BBC admits Hamas ‘civilian’ death reporting was inaccurate

Complaint against BBC news report upheld


Israel has announced plans to evacuate Gaza's southern city of Rafah where some 1.4 million internally displaced Palestinians are sheltering as the IDF prepares for a ground invasion. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

The BBC has admitted that its reporting of “civilian” casualties in Gaza was inaccurate and its figure also included the deaths of Hamas fighters.

A complaint against BBC One’s News at Ten bulletin on January 14 was upheld by the corporation this week. In the BBC report, journalist Wyre Davies said: “And the number of civilians killed in Gaza has been huge – very nearly 24,000 dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, many of them women and children.”

After watching the live broadcast, viewer Miriam Rich filed a complaint with the corporation and now, three months later, the editorial complaints unit (ECU) has concluded that the report “fell below the BBC’s standards of accuracy”.

The complaints unit initially inserted punctuation into the transcript of the report that would have changed Davies’ meaning. They told Rich that the passage consisted of two separate sentences, with a full stop after “huge”, and that each sentence conveyed “distinct thoughts”.

However, Rich escalated her complaint to the BBC’s higher editorial complaints unit, which disagreed with the initial findings and upheld the complaint.

In a statement on the BBC’s website, the ECU said: “It was more probable that viewers would have heard the passage as a single sentence. But even if a full stop were the correct punctuation, the passage gave the unintended impression that the figure from the Hamas-run Health Ministry consisted only of civilian dead, whereas it also included combatants, and the ECU thought this impression unlikely to have been counteracted by the reference in the studio introduction two minutes earlier to “more than 23,000 people” having been killed in Gaza. The result fell below the BBC’s standards of accuracy.”

The BBC News at Ten team "has been made aware of the finding, which has been reported to the Board of BBC News,” according to the ECU.

Rich said this was the first time she had ever complained to the BBC.

“I think the BBC has so much superb output and is very often on the end of unfair criticism. However, I think its coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict has been inherently skewed against Israel since the beginning and that this has been hugely damaging,” Rich said.

“Conflating civilian casualty figures with those of murderous Hamas militants gives rise to an entirely inaccurate and unbalanced reflection of the reality, which was why I felt it was so important to persist with this complaint. I’m glad that it was eventually upheld and hope it will make a difference to future reporting.”

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