BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes inaccurate claim in apparent ‘churnalism’

Late on Friday, September 2nd UK time (early Saturday September 3rd Israel time) the BBC News website presented a report by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell on its Middle East page as follows:

Headlined ‘Israeli rules say West Bank visitors must declare love interest’, that report opens by telling readers that: [emphasis added]

“Foreigners must tell the Israeli defence ministry if they fall in love with a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank, according to new rules.

If they marry, they will be required to leave after 27 months for a cooling-off period of at least half a year.

It is part of a tightening of rules on foreigners living in, or wanting to visit, the West Bank.

Palestinians and Israeli NGOs have accused Israel of “taking restrictions to a new level”.

The new rules are due to come into force on Monday.”

As noted in a report on the same story published by the Times of Israel, the “new rules” do not mention ‘falling in love’ as claimed by Knell but rather relate to engagement, marriage or cohabitation.

“Under the regulations for visa extensions, first published in February, a foreigner married to a Palestinian, planning on marrying one, or entering a relationship with one, must notify COGAT.

Additionally, if the relationship starts after a foreigner arrives in the West Bank, they must notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of their engagement, wedding, or the start of cohabitation — “whichever occurs first.”

“A foreigner married to a resident of the Area, or forming a couple with one, must proceed to make arrangements… before arriving at the Area. If the relationship starts after the foreigner arrived at the Area, then the authorized COGAT official must be informed in writing within 30 days of the relationship’s start. At the same time, an application must be submitted to the Palestinian Authority for formalizing the status,” the rules state.”

Knell’s report later promotes a dead link:

“The new 97-page Cogat order is titled Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area – the biblical name Israel uses for the West Bank. It was first published in February, but its introduction has been delayed.”

The reason that link no longer works is because on September 4th, COGAT published a new document replacing the one promoted by the BBC. As reported by the Times of Israel in a follow-up article:

“Israel released revised guidelines for entry into the West Bank by foreign nationals on Sunday, reversing clauses requiring visitors to notify Israel if any of them start a relationship with a Palestinian… […]

The updated document removed a requirement that a foreigner who starts a relationship with a West Bank resident after entering the territory must notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of their engagement, wedding, or the start of cohabitation — “whichever occurs first.””

However, at the time of writing the BBC’s report has not been updated to reflect the new developments (which will come into effect on October 20th rather than “on Monday” as claimed by Knell) and hence it continues to mislead readers.

Knell’s report promotes quotes from the political NGO ‘HaMoked’:

“”This is about demographic engineering of Palestinian society and isolating Palestinian society from the outside world,” says Jessica Montell, executive director of the Israeli non-governmental organisation HaMoked, which has petitioned the Israeli High Court against the regulations.

“They make it much more difficult for people to come and work in Palestinian institutions, volunteer, invest, teach and study.””

Also promoted are PLO ‘apartheid’ smears and a statement from an inadequately presented Palestinian NGO:

“The PLO – the umbrella body representing the Palestinian people – has said they bring in “apartheid regulations that impose a reality of one state and two different systems”.”

“The campaign group, Right to Enter, complains of “discriminatory, cruel and arbitrary practices by Israeli authorities” causing “immense humanitarian difficulties” for foreign spouses which result in them being forcibly separated from their families in the West Bank.

It says the new procedures will only “formalise and aggravate many of the existing restrictions” and “will force many families to move or stay abroad to maintain their family unity.””

The European Commission is also quoted, along with various individuals.

Notably, Knell’s report does not include any right of reply response from Israeli officials whatsoever but she does supposedly tick the ‘impartiality’ box with the following:

“The BBC contacted Cogat for a response but did not receive one. Israeli authorities say that restrictions on travel into the territory are needed for security reasons.”

So what exactly happened here? The headline of Knell’s report is remarkably similar to those used by some other media outlets reporting the same story. Ha’aretz, for example, ran with “Israel to Require West Bank Visitors to Declare Romantic Relationships With Palestinians” and the Times of Israel initially ran with “Foreign West Bank visitors must tell Israel if they fall in love with Palestinians” before changing that headline to “Foreign West Bank visitors must tell Israel if they ‘form a couple’ with Palestinian”.

All those reports, and others, include remarkably similar quotes from HaMoked director Jessica Montell.

Given the campaigning and legal action on this issue by HaMoked and other political NGOs, it would not be at all surprising if journalists had received a press release from HaMoked ahead of what it believed to be the start date for the new guidelines, perhaps including useful quotes.

While this would by no means be the first example of BBC ‘churnalism’ – the media practice of uncritically amplifying press releases and reports put out by third parties – in this case the NGO concerned jumped the gun, with the result being a BBC report which is now inaccurate as well as entirely one-sided but will remain online as ‘permanent public record’ unless amendments and prominent corrections are made. 

Notably, Knell’s inaccurate report has already been used by another of the political NGOs frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC to advance the ‘apartheid’ smear:

Update:

Several hours after this post appeared the BBC News website published an additional report by Yolande Knell headlined “Israeli U-turn over West Bank romance declarations“. However, the inaccurate report was not taken down, with the result that, absurdly, both reports appeared together on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Notably, the inaccurate report was not amended in order to alert those who will come across it online in the future to the fact that the claims it promotes do not reflect reality. 

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