Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

h/t JC, YM

Back in November we noted the contrast between BBC reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS in the Mosul area of Iraq and its silence concerning Hamas’ use of human shields in the Gaza Strip during the summer 2014 conflict.

As readers no doubt recall, within hours of the 2014 conflict’s commencement the BBC began to repeatedly amplify false claims that Israel was ‘targeting civilians’ – and hence committing ‘war crimes’ – while failing to report Hamas’ placement of military assets (including missile launchers) in populated civilian areas.

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A written report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 13th (“IS fighters left in Mosul will die, says US envoy McGurk“) again informed BBC audiences of the use of human shields by ISIS.

‘”Mosul’s liberation is increasingly in sight, albeit with increasingly difficult fighting ahead,” Mr McGurk [US envoy to the multinational coalition] told reporters on Sunday.

He said Iraqi forces were retaking “some of the most difficult ground that we knew would have to be reclaimed”.

He added: “They’re doing this in a dense urban environment facing a suicidal enemy that’s using civilians as shields.”’ [emphasis added] 

A filmed report – also shown on BBC television news programmes – that appeared on the same page of the website on the same day under the headline “Tamer Suhalia Najaf: ‘Three of my daughters were killed’” features an injured civilian from Mosul whose three daughters were killed in an airstrike by Iraqi forces and/or their coalition partners on an ISIS position placed near their house.

In contrast to the BBC’s 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, viewers of this report did not hear any claims of deliberate targeting of civilians or allegations of ‘war crimes’.

Viewers of another filmed report, which was shown on BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website on March 10th under the title “Battle for Mosul: The high price of freedom“, heard Orla Guerin tell the story of a woman whose house had been taken over by ISIS militiamen.

“She shows us how they hid when IS fighters stormed in to use them as human shields. One went to the roof, she says, but he started to shoot. He attacked the army.” [emphasis added]

As readers may recall, in an August 2014 report titled “Gaza conflict: Allegations of war crimes” the same Orla Guerin told BBC television audiences:

“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.”

Complaints concerning the accuracy of that statement were repeatedly dismissed by the BBC, with the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee calling the complainants’ definition of human shields into question.

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response.”

When that ESC decision was published in 2015 we noted that:

“The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.”

As we see, the BBC has indeed chosen to apply a definition of the term human shields in its reporting from Iraq which is markedly different to the one used in its coverage from Gaza.

Related Articles:

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BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

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5 comments on “Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

  1. Re the way the BBC reports the unprovoked seizure of parts of the Ukraine by Russia and how they report Gaza, etc.: You may not have heard Zeinab Badawi interviewing a senior U.S. intelligence officer. He complained at Trump’s selective banning of visitors from Muslim countries and stated that Saudi Arabia should have been included in the list, since Saudis were responsible for 9/11. Badawi sneeringly replied “Oh, the Saudi government refutes this”, as if what he was saying was nonsense. Can you imagine her defending Israel against a similar accusation by claiming that the Israeli government refutes it?
    On a similar theme, the UN has recently stated that four countries in the world are suffering severe famines, largely due to civil wars or attacks from outside. No one seems to have pointed out that the reason for the unrest is – the United Nations, whose Security Council and other bodies systematically refuses to condemn the aggressors – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Muslim countries in general, etc.

  2. Pingback: 03/17 Links Pt2: Amb. Baker: Was the Balfour Declaration Legal?; Who is Chloe Valdary? – 24/6 Magazine

  3. Pingback: BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul | BBC Watch

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