Listeners to BBC World Service radio early on the morning of November 15th heard the following opaque item (from 03:00 here) in a news bulletin: [emphasis in italics in the original]
Newsreader: “The Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz says Israel will not cooperate with any external investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Mr Gantz said it was a mistake for the FBI in the US to investigate. The Palestinian-American reporter was fatally shot in May while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank.”
A written report which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page early the same morning under the headline ‘Shireen Abu Aqla: Israel won’t cooperate with US death probe’ likewise led with the Israeli defence minister’s response to something about which no information had yet been provided:
“Israel will not cooperate with any “external investigation” into the death of journalist Shireen Abu Aqla.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said it was “a mistake” for US authorities to open an investigation into the killing.”
Only in paragraph five were readers told that:
“On Monday, US media outlet Axios reported that the US Justice Department had informed Israel’s Justice Ministry that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had opened an investigation into her death.”
The BBC’s article did not provide a link to that report by Barak Ravid.
As has become standard practice in BBC coverage of this story, the article cited “video evidence” but without clarifying that the footage was provided by Shireen Abu Akleh’s employer, the Qatari outlet Al Jazeera.
“In September, a senior IDF official said there was a high probability that she was shot “by mistake by an IDF soldier, and of course he didn’t identify her as a journalist”.
The official added that investigators had spoken to the soldier involved: “He told us what he did; and if he did it, it was done by mistake.”
“I want to emphasise the fighting environment that these soldiers were under. They were confined in a protected vehicle with multi-dimensional fire from every direction,” the official added.
However, video evidence from the moment Ms Abu Aqla was shot does not support the claim of militant gunfire in the spot that journalists and bystanders had gathered.
Israeli troops were believed to be 200m (656ft) away, and the footage shows repeated fire for several minutes towards the area where the journalists were walking.” [emphasis added]
The BBC’s article made no effort to explain the timing of the US Justice Department’s decision to open an investigation six months after the incident took place and despite previous contrary US statements on the matter. The fact that the US already conducted a related probe in July after the Palestinian Authority had finally handed over what it claimed was the bullet which killed the journalist was not mentioned. Neither did the article clarify to readers the particular circumstances under which the FBI is authorised to investigate the deaths of US citizens abroad or what might be the response to any request to investigate Israeli citizens or to receive classified information.
That unsatisfactory report – perhaps produced by less than competent night shift staff – was available on the BBC News website for some eleven hours until the early afternoon when it was replaced at the same URL by an article written by David Gritten which was retitled ‘Shireen Abu Aqla: Israel rejects US reporter death probe as mistake’.
While Gritten’s version on the story is an improvement on the one previously presented to BBC audiences for almost half a day, it too makes no effort to enlighten readers as to who or what brought about this sudden about-turn from the US administration.