Omissions in BBC News website coverage of ICC announcement

Content published on the BBC News website after the May 20th announcement by the ICC chief prosecutor that he has applied for arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and minister of defence, as well as three leaders of the Hamas terrorist organisation, included the following:

ICC’s Karim Khan announces arrest warrant application for Israeli and Hamas leaders” 20/5/24

Full ICC statement on Netanyahu and Hamas arrest warrants” 20/5/24

Live page 20/5/24

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest of Israeli and Hamas leaders” by Raffi Berg, 20/5/24

What the ICC arrest warrants mean for Israel and Hamas” by Jeremy Bowen, 20/5/24

Netanyahu denounces bid to arrest him over Gaza war” by Sam Cabral, 20/5/24

Israel’s defence minister rejects ICC prosecutor’s request for warrants” by David Gritten, 21/5/24

One notable feature of those reports is that they repeat much of the same messaging. No less remarkable is the fact that there are aspects of the story which are not reported to BBC audiences.

Jeremy Bowen’s report – presented to visitors to the BBC News website with the new “BBC InDepth” logo – includes the following:

“Instead of seeing disgraceful and false parallels between, as Israel’s President Isaac Herzog put it, “these atrocious terrorists and a democratically elected government of Israel”, human rights groups have applauded the way that the ICC prosecutor is seeking to apply the law to both sides.

B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organisation, said the warrants marked “Israel’s rapid decline into a moral abyss”.

“The international community is signalling to Israel that it can no longer maintain its policy of violence, killing and destruction without accountability,” it added.

Human rights campaigners have complained for many years that powerful Western countries, led by the US, turn a blind eye to Israeli violations of international law, even as they condemn and sanction other states who are not in their camp.

The actions being taken by Mr Khan and his team are, they believe, long overdue.”

Bowen did not however bother to inform his readers that B’Tselem is among the NGOs (some linked to a Palestinian terrorist organisation) that initiated the “starvation as a weapon” narrative immediately following Hamas’ attack on October 7th 2023. As noted by NGO Monitor:

“While the IDF was still fighting Palestinian terrorists in southern Israel, and well before the ground invasion of Gaza, NGOs issued press releases and submissions to the ICC making outrageous claims of “starvation.”“

NGO Monitor also notes that:

“For over a decade, these same NGOs have been lobbying for ICC prosecution of Israelis, pushing the Court to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a member and to expand its jurisdiction, filing complaints, representing “victims,” and submitting briefs.”

The “leading Israeli human rights organisation” quoted by Jeremy Bowen is among those lobbyists but BBC audiences are not informed of that fact.

Indeed, a May 21st social media post from the executive director of the anti-Israel NGO DAWN provides clear indication of wider background to this story which is not connected to the current war and is absent from the BBC’s coverage.

Another omission in the BBC’s coverage to date is the topic of the panel of experts which advised and submitted a report to the ICC chief prosecutor. As noted by Joshua Rozenberg KC:

“What we did not know until yesterday is that Khan had appointed a panel of international legal experts to support his investigation. Panel members were asked whether they thought there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the persons named in the warrants have committed crimes within the jurisdiction of the court”.

For this purpose they were “asked to assess objectively the material provided to them by the prosecutor and to advise the prosecutor whether it meets the relevant legal test”. They reviewed “the applications for arrest warrants, as well as underlying evidence, including witness statements, expert evidence and authenticated videos and photographs obtained by investigators”.

But, as lawyers sitting thousands of miles away from Gaza, they have no reliable means of testing the evidence handed to them by the prosecutor’s office. How can they know how much of it comes ultimately from Hamas itself?”

Rozenberg also notes that one of the members of that panel – who spoke at a fund-raising dinner for the anti-Israel NGO ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ last November – had already made his position on the war clear. Another member of that panel is an honorary patron of the same NGO.

That and other context is completely absent from the BBC News website’s coverage even though it is clear from content posted on its live page that it is aware of the existence of that panel of experts.

Another topic not addressed in the BBC’s coverage is that of the timing of the ICC chief prosecutor’s announcement. As noted by the Times of Israel and others:

“Israel had been in touch with the ICC chief prosecutor’s office in recent weeks, The Times of Israel learned on Monday, and Israeli officials were expecting to host ICC officials starting Monday evening for a preliminary visit to plan an official visit by Khan. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referenced Khan’s imminent visit in his statement Monday, saying its cancellation undermined the legitimacy and credibility of Khan’s investigation.

Israel was ready to spend time with Khan to show the prosecutor how its decisions are made, where legal experts fit into the decision-making process, how strikes are approved in the IDF, what Israel is doing around humanitarian aid, and more. Instead it was taken by surprise by Khan’s announcement on Monday.”

As we see, BBC News website coverage of the ICC’s announcement has so far been highly selective and has failed to provide audiences with relevant information which would enhance their understanding of the context and background to this story.

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