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January 10, 2022 6:02 pm

UK Minister Calls for ‘Fair and Effective’ Complaint Review at BBC After Coverage of London Bus Attack


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative. Photo: Dan Taylor / Wikimedia Commons

The UK’s secretary of culture has raised doubts about whether the BBC can fairly review complaints in the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding its coverage of an antisemitic attack in London last year.

The Nov. 29 incident saw a busload of Jewish teenagers celebrating Hanukkah harassed by a group of men who began spitting and shouting at them before banging on the vehicle’s windows.

At the time, the BBC reported that some of the victims were heard on tape making anti-Muslim slurs, a claim that was roundly rejected by the Jewish community. While the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) last month released two independent forensic reports concluding that no such slurs could be heard, the BBC has largely stood by its original reporting.

The Times of London reported on Saturday that UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries has now written to BBC Director-General Tim Davies — questioning whether the broadcaster, which internally reviews complaints lodged against it, can be “fair and effective” in assessing outside concerns about its reporting.

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“It is crucial that the BBC can be properly held to account for the fulfillment of its mission and public purposes as set out in the charter, including through a fair and effective complaint process,” Dorries wrote.  “I expect the mid-term review of the BBC charter to consider whether this is currently the case.”

Commenting on reports it commissioned last month, BoD President Marie van der Zyl argued at the time that “the BBC should have done this itself, rather than apparently conducting an internal investigation and finding no wrongdoing.”

Those reports found that a phrase apparently misheard by BBC producers as the English words “dirty Muslim” was in fact a plea for help issued in Hebrew.

“To us, this apparent attempt to mark its own homework is reminiscent of the behavioral pattern the corporation has displayed amidst past scandals,” van der Zyl said.

The BBC has repeatedly maintained that its reporting was accurate, although it previously amended the article to change an earlier claim that more than one offending remark was heard on the footage.

“Our story was a factual report that overwhelmingly focused on the individuals the police want to identify, those who directed abuse at the bus. We take complaints very seriously and they are being taken through our complaints process,” the BBC told the Times. “Tim Davie has instructed that this process is accelerated to the executive complaints unit, which is editorially independent from news and will ensure complaints are fully responded to as swiftly as possible.”

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