More uncritical BBC promotion of Al Jazeera lawfare

Last month we documented the BBC’s response to a complaint concerning its portrayal of the IDF investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh:

“The BBC’s response to that complaint indicates in no uncertain terms that – like the persons and bodies it has chosen to quote and promote since literally just hours after the incident took place – the corporation dismisses the findings of the IDF’s professional investigation and prefers to believe the version of events put forward by Abu Akleh’s employer, among others.”


In addition to the BBC’s written report about Al Jazeera’s related submission to the ICC prosecutor, listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 6th heard  over six-minutes of commentary on that topic featuring just one highly partial interviewee.

During that item (from 14:05 here) both presenter Razia Iqbal and guest Anton Abu Akleh (who has previously been featured in BBC content under the name Tony) focused audience attentions on supposed ‘conflicting statements’:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Let’s turn now to the killing of the dual national Palestinian and American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. You may well recall the story. In May this year Shireen Abu Akleh – a journalist working for Al Jazeera network for twenty-five years – was shot in the head while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank. The Israelis initially blamed the Palestinians. Subsequently they said she may have been caught in crossfire. Her family and her employer believe she was intentionally targeted. Al Jazeera has today brought a case against the Israeli government to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. There’s also an FBI inquiry underway but in both cases the Israeli government rejects what it sees as external involvement. I’ve been speaking to Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother Anton in the Hague.”

Abu Akleh: “Apparently Israel is not interested in any justice to be done and that’s why we hear conflicting statements from Israeli officials. You know, from day one they were trying to go around the story or deny the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin and there always have been conflicting statement, proving that they are not interested in any justice or to hold anyone accountable.”

Iqbal: “Indeed in the immediate aftermath of her death they did say that it was a Palestinian perhaps that had shot her but they have since said that she was accidentally shot in crossfire and that’s something you reject also.”

Notably, Iqbal did not adequately clarify that statements were made by Israeli officials based on the information available at the time, prior to a professional investigation into the incident. Neither did she remind listeners that “from day one” (as was widely reported by the BBC) the inadequately presented Qatari state media outlet Al Jazeera promoted the unevidenced claim that Abu Akleh had been “assassinated” by Israeli troops.

Abu Akleh: “Well we are not rejecting. There was a crime committed and there was…there needs to be accountability for it. Whether by mistake or not, someone was killed and that requires justice.”

Failing to provide any explanation to listeners concerning the specific mandate of the ICC or to note that Israel is not party to the Rome Statute that established it, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “What is your understanding of how this investigation, this lawsuit at the ICC will now proceed? It has been filed: what happens next?”

Abu Akleh: “Well the petition was submitted today and we have enough evidence – concrete evidence – collected from eye witnesses, from video recordings from the scene which points at the Israelis…Israeli sniper who shot Shireen intentionally and targeting her. So I don’t see any way that any statement from the Israelis will move this away. This is exactly the correct time for the ICC, for the United States department of justice, FBI, to take action, especially after the statements made today by the Israeli officials.”

Iqbal then provided her guest with the cue to further promote unproven allegations:

Iqbal: “So it is your contention that she was targeted intentionally?”

Abu Akleh: “Absolutely. All the evidence points there. We have seen the sniper shooting 16 shots; three volleys of shots fired at Shireen and at those who were trying to help her…to take…they were targeted. All the bullets, all the fire were above her chest, aiming to the head, aiming to kill. It’s not an accident. Absolutely not an accident.”

Using the title of a series rather than the specific programme, Iqbal next brought up a ‘documentary’ produced by Al Jazeera, again without providing listeners with any of the relevant background concerning the reliability of that media outlet and its sponsor.

Iqbal: “The documentary ‘Fault Line’ is part of the evidence that is going to be submitted, is that right? This is a documentary made by Al Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh’s employer for more than 25 years. Is this going to be the core of the evidence submitted to the ICC?”

Abu Akleh: “Many evidence was collected from the scene, by Al Jazeera, by other news outlets who are very credible and respected media sources. All come up with the same outcome: that she was targeted by an Israeli sniper – whether it’s Al Jazeera, whether it’s CNN, Washington Post, the Al Haq investigation which was based on Forensic Architect [sic] and pinpointed the corner from where she was shot, the way she was shot. All the evidence provide enough basis for Israel to be held accountable for this crime.”

Unsurprisingly, listeners heard nothing about critiques of the findings of CNN and the Washington Post or the political motivations of the designated NGO Al Haq and Forensic Architecture before Iqbal moved on to another topic.

Iqbal: “There obviously has been sufficient pressure from members of Congress which now means that there is going to be an FBI inquiry but as I said, Israel is likely to reject any external involvement. What are you hoping the United States might be able to do to allow the FBI to fully investigate her death, given that she was an American citizen?”

Listeners were told nothing about the particular circumstances under which the FBI is authorised to investigate the deaths of US citizens abroad or the conflicting messaging from different departments of the US administration. They did however learn that Mr Abu Akleh’s interests are apparently not confined to the tragic death of his sister.

Abu Akleh: “Not only the US: all international communities should take a stand and put an end to this impunity and the double standard practiced against the Palestinians. This is the right time to prove that they are willing to stand with the Palestinian people. We didn’t see any single Israeli investigation brought to public to see how the investigation went. The US and the international community should start taking…making…start putting sanctions on Israel.”

Iqbal: “Can I just put to you what the Israeli prime minister has said today: that no-one would question Israeli soldiers and that no-one will interrogate them, ‘no-one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network’. Given that your sister worked for that network and it’s the network that has brought this case, what’s your reaction to that?”

Abu Akleh: “[laughs] Well we never expected justice from the criminal and that’s why we are heading to the ICC. If we had any faith in the Israeli justice we could have filed a law suit, we could have asked Israel to do this. But unfortunately they came up with a criminal investigation without speaking to any of the eyewitnesses. We don’t know on what it was based. I hope by this statement the international community, the ICC, will take immediate actions to put those responsible for Shireen’s killing accountable.”

Iqbal did not bother to point out to listeners that the IDF probe was not a “criminal investigation” or that the Military Attorney General had explained why no criminal investigation was warranted in this case.

At no point in this item were listeners informed that the Abu Akleh family had already filed a complaint to the ICC in September based on the claims made by the PFLP linked NGO Al Haq. Neither were they told that even earlier – in May – the family had consented to the addition of her death to an existing petition already filed the previous month to the ICC by parties including the Fatah controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. The absence of that information clearly hampers the ability of listeners to put Anton Abu Akleh’s framing of this Al Jazeera campaign at the ICC as the result of disappointment with the findings of the IDF investigation published on September 5th into appropriate perspective.

Iqbal: “How optimistic are you?”

Abu Akleh: “I’m very optimistic. I’m sure that there will be someone who has the strength and the power to bring forward whoever is responsible. This is something we cannot just cover our eyes. Nothing will bring Shireen back but at least this incident will not be repeated in the future to anyone, neither a Palestinian or a foreigner.”

Iqbal: “That was Anton Abu Akleh, brother of Shireen Abu Akleh.”

This latest lawfare campaign by Al Jazeera and the Abu Akleh family of course comes as no surprise. Unfortunately for BBC audiences, neither does the corporation’s continued partisan framing of this story by means of uncritical promotion of unevidenced allegations and baseless smears – as has been its policy ever since the story broke seven months ago.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Grimey

    Notable that the BBC chooses to report only Iqbal’s one-sided view on this incident – and not one word reported with the truth from the IDF on the Israeli side. This blatant demonising has got to stop.

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