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Friday, 11 December 2015

BBC Forced to Accept that Once Again, John Humphrys & Today are Biased on Palestine

BBC Radio 4 report on Israel breached accuracy guidelines 

Guardian 8th December 2015

On Radio 4’s flagship programme, Today, on the 19th October, there was a short 3 minute exchange between John Humphrys, the presenter and Kevin Connolly, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent.  Even by the BBC’s shoddy standards, the banter between them was shocking in its ignorance and bias.  I was one of a number of people who wrote in to complain.  The complaint has been upheld in one part, the most indefensible part, but my complaint was far wider than the grounds on which the BBC have conceded:
Danny Cohen - Director of BBC Television Signed Letter Opposing Cultural Boycott of Israel

The BBC conceded that its reference to 50 dead , in the context of reference having been made only to Israelis, would lead to the obvious and inexorable inference that the only people who had been killed were Israeli Jews, whereas, of course it was mostly Palestinians who were dead.   But this was just one element of the exchange between John Humphrys [JH] and Kevin Connolly [KC].
Brighton PSC Demonstration outside local BBC Radio Sussex 
In its provisional findings there was no comment on or mention even of the bulk of my complaint:

i.               The Humphrys-Connolly [HC] banter took place in the context of an assumption that Israel’s Occupation was completely normal, that the Palestinian response was abnormal and that the problem was one of criminality, that it was a law and order situation in an otherwise normal situation.  The Palestinians, of course, being the criminals.  There was no suggestion that the violence that was occurring might have something to do with racism, oppression and occupation.


  1. It is as if, during WW2 there was a wave of shootings and stabbings of Nazi police or soldiers or German civilians in Paris and the BBC reported that the cause was unknown and that the Nazi authorities were at their wits end to know what to do!  And with John Humphries remarking 'its 50 now, the Nazi authorities are at a loss Kevin to know what to do.'  Absurd but that is what the idiot Humphrys was doing.
Brighton PSC Demonstration outside local BBC Radio Sussex
ii.             KC reported the killing of an Israeli soldier at Beersheva bus station, whilst omitting to mention that immediately afterwards there took place the lynch-mob killing of an Eritrean refugee, who was first shot by security guards and then kicked and beaten to death by a mob of Israelis, including security personnel.  The refugee beaten to death had nothing to do with the killing of the soldier.  It was reported widely by the Israeli and international press but the BBC chose to keep silent.
Humphries at work defending Israel
iii.           KC stated that ‘'individuals are taking the decision to stage these attacks for reasons which we are often left to guess at.’  If KC really doesn’t have any idea about the reasons for the attack then he would, as I suggested, be better suited to covering the Chelsea Flower Show.  The reasons for the upsurge in Palestinian violence are so obvious that they barely need stating.  The eviction of Palestinian families in Jerusalem to make way for settlers intent on Judaising the city.  The Occupation and all that goes with it from checkpoints to wanton and random killings. Settler violence and the confiscation of land.    Only an abysmall ignorant BBC correspondent, which is what KC is, could fail to understand the motivation behind the attacks.
I have also subsequently complained about the fact that the Controller of BBC Television, Danny Cohen, put his name to a letter ‘Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts in the Guardian of 22nd October condemning the Cultural Boycott of Israel.   Apparently he only signed the letter in his personal capacity.  Nothing to do with heading BBC TV of course.
I also made another complaint relating to a raid by Israeli soldiers on Hebron’s hospital on 12th November.  On the BBC website there was an article headlined: “Israelis shoot dead Palestinian in Hebron hospital raid.”
It was a straightforward headline which summed up the story. But soon a different headline appeared above the report, reading: “Israelis in disguise raid Hebronhospital, seizing suspect.” 

The emphasis had changed from the unprovoked murder of a hospital visitor to the Israeli’s pretext for staging the raid.  Just another, small, example of the BBC’s relentless bias.

John Humphry's - Zionist bias is notorious
Transcript 20.10.15. Today Programme 6.39 a.m.

Humphries – 21 minutes to 7 - Yet another attack on Israelis last night.  This time an Arab man with a gun and a knife killed a soldier & wounded 10 people.  The number is mounting, it’s about 50 now isn’t it? 

