Previously we have looked at the BBC’s initial reporting of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin on May 11th on World Service radio and the BBC News website:
The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audience heard the first reports on that story on the May 11th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme and once again audiences heard uncritical and unqualified amplification of claims from Al Jazeera, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority which had not been independently verified by the BBC.
In the 8 a.m. news bulletin aired some three and a half hours after the incident occurred (from 2:05:33 here) listeners were told that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Newsreader: “An Al Jazeera correspondent has been shot dead while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank. The Qatar-based news channel said that the reporter was shot in the head by Israeli forces. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”
In the report from Tom Bateman listeners learned that it is apparently only Israel which is required “to provide evidence” and listeners were not informed that the claims from Al Jazeera and Qatar amplified by the BBC are no less lacking in evidence at this stage.
Bateman: “Shireen Abu Akleh was hit by gunfire as she was covering a raid by Israeli troops into Jenin camp. She was wearing a press flack jacket visibly marked. Another reporter, who was wounded, said the fire came from soldiers. During the raid armed Palestinians had fired at troops massive volleys says the Israeli army, which says she may have been hit by Palestinian gunmen but has yet to provide evidence. Ms Abu Akleh was a veteran Palestinian journalist known to millions; one of the best-known women to become a regular face on TV screens covering the conflict over the years. Responding to her death, Qatar – which owns Al Jazeera – accused Israel of state-sponsored terrorism. Israel’s government says it is investigating and is offering to do so in coordination with Palestinian officials.”
At 2:44:51 listeners heard another item on the same topic introduced by presenter Mishal Husain, who clearly had no qualms about presenting speculation as fact:
Husain: “Shireen Abu Akleh was a long-serving correspondent with Al Jazeera who’d been covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last 15 years. We learned in the last couple of hours that she has been shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank. Tim Franks our correspondent joins us from Jerusalem. What happened Tim?”
Franks once again failed to clarify the context of some of the terrorists who carried out recent attacks in Israel having come from Jenin and the surrounding area but did appear to equate Israeli counter-terrorism operations in that area with the terror attacks in Israeli cities.
Franks: “Well the circumstances of her death are being disputed but Palestinians are saying it’s extremely clear that Shireen Abu Akleh was out at Jenin at one of [sic] the camps there – Jenin in the north of the West Bank – where there’s been a lot of trouble, a lot of Israeli army raids over the last few weeks, as Israelis have also been hit by a wave of violent attacks. And she was shot behind the ear and died at 6:30 in the morning local time. Now the Palestinians say that the fire came from an Israeli sniper. Al Jazeera – indeed Qatar which owns Al Jazeera – the foreign ministry has described this as a state-sponsored act of terrorism. The Israelis are saying that at the time, Palestinian gunmen were firing indiscriminately – as they put it – and that she may well have been hit by a shot fired from the Palestinian side. They have offered a joint investigation. The Palestinians have turned that down and say that the evidence is very clear: Shireen Abu Akleh – this widely respected and widely liked correspondent – was shot by the Israeli military who were conducting this raid.”
Tim Franks failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the claims from “the Palestinians”, Al Jazeera and Qatar are to date unproven and unevidenced. Husain nevertheless chose to focus audience attentions on the topic of the reliability of Israeli investigations into such incidents.
Husain: “She was 51 years old. Qatar say that she was wearing a press flak jacket and helmet: i.e. she was clearly identifiable as a journalist, as all our journalistic colleagues would be in a situation like this. In your experience, Tim, when there are incidents where Israeli forces are accused, does the truth come out? What is the process and the accountability like?”
Franks failed to answer that question and did not tell listeners that Israel has an entire department dedicated to such matters. Interestingly, neither Franks nor Husain appeared to be interested in the level of reliability and accountability of Palestinian Authority investigations but Franks did imply to listeners that the PA has “a desire for justice to be served”.
Franks: “Well it’s enormously difficult. I mean, the Israelis…I mean they don’t now [sic] have the body. It’s in the hands of the Palestinian authorities. She is likely to be buried here in Jerusalem tomorrow because Jerusalem is where she lived. The Palestinians say that as far as they’re concerned, they will be passing on the evidence that they get to their public prosecutor and indeed also to the International Criminal Court: the prosecutor there. So there is clearly a desire for justice to be served but, you know, who ends up with the account that they think is satisfactory, you know, we’ll have to wait and see. That having been said, the video is very clear today. She was wearing a flak jacket with ‘press’ written on it and her death – I mean the most important thing to say is that her death has really shocked people here. I have seen a lot of hollow eyes and shocked faces among colleagues today. One friend who I have worked with a lot in the region said she was an amazing person and a great journalist.”
Once again we see that just a few hours after the incident had happened, the BBC had already embraced a specific narrative on the story and had no problem telling its audiences that Shireen Abu Akleh had been “shot dead by Israeli forces” even though it had no evidence whatsoever to support that claim.