As has been noted here previously, the vast majority of recent BBC reports on the subject of the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on June 12th have refrained from describing the youths as kidnapped, instead preferring to use more ambiguous language such as “missing”, “apparent abductions”, “believed seized” or “disappeared”.
Concurrently, the BBC has on numerous occasions inaccurately informed audiences that there has been no claim of responsibility for the kidnappings (there have in fact been four such claims, although their credibility is doubtful) whilst stressing that Hamas denies responsibility and cherry-picking quotes from that organisation’s officials. In a nutshell, the BBC’s current approach to the incident can be summed up in a sentence used in its June 18th report:
“He [The Israeli Prime Minister] has accused the group [Hamas] of abducting the students, but not provided proof.”
Despite the fact that Israeli intelligence reports point to Hamas responsibility for the kidnappings, the BBC might perhaps claim that the fact that no group has so far provided concrete evidence that it holds the abducted teens is the reason for its ambiguous approach. It is therefore interesting to take a look at how it portrayed another kidnapping seven years ago – that of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in the Gaza Strip.
Alan Johnston was kidnapped on March 12th 2007 by the Salafist Jihadist group ‘The Army of Islam’, not far from the BBC’s Gaza office. Nearly two months later – on May 8th – that group (which had previously denied any connection to Johnston’s disappearance) sent a tape to Al Jazeera which included the first concrete evidence that he had been kidnapped.
One might therefore expect that a look through the archives would show that between March 12th and May 8th, the BBC’s almost daily reports on the topic would have referred to Johnston as “missing”, “apparently abducted”, “believed seized” or “disappeared”. That was indeed the case during the first week – see for example reports here, here and here. However, one week into the incident, the BBC’s approach changed.
“Earlier, the BBC said it now seemed certain the reporter had been abducted.
The BBC’s Middle East bureau chief Simon Wilson said he was disappointed there was no firm news, adding it was time to redouble efforts to find him.”
From then and up until the arrival of the tape on May 8th, BBC reports and statements made by BBC officials presented the issue in very unambiguous terms, as the April 12th statement from the BBC’s Director General illustrates.
“It is exactly one month ago today that our colleague Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza City while travelling home, from the BBC office to his apartment.”
Another example comes in this report from April 16th:
“BBC colleagues have rallied for Mr Johnston, 44, who was abducted at gunpoint in Gaza City on 12 March.”
And yet another in this one from April 10th:
“Johnston was taken hostage by masked gunmen as he returned to his apartment in Gaza City on March 12.
Kidnappers have abducted dozens of foreigners in Gaza, but none has been held so long as Johnston.
Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s head of newsgathering, said: “The longer it goes on, the more concerned that we become. He is incarcerated, and what that must be doing to his mental state and his general health, we have no idea.” “
So as we see, the BBC did not have to wait for concrete evidence and a clear claim of responsibility in order to declare Alan Johnston kidnapped.
Different standards, however, appear to be at play in the case of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-ad Sha’ar.