BBC News passes up on the chance to correct Gaza misinformation

On June 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Gaza beach attack: Israel ‘struck boys in error’” relating to the results of the investigation into an incident which took place on July 16th 2014 during Operation Protective Edge (see section 7 here) made public the previous day by Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG).

The BBC’s article describes the investigation’s findings as follows and inserted into the text is a video clip which is a recycled version of Lyse Doucet’s filmed report on the incident dating from July 16th 2014.

Gaza Beach incident Doucet report

In that report Doucet described the location of the incident as an installation used by the Hamas Naval Police to “control” local fishermen and cast doubt on the site’s military importance.Doucet Gaza report 16 7

“An Israeli warplane hit a naval container in Gaza’s port today. Some children ran for cover. Then; a second strike almost immediately. These children didn’t escape. Emergency services rushed the bodies away. Some are so charred they’re too gruesome to show. It’s not clear what the target was at this port.

Israel insists it only targets the infrastructure used by Hamas – terror targets as it calls them. Now, previously it hit this post. It was used by the Hamas naval police to control the fishermen. But the boats aren’t going out to sea because Israel controls the coastline. So we’re told that children who were here were all children of fishermen, scavenging for metal to try to support their families”. [emphasis added]

The text of this latest article describes the site as “a compound separated from the civilian part of the beach and used exclusively by Hamas militants”, doing little to provide audiences with the information and context missing from Doucet’s report. However, the MAG findings – which the BBC has obviously read and to which its report links – provide much more detail about the site of the attack. Interestingly, the BBC chose not to convey that information to its audiences.

“From the factual findings collected by MPCID investigators, it arose that the incident took place in an area that had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force (naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants. The compound in question spans the length of the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore, closed off by a fence and clearly separated from the beach serving the civilian population. It further arose in the course of the investigation (including from the affidavits provided to the MPCID by Palestinian witnesses), that the compound was known to the residents of the Gaza Strip as a compound which was used exclusively by Hamas’s Naval Police. The IDF carried out a number of attacks on the compound in the days prior to the incident. In the course of one such attack, which took place on the day prior to the incident (15 July 2014), a container located inside the compound, which was used to store military supplies, was attacked.”

In other words, the BBC not only passed up on the opportunity to correct the misleading impression conveyed to audiences eleven months ago by Lyse Doucet and to clarify that, rather than a police post connected to the fishing industry what was targeted the day before the incident was actually a military supply store, but even re-promoted Doucet’s inaccurate account.

Similarly, the BBC also passed up on the opportunity to relieve audiences of the mistaken impression given by Orla Guerin concerning the same incident when, in a filmed report aired on August 5th 2014 she told viewers:

“But there was no protection for these young boys trying to outrun Israeli missiles. They had been playing football on the beach. Four were killed. Three weeks on this bereaved family have newly embraced Hamas. The Bakas [phonetic] lost 11 year-old Mohammed. They say he was the light of the house. Little Mara keeps saying she wants to join him in heaven.“ [emphasis added] 

In fact, as the MAG report clarifies, the four boys were not “playing football on the beach” but had entered a closed-off compound used by terrorists.

“Shortly before the incident, an intelligence assessment was established which indicated that operatives from Hamas’s Naval Forces would gather in the military compound in order to prepare for military activity against the IDF. On 16 July, aerial surveillance identified a number of figures entering the compound at a running pace. These figures entered a shed adjoining the container which had been attacked the day prior. Against the backdrop of the aforementioned intelligence assessment, these were believed to be militants from Hamas’s Naval Forces, who had arrived at the compound in order to prepare to execute the aforementioned military activity against the IDF. It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children.”

The article goes on to link to a report published on the BBC News website on July 23rd 2014:Gaza beach incident main

“In the wake of the incident, the UN’s then top human rights official Navi Pillay accused Israel of having shown a “disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life”.”

No effort is made to balance that statement – made before any investigation into the circumstances of that incident and others had taken place – with professional opinions which, after examination of the evidence, have reached different conclusions than those promoted by Ms Pillay.

As was noted here last July in connection with Doucet’s above report:

“The results of the investigation into the tragic events of July 16th will no doubt be published as soon as possible. By then, of course, it is not improbable to expect that inaccurate and unverified early BBC reporting will once again already have created a narrative which no amount of facts will later dispel.”  

Unfortunately, even now that the facts are available, the BBC has elected to report them selectively and to unnecessarily amplify Doucet’s previous problematic report once again, thus doing the exact opposite to its public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

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