'Mistakes don’t happen 80 times'

Ex-BBC chief: Network’s Arabic service rife with anti-Israel bias, support for terror

Danny Cohen says some reporters speak in same voice as Hamas or have celebrated Oct. 7 massacre, broadcaster has made 80 corrections since the war began

Protesters hold placards and Israeli flags outside the headquarters of the BBC in London on October 16, 2023, to appeal to the corporation to call Hamas 'terrorists.' (Daniel Leal / AFP)
Protesters hold placards and Israeli flags outside the headquarters of the BBC in London on October 16, 2023, to appeal to the corporation to call Hamas 'terrorists.' (Daniel Leal / AFP)

The former director of Britain’s BBC national broadcaster has accused the network of “egregious” anti-Israel bias, particularly in its Arabic-language branches, with some reporters allegedly employing the same language employed by spokespeople for Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Noting that the network has been forced to issue some 80 corrections to its reporting since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, Danny Cohen, who led the network’s TV department in 2013-2015, wrote Tuesday in The Telegraph: “Something is going badly wrong. Mistakes don’t happen 80 times.”

Among other things, he said, numerous BBC Arabic reporters have repeatedly shown an affinity for Hamas and support for its October 7 massacre in Israel, they have reported on terrorism while omitting key facts, and the broadcaster was forced to remove an episode of the BBC Arabic program “Trending” because it doubted that some of the Hamas killings happened at all.

“This plays into an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that seeks to undermine the terrible truth of what happened that day,” Cohen wrote. “How is it possible that editorial standards at BBC Arabic had fallen so low that this was seen as legitimate reporting?”

On October 7, Hamas led a massive cross-border assault on Israel that killed 1,200 people amid numerous atrocities including gang rape, massacres of entire families, and mutilation of victims. The estimated 3,000 attackers who burst through the border also abducted 252 people of all ages — from the elderly to babies — who were taken hostage to Gaza. Of these, 124 are still held in the Strip, not all of them alive.

BBC Arabic reporters have repeatedly employed “the language you would hear from a Hamas spokesman,” Cohen said, citing the example of a reporter who was interviewing a Palestinian woman about her life, “but decided it was not relevant to ask her directly about the time she stabbed an Israeli neighbor in front of her children.”

Screen capture from video of former BBC Television director David Cohen, 2023. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Cohen asserted that the BBC employs people who celebrated the Hamas terrorist attack, naming BBC executive producer Mahmoud Sheleib as having appeared to mock civilians kidnapped by Hamas in a Twitter conversation. Cohen also listed BBC Arabic journalists Sally Nabil and Sanaa Khouri as having shown support on social media for the October 7 assault.

“Our license fees are paying the wages of people who celebrated the rape and slaughter of men, women and children,” Cohen wrote.

The British broadcaster “seems to be impervious to its problems, unwilling to recognize and address the management failures that are poisoning one of Britain’s great institutions,” he lamented. “There is no sign that this blatant lack of impartiality at BBC Arabic will be dealt with any time soon by senior management.

“Indeed, far from publicly recognizing the scale of this issue, the BBC has gone out of its way to support and endorse its Arabic service,” Cohen said, noting that director-general Tim Davie recently said the BBC’s Arabic service is “something we should be very proud of.”

Cohen’s criticism came a little over a week after UK Foreign Minister David Cameron urged the BBC to refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization, a call the broadcaster rejected.

The broadcaster has faced increased criticism over its refusal to brand Hamas as terrorists. Britain has proscribed Hamas as a terror group, as have many other countries.

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