Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

As we all know, nothing disappears from the internet – for better or for worse. That fact raises questions about the responsibility of the BBC to ensure that archive material accessible via its website meets the same standards of accuracy as are demanded of contemporary reporting. 

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines include a sub-section entitled Managing Online Content which, inter alia, states:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

But what happens when that “permanent public record” is inaccurate or misleading? Should the BBC be obliged to clearly label it as such or even to remove the webpage? 

One example of such BBC material still available on the internet are its many reports on the Jenin Massacre that never was. 

This article from April 6th 2002, for example, (also available at another URL) states that:

“Residents at the Jenin refugee camp said they feared a “massacre” was taking place, and one Palestinian fighter said he had counted 30 dead bodies.”


“Palestinians said there had been intense bombardment through the night by Israeli tanks and helicopters.

“I myself counted 30 dead bodies. There are a tremendous number of injured people. The international community will be shocked at the number of injured people,” a Palestinian fighter named Abu Irmail told Reuters news agency.”

This report by Tarik Kafala – currently the Middle East Editor of BBC Online – from April 12th 2002 states:

“Palestinians have called on the United Nations to investigate what they claim is an Israeli massacre of Palestinians.”


“Palestinians say there were extra-judicial executions in the camp – an accusation strongly denied by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).”


“According to Palestinian sources, the IDF buried the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed in fighting in a mass grave and used bulldozers to cover them up – again a charge vehemently denied by the Israeli army.”

Reporting on April 11th 2002, the BBC’s Alan Johnston repeated unverified allegations from a Palestinian source:

“He tells me that he saw people who had been tortured.”

This article from April 15th 2002 says:

“Palestinians have alleged that a massacre took place during the battle in the camp, and have said the army had begun burying the dead to conceal evidence. The allegations have brought international condemnation.”


“The allegations of a massacre in Jenin have sparked condemnation from around the world.

The United Nations on Monday passed a resolution accusing Israel of “gross violations” of international law.”

An article by Jeremy Cooke from April 16th 2002 states:

“Israelis put the figure at something like 50 – they base that on the accounts that their own soldiers have given of the fighting which went on for the past two weeks or so.

The Palestinians, though, are still insisting that some 400 people were killed.

From what I’ve seen it is impossible to verify or contradict either of those accounts.”

Under the title “Analysis: ‘War Crimes’ on the West Bank“, an article from April 17th 2002 states:

“Palestinians and Arab politicians are already accusing the Israeli army of war crimes in the Jenin refugee camp and elsewhere in the West Bank.

They are comparing what has happened in Israel’s current campaign to the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, in which at least 800 Palestinians died.”

Entitled “Jenin ‘massacre evidence growing“, this article from April 18th 2002 says:

“A British forensic expert who has gained access to the West Bank city of Jenin says evidence points to a massacre by Israeli forces.

Prof Derrick Pounder, who is part of an Amnesty International team granted access to Jenin, said he has seen bodies lying in the streets and received eyewitness accounts of civilian deaths.

The Dundee University expert said the Amnesty investigation has only just begun but Palestinian claims of a massacre were gaining foundation as the team continued its analysis.

He said: “The truth will come out, as it has come out in Bosnia and Kosovo, as it has in other places where we’ve had these kinds of allegations.

“I must say that the evidence before us at the moment doesn’t lead us to believe that the allegations are anything other than truthful and that therefore there are large numbers of civilian dead underneath these bulldozed and bombed ruins that we see.” “

Another article from the same date, entitled “Jenin camp ‘horrific beyond belief” states:

“Palestinians claim hundreds of bodies are buried beneath the rubble, but Israel says the numbers of dead are far fewer. An independent forensic expert says evidence suggests that a massacre has taken place.”

An article from May 4th 2002 reports that:

“Arab states are to call an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly over claims that Israel massacred Palestinians at the Jenin refugee camp.”


“The Palestinians claim Israel slaughtered hundreds of civilians during a fierce nine-day battle in Jenin last month.”

All of these reports – and many more – remain accessible to anyone carrying out an internet search for ‘Jenin’. None of them have been amended to make it clear that it was established definitively that no ‘massacre’ took place in Jenin and that out of the 52 Palestinian dead, the vast majority were terrorists. Needless to say, no articles appear asking how so many ‘experts’ got it so wrong or examining why the media and many others were so willing to embrace the narrative of a ‘massacre’ without credible evidence. 

As despicable as it was at the time that the BBC should be propagating unsubstantiated claims by Palestinian propagandists such as Saeb Erekat – claims designed specifically and deliberately to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of world opinion and to tie Israel’s hands in its attempts to curb the terror war launched by the Palestinian Authority against Israeli civilians – it is even more reprehensible that the BBC does nothing to correct or remove its inaccurate reports over a decade on. 

Of course the BBC was far from the only organization to unquestioningly embrace Palestinian propaganda with such alacrity, and that malaise was by no means limited to the field of the media. Another BBC article still available on the internet – from April 18th 2002 – is an account of a ‘Hardtalk‘ interview with the External Affairs Commissioner of the EU at the time (and now Chair of the BBC Trust) Chris Patten in which he ‘contextualised‘ suicide bombings against Israeli civilians under the title “Patten: Sharon’s policies caused ‘cult of death’ “.

 “But”, he went on “you do have to recognise, what is the political context in which young men and women strap bombs to themselves and go out to murder other young men and women.”

Patten also gave an interview to the Guardian around the same time:

“The European Union’s external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, in an interview with the Guardian, said Israel must accept a UN investigation of alleged atrocities against Palestinians or face “colossal damage” to its reputation. […]

Mr Patten was even more direct, telling the Guardian: “It is in Israel’s interest to behave like a democracy that believes in the rule of law. There has to be movement, and movement fast, to enable the international community to deal with this calamity.”

He added: “If Israel simply refuses all the genuine calls for humanitarian assistance; if it resists any attempt by the international media to cover what is going on, then inevitably it is going to provide oxygen for all those who will be making more extreme demands.” […]

But he said: “Israelis can’t trample over the rule of law, over the Geneva conventions, over what are generally regarded as acceptable norms of behaviour without it doing colossal damage to their reputation.” He backed Mary Robinson, the UN human rights commissioner, who has been asked to lead a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian territories.”

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, Chris Patten has never apologized to the Israeli people for rushing to defame them purely on the basis of his readiness to swallow malicious Palestinian propaganda and a disturbing willingness to believe the unproven worst about them.

In his current role, however, he does have the opportunity to go some small way towards rectifying that by ensuring the correction or removal of reams of inaccurate material from his organisation’s website which – more than ten years after it has been disproved – constitutes a lethal narrative which continues to incite against Israelis. 

53 comments on “Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

  1. Pingback: Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website | Blogs about Israel aggregation

  2. “But what happens when that “permanent public record” is inaccurate or misleading? Should the BBC be obliged to clearly label it as such or even to remove the webpage?”

    Yes to former. Big time. Removal ‘solves’ a lot of problems. Almost all by the BBC for the BBC. Who, as all know, do not ‘stealth edit’ away embarrassing evidence, but ‘evolve the story’ to maintain a 110% record of getting it about right, according to resear… er.. BBC internal investigations.

    *The committee ordered the corporation to remove the headline from its archive, website and other platforms.”

    Who, dear old Aunty? Cove… tidy-ups. Never!

    This is the entity who has just re-instated the lady who gave us ‘genetic impartiality’ and ‘holding power to account’ mind…

    “Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News, at the…/helen-boaden-director-of-bbc-news-at-the-l…Share10 Jun 2011 – Helen Boaden gave the keynote address – about ‘holding power to account’ – and then joined a Q&A hosted by Krishnan Guru…”

    It garnered two comments. The first was modded.

    The second pointed out the irony of that.

    Then it was closed.


    “[We’re having some problems displaying the comments at the moment. Sorry. We’re doing our best to fix it.]”

    Not all the … ahem… ‘problems’ the BBC seems to be having ‘fixing’ stuff these days.

    But they do seem to be giving it all their best shot.

    • “None of them have been amended to make it clear that it was established definitively that no ‘massacre’ took place in Jenin and that out of the 52 Palestinian dead, the vast majority were terrorists.”

      Can ‘BBC Watch’ provide us with evidence?

    • What people on this website do not want you to know: anyone who tries to contradict their marginal views is censored.

      Seems like they are annoyed at people who come with FACTS and who remind them of INTERNATIONAL LAW and HUMAN RIGHTS LAW.

      Israel is a democracy, where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected.

      Do Adam Levick and Hadar Sela feel unable to engage in an intellectual debate where some people contradict them using FACTS and FIGURES?

      It seems they do.

  3. Another tour de force of a post, Hadar, uncovering yet more unconscionable material by the “national broadcaster”.
    I hope you intend to pass on these and other findings to the BBC itself. Indeed, so much that’s grubby is being uncovered that a formal complaint from the “leaders” of Anglo-Jewry to Patten seems to be in order.
    If the Board of Deputies refuses to confront the BBC with this, then I would expect an MP, or better still, a delegation of MPs, to take up the cudgels. (Michael Fabricant has been very critical of the BBC’s coverage in the past, and perhaps anti-antisemitism campaigner John Mann could be approached. Surely there wouldn’t be a shortage of MPs willing to help.)
    The Jenin “blood libel” – for that it what effectively it is – feeds antisemitism, and I have seen the so-called massacre cited on posts on blogs and social media by people who I thought would know better but who may well have derived their information from trawling the archives of what Patten insisted to MP Philip Davies (who was grilling him mercilessly the other week on a topic unrelated to this) is still the most trusted broadcaster in the world (I’ve forgotten the exact breathtaking phrase he used, but it was similar to that!)

  4. So the IDF should never again be quoted because they initially denied using white phosphorus in Gaza ? Shamir should never be quoted because he admitted being a liar but maintained that in the circumstances it was necessary ? ( yes I know he is dead ) Neyanyahu should never be quoted because the concensus among the world’s statesmen is that he is an habitual liar ?

    This is all rather silly. They reported what was said to them at the time. When the facts about Jenin emerged I am sure they reported that too. It is ridiculous to demand that a news source should trawl through their archives revising everything they reported as having been said to them.

    • They never denied using white phosphorus in flares and in smoke screens–perfectly legal uses, that are used by armies around the world (including the British army).

      What they denied at the time, and deny to this day, is using white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon–which is NOT legal.

      Not that I expect the facts to influence your scribblings…

    • “When the facts about Jenin emerged I am sure they reported that too.”

      If you’re so sure please provide links to those reports, just as Hadar has provided links to the material she has quoted.

  5. richardarmbach there is such a thing as adding a rider or an indication that this is what was believed at the moment but see … for update, so that people aren’t misled.

    Of course for certain people the massacre is always the preferred version, true or not.

  6. “It is ridiculous to demand that a news source should trawl through their archives revising everything they reported as having been said to them.”

    Puts that whole ‘education and information’ thing in better context one supposes.

    Next you’ll be ‘sure’ that if BBC Complaints are advised of error they should fast track from those who they like and go into months of denial with those they don’t. Oh..

    There are a few market rate management positions now op… newly created on top and set aside at the BBC for folk with such mindsets on truth and accuracy that really can go places thanks to the unique way the BBC is run.

    Hurry, they are probably being doled out to chums by Lords Hall and Patten as we speak. But you certain qualify with that para alone.

  7. Oh people grow up. An archive is an archive. If it was subsequently changed it wouldn’t be an archive. Somewhere in the archive will be reports of the story as it developed, as what really happened emerged. You will find just about every news outlet in the world reporting what was being said at that time.

  8. There are so many staff employed (thanks to that poll tax called the licence fee) that it would not take an inordinate amount ot their time to locate and delete the offending reports, or add a rider to each one. And one of them could write a piece for their CoJo website outlining the way the massacre was reported, and how it proved to be a lie – a salutary lesson for fledgling journalists and old hacks alike.

    • There are no offending reports. They reported what was said to them at the time. They would have reported was was subsequently said to them at those times. So we have an archive. Grow up.

