Since the outset, the BBC has provided uncritical amplification of allegations from bodies such as the Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera that the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was intentionally killed by a member of Israel’s security forces, despite the absence of evidence to prove that claim.
When the inconclusive results of a US investigation were made public on July 4th, the BBC gave cross-platform amplification to dismissive statements from a Palestinian Authority official and the journalist’s family which included an interview with her brother.
“Shireen Abu Aqla’s brother has heavily criticised a US report that concluded unintentional Israeli gunfire was likely to have been responsible for the Palestinian-American reporter’s death.
Tony Abu Aqla told the BBC the findings were “unacceptable” and insisted his sister was targeted by Israeli troops. […]
A top official in the Palestinian Authority, which has concluded that Abu Aqla was intentionally shot dead by an Israeli soldier, accused the US of trying to protect Israel.”
Ahead of the US president’s visit to the Middle East, the Abu Akleh family publicised a request for a meeting with him while accusing the US of trying to erase Israel’s responsibility for her death. Although the US administration invited the family to Washington, the BBC nevertheless found it appropriate to again promote their unproven claims in some of its coverage of that presidential visit.
As we saw earlier, on July 14th BBC domestic TV viewers were told in no uncertain terms that Abu Akleh was “killed by Israeli troops in May” by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in one of his reports on the US president’s visit.
The following day – July 15th – saw the appearance of a filmed report titled “Shireen Abu Aqla’s brother: ‘I feel abandoned’” in the ‘updates’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page and in a written report by Yolande Knell.
“The brother of Shireen Abu Aqla, the Al Jazeera reporter shot in the occupied West Bank in May, says it is hard to accept the findings of a US report that concluded unintentional Israeli gunfire was likely to have been responsible for the Palestinian-American reporter’s death.
“We don’t know what this statement was based on… it was really surprising to us,” he says. “We are seeking justice for her.””
The film is comprised of a monologue from Tony Abu Akleh interspersed with written commentary from the BBC.
“A US review found it “likely” to be Israeli gunfire, but unintentional.”
“The family believes the killing was intentional, citing evidence including the number of bullets fired.”
Viewers were not told that those bullets have not undergone independent forensic analysis and no attempt was made to qualify Tony Abu Akleh’s inaccurate claim that “her funeral even was attacked by Israeli soldiers for no reason”.
Tony Abu Akleh also appeared in an audio report by Tom Bateman that was aired on July 15th both on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 1:22:43 here) and the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:10 here).
The same interview appeared in the BBC World Service’s ‘Global News Podcast’ (from 00:51 here) on the same day.
Bateman: “And Mr Biden will be under pressure over a much more recent issue. Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed covering an Israeli army arrest raid in the occupied West Bank. The case has become a symbol. She was a Palestinian with dual American citizenship. Her family says they felt betrayed when a US review found Israeli soldiers likely fired the fatal bullet but that it was not intentional. I asked her brother Tony what he expected from Mr Biden.”
Abu Akleh: “We not asking much. We just asking accountability for whoever assassinated Shireen. It’s important for us to be sure that this doesn’t happen again. And Mr Biden made it clear that he is dedicated to protecting the press and this is the least he can do.”
Bateman: “And do you think those American investigators should travel here?”
Abu Akleh: “Absolutely. You know, it’s a crime scene. We want to see some effort, which we are not feeling at all right now.”
Bateman did not bother to remind listeners that it was the Palestinian Authority which refused to hand over the bullet it claimed to have removed from Shireen Abu Akleh’s body for nearly two months or that a visit to the “crime scene” would at this point be useless.
Bateman: “And it was May the eleventh…ahm…it’s over, you know, two months now. How has life been for you?”
Abu Akleh: “You know, I…I tried to go even back to work. I went for three weeks and I couldn’t. Today, you know, we would see her covering Biden’s visit and every…every event that happens or takes place, I expect to see her reporting or doing a report or live on TV but now she’s gone.”
Bateman: “The army maintains Shireen Abu Akleh could have been hit by militant gunfire but the evidence doesn’t support this.” [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Failing to clarify to listeners in the UK and worldwide exactly which “evidence” does not support the possibility that the shot that killed Abu Akleh could have been fired by members of local terrorist groups who regularly use weapons and ammunition stolen from IDF bases, Bateman moved onto another topic.
Despite the absence of conclusive proof that the fatal shot came from the gun of an Israeli soldier, the BBC is clearly quite happy not only to promote that theory as fact, but also to amplify the entirely unevidenced claim that it was done deliberately. While the Abu Akleh family and others may well be dissatisfied by a US investigation which did not yield the conclusions they wanted, there is no excuse for a media organisation supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting to continue to generously promote what remains a completely unproven version of events.