BBC resumes ‘last-first’ reporting from Gaza area – and then changes tack

Here is a headline appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of April 3rd:

“Israel launches air strike on Gaza”

“Israel carries out an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce last November.”

Headline ME page 3 4

The link led (see below) to an article headlined “Israel launches first air strike on Gaza since truce” – which this screenshot shows in full.

3 4 rockets Gaza

As we see, the BBC was back to its old habit of ‘last-first’ reporting, with the headlines on the Middle East home page and the article itself highlighting the last in a sequence of events and creating an impression of Israel as the initiator of violence and violator of the ceasefire. Only in the third paragraph of this seven paragraph article were readers given some sort of clue that there might have been prior incidents (not reported by the BBC at the time, incidentally) which prompted the event described in the headline.

So let’s have a look at how this article could have been written. A more accurate headline would have been phrased as follows:

Third case of rocket fire from Gaza Strip since November truce brings first Israeli response.

A more accurate strap-line would have read:

Terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip have launched missiles at Israeli civilian targets for the third time since an eight-day war ended in a truce last November.

A more logical sequence to the body of the article would have begun by explaining to readers what happened first. For example:

Sderot kindergarden hit by a Qassam rocket fired by Gaza militants during US President Barack Obama's visiting to Israel. Photo taken April 02, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Qassam rocket hit on nursery school in Sderot, discovered on April 2nd. Photo credit Flash90

On Tuesday afternoon a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol Regional Council. Two additional mortars fired around the same time fell short, landing in the Gaza Strip. Earlier the same day, a rocket was discovered in a nursery school in Sderot when it reopened after the Pessah holiday. It is thought that the rocket was one of several fired by terrorist organisations from the Gaza Strip on March 21st during President Obama’s visit to Israel. On February 26th a missile fired at the town of Ashkelon marked the first violation by rocket fire of the truce which ended the eight days of fighting between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel in November 2012. 

Late on Tuesday night the Israeli air-force responded to the rocket fire earlier in the day by targeting two terror sites in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. This was Israel’s first response to renewed rocket fire since November 2012. The IDF Spokesperson said:

“Hamas understands that there are new rules, and the past five months have been the quietest since the [2005] disengagement. The goal is to maintain the quiet in southern Israel.”

A more accurate introduction to the Hamas statement included in the BBC report would have read:

Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization which rules the Gaza Strip, says aircraft bombed fields near the border and no-one was injured.

Rather than implying that the missiles were fired into what readers will naturally understand to be empty “desert”, the report should have made it clear for accuracy’s sake that the intention was to target Israeli civilians, for example by writing: 

The Israeli newspaper ‘Ha’aretz’ said the air strike was near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and came after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired mortar shells at Israeli civilian communities in the Western Negev. 

The BBC’s anodyne description of Hamas’ rise to power is also inaccurate, as its generalised reference to “building materials”. A more accurate phrasing could have read:

Since the Egyptian-mediated truce came into effect in November 2012, Israel has eased restrictions on the entry of dual-use building materials, which can be used for terror purposes, into the Gaza Strip. The restrictions were imposed after Hamas seized power there in a violent coup against the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority, in 2007.

The article should also have been updated to include later events:

On Wednesday morning, just as children were making their way to school, two additional Qassam rockets were fired at the area of Sderot and Sha’ar HaNegev from the Gaza Strip.  

It really is not difficult to present the news in an accurate and logical sequence which is conducive to audience understanding of events. The BBC is of course not the only media organisation to contort stories by using the ‘last-first’ method of reporting, but that does not make the practice any more acceptable. 

However, it seems that perhaps at some juncture someone at the BBC realised that too.  Some thirteen hours after the original publication of the above report its headline and content were completely changed

News Sniffer

The revised headline – at the same URL– reads “Exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel”. 

Version 2 article 3 4

The headline on the Middle East page of the BBC News website was also amended. 

Version 2 ME HP 3 4

Whilst there are still important omissions in the new article (for example the statement concerning the UN claim that four Palestinians have been killed since the end of hostilities in November does not make clear the fact that they were engaged in trying to breach the border fence), its tone is overall considerably more neutral and balanced than that of the original version of the story and that improvement is to be commended. 

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