Jan Shure

Why did BBC ignore 99% of attacks on Israelis?

Meanwhile, the corporation reported 89% of Israel’s responding counter-terror operations

July 15, 2022 10:48

I’ve been reading a fascinating report from the Israel Security Agency on terror attacks which took place last month and how these were reported. Or, more accurately, not reported.
There were 189 terror incidents against Israelis in June — which was more than six per day. These included 117 attacks with petrol bombs, 42 with pipe bombs, 16 arson attacks, 11 shootings and two stabbings. There was also a rocket attack directed at the southern city of Ashkelon.

As Camera UK (which has studied the coverage) notes, the BBC failed to report almost any of these. But that’s not because it wasn’t interested in the region. The broadcaster was very quick to record injuries or fatalities which result from Israel’s counter-measures, responding to terrorist attacks on Israelis. According to Camera UK’s analysis, “in the first half of 2022, the BBC News website reported just one per cent of the terror attacks against Israelis and 89% of the resulting fatalities."

Few aspects of the BBC’s editorial stance better illustrate its role in fanning the flames of anti-Israel feeling — and thus, indirectly, fanning the flames of antisemitism.

My point here is emphatically not to justify deaths or injuries among perpetrators, nor to say that two wrongs make a right I want to highlight the damage caused to Israel by this cavernous imbalance in reporting – and the harm to Jews, because of the blowback on Jewish communities around the world from the often biased way the Jewish state is reported.

To understand the full impact of this long-term failure by the BBC — and to be fair, by other media — we need to turn to Harvard Professor Stephen Pinker, and (somewhat ironically) to his BBC Radio 4 show, Think with Pinker. He brilliantly examines how most of us estimate “probability and risk” using the information which is available to us. This is the “availability heuristic”. But crucially, it also reveals how judgements and perceptions of all kinds are formed by the information available to us or which we are fed. (Or in the case of the BBC’s reporting of terrorist attacks against Israelis in the first half of 2022, the information we are not fed.)

Prof Pinker gives several examples, including how the relative population of minorities is regularly “wildly over-estimated” due to the frequent appearance of “immigrants, Jews and gay people” on the news or in the headlines. But his explanation for a widespread fear of flying offers the most useful illustration of how the “availability” of information dramatically alters perceptions and judgments.

Plane crashes kill around 250 people a year but because a “gory” crash generates extensive and “lavish” coverage, we fear flying. Yet car crashes kill more than a million people every year but because the “daily drip of deaths” is considered “too boring for headlines” our “judgements” over the relative dangers of plane crashes and car crashes are, in Professor Pinker’s words, “out of touch with reality.” Perhaps we can conclude that the BBC’s biased reporting on Israel — which may or may not be revealed by the never-published Balen Report of 2004 — the regular absence of context and an alarming propensity for merely regurgitating Arab propaganda and treating Palestinian press-releases as “news”, has led to judgments being severely “out of touch with reality” and perceptions to become widely skewed.

I can understand that, from a news perspective, those 189 terror incidents against Israelis in June are Prof Pinker’s “daily drip of deaths” that are considered “too boring for headlines”. Or perhaps even a daily drip of near-deaths and injuries, which is even less likely to make headlines. As a journalist, I see that. I also understand the time constraints and other factors which impact on headlines and bulletins, though less so on online news.

However, even the “daily drip of near-deaths” cannot allow the BBC, nor other media, to be let off the hook in this highly-charged region. By almost completely failing to report 189 terror incidents in one month while reporting a majority of Israel’s retaliatory actions, the BBC not only profoundly distorts reality and feeds anti-Israel feeling but also has deleterious effects on Jews everywhere.

That Israelis experienced more than six terror incidents per day in June is the kind of background and context that is vital to enable viewers, listeners and visitors to the BBC website to make a fair judgement on Israeli actions. Its omission massively manipulates reality in favour of Israel’s enemies. That is immoral and certainly demands a response.

This piece has been edited. An earlier version did not cite this quote from Camera accurately: "Camera UK’s analysis, “in the first half of 2022, the BBC News website reported just one per cent of the terror attacks against Israelis and 89% of the resulting fatalities."

July 15, 2022 10:48

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