BBC issues qualified apology over Chanukah bus attack reporting

The ECU partially upheld the complaint against the corporation


An internal BBC investigation into its reporting of the antisemitic attack on Oxford Street has refused to say whether its reporting was accurate and has denied claims of ‘victim blaming’ the Jewish teenagers who were harassed as they celebrated Chanukah. 

The BBC has been at the centre of a storm of controversy after its report into the November 29th attack on Jewish teenagers by a gang of thugs claimed one of them said ‘dirty Muslims’. 

The JC understands that the decision was made at a "very senior management level" at the BBC not to update the original news reports to acknowledge it was disputed as to whether a smear was heard.

The youngsters, who were spat at, at they celebrated Chanukah in Oxford Street last year, categorically denied saying any racial slur as they took shelter from the attack on their hire bus.    

The horrific attack was filmed and went viral after it was posted online but BBC London’s report of the attack prompted a slew of complaints from Jewish groups for alleging a ‘racial slur’ could be heard from inside the bus.  

An internal review by the Executive Complaints Unit, published today, dismissed complaints from Jewish organisations that its report was “victim blaming” but conceded “more could have been done” to “acknowledge the differing views ..on what was said” and has agreed to amend its copy. 

The findings are unlikely to appease Jewish community groups, including the Board of Deputies which has threatened to refer the BBC’s coverage to Ofcom. Crucially it has failed to rule on whether its believes its controversial claim made on BBC London online was accurately reported or not.  

The Board of Deputies hired forensic analysts who concluded that rather than an English racial slur, one teenager can be heard calling for help in Hebrew.  

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “We take complaints about our coverage seriously and today, following an expedited process, we have published the findings of the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) in relation to a complaint by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and others, over the reporting of an alleged anti-Semitic attack in Oxford Street in November last year. 

 “The ECU - which is editorially independent of BBC News - has acknowledged that there was an “overriding focus” on those who directed abuse at the passengers on the bus and there was no evidence to support any claims of victim-blaming in our reporting. 

 “Further, the ECU also ruled that the inclusion in our reports of the existence of an alleged slur, said to have come from within the bus, was included in good faith, following a great deal of editorial scrutiny. 

“However, 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; this should have been reflected in our reporting; and the online article amended. We accept this and apologise for not doing more to highlight that these details were contested - we should have reflected this and acted sooner.  

 "Following the ECU’s ruling, 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. 

“We will always welcome feedback on – and constructive scrutiny of – our reporting. We set ourselves high standards, based on fair, accurate and impartial reporting and we are held accountable to audiences through our robust complaints processes. We will continue to strive to serve the Jewish community, and all communities across the UK.” 

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: "It took the BBC two months and four pages to deliver a whitewash non-apology that stands by its spurious reporting of an anti-Muslim slur and dismisses the monumental offence 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. Sadly, this sort of stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster.

"Ironically, the ECU's claim that its staffers hearing Jews spout an anti-Muslim slur is an example of the 'Apollonian tendency' betrays the very prejudices that the ECU insists were not at play.

"The BBC's insistence that 'we will always welcome feedback on – and constructive scrutiny of – our reporting' has always been laughable. Today, it is nothing short of insulting. If the BBC thinks that it has settled this matter and appeased the Jewish community, it is deeply mistaken.

"We welcome Ofcom's reaction to the ECU's pitiful report by announcing its own investigation, which will hopefully deliver the justice to the Jewish community that the BBC has once more denied."

The Board of Deputies 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. We trust that justice will prevail.”

Read more:

Ofcom announce investigation into the BBC over Chanukah bus reporting statement

CST condemns "appalling" BBC over Chanukah bus reporting statement

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