Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

Readers no doubt recall that on August 8th an article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures” by BBC News’ head of statistics appeared on the BBC News website.

Original version - dated August 8th

Original version – dated August 8th

Since its initial appearance, that article has undergone a series of alterations – including its date stamp – but no footnote has been appended to inform readers of the changes made.

The most significant change to Anthony Reuben’s article is the disappearance of the following line:

“Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”

In the article’s latest version, that sentence was replaced by this one:

“Nonetheless, the proportion of civilian men over 18 killed seems high and it is not immediately obvious why.”

The final version of the article also includes the following passage which did not appear in earlier versions:

“Many factors could have contributed to high fatality numbers among men aged 20 to 29.

Jana Krause, from the war studies department at Kings College London, says: “A potential explanation other than combatant roles could be that families expect them to be the first ones to leave shelters in order to care for hurt relatives, gather information, look after abandoned family homes or arrange food and water.

“Similar to combatant roles, these would be ‘high-risk’ social roles that young men are often expected to fulfil.”

She stressed that more work would be needed on the ground to determine why this group was over-represented in the casualty figures.

Men of this age may also be mistaken for fighters because they fit the age profile.”

Another addition to the article’s latest version was this:

“It should be said that while Hamas said only 50 fighters had been killed in 2008-09, some human rights groups operating in Gaza were reporting considerably higher figures.

The point is that it is hard to say with certainty at this stage how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. This is in no sense the fault of the UN employees collecting the figures – their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.”

The second paragraph above originally read:

“In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. This is in no sense the fault of the UN employees collecting the figures – their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.”

Clearly somebody was unhappy with the wording of certain parts of that article. Notably, the reference to the UN Human Rights Council and the doubt expressed regarding that organisation’s allegations of “indiscriminate” Israeli attacks has been completely erased. In addition, passages have been added and wording changed in a very transparent attempt to create the impression that the over-representation of young men among the casualty figures in the Gaza Strip might not be the result of their being members of terrorist organisations, but because they popped out to the corner shop to buy milk.

The bulk of the changes to this article are dated August 11th. However, the UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness sent a series of consecutive Tweets apparently relating to the same article which are date-stamped August 12th.

Gunness tweet 5 34

Gunness tweet 5 37

Gunness tweet 5 45

Gunness tweet 5 50

Gunness tweet 5 57

Gunness’ final Tweet in that series was this one:

Gunness tweet 6 05

In addition to Anthony Reuben’s article, readers will recall that an additional one also appeared on the BBC News website on the same morning of August 8th under the title “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives“. Notably, whilst the former article no longer appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, the latter one does. Whilst the inaccuracies concerning Israeli casualties in that article have not been corrected, another undocumented stealth change has been made.

Reuben quote second art

In the article’s original version, that quote was different to the format in which it appears now: it originally quoted Reuben’s above reference to the UN Human Right Council’s allegations of “indiscriminate” attacks.

So perhaps the BBC would like to clear up this little mystery for us. Why were those changes made three days after the article was published? Why is there no notification to readers that amendments have been made? Why has all mention of the UN HRC been expunged from this article and why have efforts – albeit very clumsy ones – been made to change the ‘take-away’ message to BBC audiences regarding the over-representation of men of fighting age among the Gaza casualty figures?

And of course one other very obvious question remains: who is pulling the BBC’s strings?   


25 comments on “Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

  1. How about you all stop the hate on here, and save some innocent lives.

    You’ll feel better about yourselves.

    • I know it’s a crazy idea but … what about … what about the chiefs of Hamas take a bit of the money they have in their bank accounts, you know the money they stole, the money sent by the great devil and the very slightly less evil EU … what about they take a bit of that and this time invest it in something else than rockets and tunnels?
      Yes, I know, crazy. If we send more money they can steal some more and there’ll be more heartbreaking pictures.

  2. Gunness is a comprehensive shit, isn’t he?

    As to that number ’50’: I believe that Hamas admitted eventually that it was really —500—.

  3. Chris Gunness does seem to be fixated on the number of children killed to the point of mental illness.

  4. Hamas is aware that Israeli analysts are comparing names and ages with known members of terrorist groups and proving that Hamas figures are false, even if the BBC accepts and repeats them as fact. So it has ordered that names and ages will no longer be made public.

    The article allowing that young men of fighting age are the largest group has had no impact, at all, on BBC reporting. The boilerplate XXXX dead mostly civilian appears everywhere.

  5. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pulling the strings… Hundreds of journalists on key positions in their companies are on a second salary from them…

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  7. George Orwell and Ray Bradbury would love this. No need to change what was printed, no need to burn anything. Just change what’s online.
    “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

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  9. Yes, I noticed too that changes have been made to the original article by Anthony Reuben. I’m speculating that there’s an internal bureaucratic battle going on in BBC between different camps. A various times BBC had been accused by different parties it of bias toward Israel or towards Gaza. There had been anti-Israel camp complaining about Anthony Reuben’s original article, such as this one:
    “An open letter to Anthony Reuben.

    I think the revision is in response to complaints such as these. To me the pictogram showing disproportionately large number of men killed struck me as odd.. It shows me that anti-Israeli bias is irrational and rooted in emotions and prejudice.

    To me, the Guinness guy crying on TV was so fake.. He’d make a lousy actor for sure.

  10. Now check this report from the BBC. Nowhere in the report it is mentioned who fired the rocket that fell a kilometer and a half away from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport but it does mention that “the halt in service comes less than a week after Israel began a ground operation in Gaza”! This is the best example of biased reporting by the BBC one of whose reporters, Alan Johnston, was kidnapped in Gaza by Hamas linked little known terror group, the Army of Islam, back in March 2007.

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  14. We need answers regarding the discrepancies and if the BBC have made. ma
    mistakes they. must make a full public apology and a retraction of any inaccuracies found.

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