BBC forced to admit it misled over Palestine

The grim reality endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation is apparently of little concern to BBC’s flagship radio news program.

Yotam Ronen ActiveStills

For the second time in just over six months, the BBC has been forced to admit that its flagship news and current affairs program — Today — has misled its audiences over the situation in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In a broadcast in October, veteran presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly implied in a two-way conversation that all of those killed in that month’s violence were Israeli.

In fact, at the date of broadcast, on 19 October, more than 40 of those killed were Palestinian and fewer than 10 Israeli.

Breach of BBC’s own guidelines

This week, in response to complaints from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and numerous individuals, the BBC’s editorial complaints unit ruled that the broadcast had breached the corporation’s editorial guidelines on accuracy and misled listeners.

The Today program had initially tried to defend the four-minute exchange between Humphrys and Connolly, with assistant editor at the time, George Mann, writing to complainants: “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Kevin Connolly’s discussion with John Humphrys on Monday morning. Having listened back to it, I think I have to disagree with the interpretation you have put on the exchange.”

Complainants then escalated their objections to the executive level of the BBC’s complaints system, pointing out that Humphrys and Connolly did not mention Palestinian fatalities, focusing solely on Israelis and Israeli concerns about security.

Humphrys began his discussion with Connolly by saying:

“Yet another attack on Israelis last night. This time an Arab man with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin. The number is about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Connolly responded: “We think around 50 dead over the course of the last month or so, John. This sudden sharp uptick of violence — not just that attack at the bus station in Beersheva, inside Israel itself, but also, on Saturday, a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and in Jerusalem.”

It was only with the last sentence of the conversation that Connolly made a throwaway reference to Palestinian deaths. Calling them not Palestinians, but “the attackers,” and giving no indication that they are gunned down by Israeli soldiers and, on occasion, settlers, Connolly said:

“… individuals are taking the decisions to stage these attacks for reasons we’re often left to guess at because, of course, the attackers often die in the course of the attack.”

Humphrys then ended the discussion.

Connolly used the passive verb “die” rather than saying the Palestinians are being killed, and who is killing them. He also did not mention that many of those shot dead by Israel’s occupation forces were not posing an immediate threat they were extrajudicially executed.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent also seems to be unaware of Israel’s military occupation and the choking oppression with which it rules over Palestinians, claiming he can only “guess at” the reasons Palestinians have attacked Israelis.

Other news outlets are not so shy of citing the occupation as a motivating factor for the stabbings, and some, like Al Jazeera, have interviewed the family and friends of Palestinians who have stabbed, or attempted to stab, and consequently been executed, in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of why these Palestinians did what they did.

Conversely, in his exchange with Humphrys, Connolly does give a very emotive description of the fears of Israelis.

He tells the Today presenter that the “very random and spontaneous nature of the attacks 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. Any passing car might at any moment be used as a vehicle against Israeli civilian pedestrians … [the attacks have] achieved an extraordinary change in the atmosphere of daily life here.”

Pro-Israel bias?

This tendency to convey only Israeli fears and perceptions landed Today in trouble in May.

Then, the BBC’s editorial complaints unit ruled that an interview conducted by senior Today presenter Sarah Montague with Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon exhibited pro-Israel bias.

Again, following a series of complaints from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others that Montague had remained completely silent as Yaalon told lie after lie – including the claim that Palestinians have political independence – the BBC found that the interview had breached its editorial guidelines on impartiality.

The BBC’s head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, admitted in an email to complainants that “the output fell below the BBC’s standards of impartiality.”

Today, broadcast on Radio 4 six mornings a week, reaches 7 million people in the UK weekly. James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News, describes it as “the program that sets the agenda for the nation’s news every day.”

All the more shocking, then, that the BBC’s own internal findings suggest an ingrained unwillingness at the program to challenge Israel’s spokespeople, even when they are telling blatant untruths, or to acknowledge Palestinian fatalities and their suffering under occupation.

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I hate to be pedantic, but to die is an active verb and to be killed is passive.

