On February 23rd the BBC News website published a report on both its US & Canada and Middle East pages about the verdict issued by a New York court finding the Palestinian Authority and the PLO liable for a number of terror attacks which took place during the second Intifada.
That decidedly minimalist BBC report was originally headlined “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel terror fine in US”. By the time its third version was published some three hours later, the word terror had been removed from the headline and the article now appears under the title “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US“.
Remarkably, in a report about the outcome of a court case entirely about terrorism, that word does not appear at all.
“The damages are to be $655.5 million, under a special terrorism law that provides for tripling the $218.5 million awarded by the jury in Federal District Court.”
From version three onwards the words “The US Anti-Terrorism Act could yet allow for the fine to be tripled” were added to the BBC’s report but no further clarification was offered to readers unfamiliar with US legislation.
Critically, the article fails to clarify to readers what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO actually are; instead repeating the use of the ambiguous phrase “Palestinian groups” seen in the headline.
“A US court in New York has found the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority liable for attacks in Israel over 10 years ago.
Six attacks in and around Jerusalem killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more during the second Palestinian intifada between 2002 and 2004.
The jury awarded victims of the attacks more than $218m.
The Palestinian groups expressed dismay at the court’s decision and vowed they would appeal.”
Hence, the significance of the fact that the de facto Palestinian government (the PA) and the PLO (the body which is recognised as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ by over a hundred countries worldwide and the UN and which officially represents the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel) have been found liable in a court of law for terror attacks against civilians is obscured from the view of BBC audiences.
The article also uses the tactic of ‘false balance‘, presenting highly edited versions of statements made by the defendants and claims made by their representatives on an equal platform with what had at the time of writing already been accepted by the court.
“A joint statement by the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) described the charges as “baseless” and said they were disappointed by the ruling.
The victims’ families allege that internal documents show the attacks were approved by the Palestinian authorities.
“Those involved in the attacks still receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority and still get promoted in rank while in jail,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center, a lawyer who is representing the victims’ families.
But defence lawyer Mark Rochon told jurors that the PA and PLO did not have knowledge of the attacks before they took place.
And he said the organisations could not be held liable for the actions of suicide bombers and gunmen, whom he argued acted alone.”
Of course the BBC has consistently refrained from carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s past and current provision of funding to terrorists and their families past and present. Likewise, the subject of the PA’s glorification of terrorism is a no-go area for BBC journalists and BBC content typically avoids the issue of Yasser Arafat’s role in instigating and financing the second Intifada.
Had BBC audiences been accurately and impartially informed of those issues over the years, they would clearly be in a better position to understand the outcome of this court case and to place the quoted claims from the defence lawyer in their correct context. Significantly, no effort is made in this BBC report to rectify that situation.