Sunday 24 May 2015

Clear anti-Israel bias at the BBC

I mentioned the other day my concerns about a series of BBC World Service reports, which began this Tuesday:
And as for the BBC World Service's Business Matters and the opening episode of its "week of coverage from Israel and the Palestinian territories", entitled Live from Gaza: Business Behind the Blockade,...
...well, just allow me to quote you a bit from presenter Roger Hearing's introduction, which seems to me to achieve the status of being truly 'beyond parody':
"In this programme we're going to try and park the politics and look at how an economy under these circumstances functions at all.
"One of the reasons Gaza's often described as 'the largest open air prison in the world'..."
Well, trying to be a conscientious, fair-minded blogger I thought I ought to listen to the entire series of reports to see if it really was as biased as these few introductory words - and that headline - suggested it was likely to be. 

Here's what I found (and sorry in advance for this being a long post)....


Well, before I describe that, just let me post what the BBC posted on this episode's webpage:
How does the economy work in what some have described as the world's biggest prison? Presenter Roger Hearing is live from the seafront in the Gaza Strip at the start of a week of coverage from Israel and the Palestinian territories. He hears from the man who arguably makes Gaza's best ice-cream, the factory owner rebuilding from bombed out rubble and the singer of a band that can't tour because they can't leave. Joining him are Nasser Elhelo who has a business making steel doors and is also on the board of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce and Muhammed Al Alamy who runs the Future Tech IT company here in Gaza City and is on the board of the Pal Trade association. 
Roger began by describing how he entered the Gaza Strip from Israel - before actually doing so:
It is the closest thing I can imagine to an airport departure area. We'll probably get in, I imagine, a bit quicker than most of these people who seem to be Palestinians, Gaza residents, returning. People are let out for medical reasons and other things. Not many of them. (Long Sigh). And now we're going to get our stuff and see if we can get in...
...What this is is a barrier between an Israeli-controlled area, the Israeli border, and what they describe as "an entity", Gaza, run by a group they consider to be "terrorists". So it's somewhat unusual as an international border.
He meets his ice-cream maker, whose business works - despite everybody taxing him. He seems very pleasant and has friends in Israel. 

The Hamas checkpoint comes after the Palestinian Authority bit. He's "relieved" to arrive in Gaza City, and then discusses his crossing with his two guests, Nasser Elhelo and Muhammed Al Alamy, sitting on the seafront in Gaza City.

Nasser grumbled that he's been stopped by Israel from leaving Gaza. ("That's strange!", Roger said twice.). Muhammed said "you can't plan for anything" because of "the extraordinary [permit] situation here". Nasser says medical treatment has been stopped too. [Really?] Muhammed talks of cancer sufferers dying of cancer because of the Israelis. "So it's a difficult position", says Roger, concluding this section of the programme. 

Roger Hearing returned after the news headline, painting a scene of the seafront - well, actually, of beyond the seafront, focusing on the Israeli gunboats who occasionally fire warning shots at Gazan fishermen, "another part of the siege, as it's described here, of this enclave that is Gaza City."

Roger described the "deep pressure" to his guests - the poverty, the unemployment. "So how to ordinary Gazans make ends meet?"

BBC reporter Marie Keyworth talked to a Gazan blacksmith with a 15-strong family. His son says "it's very sad for him to be stuck in Gaza". His son, Mohammed, has no job security. The noisy market is full of local food, such as tomatoes, because it can't be exported. Some food, liked corned beef, is imported. A shop keeper describes his struggle to earn a living. A farmer says it's very hard. Back at Mohammed's house, Marie shares a lovely family meal, but the family say they can't enjoy a normal life.....

"A slice of life there in Gaza and how you try to make ends meet and try to feed your family", said Roger Hearing. "Israel for its part says...". 

A polite Israeli spokesman from COGAT follows, defending the Israeli position. He gets less than two minutes.

A Hamas spokesman, defending Hamas's position, follows.

One of Roger's guests calls for the "removing of the blockade". The other doesn't know what's going to happen next.