No mention that 40 of them Palestinians – including executions

Kevin Connolly: We think about 50 in the past month.  Sharp uptake of violence – Not just that attack in Beer Sheba inside Israel itself.  On Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron & Jerusalem.  No sign that this wave of rising tension & rising casualties is going to abate.  The Israeli government frankly is casting about for a convincing answer because the nature of the acts of violence still appears to be random and spontaneous.  The decisions of individuals at a given moment to stage an attack are not the work of organised extremist groups. For that reason it’s been very tough to formulate a convincing security answer

Humphries It is not Intifada is it?

Kevin Connolly:        It’s a very difficult question part of the problem is that media organisations begin asking that question very early in these upsurges of violence.  Whatever we call it, it’s an extraordinarily difficult situation for the Israeli government to deal with because its own people look to it for security.  That very random and spontaneous nature of the attack has left many Israeli citizens feeling that any Palestinian passing them in the street might be carrying a knife, might be planning to attack them and any passing car might at any moment be used as a vehicle against Israeli civilian pedestrians. So although it’s not at all at the level of critical mass of violence that you would need to use the word Intifada, it doesn’t have the leadership perhaps that an Intifada might require it has achieved an extraordinary change in the atmosphere of daily life here, hence the political urgency for the Israeli government.

Humphries: There is talk of more powers for the Police to stop and search but that seems to be fairly inadequate in a way doesn’t it?

Kevin Connolly:  I think that is true.  They are reviving a plan which existed a few years ago to expand stop and search powers so the Police wouldn’t need reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed before they stopped and searched somebody. I think that was actually originally formulated to deal with a wave of night club stabbings.  So they have that on the books, they have erected a concrete screen between an Arab and Jewish area of Jerusalem, not far from where I’m talking to you, that also has a bit of an ad-hoc feeling to it and they also of course have armed reinforcements in the West Bank. You have Police reinforcements here in Jerusalem.   So they are doing what they can with visible security.  But you can’t get away from the fact that they are struggling with the nature of this upsurge of violence. And that’s also a problem for the politicians.  Because you will be having Benjamin Netanyahu meeting John Kerry later this week.  Probably Kerry also meeting Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.  So the big politics is beginning to kick in here.  But it’s hard to see where the connecting wheels are between those big political meetings and the fact that individuals are taking the decision to stage these attacks for reasons which we are often left to guess at.  Because the attackers often die in the course of the attack.

Humphries:  Kevin, many thanks. 

It’s 17 minutes to 7. 19th October 2015

Grounds for Complaint by Tony Greenstein
My initial complaint, which was confined to 2,000 characters was thus:
Humphries interview with Kevin Connolly re violence in Israel.  Mentions 50 dead but not that 40 are Palestinians.  No mention mob violence against Palestinians or  murder of Fadi Alloun, chased by lynch mob, executed by Police. No background to events eg firebombing of Dawabshe family in Duma.  3 dead.  No prosecutions - culprits known.  No mention that West Bank is Occupied.  No mention of 'Death to Arabs' marches in Jerusalem.  And no mention of murder of Eritrean refugee last night though other reporters picked it up.  All of these are documented by video footage Connolly doesn't report.

Connolly says 'individuals are taking the decision to stage these attacks for reasons which we are often left to guess at.'  Let me see, what might be the reasons:

i.  An occupation for 48 years.  ii.  settler violence that is abetted by Military.  iii.   That this is not a question of law and order but one where the law is in the hands of one party which deprives the other party of basic human rights.  iv.   Israel is in breach of perpetual breach of international law.  vi. The attack by Police on the Al Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount Institute and similar messianic groups which openly call for the Mosque's demolition, its replacement by 3rd Temple.  Groups r funded by Israeli gov.  Connolly mentioned Hebron, where violent settlers repeatedly attack Palestinian civilians.  No mention of death of Hadeek al-Hashlamon last month killed by army. 
In other words a complete lack of context

Needless to say, my initial complaint was rejected with a pro-forma response.  Likewise my follow-up was also rejected and I then submitted the following to the BBC’s Editorial Complaint Unit, the second rung of their torturous complaints procedure:

1st November 2015
Reference CAS-3535889-VXORCY

To ecu@bbc.co.uk

Dear ECU,

I wish to appeal against the dismissal of the complaint which I submitted to you on 20th October 2015 concerning John Humphries conversation with Kevin Connolly on the upsurge in violence in Israel.

