The BBC’s coverage of the US president’s visit to Israel included two items broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ on the morning of May 22nd.
The first item (from 2:05:36 here) was part of the 8 a.m. news bulletin and listeners were told that the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem is a “break with decades of US policy” while the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act was not mentioned.
Newsreader: “President Trump will arrive in Israel this morning on the second leg of his first overseas tour. He’s due to meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visit a number of holy sites. It’s unclear if Mr Trump will repeat a previous aim to break with decades of US policy and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”
Amplifying the Palestinian narrative by referring simplistically to “occupied territory” rather than informing listeners that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are all located in Area C and that the final status of that area is – according to agreements already signed between Israel and the Palestinians – to be determined in negotiations, Bowen told listeners:
Bowen: “During the US election candidate Trump expressed views that seemed to fit neatly with those of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, favouring expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied territory and a tough line towards Palestinian aspirations for independence. But in office, President Trump has been more nuanced so there’s been some nervous speculation on the Israeli right that he might demand concessions from their side. During the visit he’ll meet both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reports in the Israeli press quoting White House sources say that President Trump will ask them to undertake confidence building measures to try to improve the climate enough eventually to resume direct talks.”
The second item in the same programme (from 2:50:24 here) was introduced by presenter John Humphrys – using a highly questionable claim:
Humphrys: “Donald Trump says he can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the ultimate deal, he says, and today he goes to Israel to prove it – or not. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”
Tom Bateman’s report commences in Eilat with the space-filling and rather pointless story of a proposed visit by Trump to that town in 1989 which did not materialise. Echoing his ME editor’s previous statements, Bateman went on to tell listeners that:
“Trump’s campaign energised many on the right of Israeli politics who felt shunned – betrayed even – by President Obama. Candidate Trump could close the gap, they felt, by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by giving a green light to settlement building in the West Bank.”
Having interviewed an Israeli who ran the Trump election campaign aimed at Israeli-American voters and after visiting a church in Bethlehem and speaking with two ‘man on the street’ Palestinian interviewees, Bateman went on introduce his final contributor.
Bateman: “Majed Bamya is a Palestinian diplomat acquainted with the view from Washington. It was noticeable of course at President Trump’s press conference with President Abbas that Mr Trump never used the expression ‘two-state solution’; it was notably absent. Does that concern you?”
Majed Bamya (who, despite the claim in his Twitter handle to be ‘from Yaffa’ was actually born in the UAE) was then given an unhindered platform from which to mislead BBC Radio 4 listeners.
Bamya: “We are hoping that President Trump will be able to shape his message and his positions – including during his upcoming visit – on things as important as the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which is enshrined in international law, on the two-state solution – and the two-state solution means ’67 borders – on settlements. We believe that’s an important issue as well and we hope that his feeling of the ground will reveal to him that we are facing an occupation that is annexing land instead of withdrawing from it, which is the basis of peace.” [emphasis in bold added]
Rather than explaining to listeners that (as the BBC well knows) there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, that the two-state solution does not necessarily mean the establishment of a Palestinian state according to 1949 Armistice lines and that land is not being ‘annexed’, Bateman instead encouraged listeners to believe that it is all about “narrative”:
“Donald Trump will not only have to deal with the competing narratives in this conflict but attempt to restart talks with the two sides deeply polarised”
While narratives undoubtedly exist, so do facts. It is the BBC’s job to help it audiences distinguish between narratives and facts –as defined in its public purposes.
“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”
The failure to challenge inaccurate claims promoted as part of politically motivated messaging actively hinders that public purpose.