BBC rejects complaint concerning inaccurate claim about Israeli airport security

As readers may recall, on March 22nd the BBC News website published an article by Home Affairs correspondent Tom Symonds in which it was inaccurately claimed that the level of security checks at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv are dependent upon the colour of the traveller’s skin.Brussels airport security art

Symonds wrote:

“Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, often cited as the world’s most secure, relies on profiling. Passengers are closely watched and intensively questioned about who they are and where they are going.

It works because it allows a more fluid and less predictable line of security.”

However, Symonds then went on to tell his readers:

“But it is a technique often criticised as “politically incorrect” because those without white faces, travelling to and from “non-western” countries, face more scrutiny. [emphasis added]

Symonds provided no evidence to support his inaccurate allegation of racial profiling according to skin colour.  One example contradicting that allegation was given by a former director of security at Ben Gurion airport in an article from 2010. 

“Israeli aviation security manages to create a reasonable balance between detection technology and human interaction. While at American airports we deploy people to support technology, in Tel Aviv technology is deployed to support people. Does it work? Ask Anne Marie Murphy, a young Irishwoman who, in 1986, nearly boarded a plane while carrying an explosive device without her knowledge. Her terrorist boyfriend, who was supposed to be on a separate flight, had given her a bag with a concealed bomb. When a profiler began to ask her a standard set of questions, it became clear that she was an anomaly (she had no accommodations lined up, among other issues). The device, which was cleverly hidden, would not have been detected during a pat-down, or even by an X-ray scanner. But the profiler, who was not distracted by her ethnicity, religion, gender, or her obvious pregnancy, saved Murphy and hundreds of other passengers—simply by taking her aside and talking to her.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccuracy. The BBC Complaints department’s response fails to address the issue raised in that complaint and the article has not been corrected.

Response airport complaint

BBC Watch will of course be pursuing the issue further.

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BBC News alleges racial discrimination in Israeli airport security

Among the copious BBC News website coverage of the March 22nd terror attacks in Brussels was an article by Home Affairs correspondent Tom Symonds titled “Brussels attacks: Airport security under the spotlight again” which opened as follows:Brussels airport security art

“Global airport security is again under the spotlight following the attacks in Brussels. Is it ever possible to prevent a suicide bomber entering an airport to kill and maim?”

What followed was a fairly superficial discussion of the security measures employed at airports which could have been written by anyone who has ever travelled by air. The topic then turned to differing approaches to security and, predictably, the measures employed at Israel’s international airport came up.

“Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, often cited as the world’s most secure, relies on profiling. Passengers are closely watched and intensively questioned about who they are and where they are going.

It works because it allows a more fluid and less predictable line of security.”

However, Symonds then went on to tell his readers:

“But it is a technique often criticised as “politically incorrect” because those without white faces, travelling to and from “non-western” countries, face more scrutiny.

Passengers complain of being forced to answer personal questions or even hand over personal items deemed to pose a risk. It can be highly intrusive.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no basis to Symonds’ crude allegation of racial discrimination and in fact a CIA report apparently instructed personnel that:

“Security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, commonly refer military-aged males traveling alone with backpacks to secondary screening, regardless of their nationality or skin color,” the report notes. “Israel’s security personnel focus on frequent travel to Islamic countries.” [emphasis added]

That modus operandi would no doubt sound quite logical to anyone more worried about getting blown up than political correctness but nevertheless, readers of this stocking-filler piece – obviously intended to fluff up the volume of coverage on a particularly busy news day – went away with the inaccurate notion that security checks at Israel’s main airport depend upon the colour of one’s skin.

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