My appeal in respect of your response is:
i.               The unnamed person who responded from Today is either hopelessly biased or is simply incapable of understanding the complaint.  S/he says:
‘Kevin was reporting on the security situation inside Israel. The attack at Beersheba bus station attack was the latest in a serious of attacks by Palestinians in Israel.’ 
This precisely sums up what my complaint is about.  What actually happened at the Beersheba bus station was not just an attack by a lone Palestinian but also the lynching of an Eritrean refugee.  KC failed to make even a cursory mention of the fact that an Eritrean refugee, guilty of nothing other than being in the despise category of refugee in Israel, (Israel doesn’t admit refugees as a matter of policy, they are called ‘infiltrators) was murdered.  Shot by a security guard and then kicked and beaten until he died.  Not one word of this lynching passed KC’s lips. 
By way of contrast the on-line version of Israel’s largest daily paper, Yediot Aharanot, on 18th October, managed to include in its report both the killing of an Israeli soldier and the murder of a refugee.  Perhaps you could explain such an omission – bias or just ignorance? 
ii.             You say that ‘We talked about the attacks and the security measures being taken to counter them by Israel security agencies.’  That is indeed the problem.  It is just a security situation, what is happening is simply a matter of individual criminality.  There is no recognition that what is happening is a reaction, on an individual level, to a harsh military occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, to say nothing of the nakedly racist treatment of Israel’s own Arab citizens.  It’s just a situation of law and order, so the BBC avoids all context.  It is a continuation of your bias against understanding.
iii.           The response to that part of my complaint relating to the suggestion that those who were killed were treated as being solely Israelis (i.e. Israeli Jews) is incomprehensible.  You simply deny what is plain and evident from the transcript.  Like Humpty Dumpty words mean what you want them to mean.
JH says:  “Yet another attack on Israelis last night” and you comment on this saying that ‘this was one of a number of similar attacks recently so I think that is fair.’   You then say that ‘The other exchange was;
JH : “The number is mounting now isn’t it Kevin. it’s about 50 now isn’t it?”
KC “we think around 50 dead over the last month or so in this sudden, sharp, uptick in violence”
You assert that ‘At no point did either John or Kevin say that it was solely Israelis dead in this period of violence.’
The reference by JH and KC was solely to Israelis and yet most of the dead were Palestinians.  So even at the most basic level it was wrong.  There was no mention of Palestinians other than as attackers.  Hence it would have been reasonable for viewers to conclude that the only people who were dead were Israeli Jews. 
Of course you could have mentioned the fact that there have been a number of attacks on Palestinians by Israeli Jews and even attacks by Jews on Jews, who were mistaken for Arabs.  These are dressed up as retaliations, for example the murder of Fadi Alloun.  For example the online news magazine +972 carries the video of his shooting plus an accompanying article. New video shows accused stabber posed nothreat when shot 
In Jerusalem there are regular attacks by Jewish mobs on individual Palestinians led by groups such as Lehava, which target Arabs in ‘Jewish’ areas.  Their favourite chant is ‘death to the Arabs’ [Mavet La’aravim]  But this phenomenon has never been reported on by the BBC.  Fadi Alloun is believed to have been targeted  by just such a group and executed by the Police who only asked questions afterwards.
There have been a number of other such shootings for example of an Arab woman in Afula bus shelter who it was later admitted had not been trying to stab anyone.  Israeli Arab Woman Shot in Bus Station Not a Terrorist, ConcludeSecurity Services   Of course since the BBC never seems to manage to report on such things they didn’t happen.  It’s a vicious circle which maintains the constant bias that you indulge in.
iv.           You said that
‘Kevin states that the most of the motives are unknown, because in the context of recent history, they are. This nature of these attacks, and the fact the attackers often die in the attacks mean they cannot be investigated, therefore the precise motivation is unknown. We think anyone listening to the piece will understand that Kevin was talking about why this form of violence is happening now. The wider causes and context of the Israel/Palestinian conflict are frequently discussed across the BBC.’
This is totally absurd.  It is as if you have compartmentalised the knife attacks and associated violence on the one hand and the Occupation on the other, ne’er the twain do they meet.  Are you really saying that it has never occurred to your correspondent in Israel, KC, that there might, just might, be a connection between the random violence of individual knife attacks and the fact of the Occupation?  Does he not consider that the daily ritual humiliations of being harassed by the security forces, stopped at check points, subject to random violence by unaccountable border police, living in an uncertain situation where land confiscation takes place all around you, where your residency rights in Jerusalem can be withdrawn at a moments notice etc. etc. might just have some connection with the violence that arose?  If KC really does not appreciate these things, perhaps you might consider transferring him to report on the Chelsea Flower Show?
v.             You talk about how ‘this subject inspires real passion on both sides’.  That is a convenient way of dismissing a complaint but my concern is not passion but accuracy or the lack of it and now dissembling by the Today team.
vi.           You also state that ‘we remain committed to impartial reporting on all controversial issues’.  RT and Al Jazeera have reported tonight on the attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese journalists by the Israeli para military Border Police.  Nothing on BBC.  No doubt if Israeli journalists were being attacked in an Arab country, it would be headline news.  Bias by omission is another facet of your coverage.  Your commitment to reporting on all controversial issues is therefore just a pious statement of intent rather than an established practice.
I also note the  signing of a letter in the Guardian last week by Danny Cohen, the Director of BBC Television.  This no doubt is another example of your commitment to impartiality.
I therefore do not find your handling to date of the complaint as satisfactory.
Yours faithfully,
Tony Greenstein
On 2nd December Fraser Steel, head of Editorial Complaints responded thus:

