The BBC admits “lack of balance” over “A family in mourning”

March 01, 2005

This is an update to two recent dispatches on this list:

(1) "A family in mourning" (The BBC means the bomber's) (February 28, 2005)
(2) YWCA says Israel is "just like Hitler" (February 25, 2005) (This dispatch included an item in which I perhaps wrongly referred to an "apology" by the BBC. The item was titled "The BBC apologizes for broadcasting an anti-Semitic blood libel by Scottish cleric John Bell, but now a senior Church of Scotland official says Bell has been made a martyr "like Jesus".)

-- Tom Gross

 

CONTENTS

1. BBC: "Post-bomb report sparks correction" (February 28, 2005)
2. Emails from the BBC explaining a "A family in mourning"
3. "Thought For The Day: An apology"
4. Letter: "The BBC claimed it was an apology but it was anything but"
5. Odelia Hobera, 26

 



NOT QUITE AN APOLOGY

[Note by Tom Gross]

For the second time in as many weeks, the BBC has issued a "correction" for their failure to report in a balanced way on Israel.

The "correction" to their clip "A family in mourning" was placed on the BBC website some hours after yesterday's dispatch was sent. The BBC has yet to make any "correction" on air on BBC1, the station on which the clip was broadcast.

While some weblogs are referring to this as an "apology," that is debatable.

The BBC states: "[We] showed footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning but failed to show any footage of victims' families to balance the report."

It is not clear that people who complained will agree with the BBC that "balance" constitutes having any footage of the terrorist's family in a report about families mourning as a result of the bomb.

Both the BBC "correction" and the photo caption that accompanies it state: "The blast at Tel Aviv killed four people and injured more than 30."

In fact, the bomb in Tel Aviv killed five Israelis and injured 49 others (or the BBC might have put "almost 50"). In its efforts to downplay Israelis as victims, the BBC rarely uses the word Israeli unless Israelis are aggressors. All the victims of Friday’s bomb were Israeli. By contrast, the BBC almost always uses the word "Palestinian" when there are Palestinian fatalities, and often adds the word "woman" or "child" or "teen" or gives the person's age, to further "humanize" them for the benefit of the BBC audience in a manner in which Israelis are not humanized by the BBC.

 

IN FACT THE BBC "APOLOGY" WAS NOT ONE

In my dispatch last week titled YWCA says Israel is "just like Hitler", I referred to an "apology" by the BBC radio for their "Thought for the Day" segment accusing the Israeli army of ordering soldiers to "shoot unarmed [Palestinian] schoolchildren."

I called this an "apology" because the BBC website used the titled: "Thought For
The Day: An apology."

But Hazel Green, a long-time subscriber to this email list, writes from London,
England:

"Dear Tom, I wish to correct the idea that Bell or the BBC "apologised". All they did was correct two factual inaccuracies as Bell put it, one relating to the alleged soldier's age, and the other, the statement that he had been conscripted.

Although the BBC did admit they had found no evidence to support the story, if you look at the page, (scroll down to Feb 10, then back up) you'll see why so many of us are still complaining:
www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/thought/comments.shtml"

NO REPLY FROM THE BBC

Tom Gross adds: Further down this email, I attach the BBC statement on this matter from the "religion" section of their website, together with Hazel Green's letter to the BBC, to which she has not received any proper reply.

Hazel Green and others point out that media watchdog groups have erred when they referred to the BBC's statement as an apology, since nowhere do the BBC or the Revd. Dr John L. Bell apologize for the main lie they told – namely that the Israeli army deliberately guns down unarmed children as a matter of policy.

 


BBC: POST-BOMB REPORT SPARKS CORRECTION

[This is the full text of the BBC statement]

News Watch
February 28, 2005

news.bbc.co.uk/newswatch/ukfs/hi/newsid_4300000/newsid_4305200/4305253.stm

Post-bomb report sparks correction

The BBC has issued a correction over its coverage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Four people were killed and about 30 were injured outside a popular seafront night club on Friday.

But dozens of people have contacted the BBC to complain about a related news item on Sunday's Breakfast programme on BBC One.

It showed footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning but failed to show any footage of victims' families to balance the report.

One complaint typical of the reaction said: "I felt that there was insufficient coverage of the innocent families affected by the bombing and too much time was spent on the family of the suicide bomber."

Another said it was an "outrageous insult to the victims of the terrorists".

In response, head of BBC television news Roger Mosey said: "The programme editors and I agree it was inappropriate to begin the report with footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning.

"It was also inappropriate to include this footage without coverage of the suffering of the victims' families.

"Using this picture sequence in this way was a mistake. However, the report's coverage of the political ramifications of the bombing and this week's London conference was balanced and fair - and we did, of course, report fully the events in Tel Aviv in our bulletins on Friday night and Saturday."

 

EMAILS FROM THE BBC EXPLAINING A "A FAMILY IN MOURNING"

Below are two emails sent to Joy Wolfe, of Manchester, England, from Helen Boaden, (Director, BBC News) and Mick Rawsthorne (Deputy Editor, Breakfast News). (Joy Wolfe is a long-time subscriber to this email list.)

The fact that senior BBC staff are bothering to reply to complainants about BBC coverage of Israel marks a change in the BBC's attitude to its audience, even if these replies do appear to be computer-generated and use a standard form of wording.

At least 12 BBC staff, working in various departments including BBC domestic news and BBC World news service, are subscribers to this email list.

