The Government Press Office on Sunday warned the BBC it could face sanctions for running a news headline highlighting the death of the Palestinian terrorist shot by police Saturday after fatally stabbing two Israelis, rather than the attack itself.
A harshly-worded letter was sent to Richard Palmer, the head of the BBC bureau in Israel, by the head of the GPO after the British network initially published a headline that read “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.”
The headline, which referred to the two Israeli victims in a passive voice and neglected to mention that the Palestinian casualty — Muhannad Halabi, 19 — was shot by police at the scene of the deadly attack, was widely condemned in Israel.
The BBC later amended the headline but the head of the GPO Nitzan Hen told Palmer in the letter that the BBC’s efforts were “far from satisfactory.”
Hen charged that the BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “unethical” and could serve to incite more violence against Israelis.
— BBC Watch (@BBCWatch) October 3, 2015
Officials in both the GPO and the Israeli Embassy in London asked the network to change the headline and it was changed at least three times, but each time to a phrase that did not accurately reflect the events of Saturday’s attack, the Hebrew language NRG website reported.
The network, which has a long history of alleged anti-Israel bias, claimed in its defense that the headline in question was written by a junior editor and was not the result of an anti-Israel agenda.
The BBC issued an official response Sunday saying the network “identified that the headline didn’t accurately reflect the events, nor the details reported in our online story, so changed it of our own accord.”
According to a GPO official, Israel expects an official apology from the network, and said the office was considering annulling the press cards of BBC journalists, a decision that if implemented would not allow the network to continue operating in Israel.
A couple of people got stabbed in Israel and then the cops went out and shot some other guy. Could you BE more unclear #aljazeera ?
— Usuallyrite (@usuallyrite) October 4, 2015
The Qatar-based network al-Jazeera also came under fire for publishing a similarly misleading headline on social media to its story of Saturday’s stabbing.
“Palestinian shot dead after fatal stabbing in Jerusalem; 2 Israeli victims also killed,” the tweet read.
While it did not prompt an official response from the GPO, social media users expressed outrage at the network for failing to mention the Palestinian was the perpetrator of the attack.
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) October 4, 2015
Following the outcry, the network apologized and revised the headline to read, “Two Israelis killed in stabbing attack; Palestinian suspect shot dead.”
An al-Jazeera editor on Sunday wrote that the network “regretted” the wording of its headline and tweet of the attack, saying it appeared “to minimize the killings of the Israeli victims and leaves out the context that the Palestinian man was their attacker.”
The editor said al-Jazeera was alerted to the post after “many people in our audience pointed out” its problematic nature. It said the post was written “under the pressure of breaking news.”
The news agency called the criticism by its viewers “valid” and said the story was updated with the amended headline.
In their reports, neither al-Jazeera nor the BBC referred to the deadly stabbing attack as terrorism.
On Saturday evening, Rabbi Nehemia Lavi and IDF soldier Aharon Banita were stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s Old City by Halabi. Banita’s wife was also stabbed and was taken to hospital in serious condition. The Banitas’ two-year-old was lightly wounded in the attack.
Police announced Sunday it would limit Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount compound over the next two days.