BBC News misleads audiences on ICC Mavi Marmara statement

On November 6th the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried a report currently going under the title “Gaza flotilla raid: No Israel charges over Mavi Marmara“. The article has undergone numerous changes since its initial appearance with the headline “No Israel charge over Gaza ship raid” but the version currently available on the site opens as follows:Mavi Marmara art

“The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says she will not take action over Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists.

Fatou Bensouda said despite “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes had been committed, the ICC had to prioritise larger-scale events.”

In other words, through the use of a cherry-picked quote from a press release, BBC audiences are mistakenly led to believe that although the ICC has determined that it is reasonable to believe that ‘war crimes’ were committed aboard the Mavi Marmara, it does not have the time or resources to do anything about it.

However, what is not adequately clarified in this BBC report is that not only did the ICC not determine that Israel had committed ‘war crimes’; it did not rule anything at all. No charges were filed, no trial was held and the report (available here) produced by the ICC’s chief prosecutor – the purpose of which was to examine whether or not there was a case for the ICC to pursue – is based on analysis of information already available (including, for example, the Turkish Commission) rather than on independent investigation by the ICC. As the press release linked to in the BBC report states:

“The Office analysed the supporting materials and documentation accompanying the referral along with, among other things, the reports published by the four commissions that have previously examined the 31 May 2010 incident. It should be recalled that the Office does not have investigative powers at the preliminary examination stage. Not having collected evidence itself, the Office’s analysis in the report must not be considered to be the result of an investigation.” [emphasis added]

In the report itself, a similar paragraph to the one above also states:

“The Office’s conclusions may be reconsidered in the light of new facts or evidence.”

So what the ICC’s chief prosecutor is in fact saying is that if the claims made in the material her office examined were shown to be true, certain acts could be considered war crimes for the purposes of jurisdiction. Of course whether or not war crimes were actually committed would subsequently have to be proven in a court of law.

That is a very different picture than the one presented in the BBC’s selected context-free sound-bite.

The BBC’s report also informs readers that:

“Lawyers who brought the case said they planned to appeal against the decision.”


“… lawyers representing the Comoros vowed to appeal against the decision, saying it was a “struggle for justice, humanity and honour”.”

As was the case in a related previous BBC report, no effort is made to inform readers that those Turkish lawyers also represent the Mavi Marmara ‘victims’.

Additionally the BBC report states:

IHH president Bulent Yildirim with Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh
IHH president Bulent Yildirim with Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh

“The activists, many from a pro-Palestinian Turkish group called the IHH, said they wanted to deliver aid to the Palestinian enclave by breaking Israel’s naval blockade. Israel imposed the sea blockade after Hamas, which it has designated a terrorist group, seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Israel says the IHH is closely linked to Hamas.”

The BBC has already corrected at least one previous report to clarify that the Mavi Marmara was a passenger ship which was not carrying aid and this report’s whitewashing of the IHH’s Hamas and ‘Union of Good’ connections and Islamist agenda also clearly does not enhance audience understanding of its subject matter. The claim that the naval blockade was linked to the abduction of Gilad Shalit in 2006 is of course inaccurate: it was in fact announced in January 2009. 

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