Thursday 30 July 2020

Trust the BBC

Matti Friedman is my hero. He writes the things that I would write, had I the ability or the education. I’ll ignore any sarcastic references to random scientific masterpieces that I might have created - Large Hadron Colliders and suchlike - but for one or two minor technical disadvantages.

By Jove he gets it. He absolutely gets it. You’ve gotta read his article and please do click on the links as well. Israel Was Ground Zero for the New Woke Religion
“All of this has made me think differently about my experience as a reporter in Israel a decade ago, and particularly about an essay I wrote in 2014 for Tablet, which was one of the first publications to pick up on these trends. That essay, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” and a second one that appeared in The Atlantic, 
described the replacement of journalism here by activism, the subjugation of objective description to higher ideological truth, and the manufacture of politically driven morality plays in the guise of news.
These diverse applications are unique, if not entirely unprecedented, for a news story. But they make sense if we understand the Israel story as a kind of sacred template that can be used to explain many different situations. A good example became visible this spring in the wake of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis: the myth that Israel trains American police officers in the same methods of brutality that killed Floyd, and which are deployed more generally against people of color. This conspiracy theory has been promoted as factual by (among many others) senior journalists, members of the British Labour Party, and, in early July, by the biggest Lutheran denomination in America.
It’s not only his empirical, kosher, first-hand experience of 'how the media works' that give Matti Friedman mega bone fides, but his analytical insights enable him to describe where it has all gone wrong.

If only I could nail it as deftly as Matti does I wouldn’t have to spend hours at the grindstone struggling with words, while simultaneously aggravating my bad back and possibly a good many of the readers of this blog to boot.

I’d love to expand on that, but for the time being here is what I set out to write about on this fine sunny morn. (Now afternoon)

Did you see the article that led to the latest post on the Camera UK website? The complaint they made at the time has prompted the BBC to issue a correction. Well, it’s a tiny teeny wee one, in italics at the bottom of the page, but at least it’s there, in ‘footnote’ mode. Look!  There it is,  a few centimetres above the link titled “Why you can trust BBC news”

Anyway, that (and Matti Friedman’s freshly absorbed article) prompted me to revisit the backgrounder in question. I mean, if you were after an ‘agenda’ to furnish your thesis on agenda-driven journalism this would surely fit the bill.

Let’s leave the factual error(s) to one side and concentrate on the language, the omissions and the overall thrust. This BBC ‘explainer’ is presented in ‘misery memoir’ style. It describes a litany of deprivations suffered by the Gazan people without any reference to the (self-inflicted) events that landed them in such a pickle. 

It’s a backgrounder with the actual background selectively excised. 

Imagine a piece written in a similarly emotive way about the deprivations of the inmates of Broadmoor. Those poor souls probably suffer a few restrictions too. If a journalist decided to get on his high horse and write empathetically about how incarceration affects the inmates’ quality of life without mentioning the fact that it’s a high-security psychiatric hospital, anyone would immediately realise the article was a tad skewed. 

This comparison was not made to suggest that the inmates of Gaza are criminally insane, but if you rely on the BBC, which continually defends Hamas by reminding us that they were ‘democratically elected’, then the people of Gaza must bear some responsibility for their situation merely by ‘voting them in’.

That’s the reason I used Broadmoor to illustrate a point. In both cases the ‘victims’ themselves are the architects of their own misfortune. At least the people of Gaza had a certain amount of choice, one might argue, whereas the inmates of Broadmoor can, in mitigation, claim insanity.

Now, let’s look at the article. A picture is worth a thousand words as someone once said and the images used here are a fine example of that. Under the header:  FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT the BBC gives us, well, here it is.

Can you see what I’m getting at yet? (As Rolf Harris might have said) You need hardly bother to read the text; suffice it to say it offers scant explanation for the restrictions, apart from a reference to “a crackdown on the network of smuggling tunnels”. 

Smuggling tunnels? What on earth could they be for? Covertly bringing home the medical supplies, dialysis machines and prosthetic limbs that they’re being so cruelly denied, perchance? Or for importing material to construct the home-made rocket contraptions they’re particularly fond of,  leaving a few spares that accidentally happen to emerge in the middle of residential Israeli areas for luck.  

The section, ECONOMY is equally unhelpful. I think we’re supposed to assume that the ‘poverty rate’ has nowt to do with Hamas; it's probably just the ‘siege’. 