Roger next updates BBC World Service listeners on a story his programme reported on a few months back - the story of the factory owner whose factory has been "literally reduced to rubble" by bombing during the Israel-Gaza war last year. He doesn't think COGAT is working quickly enough. An Israeli observation balloon watches over his factory, 24 hours a day (for no apparent reason, apparently). He says his factory has nothing to do with tunnels. His business has lost millions because of the wars. "Are you feeling angry about what's happened?", asked Roger. "This is the third time they've destroyed us", the factory owner replied. "I wish you the very best of luck, sir", said Roger.

Then it was onto Mohammed, the singer of a band who - as the BBC's own blurb says - "can't tour because they can't leave". They can't afford their own instruments and have to borrow them from their fans. We heard a song about unemployment in Gaza.

There was nothing about Hamas's crackdown on music here and, in fact, very little about Hamas at all.

That factory owner, whose factory has been destroyed three times by Israel, was made to sound, unequivocally, like a victim of Israel. Unlike Roger Hearing, I wondered if there might be something more to his story. Roger simply accepted (without comment) the man's passing comment that his factory wasn't helping Hamas, but I'm sticking with wondering why Israel - with all its precise intelligence - would bomb the same factory three times without reason.

And who exactly were Roger's guests? Did either of them have links to Hamas? Would Nasser Elhelo be on the board of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce if he didn't have Hamas's approval? No one at the BBC World Service seemed unduly concerned about asking any of these questions.

This edition was something of a shocker.


The second episode, Doing Business In The West Bankis described in this way by the programme's website: 
In our second special report from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we go to the West Bank to see how companies operate when investment and trade is inhibited by occupation. We hear from firms in Bethlehem and a tour guide in Jericho, as well as a representative from the Israeli authorities. 
Roger Hearing's introduction to this section of the programme inevitably mentioned the settlements, which he described as being "regarded as illegal under international law", without even adding, as the BBC's editorial guidance advises, "though Israel disputes this".

His introduction also included talk of... 
...roads linking settlements that Palestinians cannot use, plus an Israel security wall that sometimes cuts farmers off from their land.
...something that again goes against the BBC's own editorial guidance, which advises against "using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute", such as "wall". 

Though Roger then noted that attacks in Israel are "very low" now, because of the security barrier, the Palestinians are "paying an economic price".

BBC reporter Marie Keyworth then reported from Bethlehem saying that,
The whole area is under military occupation from Israel and the restrictions that country's imposed on the West Bank are having a huge effect on the economy.
We heard her 'vox pops' saying it's "very hard", "people are scared", "every day we have a struggle", and "we are living in a big prison". "Everybody seems to have a complaint about this occupation", said Marie. And more complaints (from Palestinian businessmen) followed, at length, about the "Israeli occupation". It's "a tricky climate" for business, Marie added, and more tells of Israeli-caused woe followed. "And the list goes on", she said. A laughing five-year old boy, son of a Palestinian Authority clerk, plays a game. His dad has had his pay cut, thanks to "punishment" from the Israelis for a PA action that doesn't sound (in Marie's description) very serious. He expects it will happen again. If his son is sick, it will be terrible. His big family is suffering too, and "it's very hard". Alas, he's the lucky one, according to Marie. The refugees who fled the creation of Israel, living south of Jerusalem, suffer high unemployment. Three "young men" ("all 25") are having a "tough time". 

Then, out of the blue, Marie says, "there are many good things happening on the West Bank", and we hear from one businessman who's doing well.

That entire section lasted 24 seconds. 

Roger Hearing then told us that Marie Keyworth had put some of those points to an Israeli spokesman, a colonel from COGAT, who we heard from next. He put the Israeli side. Marie challenged him, putting long questions to him from the Palestinian perspective. The interview lasted less than 4 minutes (and Marie talked for about one minute of it).

Roger returned straight away, beginning "One of the few resources the West Bank has in abundance is history". But "things are not good in West Bank tourism", he said, visiting the Jordan Valley and Jericho. Tourist numbers are low, according to Roger's first vox pop. Roger asked (somewhat leadingly), is that because of "restrictions", "the security checkpoints"?  Israel's "restrictions" are to blame, it seems. 

