Media watchdog Ofcom has concluded the BBC committed ‘significant editorial failings’ in its reporting of an anti-Semitic attack on Jewish students travelling on a bus in London.
The body said its investigation found the broadcaster failed to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with ‘due accuracy and due impartiality’.
The incident on November 29, 2021 saw a group of about 40 young Jewish people aboard a Hanukkah party bus in London’s Oxford Street attacked by a group of men who swore, made obscene gestures and threw a shopping basket at them.
The incident was treated as a hate crime by police, but in its original report of the incident, BBC News said ‘racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus’.
Following BBC coverage on December 2, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi were among a significant number of groups and individuals who complained to the broadcaster about the accuracy and impartiality of the coverage.
The BBC apologised for ‘not acting sooner to highlight that the content of the recording was contested’. But a spokesperson for the corporation tonight insisted that its report had not been in breach of the Broadcasting Code.
Last November, a video emerged of a group of men hurling abuse and spitting at a group of around 40 Jewish teenagers sitting inside a bus on London’s Oxford Street
Ofcom said in a statement: ‘Our investigation uncovered significant editorial failings in the BBC’s reporting of an antisemitic attack on Jewish students travelling on board a bus in London.
‘The BBC’s reports claimed that an audio recording made during the incident included anti-Muslim slurs – which it later changed to the singular ‘slur’ – which came from inside the bus. Shortly afterwards, it received evidence which disputed this interpretation of the audio.
‘The BBC failed to promptly acknowledge that the audio was disputed and did not update its online news article to reflect this for almost eight weeks. During this time the BBC was aware that the article’s content was causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack and the wider Jewish community.
‘This, in our opinion, was a significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality.’
Ofcom said it had also investigated a connected report broadcast on BBC London News, concluding that ‘at the time it was broadcast and for the 24-hour period it was available on the BBC iPlayer, the programme did not breach our rules’.
It added: ‘That said, the BBC made a serious editorial misjudgment by not reporting on air, at any point, that the claim it had made about anti-Muslim slurs was disputed, once new evidence emerged.’
Footage showed the group of Jewish teenagers dancing as they celebrated Hanukkah moments before the attack. The incident was treated as a hate crime by police, but in its original report, BBC News said ‘racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus’
CAA’s “BBC News: Stop Blaming Jews!” protest outside Broadcasting House, backed by Lord Grade and Dame Maureen Lipman, over its coverage of the incident on Oxford Street
The BBC said the complaints were ‘particularly in relation to the claim that an anti-Muslim slur had been heard from inside the bus’
The watchdog said the BBC’s ‘failure to respond promptly and transparently created an impression of defensiveness by the BBC among the Jewish community’.
News of Ofcom’s findings have been welcomed by members of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, who branded the initial coverage by the BBC ‘abominable’.
In a statement today, a spokesperson for the group said: ‘Almost a year after the BBC’s abominable coverage of an antisemitic incident on Oxford Street, Ofcom has seen what every viewer and reader of the BBC’s coverage could but which the BBC itself refused to accept: its reportage added insult to the injury already inflicted on the victims and the Jewish community and abysmally failed to meet the most basic editorial standards. Ofcom’s decision today begins to undo that insult.
Jewish broadcaster resigns from BBC over ‘inexcusable’ anti-Semitism
A Jewish BBC broadcaster resigned after the corporation’s coverage of an anti-Semitic attack wrongly accused the victims of making offensive Muslim slurs.
Rabbi YY Rubinstein, a contributor to BBC programmes including Good Morning Sunday and the Thought For The Day, quit via a letter.
He released it on Facebook, addressed to a member of staff, only known as Gabby.
The letter said: ‘The current crisis over anti-Semitism at the Corporation and its attempts to turn the victims of the recent anti-Semitic attack on Jewish children in London and claim that the victims were actually the perpetrators, was and is inexcusable. The obfuscation, denial that followed, was and is utterly damning.
‘The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles actually includes the BBC in its annual global anti-Semitism, ‘Top Ten’.
‘This does not in any way reflect on your own production company whose own record in this regard is exemplary. It also does not apply to many of the individuals I have worked with at the BBC over three decades.
‘They were among some of the most courteous, kind and talented people I ever met or worked with. The same applies to you and your colleagues.
‘I simply don’t see how I or in fact any Jew who has any pride in that name can be associated with the Corporation anymore.’
‘Sadly, the BBC’s stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster. Now that Ofcom has warned the BBC after the BBC disgracefully failed to uphold our complaints against it, it has become clear as day that a Parliamentary inquiry into the BBC focusing on its coverage of issues relating to Jews is warranted, and we have joined the Jewish Chronicle and others calling for one.’
Following its coverage, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi were among a significant number of groups and individuals who complained to the broadcaster about the accuracy and impartiality of the coverage.
The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie then instructed the corporation’s executive complaints unit (ECU) to investigate the complaints ‘as a matter of urgency’.
The broadcaster upheld complaints over the accuracy and impartiality of its coverage on December 2 and amended a story on its news website, alongside issuing a clarification of a TV report aired on the same day.
In its findings published, the ECU said the original versions of both the online and television story ‘did not meet the BBC’s standards of due accuracy’.
It said: ‘The original online copy spoke of ‘some racial slurs about Muslims’ whilst the TV report explained ‘you can hear some racial slurs about Muslim people’.
‘In later versions the online copy was changed to ‘a slur about Muslims’ reflecting that the original iterations had mischaracterised the nature of the insult and there was insufficient evidence that it had happened on more than one occasion.’
Following the ECU’s findings, a BBC spokesman said it had been ruled ‘that the inclusion in our reports of the existence of an alleged slur, said to have come from within the bus, was included in good faith, following a great deal of editorial scrutiny’.
But they added: ‘However, the ECU has also found that more could have been done, subsequent to the original report, to acknowledge the differing views and opinions in relation to what was said; this should have been reflected in our reporting; and the online article amended.
‘We accept this and apologise for not doing more to highlight that these details were contested – we should have reflected this and acted sooner.
‘Following the ECU’s ruling, we have amended the story posted on the BBC News website on 2 December 2021 and issued a clarification in relation to a news report aired on BBC London on the same day.’
The Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl welcomed Ofcom’s decision to investigate earlier this year, adding: ‘We trust that justice will prevail.’
Rabbi YY Rubinstein, a contributor to BBC programmes including Good Morning Sunday, quit after the corporation’s coverage of the anti-Semitic attack
Part of Rabbi YY Rubinstein’s resignation later, which he posted onto Facebook
She said: ‘We note the ECU finding that the BBC did not meet standards of due accuracy and impartiality.
‘We are however dismayed that the Corporation continues to justify certain erroneous editorial decisions that continue to cloud the issue and will compound the distress faced by the victims.’
In the latest assessment of the BBC, Ofcom said the corporation had ‘further to go’ in learning how to responding to critiques of its reporting.
It will also review how the broadcaster addressed the complaint, handling and transparency issues raised by the incident.
In a statement tonight, a spokesperson for the BBC told MailOnline: ‘While Ofcom has found that our reporting was not in breach of the Broadcasting Code, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit ruled in January this year that more could have been done sooner to acknowledge the differing views about what could be heard on the recording of the attack. The BBC apologised at the time for not acting sooner to highlight that the content of the recording was contested.’
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