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July 8, 2022 6:31 am
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How the BBC Manipulated a Major Arab World Survey in Order to Slam Israel

avatar by Gidon Ben-Zvi

Opinion

The BBC logo is seen at the entrance at Broadcasting House, the BBC headquarters in central London. Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in a June report about a major new survey regarding the Arab world’s shifting attitudes towards democracy, managed to work in a couple of subtle yet undeniable implications about Israel.

Titled, “Arabs believe economy is weak under democracy,” the piece purports to summarize the Arab Barometer network’s findings, gleaned from 23,000 people who were interviewed across nine countries and the Palestinian territories for BBC News Arabic.

The survey concluded that across the Middle East and North Africa, Arabs are losing faith in democracy’s ability to deliver economic stability.

Yet while the focus of the article is Arab Barometer’s research, writers Jessie Williams, Sarah Habershon, and Becky Dale suddenly shift gears, and proceed to work Israel into their piece:

According to the EIU [Economist Intelligence Unit] Democracy Index, the Middle East and North Africa is the lowest ranked of all regions covered in the index — Israel is classed as a “flawed democracy” Tunisia and Morocco are classed as “hybrid regimes,” and the rest of the region is classed as “authoritarian”.

The report then reverts to its analysis of the Arab Barometer’s findings, which has nothing to do with Israel.

To say that the BBC is cherry-picking from the EIU’s 82-page report is putting it mildly.

Yes, the Middle East and North Africa remain the lowest of all the regions covered in the Democracy Index, with five out of 20 countries listed in the bottom 20 of the global ranking. However, regarding Israel, this is what the EIU found:

That said, the picture is not uniformly negative across the region, owing to positive trends in Israel, where an Arab party is in government for the first time as a minor player in a wide-ranging coalition … Israel continued to buck the regional trend in 2021. The inclusion of Ra’am, an Arab political party, in the broad-reaching coalition that came to power in June represents the first time that an Arab party has been part of the government in Israel. This led to an improvement in the electoral process and pluralism and functioning of government categories.

By lumping Israel together with Tunisia and Morocco, in a sentence that includes “the Middle East and North Africa is the lowest ranked of all regions covered in the index,” readers of the BBC piece may conclude that Israeli society is less than open and free.

Another example of the BBC’s reporting being devoid of crucial context is the description of Israel as a “flawed democracy.”

The Jewish state is indeed a less than perfect attempt at a representative form of government. In this, Israel is no different than the United States, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Indeed, the latest annual edition of the EIU’s Democracy Index placed Israel above these Western democracies.

Scoring 7.97 out of 10, Israel was ranked 23rd out of 167 countries, which were assessed based on their electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.

Similarly, the BBC story uses EIU’s report as a basis to define Tunisia and Morocco as “hybrid regimes” without explaining what constitutes such a form of government.

As a result, people getting their information about the current political state of affairs in the Middle East from this BBC report might assume that “flawed democracy” and “hybrid regime” are distinctions without substantial differences between the terms.

In fact, this is how the EIU characterizes a ‘hybrid regime:’

Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair…Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies — in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. … Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

But in Israel, the political process over the past three-plus years confirms that the country remains open and free. While surrounded by some of the world’s worst human rights violators, Israel is the only country in the region where all of its citizens — Jews and Arabs alike — are guaranteed full and equal rights under the law.

In short, implying that Israel’s vibrant if imperfect democracy is akin to the thuggish regimes in Tunisia, Morocco, or any other Middle Eastern country is absurd.

Yet the BBC, a media outlet viewed by over 400 million people every week, casually suggests that Israel is authoritarian.

Does the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom have an anti-Israel agenda? The British Broadcasting Corporation’s long history of perpetuating an alternate version of reality with regards to the Jewish state certainly raises serious questions about its ability to report on events coming out of the Middle East with any kind of impartiality.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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