The BBC has once again come under sharp criticism over its coverage of violence perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians. Critics called the BBC out over its bias after the broadcaster bowed to pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and changed the headline of a news piece concerning Israeli air strikes on Gaza.
The BBC headline read: “Israeli air strikes ‘kill woman and baby’” for a news piece related to the killing of three Palestinians including a pregnant mother and toddler in Gaza on Wednesday night.
The headline attracted the attention of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who is currently leading a bitter campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over a definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel with racism against Jews.
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon shot the BBC down and demanded for the headline to be changed “IMMEDIATELY”:
.@BBCWorld this is a formal complaint by @IsraelMFA .This title is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality ( that’s the polite equivalent of “ this is a LIE”, if you don’t get it). Israelis were targeted by Hamas and IDF acts to protect them.Change it IMMEDIATELY!!! @IsraelMFA pic.twitter.com/pqjXuopXgO
— Emmanuel Nahshon (@EmmanuelNahshon) August 9, 2018
The Board of Deputies joined the act, denouncing the BBC headline as “appalling”. They said that they had lodged a complaint and encouraged others to do the same.
A short while after the complaints the BBC completely changed the headline: “Gaza air strikes ‘kill woman and child’ after rockets hit Israel.”
The dramatic change in headline caught the attention of social media users who were astonished by BBC’s capitulation to the dictates of a foreign state.
British commentator Owen Jones tweeted:
Wow. The Israeli Foreign Ministry demanded the BBC change their headline – which said Israeli air strikes "kill pregnant women and baby" – and the BBC did as they were told. Astonishing. https://t.co/CPc7SWE2Cn
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) August 9, 2018
Others pointed to the influence of the Israeli lobby in the UK citing the Al Jazeera documentary “The Lobby,” which exposed how the Israeli embassy was providing covert assistance to supposedly independent groups within the Labour Party, and led a campaign to remove not just Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan, but also Crispin Blunt MP, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for their strong views on Israel. Many of these groups are now at the centre of the anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party.
“Looks like the influence of a foreign power on our political landscape and media never went away,” tweeted a social media user who also shared a video of Israeli embassy staff Shai Masot attempting to organise a takedown of British MPs sympathetic to the Palestinians and possibly hostile to the Israeli state.
Many responded with personal accounts to highlight the extent to which the BBC is bullied into taking a pro-Israel stance. A video clip of a famous study “Bad News from Israel” by the renowned Glasgow University Media Group resurfaced. Its author Greg Philo can be heard saying:
“I spent time with BBC journalists and a senior producer said to me, ‘We wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis,’” referring to the trepidation felt by BBC editors when publishing negative stories about Israel.
It is unusual for the BBC to publish a story about Israeli aggression using headlines that doesn’t make excuses. On this occasion the fact that the story appeared in BBC World perhaps explains why the headline may not have gone through the rigorous vetting that many suspect stories about Israel are subjected to.
A BBC spokesperson admitted that “although the original headline was not factually incorrect, we updated it to add more context to the story”.