A report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 1st includes several remarkable features.
Firstly, we have the slapdash ‘last-first’ headline “Israelis shoot dead ‘mentally ill’ woman near Gaza barrier“. “Israelis”? Any old Israelis who just happened to be passing by and shot an allegedly disabled woman? Although that was presumably not the misleading impression this headline intended to create, its careless wording nevertheless does just that.
However, that sloppy use of language takes on a somewhat less bumbling light when one notes that it ties in with one of the “Related Stories” promoted as a link under the heading “Amnesty: Israel using reckless force” both at the side and the bottom of the report. The link leads to an article which appeared on the same webpage on February 27th under the title “Israeli troops ‘using excessive force’ in West Bank”. In addition, the same link was also promoted underneath the link to the report on the Middle East homepage.
The BBC’s signposting here is amply evident: audiences are being herded towards the formation of a specific opinion regarding security incidents and according to that narrative – as promoted in Amnesty International’s politically motivated report and generously amplified by the BBC – Israeli security forces are “reckless” and use “excessive force”.
The caption to the photograph illustrating this article states:
“The fence, shown in the distance, separates Gaza from Israel and is declared a no-go zone for Palestinians”.
The report itself states:
“The Israeli military have shot dead a Palestinian woman who locals say was mentally ill, near the Gaza-Israel security barrier.
The area near the border is declared a no-go zone by Israel. […]
Israel says it maintains the buffer zone to prevent attacks by militants. There have been numerous shootings of Palestinians who breach the area in spite of warnings.”
Readers are not informed of the very relevant context that the Gaza Strip is ruled by a terrorist organization which also permits several additional ones to operate from the territory it controls and of course the BBC habitually neglects to report on many of the incidents which take place upon the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip – for example the placement of IEDs on January 21st and 27th 2013 – which means that audiences are ill-equipped to form their own opinions regarding the necessity of the buffer zone and Israeli responses to the frequent attempts to sabotage the border fence.
The report closes with more lax wording:
“On Friday the Israeli military said one of its aircraft had struck a site in Gaza used to launch rockets into Israel. No casualties were reported.”
In fact the strike targeted an “imminent threat“: in other words, not just “a site in Gaza used to launch rockets into Israel”, but one which was at the time about to be employed for that purpose – a vital point which is not clear in the least from the BBC’s slapdash wording.
The combination of serial under-reporting of security incidents on the one hand and the vigorous promotion of Amnesty International’s politically motivated report on the other would be remarkable enough coming from any media organization. It is, however, particularly pernicious when such editorial policy is adopted by the corporation trusted by its funding public to bring them impartial and accurate information and analysis which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues“.