BBC News distorts language and mistranslates in report on Palestinian prisoner

On February 26th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Palestinian Mohammed al-Qiq ending marathon hunger strike“. The report provides some interesting examples of the way in which information provided to audiences is filtered by means of the distortion of language and inaccurate translation.Al Qiq art  

Readers are told that:

“A Palestinian on hunger strike for more than three months in protest at his detention without charge by Israel has agreed to end his fast.

Mohammed al-Qiq will be freed in a deal which will see him released on 21 May, Palestinian officials said.

Israel said he would stay in custody until then, when it would review the case and possibly extend his detention.

It says Mr al-Qiq, 33, is involved in militancy linked to the Islamist group, Hamas. He denies the allegation.” [emphasis added]

Obviously official Israeli sources would not have not used the words “involved in militancy” but rather (in contrast with the BBC’s standard use of that euphemistic terminology) would have employed the accurate term terrorism. 

Indeed, on February 5th AFP reported that: “Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic security service, says Qiq was arrested for “terror activity”…” and other media organisations, including Hebrew language reportsused the same term.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines concerning “Language when reporting terrorism” state:

“…we should not change the word “terrorist” when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves.”

Clearly the representation of what ‘Israel says’ in this report has been distorted and does not meet the requirements in those guidelines.

Whilst telling readers that al Qiq “denies the allegation”, the report does not inform them that he has twice in the past (2004 and 2008) been convicted of being a member of Hamas. Readers of this report are therefore left to guess whether or not al Qiq was involved in terror activity – and not least because nowhere are they informed that Hamas is a terror organisation.

Later on readers are told that:

“Earlier this month, Israel’s Supreme Court said Mr al-Qiq was “clearly a Hamas activist involved in militant terrorism” but suspended his detention order.”

That translated quotation is inaccurate. In fact, the word “militant” does not appear in the court decision: the relevant passage describes al Qiq as being engaged in military terrorism.

“.בתמצית, המדובר איפוא בפעיל חמאס מובהק העוסק בטרור צבאי”

The same court decision also justified al Qiq’s arrest on the grounds of suspicion of his being involved in military activity, suspicion of activity with Kutla Islamiya (a Hamas group operating in educational institutions) in Birzeit University and contact with operatives in the Gaza strip.

Towards the end of the report readers are told that:

“Administrative detention allows suspects to be held without charge for six-month intervals and can be renewed by a judge indefinitely.

Israel says the measure is necessary for security, but civil liberty groups say the practice is a violation of human rights.”

Clearly readers of this report have not been provided with the full range of available information concerning the reasons for al Qiq’s detention. The distortion of language and inaccurate translation in parts of the report which do supposedly inform them of the background to the case further exacerbate the problem. That obviously influences the ability of audiences to put the conflicting statements concerning administrative detention into their appropriate context and thus properly understand this story. 

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