to delegitimise humanitarian action. This year as tensions grew with Palestinian leaders, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for development and for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Through an emergency appeal much of UNRWA’s deficit has been filled and today the UK says it will provide new funds for over 60,000 refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

The UNOCHA press release on which this news item is based can be seen here.

As is usual in BBC content we see uncritical amplification of UN claims and campaigns with no effort made to provide audiences with background information concerning questions such as why there are “5 million [Palestinian] refugees across the Middle East”, why people living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are still classified as refugees or what were the reasons behind the US administration’s decision to cut donations to UNRWA.

Entirely predictably Yolande Knell’s reporting failed to inform BBC audiences that the sum cited in the appeal launched by UNOCHA and the PA’s Minister for Social Development (who Knell apparently ‘forgot’ to mention) is similar to that allocated by the Palestinian Authority in its 2018 budget to payments to convicted terrorists and terrorists’ families. As PMW points out:

“Instead of the UN asking donor countries to contribute $350 million to provide for Palestinian humanitarian needs, the UN should be joining the unequivocal call from many governments that the PA immediately stop squandering the $355 million dollars of its own funds on its “Pay for Slay” policy that incentivizes and rewards terrorism, and instead spend that money on needy Palestinians.

Were the UN to adopt this basic and elementary moral requirement, it would strengthen the international forces that are mobilizing against the PA’s terror support.  

Abolishing the “Pay for Slay” policy would re-open the door for the PA to receive the approximately $215 million dollars of US aid to the PA withheld by the Taylor Force Act. Abolishing the PA’s “Pay for Slay” policy would also avert the imminent deduction by Israel of the PA’s expenditure on the salary program from the tax revenues Israel collects and transfers to the PA. Moreover, it would ensure that the PA would not lose its Australian funding and part of its funding from The Netherlands.”

The story told to BBC Radio 4 audiences, however, excludes any mention of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas shared priority of funding and rewarding terror over meeting the needs of their people. Instead Yolande Knell and her colleagues prefer to promote a simplistic story about poor, hungry Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign