BBC’s Omar Masharawi story has rug pulled by UNHRC

The drop down menu of the ‘From our own correspondent’ section on the ‘magazine’ page of the BBC News website looked like this on March 7th 2013:

FOOC Masharawi magazine 7 3

Yes – over three months after Operation Pillar of Cloud, the BBC is still promoting Jon Donnison’s story about the son of the BBC employee in Gaza who the BBC very energetically insisted had been killed in an Israeli air-strike. 

As readers may remember, BBC Watch pointed out at the time that there were terrorist rocket launching sites in the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City in which the Masharawi home was situated and that the BBC’s automatic assumption that Omar Masharawi’s death was the result of an Israeli attack was not founded upon any solid evidence.

In his report Donnison stated:

“Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.

But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.

Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.

Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.

As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.”

Despite the lack of evidence, the BBC continued (and still continues, as can be seen above) to promote this story very heavily indeed and of course it was picked up and propagated by other members of the mainstream media – as well as numerous anti-Israel websites – as cast-iron evidence of Israeli wrongdoing,  bearing the hallmark of BBC accuracy and impartiality. 

On March 6th 2013 the UN HRC issued an advance version of its report on the November 2012 hostilities and blogger Elder of Ziyon bothered to read the whole thing. The report states on page 14 that a UN investigation found that:

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” [emphasis added]

A footnote adds that the UN investigated the incident itself.

Omar Masharawi was the only 11 month-old infant killed on November 14th in the Zaitoun neighbourhood (although the woman killed at the same time was not in fact his mother as the UN report states, but his father’s brother’s wife; Hiba). 

The BBC used the story of Omar Masharawi to advance the narrative of Israel as a ruthless killer of innocent children. It did so in unusually gory detail which etched the story in audiences’ minds, but without checking the facts, and with no regard whatsoever for its obligations to accuracy and impartiality. BBC reporters and editors  – including Jon Donnison, Paul Danahar and the many others who distributed the story via Twitter – rushed to spread as far and wide as possible a story they could not validate, but which fit in with their own narrative.

It is impossible to undo the extensive damage done by the BBC with this story. No apology or correction can now erase it from the internet or from the memories of the countless people who read it or heard it. Nevertheless, the people responsible for the fact that the unverified story was allowed to run – and that it was deliberately given such exceptionally extensive coverage – must be held accountable for their failure to even try to uphold the standards to which the BBC professes to adhere. 

Any other outcome will make a mockery of the supposed BBC commitment to accuracy and impartiality and will further erode the BBC’s already bruised reputation.


14 comments on “BBC’s Omar Masharawi story has rug pulled by UNHRC

  1. Complained to the BBC, and put it in the link to the UN report. I said I am expecting a response as required in the PCC rules

    • If you keep pointing out to them where they stuff up, they appear to have a response as unique as much else they enjoy and abuse: they ban you from showing them up.
      I’ll be interested how long you last before being ‘expedited’ (a term they created that has as much credibility as ‘redacted’ outside the BBC bubble).

  2. It shouldn’t shock but the sloppiness of reporting still has the power to do so. The BBC’s (and other) Editorial Guidelines (see and other requirements for honest reporting are almost invariably honoured in the breach rather than the observance.

    Take for example sections 1.2.2 and 1.2.3, the first about truth and accuracy, the second about impartiality:

    From 1.2.2 : “… Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We will strive to be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation..”

    Eh? Hadar sets out above how far short the BBC falls. Note the last sentence above – “honest and open about what we don’t know” – can anyone remember the first, let alone the last time al-Beeb admitted that it didn’t know what was going on, or adhered to sound evidence, or acted in a way which avoided unfounded speculation? This story alone is so riddled with untruths, speculations and thoughts presented as specious facts, as well as inaccuracies that it almost beggars belief.

    As for impartiality, note that al-Beeb promises “.. We will be fair and open-minded when examining evidence and weighing material facts…” There is obvious evidence that al-Beeb regularly and deliberately confuses opinion with fact and fails to distinguish between the two as Hadar’s article shows. This is more often the case than the reverse is.

    I am about to remind Donnison of the Editorial Guidelines he has probably never read. Anyone on Twitter care to join me? His twitter address is @jondonnison

  3. At a meeting in London last week, an Israeli journalist explained WHY the Jewish state receives such a bad press.
    The reason is simple.
    To enter Israel as a journalist, journalists need no accreditation. Anyone can go – you and me.
    To enter EVERYWHERE else in the Middle East, you DO need accreditation.
    If you are ANTI-Jewish state on the Richter scale of virility, you will get accreditation
    everywhere you go. And you need it in Hamas and PA areas.
    If you are too PRO-Israel, you may get barred.
    The consequences of this are career threatening.
    Your Editor back in London, New York or wherever SCREAMS at you that he appointed you as Middle East correspondent over the WHOLE Middle East: “Now you’ve been barred from here, there and everywhere. You’re no good to me. You’re fired!”
    If you have a wife and kids to support, all this must be a powerful in-the-back-of-your-mind consideration.
    Balance and professionalism take a back seat. Cowardice prevails.

    I hope that Jon Donnison will state that NONE of this applies to him.

  4. G Ben-Nathan,

    I keep those points in mind when I encounter the endless BBC bias. Reminds me of Alan Johnston and his stint in Gaza – close to three years there. When he was kidnapped, the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ was flooded with comments by people calling him, “A friend of the Palestinian people.”

    If he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in Gaza, let alone been allowed to live there. And of course he was obliged to pump out anti-Israel propaganda as part of the deal. On his release from his kidnappers he was interviewed on the World Service. He cut the interview short with these breathless words: “I’m going to have breakfast with the Prime Minister.”

    The PM was, of course, Ismael Haniye, chief Gaza terrorist.

  5. Surely not a rocket from Gaza. Every media source will be happy to confirm that rockets from Gaza are harmless, homemade fireworks.

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