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November 7, 2022 2:59 pm

BBC Ignored Editorial Guidelines in Reporting on Antisemitic Bus Attack: Report

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative Photo: Dan Taylor / Wikimedia Commons

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) failed to be “duly accurate or duly impartial” in its reporting on a 2021 antisemitic attack on a bus carrying Jewish teenagers who were celebrating Hanukkah in London, according to a long-awaited report released Monday by Ofcom, a UK media watchdog.

After the antisemitic incident, the BBC had reported that some of the victims were heard on tape making anti-Muslim slurs, a claim that was roundly rejected by the Jewish community. Later, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) released two independent forensic reports concluding that no such slurs could be heard, but the BBC largely stood by its original reporting, eliciting outrage from the Jewish community in Britain.

“The BBC failed to acknowledge promptly that there was a dispute about its interpretation of the audio, after it received evidence to support an alternative explanation that the words it had heard were in fact a Hebrew phrase, meaning “Call someone, it’s urgent,” Ofcom said on Monday. “In Ofcom’s opinion, the BBC’s failure to update the BBC News online article to reflect this dispute for almost eight weeks was a significant and concerning omission.”

Ofcom also said that while the BBC did not violate the UK’s media regulations, it “made a serious editorial misjudgement” that caused “significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack, and to the wider Jewish community.” It added that amending the story’s coverage to clarify that evidence disputing allegations of racist remarks had emerged would have focused the public’s attention on the antisemitic component of the attack rather than the BBC’s reporting about it.

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“Ofcom’s ruling on the BBC’s conduct in relation to the antisemitic Oxford Street attack has made it clear that ‘the BBC failed to observe its editorial guidelines on due impartiality and due accuracy’ and has the described the corporation’s ‘serious editorial misjudgement’ in this matter,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews said on Monday, responding to the report. “This ruling, in response to the Board’s written complaint, validates our significant concern over the BBC’s actions on this issue. We will now consider whether to take this issue to a judicial review.”

The report comes just several days after the BBC apologized for ignoring Jewish advocacy groups’ formal complaints about its Arabic-language reporting on the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as issuing corrections long after errors in its reporting were identified.

“Whilst there has been dialogue on the complaints, we acknowledge that some of them have not yet been actioned or responded to with a formal outcome letter,” the BBC said. “We apologize for the unacceptable delay and will ensure formal responses are issued as soon as possible.”

Per the BBC’s own rules, complaints about errors and bias should receive a response in ten business days. But, according to The Jewish Chronicle, which is circulating a petition calling for a parliamentary investigation of the broadcaster’s reporting on Israel, the BBC on average addresses complaints about its coverage of Israel in fourth months. One complaint, it added, received no formal response for a year.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA)¬†said that only seven of its 26 complaints about content accuracy “received a proper, timely response and resolution.”

One of the group’s complaints was based on the BBC’s reporting about the murder of a Palestinian gay man, which described Israel as hostile to the LGBTQ community. Another addressed a report that called Jewish community members visiting the Temple Mount “foreigners” and “settlers.” CAMERA also flagged a reference to Jewish prayer as “Talmudic ritual,” an explicitly derogatory description and, CAMERA said, a “dog whistle.”

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