Omission and inaccuracy in BBC report on Jordanian tourist site

On January 15th a report by Yolande Knell concerning a tourism project in Jordan was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline ‘Jesus baptism site makeover aims to draw a million Christians in 2030’.

An audio version of that report was aired on the same day on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 19:10 here).

The producers of the audio version chose to include a recording of a Jordanian tour guide telling American and European tourists that what they could see is:

“…the Jordan River which is the border line between Jordan and Palestine, the West Bank.”

The Jordan River is of course currently the border between Jordan and Israel at that point and what those tourists could see is part of the Jordan Rift Valley which is currently defined as Area C and hence subject to final status negotiations. That is why the similar tourist site of Qasr al Yahud, which is located exactly opposite the Jordanian one, is currently run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

As the BBC itself states in its style guide on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel. […]

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

It is therefore unclear why the producers of Knell’s audio report chose to include that misleading recording.

In the same audio report Knell tells listeners that Jordan is hoping to attract “many more visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage site which is also holy to Jews and Muslims”.

In her written report Knell states:

“Recently, Jordan announced an ambitious $100m (£83m) plan aimed at drawing a million Christians to al-Maghtas in 2030, to commemorate what is seen as the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’s baptism.

It promises a biblical village and the largest Christian pilgrimage and interfaith centre in the region, recognising that the River Jordan and its valley is also loaded with religious importance for Jews and Muslims.”

UNESCO describes the site known as both Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Al-Maghtas as “a Christian place of pilgrimage”. Knell does not clarify her reference to “Jews and Muslims” by explaining that the site includes “Elijah’s Hill” – said to be the site of the ascension of the prophet Elijah to heaven – and is also identified in Jewish tradition as the place where Joshua crossed the Jordan River.

Referring to the al Maghtas site, Knell tells readers of her written report that:

“The rich and famous have had their children baptised here, and Jordan’s royal court has sent the holy waters for British royal christenings.”

Underneath the article, in a section headed “More on this story”, readers find a 2015 report by Knell relating to “British royal christenings” in which she promoted politicised terminology:


In her written report Knell also tells readers that:

“Prior to that [the Israel-Jordan peace treaty], both sides of the river had been a closed military zone since the 1967 Middle East War, in which Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and occupied it.”

As ever, BBC audiences are told nothing about the Jordanian invasion and illegal occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem in 1948, the Jordanian decision to join the June 1967 attack on Israel or the subsequent PLO initiated War of Attrition in the Jordan Valley.

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  1. says: Grimey

    For Knell – or anyone else including Sleepy Joe – to talk about the 2SS is pure fantasy. Israel will never agree to it until the PA recognises Israel’s right to exist – and that ain’t gonna happen – and the PA don’t want it because they will lose their begging rights.

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