Two months ago BBC Radio 4 promoted a Gaza Strip related story but failed to provide its listeners with the background necessary for them to put British surgeon David Nott’s account into its correct context, thereby potentially misleading BBC audiences.
On August 2nd the BBC World Service repeated the exercise when David Nott was again interviewed by Jo Fidgen on the radio programme ‘Outlook’.
After discussing Nott’s experiences in Sarajevo, Fidgen turned to the subject of Gaza (from 07:08 here).
Fidgen: “And since then, in different war zones around the world; an increasing number of attacks on medical facilities and on medical staff. And I think there was an occasion in Gaza…ah…when you were again in that situation. Tell us what happened there.”
Indeed military attacks on medical facilities have been making the headlines in recent months – but in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan rather than in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, with Fidgen having created the linkage, Nott just had to take up the cue.
Nott: “Yes…it’s…I was in Gaza 2014 and similar sort of thing. Again…ehm…you always feel that international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions should always protect hospitals, should protect health-workers and doctors and you should be allowed to go about your work without any problems.”
There is of course no evidence to show that health-workers and doctors in the Gaza Strip were not protected by the applicable laws and conventions during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas but while Nott did not specifically say there is, he immediately went on to repeat the story he previously told on BBC Radio 4, with a few minor differences.
“And in Gaza I was there working for the International Committee of the Red Cross this time and…err…I was on the top floor operating on a young child in fact who was about seven years of age…[…] I was preparing her for the operation and suddenly somebody came up to me – one of the Red Cross security people – and said ‘David, we have to leave the hospital because the hospital is going to get targeted’. I said ‘what do you mean the hospital is going to’…’well it’s going to get blown up; we don’t know by whom but the message is that we need to get out now otherwise, you know, we’re not going to make it’.
As was the case in the previous interview, many listeners would have been left with the impression that Israel was the party expected to ‘target’ and ‘blow up’ the hospital. Nott concluded his story as follows:
“…and I finished the operation and then about an hour later people started to come back into the operating theatre when they realised that the hospital didn’t get blown up and it was…ah…it was one of those life moments actually.”
As was noted here the last time the BBC amplified Nott’s long mileage story of an ‘attack’ on a hospital that never happened:
“Shifa hospital was of course not attacked on that day or any other and – despite what Nott was told at the time – it was in fact considered to be one of the safest places in the Gaza Strip, as reported by the BBC’s James Reynolds just days later:
“…just to explain where we are; we’re at the Shifa hospital here in the centre of Gaza. When you speak to ordinary people here, they feel that this is about the only safe place that there is in this strip of land – this or the grounds of the other hospitals here – because they believe that Israel will not target hospitals. There are actually some families sleeping outside the hospital – again, they believe that they won’t be hit here….””
During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas the BBC repeatedly amplified false claims that Israel had attacked medical facilities without due cause and it has since failed to clarify or correct the inaccuracies which appeared in numerous reports.
The fact that the corporation has showcased David Nott’s story twice in two months – in both cases omitting information which would have prevented audiences from being misled – does nothing to enhance the impression that the BBC’s approach to this topic is rooted in a commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. Rather, it suggests that the corporation is more interested in perpetuating a myth.
Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza