As readers no doubt recall, last October the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to the section (4.4.14) of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality in which it is stated:
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
Further, the ECU stated that with regard to BBC News:
“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.”
Since then (and also beforehand) we have documented on these pages numerous breaches of that editorial guideline – see just a few examples here, here and here.
Those breaches usually manifest themselves in one of two ways. In some instances an interviewee or contributor to BBC content is presented to audiences by name and with the title of his or her organization, but the political agenda of that organization and the interviewee’s “standpoint” are not clarified. In other cases, interviewees or contributors are presented by name only and BBC audiences are not informed of their affiliations with campaigning organisations or of the fact that their contribution should be assessed within the context of a particular political agenda.
An example of that latter form of breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality was seen on June 20th in an article by Yolande Knell titled “Tensions mount amid hunt for Israeli teens” which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.
In that report, Knell amplifies the views of people she terms simply “locals”, adding her own politically motivated promotion of the inaccurate notion of a search and rescue operation as ‘collective punishment’.
“The southern city of Hebron has been virtually closed by the Israeli military. Most Hebronites are prevented from travelling freely around the West Bank and going abroad.
This week in Taffuh village we watched as Israeli soldiers took over a Palestinian house on a strategic position on the hillside and moved supplies inside.
Locals feel they are being collectively punished for the disappearance of the three Israelis.
“More checkpoints, more closures. I’ve not been to my job all week,” says Issa Amro.
“You are waiting for the soldiers to come to your house any time. You are completely terrified about your children, your family, your neighbours.
“This is a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians for what happened to the Israelis and we’re not responsible for it.”
“I’m so worried about the situation escalating,” says Zleikha Muhtaseb, a resident of the Old City of Hebron.
“Detaining people in big numbers like this is meant to send a message and create more tension in society.”
Like many Palestinians, Ms Muhtaseb, expects a significant political fallout.
“Now many Palestinians are angry with the Palestinian Authority [which governs parts of the West Bank] as they feel it’s not protecting them,” she says. “Of course there’s probably nothing they can do. We know Israel doesn’t want to see Palestinians united.” “
Having read Knell’s signposting of these two interviewees as “locals”, the average BBC audience member would of course conclude that Zleikha Muhtaseb and Issa Amro are just ordinary ‘man in the street’ interviewees who merely happened to run into Yolande Knell as she was out and about in Hebron.
That, however, is not the case.
Sharp-eyed readers may recall that just last month BBC Trending’s Cordelia Hebblethwaite was promoting an agitprop campaign run by none other than Issa Amro – coordinator of ‘Youth Against Settlements’. That article also failed to provide audiences with any “summarizing” of the political viewpoints of Amro and his organization but, unlike Knell, Hebblethwaite did at least report the organisation’s title.
“Not content with misrepresenting the story to BBC audiences herself, Hebblethwaite also amplifies the messaging of ‘Youth Against Settlements’ coordinator Issa Amro but refrains from providing BBC audiences with details of the full range of Amro’s activities, his International Solidarity Movement links (apparently including financial arrangements) and his organisation’s connections – all of which are necessary to view his statements in their appropriate political perspective.”
BBC audiences are therefore denied the possibility of putting Amro’s description of search and rescue operations for three kidnapped youths, in a city which is one of the main strongholds of the terrorist organization responsible for their abduction, as “a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians” into its correct – politically motivated – context.
Zleikha Muhtaseb is also a long-time political activist who works with a variety of organisations and NGOs, including giving political tours of Hebron to Christian Peacemaker Teams. She has also worked with Save the Children, ICAHD and HRW among others. In a 2010 interview Muhtaseb proffered the following opinion: “These settlers, I don’t consider them Jewish actually.”
Clearly, BBC audiences would need to be aware of Zleikha Muhtaseb’s campaigning activities in order to be capable of judging the relevance of her claim that the detention of members of a terrorist organization holding kidnapped teens “is meant to send a message and create more tension in society” and her promotion of the notion that “Israel doesn’t want to see Palestinians united”.
Yolande Knell, however, apparently decided – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines – that her chosen political messaging would be more effective were BBC audiences kept in the dark regarding the all-important context of the campaigning activities of the people she just ‘happens’ to highlight and select for quotation in her ‘analysis’.