In October 2005, the BBC Board of Governors appointed an independent panel led by Sir Quentin Thomas to review the network’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response to the panel’s request for comments from individuals and organizations, CAMERA submitted analyses of the network’s Web site and a recent documentary. (Excerpts from CAMERA’s submission appear in this Spring’s CAMERA Media Report.)
One of CAMERA’s longstanding complaints about BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focused on a particularly one-sided and biased timeline on the media organization’s Web site. The timeline, spanning the period from 1250 BCE through 2005, is part of an ” In Depth” feature accompanying breaking news stories on BBC’s Web pages about the Middle East. It is meant to provide background for better understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is grossly distorted and one-sided, exemplifying the type of problematic coverage encountered on the BBC generally.
CAMERA’s submission to the BBC Board of Governor’s Independent Panel demonstrated that throughout the timeline, Arab perspectives are amplified and endorsed, while Arab violence is downplayed and emphasis is given to supposed Zionist or Israeli culpability. CAMERA analyzed the BBC timeline entries entitled “1929-36: Arab Discontent,” “1947:UN Partition Plan,””1948: Establishment of Israel,” “1964: Formation of the PLO” and “1974: Arafat’s First UN Appearance,” “1967: The 1967 War” and “1973: The 1973 Yom Kippur War,” “1982: Israel Invades Lebanon,” and “1993: The Oslo Peace Process.”
While the BBC Board of Governors Independent Panel has not yet published its report (based in part on the commentary it received), the Board of Governors recently upheld a complaint about the timeline’s misleading description of UN Resolution 242. The feature has now been revised on the Web site accordingly. The revision addresses only one of the many problems found in the timeline, but it represents a start–the acknowledgement by the BBC of imbalance.
From CAMERA’s submission to the Independent Panel:
The 1967 entry continues the pattern of specifying only Israeli actions while blurring and glossing over those of Arab groups. It declares that Israel seized land and engaged in a pre-emptive strike but ignores the root causes of the hostilities – Egypt’s naval blockade of the Straits of Tiran (a casus belli under international law), its ejection of U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai, its massing of 100,000 troops on Israel’s border, the Jordanian shelling of Jewish Jerusalem – referring merely to “mounting tensions.” Thus, according to the BBC:
Mounting tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours culminated in six days of hostilities starting on 5 June 1967 and ending on 11 June – six days which changed the face of the Middle East conflict.
Similarly, the 1967 entry selectively cites the clauses of Security Council Resolution 242 relating to land captured by Israel, but ignores all those relating to Arab provocations and the refusal of Israel’s neighbours to recognise the country’s legitimate sovereignty. Thus readers are informed that UN issued Security Council Resolution 242, stipulating “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. But nowhere do readers learn that SC Resolution 242 also calls for:
* … every State in the area [to] live in security
* … termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force
* … guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area…
* … guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area
The 1973 entry begins by justifying the surprise attack on Israel by its Arab neighbours and implicitly blaming Israel for the failure of diplomacy:
Unable to regain the territory they had lost in 1967 by diplomatic means, Egypt and Syria major offensives …
This introduction is in sharp contrast to the previous entry which does not similarly justify Israel’s pre-emptive attack on Egypt. There, the opening sentence–”Mounting tensions…”–is careful not to place any blame on the Arab nations that provoked the war. There is no suggestion that “unable to reopen the Straits of Tiran by diplomatic means, Israel pre-emptively struck Egypt …”
The reference to “diplomatic means” is also deceptive. The Arab world at this point refused to recognise Israel’s legitimacy. The Khartoum declaration of 1967 resolved: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”. The timeline ignores both the Khartoum declaration and Israel’s June 19, 1967 announcement that it was ready to return the Golan Heights to Syria, Sinai to Egypt and most of the West Bank to Jordan, in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbors, normalization of relations and guarantee of navigation through the Straits of Tiran.
While the entry has not been revised to rectify the inaccurate, one-sided description of Israel’s defensive war, the description of UN Resolution 242 has been revised.
Original BBC entry on Resolution 242:
The UN Security Council issued resolution 242, stressing “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calling for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”.
Revised BBC Entry:
The UN Security Council issued resolution 242, stressing “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security”. The resolution called for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. It also called for an end to “all claims or states of belligerency and respect for… the sovereignty… of every state in the area and their right to live in peace… free from threats or acts of force”.
Those concerned about balance and accuracy on the BBC should continue to press for corrections and revisions of its misleading background timeline.