This should be good. EDUCATION. While a cursory Google reveals a plethora of articles about this topic, you have to go to the ‘right-wing“ or pro-Israel press to learn about the type of incendiary anti-Israel material that is fed to Gaza’s schoolchildren. The BBC is just one of many news organisations that routinely sanitise the radicalisation that is so commonplace in UNRWA text-books as to be ‘unremarkable’. 
However,  the government is mildly interested, and one can download a PDF about it. 
Radicalisation in the Palestinian school curriculum 3
DFID says that it has always been clear that it expects textbooks used by the Palestinian Authority to be academically rigorous and must not to incite racial hatred or violence under any circumstances. DFID also reports that it does discuss issues of concern about radicalisation with the relevant PA representatives from time to time.

DFID also pushed the EU to commission an independent review of Palestinian textbooks. This is being carried out by the Georg Eckert Institute. The interim report will be completed in Spring 2020 with the full report due later this year. 
While we’re on the topic, UNRWA is in a spot of bother too. To continue: POPULATION.

While 5,479 per sq km is quite dense, (so much for ethnic cleansing) it’s not a patch on, say, Monaco (26,337) or even Singapore  (8358) and the UK has 280.6 (and as we speak they’re all down in Cornwall or crawling along the A30) I see this chart also has, at No 14, State of Palestine: 847.4  (wherever that is) And please note the increasing number of ‘nought-to-fours’ in the graphic.

Another litany of passive-aggressive and factually incomplete innuendo-laden swipes at Israel. 
More of the same. 

This agenda-driven backgrounder is a good example of obfuscation and omission - it is supposed to provide ‘background’ and background is the very thing it lacks. “The Strip gets most of its power from Israel,” it says. 

What? Must Israel provide its aggressor with power, gratis? Oh, dear. There’s a lot of missing bits in this misery memoir-style segment, such as: 
“First, electricity imported directly from Israel and Egypt is paid for by the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, not by the Hamas government in Gaza. The cost of the Israeli supply is deducted from the revenue that Israel collects on imported goods destined for the Palestinian territories and, under normal circumstances, transfers to the PA. Since the 2007 Fatah-Hamas split, the government in Ramallah has become increasingly frustrated with incurring the costs of electricity supply for the Gaza Strip. In a highly politicized move in June, PA President Mahmoud Abbas requested that Israel reduce the supply of power to Gaza. During much of 2017, power supply was limited to three to four hours per day. 
Further, Abbas’s hard-line stance on the supply of not only energy but also the importation of key medical equipment into Gaza has exacerbated the gap in trust between Gaza and the West Bank government. Even as Israel proposed a plan to international donors for $1 billion toward Gaza reconstruction last week, including new power lines from Israel, who will pay remains unclear.
All this is bad enough, but it’s the first section of the BBC’s article that sets the scene for the rest.
Israel-Palestinian conflict: Life in the Gaza Strip
“Originally occupied by Egypt, which retains control of Gaza's southern border, the territory was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. Israel withdrew its troops and around 7,000 settlers in 2005.
It is under the control of the militant Islamist group Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and ejected forces loyal to the then governing Palestinian Authority after a violent rift in 2007.
Since then, Israel and Egypt have effectively blockaded the territory, restricting the movement of goods and people in and out in what they say are security measures against militants in Gaza.
Hamas and Israel fought a brief conflict in 2014, with the Israelis attempting to end rocket fire from Gaza and the militants fighting to end their isolation.
Throughout, the framing is cavalier in its brevity and lack of explanatory detail. It glosses over the violence in Hamas's 2007 overthrow and ignores the violence that followed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.  It squeezes in a gratuitous "What they say is" in respect of Israel's security measures but on top of all that the bottom paragraph, which was emboldened by the BBC (not me) is plain weird.
“Hamas and Israel fought a brief conflict in 2014” 
Is that grammatical? No. Does it make any sense? No. Does it really tell the story? No. Anyone who has followed 'the conflict' would know that a) the conflict is anything but 'brief' - (although the the ‘flare-up’ was relatively so) - and b) asymmetric warfare shouldn’t be presented as if the parties involved are ‘equal’ in any way shape or form. 

Then,  yet more problematic phrasing:
".....with the Israelis attempting to end rocket fire from Gaza and the militants fighting to end their isolation.
Militants fighting to end their isolation?” I think "terrorists fighting to obliterate the Jewish State and all that sail in her" would be more truthful.

So it’s good that Camera managed to squeeze out a (barely visible) retraction. How did these glaring errors ever get past quality control? But it’s not good at all that the BBC has succeeded in turning an unknowable number of its audience into Israel-haters and antisemites.

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