Thursday, 31 July 2014

40 Questions

The BBC has recently dispatched so many reporters to Gaza that I’ve lost count. So far we’ve had Jeremy Bowen, Yolande Knell, Lyse Doucet, Ian Pannell, Chris Morris, Paul Adams,  Martin Patience, Jon Donnison John Simpson; in Israel Orla Geurin  Bethany Bell and James Reynolds. I’m sure there are more and sorry if I’ve forgotten you. What’s happened to Kevin Connolly? 

We’ve seen analyses and comment by James Robbins, Frank Gardner, Stephen Sacker, Andrew Roy, adversarial interviews by Emily Maitless, Kirsty Wark, Robert Peston, the Today team, the World At One team, the News 24 team, The World Tonight team,  In fact it would be easier to list the individuals who haven’t publicly opined on Gaza.  Alan Titchmarsh, maybe. Alan Partridge? 

Over at H/P ‘Saul O’ has compiled a list of questions, 40 in total, aimed at international journos on the ground. They’re  designed to prise from journalists information that they might prefer to keep to themselves till they’re safely home, or forever. Press accreditation, Hamas tentacles, whatever.

Here’s a selection: 
1.      Have you or any of your colleagues been intimidated by Hamas?
2.       Do you feel restricted in your ability to ‘say what you see’ in Gaza?      
3        How do you feel about the Spanish journalist who said Hamas would
 kill any journalist if they filmed rocket fire?
4.       Has Hamas pressured you to delete anything you have published?
5.       Has Hamas ever threatened to take your phone, laptop or camera?
6.       Has Hamas ever taken the phone, laptop or camera of a colleague in Gaza?
7.       Have you seen Hamas fighters in Gaza?

Surely one of them has seen at least some Hamas fighters. Or some human shields. They can’t all be as Blind as a Bowen. We might patent that simile.

 I’m aiming low. Just for the BBC -  because this blog is dedicated to you. XX

What Israel is doing.

One of the cliched phrases that has worked its way into the psyche of anti-Israel zealots (it’s a favourite of Baroness Tonge) as well as many at the BBC (Sarah Montague likes it a lot) is “What Israel is doing”.
It’s the shorthand for, well, whatever you like. 
The implications contained in those four little words range from the well-worn “disproportionate response”, through ethnic cleansing, apartheid, siege on Gaza, war crimes, baby-killing and genocide, all the way to a final destination; committing a holocaust on the Palestinian people.

All those incendiary, hyperbolic accusations are frequently fired at Israel by people who claim they’re only supporting the Palestinians, but false allegations like these merely show that their hatred for Israel is greater than their admiration for the Palestinians. 
If they wish the Palestinians well, they should simply seek from them recognition of Israel and rejection of violence. Then the Palestinians could return to the open borders, trade, medical treatment, education and employment in Israel they enjoyed before Hamas took hold, and which the Palestinians claim is something they still want. 
If the outrageous incitement that runs through their education system (Including UNWRA schools) was abolished the next generation might have a future, assuming there are enough of the next generation left at the end of the glorious human shield experiment. Instead, with its “three noes” Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are ensuring three more;  No open borders. No end to the blockade. No future.

While the case hinges on the interpretation of “proportionate” and the discrepancy between the number of deaths on each side remains the primary, if not the sole justification for universal condemnation of “What Israel is doing”, does anyone at the BBC  wonder how proportionate is the number of reporters dispatched to Gaza? Do they consider the media’s obsessional focus on this one conflict in comparison to places where much greater violence with far higher numbers of casualties occur on a daily basis, proportionate? 
Where are the pictures of corpses from Iraq, Syria, Africa  Libya?
 Do children not die in these places? Where are the headlines? The hourly news bulletins? 

The battalion of BBC journalists and reporters in Gaza (Does anyone know how many are in Gaza, and how many in Israel?) all seem at present to be vying with each other in trying to emulate, if not outdo Michael Buerk.
Admittedly  I haven’t heard anyone using the term ‘biblical’ so far, but it’s getting close. 
“His cool, dispassionate style was later to be praised by his BBC colleague, John Humphrys."Would Michael Buerk's reports have been more effective if he had been holding back the tears as he delivered the commentary?" he asked the Guardian newspaper in a recent interview. "No... He wrote a spare and powerful commentary and left it to us to form our own judgement."
Not much chance of being left to follow our own judgement over this situation. The BBC’s massive number of staff in Gaza serve mainly to embellish and further  the ‘disproportionate’ argument, the only one they seem able to confidently push. Does anyone consider the effect this is having? Isn’t it time to get a sense of proportion?

The conflict is certainly worthy of scrutiny and analysis, as long as the experts and analysts they bring in are properly introduced so that the audience knows where their loyalties lie.   It certainly deserves reporters on the ground. We need to know what’s happening and why. But not this mawkish, inflammatory, propagandistic, unhelpful meddling with its half-truths, emoting and omissions.
The rise in antisemitic incidents is testament to the atmosphere whipped up by the media. Let’s think this through. What is the good of this disproportionate focus on the civilian deaths in Gaza?

