Culture Secretary tells BBC to urgently resolve crisis over Oxford Street report

Nadine Dorries expresses concerns about speed of process in letter to BBC Director General Tim Davie


BRISTOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries arrives for a regional cabinet meeting at the Rolls-Royce factory on October 15, 2021 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Steve Parsons-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has dramatically intervened in the row over the Oxford Street bus attack – telling BBC bosses to get a grip of the growing crisis over its reporting of the antisemitic assault.

In a letter to BBC Director General Tim Davie, Ms Dorries says the event was “not only distressing for those involved but also the wider Jewish community” and urges the BBC to “resolve the issue” as quickly as possible.

Although the Culture Secretary has no power to rule over the editorial decisions of the BBC she is said to be “deeply concerned” that broadcast bosses have allowed the row to “drag on for so long”.    She believes unless the corporation can resolve the dispute swiftly, broadcast regulator Ofcom should step in.

Her intervention comes ahead of a planned meeting this month between Mr Davie and the Board of Deputies, which commissioned its own analysis of what was said during the filmed attack on November 29.   

Jewish students celebrating Chanukah filmed as violent thugs spat at their bus during a Chanukah celebration in Oxford Street, banged on its windows and made Nazi salutes at the frightened youngsters.  In its controversial coverage, the BBC alleges a racial slur can be heard by one of the Jewish students but the teenagers categorically deny saying anything offensive and independent analysis has cast doubt on the BBC’s claim. 

In a letter issued tonight, Ms Dorries said the Board of Deputies had raised with her its concerns.

She said: “The scenes on the bus were obviously distressing not only for those involved but also the wider Jewish community.  I’m aware the police are investigating the incident and therefore this may have affected how you have approached addressing the concerns but clearly the BBC’s coverage of 29 November is a particularly sensitive issue. 

“Whilst it would obviously be inappropriate for the Government to take a view on the details of the case, as the BBC is editorially and operationally independent, and responsibility for regulation sits with Ofcom, I would like to understand the actions the BBC has taken so far in response to the concerns raised by the Board of Deputies and how you intend to resolve the issue in a suitably timely manner.  You will know my concerns about the speed of the process which I asked officials to communicate to the BBC.

“It is crucial that the BBC can be properly held to account for the fulfilment of its Mission and Public Purposes as set out in the Charter, including through a fair and effective complaints process.  I expect the mid-term Charter to consider whether this is currently the case.”

The JC revealed earlier this week how the BBC’s Litigation Unit had tried to find out the names of the victims before it would consider any complaints they had about its reporting of the attack.

3D Solicitors, the firm acting for the youngsters, wrote to Mr Davie warning the BBC could be breaching the Equality Act in its controversial reporting of the incident.   

The letter highlights how the BBC qualifies the antisemitic nature of the gestures and verbal abuse directed at the Jewish youths as “apparent” or “alleged” while its claims of the use of the phrase “dirty Muslims” by someone on board the bus is presented as “undisputed” fact.    The content of the section of the audio recording containing the alleged slur is disputed.  Others who have listened to it say that the phrase is Hebrew, “Tikra lemishehu, ze dachuf,” meaning: “Call someone, it’s urgent.”

The letter was passed to BBC lawyers who have refused to consider the complaint until the teenagers are named, despite the solicitors flagging obvious concerns for their safety.

This, it maintains, is because of the “uncontroversial principle of English law that a defendant, (or prospective defendant) is entitled to know the identity of the party or parties that are making (or threatening) a claim against them”. 

However one of Britain’s foremost legal experts, Lord Alex Carlile, said it was “wholly unacceptable” of the BBC to make such a demand at this stage.

He told the JC: “It is wholly unacceptable for the BBC to try and force frightened teenagers to reveal their names, particularly as there is film of the incident anyway.   It is not part of a civil action all they are doing at this stage is seeking answers from the BBC and an apology.    The BBC is just wrong and it goes against public interest to insist that people, whether they are adults or children, who have been subjected to an attack should identify themselves at this stage.”

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