BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

Earlier this month we documented an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor during the September 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

In an item relating to post-election Israeli politics Jeremy Bowen told listeners that:

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Bowen’s inaccurate claim which BBC Complaints initially tried to dismiss with the following response:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding From Our Own Correspondent, broadcast on Thursday 26th September.

We have spoken with the programme team about your concerns. During his report Jeremy Bowen says, “Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” Although a verdict is due to be made by the end of the year we don’t believe it was inaccurate for Jeremy to say “they’re due to come to court next month”, as he was referring to the allegations that were due to be bought forward at this time. We hope this clarifies Jeremy’s statement.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint, pointing out that the response received was unsatisfactory:

“What is “due to be made by the end of the year” – is a decision by the Attorney General’s office whether or not to indict Netanyahu on all or any of the three cases. Hence “the allegations” are not “due to come to court next month” as claimed by the BBC – i.e. October – because as yet no indictment has been made. Reasonable members of the audience would understand from Bowen’s words that a court case is due to commence in October and would necessarily conclude from that that an indictment has been made. That is not the case and so Bowen’s claim is both inaccurate and misleading.”

On October 28th we received a further response from BBC Complaints in which once again we see that the BBC takes the liberty of declaring a second response at Stage 1b of the procedure “your first reply”. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’re sorry you had to come back to us and we appreciate why. We always aim to address the specific points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. Your [sic] previous reply didn’t tackle the exact issue you raised and we’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We have spoken with the From Our Own Correspondent team about your concerns. They would like to respond with the following:

“Thanks for writing in again and I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the previous reply.

You are right to suggest that Jeremy was referring to the pre-trial hearing with the attorney-general, which took place behind closed doors at the Justice ministry.

Jeremy was using a turn of phrase, to indicate the legal process was reaching its crucial next stage, but in case listeners thought the case was actually coming to court next month we can clarify the point on our complaints website.

The Attorney-General has of course already indicated that charges are likely.”

Thank you again for getting in touch.”

On October 28th the following correction was posted on the BBC’s ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ page:

However, no notification of that correction has been added to the programme’s webpage, where the item is still available to audiences.

The new BBC editorial guidelines published in July state that:

“Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.”  [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, BBC audiences will continue to be misled by Jeremy Bowen’s inaccurate account because BBC Radio 4 has not complied with those editorial guidelines.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

BBC Complaints makes it up as it goes along

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

2 comments on “BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

  1. BBC Complaints is either incompetent or deliberate with its inaccuracies – and always sneakily delays corrections until they are irrelevant to their average audience.

  2. Your link essentially says the the charges have to go through the pre-indictment process before going to a full court. A bit like our magistrates court here.

    If this is the case Bowen is not inaccurate you are

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