Who benefits?
If international pressure results in the Israelis being forced to “stop” before they’ve “finished”, it certainly might save a few innocent Palestinian lives in the short term. But who would win? Only Hamas. And Hamas knows that all it need ever do in the future is place civilians between its brave fighters and its foe and bingo. Out comes the press. A few months down the line and it starts all over again.
Let’s look back at the zeitgeist. 
At first, when there were far fewer, say, up to three hundred Palestinian deaths, the press began its ‘disproportionate‘ campaign. Many people supported that view, but a substantial number weren’t wholly convinced. The bigger picture was creeping in to the collective consciousness.The worldwide turmoil that Islam (or Islamism, or the perversion of the religion of peace) was being seen to engender finally registered. People began to join the dots.   
Tales of Hamas personnel hiding and rockets and being stashed and/or fired from schools, hospitals and mosques began to filter through. Fighters were using ambulances, Hamas was preventing civilians from leaving target areas when they knew Israeli retaliation was imminent.
It seemed to the world that Israel did have a case, that there was a threat, that Israeli children were traumatised, that ordinary life in Israel had been disrupted for months. People saw that Hamas continually broke “humanitarian” ceasefires, misappropriated vast amounts of concrete to make terror-tunnels instead of constructing homes for the people, used UNWRA schools to store rockets, intimidated journalists who broke ranks, and, as they say in the ads, much much more.

But none of this made much difference to the reporting until several young conscripted Israeli solders were killed. As soon as Israel looked vulnerable the BBC began to show less hostility. Their indignation and the ‘disproportionate’ riff palpably subsided, though it was still very much smouldering in the background and quickly reignited when it appeared that an Israeli rocket had hit a hospital. Tellingly, the fuss died down again equally quickly when it began to look as though it wasn’t Israel after all, but one of Hamas’s misfires (10%) that neither interest nor anger the BBC.
For a while it looked almost as though the requisite number of Israel casualties had been reached. Perhaps Israel was no longer decisively ‘winning’ and a little empathy for Israel could be retrieved from the bottom of some barrel.  But no. As soon another crowd of innocent civilians were killed by an air strike that appeared to have come from Israel, back came the disproportionate argument with a vengeance. It never really went away and it never will. Unless Hamas wins. Then where will we be?

Whenever we hear someone say “What Israel is doing”  we might remember what the BBC is doing. That is helping to make it absolutely clear that every time Hamas or any other fanatical unprincipled group feels like it, all they need do is gather a few handfuls of babies in one hand and some missiles in the other and all retaliatrory options are off the table. Forget ‘might is right’ Now it’s ‘Human Shields reign supreme.’

Look at what happened in that London tunnel. Doesn’t that ring those proverbial alarm bells? How about sending a few reporters down there in case someone gets hurt.
Who’s at risk? A few Jews or a few million infidels. That was just an opinion piece on behalf of myself. I haven’t caught out a specific example of hypocrisy, duplicity, or criminality on the part of the BBC. The views are my own and so what. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

It's good to talk

There are a lot of tired-out old phrases which have become meaningless, (through being over and mis-used) for example; massacre, siege, ethnic cleansing, militant and so on.

The one that puts Craig off, he’s obviously very squeamish, is “useful idiots”. For his sake let’s just call them Unwitting Simpletons Exploited For Use, Largely In Defending Islamists Openly Terrorising Society, or for short the handy acronym “useful idiots”.  
I’m sure someone could come up with a neater alternative version, but I’m putting that on the back burner for now.

Did you hear Sarah Montague’s interview with Lord Alderdice?  His unique insights into the peace process? (Is it me, or does he look like George Best?) (after TFTD 01:51:40)

I had to transcribe it because, in my best Victor Meldrew voice I couldn’t believe it.

Sarah:When you see Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and hear the way Hamas speaks of Israel it is hard to imagine there could ever be peace between the two sides.But people used to say that about N I, that hatreds were so entrenched they could never make peace. Lord Alderdice used to lead NI’s alliance party, he’s now ‘Director for the center for the resolution of intractable conflict at Oxford University” He has spoken many times to the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, and I asked about those conversations.
Lord A:“Because of my experience in Ni where we came reluctantly after a long time to the conclusion that we had to engage with militaries and particularly with the leadership of the Republican movement the IRA, when I started to work 15 years ago in the M E and other places I realised the ‘read-across’ was to talk to people in the Jewish settler community, in the official Israeli government, but also in organisations like Hamas as well as Fatah.”
Sarah:This is at your initiative, rather than...
Lord A;“Yes, oh yes, I’m not acting for government or organisations or anything like that...
Sarah:“But I’m more curious about how Hamas are viewing you, as somebody who might have a solution?
Lord A:Well right from the very beginning they were saying, "look, how do you construct a peace process, particularly when you don’t feel you’ve got anybody that wants to engage with you”
Sarah:“Hamas is asking that question?
Lord A:Yes, oh yes this is ten, fifteen years ago they were asking this question, and we started to talk about it, and explore different kinds of ways in which they might find a road into engagement and negotiation because I said from the beginning "is engaging in violence the way forward for you?" and they said ‘we don’t want to do this. We can’t see any other way, people will not engage and talk with us, that’s why we find ourselves in this situation", of course I was very familiar with that because the only way you could get the republican movement in Ireland to engage was to say ‘there is another way of proceeding with your vision’ and so similarly I was trying to do that. One of the difficulties over the years is that it’s been really difficult to persuade people either on the Israeli government side, although many Israelis including in the security services think differently,  but particularly Western governments, to take seriously that there has to be some kind of engagement ultimately”
Sarah:Okay, so people in Israel and elsewhere would say, look, since you’re talking about fifteen years ago and they’re asking that question, Hamas has done everything to make it harder, whether it’s via rocket attacks or any number of activities, which is why they are a banned organisation, described as a terrorist organisation?
Lord A:I understand the perspective that Israelis have. I would also of course say, well there’s not much evidence that the Israeli government’s way of working has actually helped. And from a very early stage one of the things that was part of the discussions was that Hamas is saying ‘look, we’re prepared to engage, we’re prepared to engage in the kind of Western democratic style of things, with   free and fair elections and forming governments, coalitions and all these kinds of things. If however this becomes impossible we will not change our commitment to that, but we can let you know that there are people in our wider community who in any case want to burn the system not work the system, and so in the same kind of was as not engaging with Fatah for many years led to the rise of Hamas, trying to destroy Hamas will simply create something else and we’re seeing it develop with ISIS.
Sarah:Okay, given your experience in NI you look at what is going on in Gaza there at the moment, can you imagine a situation where ultimately there could be peace between these two peoples?
Lord A;
Ultimately all of these wars come to ends. They may not be satisfactory ends, and what’s particularly disturbing to me and I’ve spoken about this in the Lords and elsewhere over the last three or four years, is that I see that whole region descending into increasing chaos and violence. I don’t think you can understand what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians at the moment without understanding it to be part of a regional problem that’s developing and one of the problems about Mr. Kerry’s initiative was that he did not, in my view, and I said this at the time and i sent the messages to his people, pay proper attention to the regional issues I mean the saudis have been for years describing an Arab Peace Initiative, it really wasn’t given proper attention either in Tel Aviv or even indeed Washington so I
Sarah:“So when you think about what brought change in NI, what would your advice be, whether it is to israel and palestinians or to the international community as to what should be happening now?
Lord A:“One, that people on both sides, republicans, british army, british government realised that there was no solution in violence. that’s not the position in the Middle East at the moment. The second thing that happened was that the British and Irish governments and indeed the Americans and Europeans realised that they had a role to play to engage with everybody that was involved, and I think that’s the situation now. i think that unless there’s a realisation that we have to engage with all of those who are participants to it, and who, by the way are prepared to engage as long as there’s a level playing field for that engagement, and that’s an important point, but if we don’t engage the result will be a greater rise of ISIS and greater chaos in the region.
Sarah:And very briefly, in your very recent conversations with Khaled Meshaal and I know you have had very recent discussions, what is he saying, ‘yes we want peace and we can do a deal with Israel?”
Lord A:On that particular point he was very enthusiastic over the unity government that had been formed with Fatah and was looking forward to the possibilities of a positive way forward. the situation, tragically, has gone the opposite direction.
Sarah:Lord Alderdice thank you very much.

