As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), the Israel-related content produced by the BBC throughout 2021 often included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Frequently portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’, those inherently agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are obviously not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards.
When political agendas 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]
Nevertheless, throughout 2021 we once again documented numerous examples of that editorial guideline having been ignored in Middle East-related content sourced in one way or another from political NGOs and their representatives.
One of the topics most vigorously promoted by the BBC in 2021 was a campaign to pressure Israel to vaccinate residents of the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. That campaign began in late 2020 just as Israel began vaccinating its own citizens against the Coronavirus and it was initiated by a group of political NGOs, some of which have a record of lawfare campaigns against Israel, including B’tselem, Amnesty International Israel, Gisha, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Adalah, Al Mezan and the PCHR.
The BBC enthusiastically amplified that campaign by what it termed “human rights groups” from the beginning of the year.
Throughout its months-long promotion of that political campaign, the BBC consistently avoided providing audiences with the relevant information concerning the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of the political NGOs behind it.
In February and March 2021 BBC audiences found ‘Human Rights Watch’ talking points promoted in reports on the topic of the ICC. One of the radio reports on that topic included an interview with a person linked to ‘Al Shabaka’ without listeners being informed of that connection.
March 2021 reports on elections in Israel failed to identify one of the contributors as an employee of the ‘Negev Coexistence Forum’.
In April the BBC provided amplification for a report by ‘Human Rights Watch’ promoting the ‘apartheid’ smear against Israel.
Another topic vigorously promoted by the BBC in 2021 was the property dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Among the inadequately presented contributors to content on that subject were representatives of ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’, ‘The Abraham Initiatives’ and ‘Adalah’.
In June and August BBC audiences saw the amplification of campaigns concerning illegal construction in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan from ‘Save the Children’, ‘B’tselem’, ‘Ir Amim’ and local campaigning groups.
BBC reporting post-Operation Guardian of the Walls included promotion of talking points from an ‘Oxfam’ employee without any clarification being provided regarding that organisation’s anti-Israel activity.
Reports put out by ‘Human Rights Watch’ concerning that round of conflict were uncritically promoted by the BBC.
A BBC report about violence in the city of Lod during Operation Guardian of the Walls included footage sourced from ‘Adalah’.
In July BBC audiences heard from a representative of ‘HaMoked’ on the topic of an Israeli law without any “appropriate information about that organisation’s affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” being provided.
Also in July, BBC audiences saw amplification of a project involving ‘Amnesty International’ concerning the NSO Group.
In October BBC audiences saw more unquestioning promotion of the ‘apartheid’ trope and the BDS campaign as advanced by ‘Human Rights Watch’, ‘B’tselem’ and ‘PACBI’ in reports about the author Sally Rooney.
The same month saw amplification of claims concerning Facebook made by NGOs called ‘Sada Social’ and ‘7amleh’.
When Israel designated six Palestinian NGOs because of their links to the PFLP terrorist organisation in October, BBC audiences saw amplification of statements by ‘Amnesty International’ and ‘Human Rights Watch’ as well as the talking points of two of the Palestinian NGOs concerned – Al Haq and Addameer – and a related campaign by the BDS-supporting group ‘Artists for Palestine UK’.
A report about planning published in November promoted talking points from ‘Peace Now’ as well as partisan map sourced from ‘B’tselem’.
Also in November, BBC audiences heard from a representative of a political organisation called ‘Mesarvot’.
The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come overwhelmingly from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and many of them are active in ‘lawfare’ and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint”, affiliations and sources of funding. As in previous years, in 2021 BBC audiences hence once again remained unaware of the fact that the largely homogeneous information they receive about Israel is consistently unbalanced.