Roger then talked to a World Bank representative, Steen Lau Jorgensen. Mr Jorgensen agreed "the restrictions" are the problem and was very downbeat about the West Bank economy. Roger, playing devil's advocate, asked if the Israeli counter-arguments "ringed true"? Mr Jorgensen strongly criticised Israel in response to every one of his devil's advocate point. Roger then gave up his 'devil's advocacy' and noted that the World Bank are giving assistance here, asking him just what they could do, and then asking, 
But are you in a sense helping something that can't grow very far because of what we've been discussing? There's a kind of hopelessness, which we've certainly heard. Isn't what you're doing almost pointless?
If Owen Jones and the Electronic Intifada crowd fancy using this edition of Business Matters as proof of BBC pro-Palestinian bias then they must either be unscrupulous or certifiable.

This was very biased against Israel.


The third episode, Israel's Industry: Haifa the Economic Powerhouse, sounded, from its title, as if some balance might be about to be restored - a programme reporting some good news from Israel.

However, ominously, the website blurb ran as follows:
In our third special report from Israel and the Palestinian Territories we go to the city of Haifa in northern Israel. We hear about its reputation as an economic powerhouse of industrial development, which is great for the economy, but perhaps not so good for the air quality. Haifa also prides itself on being a place where Arabs and Jews get along well and there is little prejudice or exclusion. We ask the locals if that is really the case.
And, yes, Roger Hearing did 'find' that Haifa's pride in being "a place where Arabs and Jews get along well and there is little prejudice or exclusion" isn't "really the case". His Jewish vox pop said it was, but his Arab vox pops said it wasn't...

...and it was their point (that it 'wasn't') that Roger subsequently picked up and carried forward. 

After this 'bad news story' about Israel came another - the bit about how Haifa's economic success is bad for the environment. A female BBC reporter laid on the gloom with a not-so-finely-balanced trowel, and Roger carried that forward too. 

If, like me, you were expecting that the BBC might be trying to redress the balance and tell us some good news from Israel - something positive about Israel - then you would have been disappointed here. Yes, the Haifa-industrial-pollution-causing-cancer bit at least got us off the BBC's Arabist agenda for a few minutes, if only to focus on the BBC's green agenda, but still...

...this was yet more relentlessly negative BBC reporting about Israel.


For the fourth and final episode, 21st Century Israel - Modern Life and Modern Conflict, Roger Hearing went to Jerusalem. 

The first report, by BBC reporter Marie Keyworth,  did something I was hoping the programme would do - focus on the farmers of Israel who suffered during the Israel-Hamas conflict of last summer, but my jaw literally dropped as I listened to her report. 

Time and again the BBC reporter told listeners that it was Israel's military action that caused most disruption to kibbutz dwellers near the Israeli border with Gaza...:
The only sound in this peaceful area is that of birds singing, and the gentle hum of machinery in the background. It's worlds apart from how it sounded all those months ago when every 17 seconds a battery from the Israeli army firing into Gaza could be heard.
Last year's conflict is fresh in (Eddie's) memory, when the Israel army were firing shells 300 metres away, turning his home and business into the frontline of war.
For the BBC reporter it was "the constant threat of war" rather than the constant threat from Gaza-based terrorists that dominated her report. Those rockets and attempted terror attacks received barely a mention. 

One of her two kibbutz-dwelling vox pops [in any way representative of Israeli public opinion? I very much doubt it] complained about her kibbutz being made "a military area". The aforementioned Eddie works with Palestinians in Gaza and is friends with some of them. He notes "the stress they are under". 

If a Palestinian activist had taken Marie's place his report could hardly have sounded more like Palestinian propaganda than this remarkable piece of BBC reporting. What on earth did Marie Keyworth think she was doing here (safely away from most UK licence fee payers on the BBC World Service)?

If anyone thinks that's impartial reporting I'd like to hear their reasoning.

Roger's guests on this edition were  David Rosenberg of Haaretz and Nasr Abdelkarim from the Arab-American University on the West Bank. David Rosenberg said Israel suffered little economic damage from any of its four recent wars. Nasr Abdelkarim said the Palestinians have suffered more.