Okay I know you’ll skip most of that, so I’ll just have to pick out some of the more bizarre omissions, elephants and staggering useful idiocies in that room.

DirectorForTheCentreForTheResolutionOfIntractableConflict i.e. non governmental organisation for meddling in complex affairs, having mistaken fanatical savages for principled peacemakers and airing specious unsound comparisons on the radio.

His partner for peace is Khaled Meshaal, Hamas head of the Hamas “political bureau” residing in luxury in Qatar, wallowing in corruption. Money smuggler, real estate owner and all round fat controller.
This man is Lord Alderdice’s friend, the person whose pleas for ‘engagement’ the good lord is promoting. He appears to believe Meshaal’s pretend-reasonable message, which Meshaal very well knows can never be tested because he will make sure it cannot be. Ever. 

‘look, we’re prepared to engage, we’re prepared to engage in the kind of Western democratic style of things, with free and fair elections and forming governments, coalitions and all these kinds of things.”

Plainly untrue, or does western style democracy now include throwing your opponents of roofs? He then goes on to threaten that if Hamas is defeated, we’ll get ISIS. Is the danger of that a good enough reason to engage with Hamas? 

Sarah Montague has always pushed for ‘talking to Hamas” 
(You can still search Biased-BBC for several posts addressing that in the 2009 - 2012 archives)  

“I said from the beginning is engaging in violence the way forward for you, and they said ‘we don’t want to do this, we can’t see any other way,” says Lord A, sympathetically recounting his conversation with the Hamas leader. 
“The way forward for you?”  ‘Forward’ for Meshaal is  backward for Israel. Right back before 1948. It’s in the Hamas charter, or doesn’t Lord A know this? 
“We can’t see any other way,” says Meshaal. Of course there’s no other way to achieve the aspirations of Hamas. Does Lord A really think the Israelis will negotiate their own extermination without a spot of violence? Come on.

“Ultimately all of these wars come to ends. They may not be satisfactory ends, and what’s particularly disturbing to me, and I’ve spoken about this in the Lords and elsewhere over the last three or four years, is that I see that whole region descending into increasing chaos and violence.

So now it seems that he has noticed that there’s something uncivilised, fanatical and pretty savage going on in the region, yet he doesn’t seem to think his friend Meshaal’s fanaticism is part of the ‘intractable’ problem.

“I don’t think you can understand what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians at the moment without understanding it to be part of a regional problem that’s developing and one of the problems about Mr. Kerry’s initiative was that he did not, in my view, and I said this at the time and I sent the messages to his people, pay proper attention to the regional issues, I mean the Saudis have been for years describing an Arab Peace Initiative, it really wasn’t given proper attention either in Tel Aviv or even indeed Washington”

Update The article I linked to above has been taken down. It was about a rift in the Saudi hierarchy. Here's another one instead.

This is what Jon Donnison has been recommending via Twitter.
It’s an article in the Independent revealing the duplicitousness of Israeli spin. “A must-read 4 any journos interviewing Israeli spokes.” Tweets Donnison.
Here’s a must-read 4 any  journos interviewing Hamas spokes. And here’s their instructions for spin:

Journos beware. You might be Unwitting Simpletons Exploited For Use, Largely In Defending Islamists Openly Terrorising Society 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Is the BBC's Gaza reporting biased and naive?

