Inaccurate graphic, failure to meet editorial guidelines in BBC Rafah report

Previously we documented the appearance of an inaccurate and misleading graphic in two BBC News website reports:


The same inaccurate graphic was also promoted in a report published on May 23rd under the headline “Two thousand aid trucks stuck at Rafah border, aid group warns”.

The “aid group” that is the source of the information upon which much of this report is based is the ‘Norwegian Refugee Council’.

“Humanitarian assistance in Gaza has been “systematically paralysed” by restrictions imposed by the warring parties there, warns the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The organisation said 2,000 aid trucks were stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed since Israel’s military launched an operation against Hamas in the southern city of Rafah on 6 May.

Suze van Meegen, NRC’s head of operations for Gaza, said Palestinians were being “actively deprived” of much-needed shipments of medicine, tents, water tanks, sanitary products and other basics.”

As regular readers well know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality include a section titled “Contributors’ Affiliations”:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

In the overwhelming majority of cases, BBC journalists simply ignore that instruction when quoting and promoting NGOs and the writer of this report – Dan Johnson – is no exception. Readers are therefore told nothing about the NRC’s record of anti-Israel activity, including lawfare, its links to terrorism, its funding (including from the UK) or the “particular viewpoints” it has promoted since October 7th 2023.

Notably, nowhere in Johnson’s report are BBC audiences informed that the reason why “aid trucks were stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing” is because Egypt refused to allow them to enter the Gaza Strip either by that crossing or any other route.

The day after the appearance of Johnson’s article saw a shift in Egypt’s stance.

“Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi agreed with US President Joe Biden by phone on Friday to temporarily send humanitarian aid and fuel to the United Nations via Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing until legal mechanisms are in place to reopen the Rafah Border Crossing from the Palestinian side, the Egyptian presidency announces. […]

Aid has been piling up in Egypt since Israel launched an operation to take over the Gaza side of the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt on May 7.

Not wanting to be seen as complicit with Israel’s occupation of the gate, Egypt has refused to re-open Rafah until Israeli troops have withdrawn from the other side.

In the meantime, the US and Israel have urged Cairo to at least allow the growing amount of aid in Egypt to be transferred to Israel where it can be delivered into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Egypt had to date refused, still deeming such a move as collaboration with Israel’s military offensive in the southern Gaza city.”

Johnson’s article was not updated to include that obviously relevant development in the story he purported to report or to inform BBC audiences about another Rafah crossing related story which broke on the day that his article was published.

On the morning of May 26th the first aid trucks rerouted from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing arrived at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where rocket attacks by Hamas continue to be mostly ignored by the BBC.

Just as Johnson fails to provide readers with any meaningful information concerning the fighting in Rafah (such as the discovery of Hamas missiles and rocket launchers in a graveyard), he also gives a highly selective portrayal of fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, focusing audience attentions on hospitals.

“Mahmoud al-Sharif, who lives in Jabalia’s refugee camp, said the IDF was targeting civilian homes and had besieged the al-Awda hospital.

“The situation on the ground is dire, with the army besieging several areas in Jabalia and its camp, and we hear nothing but gunfire,” he added.”

Johnson fails to remind his readers that the bodies of Israeli hostages had been discovered in a tunnel underneath one of the “civilian homes” in Jabaliya just days before.

According to his Twitter profile, Dan Johnson is the BBC’s West of England correspondent. On October 8th 2023 he arrived in Israel and produced several reports before returning to the UK just over two weeks later. Sometime in mid-May, Johnson arrived back in Israel again and by May 17th he was providing BBC audiences with “analysis”.

In other words, Johnson’s report is yet another example of content produced by a BBC journalist who is not familiar with the region and its issues but who has been ‘parachuted’ in to augment teams on the ground. It is therefore hardly surprising that what BBC audiences get in this report is a partial story based on claims from an inadequately presented political NGO which fails to explain why “two thousand aid trucks” were stuck in Egypt. 

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