Sunday, September 27, 2020

Propaganda or careless journalism - the BBC investigated

By Lil Jackson - July 10, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem]

Nowhere is it more important to disseminate accurate and unbiased information to news audiences than in reference to Palestine and Israel. For many the situation is both confusing and multifaceted, and the sensitivities surrounding the status of Jerusalem in particular are deep-seated and long standing. 

References, in the past, to Jerusalem as an Israeli city during the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) programming and online pages have caused campaigners from Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), with the support of Friends of al Aqsa, to take action. 

Since 2012, the PSC has been challenging the BBC over its reference to Jerusalem with no distinction between the internationally recognized status of occupied East Jerusalem and Israeli West Jerusalem. On initial investigation the BBC did not consider it was in breach of its editorial guidelines and has continually defended its decision to prohibit the release of documents that detail what lead to this conclusion.

The two organizations lodged an appeal last week with the Information Commissioners Office to investigate the BBC’s decision to label Jerusalem an Israeli city. The First Tier Tribunal undertakes hearings against decisions made by competent bodies. In this case the BBC.

“The BBC should not knowingly disseminate information that is totally inaccurate,” Amena Saleem from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign told Palestine Monitor. “All it takes is to put an East or West in front of Jerusalem” for accurate journalism to take place, she argued.

Under international law there is a clear distinction. East Jerusalem is recognized as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognized under international law, though most states recognize Israel’s de facto authority over West Jerusalem. Both the state of Israel and any future Palestinian state desire Jerusalem as their capital city. While they may be under the same municipal jurisdiction, the disparity between East and West Jerusalem is significant

Aminah Abdelhaq, coordinator for the Coalition for Jerusalem, told Palestine Monitor, “media outlets are responsible for providing accurate, unbiased news to its followers and the BBC's misrepresentation of the status of Jerusalem diminishes the fact that nearly 40% of the city's population is Palestinian and has been living under occupation since 1967. The media, and the BBC specifically in this case, certainly should not echo Israel's inaccurate and unlawful depiction of Jerusalem as a united city within one state”.

According to The Association for Human Rights in Israel there are 371, 844 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, comprising 39 per cent of Jerusalem’s total population. 

Article 1.1 of the BBC’s Code of Practice states that the corporation “exists to serve the public interest with a mission to inform, educate and entertain.” 

The omission of East and West has raised concerns that the BBC is misleading audiences. “People are totally misinformed on the occupation,” said Abdelhaq, arguing that audiences do not get “any sense that the Palestinians are natives and are under occupation.” 

The BBC’s online pages for Israel and Palestine underline these concerns. The name Occupied Palestinian Territories, as recognized under international law, is instead the Palestinian Territories. Conversely, the country profile page for Israel reads the seat of Government is in Jerusalem, when in actuality it is in West Jerusalem. Discrepancies in this vein feed the worries of a warped sense of the reality for audiences when it comes to the status of Jerusalem. 

“It isn’t journalism, its propaganda and omitting facts to their audience doesn’t qualify as journalism,” Amena argued. Playing into the hands of propagandists is a genuine fear. What will happen when Palestine eventually does become a state and attempts to assert East Jerusalem as its capital? The perception that audiences will have received is that Jerusalem is an Israeli city. The imbalance in impartiality in relation to Jerusalem will create imbalance in perceptions, furthering a view of Palestine as the sole aggressors in the conflict, with no responsibility apportioned to Israel.

The BBC Trust defended the decision made by Leanne Buckle, Senior Editorial Strategy Advisor to the BBC and ruled that BBC journalists, in this instance, could refer to Jerusalem as an Israeli city. They stated Israel “has de facto control over the entire city in a political, administrative and military sense… Jerusalem was administered as a single entity by the Jerusalem municipal authority and that there were no physical divisions in the city.”  

Prioritizing municipal authorities over international law is a questionable gesture. Ostensibly the BBC, in this case, is above acknowledging the implications of Israel’s lack of sovereignty over Jerusalem under International law. In one fell swoop the BBC has airbrushed the long standing and often-emotive dispute over the city and the complex nature of its religious and political significance to Palestinians as well as Jews. 

BBC journalists should seek out words that factually describe the reality on the ground and which are not politically loaded” reads the BBC’s guidelines on 'Israel and the Palestinian’s’. Poignantly, the instructions only give advice on naming East Jerusalem and Jerusalem as a whole. There is no mention of how to introduce West Jerusalem.

The inability to use the correct terminology is a disservice to the Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as to all Palestinian refugees living in the diaspora, who have long held East Jerusalem as their one true capital. In this instance, the BBC has failed to disseminate accurate and informative news to its audience. Where propaganda is prevalent on both sides, due caution is necessary for news corporations to ensure information is unbiased and accurate. 

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