Key background absent from BBC reporting on Israel PM allegations

BBC fails to provide legal context to quoted statements.

On February 14th the BBC News website published a lengthy article titled “Israel PM Netanyahu defiant in face of bribery allegations” on its Middle East page in which readers were told that:

“A police statement on Tuesday said there was enough evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

The attorney general’s office could take months to decide if Mr Netanyahu should face charges.”

Following sub-sections titled “What was Netanyahu’s response?” and “What are the allegations?”, readers found a section headed “What has the reaction been?” in which comments from members of four political parties were highlighted, including the following:

“Earlier, Israel’s centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union, called on the prime minister to resign.”

The last section of the article was titled “What happens now?”.

“A final decision on whether Mr Netanyahu should face charges will come down to the attorney general’s office. A decision could take months to reach.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said any prime minister who has been charged should not be obliged to resign.”

While it is unclear which particular statement from the Justice Minister the BBC is quoting in this report, significantly at no point did the BBC make any effort to clarify to audiences that – as Ms Shaked has pointed out in the past – under Israeli law, police recommendations are not a legal reason for a prime minister to resign.

Unlike a minister, a prime minister is not obliged by law to resign even if indicted. Only after being convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude – and following any appeals – can a prime minister (and with him the government) be removed from office.

Clearly that information is crucial to understanding of both quoted statements concerning the topic of resignation and the story in general but it was not provided to BBC audiences reading either this report or another one on the same topic that appeared on the previous day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel’s dilemma over PM’s future“.

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