As readers no doubt recall, one of the many remarkable features of BBC coverage of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip was the corporation’s failure to report on Hamas’ use of the local civilian population as human shields.
Not only did BBC journalists refrain from reporting adequately on the issue of Hamas’ placement of military assets in populated areas (with the BBC later claiming that it was “very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out”) and the terror group’s instructions to civilians to stay put in such areas but some BBC correspondents even went out of their way to deny the phenomenon.
“I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” Jeremy Bowen, July 22, 2014.
“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” Orla Guerin, August 13, 2014.
Complaints from members of the public on that issue were eventually dismissed by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee in a tortured and self-contradicting ruling which adopted an interpretation of the term human shields that conflicts with existing definitions. The ESC advisor wrote:
“…there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas.”
In contrast to that ‘radio silence’ on the topic of Hamas’ use of human shields in Gaza in 2014, recent BBC coverage of the multinational military operation to drive ISIS out from the Mosul area in Iraq which began on October 16th has included several reports concerning that terror group’s use of human shields.
Just three days after the operation commenced, the BBC News website published an article titled “Mosul battle: US says IS using human shields” which amplified statements made by one of the parties to the Combined Joint Task Force conducting the operation.
“The US has accused Islamic State (IS) militants of using civilians as human shields as Iraqi forces move closer to the group’s stronghold in Mosul. […]
Asked by reporters in Washington if IS was using civilians as human shields, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said “absolutely”.
“They are being held there against their will,” he said on Tuesday. “We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing.”
Residents reached by telephone by Reuters news agency said IS was preventing people fleeing the city and had directed some of them towards buildings likely to be targeted by air strikes.”
The report did not include any indication of independent BBC confirmation of those claims.
October 21st saw the publication of an article headlined “Mosul battle: IS ‘may use civilians as human shields’” which amplified speculative statements made by a UN official.
“At least 200 Iraqi families have been made to leave their homes for Mosul by Islamic State (IS) fighters and could be used as human shields, the UN warns. […]
Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there was “a grave danger that ISIL fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated,” using an acronym for IS.”
On October 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Mosul Iraq battle: ‘Tens of thousands of civilians’ used as IS human shields” which again amplified UN statements.
“Islamic State (IS) militants have abducted tens of thousands of civilians from around the Iraqi city of Mosul to use as human shields, the UN says. […]
“Credible reports” suggested that civilians in sub-districts around Mosul had been forced from their homes and relocated inside the city since the offensive began earlier this month, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. […]
“Isil’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Ms Shamdasani added, using an acronym for IS.”
Once again, there was no indication of the BBC having independently confirmed those reports before their publication.
On November 7th visitors to the BBC News website and viewers of BBC television news saw a filmed report titled “Battle for Mosul: IS ‘herded human shields like sheep’“.
“The BBC’s Karen Allen spoke to residents of one town near Mosul who say they were used as “human shields” by retreating militants.”
So as we see, within less than a month since the launch of the military operation against ISIS in the Mosul region, BBC audiences were alerted to the terror group’s use of civilians as human shields on at least four occasions. The majority of those reports were based on information provided by outside sources and – in contrast to the 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, where the corporation did have journalists on the ground in the relevant areas – the BBC apparently did not find it necessary in this case to find “evidence” of its own before reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS.