Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 1

An article published on the BBC News website’s ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on the evening of November 13th ran under the headline “Quieten calls to prayer in Israel – Netanyahu“.yogev-bill-art

Given that headline – together with the fact that the report fails to inform BBC audiences that this latest version of a draft bill to limit the use of outdoor public address systems by religious establishments was actually submitted by other members of the Knesset – readers may well have received the inaccurate impression that it was put forward by the Israeli prime minister, who is the only person named in the report.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing a proposal to quieten calls to prayer, saying he has received complaints from all quarters about “noise and suffering”. […]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting: “I cannot count the times – they are simply too numerous – that citizens have turned to me from all parts of Israeli society, from all religions, with complaints about the noise and suffering caused them by the excessive noise coming to them from the public address systems of houses of prayer.

“Israel is committed to protect anyone who suffers from the excessively loud calls.””

In 2005 the BBC reported a similar statement:

”There are loudspeakers that shake the world,” the minister protested.

”Everyone hears them. Every day I receive bitter complaints from people from all walks of life about the loudspeakers. “

The minister quoted in that report, however, came from Egypt and obviously Israel is far from the only country in which the use of loudspeakers by mosques raises objections from the public and prompts debate. Nevertheless – and with the fact that legislation aimed at solving the same problem exists in other countries left unmentioned – readers of this BBC report are told that:

“Critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive. […]

Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya from the Israel Democracy Institute, a thinktank, wrote in a local newspaper that “the real aim is not to prevent noise but rather to create noise that will hurt all of society and the efforts to establish a sane reality between Jews and Arabs”.”

One of the MKs who tabled the bill, Motti Yogev, was quoted as follows:

“According to Yogev, his office, as well as the ministries of public security and environment, have received dozens of complaints which emphasize that they have no problem with daytime calls to prayer object to the disruptive early broadcasts.

“We are not opposed to religious observance, and certainly not to the call of the muezzin that ‘God is great’,” said Yogev. “(Religious Jews have been) reciting a similar phrase for thousands of years, long before the emergence of Islam.

“But with all the technological advances of today, there is no justification for waking people up at 4 o’clock in the morning who don’t want (to attend prayer services). There are cell phone applications, alarm clocks, and other technologies to use. There is no need to wake up the whole neighborhood,” Yogev told the Hebrew-language Channel 1’s education program.”

The BBC’s article fails to inform audiences that since 2011 similar draft bills on the same topic have been presented on a number of occasions by MKs and none of them have been passed during those five years. In 2011 the Knesset commissioned related research which includes information concerning the ways in which noise pollution from mosque loudspeakers is tackled in some Arab and Western countries. That report points out that in several European states (including the UK) the call to prayer through PA systems is either banned altogether or subject to limitations on days of the week, hours and level of decibels.

The BBC’s article also fails to inform readers that following the bill’s approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on November 13th it must pass three readings in the Knesset before being accepted.

Readers are denied insight into the reactions of some Arab-Israeli MKs:

“…Hanin Zoabi suggested that those who are bothered by the calls to prayer should find somewhere else to live.

“Those who suffer from the sounds of the muezzins are specifically those who chose to settle near the mosques, and… they are invited to leave if they are suffering so much,” she said. “This isn’t Europe here. Anyone who feels like he is in Europe, and thinks this is Europe, should consider going there.””

The BBC’s coverage of domestic Israeli affairs does not as a rule include every private members’ bill laid before the Knesset and therefore the fact that this particular one did receive coverage is noteworthy – especially as the article fails to provide audiences with a comprehensive view of the topic.  

Less than 24 hours after its publication, this report was replaced by an additional article which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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