That said - and before I shut up for a while about the subject (and return to things like pygmy boa constrictors), I would like to recommend a piece by Jonathan Foreman from Breitbart London, THE BBC'S GAZA REPORTING IS BIASED AND NAIVE. (No question mark in that title!) 

Jonathan's first paragraph reads:
Over the last week BBC news bulletins have, inevitably, led with the Gaza war. This might seem like an obvious, rational choice, although of course it was also the worst week of the last three years in the Syrian war, with at least 1,700 deaths. Still it is fair enough for the BBC to have decided that war and death in Gaza are more important than war and death a few hundred miles to the North.
Well, yes, Syria and Iraq have seen much higher deaths totals than what we've seen in Gaza but the BBC's focus has been firmly on Israel, with hordes of BBC journalists piling in to report the conflict. Syria and Iraq have been neglected as a result. Now, the BBC has - to be fair to it - given Iraq and Syria ample coverage over time, and all credit to their reporters for braving those countries, but the sheer number of BBC reporters descending on Israel and Gaza has been extraordinary (including many of the BBC's star reporters, dropping by, doing their thing, and leaving). 

I think Jonathan's explanation for this phenomenon is true:
The Syrian war story is relentless and complicated with villains everywhere you look; these days, anyway, it would be hard to present it as a compelling David and Goliath narrative. Even more important, it is difficult and lethally dangerous to report. The latter seems not to be the case in Gaza – which itself may say something about the reality of the conflict there, as opposed to the rhetoric of massive bombardments and massacres.
That last point is a telling one, isn't it? I've not heard it made before. Another explanation I can imagine people making - such as that the present Israel/Palestinian conflict could inflame the region/the world and, thus, is of especial importance - doesn't seem to hold water. The Syrian and Iraqi conflicts are surely vastly more dangerous and destabilising at the moment. 

[I am, of course, fully aware that it may seem a bit rich for us to be criticising the BBC for being fixated on Operation Protective Edge, but we are a two-man/woman, unfunded blog and we can fixate on anything we fancy fixating on, whether that be Israel or  pygmy boa constrictors (the subject of my next twenty posts).]

Our study of three week's worth of BBC Radio 4 news bulletins will confirm or deny the following:
What strikes me as less rational and more peculiar is the way the BBC’s news bulletins about the casualties of the war do not distinguish between Palestinian combatants and Palestinian victims, yet always do that for the Israeli side: Each bulletin begins with the datum that 1,000 (say) Palestinians have died and 40 (say) Israelis have died, all of whom were soldiers apart from (say) three civilians.
The implication of course, whether deliberate or not, is that all the Palestinian deaths are civilian.
Now, having transcribed scores of BBC bulletins, I have to say that "Each bulletin begins with the datum...." is an exaggeration, but that datum does appear in a large number of bulletins (exactly how many to be confirmed soon) and there have been many bulletins where precisely what Jonathan says happens happens - in fact (as a result of our study) I can now quote them verbatim:
According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, the total number of Palestinian dead has risen to 425 since the offensive began nearly two weeks ago. 20 Israelis have been killed, including two civilians. (6 O'Clock News, 20/7)
According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, nearly 90 Palestinians were killed throughout the day across the territory, taking the total number of dead to 425. 20 Israelis have been killed, including two civilians, during the 13 days of the offensive. (Westminster Hour, 20/7) 
Officials in Gaza say that over 500 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its offensive two weeks ago. 20 Israelis - 18 of them soldiers - have died. (Today, 21/7)
Palestinian health officials say 550 people have been killed in Gaza since the Israeli offensive began two weeks ago. The total includes five people killed in a hospital today by shells from an Israeli tank. The Israeli military says seven of its soldiers have died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total killed to 25, plus two civilians. (The World Tonight, 21/7)
The Health Ministry in Gaza says that more than 600 Palestinians have now been killed as Israel continues its bombardment of the territory. 29 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have been killed.  (The World at One, 22/7)
The conflict in Gaza, which began earlier this month, has now claimed more than 800 Palestinian lives. 32 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died. (Today, 25/7)
...a conflict that has cost the lives of more than 800 Palestinians and some 40 Israelis, most of them soldiers (Today, 26/7)
More than one thousand Palestinians have been killed since the current conflict began. Over 40 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also died. (10 O'Clock News, 26/7)
Officials in Gaza said at least ten people have been killed in the latest airstrikes taking the total number of deaths since the start of Israel's offensive three weeks ago to more than 1030. On the Israeli side 46 people have been killed, most of them soldiers (6 O'Clock News, 27/7)
...taking the total number of deaths since the start of Israel's offensive three weeks ago to more than 1030. On the Israeli side 46 people have been killed, most of them soldiers (Westminster Hour 27/7)
I think that proves his point. 

Jonathan continues:
The same claim was made, sometimes explicitly rather than implicitly, in the last Gaza war. Afterwards it turned out – and this was confirmed by the Hamas leadership - that more than two thirds of the Palestinian dead in 2009 were in fact Hamas fighters. (That is actually unusually high ratio of combatants to non-combatant deaths for modern urban warfare.)
Of course it could be different this time.
Well, indeed. 

Jonathan then says, 
One BBC radio report on Sunday, did finally make a distinction between Gazan civilians and fighters: it said “more than a 1000 Palestinians have died, mostly civilians.” It is odd that the BBC is so sure, yet so vague.
I was going to say that that "finally" is unfair (as I heard it - and transcribed it - in some reports), but I've just looked back and that formulation first appears in the newsreader's commentary [which is what he means] on Saturday 26/7 (near enough to Sunday 27/7 to prove Jonathan's point) - as you can see for yourselves here). 

