Monday, September 01, 2014

01-Sep-14: Gaza, Israel, the BBC: What children - and their parents - ought to know

BBC Newsround, a site for children: "This content doesn't seem to
be working"; we agree [Image Source]
Over at BBC Watch, they do truly excellent work in monitoring the often-astounding political spin of the BBC, "the largest broadcaster in the world" and its close-to-incredible 23,000 employees.

Now clearly, with a payroll on that scale, the BBC cannot really be thought of as a mere entertainment business. In fact, it has long been an instrumentality of the British Foreign Office which funded its international arm, the BBC World Service for decades until just four months ago [source]. Keep that connection in mind as you review the following.

One of the BBC's products is "CBBC", sometimes called the BBC's portal for children. With a mission that includes explaining sometimes complex news events in terms that children might find easier to digest, CBBC describes itself as the place to go for "funny clips, out-takes, exclusive star interviews, pop music, backstage previews"... and, it appears, potted explanations of the Middle East conflict's complexities.

CBBC's audience of children gets its own, child-focused news service called Newsround which exposes them to some rather troublesome child-sized newsbites like these:
  • The Israelis who have been living in proximity to the Gaza Strip for years have been under missile attack for a lot of that time. But it's cool; they have gotten used to it: "Though the Palestinians don’t have an army, rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis living in border towns are used to having to take shelter and adapting their lives to deal with the rockets." [Source: "Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?", Updated to August 27, 2014]
  • "Israelis and Arabs have been fighting over Gaza on and off, for decades. It's part of the wider Arab Israeli conflict. After World War II and the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, more Jewish people wanted their own country." [Same source] A simple logic really: bad things done to Jews, so Jews say give me a country, and voila - they demand and are then "given a large part of Palestine". Not so surprisingly, this doesn't go down well with the Arabs who feel that this "was unfair and didn't accept the new country". No history of ancient yearning for a restored Jewish homeland in that specific part of the world which Jews down through the generations have always called Eretz Yisrael. No mention of the British policy of divide-and-conquer during the three decades of British occupation and Mandate. No reference at all to a 1947 decision of the United Nations to divide the land between the Jews and the Arabs. 
  • Fast forward, and we come to 1967 when "after another war, Israel occupied these Palestinian areas and Israeli troops stayed there for years."  [Again, the same source]. Had the Egyptians demanded the removal of the UN peace-keeping forces on Israel's Sinai border, and instantly gotten their way just a few weeks before that other war? Did the full set of Arab countries both bordering Israel and those further away huff, puff and warn that they were now going to destroy Israel and its Jews once and for all? Had the entire Jewish population of all the surrounding Arab countries been forcibly expelled and threatened with death in the intervening years? And had Israel happily and efficiently absorbed them, found them homes and productive jobs, and kick-started an economy (Israel's) that was based on close-to-zero natural resources? Had the military forces of an Arab monarchy, called Jordan, illegally occupied a large swathe of what was supposed to be the Palestinian Arab state in the war of 1947-49 and dug in there with close-to-zero objection from the local Arabs and from the other Arab states until the Israelis finally pushed back in that 1967 war - after the Jordanian military attacked - and forcibly returned them to the Jordanian side of the Jordan River? These and many other questions can only be answered with "no" if the CBBC account is to be our guide. It mentions none of them as if they never happened and had no relevance.
As partial and ideologically-spun as this narrative and an accompanying video are, the page itself tells us it has already undergone some review and
been amended since original publication to provide a fuller account of the history of the conflict in the region.
That's evidently a reference to a complaint filed with the relevant authority, the adjudication of which is documented here. The authority's decision resulted in some textual correction along with this advice:
Further action: The programme team edited the online video and will be mindful of the need for absolute clarity in any future attempts to condense such a complex story for the Newsround website.
We'll stick our necks out here: if the Newsround page on the Gaza war now reflects the programme team and its work-product being possessed of "absolute clarity", then the things that have been been made clear are neither history nor politics but rather the mindset of the people who assemble the site and its content. And what's been made clear is how disturbing that mindset is.

At BBC Watch, where they stick close to issues like these, they offer the view - which we find compelling - that the distortions (our choice of words, not theirs) perpetrated by the army of editors and staff people at the BBC go quite some way to explaining why
many educated people in Western countries exhibit a disturbing lack of factual knowledge with regard to Israel. With CBBC apparently reaching 34% of six to twelve year-olds weekly in the UK and its website having a million unique browsers a month, items such as this inaccurate and misleading ‘Newsround’ guide are clearly aiding to perpetuate that situation whilst failing young audience members and their licence fee-paying parents by neglecting the BBC’s obligation to promote “understanding of international issues”. [BBC Watch]
About this specific "Guide" ("Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?"), the BBC Watch analysis points to "many problematic statements – not least in its title."
Neither the most recent conflict of July/August 2014 nor the one before it in November 2012 was rooted in a dispute “over Gaza”. The idiom ‘to fight over’ means “to fight a battle that decides who gets […] something”. Israel does not – as that title incorrectly suggests – want Gaza. Both those conflicts, like the one before them, began because of escalated attacks on Israel’s civilian population.  Neither was either conflict fought against “the Palestinians” but against Hamas and other terrorist organisations based in and acting from the Gaza Strip which perpetrate the attacks on Israeli communities. [BBC Watch]
It's a key point and we think they make it well. The confusion inevitably sown in the minds of young visitors to the Newsround site about this core idea seems to us to be either the result of remarkably poor expression or deliberate.

A quotation - which evolved into a strategy - ascribed to one of the branches of Christianity says "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man".

Say what you will about the world's largest broadcaster: they play their game with the long term in mind. With their history of "inaccurate presentation of Israel-related issues to young children", the BBC's Newsround team seem to go far beyond the “simplification appropriate for an item intended for children” in publishing inaccurate and substantively misleading information to an audience likely to carry a distorted understanding with them as they grow to maturity. 

Like many other instances of lethal journalism, it's a matter of the gravest concern.

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