On the BBC’s unwarranted use of legal terms during Operation Protective Edge

The following words will no doubt resonate with readers who have been following the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and have hence heard and read BBC employees and interviewees alike using the terms below on a disturbingly regular basis.EG

“War crimes. Disproportionate response. Collective punishment. Targeting civilians. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, these terms have been fired off at Israel with the same intensity and frequency as Hamas’ rockets. Arab government spokesmen constantly refer to Israel’s actions as “aggression.” In extreme cases, Israel is accused of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” “

Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation as a provider of accurate and impartial news, those loaded labels were liberally employed and promoted without evidence-based justification for their use and before any proper and professional investigations into the circumstances of the events described in that legal language had been carried out.

In a very interesting article in The Tower the writer of the above words, David Daoud, explains “Everything You Need to Know about International Law and the Gaza War” and it is well worth the long read. Another recent interesting article on a similar topic is titled “The Ethics of Protective Edge” and it was written by Professor Asa Kasher.

Throughout the seven weeks of conflict the BBC made remarkably little effort to explain to audiences the actual meaning of terms such as ‘disproportionate’, indiscriminate’,  ‘collective punishment’, ‘targeting civilians’ or ‘war crimes’ which were so frequently bandied about by its reporters and guests. One of the few efforts which were made came in the form of an eight-minute item (unfortunately no longer available) broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show on July 29th in which David Turns of Cranfield University spoke about the meaning of “disproportionate” in international law.

“There is a general misperception that if any civilians at all are killed, then that is automatically disproportionate. But what such people generally fail to say is what something is disproportionate to, and you’ve got to consider; the law requires consideration of the legitimate military objectives of the other side as well.”

Apparently though, there was no BBC memo informing its own employees that the indiscriminate and unwarranted use of such terms is both inappropriate for an organization professing to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, as well as misleading to audiences who would quite reasonably (but wrongly) assume that the BBC’s frequent employment of such language must mean that a legal justification for its use exists. Obviously too, BBC presenters and producers had not been issued with any sort of guidelines on the topic of the legal definitions of such labels and the resulting significance of their use by correspondents and interviewees whilst no proven justification was available.

That in itself speaks volumes about the BBC’s lack of commitment to impartial reporting of Operation Protective Edge and it is an issue on which the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs obviously needs to provide answers to the corporation’s funding public.  

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