The November 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘ asked “what happened to the Jews of Baghdad?” but listeners hoping to get an accurate and full answer to that question would have been disappointed.
Worricker: “Now in 1917 a third of the people living in the Iraqi city of Baghdad were Jewish. A hundred years on, among the city’s six and a half million people only a handful are Jews. There was more than one factor behind the exodus of Baghdad’s Jewish population and a new documentary that premiered in London last week has been exploring what happened to some of them, among them Edwin Shuker. In 1971 he left Baghdad as a child and came to Britain with his parents and he says he still wants to maintain a bond with Iraq.”
The documentary concerned is called ‘Remember Baghdad’ and listeners heard a short clip from that film before Worricker interviewed Edwin Shuker. After Mr Shuker spoke about the 2,600 year-long history of the Jewish community in Iraq and the background to some of the scenes in the film portraying his visits to Iraq, Worricker continued:
Worricker: “…you went to what I think is now the only still potentially functioning – and I say potentially for good reason – synagogue. It is a building in good condition but it is the only one like that and there are now said to be only five Jews left in Iraq. How has it come to that?”
Shuker: “Well, it was ethnic cleansing. In…”
Worricker [interrupts]: “That’s how you see it?”
Shuker: “That’s how the world should see it. In 1948 there were 150,000 Jews. Many of them would have stayed. Then there were some very racist laws. Law number 1951 which stripped them from their nationality but more than that, it stripped every Jew who ever leaves Iraq for whatever reason for more than six months – and only the Jew – stripped him from his nationality without the possibility of recovering it.”
Worricker, however, went on to propose another reason for the decline of Iraq’s Jewish community to BBC World Service listeners.
Worricker: “Part of that sharp fall in numbers in the early 1950s was also due – was it not – to what the then first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion was offering to Jews by way of…you can call it pressure, call it incentive…to move to what was then the new Jewish state.”
Quite what ‘incentives’ Julian Worricker believes Ben Gurion had to offer Iraqi Jewsat the time – apart from a shack unconnected to mains water or electricity in a transit camp, dubious employment prospects and loss of social status – is unclear.
Notably though, while Worricker did find time in this item to suggest that Israel ‘pressured’ Jews to leave Iraq, listeners heard nothing at all about the main turning point in the story of that community – the Farhud in 1941. Neither did they hear any explanation of the political events that led to that pogrom or – beyond the one law mentioned by Mr Shuker – the legislations by the Iraqi government that resulted in Jews being criminalised on suspicion of being Zionists, dismissed from government employment and stripped of their assets. No mention was made of another seminal event that contributed to the exodus of Jews from Iraq: the show trial and hanging of a prominent Jewish businessman in 1948.
During the subsequent conversation with Worricker’s studio guests Jonathan Steele and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, listeners heard the latter describe Iran as having “a vibrant Jewish population” along with the claim that Jews who did leave the country did so “because they didn’t want their boys going off to fight in the Iran-Iraq war”. They did not however hear any mention of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran as a factor that caused Persian Jews to flee the country.
With the BBC having a very dismal track record on reporting the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands, listeners to this programme would not be well placed to fill in its serious omissions for themselves. Hence, the question presented as a description of this item was clearly left largely unanswered.
Those visiting the BBC News website’s Middle East page over the last few days may have noticed that an article by Yolande Knell first published in July 2016 has on two separate occasions been recycled as ‘related reading’.
On November 18th and 19th the article was promoted under its original title.
On November 19th and 20th it was promoted using the authoritative sounding heading “The issues preventing peace”.
So what exactly are “the issues” that is the BBC telling its audiences are “preventing peace”?
Readers may recall that Knell’s article related to a June 2016 report put out by the Middle East Quartet which the BBC described at the time as “saying that hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians were being severely undermined by three “negative trends”.
“Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council that they were continuing violence, terrorism and incitement; Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank; and a lack of control of the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority.”
