The BBC bows to Israel’s foreign office and whitewashes the killings of a toddler and a pregnant woman

BBC and bomb background
James Wright

The BBC has bowed to Israel’s foreign office and changed a headline on the occupation. And the public service broadcaster’s new headline risks whitewashing the Israeli military’s most recent killings.

On 8 August, Israeli airstrikes killed at least three people in Gaza, including a toddler and a pregnant woman.

Israel blames Hamas, which had launched 150 rockets at Israel from Gaza, for the escalation. There were no deaths as a result of this rocket fire.

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The attacks follow the Israeli military’s violent suppression of Palestinian protests in recent months.

Israeli pressure on the BBC

The BBC initially covered the fatalities with the straightforward headline Israeli air strikes ‘kill pregnant woman and a baby’.

But Israel’s foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon soon demanded the BBC “immediately” change the headline:

The Board of Deputies of British Jews also complained.

And shortly after, the BBC complied:

Media Lens accused the BBC of “obfuscating” the killings. In fact, there may be a greater danger if a reader sees the BBC‘s new headline – Gaza airstrikes ‘kill woman and child’ after rockets hit Israel. Without reading the article, someone could think that ‘Gaza airstrikes’ means Palestinian airstrikes killed Israelis, while the opposite is true.

When confronted on this, the BBC told The Canary:

Although the original headline was not factually incorrect, we updated it to add more context.

For months, Palestinians have been protesting the conditions in occupied Gaza, where less than 4% of water is drinkable. Israel has responded with force, killing at least 154 Palestinians and wounding over 16,000 since 30 March.

Reaction to the BBC‘s headline change

Columnist for Middle East Eye CJ Werleman posted:

Some expressed concern over the influence Israel has over the BBC:

Influence over BBC

A former BBC evening news editor once said that:

We wait in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis

There are well-documented allegations about the influence of the Israeli lobby over the BBC. These include other instances where the BBC has apparently bowed under pressure to change headlines to make them less accusing of the state of Israel.

In 2015, the BBC‘s complaints unit ruled that the broadcaster had breached its own guidelines in its reporting of Palestinian fatalities. And a BBC online editor once sent internal emails to staff urging them to write more favourably about Israel. In general, the BBC faces accusations of downplaying the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Now, the BBC risks going further than downplaying the violence. People could interpret the new headline to mean Palestinians have killed Israelis rather than the other way around. If that’s not breaking the BBC‘s editorial guidelines, nothing is.

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