BBC opts for equivalence in report on talks breakdown

On the afternoon of April 3rd a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israel cancels Palestinian prisoner release“. The article underwent numerous changes until the appearance of its final version, as can be viewed here. Its presentation on the Middle East page included two links to ‘related stories’: one to the BBC’s July 2013 “History of Mid-East peace talks” and another to the outdated backgrounder titled “Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem”.

The article’s outstanding feature is its transparent attempt to promote to BBC audiences the notion of equivalence in both its wording and through the images used. The two photographs below are prominently featured in the body of the report.

Pris release 3 4 pics equivalence

In the article’s text, readers are informed that:

“The previous three releases of Palestinian prisoners were deeply unpopular with the Israeli public because many of those freed had been convicted of murdering Israelis.”

Following that laconic statement, audiences are then told:

“But the Palestinians – many of whom regard the prisoners as heroes – believed the final batch of prisoners would be freed under a US deal that got the talks started last year.”

Once again – as was the case in the BBC’s previous two articles on the topic of the floundering talks – audiences are not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s stance concerning the fourth tranche of prisoner releases included the demand to free prisoners who are Israeli citizens and consequently they also remain unaware of the implications of that demand.

The article states:

“Israel has cancelled the release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners over the Palestinian leadership’s pursuit of further UN recognition.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Palestinian actions had violated the terms of the release, which was part of a US-backed peace process.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has applied to 15 UN conventions, accusing Israel of backtracking on its promises.”

Although the BBC quotes Israel’s negotiator Tzipi Livni as saying that Mahmoud Abbas’ application to join assorted UN conventions “violated the terms of the release”, no attempt is made to properly clarify to audiences that in the run-up to the talks the PA specifically committed itself to refraining from just such a move for their nine-month duration which does not expire until April 29th. Neither is it made clear to audiences that the prisoner releases were subject to progress in the talks – of which there has been little – and recent statements by Palestinian officials concerning the prisoner releases are of course excluded from view.

Later on the article states that: Pris release main

“In recent days, the US had reportedly been trying to broker a deal in which the Palestinians would agree to extend the peace talks beyond the end of April deadline in exchange for the releasing of prisoners by Israel, and the US would free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in return.”

As was the case when a similar statement was made in a previous BBC report on the issue, audiences are not informed of the full extent of that proposed deal and Israeli concessions are downplayed.

“The negotiations would continue into January 2015, during which time the Palestinians would commit themselves not to engage in diplomatic warfare against Israel by going to international organizations for recognition. […]

Israel would release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These prisoners would be picked by Israel, include many minors and women, and not include those with “blood on their hands.”

Israel would “exercise restraint” in releasing government tenders for new homes in the West Bank, meaning that it would issue no new government tenders for housing in Judea and Samaria. This policy would not include Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.

This policy would also exclude public building projects, such as roads.”

Significantly, the latest set of Palestinian demands for the continuation of negotiations –presented on April 2nd – is not mentioned at all in this BBC report.

 1. A written commitment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the borders of the Palestinian state will be along the 1967 ‘green-line’ and that its capital will be East Jerusalem.

2. The release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners, including political heavyweights Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Saadat and Fuad Shubkhi.

3. An end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade on Gaza, and the formulation of dealing allowing the flow of goods into Gaza.

4. A halt in construction in East Jerusalem.

5. The IDF will not be allowed to enter Area A – the area of the West Bank under autonomous PA control since the Oslo Accords – to conduct arrests or assassinations

6. Israel will permit the PA control over Area C – currently under Israel’s control.

7. The Palestinians known as the Church of Nativity deportees– a group of terrorist who barricaded themselves in the Church of the Nativity on April 2, 2002 and were later deported to European nations and the Gaza Strip – will be allowed to return to the West Bank.

8. The reopening of a number of Palestinian development agencies Israel shut down. 

Additionally, once again we see that in this report – as in its predecessors – the BBC neglects to explain to audiences the significance of the PA’s crucial refusal (backed by the Arab League) to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and hence bring an end to any future claims and an end to the conflict.

The entire tone of this latest report on the subject of the talks can be summed up by looking at a statement by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which appears in the body of the article and also in its side-box of ‘analysis’.

“Each side blames the other for initiating that sequence of backward steps. In theory they could be reversed and a limited agreement reached to extend talks beyond the current 29 April deadline but the prospects are not improving.”

In other words, equivalence is currently the name of the game for the BBC and the steering of audiences towards that view is achieved by selective presentation of information which includes downplaying Israeli offers of concessions and disappearing assorted Palestinian demands, as well as the continued presentation of a supposed moral equivalence between terrorist and victim. 






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