However, Knell’s nine hundred and sixteen-word report devoted a mere eighty-two words to discussion of the first and third issues highlighted by the Quartet, with the rest of her article focusing audience attentions on the topic of Israeli communities that were described in her opening paragraphs as being “like a cancer”.
“For retired West Bank farmer Issa Hamed, the idea that Jewish settlements are destroying a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a no-brainer.
From the rooftop of his home in Silwad, north-east of Ramallah, the sprightly 86-year-old points to the red roofs of the settlement of Ofra, set up in 1975.
“At first, they took just one dunam (1000 sq m), where there used to be a Jordanian military camp, then they kept expanding and blocked access for the landowners,” Mr Hamed recalls.
“It became like a cancer growing quickly over the hills.”” [emphasis added]
The inaccuracies, omissions and bias – including amplification of the anti-peace BDS campaign – in Knell’s report were previously discussed on these pages at the time.
Once again, the steering of BBC audiences towards a politically partisan view of what – and who – is “destroying a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict” and thus “preventing peace” is on display.
On November 19th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli president rejects pardon for soldier Elor Azaria“.
“Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has rejected an appeal for a pardon for a soldier jailed for 18 months for killing a wounded Palestinian attacker.
Elor Azaria was found guilty in January of manslaughter over the March 2016 shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.”
The report continues:
“In January, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Azaria, a sergeant, to be pardoned. Azaria submitted a formal request last month.” [emphasis added]
In the penultimate paragraph readers are provided with a link to an article from July 2017 – one of the BBC’s many previous reports on the same story – in which the following statement appears:
“Azaria – a sergeant and military medic – had appealed against the verdict, while the prosecution was demanding an increased sentence.” [emphasis added]
However, the claim that Azaria is “a sergeant” is inaccurate: as was widely reported at the time, the sentence handed down in February 2017 included #Sentence" rel="noopener" target="_blank">demotion to the rank of private.
“Based on the majority opinion, the Court sentenced the defendant to imprisonment for a period of eighteen months (minus nine days in which he was placed in close confinement and not including the period in which he was under open imprisonment). In addition, the defendant was sentenced to a period of twelve months if he committed another manslaughter offense within three years of the sentencing and to an additional six months if he unlawfully used a weapon within two years of the sentencing. The Court also ordered the demotion of the defendant from the rank of a sergeant to a private.”
Even the BBC’s own report on Azaria’s sentencing in February of this year states that:
“Azaria, who was also ordered demoted from his rank of sergeant, sat smiling broadly, embraced by his mother, as the judgment was read out, says our correspondent.” [emphasis added]
Clearly both this latest report and the previous one were not adequately fact checked before publication.
BBC Watch has contacted the BBC News website requesting corrections to both those reports.
Following communication from BBC Watch, the BBC News website amended both the above reports.
The article published on July 30th 2017 now reads:
In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript #transcript" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.
While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.
Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”
Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.
“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””
Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.
Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]
In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:
Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]
Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed.
Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”
Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:
Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]
Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:
Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”
Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.
Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]
Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]
The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”
Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”
In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.
Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”
While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.
Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.
Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today. For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”
Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]
Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.
Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”
Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.
While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.
Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.
The BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage included two contributions from Jane Corbin: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript #transcript" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.
Both of those reports opened with promotion of a theme often seen in BBC content: the exaggerated notion of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the world’s prime dispute.
Filmed: “100 years ago, a British promise – just a few words in a letter – lit a fire in the Holy Land. The Balfour Declaration ignited one of the most bitter and intractable struggles of modern times: the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Written: “One hundred years ago, only 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.” [emphasis added]
Very early on, both reports also included promotion of Palestinian talking points concerning the Balfour Declaration.
Filmed: (synopsis) “But the Palestinians and many Arabs will greet the centenary with protest and bitter accusations – they still hold Britain responsible for a century of injustice, and conflict in the Holy Land.”
Written: “While many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews, many Palestinians regard it as a betrayal.”
As has been the case across the board in the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, both Corbin’s reports focused audience attentions on one particular part of the text. Coincidentally or not, it is that section of the text that has also been the focus of anti-Israel campaigners’ Balfour related propaganda.