Jonathan then goes on to make a very valid point (in my opinion):
If even rough estimates were available then the normal thing would be to give those estimates, or at least to quote someone in a position to know, no matter how parti pris. The bulletins could then say that Hamas or a local NGO “says that most of the casualties are civilian”; instead they repeat a flat unsupported assertion, one that, for all the audience knows, could be based on the general consensus among the hacks in the hotel bar.
Then there is the problem of the numbers themselves. Where do they come from? According to most of the BBC reports casualty numbers come from Gaza’s health authorities, ie the Hamas regime’s equivalent of a ministry of health.
Obviously no one appointed by a Hamas ministry to speak to the press would deliberately tell an untruth just to help the cause. Or at least that seems to be the assumption of Jeremy Bowen and his BBC colleagues. They take on faith not only the numbers that they are given but also the assertion that all or most of the dead are civilians.
The peculiar decision not to query these statistics even a little bit or just to qualify them with a “says” is not necessarily, or a least not in every case, a product of political bias or passionate commitment to the anti-Israel cause. It may also reflect a selective naivety and skepticism that is all too common in a great deal of foreign reporting.
In all the many hours I spent transcribing these news reports, I know for a fact that I did not hear scepticism about these figures from the BBC - and there was never a mention that these figures came from a Hamas-run health ministry (even following the power-sharing deal). 

One thought that has kept hitting me in the past three weeks is that the BBC should have used some form of words to suggest that these figures for Palestinian civilian casualties haven't been independently confirmed by the BBC. (Orla Guerin claimed in response to CiF Watch's tweets today that the BBC did verify the figures. Excuse my scepticism about that, Orla).

Jonathan Foreman speculation that, being good middle-class Brits, BBC reporters are inclined to believe doctors (unlike army spokesmen), is interesting - and you'll have to read his own account to see why it's a credible speculation. 

He ends with talk of "useful idiots", which (however valid) always puts me off, smelling (as it does) of ranters and ranting, but up till that point he hadn't ranted at all and had, in fact, been pleasingly reasonable, so this final rhetorical flourish is completely forgivable - especially given how well-grounded his previous points had been.

Well worth a read.

Preface to a study

One of the frustrating things about answering the question 'Is the BBC biased?' is that, however long you may blog about it, providing anecdotal evidence by the bucketful over many years and finding that people who agree with you agree with you, is that huge numbers of people don't agree with you - or don't even care about the issue.

That's why I always hoped (with hope in my heart) that statistical evidence (like counting interruptions) would help win over some of the unconverted - the guiding principle behind my 2009-10 blog. (I think I succeeded there, but the BBC didn't agree.) 

I still think such an approach could have an impact (though I've not exactly exerted myself much on that front recently it has to be said).

Unfortunately though (for those who think like us, vis a vis the BBC), the statistically-minded bias hunters/debunkers who agree with me about the value of stats tend to lie on the Left, and that's why much of our efforts can be derailed by a well-publicised (sometimes BBC-funded) academic study which uses statistics, like that (deeply dubious) Cardiff University report from Mike Berry & Co. and which "finds" that the BBC is biased in favour of, say, the Conservatives, Eurosceptics and business. That survey, you may remember, delighted the likes of Owen Jones, many a Guardian/New Statesmen reader, and  the Twitterati - and it probably delighted the BBC too, on the 'if we're seen to be getting flak from both sides, then people will assume we must be getting it about right' principle! It didn't delight many on the Right, however.

Then there's Mike Berry's friend Greg Philo from the Glasgow Media Group, ready to produce statistically-backed reports "proving" that the BBC is pro-Israel by a margin of 2:1. I've never come across his previous efforts, but he's apparently working on the current BBC coverage too - and I think we can guess in advance what he'll "find". 

The thing is, though, that no one who doesn't want to believe them will believe them any more that they believed my interruption statistics or everyone else's anecdotes - particularly if the bias hunter's own bias too obvious (eg. if the academics in question also happen to be public far-left/anti-Israel activists.) The ad hom fallacy may be a fallacy but it's not always wrong, and confirmation bias is very real indeed.

But, nonetheless, that Cardiff Uni study got a lot of coverage. 

I remind you of all this (yet again), because I'm going to do what such reports don't do. I'm going to dump all the raw material I intend to use to analyse the BBC's coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict (over a three-week period) in the post directly below this one. 

I wanted to record it all just in case the likes of Greg Philo, Mike Berry or the Media Lens/Electronic Intifada crowd start producing literally incredible stats and claims about the BBC's coverage - and because they should not be allowed to have all the raw material at their fingertips.

Make no mistake about it, they will be doing something similar - except that they won't publish the raw material either in advance or on publication, merely present their results and the conclusions they draw from it. I hate it when people do that. 

Similarly, the BBC will be doing something similar - and they won't be publishing any of it (even if you go after them through FoI requests).

What you'll see here is a regular sampling of BBC news bulletins from 7th July-27 July (inclusive), transcribing every Israel-Gaza-related report in full from four bulletins at specific times each day (84 bulletins in all).

While I'm analysing it over the coming weeks, you might want to do your own analysis and think of ways of assessing whether it shows bias or not. What questions should be looked at? What would prove (or disprove) bias?

Initial ideas might be: How many quote Israeli sources, how many Palestinian sources? How many cite casualty figures from 'health officials in Gaza'? How many mention 'human shields'? How many come from Israel, how many from Gaza?

Anyone may feel free to use anything they like from the post below. 

