BBC coverage of UK government’s action against BDS fails to fully inform

As regular readers will be aware, a permanent feature in BBC coverage of any story relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is the avoidance of the issue of that campaign’s end-game agenda.

Last month, for example, BBC audiences were told that:

“Advocates of a boycott claim it exerts pressure on the Israeli government, particularly over the building of settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, which has been condemned by the United Nations.”

Almost identical messaging was previously found in an article from November 2015 and last July the BBC ran filmed, audio and written reports (see related articles below) all of which gave a platform to promotion of the BDS campaign but none of which included objective examination by the BBC of that political campaign’s real goals.  

Moreover, in response to complaints from the public about its inadequate portrayal of the BDS movement the BBC has stated that “It is not our role to seek out any “true agenda”” and hence a reasonable conclusion appears to be that the corporation is quite happy to continue portraying the political campaign to delegitimize Israel in the sanitised words of its supporters.

All that means that when the BBC produced two items concerning the same BDS-linked story this week, audiences were already at a disadvantage because they have never been told by the corporation what the BDS campaign is really about. So did these two radio reports make any attempt to balance that chronic and crucial deficit in knowledge?

On February 15th BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ asked “[s]hould local councils be able to boycott foreign goods or services?”.The World Tonight

The item (available here) was introduced by presenter Shaun Ley as follows:

“The government has announced new rules to prevent local councils organizing boycotts of goods or services from other countries. Matthew Hancock – the minister responsible – made the announcement in Israel, which groups here are lobbying local councils not to invest in or trade with.”

In fact, the plan was first announced last October and it also relates to other publicly funded bodies besides local councils.

After a recording of Mr Hancock explaining the issue, listeners heard some clear signposting from Ley.

“Well, back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher tried something similar to prevent a campaign by councils to boycott South Africa over apartheid.”

Interestingly, that same spurious linkage was made in a statement put out by the BDS campaign’s Rafeef Ziadah (also an employee of ‘War on Want’) several hours before this programme went on air.

Later on listeners heard the following description of the BDS campaign during the conversation between Ley and one of his two interviewees, Douglas Murray.

DM: “…the nature of the BDS campaign….”

SL: “This is the campaign for disinvestment in Israel because of….”

DM: “Boycott, divestment, sanctions.”

SL: “And that is about the argument about the status of the occupied territories and whether goods there should be sold and traded internationally.”

DM: “It tends not to be limited to the occupied territories but the BDS movement is a movement that singles out the sole Jewish state in the world for reprehensible smear and maltreatment and it’s clearly a racist movement because, among other things, it never does this with any other state.”

Despite Douglas Murray’s efforts, listeners to this item still went away without any knowledge of the BDS campaign’s rejection of the two-state solution and its goal of dismantling the one and only Jewish state.

The same topic was the subject of an item in the February 15th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 47:30 here).

Presenter Rebecca Kesby framed the story as being about an ‘ethical’ issue in her introduction and also failed to clarify that the proposal was first publicised last year.

“The British government has plans to ban local councils and publicly funded bodies from independently disinvesting or boycotting companies they consider unethical. Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock is expected to make the announcement this week while on a trade mission to Israel. It’s being seen as significant because a number of local councils in the UK have specifically pursued boycotts against Israeli companies – they say on ethical grounds.”

Kesby’s guest contributors are the exact same two people who appeared in the Radio 4 item and the differences in their presentation to listeners are interesting. Whilst Shaun Ley described Richard Kemp as “a Liberal Democrat and former leader of Liverpool council”, Kesby made no reference to his political affiliations, introducing him as “a local councilor in the city of Liverpool”. Shaun Ley’s introduction of Douglas Murray described him as “associate director of the think tank the Henry Jackson Society which argues for an open and engaged foreign policy and is in favour of the market economy”. Rebecca Kesby, on the other hand, did find it necessary to introduce a political dimension to her presentation of Douglas Murray, describing him as “associate director of the Right-wing think tank the Henry Jackson Society”.

With regard to the issue of portrayal of the BDS campaign, World Service listeners heard the following:

Murray: “…the BDS movement is a racist movement of people who are singling out an individual state worldwide for…”

Kesby: [interrupts] “Racist? What…”

Murray: “Well, for the following reason which is of all the states in the world, the one state that is…that there is a push shall we say – a very ideological push – to isolate, to smear, to denigrate, happens to be the one state in the world that’s also the one Jewish state in the world…”

Kesby: [interrupts] “Alright. So you’re being unfair, Richard – that’s the argument this end.”

Once again listeners heard nothing of the agenda which BDS campaign’s tactics of delegitimisation aim to bring about.

Obviously this issue will be the topic of debate in the UK in the near future but unfortunately for members of the British public who get their news from the BBC, their ability to discuss this UK government proposal in an informed manner will be severely hampered by the fact that their national broadcaster has to date refrained from telling them the whole story about the BDS campaign – and apparently has no intention of doing so.

Related Articles:

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part one

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part two

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part three

The Government is banning discriminatory boycotts against Israel because it’s on the side of the victims  (Adam Levick) 



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