BBC editorial guidelines on “Reporting Death, Suffering and Distress” state:
“We must always balance the public interest in full and accurate reporting against the need to be compassionate and to avoid any unjustified infringement of privacy when we report accidents, disasters, disturbances, violence against individuals or war.
We will always need to consider carefully the editorial justification for portraying graphic material of human suffering and distress.” […]
“There are very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast the moment of death. It is always important to respect the privacy and dignity of the dead. We should never show them gratuitously. We should also avoid the gratuitous use of close-ups of faces and serious injuries of those who are dead, suffering or in distress.” […]
Editorial guidelines on “War, Terror and Emergencies” state:
“We will respect human dignity without sanitising the realities of war, terror, emergencies and similar events. There must be clear editorial justification for the use of very graphic pictures.”
A guidance also exists for “Violence in News and Current Affairs“.
Readers can judge for themselves whether or not the filmed report by Jeremy Bowen shown on BBC television news and featured on the BBC News website on July 14th under the title “Death toll mounts amid Gaza strikes” conforms to those guidelines and whether the use of images of blood in a morgue and repeated pictures of dead bodies is gratuitous in this case.
They might perhaps also ponder the question of whether a BBC film crew would have filmed inside a British morgue at all and whether such images would have been broadcast if the events had taken place in or were connected to the United Kingdom. Existing BBC research suggests that they would not.
But once readers have got past Bowen’s use of images obviously intended to shock and appall BBC viewers as much as possible, there is the commentary to consider and in this report Bowen uses interviewees as well as his own words to put his message across.
Against a backdrop of images of explosions, Bowen says:
“Gaza was pounded. For Israel this is self-defence with American support.”
Interviewing a family member inside a morgue, Bowen says:
“Israel says it goes after Hamas.”
Man: “That’s not true. It’s not true.
Bowen: “They’re children, said Munsar al Batsh [phonetic] – a cousin. It’s not logical they’d be Hamas.”
No attempt is made by Bowen whatsoever to provide any context to the tragic event, the circumstances of which are not yet fully known apart from the fact that the head of the family – Tayseer al Batsh was indeed a member of Hamas.
Bowen tells audiences:
“Every time Israel kills Palestinians, especially civilians, Hamas gets a boost of popularity. Now, Israel is not trying to win any friends here, but it does want to weaken Hamas as an organization. Hamas draws strength from the suffering Israel inflicts. When the Israelis say they’re retaliating for attacks on their civilians, no Palestinian listens.”
Of course what Bowen neglects to clarify to audiences is that the suffering of the ordinary people in the Gaza Strip is actually inflicted by Hamas which – rather than using concrete to build homes and nursery schools – chooses to build cross-border tunnels for terrorist purposes and – rather than using their taxes for social and health programmes – elects to put resources into its missile arsenal.
As we have previously noted here, none of the BBC reports from the Gaza Strip so far have even tried to adequately inform audiences about Hamas’ use of human shields. In this report, Bowen not only fails once again to provide accurate information on that topic; he uses another interviewee to try to persuade audiences that it is not true.
Bowen: “He rejected Israel’s claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.”
Man: “It’s not true. I have a family and I have seven of my daughters-in-law at home. I’d never put Hamas people near my house.”
Bowen does not inform viewers that the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip have no say in the matter of where weapons storage facilities and missile launchers are located and are therefore turned into human shields regardless of whether they agree or not. He also fails to clarify to audiences that Hamas’ use of human shields is not merely a ‘claim’ made by Israel, but an increasingly well-documented fact.
BBC licence fee payers pay a lot of money in order to be informed of facts. Hamas’ use of human shields is one of many important facts audiences need to know about in order to be able to reach an understanding of this particular international issue as they are promised in the BBC’s constitutional document. It is bad enough that in over a week of reporting from the Gaza Strip, not one BBC journalist has explained the human shields issue properly to BBC audiences. It is beyond grave when the man in charge of Middle East reporting – not some junior journalist – not only fails to inform, but actively seeks to deny and refute the issue.
Bowen’s inaccurate and partial reports – which increasingly give the impression that he has self-conscripted to the Hamas media campaign – are coming in thick and fast. As long as the BBC continues to allow that, it breaches the public purpose remit which obliges it to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and that is a problem which BBC management should not be allowed to ignore.