BBC staff again accuse broadcaster of bias over Gaza war reporting

BBC staff again accuse broadcaster of bias over Gaza war reporting
The letter comes after an earlier report by The Times that staff had been crying in toilets over the BBC's coverage, with some staff accusing the broadcaster of dehumanising Palestinians.
2 min read
23 November, 2023
Earlier in the conflict pro-Palestinian demonstrators threw red paint over the BBC's London office to protest its ongoing coverage of the war [Photo by Krisztian Elek/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Journalists at the BBC have again accused the broadcaster of bias over its coverage of Israel's war on Gaza.

A letter signed by eight UK-based journalists who work for the BBC lists several accusations against the broadcaster over its coverage.

Included in these accusations, detailed in a letter received by Al Jazeera, is a failure to sufficiently acknowledge  Palestinian suffering, with the letter claiming that "humanising coverage of Palestinian civilians" at the BBC "has been lacking" with a "double standard in how civilians are seen".

The letter states that terms such as "massacre" and "atrocity" were only used "for Hamas, framing the group as the only instigator and perpetrator of violence in the region", and that this "is inaccurate but aligns with the BBC's overall coverage".

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One of two anonymous co-signatories interviewed by Al Jazeera said that they felt some staff members and senior reporters "don't empathise as much with [Palestinians], as they do, for example, with Ukrainian civilians".

Hamas' attack on southern Israel on 7 October killed 1,200 Israelis and the group seized 240 hostages, including women, children, and the elderly.

Although there were "some strong isolated examples" of humanising stories of Palestinians, the letter notes that the effort has only begun to increase "in the last few weeks" alongside the significant rise in the Palestinian death toll. The effort was criticised as "too little too late".

Since the start of Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip following the attack, 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza's health ministry, with a further 6,000 people missing, presumed to be under rubble.

Likewise, the letter claimed that the BBC has failed to properly report on the situation in Gaza.

"The BBC has failed to accurately tell this story – through omission and lack of critical engagement with Israel's claims - and it has therefore failed to help the public engage with and understand the human rights abuses unfolding in Gaza," the authors claimed.

"News updates and articles neglect to include a line or two of critical historical context – on 75 years of occupation, the Nakba, or the asymmetric death toll across decades."

According to Al Jazeera one of the co-writers stated that "this organisation doesn't represent us".

Another said they feared the BBC "would fail in its duty to sufficiently interrogate this [Israeli] response or provide adequate context on decades of occupation" following the outbreak of the war, fears that "were immediately confirmed".

The BBC has denied the allegations put forth by the letter, telling The New Arab that "throughout our reporting on the conflict the BBC has made clear the devastating human cost to civilians living in Gaza and Israel".

The broadcaster also noted that it had journalists based in Gaza reporting on the conflict and that their coverage "included many stories of Palestinian victims and first-hand testimony from civilians, doctors and aid-workers in Gaza, as well as a Panorama documentary, featuring human stories from both sides."

Likewise it stated that it "has also examined the history and complexities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and continues to provide historical context and explainers" in a variety of formats, including online and through podcasts, radio and TV.

It also noted that "when interviewing either the Israeli government, Hamas, Palestinian representatives or other leaders, we are robust, challenging and aim to hold power to account".

The latest rebuke follows accusations from journalists that the BBC "are not equally asked to 'condemn' the actions of the Israeli government, however high the civilian death toll in Gaza".

The BBC has received criticism from a multitude of sources over its coverage of the ongoing war in Gaza.

In mid-October BBC North Africa correspondent Bassam Bounenni resigned from his post "for the sake of my professional conscience" over its coverage of the war.

The Times reported in late-October that staff members were "crying in lavatories" over the BBC's coverage, with some staff stating that its coverage was "dehumanising Palestinian civilians."

From the Israeli side, top officials have attempted to pressure the BBC over its coverage, with President Isaac Herzog complaining to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that "the BBC's reporting is atrocious. The fact that it does not recognise Hamas as a terror organisation requires a complete legal battle and public battle. It's unbelievable."

The BBC has defended its long-standing policy of not using the word 'terrorist' without attribution.

The BBC is one of a number of Western outlets that have received criticism from staff over ongoing coverage, including the LA Times which reportedly banned staff who signed a letter condemning Israel's killing of Gazan journalists from reporting on the conflict for three months.