-- Tom Gross

Dear Joy Wolfe,

Thank you for your email about our television report on Sunday concerning the nightclub bombings in Tel Aviv. Our Head of Television News, Roger Mosey, has investigated your complaint, and his findings are detailed below:

"The programme editors and I agree it was inappropriate to begin the report with footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning. It was also inappropriate to include this footage without coverage of the suffering of the victims' families. Using this picture sequence in this way was a mistake. However, the report's coverage of the political ramifications of the bombing and this week's London conference was balanced and fair - and we did, of course, report fully the events in Tel Aviv in our bulletins on Friday night and Saturday."

We will also post this explanation on our complaints website which can be found at bbc.co.uk/complaints and bbc.co.uk/newswatch

Thank you for taking the trouble to write.
Helen Boaden, Director, BBC News


Dear Ms Wolfe,

Thank you for you e-mail concerning the item on Sunday's programme. It was inappropriate to begin the report with footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning. It was also inappropriate to include this footage without coverage of the suffering of the victims' families. Using this picture sequence in this way was a mistake. However, the report's coverage of the political ramifications of the bombing and this week's London conference was balanced and fair.

I'm sorry if the report caused you offence.

Yours,
Mick Rawsthorne
Deputy Editor, Breakfast News

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: AN APOLOGY

Thought For The Day: An apology
BBC Radio 4 92 - 95 FM (198 LW)

www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/thought/apology.shtml

On Thought for the Day on Thursday 10 February, the Rev Dr John Bell told the story of an Arab man who said he was an ex-soldier in the Israeli Army. We have talked to the Israeli authorities and we are unable to find any evidence to support the story told to Dr Bell and recounted by him on Thought for the Day.

We also understand that Dr. Bell made two factual mistakes in his script. Those facts should have been checked before the broadcast. The Religion and Ethics Department apologises on behalf of the BBC and regrets the offence that was caused.

The Rev Dr John Bell has written to the BBC to express his own deep regret as follows:

"It is clear that I made two factual errors. The one was that he [the soldier] was 21 and not 19, thus he would have been of the age to be a corporal. The second is that he did not say he was conscripted. My presumption regarding conscription is wrong as regards Arab Israelis.

The purpose of my contribution was to highlight the fact that in any peace process, the concordat is not the conclusion, but a stage in a process which will take centuries before peaceful co-existence is secured. It was my specific intention to avoid any bias against one of the two national communities.

I perfectly understand that at a time when Jewish sensitivity in Britain is running high because of anti-Semitism that part of my remarks might have been interpreted as furtive racism. However, such a conjecture would be completely untrue. For any unintended dismay I may have caused, I apologise unreservedly."

Revd. Dr John L. Bell The Iona Community

 

LETTER COMPLAINING THAT THE BBC'S "APOLOGY" WAS NO APOLOGY

[This letter was sent by Hazel Green, of London, to all relevant complaints bodies and producers and editors at the BBC. None of them have replied to her points in it.]

Dear Sirs,

Regarding the Rev. Dr John Bell's broadcast on 10th February, the BBC "apology" is inadequate in that there is no retraction of the damaging and slanderous allegation that "Adam" was imprisoned for refusing to shoot unarmed children.

Indeed the admission by the BBC & Dr Bell to "two factual errors" implies that the rest of the broadcast was true. If you refer to the myriad messages on the
"Thought for the Day" website, it is clear that the entire story was a malicious invention.

The broadcast was made at prime listening time. No apology has been broadcast as far as I am aware at the time of writing. Yesterday, I understand a mere reference to the website "apology" was made. This is not good enough for the reasons stated above.

Further, not everyone who heard Dr Bell's broadcast would have access to the
Internet or bother to look up the "apology".

Two things are distressingly clear from this sorry episode:

1. Neither the Religion & Ethics Dept of the BBC or Dr Bell saw anything wrong in recycling such unsubstantiated claims, because they assumed the story was true. This illustrates the warped mindset of both Dr Bell and the BBC department, whose prejudice is such that they are prepared to believe the very worst of Israel unquestioningly.

2. This was yet another example of the hijacking of the religious slot by someone with a clear political agenda.

Please could you take action to ensure that a full retraction and apology is broadcast by both the R & E Dept and Dr Bell. If Dr Bell is not prepared to do this, then he should not be retained as a "Thought for the Day" contributor.

Yours truly
Hazel Green

 

ODELIA HOBERA, 26

TG writes: The first version of yesterday's dispatch did not contain details about the fifth victim of last Friday's Tel Aviv bomb, Odelia Hobera, who died yesterday morning. No details were available at the time the first version was sent. For the benefit of persons who received that first version, I attach the following:

www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Memorial/2005/2/Odelia+Hobera.htm

February 28, 2005

Odelia Hobera, 26, of Jerusalem was one of five people killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Stage club on the Tel Aviv promenade on Friday, February 25. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Critically wounded in the head and chest in the blast, Odelia remained unconscious in Ichilov Hospital and died of her wounds on February 28, bringing the death toll to five.

Odelia and her good friend Revital, Yaron Grayevsky's husband, had organized the surprise party for Yaron together. When Odelia arrived at the Stage Club, she saw that it was still early and sent Revital an SMS message saying that she and Yaron shouldn't come yet. A few minutes later the terrorist detonated the bomb, mortally wounding her.

Odelia grew up in Jerusalem, where she attended the Rene Cassin high school. She worked for Bezeq [Israeli phone company] and was planning to join her boyfriend Eitan in the US in April. They were talking about getting married.

"She knew how to live and enjoy every moment," said her brother Alon. "She always organized family events and was the life of the party."

Odelia Hobera will be buried in Jerusalem. She is survived by her parents, Shimon and Dalia, and two brothers, Alon and Oren.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.