Filmed: “Leo Amery added a sentence. ‘Nothing should be done’ he wrote, ‘which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’. The line was intended as a safeguard for the majority population in Palestine – the Arabs. But they would interpret it as anything but.”
Written: “My mother, Olive Amery, told me stories when I was a child about this relative – a British politician involved in the drafting of the declaration. He added a sentence intended to safeguard the civil and religious rights of the majority population, the Palestinian Arabs.”
While Corbin did accurately portray that part of the letter’s textas referring to “civil and religious rights” (rather than ‘rights’ in general, as seen in much other BBC content), nowhere in either of her reports were BBC audiences told of the part of that same sentence likewise intended to safeguard “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
In her filmed report Corbin revisited a previous interviewee.
Filmed: Corbin: “Most Palestinians have certainly failed to reap the benefits of Israel’s success. Their living standards are far lower. There’s a crisis in their economy and public finances. It all stems, many Palestinians believe, from the unfair hand that Britain dealt them 100 years ago. I first met Jawad Siyam, a Palestinian activist, seven years ago, protesting against the takeover by some Israelis of a building in an Arab area of Jerusalem. For Jawad, his battle over the land today is a continuation of the struggles of his grandparents.”
“They are demolishing the houses because they want to. It’s ethnic cleansing for Silwan, for east Jerusalem. … It’s the most racist state in the world, you see. See this state? It’s the most racist state in the world. [To Israeli police:] You are the most racist people in the world!”
Since then Siyam has been featured in BBC content on at least two additional occasions but in this latest film by Corbin , beyond the tepid description “activist”, nothing was done to inform audiences of the nature of his political activities and his agenda – as required by BBC Editorial guidelines on impartiality.
In both reports Corbin visited Lifta.
Filmed: “In the violence, and after attacks by Jewish forces, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whose homes lay within the new state of Israel, fled or were forced to flee. The village of Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was abandoned. Lifta has lain empty for nearly 70 years. Palestinians have never been allowed to return to live here. But, every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.
Written: “One of the most poignant moments for me was visiting the ruins of Lifta – a Palestinian village abandoned nearly 70 years ago – with some of the old residents.
Many Palestinians from here became refugees and have never been allowed to return to live in Lifta. But every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.
Hamid Suhail was seven when he fled – now he leans on a stick as his son Nasir helps him down the overgrown rocky slopes.
“I hope the day will come when we will have the right to come back here and live in peace,” says Nasir. Hamid’s granddaughter, Sohar, is emotional as she says: “It makes me angry and sad at the same time to come here – although it is important to remember the history of these houses.””
Unsurprisingly, Corbin’s account did not make any mention of the violence against Jews perpetrated by residents of Lifta on countless occasions throughout the decades before Israel came into being. Neither were audiences told that in early December 1947, the residents of Lifta received orders from the Arab Higher Committee to evacuate the village’s women and children to Ramallah and that the village was made into a base for the Najada militia, from which attacks were launched on Jewish neighbourhoods on Jerusalem’s western side such as Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul and Romema.
Discussion of Corbin’s reports will continue in part two of this post.
Next week the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is due to deliver its verdict following the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Maitlis: “It’s time for the closing arguments in the most serious war crimes trial since Nuremberg at the end of World War Two.”
Later on in the conversation, Maitlis asked Urban:
Maitlis: “We have seen more conflicts since then; will we expect more prosecutions?”
Describing Mladić as “the architect of ethnic cleansing”, Urban noted that “he is coming up for sentencing and it is very unusual” before going on to name Syria’s Bashar al Assad and Libya’s Gaddafi.
In the same breath, he then went on to tell viewers that:
“…some people would like to see the Israelis in front of the criminal court and all of these cases have been vetoed…”
Of course some (and indeed many of the same) people would also like to see Britain in front of the International Criminal Court – particularly in relation to its military action in Iraq – but Mark Urban did not mention that.
