When in the summer of 2014 the BBC finally got round to providing its audiences with information about Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels thirteen days after the conflict began, the corporation was unable to describe the purpose of those tunnels to audiences in its own words.
Billed “Gaza ‘terror tunnels’ in 60 secs” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, the filmed report appeared under the equally interestingly punctuated title “Middle East crisis: Israel releases ‘Gaza tunnel footage'”. In the synopsis audiences were told that:
“Israel sent ground troops into Gaza on Thursday, saying the ground operation is necessary to target Hamas’ network of tunnels.
It has stated the tunnels pose a threat of terrorist attacks against the Israeli population.”
The film itself employed similarly qualified language:
“Israel says tunnels like this are being used by militants to infiltrate its territory”.
“This Israel Defense Forces footage shows suspected Hamas fighters in bushes, firing on Israeli troops”.
“Israel says it has been forced to send troops into Gaza to find and destroy tunnels like this one” [all emphasis added]
In contrast, five days after the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS began on October 16th 2016, the BBC’s Ahmed Maher was able to tell audiences that:
“These tunnels are very important and a key element in the military strategy of the jihadist group.”
The BBC was similarly able to describe the purpose of the tunnels in its own words in the synopsis to Maher’s report.
“The tunnels have been mainly used as hideouts and escape routes by the militants.”
In an article by Richard Galpin published on October 25th under the title “Mosul battle: Four ways IS is fighting back” readers found a section sub-headed “Tunnels”.
“As the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces have advanced towards Mosul, regaining control of towns and villages which had been in the hands of IS, they have discovered networks of tunnels dug in many areas, a classic tactic for guerrilla warfare.
They seem to be primarily defensive, designed to protect the militants from air strikes, artillery and other attacks. Inside the tunnels troops have found sleeping bags, food supplies, water, and even electricity cables so the users have light.
The tunnels are often dug beneath buildings, including mosques, so the excavation work cannot be spotted. But the tunnels can also be used for surprise attacks.
In one of the most dramatic moments captured on video since the offensive began, an IS militant climbs out of a tunnel in a rural area and opens fire on a group of soldiers who had presumably thought they were on safe ground. The man then blows himself up before the soldiers can react.
It is assumed that there is a similar network of tunnels in Mosul city itself, which could enable IS fighters and their leaders to hide during the anticipated assault and if necessary escape.
Troops have found booby-traps in tunnels which the militants have been forced to flee, including one which had been attached to a copy of the Koran.”
Notably, the BBC has found no need to employ superfluous punctuation or qualifiers such as “Iraq says” when describing the existence and purpose of those tunnels in those and other reports.