Background on a recurrent BBC interviewee

Over the last three and a half years the Hebron-based professional activist Issa Amro and his group ‘Youth Against Settlements’ have from time to time appeared in content produced by various BBC departments.

May 2014 – Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

June 2014 – Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

November 2015 – Absurdity of BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra exposed by Yolande Knell

November 2015 – BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

September 2017 – BBC News squeezes ‘settlements’ into internal PA affairs story

In none of those cases, however, did the BBC meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying to audiences the political agenda – or as the BBC terms it, the “particular viewpoint” – of Amro and his group.

“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.”

The NGO ‘Youth Against Settlements’ has been described by the BBC as a group that “train[s] activists and locals in how to use cameras and social media – in order to highlight abuses at the hands of Israelis” and Issa Amro has been portrayed in BBC reports as “a local activist”, “a Palestinian activist”, “a prominent human rights activist” and “a prominent human rights defender”.  

Researcher Petra Marquardt-Bigman has compiled a detailed backgrounder on Issa Amro and his group in which she examines what actually lies behind the media and NGO portrayal of him as a ‘human rights activist’. The study underscores just how deficient the BBC’s partial portrayal of Amro has been to date.

 

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BBC News squeezes ‘settlements’ into internal PA affairs story

As regular readers know, the BBC does not as a rule cover internal Palestinian affairs and so – as was noted here in July – the absence of any reporting on a new Palestinian Authority “Cyber Crime” law came as no surprise. 

“The controversial Cyber Crime Law, signed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on July 11, permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet.

Critics say the law paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.

The new law comes on the heels of the PA’s recent decision to block more than 20 Palestinian websites accused of publishing comments and articles critical of the PA leadership.

The law was approved by Abbas himself, without review by the Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The PLC has been paralyzed for the past decade, as a result of the power struggle between Abbas’s PA and Hamas — the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.”

Likewise, the BBC did not produce any English language coverage of the recent spate of detentions and arrests of Palestinian journalists and social media users by both the PA and Hamas.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 6th may therefore have been rather surprised to find a highly unusual article with the oddly punctuated headline “Palestinian Authority ‘detains rights activist over criticism’“.

“The Palestinian Authority is reported to have extended the detention of a prominent human rights activist who called on it to respect free speech.

Issa Amro, 35, was detained on Monday by Palestinian Preventive Security in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian officials have not commented, but a local non-governmental organisation says prosecutors have accused him of “causing strife”.”

However, rather than informing readers of the context to this story in its own words, the BBC assigned over half of this article’s word count to uncritical amplification of statements made by political NGOs, including a link to the Amnesty International website.

“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the move.

“It is outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online. Criticising the authorities should not be a criminal offence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East director.

Amnesty said Mr Amro, the co-ordinator for Youth Against Settlements group, had posted comments on his Facebook page criticising the arrest by Palestinian security forces on Sunday of a local radio journalist who had called for the resignation of President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We have seen an alarming escalation in the Palestinian authorities’ clampdown on freedom of expression in recent months,” said Ms Mughrabi.

“Instead of continuing to step up their efforts to quash dissenting voices, the Palestinian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Issa Amro and stop harassing and intimidating activists and others for daring to speak their minds freely.””

Readers are not told that the man portrayed as “a prominent human rights defender” is actually an anti-Israel political activist with links to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). No information is provided concerning the agenda and activities of the non-transparently funded ‘Youth Against Settlements’ group which has in the past – along with Amro himself – been promoted in BBC reports (see ‘related articles’ below).

The absence of that background information is particularly relevant given that in the later paragraphs of this report the BBC chose to deviate from its supposed subject matter.

“Mr Amro is also currently being tried by an Israeli military court on several charges that include calling for illegal protests and obstructing the official duties of soldiers.

He has rejected the charges, which Amnesty has described as “baseless”.”

The charges against Amro also include several counts of assault, incitement and damage to property. As in any country, it is of course the role of the court – rather than a political NGO that the BBC elects to amplify – to decide whether or not those charges are “baseless”.

The final paragraph of the report is similarly gratuitous and unrelated to the story supposedly being told in this report.

“In Hebron, where Mr Amro is based, several hundred Jewish settlers live in heavily-guarded enclaves surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinians. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The Israelis living in Hebron of course do so according to the terms of the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron which was signed by the representatives of the Palestinians within the framework of the Oslo Accords but the BBC chose to omit that all-important context from its portrayal.

With 25.7% of the word-count of this report promoting Israel-related subjects unrelated to the story it purports to tell and 52.5% devoted to repetition of statements from a political NGO, the BBC can hardly be said to have deviated from its usual policy by taking the opportunity to provide its audiences with meaningful and comprehensive reporting on what the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau chief described as a human rights issue.

Related Articles:

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

BBC editorial guidelines breached in report on Hebron incident

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra exposed by Yolande Knell

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

 

BBC editorial guidelines breached in report on Hebron incident

On September 23rd a Tweet sent from the BBC News account suggested that the most important thing audiences needed to know about a woman who tried to stab an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron was that she was a “student”.

