As ‘Israel’ Pounds Gaza, BBC Journalists Accuse Broadcaster of Bias
By Anealla Safdar
Story Code : 1097975
In a 2,300-word letter written to Al Jazeera by eight UK-based journalists employed by the corporation, the BBC is also said to be guilty of a “double standard in how civilians are seen.”
Fearing reprisal, the journalists requested anonymity. The group does not plan to send the letter to BBC executives, believing such a move was unlikely to lead to meaningful discussions.
They sent Al Jazeera the letter as a humanitarian disaster in Gaza escalates, and as grim milestones are reached at pace. At the time of writing, more than 14,500 Palestinians have been reported as killed by ‘Israeli’ bombardment, including at least 6,000 children.
“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 letter reads. “Thousands of Palestinians have been killed since October 7. When will the number be high enough for our editorial stance to change?”
‘Israel’ declared war against Hamas after the Palestinian group, which governs the densely populated enclave, attacked southern ‘Israel’ on October 7.
Rights groups and hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide, outraged by the soaring Palestinian death toll in Gaza, have called for a ceasefire.
The war has also divided newsrooms globally, with disagreements over how each side is being portrayed, and the use of language.
The BBC journalists said that across British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] platforms, terms like “massacre” and “atrocity”, have been reserved “only for Hamas, framing the group as the only instigator and perpetrator of violence in the region. This is inaccurate but aligns with the BBC’s overall coverage”.
The Hamas assault, while “appalling and devastating … does not justify the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians, and the BBC cannot be seen to support – or fail to interrogate – the logic that it does,” their letter reads.
“We are asking the BBC to better reflect and defer to the evidence-based findings of official and unbiased humanitarian organizations.”
The journalists claimed that the broadcaster carefully portrays ‘Israeli’ suffering.
“In comparison, humanizing coverage of Palestinian civilians has been lacking. It is a poor excuse to say that the BBC could not better cover stories in Gaza because of difficulties gaining access to the [Gaza] Strip … This is achieved, for example, by telling and following individual stories across weeks. Little attempt has also been made to fully utilize the abundance of social media content from brave journalists in Gaza and the West Bank.”
The journalists acknowledged “some strong isolated examples”, but said sensitively told stories about Palestinians were not “consistent”, particularly after the outbreak of war.
“It is largely in the last few weeks – as civilian deaths have exponentially increased and Western countries’ appetite for ‘Israel’s’ attacks has waned – that the BBC has made more effort to humanize Palestinian civilians. For many, this feels too little too late, and shows that the positions taken by governments in the UK and US have undue influence on coverage.”
Al Jazeera interviewed two of the eight co-writers. Some of those behind the letter are people of color.
“This organization doesn’t represent us,” one of the co-writers told Al Jazeera.
“For me, and definitely for other people of color, we can see blatantly that certain civilian lives are considered more worthy than others – that there is some sort of hierarchy at play. That is deeply, deeply hurtful because actually, none of us struggle to empathize with Palestinian civilians.”
The journalist said that to them, it appears some staff members and senior reporters “don’t empathize as much with [Palestinians], as they do, for example, with Ukrainian civilians”.
The letter says that the BBC has organized “trauma support and listening sessions” for staff affected by the conflict.
“But for many of us – especially people of color – the BBC’s coverage has been part of our distress,” the letter says.
Further critiquing the BBC’s storytelling, the journalists argue that while Palestinians have been asked whether they “condemn Hamas”, the same cannot be said for guests who defend ‘Israel’s’ actions.
“[They] are not equally asked to ‘condemn’ the actions of the ‘Israeli’ government, however high the civilian death toll in Gaza.”
On October 9, the BBC was criticized as lacking compassion over its interview with Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom, who lost several members of his family during the early days of ‘Israel’s’ bombing campaign.
Zomlot, who does not represent Hamas, told presenter Kirsty Wark of his emotional pain. He listed the relatives who had been killed, describing them as “sitting ducks for the ‘Israeli’ war machine”.
Wark replied: “I am sorry for your own personal loss. I mean, can I just be clear though, you cannot condone the killing of civilians in ‘Israel’, can you? Nor the killing of families?”
Zomlot, taken aback, then said: “No we don’t condone, no we don’t.”
The letter also claims that the BBC is failing to provide audiences with important background about ‘Israel’s’ occupation and the history of Palestinian suffering.
“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.”
The Nakba, or catastrophe, refers to the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians between 1947 and 1949, when Zionist paramilitaries and then ‘Israel’s’ newly formed army destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns. About 15,000 Palestinians were killed, and more than 750,000 were forcibly displaced from their land.
Today’s crisis evokes memories of the Nakba for Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are descendants of those who were uprooted decades ago.
“The BBC has often called the ongoing conflict ‘complex’. It is no more complex than any other conflict,” the letter reads. “It is our job to cut through rhetoric and misinformation; to explain what is happening and what has led to this.”
A BBC spokesperson denied the allegations.
The summary is an example of the kind of language in Western media outlets that many have criticized; ‘Israelis’ are described as being “murdered by Hamas fighters”, but Palestinians are “killed” by a nameless actor.
Since the latest Middle East conflict began, the BBC has been beset by controversies and claims of bias.
At around the same time, the protest group Palestine Action claimed responsibility for vandalizing the network’s London headquarters with red paint, accusing it of “spreading the occupation’s lies and manufacturing consent for ‘Israel’s’ war crimes”.
Last week, the BBC embedded with the ‘Israeli’ army to be shown around al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, after ‘Israel’ took control of the site. ‘Israel’ has alleged that Hamas operated from the hospital – claims that many observers, including the BBC, have questioned.
Stephen Grey, a Reuters reporter, said on X of the trip facilitated by ‘Israel’: “Media should think very carefully about taking part in any one-sided embeds with any party. Today’s BBC report on al Shifa hospital, in which they were unable to speak to doctors or patients, left me feeling deeply uncomfortable.”
On October 24, a BBC correspondent based in Beirut, Rami Ruhayem, wrote to Tim Davie, BBC’s director-general, alleging that there are “indications that the BBC is – implicitly at least – treating ‘Israeli’ lives as more worthy than Palestinian lives, and reinforcing ‘Israeli’ war propaganda”.
On October 25, The Times newspaper, citing a BBC source, reported that staff had been “crying in the toilets” over the “distress caused” by coverage that they said was too lenient on ‘Israel’.
And over the weekend, Danny Cohen, a former director of BBC Television, said the corporation should be independently investigated over “management failures in its reporting of ‘Israel’”, as he accused a BBC journalist of pro-Palestine bias on her social media feed.