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BBC News

“It took the BBC two months and four pages to deliver a whitewash non-apology.”

By Beth Stern, United With Israel

The BBC published the results Wednesday of an internal review of its reporting on an antisemitic attack in London last November, with its findings barely qualifying as an apology. British Jews were left infuriated.

Meanwhile, the UK media regulatory body, Ofcom, confirmed to the Jewish Chronicle it is launching its own investigation into the coverage.

The BBC has been embroiled in controversy since Chanukah over its coverage of an antisemitic attack on a London bus carrying Jewish children celebrating the holiday. On Oxford Street in the heart of downtown London, they were harassed by young men shouting “Free Palestine,” making Nazi salutes, spitting at the windows, banging on the windows and making profane gestures.

The attack was caught on video. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime but still have no suspects.

The BBC falsely reported that Islamophobic slurs could be heard from inside the bus, though none were heard in the video. A linguist and forensic audio expert commissioned by the Board of Jewish Deputies concluded that the words in question were somebody saying in Hebrew, “tikra lemishehu, ze dachuf,” which in English means, “Call someone, it’s urgent.” The BBC has not furnished any evidence to its report that one of the children was heard saying “dirty Muslims.”

The BBC previously amended the report only slightly, to say “a slur” could be heard after initially reporting multiple slurs were heard.

Further angering British Jews, the ECU claimed that the Community Security Trust, Britain’s antisemitism watchdog verified that a slur against Muslims was heard in the recording. But CST officials angrily denied that.

“CST completely rejects the claim in today’s BBC report that CST confirmed to the BBC on 2nd December that an anti-Muslim phrase had been spoken on the Chabad bus that was attacked on Oxford Street,” the organization said in a statement.

“The BBC’s claim is a completely misleading representation of the exchanges between the BBC and CST on that day. CST informed the BBC of this before today’s report was published but they have gone ahead anyway. Their behaviour is appalling and deeply damaging.”

The ECU’s only concession was that that BBC News failed to meet standards of accuracy and impartiality.

“More could have been done, subsequent to the original report,” the ECU wrote, “to acknowledge the differing views and opinions in relation to what was said; this should have been reflected in our reporting; and the online article amended. We accept this and apologise for not doing more to highlight that these details were contested – we should have reflected this and acted sooner.”

But that didn’t pass muster with British Jews.

“It took the BBC two months and four pages to deliver a whitewash non-apology that stands by its spurious reporting of an anti-Muslim slur and dismisses the monumental offence generated by its coverage,” said a spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism.

“It is a travesty that the BBC thinks that it can toss the Jewish community a bone by upholding minor elements of our complaint while defending almost the entirety of its reportage and conduct over the course of this abominable saga. Sadly, this sort of stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster.”

Marie Van Der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement, “We note the ECU finding that the BBC did not meet standards of due accuracy and impartiality. We are however dismayed that the Corporation continues to justify certain erroneous editorial decisions that continue to cloud the issue and will compound the distress faced by the victims.”

She added, “The Corporation also needs to acknowledge that it has badly misrepresented advice given to them by our colleagues at the CST. We welcome Ofcom’s decision to investigate the incident. We trust that justice will prevail.”

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