Ofcom has warned the BBC for its “serious editorial misjudgement” over its abominable Oxford Street coverage, attacking the BBC’s failures over the course of “eight weeks” which were “causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack, and to the wider Jewish community”.
The result vindicates formal complaints by CAA and others, which also led to CAA holding a demonstration outside BBC Broadcasting House and calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into the way that the BBC handles complaints relating to antisemitism by the JC and others.
Whilst finding that the BBC did not technically breach the Broadcasting Code, Ofcom warned the BBC: “in our view, the BBC made a serious editorial misjudgment by not reporting on air at any point that the claim it had made in the news broadcast was disputed, once the new evidence emerged. This was particularly the case given that the BBC was aware that its news broadcast and online article were causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack, and to the wider Jewish community.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Almost a year after the BBC’s abominable coverage of an antisemitic 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.”
Earlier this year, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) largely dismissed complaints by Campaign Against Antisemitism and other Jewish community charities over its coverage of the antisemitic Oxford Street incident late last year. The broadcasting regulator Ofcom then announced that it would investigate.
On the first night of the Jewish festival of Chanukah, Jewish teenagers who were celebrating on Oxford Street were attacked by a group of men who hurled antisemitic abuse at them, forcing them to retreat to their bus. The men, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern heritage, proceeded to hit the vehicle with their hands and then their shoes, spitting on it, trying to break windows and performing Hitler salutes. The victims filmed part of the attack.
In its coverage of the incident, the BBC reported that the explicit expressions of antisemitism evident in the footage were merely “allegations”, and simultaneously claimed — alone among all media outlets — that “some racial slurs about Muslims can also be heard from inside the bus,” an assertion made with no evidence to support it and which was even contradicted in the BBC’s own article by a witness from the bus who said that she heard no such slurs. It was also subsequently contradicted by independent audio analysis.
On its BBC London Evening News, the BBC even suggested that “it’s not clear what role [the supposed slurs] may have had in the incident.” After public fury, the BBC amended the article to refer to an “anti-Muslim slur” in the singular, but failed to show any evidence why a supposed slur that nobody could hear with certainty was described as “clearly heard” and reported as fact — and even implied to have been a cause of the antisemitic harassment — while the harassment itself remained mere “allegation”.
Campaign Against Antisemitism and others submitted complaints to the BBC, and we held a rally outside Broadcasting House in London, attended by hundreds of protestors, to deliver the message: “BBC News: Stop Blaming Jews!” Lord Grade, a former Chairman of the BBC and now the Chairman of Ofcom, told Podcast Against Antisemitism that the BBC’s reportage was “shoddy journalism” and called for answers in a video supporting the rally, which was endorsed also by Dame Maureen Lipman.
Campaign Against Antisemitism has joined the JC in calling for a Parliamentary inquiry following growing communal concerns regarding the Corporation.
Polling that we conducted last year for our Antisemitism Barometer revealed that two thirds of British Jews are deeply concerned by the BBC’s coverage of matters of Jewish concern, and 55% by its handling of antisemitism complaints. These figures reflect years of eroding confidence in the BBC on the part of the Jewish community.
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]
Image credit: Nathan Lilienfeld