Hebron incident BBC World tweet

That Tweet linked to an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Clashes after funeral of Palestinian shot in West Bank” and opened with interesting use of a revealing adjective:Hebron incident art

“There have been clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces in the West Bank after the funeral of a woman shot at a checkpoint on Tuesday.

The youths threw stones at the troops in the divided city of Hebron, who fired stun grenades and tear gas.” [emphasis added]

Readers are not informed that the arrangements in Hebron, whereby Israel controls Area H2 and the PA controls Area H1, are the result of the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron, signed by the representatives of the Palestinians within the framework of the Oslo Accords.

One hundred and thirteen words of this 487 word article are given over to the IDF’s account of the incident.

“The Israeli military said Hadeel al-Hashlamun, an 18-year-old student, was killed after she pulled out a knife and attempted to stab a soldier. […]

The Israeli military said that Ms Hashlamun was walking through a checkpoint dividing the Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled parts of Hebron on Tuesday when a metal detector went off.

“Forces called for her to halt, which she ignored, and she continued moving while also pulling out a knife,” a statement said.

“At this point, forces fired at the ground, then at her lower extremities in attempts to stop her advancement. The perpetrator continued and at this point, recognising a clear and present danger to their safety, the forces fired toward her.””

Double that word count – 226 words – is devoted to promotion of a contradictory account of the incident and statements from the attacker’s family. Readers are told that:

“Photographs of the incident published by Palestinian activists show a veiled woman believed to be Ms Hashlamun standing in front of two soldiers who are aiming their rifles at her.”

The article includes a photograph similar to the above description which is credited to ‘Youth Against Settlements’ but – not for the first time and in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality – the BBC refrains from informing audiences of the political agenda of that group and its “activists”.

Notably, despite its generous amplification of the messaging of ‘Youth Against Settlements’ (which included claims that she was not carrying a knife) the BBC did not find it appropriate to show readers another available photograph showing the knife carried by the attacker.

Hebron incident ABD tweet

Earlier on in the report readers are accurately informed that:

“Ms Hashlamun’s death came shortly after that of another Palestinian, who the Israeli military said was killed when a bomb he was trying to throw at soldiers blew up in a village near Hebron.”

Notably however, the BBC refrains from informing readers that the man – Dia al Talahmeh – was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and that misinformation concerning that incident was also promoted by Palestinian sources, with false claims that he had been shot by Israeli forces circulating widely.

It is worth recalling that the opaquely funded group ‘Youth Against Settlements’, which is actually the source of the narrative amplified in this report, has previously been given BBC platforms (see related articles) from which to promote the claim that last summer’s search and rescue operation in Hebron following the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers was “a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians” and the notion that “Israeli society is getting more aggressive and extreme”.

As long as the BBC continues to promote messaging from political NGOs without informing audiences of their underlying agenda as its editorial guidelines demand, it cannot of course meet its remit of enhancing audience understanding of international issues.

Related Articles:

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

 

Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

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’.Knell analysis kidnappings

“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’.    

 

 

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

On May 2nd an article was published in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the heading “Many ‘likes'” and with the subheading “Israeli soldier wins plaudits for pointing his gun at teenager”.

Nahlawi on hp

The link leads to yet another inaccurate item from BBC Trending: in this case an article written by Cordelia Hebblethwaite titled “Support for Israeli soldier who aimed gun at teen“. 

The article relates to a story which broke last week concerning an incident which took place near Beit Hadassa in Hebron. At least four Palestinian activists – not two as Hebblethwaite claims in her piece – from the opaquely funded organization ‘Youth Against Settlements’ approached a soldier with the clear intention to provoke a reaction. Two of them were filming the pre-planned provocation and the video was later uploaded to the internet.David HaNahlawi story BBC Trending

Later mistaken reports stated that the soldier had been removed from his brigade as a result of the incident, sparking a wave of expressions of support from fellow soldiers and others, not – as Hebblethwaite disingenuously claims – praising the soldier for aiming his gun at the youths, but expressing identification with a soldier targeted by the agitprop of a group of organized provocateurs who, as Hebblethwaite herself reports, were aiming to create an incident designed “to “shame and embarrass” the Israeli military”.

Hebblethwaite fails to provide readers with any context regarding attempted kidnappings of Israeli soldiers or violent attacks against them. She refrains from reminding audiences that just months ago another soldier was shot in the neck in the same city. In the paragraph in which she relates to the reactions of Israeli politicians to the incident, Hebblethwaite highlights Minister Bennett’s use of the phrase “David the warrior”, but neglects to clarify to English-speaking audiences that ‘warrior’ is a translation of the Hebrew word  לוחם and means a soldier involved in active duty rather than one with a desk job.

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.

Hebblethwaite’s intention in this article is entirely transparent. She – along with the editors who concocted the misleading titles and sub-heading to the report – seek to amplify and promote Amro’s baseless claim that “Israeli society is getting more aggressive and extreme”.

Apparently BBC Trending needs reminding that it is not the task of an organization supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality to provide free publicity and amplification of agitprop for anti-Israel political organisations often involved in violence.