Instead, after Maitlis had set the scene with a reference to the Nuremberg Trials and just seconds after viewers had heard two references to ethnic cleansing, he casually put an entire nation – “the Israelis” – in the same category as named heads of regimesinfamous for their extreme acts of cruelty towards their own people.
1) At the Tablet Tony Badran takes a wider look at the Lebanese PM’s recent resignation.
“Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, ratcheted up the rhetoric this week, and stated that Saudi Arabia will treat the Lebanese government as a hostile government which has “declared war,” because of Hezbollah’s involvement in military operations in Yemen and elsewhere targeting Saudi troops and the Saudi homeland itself.
Rhetoric aside, it is in fact hard to see how Lebanon cannot be held responsible for attacks facilitated and conducted by the entity that controls the country’s government and armed forces – which is why few nations with any choice in the matter would choose to be run by a terrorist organization, especially one that is controlled by a foreign country.”
2) At Mosaic magazine, Nicholas Rostow explains “How the Balfour Declaration Became Part of International Law“.
“In 1922, the League [of Nations] duly created the mandate for Palestine and made Britain the mandatory power. To the words of the Balfour Declaration, it added the recognition already given at San Remo “to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country” and conferred on Britain the obligation to implement its declaration, thus making it, too, part of international law. The terms of the mandate were binding on all members of the League. In 1924, the United States formally concurred in this international action by means of a treaty with Great Britain.”
3) At the Algemeiner Einat Wilf discusses a topic relevant to the BBC’s recent portrayals of the Balfour Declaration as an act of ‘colonialism’.
“The campaign waged by Palestinians and their supporters to demand that Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration, a century after it was issued, betrays yet again their fundamental misunderstanding of how and why the modern State of Israel came into being. Israel is the outcome of deliberate Jewish action — not of foreign hand-outs. Israel is a country attained – not a land given. […]
For too many, the story that Jews could attain something for themselves by operating, as all peoples do, on multiple fronts — diplomatically, economically, militarily — is still so fanciful that to some, the story of Israel only makes sense if presented as a series of handouts by foreign powers with shady motivations.”
4) Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe discuss “How the Quakers Became Champions of BDS” at the Tablet.
“How did a century-old religiously based pacifist organization transform itself into one of the leading engines for the Palestinian cause? Part of the answer lies in the AFSC’s evolution, which has gone from trying to save Jews to vilifying them. Its Quaker theology has similarly gone from emphasis on the “Inner Light” that guides individual conscience to something like old-fashioned Christian supersessionism, where Jews deserve to be hated. The result is that the organization is now effectively captive to progressive Israel-hatred.”
Five years ago this week the BBC was very busy promoting a story about the tragic death of the son of one of its employees in the Gaza Strip.
As readers may recall:
“On the evening of November 14th 2012, soon after the incident had happened, BBC Arabic in Gaza broke the story when it interviewed Jihad Masharawi as he held his son’s body. That film footage was used the next day in a report by Jon Donnison which appeared on BBC television news and can be seen here.
On the same evening, BBC employees began Tweeting about the event, including for example the BBC’s correspondent in Washington who sent the following Tweet – retweeted by others 3,441 times:
On the day after the incident – November 15th – the [then] head of the BBC Jerusalem Bureau and chair of the Foreign Press Association, Paul Danahar, arrived in the Gaza Strip and visited the Masharawi house from where he began sending a series of Tweets which – less than 24 hours after the event and with no credible professional investigation having been carried out – unequivocally determined that the incident had been the result of an Israeli attack.
As BBC Watch documented […] Danahar gave permission for the photographs he had Tweeted to be used by Max Fisher at the Washington Post. Other media outlets which ran with the story on the same day – some directly citing the BBC as their source and all unquestioningly giving an Israeli attack as the cause of the infant’s death – included the Guardian, the Huffington Post , the Daily Mail, the Sun and many more. The story was of course also picked up by a plethora of anti-Israel blogs and websites.
On November 24th 2012, the BBC ran Jon Donnison’s now infamous version of the story on its ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ programme on Radio 4, and also later on the World Service. A written version of that same report was placed on the BBC News website […]
Within less than two weeks, the BBC had ensured that an unverified story based purely upon evidence-free speculations by its own journalists had made its way round the entire world.”
