Sunday, 29 November 2009

BBC: Israeli settlements are a) legal b) illegal c) considered illegal?

Dear BBC,

I am writing to you to criticise and complain about the ambiguous wording you use, sometimes but not always, to describe the illegality of Israel's settlements in the Palestinian territories. Before I give you examples, let me thank you for your many articles that simply say settlements "are illegal".


1. "The settlements... are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this"

Google Search: "settlements "deemed illegal""
118 results

2. "Jewish settlements in the West bank, including East Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this"

Google Search: "settlements "considered illegal""
203 results

It seems to me and many others, the use of words like 'deemed illegal', or 'considered illegal', only confuses the situation. This wording leaves it open in the readers' minds the extent to which the legal status is argued. You wouldn't write, "Rape is deemed to be illegal" or "Rape is considered to be illegal", would you?

You say on your page,

"The United States has in the past called the settlements illegal, but has more recently used milder language, at least in public."

Is it possible this "milder language" is rubbing off on the BBC?

You start this article,
"It is widely accepted that under international law, the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are illegal"

Widely accepted? Again, to use an analogy, it is widely accepted that rape is illegal. By using the words, "widely accepted" - the inference one draws is a sizeable split of opinion on the matter when actually it is the international community, UN, EU and human rights and aid organisation's opinion, backed up by law and UNSC resolutions versus that of just some in Israel.

Please can you instruct your writers and presenters to stop including words that complicate, confuse or obfuscate the matter?

I would like a reply,

Best wishes,

Update: April 2010 - BBC Reply

Thank you for your comments regarding this line that we regularly use in our reports: “The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” I am sorry that we did not reply to your previous email.

We are dropping the use of the word “considered” in this context. The international law is clear on this matter, as the UN secretary general stated recently.


The arguments around the issue of the legality of the settlements are addressed in detail in a report commissioned by the BBC governors a few years ago

Thanks and best regards,

Tarik Kafala
Middle East editor
BBC News website

Saturday, 28 November 2009

BBC: Deepening western fears about Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

In this article,

the bbc writes:

"In September, it emerged that as well as its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran had a second such facility near the town of Qom. The revelation deepened Western fears about the country's nuclear ambitions."

Of course the bbc omits to tell us that when the UN inspectors visited the site they told us they found, "nothing to be worried about", and that it is just a, "hole in a mountain"

Could the BBC mention this? Of course they could. I've sent a complaint off. I'll publish my reply if I get one!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

BBC: Glossing over Palestinian loss of life

Dear BBC,

I am writing to complain about this report that appeared on your news website.

I am quite frankly disgusted how you quickly gloss over the killing and seizing of children. I can only imagine the terror of being shot at, diving for cover while bullets ricochet around me and watching my friends one by one get hit.

Your headline, "Palestinian killed on Gaza Border", is an absolute disgrace. It gives the reader a mental image of a Palestinian being shot 'on' the border and not in Gaza 'near' the border. It therefore gives the impression to some that they were a justified target. It is my belief the BBC does, inadvertently or not, tend to use ambiguous wording (not to be confused with impartial wording) in these cases which have the effect of favouring or excusing Israel.

After reading other reports from other sources including that of Israeli military sources, it is my understanding that the Israelis entered Gaza to shoot at the Palestinian youths. Your headline would better read, "Israeli troops enter Gaza, Palestinian youth killed".

I would thank you to use the correct wording as to the victim's age. You say a "man" was shot dead but then refer to him as a "boy". Please could you spend a little more time to ask more questions. A person has died. Is it too much to ask for his name?

You write, "The Israeli military said they would investigate the incident but the group "appeared to be planting explosives" ". Is it possible for someone at the BBC to ask a basic question and include the answer in the report as to whether or not there was any actual evidence of explosives? I am sure you know that it is simply routine for Israeli troops to shoot at anyone in firing distance of Israel. There are plenty of reports and videos available showing they have an open-fire policy. Here are some videos that took me moments to find.

Is it possible you could add a mention of Israel's open-fire policy?

You write, "Three Palestinians have been detained", but later you say, "Gaza is controlled by Hamas". Is "detained" the correct word to use? The Israeli troops entered Gaza after all. I'm sure you would never in a million years describe it as "detained" if a Palestinian entered Israel and did the same. Please can you correct this bias.

You write, "Clashes have been relatively rare in Gaza since Israel's military offensive in December and January". In what sense of the word could this situation be described as a "Clash"? This by all accounts was an attack based on unfounded suspicions. Why do you give the reader the impression that somehow the Palestinians were in some state of conflict with the Israeli troops? Please can you correct this bias.

I would like to thank you for mentioning this, "The strips borders, airspace and coast line are controlled by Israel, and Egypt along the southern border. The territory is under a crippling Israeli blockade under which only a limited number of humanitarian goods are allowed in."

I would like a response to all my points.

Update: Reply from BBC 23/Nov/2009

Thank you for your comments regarding this report

There was a great deal of confusion over the ages of the people killedand injured in this violence. Our final version of this report shouldclear all this up. It appears that the person killed was between 18 and22, reports vary. A boy - probably the 16-year-old referred to inearlier reports - was injured, and later detained and taken into Israelfor treatment.

The Israeli troops almost certainly went into Gaza in this incident.This is a very common occurrence and Israel has established an exclusionzone along the border, inside Gaza. The violence probably occurred inthis area or on the Gaza side of the imposed zone. I am afraid we do notknow precisely where the incident happened, nor whether explosives werefound. We did not have reporters on the scene, and the agencies thatprovided information on this, the Israeli army and Palestinians medics,have not provided this level of detail.

It is, of course, possible that the Palestinians were civilian farmerswho got too close to the zone that Israel has imposed. It may be thatthey were militants, as the Israeli military claims. Our report does notlead a reader to a particular conclusion, but presents the facts as weknow them.The final version of the report does not use the word clash.

Best regards,
Middle East desk BBC News website