Today Programme rapped over Golan Heights report

By Jennifer Lipman, February 11, 2013

John Humphreys and the Today Programme have been reprimanded by the BBC Trust for breaching regulations on accurate reporting during coverage of a protest in the Golan Heights in May 2011.

The complaint followed a report about an incursion by Palestinian demonstrators from Syria and Lebanon into the disputed Golan Heights on what Arabs refer to as Nakba Day, which sparked clashes with Israel and reportedly left 12 people dead.

Mr Humphreys interviewed Fatah official Husam Zomlot and Israeli foreign affairs spokesman Mark Regev about the clashes, but introduced his report by noting that the protesters had not merely massed on the border, but some had "actually crossed over the borders into Israel".

"How should Israel have reacted [when protesters] march up to and in some cases across their borders with clubs and with stones," asked Mr Humphrey.

Following the report the BBC received a complaint that the implication of Mr Humphrey's use of the term border "was that Israeli military forces potentially had the right to use force because they were defending their own territory". Mr Humphrey's use of the term border was not explicitly challenged by Mr Zomlot, although he claimed that the protesters had been "marching to their homes… not marching into a foreign territory".

Although the BBC's editorial complaints unit ruled that while the report could have been clearer, it did not constitute a serious breach of the BBC's editorial standards". But the complainant persisted and a year after the broadcast took up the matter with the BBC Trust. "It can hardly be considered irrelevant that that territory is Syrian and is occupied by Israel," said the complainant.

"Due accuracy in this area would surely require audiences not being misled into believing that the Israeli forces were defending their homes or their legally owned territory."

The Trust has now ruled that the segment was "not duly accurate" because listeners would assume "that protestors had crossed into Israeli territory".

The Trust said the BBC had an obligation to clarify "the distinctions of the boundaries… especially when dealing with an area as sensitive as the relationship between Israel and its neighbours."

Although the Trust found that the interview breached guidelines on "clear, precise language", the ruling acknowledged that this was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience and thus "did not raise any issues in relation to impartiality".

Last updated: 5:28pm, February 11 2013