Questions Remain Over BBC ResponseJune 16, 2008 22:00 by ManagingTeam
HonestReporting questioned BBC journalist Aleem Maqbool’s account of an incident in Ramallah a year ago where he says a Palestinian “militant” was dragged out of cafe and killed, execution-style, by IDF soldiers operating from armored vehicles.
However, differing descriptions in various media outlets as well as the unreliability of Palestinian “eyewitnesses” raised a number of questions over Maqbool’s account. Was the BBC reporter motivated to collate various conflicting details into something purposely portraying Israel in the worst possible light?
Many of you who wrote to the BBC, which responded with the following:
Aleem arrived on the scene shortly after it [the shooting] happened, as stones were being thrown at the IDF, and the soldiers were firing back (as he pointed out in his report). …
Initially, the IDF, who he spoke to on the phone from the scene, said they had targeted a wanted militant, but that there had been a fire fight which led to the man’s death.
Witnesses Aleem spoke to from the cafe and the vicinity, well over twenty of them, said there had not been a fire fight. About an hour and a half after the incident, the IDF took the step of calling journalists back, including Aleem, saying that, in fact, there had been no fire fight. They said forces had killed a militant as they tried to apprehend him.
The BBC included these accounts in its coverage of the story at the time. The account of the incident in ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was based on what Aleem saw, heard (and, in some cases, recorded) from many witnesses as well as what the Israeli army said at the time (which ultimately backed up what the witnesses had said).
So the BBC has clarified that Maqbool was not a witness to the incident itself, instead relying on supposed Palestinian eyewitnesses. However, the BBC still fails to address the bulk of the questions raised.
While Palestinian NGOs are not the best source for reliable information, even the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported (PDF document, bottom of page 16) that, contrary to Maqbool’s account, the Israeli forces were undercover using a van with Palestinian license plates (not armored jeeps as Maqbool states) and that “soldiers in civilian clothes got out of the vehicle and opened fire at 3 Palestinian militants who had just got out of al-Manasra Restaurant.” Again, this conflicts with Maqbool’s description of a Palestinian being “dragged” out of a cafe. A similar account appears in The Financial Times, which even names a Palestinian eyewitness in its report.
Maqbool states that the incident took place in “full view of passers-by, including children on their way back from school.“ Did an incident that took place, according to PCHR, around 5pm, long after the end of the school day, involve schoolchildren? Maybe or maybe not but just this sentence by itself offers an insight into Maqbool’s thinking.
While we often take issue with the reliability of Palestinian “eyewitnesses,” the story in question appears to be a case of an unreliable correspondent. But how could a BBC reporter be anything less than objective?
HOW TO COMPLAIN TO THE BBC
A number of you have written to us complaining that the BBC Complaints website is difficult to navigate. We agree that complaining to the BBC is not the most user-friendly process. Unfortunately, perhaps as a result of the volume of complaints from subscribers of organizations such as HonestReporting, the BBC discontinued direct e-mails sometime ago.
Nonetheless here are a few simple steps to navigating your way through the BBC Complaints process:
1. Go to the BBC Complaints site – http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints – and select “Make a complaint”, located on the left of the screen.
2. Select the “make a complaint” option and click Next and then select the type of BBC content you wish to complain about (TV, radio or website). Click Next.
3. Depending on the type of content, enter either the web address or the name and date of transmission. If these details are not included in the HonestReporting communique, they can always be found on the web addresses that are included in our critiques. Enter your feedback, remembering to be courteous, and ask for a reply – HonestReporting is always interested to see the BBC’s responses to your comments. Click Next.
4. Fill in your personal details. Remember, you don’t have to be a UK resident to make a complaint. Simply fill in your name, e-mail and country of residence and click Next.
5. You will then be given the option of reviewing your complaint before submitting it to the BBC.
Click here for more information on how the BBC reviews its complaints. While it may be slightly more complicated than a simple e-mail, please make that extra effort to hold the BBC to account. Coverage of the Mideast is only one area where the BBC has been held up to scrutiny as part of wider concerns over its claims to be impartial. We cannot afford to relinquish the pressure.