Since 2013 (see ‘related articles’ below) we have documented contributions and/or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appearing in the BBC’s Israel related content.
Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’, those inherently agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are obviously not obligated to the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not adequately clarified.
For example a report by Orla Guerin aired on BBC One in January included a contribution from a person described as a “community organiser” who actually works as campaigns director for the political NGO Avaaz. In the same report Guerin promoted a quote from an unidentified “analyst” who holds a senior position at the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG):
In March a BBC travel show featured an interviewee described as “a travel writer and guide” who is associated with the Parents Circle Families Forum:
One version of “an investigation by BBC News Arabic” aired in September featured the public activity coordinator of the NGO Ir Amim without any identification:
Another employee of Ir Amim, described only as an “Israeli activist”, appeared in a BBC-commissioned audio documentary aired in October which – unknown to audiences – was produced by a team including members of the political NGO If Not Now:
Similarly, the connection of the producer of a BBC Radio 4 documentary aired in November to the UK branch of the New Israel Fund was not disclosed to listeners:
Also in November, BBC World Service radio interviewed a person described as a “young Palestinian woman” without disclosing that she was the featured face in a video related to the item’s subject matter made by an organisation called ‘The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy’:
More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or campaign material produced by NGOs – sometimes including links to their websites.
When the political agendas of campaigning groups and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. One of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’ in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which, since their overhaul in July 2019, states:
“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]
However, throughout 2020 we once again documented numerous examples of that instruction not having been upheld in Middle East related content sourced in one way or another from political NGOs and their representatives.
In February the BBC News website twice quoted (and linked to) the political NGO B’tselem which it described only as a “human rights group”. The political NGO ‘Peace Now’ was also quoted in one of the reports:
February also saw the publication of a report promoting a quote from Human Rights Watch:
In the same month BBC Radio 4 aired an interview with the author of a book inspired by “two bereaved fathers [who] came together through an organisation called Combatants for Peace”. Listeners were however told nothing about the agenda of that political NGO or the organisation with which the two men are currently associated.
In March the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ interviewed the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme without providing any information concerning its “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints”.
A BBC News website report from the same month quoted the NGO ACRI:
In April BBC World Service radio listeners heard from a Gaza Strip based employee of Oxfam:
Later in the month the BBC quoted a statement from Physicians for Human Rights in Israel without providing any information about that NGO.
In June the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman quoted the founder of Kerem Navot, which he described only as an “Israeli non-governmental organisation”:
An “investigation by BBC News Arabic” aired in September featured substantial comment from Hagit Ofran of the organisation ‘Peace Now’. Viewers heard nothing about the significant funding from foreign governments received by that NGO or its political agenda.
Listeners to BBC World Service radio in October heard comment on an Israel related story from the director of Forward Thinking without any information concerning that organisation’s funding, affiliations and “particular viewpoints” being provided:
A BBC News website report published in November included quotes from UN OCHA – and a link to its website – as well as B’Tselem, which has received funding from UN OCHA in the past:
Another BBC News website report published the same month quoted – and linked to – Peace Now which it described as an “Israeli anti-settlement group”:
Also in November, listeners to BBC World Service radio heard from a Gaza-strip based employee of Medical Aid for Palestinians, with no background information on that NGO provided:
In December listeners to the same radio station heard from the head of B’tselem which was inadequately presented as a “campaign group” despite the fact that one of its foreign donors is the European Union: the same body financing illegal construction in Area C which was the topic of the report.
As in previous years, another feature seen in BBC News website reports throughout 2020 was the promotion of politically partisan and inaccurate maps sourced from B’tselem:
As in previous years, the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were routinely not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Despite the amendments made to those guidelines in July 2019, audiences yet again heard nothing at all about the foreign funding of any of the Israeli NGOs featured in its content. There is clearly little point to such guidelines if BBC journalists serially ignore them in such a flagrant manner.
The BBC’s repeated failure to enforce its own editorial guidelines by ensuring that the “particular viewpoint” (which in certain cases includes the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) of quoted NGOs and their representatives is adequately clarified means that audiences are unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes overwhelmingly from one side of the political spectrum and hence provides an unbalanced view of often complex issues.