Next, however, came a report on "one of the key facts of life for observant Jews in Israel - the need to observe the Halacha - the Jewish religious laws that govern everyday life". Roger Hearing when to visit a non-profit business [naturally] which is trying to fuse modern technology with "ancient law".

This was certainly interesting - and noted Israel's record of technological innovations - but, perhaps, it was also an overly obvious drop-in-and-report subject for a passing BBC reporter. Lots of "God" talk. 

The following discussions, between David Rosenberg and Nasr Abdelkarim, focused mostly on the "barriers" (physical and otherwise) between Palestinian-Israeli business links and moved the focus back more towards the Palestinian territories. Nasr A brought up "the siege" and "occupation". ["Nothing can improve until it's changed?" Roger asked]. They also talked, briefly, about Israeli politics, and David R gave a critique of things from an evidently left-leaning perspective.

Another shocker.


As I said at the start, sorry for this being a long post...

...but it seems to me that this series of BBC World Service programmes provides very strong evidence that the BBC is biased against Israel. 

This was a shockingly biased series. Even I didn't expect it to be this biased.

The introductions were loaded. The narration was loaded. The reports were loaded. The guest selection was loaded. 

On Day One we heard tales of woe from Gaza - with all of the woe, apparently, caused by Israel. Hamas were barely mentioned - although one of their spokesmen appeared. The Israeli side got less than two minutes. 

On Day Two we heard tales of woe from the West Bank. There was plenty of loaded language from Roger Hearing (breaching the BBC's own guidance). Critics of Israel, whether Palestinian vox pops or outsiders, piled in. The Israeli side got about three minutes to counter this onslaught.

On Day Three we arrived in Israel and heard little but bad news - that Arabs feel discriminated against in Haifa, despite what Jewish Israelis say, and that Israel's northern industrial powerhouse is bad for the environment and people's health.

On Day Four we heard a quite extraordinary report from Southern Israel which somehow managed to place the blame on the Israeli military for the suffering there. A Palestinian critic of Israel and a Haaretz journalist commented throughout.

How any fair-minded person could consider this impartial broadcasting I can't begin to imagine. But if any Electronic Intifada types, or BBC reporters, are passing then please feel free to defend this astonishing display of BBC anti-Israel bias.


  1. North Korea is much larger than Gaza. Anyone who claims that North Korea isn't an open prison and that the people have it better than the Gazans is either lying or needs their head examined.

  2. Horrific bias. Horrific when you think of what Hamas have in their constitution, how they want to wipe Israel, a legitimate UN member state, off the map and how they want to ethnically cleanse the area of all Jews, unless they pay the discriminatory tax and accept second class citizen status.

  3. Get Fraser Steel on the case. Sorted. Or, maybe, not.

  4. A little flashback moment just inspired.

    On twitter a poster mentioned Editor Gavin Allen on Newswatch had again made the 'impartiality is in our DNA' claim.

    Just to re-share how that went when tried another time:

    A lot of fondly familiar names there. And reasons why the BBC lost interest in exposing its senior staff to public, interactive accountability.

  5. Thanks Craig. Colonel Kemp ex commander of the British forces in Afghanistan concludes his talk this way "to fight for Israel on international media stage is to fight for the values of democracy, freedom of speech and expression, and civilised social values everywhere" See his full speech here if you can ( but if your time is limited watch from about 27minutes in to the end ) .

  6. Some things are so obvious you don’t have to have professional qualifications to spot them unless of course you are a supporter of Palestinian claims.

    Only a Palestinian and now apparently the BBC could think that making war on your closest and largest employer, supplier of raw materials, customer, market, port for your exports, investor and technical partner would not have serious economic fall-out. Add to that you are making war on your only possible power (as in electricity) source and water. If the Palestinian economy is screwed it is because they have ignored the financial implications when they chose the political ones. Arabs start wars, lose wars and then complain of the consequences.

    1. Problem is that the BBC and ideological supporters of the Palestinian cause see that as justified, heroic self-defense, not making war. According to BBC editorial policy and Hamas/Fatah ideology, it all started when Israel hit back. BBC reporting on conflicts is generally framed from that perspective.


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