OPINION: Publish in haste, repent at great leisure

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OPINION: Publish in haste, repent at great leisure

Sorry but not sorry. Claims and counterclaims. Outlets like the BBC, New York Times and Sky News put the stability of the entire Middle East region at grave risk with their irresponsible reporting of the al-Ahli Arab hospital explosion

A tale of two stories.
A tale of two stories.

Following Hamas’s murderous rampage on 7th October, the information battle has become as important as the fighting on the ground. Nothing demonstrated this better than the fallout following the explosion at the al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza.

Israel was, of course, immediately blamed by Hamas, with those claims quickly amplified. It is one thing for ill-informed celebrities and keyboard warriors to do this. It is quite another for world-leading news organisations to take, almost unquestioningly, the word of terrorists.

Live on air, the BBC’s Jon Donnison declared it was “hard to see what else this could be” other than an Israeli airstrike. The New York Times, arguably the world’s paper of record, struck a similar tone.

These outlets and others, of course, also included IDF denials and its announcement of an investigation in their stories. However, there was almost a sense of glee in their being able to report an assumed Israeli atrocity. In doing so, they jeopardised key diplomatic efforts and put Jewish lives in both Israel and the diaspora at risk, as people reacted angrily to what they thought had happened.

Now, some backtracking is taking place. The NYT has published an Editors’ Note that admits: “Given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.”

Charlotte Henry. Pic: Twitter

You reckon?

Meanwhile, the BBC’s explanation is even more pathetic. In a statement issued on 20th October, the corporation said:

“During our live coverage it’s sometimes been hard to get clarity within such a fast-moving situation but throughout our reporting we have been careful to explain that there have been claims and counter-claims, attributed these claims, and made clear the information that we have been able to verify.”

Don’t bother trying to find the word sorry in either statement. It isn’t there.

Channel 4 News seems particularly keen to keep the possibility that Israel might be at fault alive. Last week, it ran a story containing new analysis from Forensic Architecture, based at Goldsmiths University, sonic investigations NGO Earshot, and Al Haq, an NGO based in Ramallah.

The report by Alex Thomson acknowledged that neither Hamas nor Palestinian Islamic Jihad had provided evidence of Israel’s culpability. It also never categorically stated Israel was to blame for the blast. However, viewers would surely have understood that as at least being implied. In introducing the report, host Matt Frei said that its findings “cast doubt on some aspects of Israel’s account.”

A spokesperson for Channel 4 News told Jewish News:

“Since the start of this conflict, Channel 4 News has reported on the unfolding crisis by relying on the principles of independence, due impartiality and accuracy. Following the attack on the Al-Ahli Arab hospital, third-party analysis from a number of prominent NGOs and human rights organisations was reported to give context to the differing narratives that were emerging.”

Yesterday, prime minister Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons that analysis by British intelligence and weapons experts indicated that the missile that hit the hospital had been fired from within Gaza. US security services had come to the same conclusion, as have the French military intelligence directorate. I’m sure Channel 4 News and its friends know better though.

Sunak also noted the terrible effect the initial reporting had. “The misreporting of that incident had a negative effect in the region, including on a vital US diplomatic effort, and on communal tensions here at home,” he told the Commons. “News outlets need to learn the lessons and ensure that in future there is no rush to judgment.”

It is all very well the BBC pointing to the work of its Verify team, or the New York Times changing headlines and publishing an Editors’ Note, but the damage has been done. Many people will always believe Israel bombed that hospital. And some of the world’s leading news organisations are responsible for the backlash this has provoked against Israel and Jews around the world.

  • Charlotte Henry is a journalist focusing on technology and media
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