Operation Protective Edge: 3 week's worth of news bulletins on BBC radio 4

TODAY 7/7 (8 am)
Nine Palestinian militants have been killed in Israeli air-strikes on Gaza. The attacks followed a wave of rocket fire from the enclave aimed at communities in southern Israel. Kevin Connolly reports from Jerusalem:
Last weekend there was speculation that some kind of ceasefire between Hamas and Israel may have been imminent. Any such prospect now seems remote after a weekend of intense rocket fire from Gaza and a series of overnight air-strikes from Israel. In the most serious of those strikes it's now reported that six Hamas fighters were killed after the Israeli air-force targeted what the militant group called "a gathering point" at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. A seventh Hamas member died in a separate strike and two other militants were killed in a third. Angry crowds gathered at the hospitals to which the bodies were taken and a Hamas spokesman warned that, in this words, Israel would "pay a price" for what he described as an "escalation".
WORLD AT ONE 7/7 (1 pm)
Israel has sent a rare direct message to Hamas, saying it wants to avoid a further escalation of tension after nine Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli air-raids on Gaza. The bombings followed rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. Hamas has warned that Israel will pay for the deaths. 

PM 7/7 (5 pm)
No mention.

WORLD TONIGHT 7/7 (10 pm)
No mention.

TODAY 8/7 (8 am)
Israel has carried out overnight air-strikes against dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Army says the operation is aimed at stopping a barrage of rockets fired from the territory. Our Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly, reports from Jerusalem:
Israel's overnight air-raids are said to have hit more than 50 targets inside the Gaza Strip, including training sites used by Hamas. Medical sources inside Gaza say a woman and two children were injured in the town of Khan Younis when the home of a Hamas militant was also targeted. A further six people were injured in the air-raids, which Israel now calls Operation Protective Edge. In the hours after the funerals of Hamas fighters killed in previous Israeli air-strikes, 85 rockets were fired at targets in Israel, with air-raid sirens sounding in many town and cities across the south of the country. Last week there was talk from both sides that calm would be answered by calm, and a ceasefire seemed to be within reach. But each now appears to have concluded that the immediate need to respond to fire from the other side outweighs the advantages of a temporary truce. 
WORLD AT ONE 8/7 (1 pm)
Israel is continuing to bomb Gaza in defiance of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has called for an immediate end to air-strikes. Israel said it was trying to stop rockets being fired from Gaza into towns in the south of the country. Defence sources said that the option of sending troops into Gaza was "not off the table". 

The Fisk jumps another shark

Do you know the original of the phrase 'jumping the shark' (when something reaches such a low point that it becomes utterly absurd and passed-its-sell-by-date)? It came from an episode of 'Whacky Days' when The Fisk got off his motorbike, donned jet skies, raised his thumbs, said 'Heyyy!' and, yes, jumped a shark:

The Fisk (real name Robert Fiskerelli) has been jumping sharks every since and, as CiF Watch points out, jumped a particularly huge great white over at The Independent yesterday in an article called:
Is the Government interested in UK citizens who have been fighting in Israeli uniform in Gaza in the past couple of weeks?
Yeah, right, Fiskie. We Brits need to have sleepless nights about returning Jewish fighters serving with the IDF? They are going to blew us up, are they? I don't think so - and neither does anyone else who isn't an 'multi-award-winning' anti-Israeli fruitcake who jump sharks on a twice-weekly basis.

Jon Donnison and the 'PFLP charity worker'

As you may have noticed today has been 'Jon Donnison Day' across the BBC-monitoring pro-Israeli blogosphere.

Alan at Biased BBC spotlighted a report from Jon Donnison which he (Alan) says is "a subtle pro-Hamas piece", and that very same report is also the basis of Hadar's latest post at BBC Watch

Now, we can argue till we're blue in the face about whether that article is pro-Hamas or not, but one thing does seem certain (if 'seeming certain' isn't a contradiction in terms): Jon Donnison's piece contains a passage that appears at best naive - and possibly much worse.

This is the passage in question:
Palestinian grief. Not in Gaza, but in the West Bank. Hashem Abu Maria was shot dead by Israeli soldiers last week as he demonstrated against Israel’s actions in Gaza. He was 47 years old, a father of three and worked for a children’s charity. By his graveside his wife Samira tells me Hashem gave his life trying to protect children.
I watched that and thought he sounded a lovely, harmless man, and that it was a shame that he'd been killed.

But...Hadar has used that wonderful thing, the internet, and found out something else about the late charity worker who "gave his life trying to protect children" (something the highly-experienced Jon Donnison appears not to have noticed).

Here's a clue at to what it is:

It seems, from Hadar's account of an obituary and a Facebook page, that that nice Hashem Abu Maria was a fighter commander with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (not to be confused with the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine) - a group which the US, EU and Canada consider a terrorist organisation. A...fighter...commander.

I really wouldn't want to have my heart strings tugged on behalf of a terrorist. 

Maybe, Lt Col Peter Lerner or Micky Rosenfeld could ask Jon Donnison about that the next time they see him.

The s-word

I've rather given up on Newsnight, but it's a definite sign of where they are at that they held a discussion on the use of the word 'slut' (after Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon told the world that Tory minister Michael Fallon had used it about her) and chose to invite Godfrey Bloom to take part, along with the Telegraph's Rowan Pelling.

Though Mr Bloom has had the UKIP whip withdrawn, it's not hard to imagine that Ian Katz & Co. thought it would be a great wheeze to get him to make some more outrageous statements and embarrass the party once again (if only now by association)...
"Up here in the north of England...I'm speaking to you from Hull...nobody up here accepts that [the word 'slut'] has any sexual connotation at all...And maybe the south of England uses it in a different way."
Though Kirsty Wark had a face like thunder (especially when introducing the package), Rowan Pelling gave Godfrey a very sympathetic hearing, laughing at many of his comments (especially when he called her, "my dear") and conceding several of his points (such as how her own family would use the word to mean 'slovenly' or 'untidy'). She also gave him the benefit of the doubt over his own (career-wrecking) use of the word. (Godfrey should have hired her as his media advisor long ago).

