Radio 4 report on Israel breached accuracy guidelines, rules BBC


The BBC has ruled that a Radio 4 report on Israel breached accuracy guidelines.

The BBC received a number of complaints about a Today programme on violence in the Middle East on 19 October which, according to listeners, implied that all of the casualties of the renewed wave of violence in the region were Israeli.

The programme consisted of a conversation between presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly. The show began with Mr Humphrys referring to the most recent attacks, and summing up the total number of casualties:

“Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It’s about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Mr Connolly then responded: “We think about 50 dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.”

The BBC head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, said that while the reference to 50 dead covered the total number of casualties on both sides, it would be “natural” to infer from the broadcast that only Israelis had been killed.

“In the context of a discussion of attacks carried out by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading,” Mr Steel wrote to those who complained.

“To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint.”

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign welcomed the ruling. Director Sarah Colborne said: “It is one thing for Today to ignore the rising [Palestinian] death toll and choose to put its focus on Israelis who have been stabbed; it is quite another for the programme to completely misrepresent the figures and imply that only Israelis are being killed.”

This incident is the second time this year that the Today programme has been found to have breached BBC guidelines in its coverage of the Middle East, with the complaint unit ruling in June that Today presenter Sarah Montague had failed to adequately challenge statements made by Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon during an interview.

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