Reviewing BBC News coverage of internal Palestinian affairs

In July 2014 the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy told audiences that:

“…the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story.” 

The BBC’s interpretation of what “the story” is about is of course very limited and its coverage focuses overwhelmingly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the conflict is clearly just one story among many in the region, only very occasionally do audiences see stand-alone reports about Palestinian affairs which are not framed within that context and do not have an Israel-related component.

Insight into internal Palestinian politics which would enhance audiences’ comprehension of Palestinian society (as well as the conflict) is relatively rare in BBC coverage. Reporting on social and human rights issues within Palestinian society is even more scarce and thus BBC audiences see a blinkered and largely one-dimensional view of Palestinian life.

For example, news of a legislator threatened with arrest holed up in a parliament building would surely have made BBC headlines were the story in any other location.

“Palestinian Authority policemen tried on Thursday to arrest a female legislator who had accused a cabinet minister of financial corruption.

Eyewitnesses said the police officers were waiting for Najat Abu Baker, an elected Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, to step outside the parliament building in Ramallah. […]

The PA prosecutor-general summoned Abu Baker for interrogation a few days ago following charges she made against Minister for Local Government Hussein al-A’raj, who is closely associated with President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abu Baker claimed that A’raj had illegally received a sum of NIS 800,000 from the public budget to invest in private water wells. She also claimed that the minister was selling water to residents together with other government officials.”

Despite having an office in Ramallah, the BBC has elected not to cover that story – and many others – to date.

A review of BBC News website coverage of Palestinian stories not directly relating to the conflict during 2015 shows that throughout the entire year, two attempts were made to provide audiences with a view of domestic Palestinian politics.Knell Democracy Day art

On January 20th Yolande Knell produced an article with the promising title “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” and sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”. However, the report failed to discuss the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control and instead herded readers towards the view that all ills in Palestinian society are attributable to Israel.

On May 14th Yolande Knell produced an article titled “Palestinian democracy in doldrums after years under Mahmoud Abbas“.

Seven additional news reports relating to five internal Palestinian political stories appeared throughout the year.

On January 18th the BBC News website published written and filmed reports about an incident in Ramallah – “Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird” and “Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters” – but managed to turn the story into one about Israel by showcasing the defamatory ‘apartheid’ trope.

On June 10th Yolande Knell produced a filmed report titled “Could Islamic State’s influence shatter Gaza ceasefire?” (discussed here) and two days later a written article on the same topic appeared under the headline “Can Hamas hold back Islamic State in Gaza?“.

June 17th saw the publication of a report titled “Palestinian unity government ‘to resign over Gaza row’“.

On July 3rd an article headlined “Palestinian forces arrest dozens of Hamas members in West Bank” (discussed here) was published.

July 19th saw the appearance of a news report titled “Gaza explosions target officials’ cars“.

Reports ostensibly about sport drifted into political territory: on January 12th an article about Palestinian football by BBC Sport which also appeared on the Middle East page was turned into a story about ‘the conflict’. On May 20th an article by BBC Sport amplified a Palestinian delegitimisation campaign and the same topic was the subject of another report just over a week later from Kevin Connolly (discussed here).

The same was true of reports about a Palestinian construction project: on February 7th the Middle East page featured written and filmed reports (discussed here) about the newly built Palestinian city of Rawabi. Both those reports are still available online but neither has since been updated to clarify that the water supply issues blamed on Israel which featured so prominently in Lyse Doucet’s various reports were resolved not long afterwards.

Reporting on social issues was confined to three articles. On February 3rd an article appeared under the headline “Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon’“.

On March 2nd Rushdi Abualouf produced an article titled “Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?” which, whilst raising the issue of social stigma, focused on ‘the conflict’ as the cause of disabilities and ignored the no less relevant subject of congenital conditions.

On March 26th a report by Tim Whewell titled “Saving Gaza’s only grand piano” appeared in the magazine and Middle East sections of the website. A brief reference was made to the issue of attitudes towards music:

“but with […] a steady growth of conservatism in local society, such performances became a thing of the past. After the Islamist militant movement, Hamas, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, live music events became even rarer.”

Reports portraying the daily life of Palestinians were often politicized:

June 21st: “The ice-cream maker of Gaza” discussed here.

November 20th: “Life as a cancer nurse in Gaza’s main hospital” – discussed here.  

November 24th:  Lyse Doucet “The Palestinian runners pounding the pavements” – discussed here

December 24th: Yolande Knell “Christmas in Bethlehem: Hopes and fears for the future” – discussed here

One report on human rights issues appeared during 2015: on May 27th Kevin Connolly covered the topic of an Amnesty International report concerning  Hamas human rights abuses in an article titled “Gaza: Hamas killed and tortured, says Amnesty” (discussed here). 

Clearly BBC audiences are receiving very little information indeed about topics such as the rights of women, gays and minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly or the internal politics – and power struggles – in PA and Hamas controlled areas. 

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