Still, the Twitterati went mad - and if the Twitterati go mad, I suspect Ian Katz goes to bed happy.

Jon Donnison v Lt Col Peter Lerner

Jon Donnison is really going for Israeli spokesmen at the moment. (Just listen to the 'Sound Cloud'  in one of the tweets below.) 

His tweet-sent editorial judgement on this is:
There is a clear policy by both Hamas and IDF of disputing events before facts are known. It muddies water and makes truth harder to stick. 

Jon Donnison v CiF Watch

Talking of Jon Donnison, he saw fit to re-tweet this attack on a favourite blogs of ours a couple of days ago from one Bekah Wolf:

And who exactly is this Bekah Wolf who doesn't reckon much to CiF Watch?
Bekah Wolf @BekahWolf Founded @PalestinePSP with my husband Mousa Abu Maria. I live in the U.S. and in Beit Ommar, #Palestine. Have worked in Palestine since 2003
Or, to put it another way, a pro-Palestinian activist who sometimes writes for Israel-hating sites like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss. (That's her in the picture at the top).

Interesting company Jon Donnison keeps on Twitter, eh?

Jon Donnison v Micky Rosenfeld

Good grief, it didn't take long, did it? Jon Donnison is back in Israel and has already become the story.

Israel Still Swears Hamas Kidnapped Those Teens
After a weekend blowup on Twitter, it’s a case of 'he said, he said' between an Israeli spokesman and a BBC reporter.
Over the weekend it appeared that an Israeli official conceded something very valuable to Hamas. A BBC reporter in Israel tweeted out comments from the spokesman for Israel’s national police who allegedly said Hamas was not behind the kidnapping and murder last month of three Israeli teens on the West Bank, an incident that was the spark for the current war in Gaza.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised that Hamas would pay for the murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar. But on Friday, Jon Donnison, a BBC reporter, citing the the spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, called Israel’s claim that Hamas was responsible into question.
Donnison tweeted that Rosenfeld told him that while the cell on the West Bank was operating alone, it was affiliated with Hamas. However, it did not receive direct orders from Hamas leadership.
Those tweets became the basis for a widely shared blog post saying Israel now conceded that the kidnappers acted in a lone cell and Hamas had nothing to do with it.
The twittersphere exploded with I-told-you-so’s from pro-Palestinian activists, who claimed Israel had manipulated events surrounding the killing of the teens to prepare for and justify its assault on Gaza, which has since killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.
But when reached by The Daily Beast on Sunday, Rosenfeld said that he had told Donnison what the Israeli government had been saying all along. “The kidnapping and murder of the teens was carried out by Hamas terrorists from the Hebron area,” he told The Daily Beast. “The security organizations are continuing to search for the murderers.”
Donnison on Saturday said he stood by his earlier tweets.  
As Eli Lake says, it’s a case of 'he said, he said' between an Israeli spokesman and a BBC reporter now, and we'll have to watch to see where this one leads.

If it's proven, however, that Jon Donnison misrepresented Micky Rosenfeld's statements then he would surely have to be dismissed by the BBC. It's that serious.

If he's telling the truth though, then it would be greatly to his credit as a reporter and embarrassing for the Israeli government.

Couldn't the BBC release Jon Donnison's recording of the interview, unedited? Surely such a thing exists?

For those who missed Jon Donnison's tweets on the matter, here they are (for posterity's sake):

Monday, 28 July 2014

The truth about 'Desert Island Discs'

Breaking BBC-related news from the Daily Mash:

Desert Island Discs not hypothetical

GUESTS on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs are actually abandoned on a remote Pacific atoll, the BBC has revealed.

Most of the 19,000 previously uninhabited rocky outcrops in the Pacific now have heavily-bearded media personalities on them, waving desperately at planes passing overhead and cursing their agents.
Since 1942 the broadcaster has marooned thousands of celebrity guests on tiny islands with just eight pieces of music for comfort.
A BBC spokesman said: “The show would be pretty pointless if we didn’t actually plan to subject the guest to a lifetime of unendurable isolation.
“It would be little more than a string of interminable anecdotes from people you’ve barely heard of.
“I can only imagine that most of them perished a long time ago, but at least they had the likes of Spandau Ballet to provide a soundtrack to their arduous and ultimately futile daily battle for survival.
“Sometimes I’m haunted by their confused, fearful expressions when they’re bundled on to a plane at the end of the show, but as a Radio 4 producer you become immune to looks of quiet desperation.”

Taking sides?

The claims of BBC pro-Israel bias being made by pro-Palestinian activists, their far-left supporters and some Radio 4 listeners beggar belief. Anyone listening to the daily news bulletins on Radio 4 who believes that the BBC is displaying an overall pro-Israel bias is severely mistaken (at best).

We've had Greg Philo telling Today listeners, "Well the Palestinian perspective is just not there. The Israelis are on twice as much", and complaints on Feedback that "it's not so much that it's only about Israel but we don't hear the Palestinian voice, the Palestinian situation" and "I don't think it's only biased. I think they censor the Palestinian viewpoint." 

This, of course, is complete nonsense. 

Here's an updated list of all the interviewees featured on Newsnight and on all of Radio 4's main current affairs programmes since the discovery of the murdered Israeli teens back at the end of June (up until yesterday). 

As well as present and former U.S. and U.N. figures (the former generally tilting towards Israel, the latter generally tilting towards the Palestinians), you will note that, though official Israeli spokesmen/politicians outnumber Palestinian spokesman/politicians, most of the remaining voices strongly tilt the balance back again, being mainly critics of Israel, (including a significant number of Israel-bashing Israelis.

Pinning down precise numbers for who's on one side and who's on the other is tricky, but you are welcome to give it a go. 

Where would you put the former U.S. administration figures though? All on the pro-Israeli side? Where would you put the U.N. figures? All - like the self-declared pro-Palestinian former BBC reporter Chris Gunness - on the pro-Palestinian side? Doing both would be far too easy, wouldn't it?

The likes of Oliver McTernan, Greg Philo, Avi Shlaim, Gideon Levy, Mira Bar-Hillel and Baroness Tonge are easy to place in the anti-Israel camp. Others less so. 

The Israeli and pro-Israeli numbers have also been made up by an almost certainly disproportionate number of 'dovish' left-liberal voices (Daniel Levy, Ha'aretz's Avi Sharit, Jonathan Freedland, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the two Israeli Labor politicians). Robust right-wing Israelis from beyond the official sphere of Israeli politics have been largely absent (Dani Dayan being the obvious exception).

Among the Palestinians, Hamas and Fatah have each been heard in plentiful numbers. Unlike the Israelis and non-Israel Jewish commentators, they, however, have been speaking with one voice, pushing the same message: that Israel is bad. As have all the other Palestinian voices. 

Anyhow, see what you make of the guest-list. Does it prove bias to you?

Danny Danon, Israeli Deputy Defence Minster 

Mustafa Bargouti, Palestinian National Initiative Party
Daniel Taub, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom

TODAY 1st July
Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the United States
Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian National Initiative Party

Israa al-Mudallal, Palestinian foreign affairs spokeswoman
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman
Daniel Levy, European Council on Foreign Relations

Avi Sharit, Ha'aretz

TODAY 2nd July
Oliver McTernan, Forward Thinking 
Dani Dayan, Yesha Council

Husam Zomlot of Fatah's Foreign Relations Committee

TODAY 3rd July
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli PM

Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesman
Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council

Gideon Remez, Harry Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Mouin Rabbani, senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies

Osama Hamdan, Foreign Affairs spokesman, Hamas

TODAY 7th July
Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesman

Avi Sharit, Ha'aretz

TODAY 8th July
Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, former chief of staff in the Israeli Defence Ministry

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israeli Defence Force
Osama Hamdan, Hamas spokesman

Sheera Frenkel, BuzzFeed's Middle East correspondent

TODAY 9th July
Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Daniel Taub, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom

Osama Hamdan, spokesman for Hamas
Retired Brig Gen Michael Herzog, former Israel negotiator
Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department

TODAY 10th July
Fawaz Gerges, LSE

Dr Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Intelligence Minister

TODAY 11th July
Adele Raemer from Kibbutz Nirim, Israel

WORLD AT ONE 11th July
Hussein Agha, senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford, former Palestinian negotiator

PM 11th July
Aaron David Miller, former U.S. Middle East envoy

Dennis Ross, former U.S. to the Middle East
Nancy Soderberg, former U.S. National Security Advisor

TODAY 12th July
Jacob Perry, Israeli Minister of Science
Prof. Manuel Hassassian,  Palestinian Authority's diplomatic representative to the United Kingdom

TODAY 14th July 
Dennis Ross, former U.S. diplomat

WORLD AT ONE 14th July
David Waltzer, Israel's ambassador to the EU
Leila Shahid, Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the EU

Nathan Thrall, Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group

TODAY 16th July 
Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labor Party
Greg Philo, Glasgow University
Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian/Jewish Chronicle

Sara Hussein, Middle East correspondent, AFP
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman

TODAY 17th July
Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesman

PM 17th July
Lord Levy, Tony Blair's Middle East envoy

Dr Mkhaimar Abusada, political scientist, Gaza
Daniel Taub, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom

TODAY 18th July
Daniel Taub, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Mustafa Bargouti, Palestinian National Initiative Party

TODAY 21st July
Farhan Haq, spokesman for Ban Ki-moon
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman

PM 21st July
Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel

Lord (Michael) Williams, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General
Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan
Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz

Hilik Bar, Israel Labor party, Deputy Speaker of Knesset
Avi Shlaim, author

TODAY 22nd July
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism
Mira Bar-Hillel, The Independent

Martin Indyk, former U.S. Special Envoy

WORLD AT ONE 23rd July
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dr. Jeroen Gunning, Durham Global Security Institute
Dr. Dore Gold, advisor to PM Netanyahu

PM 23rd July
Naama Oryan Kaplan, Israel Government Tourist Office

Husam Zomlot, Fatah Commission for International Relations
Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Baroness Tonge, independent peer
Nadhim Zahawi MP, Conservative

TODAY 24th July
Lady Amos, U.N. Humanitarian Chief
Yiftah Curiel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London

WORLD AT ONE 24th July
Ambassador Badr Abdel-Aty, spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry

PM 24th July

Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas leader
Shadi Hamid, Brookings Institute, author 'Temptations of Power'

Mark Regev, Israeli spokesman
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas leader

TODAY 25th July
Bob Turner, UNWRA Director of Operations
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister

Gershon Baskin, Co-Chairman, Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian National Initiative Party

Dr Husam Zomlot, Fatah Commission for International Relations

TODAY 26th July
Badr Abdel-Aty, spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry
Sir Dominic Asquith, former UK ambassador to Egypt

SUNDAY 27th July 
Oliver McTernan, Forward Thinking