Friday, May 17, 2013

Senior BBC official insists that all of Jerusalem is an “Israeli” city

The BBC has provided evidence this week that it prefers to use the territorial claims of the Israeli government to the whole of Jerusalem as a framework for its reporting, rather than acknowledging international law.

International law considers only West Jerusalem, conquered in 1948 — amid the expulsion by Zionist militias of tens of thousands of Palestinians — to be under de facto Israeli control, while East Jerusalem, conquered in 1967 is occupied territory. This is reflected in the UK government’s position, which, since 1950, has recognized Israeli de facto authority in West Jerusalem, but not sovereignty, and considers East Jerusalem to be under military occupation.

However, in a 15 May email sent to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), the BBC’s Senior Editorial Strategy Advisor, Leanne Buckle, has confirmed that the BBC is happy to refer to the whole of Jerusalem as an “Israeli” city. It sees no need for its journalists to make the facts of international law, or even UK government policy, clear to its audiences.

As part of ongoing correspondence between the BBC and the PSC on the subject of Jerusalem, Buckle writes: “a passing reference to Jerusalem as an Israeli city would not [give] listeners a misleading impression of the city’s status under international law.”

The failure to make a distinction between East and West Jerusalem, or to note that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem — East or West — has not been recognized, plays straight into the hands of Israel’s propagandists whose aim has long been to establish Jerusalem as the “undivided capital of Israel” in the minds of Western journalists, so that they can, in turn, convey this lie to their audiences.

And it is a failure that occurs across the BBC’s output, including on its permanent webpage, “Israel profile”, part of its “country profiles” section. On the page for Israel, the BBC writes: “seat of government: Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.” However, no country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

East Jerusalem, as any informed person knows, is occupied Palestinian territory which has been illegally annexed by Israel. There is no “united Jerusalem,” as Israel asserts, and the status of the city is a controversial and sensitive issue; its final status supposedly to be decided by “peace talks.” As such, all reporting on it should be subject to the highest standards of accuracy by responsible news organisations.


The BBC, however, operates by its own inexplicable standards. Buckle’s email to the PSC was in response to ongoing correspondence over a report on Radio 4’s Todayprogram in October. During the course of the report, which was about the establishment of a university in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, the BBC’s correspondent, Kevin Connolly, referred to, “Israeli cities with better established academic institutions, like Jerusalem.”

The PSC wrote to the Today programme to point out that Jerusalem is not an Israeli city, and should not be referred to as such.

Initially, the BBC wrote back to say: “It would not be possible to explore or describe the full complexity of [Jerusalem’s] status in every such reference – such a practice would simply fall outside the scope of daily journalism.”

How the simple insertion of one word — “West” — for instance, would be beyond the scope of the BBC’s daily journalism was not explained. Rather, as the PSC pointed out, its inclusion would remove the need to “explore or describe the full complexity of [Jerusalem’s] status” in any reference to the city. Moreover, how difficult would it be to add the word “occupied” before references to “East Jerusalem”?

Unfortunately, providing accurate and clear information to its audiences does not seem to be the BBC’s main concern when reporting on Israel. Ensuring that its journalists report on Palestine and Israel in a manner which reflects Israel’s agenda would appear to be the priority for this taxpayer-funded broadcaster. More