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Yes. When we die our body 'chooses' to shut down; when we are killed something outside of us shuts down our body.

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PS. Mark, I'm sure Amina meant to say that he'd used the 'active' verb rather than the passive!

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Of all the BBC correspondents, Kevin Connolly is the most blinkered. I have complained several times, without getting anywhere. He really should be redeployed to somewhere where his biases and preconceptions do not affect the content of his reporting. The BBC does have some good correspondents who sometimes report from Israel-Palestine in a reasonable, objective and balanced way. Jeremy Bowen files excellent reports; Lyse Doucet and Orla Guerin strike me as trying to do an honest job. But it seems to me that these correspondents are getting less and less exposure on Israel/Palestine and the ones, like KC and Hugh Sykes, who basically regurgitate the Israeli mainstream or government view are being given most of the airtime. Based on my listening to Radio 4.

I made a complaint about a report by Hughy Sykes which was a gushing view of how Kibbutzim are adapting to modern society without mentioning their racially exclusive population. It's like praising South African wine and food in 1980 without mentioning the apartheid system. The reply ignored my complaint and talked about the occupation, which was irrelevant. I escalated, and got the same reply. I have now referred it to the BBC Trust on the main ground that I expect a response which acknowledges the point I was complaining about, not addresses some other point, as well as reiterating my original complaint about the broadcast. It's astonishingly hard work to get to that stage and I can't say that I'm optimistic. More people need to get stuck in.

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You're right Paul; hard work indeed! Well done for bothering! I think that's why they make it so tedious, in the hope that we'll give up.

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easy mistake to leave a shade of alternate meaning in a hurried conversation - Humphrys is certainly not a active pro-Israel supporter and is punctilious when it comes to deliberate bias. It's just a unfortunate nuance that escaped him. The BBC as an institution of the British State of course is bound by its national laws and overarching spirit as a nation - that really can't escape being biased against the Palestinians ; it's the nature of organisations based with thin State machinery to serve their long term "health" by following State policy. The British State is fundamentally pro-Israel because its own national interests cannot be undermined by proxy through "illegal" actions. Watching the BBC in action is like stepping into one of those Japanese survival games you have to be informed, motivated and concerned with every word they broadcast to understand their pusillanimous approach to the Palestinian question.

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The BBC show bias time after time on their reporting of the situation and never give true figures of Palestinian deaths and injuries, or Israeli come to that, usually inflating the Israeli deaths and injuries. They obviously for years have had a hidden agenda to make Israel seem as if they are the victims when in fact Palestinians who have no army, navy or air force are being constantly harassed, murdered and oppressed by the Israeli regime.
The tide of sympathy is in Palestinian favour and we are not having that represented by the BBC, this is obvious bias towards an Occupying Force that is committing Genocide on the Palestinian people.
The BBC in fact shows more of a single killing elsewhere in the world than it does of the massacres occurring in Occupied territories and Gaza. What is the reason for this as we want to see what is going on?

Licence fee payers should not have to pay to be misinformed and lied to when we complain of bias or even worse lies.
I had cause on one occasion to challenge the BBC on a photo of soldiers pointing guns from a Military outpost in Golan Heights which they captioned as a tourist spot. I researched and found that this was in fact a Military outpost, not a tourist spot at all so they renamed the picture only after a lot of argument.
This is typical of the BBC trying to display Israel in a better light than they deserve and the Palestinians in a bad one, which they surely do not deserve.
The BBC could show some of the many clips of Israeli soldiers abusing children, shooting children who are unarmed also adults, throwing knives at the feet of terrified children etc and then shooting them, settlers killing Palestinians and abusing them. None of this we see, only the odd clip which shows Palestinians in a bad light, this is blatant bias and I object very strongly to this.
They should now waive the licence fee and seek funding from their sponsors, Israel!

