BBC Tel Aviv remark sparks backlash over 'bias'

BBC Tel Aviv remark sparks backlash over 'bias'
The accusations of bias came following a report on relations between the US and Israel following Iran's attack on Israel in April.
3 min read
18 May, 2024
Under BBC guidelines neither Tel Aviv nor Jerusalem are referred to as the capital of Israel [Getty]

The BBC has received accusations of bias after one of its reporters used Tel Aviv as a metonym for Israel against the public broadcaster's guidelines.

The incident occurred when BBC's Washington Correspondent Gary O'Donoghue said in an interview aired on Radio 4: "The events of the weekend, with the close military cooperation involved, have served to bring Washington and Tel Aviv closer together".

O'Donoghue had been discussing the US's reaction to Iran's firing of drones and missiles against Israel earlier in April.

Following a complaint, the BBC clarified that there was no change in its policy of not referring to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel. The guidance had been issued in 2021.

The incident prompted former director of BBC Television Danny Cohen to accuse the BBC of having a "serious problem with impartiality," while Conservative MP Andrew Percy accused the BBC of running a "consistently biased narrative of hate against the state of Israel since the start of this conflict", as quoted by the Telegraph.

The segment was also criticised by the UK division of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), a media monitor that promotes "fair, accurate and balanced coverage of Israel in the British media."

It noted that since January 2021 the BBC made the mistake 34 times, with its Arabic service doing so 35 times.

"While the BBC's practice of falsely naming the Israeli capital and seat of government 'Tel Aviv' withered somewhat in English-language coverage in recent years, in Arabic it still occurred at a more-or-less steady pace of once a month since mid-2020," CAMERA said.

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"Sadly, with an editor of the BBC's English edition clumsily excusing it in hindsight, it now seems that this bad habit is trickling back into the English-language edition," they added. 

Immediately following the incident, the BBC's complaints team said that because Tel Aviv is still widely recognised as the capital of Israel, despite Israel claiming Jerusalem as the capital, there might be mention "in some reports" of "'correspondence between Washington and Tel Aviv', for example."

The BBC later apologised for the report, calling the use of Tel Aviv an "error" and reaffirming that the report "wasn't indicative of any form of bias".

Under the corporations' guidelines Jerusalem is not Israel's capital, "though of course BBC journalists can report that Israel claims it as such." It also notes that if used journalists can also mention that "almost all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv."

Under international law, East Jerusalem is considered to be under illegal Israeli military occupation. Almost all member states of the UN consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, including the UK.