BBC’s blinkering one-liners appear in report on Cameron trip to Israel

The recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled territories by the UK prime minister was the subject of two BBC reports, both of which appeared on the BBC News website’s UK politics page and on its Middle East page. Cameron visit art 1

Day one of the trip was covered in an article originally titled “David Cameron to back peace talks in first Israel visit” which underwent considerable changes until its final version appeared under the headline “Prime minister’s belief in Israel ‘unbreakable’“.

The first three versions of the report included the following statement:

“Mr Cameron is expected to stick to Britain’s usual lines – acknowledging Israel’s security concerns but criticizing settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered to be illegal under international law but Israel disputes this.”

That last sentence is of course a standard BBC insertion to any article in which the term ‘settlements’ is used, even if it is to describe neighbourhoods of Israel’s capital city.

Nevertheless, that statement breaches BBC editorial guidelines by failing to provide a source for the “international law” it cites, by herding audiences into misleadingly believing that Israel is alone in disputing that interpretation of international law when in fact there are many additional contradictory opinions, by failing even to inform BBC audiences that those dissenting opinions exist and by neglecting to explain to BBC audiences the basis for Israel’s (and others’) disagreement with that particular interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

In other words, any information which might help BBC audiences to further explore and question the one-liner narrative promoted by the BBC is censored from view. Some of course might say that it is high time that the BBC began to respect its audiences’ intelligence and right to form their own opinions enough to tell them the whole story.

Another now standard BBC insertion which appeared in all eight versions of this article is this one:

“The Palestinians suspended the last round of talks in 2010 after a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction expired.”

As usual when it employs this insert, the BBC fails to tell a very important part of the story. It neglects to inform readers that the Palestinians refused to engage in negotiations throughout 90% of the ten-month long ‘goodwill gesture’ construction freeze declared at the end of November 2009 and that during that time they also (unsuccessfully) lobbied the OECD not to accept Israel as a member. Only at the beginning of September 2010 did the Palestinians agree to commence direct negotiations and as the construction freeze’s pre-designated time frame drew to a close on September 26th, Abbas demanded its extension and threatened to end the talks if he did not get his way, with the result that on October 2nd 2010 the negotiations ended.  

It also fails to inform BBC audiences where the idea of a building freeze originated and that for years the Palestinians managed to negotiate very well without any freeze being in place, including during the premiership of Labour’s Ehud Barak when construction starts were at a high. The net result of the BBC’s repeated promotion of this trite half-told story is to herd audiences into mistakenly believing that the success of peace negotiations depends entirely upon whether or not Israelis build new houses.   

These two blatantly political one-liners are inserted into so many BBC reports that their accuracy and impartiality is of considerable importance. It is high time for the BBC to begin to adhere to its public purposes remit by coming up with some alternative terminology which adheres to BBC editorial guidelines and fully informs audiences about the topics concerned, instead of deliberately blinkering their understanding and knowledge and preventing them from seeing anything beyond the BBC’s chosen narrative. 

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