BBC Complaints justifies inaccuracies in Radio 4 item about Western Wall

On February 7th the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday’ included an item about the plans for a new mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall. As was noted here at the time:Sunday 7 2 R4

“Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item by telling listeners that:

“The Israeli government’s decision to approve a new area by Jerusalem’s Western Wall where men and women can pray together will mean some big physical changes at Judaism’s holiest site.”

The Western Wall is of course not “Judaism’s holiest site” – Temple Mount holds that title – and it is difficult to understand why that inaccuracy is repeatedly found in BBC content, especially in a programme which purports to focus on “religious issues”.

Later on, while discussing the story with journalist Judy Maltz, Stourton materially misled listeners by inaccurately claiming that the Waqf has authority over the Western Wall.

“There is also of course opposition from outside – isn’t there – from the Palestinians and from the Muslim authorities responsible for the area.” [emphasis added]”

In response to a complaint submitted by BBC Watch, BBC Complaints had this to say:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’, as broadcast on 7 February.

I appreciate that you feel the programme’s reference to the Western Wall was inaccurate.

We’ve reviewed the programme for you and the Western Wall was referenced within a discussion about prayer. The description of the Western Wall as ‘Judaism’s holiest site’ was within this context- that it is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Our presenter Edward Stourton also referred to “the Muslim authorities responsible for the area” which, I’m sure you can appreciate, is different from saying that Waqf have jurisdiction over the Western Wall.”

Apparently Radio 4 listeners were expected to use their psychic powers in order to determine what Stourton really meant – as opposed to what he actually said.

Obviously the topic of Jerusalem’s holy sites is a highly sensitive issue and one which demands particular attention to accuracy in any related reporting or presentation. Thanks to Radio 4 there are now unknown numbers of people in the UK who have wrongly been led to believe that “Muslim authorities” are “responsible” for the Western Wall area and that will surely affect their ability to understand any future developments in this story. 

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