UK Jewish Groups Blast BBC’s ‘Whitewash Non-Apology’ for Report Defaming Victims of Antisemitic Attack
UK Jewish groups reacted with outrage on Thursday after the BBC issued what one called a “whitewash non-apology” for a report that falsely charged the victims of an antisemitic attack with making anti-Muslim comments.
The incident took place in Nov. 2021, in which a group of Hannukah celebrants were menaced by a group of Muslim men on the streets of London. The BBC report on the incident said one of the victims had used an “anti-Muslim slur” — a claim roundly rejected by Jewish community, including the rabbi who organized the holiday bus trip.
Several expert analyses of footage of the incident commissioned by Jewish groups later confirmed that the phrase heard by BBC producers as “dirty Muslims” was in fact a Hebrew-language call for assistance. The BBC, however, continued to stand by its claims.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit only partly upheld complaints against the broadcaster. It concluded that the BBC’s report did not lack impartiality or engage in a “false equivalence” by using the qualifier “alleged” in regard to the bus incident but not the charge of the bigoted slur.
Regarding the false “slur” claim itself, the ECU stated, “With hindsight, and in the light of subsequent evidence that the recording was open to another interpretation, it might be argued that even further verification should have been sought, but the situation at the time was that no alternative interpretation had been proposed.”
It further claimed that the Jewish group the Community Security Trust had confirmed the use of an anti-Muslim slur, “and in our view the elements of internal scrutiny taken together with the CST’s response amounted to an editorial process which we would regard as more than sufficient in any but the most extraordinary circumstances.”
“We therefore do not believe we can fairly find that the decision to broadcast the claim in question constituted a breach of editorial standards, even if it were accepted in the light of later evidence that the claim itself was questionable,” it added. “And, in view of allegations of latent or even active antisemitism which have been made, the ECU considers it important to say it was manifest from the evidence we have seen that the decision, whether or not mistaken, was made entirely in good faith.”
In conclusion, the ECU held that “the online article as it stands must now be regarded as no longer meeting the BBC’s standards of due accuracy and, to the extent that the anti-Muslim slur claim has itself become controversial, it also lacks due impartiality in failing to reflect alternative views.”
A spokesperson for the BBC declared in reaction to the investigation that the network had been vindicated on all points, except that “the ECU has also found that more could have been done, subsequent to the original report, to acknowledge the differing views and opinions in relation to what was said.”
Accordingly, they said, “We have amended the story posted on the BBC News website on 2 December 2021 and issued a clarification in relation to a news report aired on BBC London on the same day.”
The British government’s communications regulator Ofcom appeared to be dissatisfied with the network’s conclusions, saying that the ECU report “raises issues under our due accuracy rules” and that they “have launched an investigation” into the issue.
Jewish groups, meanwhile, reacted to the broadcaster’s statements with outrage.
The Community Security Trust said it “completely rejects” the charge that it confirmed the use of an anti-Muslim slur to the BBC, saying it was never asked to do so.
Instead, it said, it had told a journalist that “the alleged slur, even if true, was irrelevant to the dynamic of how the incident occurred and should not be reported.”
“The BBC’s claim is therefore a completely misleading representation of the exchanges between the BBC and CST on that day,” it said. “CST informed the BBC of this before today’s report was published, but they have gone ahead anyway. Their behavior is appalling and deeply damaging.”
A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism blasted the BBC’s statement as “a whitewash non-apology that stands by its spurious reporting of an anti-Muslim slur and dismisses the monumental offense generated by its coverage.”
“It is a travesty that the BBC thinks that it can toss the Jewish community a bone by upholding minor elements of our complaint while defending almost the entirety of its reportage and conduct over the course of this abominable saga,” they added. “Sadly, this sort of stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster.”
“If the BBC thinks that it has settled this matter and appeased the Jewish community, it is deeply mistaken,” the spokesperson said.
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “We note the ECU finding that the BBC did not meet standards of due accuracy and impartiality. We are, however, dismayed that the Corporation continues to justify certain erroneous editorial decisions that continue to cloud the issue and will compound the distress faced by the victims. The Corporation also needs to acknowledge that it has badly misrepresented advice given to them by our colleagues at the CST.”
“We welcome Ofcom’s decision to investigate the incident,” she added. “We trust that justice will prevail.”