Dear Mr Greenstein

Today, Radio 4, 19 October 2015

I’m writing to let you know the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s investigation into your complaint about the above programme.

You expressed concern about an exchange between John Humphrys and Kevin Connolly on the deaths arising from recent violence in Israel and the West Bank:

JH: Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded ten people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It's about fifty now, isn’t it?

KC: We think about fifty dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.

I have no doubt that “about fifty” was intended to refer to the total number of deaths in the “sharp uptick of violence” which lay behind the story. However, in the context of a discussion of violence initiated by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, I think the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading.
To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint. As you know from Richard Hutt’s earlier email, however, our remit prevents us from investigating your more general concerns about the BBC’s coverage, including stories you believe the BBC ought to have reported on – or reported on differently. Decisions about what material to cover, or what aspects of a story to focus on at a particular time, fall under the legitimate exercise of editorial judgement on the part of programme-makers.

This is a provisional finding, and I’ll be happy to consider any comments you may wish to make so long as you can let me have them by 16 December. Meanwhile, I’d like to thank you for giving us the opportunity of investigating your concerns, and I hope you’ll accept my apologies, on behalf of the BBC, for the breach of editorial standards which you identified.

Yours sincerely

Fraser Steel
Head of Editorial Complaints

Although partially upholding the complaint, Fraser Steel manages to avoid the meat of the complaint.  I therefore submitted a response to these provisional findings:

Reference CAS-3535889-VX0RCY

Dear Mr Steel,

Thank you for your email of 2nd December 2015.

I am pleased to accept your decision relating to the upholding of that part of my complaint which related to the failure to mention that some 40 of the 50 people who had died recently in Israel had been Palestinians not Israeli Jews. 

I do however wish to refer back to you two sections of my complaints which you did not deal with in your letter in addition to considering the overall point I made relating to systematic and institutional bias which lies behind individual complaints such as mine. 

The first section I am referring back relates to Anna Sweeney’s previous finding that:

