The dispute over the future of Jerusalem's holy sites is one of the world's most politically and religiously charged issues. Israelis, and Jews across the world, insist that Israel should retain control over the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Palestinians have demanded that the Mount, which is also the third holiest site in Islam, be turned over to their control, with some leaders going so far as to absurdly argue there is no Jewish connection to the site.
Especially in light of such disinformation and the ongoing political dispute over the site, it is important that the media take care in reporting accurately about its holiness.
On July 25, 2008, though, a news story on the BBC Web site effectively downplayed the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount by wrongly claiming another holy shrine, near but not on the Temple Mount, is holiest to Jews. "The Western, or Wailing, Wall, is the holiest place in Judaism," reporter Wyre Davis asserted.
BBC's editorial guidelines refer to accuracy as a "core editorial value," and call for mistakes to be corrected quickly and clearly corrected. The guidelines also assert that "The BBC is accountable to its audiences. Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our contract with them. We will act in good faith by dealing fairly and openly with them."
More important than a news organization's professed guidelines, though, is whether it takes those guidelines seriously. And in this case, the BBC did practice what it preaches.
CAMERA informed BBC of the error, and, to its credit, the broadcaster eventually corrected the mistake. After an initial rejection of CAMERA's complaint by editor of the BBC News Web site, the case was appealed to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit, which upheld the complaint. It agreed that while the difference between the article's erroneous language and the accurate description was slight, "it is a difference that tends to convey a misleading impression in a matter that is significant in religious terms and not without importance in the debate about territorial claims."
An update to the article now notes: "Update 18 December 2008: This story originally referred to the Wailing Wall as the holiest place in Judaism. This reference has been amended."
Below is the Editorial Complaints Unit's response to CAMERA's appeal.