BBC London promotes activist doctor and more Al Ahli muddying

On December 1st the Jewish Chronicle published a report concerning a British-Palestinian surgeon who has contributed to several items of BBC content (as well as that of other UK media organisations) over the past two months.

“While working in Gaza following the October 7 attack, Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah – who has been named by the BBC as a “key” source of the death count in the Strip – gave interviews to media outlets across the world in which he accused the IDF of using white phosphorus and targeting hospitals, claims Israel strongly denies.

On his return to London earlier this month, the plastic surgeon delivered a press conference on the conflict broadcast by Sky News and provided testimony to Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit.

Three years earlier, however, the doctor spoke at a ceremony in Beirut commemorating the first anniversary of the death of Maher Al-Yamani, who co-founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).”

That reference to the BBC relates to a November 16th report by BBC Verify (discussed here) in which, under the sub-heading “How the dead are counted”, readers are told that:

“Healthcare workers like Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a Médecins Sans Frontières plastic surgeon based in London who has been treating people at hospitals in Gaza City, are key to recording those figures.”

Other examples of recent BBC content featuring Dr Abu-Sittah include an October 11th BBC Radio 4 interview, a filmed report published on the BBC News website on October 15th, a written report published on the BBC News website on October 17th, a BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ interview and BBC News TikTok and Instagram posts.

On December 2nd UnHerd published an article by Nicole Lampert in which she mentions a more recent item of BBC content featuring Dr Abu-Sittah which appeared after his return to the UK:

“The BBC, meanwhile, conducted its own interview with Abu-Sittah after the press conference, in which he outlined the “overwhelming sense of guilt” he felt towards “the patients that still need my help”. The exclusive interview came days after one of the broadcaster’s reporters — Sanaa Khouri, a Beirut-based religious affairs correspondent — tweeted of him: “One might say, ‘Give this hero a Nobel Prize,’ but nah, his name is much bigger and more iconic than any prize now. God bless you, Dr Ghassan. Thanks for showing us there is still good out in this monstrous world.””

That uncredited written report was published on the BBC News website’s ‘London’ page on November 29th under the headline “Gaza hospital doctor speaks of moment missile hit”. The incident to which that headline relates is the explosion at Al Ahli hospital on October 17th and readers are told that:

“BBC London previously interviewed Prof Ghassan Abu-Sittah, from Médecins Sans Frontières, who has been helping to treat people wounded in the war, at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital.

As the interview concluded, on 17 October, the hospital was hit by a missile.

Now back in London, he has spoken of the moment the hospital was struck. […]

Prof Abu-Sittah described how parts of the hospital were on fire and the roof of an operating theatre fell in.

He told BBC London: “There was lots of dust, people were screaming and rushing past me. That’s when I called your colleague back, not just to tell him – but I needed to my family to know – I was alive.

“It was just carnage in the emergency department; there was a man that had shrapnel in his neck. There were bodies and parts of bodies everywhere including that of the forearm of a young child on the floor.””

The BBC’s initial coverage of that incident also included a contribution from Dr Abu-Sittah, who had participated in a press conference held by the Hamas controlled health ministry:

“”We were operating in the hospital, there was a strong explosion, and the ceiling fell on the operating room. This is a massacre,” said Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a Médecins Sans Frontières plastic surgeon who had been helping to treat people wounded in the war.”

The BBC’s early coverage of the Al Ahli hospital explosion earned it considerable criticism and as we have documented, the corporation initially went into damage control mode:

BBC EFFORTS TO DAMP DOWN CRITICISM DO NOT ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES

Notwithstanding those initial attempts to combat public criticism, rather than informing BBC audiences that what it had initially reported as “an Israeli strike” on the hospital was in fact an explosion caused by a shortfall rocket fired by a Palestinian terrorist organisation, the BBC quickly employed its tried and trusted ‘he said-she said’ mode and within days was portraying the cause of the explosion as “still contested”. The assertion that the BBC “cannot yet establish as fact who was responsible for the blast” appeared over a month later in response to complaints:

REVIEWING BBC VERIFY REPORTING ON THE AL AHLI HOSPITAL INCIDENT

BBC RESPONSES TO CRITICISM OF COVERAGE OF THE AL AHLI EXPLOSION – PART TWO

In the BBC London November 29th interview with Dr Abu-Sittah readers were initially told that: [emphasis added]

Palestinian officials say the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike, but the Israeli military says it was the result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an accusation the militant group rejected.”

Some four hours later that part of the report was amended to read as follows:

Hamas said the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military, however, said it was the result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an accusation the militant group rejected.

On 23 October, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Commons that the UK had judged that the blast at the hospital was likely to have been caused by “a missile, or part of one” fired from “within Gaza”.

At least three other Western governments as well as major news organisations and even one of the BBC’s most quoted and promoted NGOs have arrived at the same conclusion.

Nevertheless, BBC London (and even more recently BBC World Service radio) not only considered it appropriate to interview an inadequately presented activist surgeon who just two days earlier had accused Israel of deliberately targeting health services at a press conference hosted by an organisation with a clear anti-Israel agenda) but also to continue – over forty days on – to uncritically promote the unevidenced allegations and the denials put out by two terrorist organisations concerning the October 17th explosion at Al Ahli hospital.

That BBC London report – as well as all the BBC’s other online content presenting the causes of that explosion as “still contested” – will of course go down as “permanent public record”. The fact that the BBC is apparently not concerned by that is ample indication of the fact that any regrets it may have regarding its coverage of that incident concern the ensuing PR disaster rather than the accuracy and impartiality of the reporting itself.

Related Articles:

BBC’S FACT CHECK DEPARTMENT ROOTS FOR HAMAS CASUALTY FIGURES

WHY BBC REPORTING ON THE AL AHLI HOSPITAL INCIDENT SHOULD NOT SURPRISE

BBC NEWS FAILS TO CLARIFY AGENDA OF FEATURED ORGANISATION

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2 Comments

  1. says: Sid

    Presumably this medical doctor gained his qualifications – where ???
    Are these UK qualifications
    Ghassan Abu-Sittah, MBchB, FRCS (Plast)?
    Tel +44(0)20 3750 0400
    Location :-
    The Ghanem Clinic
    4 Upper Wimpole St, London W1G 6LF
    Take a look at his “medical” publication – none since 2020
    Who awarded him title of Professor?
    He is on Board of Trustees of the UK based Medical Aid for Palestinians
    See https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/235728

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