A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

As readers no doubt recall, when a vehicular and stabbing attack took place in London last month, the BBC made appropriate use of the word terror in its reports on the story.

In contrast, the word terror is consistently absent from reports concerning similar acts of terrorism that take place in Israel.

A member of the corporation’s funding public, Mr Neil Turner, wrote to the BBC to ask them to explain that lack of consistency in the use of the term terror. The reply he received includes the following (emphasis added):

“Thank you for getting in touch about our report on the attack carried out on Westminster Bridge in London and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

The BBC sets out clear parameters on how terms such as “terrorist” might be used:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidance/terrorism-language/guidance-full

Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.

Thank you again for raising this matter.”

Once again we see that the BBC chooses to deliberately conflate means with ends, putting forward the obviously flawed argument that if a person commits an act of violence against civilians with the purpose of furthering a political or religious agenda in a country in which there is “an ongoing geopolitical conflict”, that is not terrorism but if he does the exact same in a country where there is no such ongoing conflict, it is.

The bottom falls out of that argument when we recall that the BBC did use the term ‘Jewish terrorists’ to describe the perpetrator/s of the arson attack in Duma, despite the existence of an “ongoing geopolitical conflict”.

The corporation’s complaints department also appears to have tried to find a way of dismissing the fact that UK forces are involved in the military campaign against jihadists in Iraq and Syria by means of use of the term “direct physical combat”. Notably, the BBC is apparently not inclined to promote the notion that those actions of a state fighting terrorism might be “considered as terrorist acts”.

While there appears to be no limit to the ‘creativity’ of BBC Complaints when challenged on the issue of the corporation’s double standards and lack of consistency when reporting acts of terror, audiences are of course likely to remain unimpressed by these repeatedly contorted excuses.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

  

 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

Readers may recall that on January 2nd the BBC Arabic website published a report on the death of Hilarion Capucci which included less than impartial terminology.bbc-arabic-capucci-art

“In the article’s second paragraph Jerusalem as a whole is described as “the occupied city of Jerusalem” and readers are told that Capucci “was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on charges of supporting the Palestinian resistance…”. [emphasis added]”

BBC Watch wrote to BBC Arabic on the subject but did not receive a reply. We therefore submitted a complaint which has been upheld.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint about an article published on the BBC Arabic Service website. I forwarded your comments to one of the editors in the Service, Mohamed Yehia. Below is his reply…   […] 

Thank you for your message. After looking into your complaint and reviewing the piece it referred to on our website, the BBC Arabic Service has decided to uphold all three points mentioned in the complaint regarding the language used to describe Jerusalem, the Israeli military and the PLO. We have made the necessary changes to bring the text in line with our editorial guidelines. We apologise for this editorial mistake which we take very seriously and will be addressing it formally with the journalist responsible for publishing the article.

Mohamed Yehia

Editor, BBC Arabic Service

I hope the above apology and correction of the article allays the concerns you have raised.”

The corrected article now reads:

“Capucci was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 1922 and was appointed bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the city of Jerusalem in 1965, and in 1974 he was arrested by Israeli security forces on charges of smuggling weapons from Beirut to the benefit of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in his own car.”

However, no footnote has been added to inform readers of the correction and it does not appear on the BBC’s page of “significant corrections“.

BBC corrects ‘angel of peace’ claim after two complaints

Last month we noted that a BBC News website article promoted inaccurate information which the BBC itself had already clarified twenty months earlier.

“The consequence of that failure to clarify inaccurate information in a timely manner to both BBC audiences and BBC staff was apparent in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th 2017 under the title “Mahmoud Abbas: US embassy move to Jerusalem would hurt peace“. There, the ‘angel of peace’ theme – which the BBC itself reported as being misleading twenty months ago – is repeated.”

angel-of-peace-para

After having had one complaint on the matter rejected, Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a second complaint to the BBC to which he received a response that includes the following:abbas-us-embassy-art

“I’m sorry that our initial response did not address your concerns. After considering them further we’ve since amended this piece to now explain that:

Israeli relations with the Vatican were further strained after it was reported that Pope Francis described President Abbas as “an angel of peace” during the canonisation ceremony of two Palestinian nuns at the Vatican in 2015. The Vatican later clarified that this was an encouragement to Mr Abbas rather than a description of him.

