Ofcom has decided against the broadcaster LBC after one of its reporters repeatedly described Israel’s Embassy to the UK as the “Jewish embassy”.
In a report on the radio channel on 15th May 2021, during the antisemitic genocidal terrorist organisation Hamas’s war with Israel, LBC covered one of numerous anti-Israel protests in London, providing coverage over a four-hour period over the course of the afternoon.
Opening the report, the reporter, on the ground, said: “About 40 metres down the road from me is the gates to the Jewish Embassy but between me and them is a sea of protestors. Thousands are down this street with lots and lots of different signs, ‘free Palestine’, ‘long live Palestine’, ‘free Gaza’, and hundreds of Palestinian flags being waved as well. Protestors have climbed up on to the walls of the nearby hotel and about ten of them are on top of a bus stop as well. There is a huge amount of people down here at the moment. It started at Hyde Park Corner at twelve o’clock and then walked all the way here to the Jewish Embassy. Ben Jamal was the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He told me he wants the protest to stay peaceful”.
Ben Jamal was interviewed, saying: “We believe that everyone has equal rights and we believe in principles of freedom, truth, justice, and equality. Those are the principles and firm anti-racist principles that inform why we are marching. And we ask everybody to respect that. Everybody will know when you bring ten, twenty, thirty thousand people on the streets, you will have a few individuals who don’t respect those principles. We ask them to, that’s in their responsibility to adhere to that.”
The reporter then noted: “The Jewish Embassy’s gates are closed. There are lots of police officers outside it. In front of the main gate is a stage where this protest is being conducted from. And the Israeli Embassy sent me a statement which says, ‘Hamas is a radical terrorist organisation that fires rockets indiscriminately on civilian populations. Their charter calls for the establishment of an Islamic state instead of Israel. It is regrettable to see citizens of a democratic country giving legitimacy to such an organisation and its violent actions. Unfortunately, over the last week we’ve seen an incitement to violence and antisemitic signs and slogans chanted in demonstrations. This has forced the Israeli Embassy in the heart of London to need to be barricaded by the police for protection’. That is the Israeli statement. And it’s understood that there are no people in the embassy today. It is Shabbat today as well…”
According to Ofcom, a recording or version of this report was broadcast three times during the rolling coverage, each time referring to a “Jewish embassy”, sometimes alongside references to the “Israeli embassy” as in the version quoted above.
Ofcom considered that the reports potentially breached Rule 5.1 and 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code, the first covering “due accuracy” and the second referring to “generally accepted standards”, including discriminatory or offensive language. Ofcom’s investigation was prompted by two complaints that the references to a “Jewish embassy” could contribute to antisemitic hate speech and attacks in the UK, which were skyrocketing at the time.
LBC argued that the reporter had “tripped over his words in error during the hear of the moment”, noting “the difficultly of reporting live from a high-stress and tense environment” and observed that the reporter “had to rely on the ‘hostile environment’ training they had received.” LBC also noted that the reporter did correct his language during the initial broadcast and that, once it had identified that the report was repeated twice later on, LBC removed the full four-hour programme as quickly as possible from its catch up services. LBC insisted that “there was absolutely no intent to cause any harm or offence during the recording or broadcast of this report,” noting that, while the error was “far from ideal”, it was “in no way malicious or purposefully intended to offend the Jewish community.” The station also blamed COVID social distancing requirements for causing its usual review procedures to fall short.
Ofcom decided that the report “was not duly accurate, in breach of Rule 5.1 of the Code.”
Regarding Rule. 2.3, Ofcom decided that “the interchanging use of the terms ‘Israeli Embassy’ and ‘Jewish Embassy’, as well as being clearly inaccurate, conflated Israeli national identity with Jewish, including British Jewish, identity. We considered that this was potentially offensive to some listeners in the context of a series of news items reporting on a protest against the policies and action of the Israeli Government in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict. We considered that it was potentially offensive as it implied that ‘Jews were collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’.” This phrasing is one of the International Definition of Antisemitism’s examples of antisemitism.
Ofcom concluded that the report did not constitute antisemitic hate speech, but that there was still the potential to cause offence, and that LBC’s mitigating actions were “insufficient to mitigate the potential offence or justify the broadcast of the potentially offensive content in this programme.” It therefore found that LBC had also breached Rule 2.3.
Campaign Against Antisemitism has previously provided training to Ofcom in the use of the International Definition of Antisemitism.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “LBC has a strong journalistic record of exposing antisemitism. Nevertheless, Ofcom has made the correct decision here. During Hamas’s war against Israel, antisemitism was skyrocketing in Britain, with too many people seeking to hold British Jews collectively responsible for the actions and perceived actions of the Israeli Government. For a major radio station to appear, even if in error, to lend credence to this conflation by describing the Israeli Embassy as the ‘Jewish embassy’, cannot go without unremarked. We have trained Ofcom in the use of the International Definition of Antisemitism and are pleased to see that the regulator has appropriately applied it in this instance.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism monitors traditional media and regularly holds outlets to account. If members of the public are concerned about reportage in the media, they should contact us at [email protected].