BBC Arabic partly corrects references to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel

A post by CAMERA Arabic

Between July and November 2020 CAMERA Arabic submitted no fewer than ten complaints to the editors of the BBC Arabic website about its use of Tel Aviv as a refence to Israel or the Israeli government within the framework of the common journalistic practice of citing a nation’s capital city as shorthand for the local government.

In the past few weeks several corrections to this recurring falsehood have been made in BBC articles: four in Arabic and one in both Arabic and Spanish. That still leaves five Arabic language articles which have not been corrected to date. An identical correction was secured last August from the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, also in Arabic. That did not prevent the outlet from subsequently publishing several more inaccurate references to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.

In all the seven corrections (5 in BBC Arabic, one in BBC Spanish and one in DW Arabic) the phrase “Tel Aviv” was replaced with either “Israel” or “the Israeli government”.

The UK’s BBC and Germany’s DW thus joined – at least partially – the growing number of media outlets from various countries which have already agreed to admit the obvious: that Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel.

The other Arabic language ones among them are American stations CNN Arabic and Al-Hurra. English language outlets include Newsweek (US), Haaretz (Israel), AFP (France), India Today (India), the Independent (UK), the Times of London (UK) and the Guardian (UK). The Los Angeles Times has also published the following post-correction remark on the issue (before the US embassy in Israel was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem):

“This article gave the impression that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. The capital is Jerusalem, though the United States and most other nations do not recognize it as such and maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.”

Not unrelated to this recurring issue is the rarer and more strange BBC Arabic practice of reporting events which happened in Jerusalem and under Israeli auspices as though they took place in Tel Aviv.

Recent examples include the hospitalisation and death of PLO official Sa’eb Erekat. On October 18th a report on Erekat’s condition claimed that he had previously been “transferred to a hospital in Tel Aviv” although he had in fact been treated all along at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. Similarly, the report which delivered the news of Erekat’s death on November 10th uncritically quoted the PLO announcement which made the same false claim. 

Another notable instance was in June 2019, when BBC Arabic journalist ‘Ali Hashem dubbed a meeting between Israeli, American and Russian national security advisers “the Tel Aviv summit” even though the meeting took place in Jerusalem.

(See this post in Arabic here)

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