We’ve also added correction note at the bottom of the article outlining this change.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and please accept our apologies both for the inclusion of this error and that it wasn’t recognised when you first complained.”

correction-angel-of-peace-art

footnote-angel-of-peace-art

The changes made to the article can be seen here.

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

Back in July the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint submitted by BBC Watch which had previously been twice rejected by the corporation’s complaints department. The complaint concerned the inaccurate claim that the book ‘Borderlife’ by Dorit Rabinyan had been ‘banned’ by an Israeli minister. 

Borderlife ECU

As was noted here at the time:Front Row 22 2

“During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.”

We can now report that the programme concerned has been edited and the recording available online no longer includes the inaccurate claim (previously from 27:03) that the book ‘Borderlife’ was ‘banned’ by the Israeli Minister for Culture. At the beginning of the recording an insert advises listeners of the edit and the webpage now includes a footnote with the URL of the ECU decision.

front-row-footnote

The action taken by the ‘Front Row’ team is of course welcome and appropriate: new listeners to the recording will now not be misled by inaccurate information. However, it remains highly unlikely that audience members who heard the original broadcast nearly seven months ago would at this juncture return to that webpage and see that a correction has been made.

Related Articles:

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

BBC responds to a complaint about inaccuracy with more inaccuracy

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

BBC to review its complaints system again

The July 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Feedback’ (available here) included an item in which presenter Roger Bolton discussed the topic of BBC impartiality with the corporation’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.BBC R4 Feedback

Towards the end of that discussion (from 11:43), the conversation turned to another subject.

RB: “David Jordan; just before you leave us can I ask you about the BBC complaints procedure because we’ve just heard that it’s being overhauled and you indeed the man who is going to overhaul it. Why?”

DJ: “I think overhaul might be over-egging the pudding but…ahm….we are having a look at our complaints system in the light of the fact that…err…under the new charter which will be introduced in the New Year, we will be regulated for the first time by OFCOM – the office of communications: an outside regulator – and they will be responsible for all the third stage appeals against our complaints that are currently handled by the BBC Trust.”

After explaining the terms first, second and third stages, Jordan went on to say:

“We’re just having a look at the first two stages in the whole process to make sure it’s as simple as possible, as transparent as possible and that we’re as accountable as possible under the new system and that’s what I’ve been asked to do.”

Whether or not members of the corporation’s funding public whom the BBC complaints procedure is supposed to serve will be consulted on the topic of the current system’s ‘simplicity’ and ‘transparency’ is unclear. At the moment, no such consultation appears on the BBC Trust’s website

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

As readers may recall, since late last year various BBC radio programmes have misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

With previous efforts to alert BBC World Service programme makers to the inaccuracy having proved fruitless, after the February 22nd broadcast of ‘Front Row’ on Radio 4, BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the following inaccurate claims made in that programme:

“…recently the [Israeli] culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’.”

As readers may recall, the complaint was twice rejected by the BBC Complaints department, with the second response including the programme production team’s claim that:

“This was a discussion that wasn’t specifically about the Rabinyan case – it was about another author’s work and the discussion strayed into political interference in Israeli culture. As such, Samira used the shorthand “banned” in reference to the book. The book was removed from the school syllabus, but in a discussion as wide ranging as this, the point about political involvement in arts and culture still stands whether the book has been banned from society at large, or removed from the school syllabusThe decision to interfere in the distribution of this book was made by, or under pressure from, politicians. That was the point the interviewee was making and to which the presenter responded.” [emphasis added]

As we noted at the time:

“The book ‘Borderlife’ was not “banned” in Israel and is freely available to all would-be purchasers in book shops. Neither was it “removed from the school syllabus” – because it was never on it. The decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by a professional pedagogic body – not “by, or under pressure from, politicians”.”

BBC Watch pursued the matter further and the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld our complaint, as is now noted on the BBC website’s ‘corrections and clarifications’ page.

Borderlife correction

The ECU’s reporting of its findings includes a section titled ‘Further action’.

Borderlife ECUGiven the production team’s above response to the second stage complaint, one must obviously question whether in fact it is in a position to “ensure that presenters are appropriately briefed”.Front Row 22 2

During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.

One cannot but question the efficacy – and commitment to transparency – of a publicly funded complaints system which apparently does not include a mechanism to ensure that audiences are automatically informed in the most efficient manner possible of the fact that they were given misleading information, rather than the outcome being dependent upon decisions made by individual departments. 

 

BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (CAMERA)