Did the BBC recycle a Gaza report from a Saudi-owned website?

On May 20th a filmed report shown on BBC World television was placed in the video section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Titled “Gaza bees seek Egyptian nectar“, the report’s synopsis informs audiences that:Bees Gaza BBC

“Beekeepers in Gaza are reporting their best harvest in more than a decade.

The combination of fighting, urban development and disease had seen honey production drop dramatically but beekeepers have changed their strategy.”

But in the filmed report itself, “urban development and disease” do not get a mention: there, the woes of the Gaza honey business are all down to one tediously predictable factor – Israel.

Presenter Alpa Patel opens:

“On this small plot of land near the Egyptian border these bee-keepers are hard at work. And they’re not the only ones. The bees have been swarming to these hives, producing more honey in Gaza than they have done in more than ten years.”

Patel then introduces some context-free “violence” into the story, failing to make any attempt to inform viewers that what she is actually talking about is the Palestinian Authority’s decision to launch the second Intifada terror war in late September 2000.

“Prior to the outbreak of violence in 2000, honey production topped around 750 tonnes per year but the unrest slashed production by more than half to around 250 tonnes and that’s because many trees and crops were damaged, which are a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees. But this year, farmers say they’ve experienced the best harvest in over a decade with 320 tonnes of honey produced so far.”

Ahead of a gratuitous mention of security-related travel restrictions, more context-free reporting ensues, with no explanation of why it would be necessary to clear vegetation from the border of a territory ruled by a terrorist organisation.

“The change in fortunes is down to a change in strategy. The bee-keepers have placed their hives near the border with Egypt, hoping the bees would seek out trees and plants there which no longer exist on Gaza’s border with Israel after being cleared by bulldozers. It seems the bees can cross borders some Gazans can’t. “

Apparently the producer of this report is counting on audiences not having heard of Egypt’s security zone along its border with the Gaza Strip or upon them working out that the same bees are quite capable of navigating security zones to the east as well as south. The report cuts to an interview with apiarist Raed Zuroub.

“The bees cross to the Egyptian side and bring the nectar because there are citrus and other farms there. The bees can travel three to four kilometers and bring back the pollen.”

Patel concludes:

“The tactic is working, reviving the honey-making industry. It’s a symbol of hope for the future for a region so often associated with conflict and hardship.”

Notably, the filmed footage in this report bears remarkable similarity to – and appears to have been taken from – one on the same topic which appeared four days earlier on Al Arabiya’s English language site, with the wording of the BBC’s item strongly resembling that of the Reuters article also appearing on that Saudi-owned site and the same interviewee appearing in all three items. At the end of the Reuters piece, however, it is noted that:Bees Gaza Al Arabiya

“Honey production has also been affected by growing urban sprawl, increasing salinity in Gaza’s ground water and cultivation of olive trees which do not produce nectar suitable for honey production, according to the Middle East news website al-Monitor.”

The article to which that paragraph refers is this one and it also notes another interesting aspect of the honey producing industry in the Gaza Strip.

“Gaza mainly depends on Israeli experience in the field of honey production and for obtaining beekeeping supplies, which are all imported from Israel, says Ghazal, the president of Gaza’s beekeeping association.

The honey-production sector encountered difficulties in the Gaza Strip under the first years of the blockade, after the apiary owners were prohibited from entering Israel to import queen bees and various supplies, a situation that has changed over the past three years.

Ghazal told Al-Monitor that during the blockade, Israel did not end the joint cooperation to combat disease among the bees, and medication continued to be sent, for fear that these diseases would be transferred to Israeli farms from the besieged Gaza Strip.

He explained that during the first years of the blockade, beekeepers in Gaza tried to import supplies from Egypt, but they were surprised by their significantly poor quality compared to those imported from Israel, which lead to significant financial losses during that period.”

Suddenly, the BBC’s whimsical tale of a Gaza honey industry bouncing back despite the big, bad Israelis is not quite as straightforward as it first seems. But perhaps that is what happens when Britain’s national broadcaster bases its content on the recycling of a report from an outlet based in a country which Freedom House described in 2013 as having a media environment “among the most repressive in the world”. 

Licence fee payers might be very interested to know whether or not there is more where that came from: is the recycling of news items from media outlets in repressive Gulf states which do not respect press freedoms a regular event at the BBC? 


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