Suggestion that Jewish teenagers who were the target of a hate crime had used Islamophobic slurs was disputed as inaccurateBBC caused ‘significant distress’ to Jewish community with false anti-Muslim claims
The BBC caused “significant distress” to the Jewish community when it reported that students targeted in an anti-Semitic incident had used anti-Muslim slurs, Ofcom has ruled.
The watchdog found the BBC guilty of “significant editorial failings”.
The group of Jewish young people was targeted as their bus travelled along Oxford Street in central London, with footage showing men on the pavement performing Nazi salutes, spitting and punching the windows.
In its coverage of the incident on December 2 last year, the BBC claimed that “racial slurs about Muslims” could be heard coming from inside the bus.
However, the audio was disputed. The phrase which the BBC had interpreted as “dirty Muslims”, said in English, was identified by others as a Hebrew phrase which translated as: “Call someone, it’s urgent.”
The BBC received complaints about its interpretation and, in a report obtained on December 9, the BBC’s own translators disagreed on which phrase was used.
Yet the broadcaster did not update its online news article for almost eight weeks. Ofcom criticised the BBC for failing to respond despite its reporting “causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack and the wider Jewish community”.
Ofcom ruled that the BBC failed to observe its own editorial guidelines on reporting news with due accuracy and due impartiality.
Disputed audio unrecognised by BBC
“The BBC made a serious editorial misjudgement by not reporting on air, at any point, that the claim it had made about anti-Muslim slurs was disputed, once new evidence emerged,” the watchdog said.
The incident took place on November 29, when a bus carrying around 40 young Jewish people celebrating Hanukkah was stationary in Oxford Street traffic.
One of the passengers took mobile phone video of the attack, which was circulated widely on social media.
Ofcom said: “Our investigation uncovered significant editorial failings in the BBC’s reporting of an anti-Semitic attack on Jewish students travelling on board a bus in London.
“The BBC’s reporters claimed that an audio recording made during the incident included anti-Muslim slurs – which it later changed to the singular ‘slur’ – which came from inside the bus. Shortly afterwards, it received evidence which disputed this interpretation of the audio.
“The BBC failed to promptly acknowledge that the audio was disputed and did not update its online news article to reflect this for almost eight weeks.
“During this time, the BBC was aware that the article’s content was causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack and the wider Jewish community.
“This, in our opinion, was a significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality.”
Ofcom added: “The BBC could – and should – have acted much more promptly and transparently in responding to the issues raised. In our view, the failure to report swiftly that the audio was disputed created an impression of defensiveness by the BBC among the Jewish community.
“In our view, it demonstrates that the BBC has further to go in learning how to respond when its reporting is in contention.
“We consider it deeply unfortunate that the BBC’s handling of complaints in this case and its failure to represent the views from the Jewish community became the overriding focus of this incident and detracted from the focus being on the anti-Semitic incident and the experiences of the victims.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi were among a significant number of groups and individuals who complained to the broadcaster about the accuracy and impartiality of the coverage.
Reportage ‘added insult to injury’
Ofcom’s ruling “validates our significant concern over the BBC’s actions on this issue,” the Board of Deputies said, adding that it will now consider whether to take this issue to a judicial review.
A spokesman for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Almost a year after the BBC’s abominable coverage of an anti-Semitic incident on Oxford Street, Ofcom has seen what every viewer and reader of the BBC’s coverage could but which the BBC itself refused to accept: its reportage added insult to the injury already inflicted on the victims and the Jewish community, and abysmally failed to meet the most basic editorial standards.
“Ofcom’s decision today begins to undo that insult.
“Sadly, the BBC’s stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster.
“Now that Ofcom has warned the BBC after the BBC disgracefully failed to uphold our complaints against it, it has become clear as day that a Parliamentary inquiry into the BBC focusing on its coverage of issues relating to Jews is warranted, and we have joined the Jewish Chronicle and others calling for one.”
Ofcom found no breach of the Broadcasting Code, which covered its TV reporting of the issue, concluding that the dispute over what was heard on the bus was not known to the reporter at the time.
A BBC spokesman said: “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 apologised at the time for not acting sooner to highlight that the contents of the recording was contested.”