The BBC has faced mounting anger over a series of incidents in reporting the Israel-Hamas war leading some to accuse the corporation of bias.
The corporation's refusal to call the attacks on Israel by terror group Hamas "terrorism" in its news coverage has sparked complaints from across the Jewish community, including from Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis.
More than 1,000 people gathered outside the broadcaster’s central London headquarters on Monday evening to protest at the corporation’s coverage of the ongoing war, and its failure to describe Hamas - the perpetrators of the October 7 attacks that claimed the lives of at least 1,600 people - as terrorists. Hamas was declared a terrorist organisation by the UK government in November 2021.
Demonstrators protesting outside BBC Broadcasting House to protest BBC's refusal to use the word 'terrorist' to describe Hamas (Photo: Gary Sheldon)
The protest, organised by the National Jewish Assembly (NJA), was staged as the Board of Deputies lodged a formal complaint with the communications regulator Ofcom over the broadcaster's coverage.
Lawyers for the Board argued that the BBC had failed to comply with its own guidelines, and included a list of 50 examples where it had previously used "the language of 'terrorism' in recent times". Previous atrocities, including 9/11, the 7/7 London bombings and the 2015 Bataclan Theatre attack were described as “terror” incidents by the corporation.
When two Swedish nationals in Brussels were shot dead and a third person was injured this week the broadcaster published the headline: “Brussels shooting: Suspect at large after two Swedes killed in terror attack.” The headline has since been changed to: “Brussels shooting: 'Europe shaken' after two Swedes shot dead.”
Jon Donnison, a BBC journalist, reporting the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital blast (Photo: BBC News, X/Twitter)
The BBC drew further complaints of bias in its coverage of the conflict on Tuesday night. Almost immediately after an explosion at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, the broadcaster reported: “Hundreds of people have been killed in an Israeli strike on a hospital in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials”, citing the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
After the IDF claimed that Palestinian Islamic Jihad was responsible, releasing drone footage it said proved the deadly blast was not the result of an Israeli airstrike, the broadcaster issued a new headline: “Hospital blast in Gaza City kills hundreds – health officials”.
A salvo of rockets is fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
The BBC said it was attributing the words “terrorism” and “terror” to the Belgian authorities who are dealing with that attack. Commenting on the hospital headline, it said: “This was a mistake - the headline should have attributed the words, so it was swiftly changed.”
The corporation's responsibility to adhere to “due impartiality” across all platforms extends to BBC journalists' social media activity, according to its guidelines.
However, the broadcaster is currently “urgently investigating” claims that several of its journalists in the Middle East appeared to celebrate the Hamas attacks on their social media. Reporters at BBC Arabic, which is funded by taxpayers, allegedly shared comments hailing the October 7 massacre a “morning of hope” and portraying Hamas as freedom fighters.
Meanwhile, the i newspaper has revealed that the head of BBC's Asian Network, a radio station listened to by thousands of young British Asians, retweeted a post calling Israel's retaliation in Gaza over the Hamas attacks “genocide”.
Asked to comment on this, the BBC said: “Our social media guidance sets out clear expectations for staff, including the particular responsibility for all senior leaders to uphold the BBC’s impartiality. Any breaches of the guidance are taken seriously, and we have spoken to Ahmed and reminded him of these responsibilities. The retweets have been removed.”
John Simpson at the World Economic Forum January 31, 2002 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel In New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)
BBC journalists John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen have both defended the corporation’s decision to not use the term “terrorist” to describe Hamas, noting that to do so could endanger its personnel on the ground.
World affairs editor Simpson put the refusal down to the BBC's “founding principles” saying in a blog post: “It's simply not the BBC's job to tell people who to support and who to condemn.”
He added: “During World War Two, BBC broadcasters were expressly told not to call the Nazis evil or wicked, even though we could and did call them ‘the enemy’.”
The reference to the Nazis reportedly shocked a number of Jewish staff, who deemed it “tone deaf”, according to The Times.
The BBC said: “We always take our use of language very seriously. Anyone watching or listening to our coverage will hear the word ‘terrorist’ used many times – we attribute it to those who are using it, for example, the UK Government.
“This is an approach that has been used for decades, and is in line with that of other broadcasters. The BBC is an editorially independent broadcaster whose job is to explain precisely what is happening ‘on the ground’ so our audiences can make their own judgement."