Four months later, in March 2013, a report issued by the UN HRC stated its investigation had found that Omar Masharawi’s tragic death had in fact been caused by “a Palestinian rocket that fell short”.
The corporation’s first response to that finding came five days after the UN report was issued when the BBC News website published a ‘damage control’ article by Jon Donnison which did nothing to address the real problem underlying the story: the fact that the BBC knowingly published and extensively promoted a story for which it had absolutely no proven evidence, purely because it fit in with its chosen political narrative.
However, some of the media outlets that amplified the BBC’s original story blaming Israel for the infant’s death failed to subsequently add clarification and so some reports – for example from the Guardian, the Huffington Post and the Sun – still remain online in their original form.
Obviously no footnote can erase that inaccurate BBC story from the internet or from the memories of the countless people who read it or heard it at the time. Significantly, however, the BBC has never offered its funding public a satisfactory explanation as to why that unverified story was not only allowed to run but deliberately given exceptionally extensive coverage and how the editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality to which the BBC professes to adhere were so egregiously breached.
“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.
I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”
For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announcedthat Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.
“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.
The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.
After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.
The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.
The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]
According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.
The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.
Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.
The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.
With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.
For some years now we have been documenting the BBC’s ‘quote and promote’ editorial policy regarding NGOs. The overwhelming majority of the NGOs given a platform in the BBC’s coverage of Israel come from one side of the political spectrum and some of them are even involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel.
However, the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which stipulate that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be clarified and audiences hence remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving is not only consistently unbalanced but often politically motivated.
Another example of unquestioning BBC amplification of politicised messaging put out by campaigning NGOs was seen in the November 5th edition of BBC One’s ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ during an interview (available here) with the Israeli prime minister.
In his introduction to the interview, Marr inaccurately presented the Balfour Declaration as a personal document from its signatory rather than one stating the position of the British government of the time. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Marr: “Now in 1917 the British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter announcing his conversion to the idea that the Jewish people should have a national home in Israel. This Balfour Declaration is regarded as one of the founding documents of the modern State of Israel and to celebrate its centenary, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come to London where he’s been in talks with Theresa May. To some he is the arch-defender of the Jewish people. To others he’s a bellicose hardliner dedicated to expanding the very settlements seen by the Palestinian Arabs as their obstacle to peace and he joins me now. Welcome Prime Minister.”
Netanyahu: “The good part was shorter than the bad part.”
Marr: “Well let me turn to the bad part: the second bit of Balfour Declaration which does say that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Can you really say that that has been held to by your government?”
After Netanyahu explained that Israel’s Arab citizens do have civic and religious rights, Marr went on to present context-free allegation as fact:
Marr: “In Israel and in the occupied territories there are pretty gross human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch – let me read you this – ‘whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses during the 50 year occupation’. And again, Amnesty International say much the same thing – ‘Israeli forces unlawfully killed Palestinian civilians including children in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and detained thousands of Palestinians who opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife and committed with impunity’. That is not in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration.”
Leaving aside Marr’s attempt to promote the ridiculously contrived notion that part of the text of a statement produced by the British government a century ago is the litmus test for the policies and actions of modern-day Israel, as we see while presenting unquestioned allegations from two NGOs as ‘fact’, he completely failed to inform viewers of the political agenda that lies behind such tendentious claims from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Later on in the interview viewers saw additional examples of the failure to adhere to BBC’s professed editorial values of accuracy and impartiality when – referring to the district of Judea – Marr told his guest that “this is Palestinian territory”. When Netanyahu spoke of the extra-judicial execution of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Marr interrupted with the jibe “you’ve shot a lot of people there too”.
The BBC’s long-standing policy of uncritical amplification of politically motivated allegations against Israel from agenda-driven NGOs such as HRW and AI clearly does not serve its declared purpose of providing “impartial news and information” aimed at enhancing audience understanding of the complex topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.