      • The BBC not only reported what was said to them, they embroidered. The lies of the Palestinians should be labelled as lies and the embroideries as embroideries. An archive is only of value if it is contrasted with the present or with revealed fact and if it is labelled clearly as an archive.

        People of ill-will still refer to Jenin as a massacre convincing yet new adherents to the cause of lies because the unsuspecting reader will not be aware of the true nature of the information.

        It is also necessary to label the archives – though this is not relevant to the subject under discussion – to show the foreigners that the Palestinians see the truth as being plastic and of assistance in their cause. Before you call me racist (though the Arabs hardly constitute a race) read about Abbas’s two versions of why he left Safed

  9. OK I am going to try this one more time. The BBC archives are a historical record. NOT a historical record of the Jenin business a historical record of BBC reports. I can’t believe you find this so difficult.For goodness sake take your thumbs out of your mouths steady your bottom lips and grow up even if only temporarily.

  10. Saeb Erekat was not anywhere near Jenin at the time – he was in Jericho. He got on the phone with every anti-israeli news organization he could, notably the BBC, CNN and the Guardian, all of whom rushed to report the “massacre”. His actions were reminiscent of the PR activities of the Arab media in 1948 regarding the “massacre” at Deir Yassin that we now have video tape of Arabs denying ever took place ( )

    The Guardian, like the BBC, was particularly outrageous in its “coverage” (can one use the word for an event that did not actually occur), and a set of its usual suspects (Brian Whitaker, Suzanne Goldenberg, Chris McGreal, etc.) wrote article after article condemning Israel until the truth slowly emerged from the torrent of lies.

    Eventually the Guardian produced a lame report that the UN had investigated and found no sign of a massacre

    Search the Guardian site with “massacre Jenin” – it is horrifying to see the number of lying reports by people who were never there or relied solely on hysterical Arab reports.

    • I guess you missed the references to “Jenin”, “Saeb Erekat” and so forth.

      You should reread the article.

      Some of the other media eventually reluctantly released the truth about Jenin, even though the Guardian, as the most outrageous, and the one along with the BBC that had the most effect in spreading the lies, has never actually issued retractions or added any updates or corrections to the articles that are still archived

      • They didn’t issue any retrations even after Rusbridger apologised in Jerusalem for lying about the “Jenin massacre”

    • Yorkie is right, richard. You lack depth. So does your English, incidentally. You use some very odd constructions.
      not notably all the others he got on the phone to ?

  11. I wonder how the BBC will adjust its “archives” in light of this report:

    Pollard inquiry: BBC ‘incapable’ of dealing with Jimmy Savile affair

    • Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, his deputy Liz Gibbons and 5 Live boss Adrian Van Klaveren to move to new BBC jobs
    • Deputy director of news Stephen Mitchell retires amid criticism and is to leave BBC after 38 years

    If they cannot even deal with events in their own house, its little wonder they are so unreliable about events further afield!

  12. “In his current role, however, he (Chris Patten), does have the opportunity to go some small way towards rectifying that by ensuring the correction or removal of reams of inaccurate material from his organisation’s website which – more than ten years after it has been disproved – constitutes a lethal narrative which continues to incite against Israelis.

    Don’t hold your breath – it will never happen. Patten is an Arabist, a friend of the Palestinians. He refused to monitor EU money he was responsible for, to ensure the text books Arafat was having printed did not contain antisemitic content. He will not take the opportunity to rectify anything regarding libel of Israel.

  13. Yes, I recall Saeb Erekat jumping up and down and yelling that “five hundred” Palestinians had been “massacred” in Jenin. Like all Palestinian leaders, he cannot open his mouth without calling for help from the ‘International Community’, which is all too ready to believe his lies.

    The Palestiian death toll was in fact one tenth of Erekat’s figure, and most of them were terrorists. And around thirty Israeli soldiers were killed.

  14. Next time anybody wonders whether the BBC could praise and back the Palestinians the way they do, if they knew all along the Palestinian agenda was a load of crap, just recall the tribute to Savile last year.

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