Inaccurate synopsis to BBC report amended

As was documented here a few days ago, the synopsis to a filmed report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 15th inaccurately described its subject matter as follows:

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children in Israeli air-strikes has been turned into a play.” [emphasis added]

Following contact from BBC Watch that synopsis was amended and it now opens:

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children when Israeli shells fell on his home in Gaza, has been turned into a play.”

obrien report

Context erased from BBC report concerning 2009 Gaza incident

On April 15th a filmed report made by Jane O’Brien and Bill McKenna for BBC World News and BBC News US was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Palestinian doctor turns personal tragedy into dramatic play“. The synopsis tells BBC audiences that:Jane Obrien report

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children in Israeli air-strikes has been turned into a play.” [emphasis added]

In fact, the tragic incident in which Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s three daughters and niece were killed in 2009 was not the result of air-strikes at all – as the subsequent investigation showed and as the BBC itself has previously reported.

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”

However, neither the synopsis nor the report itself provides any indication to audiences that the incident took place during a period of conflict brought about by Palestinian terrorism, with Jane O’Brien telling viewers that the play:

“…chronicles his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp, his determination to become a doctor, the death of his wife to leukemia and a few months later his three daughters – killed when Israeli missiles hit the family home in Gaza.”

That essential context is also absent from the rest of the report, in which thousands of missile attacks against Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip are erased entirely from the one-sided picture of passive Palestinian suffering it portrays.

O’Brien: “Do you think that the Palestinian conflict has become forgotten?”

Abuelaish: “It’s not forgotten. Of course there are priorities but as long as there is a child who is suffering and Palestinian people who are alive, the conflict is alive. But when are we going to solve it? That’s the problem – and the suffering; to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Among the obligations set out by the BBC’s public purposes remit is the commitment to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”. Clearly context-free reporting such as that displayed in this item not only does nothing to contribute to fulfilling that remit, but actively hinders the BBC’s supposed aim.


The synopsis appearing on the BBC News website has now been amended.

Controversy surrounding Iraqi Jewish Archive ignored in BBC feature

On November 9th the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website included a feature titled “The US archivist who saved the history of Iraq’s Jews” by Jane O’Brien which also appeared on the Middle East page. 

Iraqi Jewish Archive article

The article’s appearance coincides with the opening of the exhibition of the Iraqi Jewish Archive at the US National Archives on November 8th

Jane O’Brien’s article is both interesting and informative – in so far as it goes. Curiously, it avoids any mention of vital aspects of the story including the controversy surrounding the subject of the proposed hand-over of the restored archive to Iraq, making do with one short sentence on that subject.

“In 2014, when the conservation work is completed, the original documents will return to Iraq.”

Readers remain entirely unaware that Iraqi Jewish organisations are opposed to the documents being sent to a country where almost no Jews remain or of the fact that such a move would mean that Jewish scholars and the descendants of Iraqi Jewry would have no further access to the archive.

Related articles:

Cynthia Shamash : keep our treasures in US

Archive will be returned by mid-2014, says Iraq

Legal battle for archive won’t be easy

Jewish archive finally on display

Iraq may sign loan agreement over archive