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The BBC loyally promotes the Israeli state's narrative, no matter how meretricious and deceitful the claims. And "Today" leads the pack. So notorious has the corporation become that Britons routinely discount the Beeb's Middle East coverage. BBC attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have become an hourly feature of the broadcast day, while Conservative government policies are given emollient treatment and extensive airtime. The whole operation has become a rancid right wing relay station, and that's without even factoring in the dozens of cases of high-level rape and sexual abuse which reflect a long-standing culture of impunity. Billions in forced tribute are extracted from an increasingly unwilling public, to finance cooking contests, auto shows, dance competitions, and an unending stream of war-mongering propaganda. Time to call time on the racket. This is one state asset which deserves a sell-off.

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That is why I stopped watching BBC news in America. I no longer want some body to tell me what they want me to know rather than what I want to know. EI, keep up the good work.

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From early years I believed that BBC was the most honest news media in the world. However, with advent of the internet revolution I compulsorily daily read other than BBC, NYT, Reuters and AP also Dawn(Pakistan), Al-Jazeera and RT to get a balanced opinion from which in my opinion is a well informed true picture of the situation.
The BBC reporting I have found widely lacking neutrality in coverage of the Palestinian's and Kashmirs' daily struggle to get their UN recognized rights which are being trampled and also being brushed under the carpet by the world opinion makers.
It is a moral obligation of human beings to raise voices for human rights and equality and for true awareness of facts. Awareness will in-turn change the world opinion as in general very vast majority of humans are good at heart.

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Thank you for this article. The job as always is to counteract the BBC and the general world media, and their refusal to say it as it is. Palestine is under occupation, is a state of apartheid and her citizens continually under the threat of incarceration and it death. The world media should do its job and be impartial in its journalism, and stop namby pandering to the USA , British and French backed Zionist Israel. We are all Palestinians. Mandela knew that while Palestine was not free, then none of us are free. Free Palestine, now! Peace to us all. Janet Allen Wexford Ireland.

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You would think the BBC would be keep to keep their last little bit of credibility after breeding JIMMY SAVILLE and maybe stop covering things up and hiding the truth... BBC is worse than tabloid trash... in future I'll get my news for the national inquirer as it's more honest the the BBC. #boycottBBC!

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Take a look at the Press guy that reportedly stabbed the IDF soldier.
Google "Palestinian Press stabbing images"
Look at the images where the "shot dead" Palestinian has his arm 45 degrees to the horizon.
Look at where his suntan ends and the ring of white flesh is.
Do Palestinians have white flesh?

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"Do Palestinians have white flesh?" Well, yes, Palestinians come in all shades, just like Brits and Americans. Years ago an Asian South African friend of mine showed me her suntan line. Seriously, I've met several 'white' Palestinians: it depends on how much sun some people get; others are naturally brown and black too!

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I have stopped listening to BBC news generally , including the Today program and the 6pm and 10pm national news. I now listen to either channel 4 or ITV for a much better and fairer presented news. This is not only about news of Palestine but the continual alarmist stocking fillers on health and diet that get shoved in our ears almost every day.

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The Palestinians are the people of Palestine the land that is illegally occupied by a foreign Army, they have been oppressed and victims of genocide - to make it clear genocide is the deliberate killing and ethnic clearing of a large group of people especially those of a nation or ethnic group!the news of this genocide has been unreported or bias towards the occupying army simply because of the power Israel wields in the West. It is a typical David and Goliath situation guns against sling shots - so sickening and a manifestation of the worlds present difficulties caused by the West!

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Is is just me or has anyone else noticed that the BBC News has become a 24/7 Islamophobia channel. Every news item begins with and ends with muslims. It's almost as if the BBC fears that there may be a moment when the public aren't dwelling on a crime committed by a muslim.

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What actions are the BBC Taking to prevent this happening again?
The presenters should be at least be given a final warning as this is not the first time that this has happened and Kevin Connolly moved.
John Humphrys is in any case far too confrontational and should retire and one has to question Sarah Montague's impartiality on this subject
The Today Programme should make a statement and an aplology at prime time.

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Mislead? Why not just say it...THE BBC LIED! They can NOT be trusted...just like the rest of the main stream "media". Lies, nothing but lies and fearporn.

Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist, working with Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza with PSC. More information on PSC’s solidarity work is available at www.palestinecampaign.org