On June 21st 2013 the BBC News website published an article about an incident which took place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in which a man was shot by a security guard. The article now appearing on the BBC’s website underwent some interesting changes along the way to its final version.
This is the original version of the article, as recorded by the News Sniffer website:
Some 35 minutes later, the article was updated to read as follows:
As we see, both versions accurately described the Western Wall as “one of Judaism’s holiest sites” and “part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount dating back to a time when a Jewish temple stood on the Mount”. Unfortunately, somebody also decided to add the anachronistic term “Wailing Wall”, which is a British invention and is not in contemporary use by those for whom the site has religious or cultural significance.
“The English term “Wailing Wall” or its equivalent in other languages dates from much later. In fact despite its hoary sound, “Wailing Wall” is a strictly 20th-century English usage introduced by the British after their conquest of Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. In the 19th century, when European travelers first began visiting Palestine in sufficient numbers to notice the Jews there at all, the Western Wall was commonly referred to as “the Wailing Place,”….”
In other words, the BBC’s use of the term “Wailing Wall” today is on a par with the use of outdated colonial-era names for various cities or countries in Africa or India – something which the BBC naturally refrains from doing.
The next version of the article appeared some 35 minutes after that and here we find that the Arabic term ‘Haram al Sharif’ had been added to the terminology.
The same terminology was also used in the next version of the article:
By the time the next version came around, the anachronistic term “Wailing Wall” had fortunately disappeared.
That remained the case in the version of the article which followed:
In the article’s final version, however, the accurate description “part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount” had disappeared and was replaced by more opaque wording:
“The Western Wall is part of the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif). It is venerated by Jews as a remnant from the complex which housed the Jewish temple until 70AD.”
It is of course inaccurate to describe the Western Wall as “part of the Temple Mount” both in architectural and political terms. It is even more problematic when it is described as “Part of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif”. Interestingly, the earlier historically accurate statements regarding the existence of the Temple were replaced by wording relating to subjective belief rather than historic fact and the BBC apparently does not understand that the Western Wall’s significance is its status as the closest accessible place to the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies.
The article’s final version also includes a side box in which the anachronistic term “Wailing Wall” is reintroduced and the Western Wall is erroneously described as being a “[r]emnant of outer retaining wall of second Jewish Temple, destroyed in 70AD” – rather than a retaining wall of the mount on which the Temple stood .
The use of accurate language in articles relating to the Middle East is of course highly important and perhaps nowhere more so than in the specific geographical area of Jerusalem to which this particular report relates, for reasons outlined in this backgrounder. But, as the evolutionary stages of this article indicate, the BBC seems to be unnecessarily confused about the subject – and that inevitably bewilders and misleads its audiences too.