1.             ‘Kevin was reporting on the security situation inside Israel. The attack at Beersheba bus station attack was the latest in a serious of attacks by Palestinians in Israel.’ 
I responded that:
‘This precisely sums up what my complaint is about.  What actually happened at the Beersheba bus station was not just an attack by a lone Palestinian but also the lynching of an Eritrean refugee.  KC failed to make even a cursory mention of the fact that an Eritrean refugee, guilty of nothing other than being in the despise category of refugee in Israel, (Israel doesn’t admit refugees as a matter of policy, they are called ‘infiltrators) was murdered.  Shot by a security guard and then kicked and beaten until he died.  Not one word of this lynching passed KC’s lips.
I also pointed out that:
‘By way of contrast the on-line version of Israel’s largest daily paper, Yediot Aharanot, on 18th October, managed to include in its report both the killing of an Israeli soldier and the murder of a refugee.  Perhaps you could explain such an omission – bias or just ignorance? http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4712997,00.html
You state that:
‘our remit prevents us from investigating your more general concerns about the BBC’s coverage, including stories you believe the BBC ought to have reported on – or reported on differently. Decisions about what material to cover, or what aspects of a story to focus on at a particular time, fall under the legitimate exercise of editorial judgement on the part of programme-makers.’
As a general point this may be true, though when a persistent pattern of not reporting certain facts or always putting a particular slant and gloss on stories when they are covered, then the question arises as to whether this constitutes a breach in the BBC’s duty to maintain impartiality.  Are you saying that the question of impartiality is not part of ECU’s remit?  If so then the complaint must be escalated to the BBC Trust.
By your own admission, Kevin Connolly had reported on what had happened at Beer Sheva bus station but he had completely omitted the lynching of an Eritrean refugee who was mistaken for a Palestinian.  This took place at the same time.  I pointed out that this lynching had been widely covered in the media in Israel and I find it inconceivable that Kevin Connolly was unaware of this story.  To take one murder and fail to cover another which took place at the same time, because the second killing was that of a refugee is unforgiveable.  It displays such obvious bias that I am surprised that you fail to recognise it.  If it is not bias then it is incompetence.  I’m  not sure which is worse but it is nonetheless lamentable and I would expect you take this seriously.  You chose the material, I’m not complaining about a story that you didn’t cover but the selective and partial report which led to an unbalanced and biased report.
2.             The second section of my complaint that you failed to address was where you stated that:
‘Kevin states that the most of the motives are unknown, because in the context of recent history, they are. This nature of these attacks, and the fact the attackers often die in the attacks mean they cannot be investigated, therefore the precise motivation is unknown. We think anyone listening to the piece will understand that Kevin was talking about why this form of violence is happening now. The wider causes and context of the Israel/Palestinian conflict are frequently discussed across the BBC.’
I responded that:
‘This is totally absurd.  It is as if you have compartmentalised the knife attacks and associated violence on the one hand and the Occupation on the other, ne’er the twain do they meet.  Are you really saying that it has never occurred to your correspondent in Israel, KC, that there might, just might, be a connection between the random violence of individual knife attacks and the fact of the Occupation?  Does he not consider that the daily ritual humiliations of being harassed by the security forces, stopped at check points, subject to random violence by unaccountable border police, living in an uncertain situation where land confiscation takes place all around you, where your residency rights in Jerusalem can be withdrawn at a moments notice etc. etc. might just have some connection with the violence that arose?  If KC really does not appreciate these things, perhaps you might consider transferring him to report on the Chelsea Flower Show?’
I still find this reporting inexplicable.  Other news organisations have interviewed friends and family members of the Palestinians shot dead in order to try and gain an understanding of why they did what they did. Why is this beyond Kevin Connolly, and why does he, and the BBC, give up so easily in trying to understand Palestinians?
Al Jazeera for example did an article Portraits of Palestinian Knife Attackers http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/portraits-palestinian-knife-attackers-151106093509929.html in which family members explain it was the pressure of the occupation which led their loved ones to violence. Such interviews are basic journalism, but Connolly failure to do even a basic investigation suggests that he is almost wilfully not wanting to gain an understanding of Palestinian motivation.
This relates to the whole manner of your reporting.  You treat the whole question of Palestinian violence in the way you would report the commission of crimes in Britain.  Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is treated as normative.  It is not seen as violent in the same way as Palestinian reactions are.  It is as if the Occupation is a peaceful affair that only a few disturbed elements might object to rather than seeing the violence that erupts reflecting a wider dissatisfaction with the existing Occupation.  This leads to wholesale bias across all of your reporting.  Your inability to deal with this point isn’t simply a matter of lack of comprehension.  It suggests institutional and ingrained bias, of which this and I have no doubt many other complaints are but symptoms. 
I would therefore like you to address this aspect of my complaint too.
Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein

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