BBC Committed ‘Significant Editorial Failings’ in Antisemitic Attack Coverage Says U.K. Media Regulator Ofcom

U.K. media regulator Ofcom has published a damning assessment of the BBC’s coverage of an antisemitic attack in London, saying the broadcaster committed “significant editorial failings.”

Ofcom’s findings are the result of an almost year-long investigation into the BBC’s television news and web coverage of a prolonged antisemitic attack in the heart of central London last December.

The attack took place on Nov. 29, 2021, during the Jewish festival of Hannukkah, when a group of British and Israeli Jewish students held a celebration on a private bus, which followed a route through central London.

According to a report from the Jewish Chronicle, the passengers, consisting mostly of teenagers, disembarked on Oxford Street where they played Hannukkah music and danced in the street. As they danced the group were reportedly surrounded by young men who “appeared to be mocking them,” some of whom reportedly shouted “Free Palestine.” Out of concern for their safety, the teens re-boarded the bus but as it waited in traffic to pull away, some men began shouting antisemitic abuse, according to video footage captured from inside the bus. The men began to hit the bus with their shoes and fists, appeared to make Nazi salutes with their arms, spat at the windows and raised their middle fingers at the teenagers inside.

In the BBC’s coverage of the attack, on its website and in a television broadcast, it was claimed that as they were being attacked one of the teenagers on board the bus uttered an “anti-Muslim slur” in English about the attackers. The article also described the attack as “an alleged” anti-Semitic incident.

However, the BBC’s claim about the racial slur was disputed by multiple sources, including two digital investigative agencies who analyzed the video taken from inside the bus and concluded no such slur was uttered. Numerous experts, including a linguistics professor, said the BBC’s reporters had misunderstood one of the teenagers, who was uttering a Hebrew phrase begging for help.

Despite being alerted to the evidence disputing their claim, the BBC refused to amend, update or clarify their coverage.

Following complaints, the BBC’s internal Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) investigated the reporting and found, in January of this year, that they “lack[ed] due impartiality in failing to reflect alternative views” and due to the doubts raised over the report “no longer meet[s] the BBC’s standards of due accuracy.”

In a response, the BBC said the spurious claim about a racial slur being uttered was “included in good faith” but apologized for “not doing more to highlight that these details were contested.”

Despite this, media regulator Ofcom launched an investigation, the result of which was published this week. In its report of the investigation, Ofcom said the BBC’s refusal to update the article for at least two months to say the claim about the anti-Muslim slur was disputed constituted a “significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality.”

Ofcom also found that while the broadcast of the report did not breach rules due to a number of contextual factors, the BBC “made a serious editorial misjudgment” by failing to update viewers later that the claim about the slur was in dispute following new evidence.

Ofcom has said it plans to “review how the BBC has addressed the complaints handling and transparency issues raised by this case.”

In a statement, the BBC told Variety: “While Ofcom has found that our reporting was not in breach of the Broadcasting Code, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit ruled in January this year that more could have been done sooner to acknowledge the differing views about what could be heard on the recording of the attack. The BBC apologized at the time for not acting sooner to highlight that the content of the recording was contested.”

Despite video footage of the attackers being widely circulated, no one has ever been arrested in conjunction with the case.

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