BBC News compromises impartiality with link to website of political NGO

On April 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian killed during funeral clash in West Bank” which is notable on two counts relating to context and impartiality. Readers are told that:Beit Ummar incident

“A Palestinian man has been shot dead in clashes with Israeli troops at the funeral of a militant in the southern West Bank, hospital officials say. […]

An Israeli military spokesperson said soldiers had opened fire after funeral-goers threw rocks and petrol bombs.

The clashes took place in the town of Beit Ummar, near Hebron.”

That information is broadly consistent with reports appearing in other media outlets, but some important items of context are omitted.

Beit Ummar is located along Highway 60 – the region’s major roadway – in Area B (where responsibility for security lies with Israel according to the Oslo Accords) and, as reported by Ynet:

“…during the funeral, in which some 700 Palestinians took part, violent riots developed at several locations during which rioters threw rocks and petrol bombs and rolled burning tires at soldiers stationed between the village and route 60.” [emphasis added]

AP adds:

“After the funeral, Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers manning a watchtower on a road near the town, according to witnesses.

Israel’s military said Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs, and rolled burning tires toward soldiers. It said troops used tear gas at first, but fired low-caliber bullets at the legs of four men after the soldiers felt their lives were in danger.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the incident during which the man was shot did not take place at the funeral itself, but as a result of violence initiated by Palestinian rioters after the funeral which was directed at soldiers deployed to ensure safe passage for motorists on a major highway. Those points are not made clear in the BBC’s report.

Neither is any attempt made to clarify the background to the rioting following the funeral of a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad apparently suffering from a terminal illness who had died earlier that morning in a Palestinian hospital in Hebron. The BBC’s article states:

“The funeral was for a Palestinian militant who had been recently imprisoned by Israel. He was reportedly released early because of ill health.”

Indeed, as reported by Channel 2, the Israeli Prison Service confirmed that Jaafar Awad had been released from prison three months ago because of his illness. However, the BBC refrained from reporting that various Palestinian sources had made unproven and inflammatory public statements concerning his death. Channel 2 notes that:

“According to claims from official Palestinian sources, the [PIJ] activist died of health problems which were caused whilst he was in an Israeli prison.”

Channel 10 reports:

“In the morning hours Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad published announcements blaming Israel for the responsibility for Awad’s death. Hamas spokesman Husam Bardan [located in Qatar – Ed.] blamed Israel and claimed that it intentionally neglects the health of Palestinian prisoners. He described that as “slow killing policy” and called for international bodies to deal with the issue.”

The Times of Israel reports:

“The head of a Palestinian Authority body in charge of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, issued a statement alleging Jaafar Awad had died of “medical negligence” at the hands of Israeli prison authorities.

“Israel alone is responsible for his death,” Qaraqe said in the statement, and called for an international probe.

Jaafar’s father, Ibrahim Awad, told AFP before his son’s death that Israeli prison authorities had given the 23-year-old man “an injection that made him ill and totally weakened him.””

The BBC, however, elected to refrain from informing its audience about the incitement which preceded the violent rioting which took place following Awad’s funeral.

As regular visitors to the BBC News website will be aware, links to non-BBC sites are usually accompanied by a disclaimer noting that “the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites”. In this report a link was provided to the B’Tselem website.

“According to an Israeli military spokesperson, soldiers had feared for their lives as protesters at the funeral threw rocks and petrol bombs and rolled burning car tyres at them.

The spokesperson said the soldiers responded with non-lethal “riot dispersal means” and then with 0.22-calibre “Ruger” bullets.”

The BBC states that its reasons for linking to external websites are as follows:

BBC linking external websites

The subsection titled “Online links to third party websites” in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on “Editorial Integrity & Independence” states:

“Part of the BBC’s role is to act as a trusted guide on the web. When we create content on a BBC site we should consider which external websites it may be editorially justifiable to link to. We offer external links from the BBC public service site and from the editorial pages of the commercial site, for example, to provide additional information, source material or informed comment. We should be seen to be impartial. BBC websites which cover controversial subjects or public policy matters should normally offer links to external sites which represent a reasonable range of views about the subject. […]

We may link to external sites which give particular views of a person or organisation significant to a current news story and in such cases we may not be able to guarantee their factual accuracy. But we should not support the message, information or promotions on third party sites.” [emphasis added]

B’Tselem is a foreign-funded political NGO which is frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC without adequate information being provided to audiences on the topic of its particular agenda. Despite the provision of a link to the B’Tselem website in this article, no attempt is made to ensure that audiences are aware of the context of the political motivations of the organization behind the information promoted by the BBC and no additional “range of views” is offered.

Whilst it is obvious that the BBC “is not responsible for the content of external websites”, it clearly is responsible for the implied endorsement of information appearing on websites to which it chooses to link and the subsequent compromise of its own impartiality when that information is provided by an organization with a political agenda known to – but not disclosed by – the BBC. 

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