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:
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.