BBC Admits to Mistakes, Apologizes

The BBC has apologized on Feb. 17, 2005 for airing an unsubstantiated allegation against Israel without fact checking it.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Feb. 10 Thought of the Day segment, contributor Rev. Dr. John Bell spoke of an Israeli Arab who was allegedly “imprisoned for refusing to shoot unarmed schoolchildren” during a tour of duty with the Israeli Army. Press Association reporter Anita Singh quotes Bell as having said on the air:

“Two years ago, in a Lebanese restaurant in Vancouver, I talked to a waiter called Adam who was an Arab Israeli.

“That means he was of Palestinian Muslim stock, born in the state of Israel and, like his Jewish compatriots, he had been conscripted into the Israeli Army,” he said.

“There he had distinguished himself as a good soldier and was made a corporal.

He was also imprisoned for refusing to shoot unarmed schoolchildren. And one day, when off-duty, he saved many lives by killing a suicide bomber who entered the bus on which he was travelling.

“At the end of our conversation, he asked, ‘How old do you think I am?’

“I was sure he was 29, but I said 27 to flatter him. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I am only 19. But this is what happens when you have been through what I have been through.

Referring to the former soldier, he said: “It will not be in his singular life that the memory and the pain of the conflict he has witnessed will die. His stories will be recounted by his children and by his children’s children. And with each re-telling, some animosity will surface. For Adam’s history will be in their genes … The devil, if we must use that term, is in memories of hurt and feelings of revenge which will not be requited.”

He added: “The sins of the fathers, as an old scripture says, are visited on the children.” (“Apology over radio’s thought for day,” 2/17/05.)

The BBC on-air apology stated:

We have talked to the Israeli authorities and we are unable to find any evidence to support the story told to Dr. Bell and recounted by him on Thought for the Day. We also understand that Dr. Bell made two factual mistakes in his script. Those facts should have been checked before the broadcast.

A letter by Bell to the BBC, which was also broadcast, described the two factual errors, and apologized for how his remarks may have been interpreted as anti-Semitism:

It is clear that I made two factual errors. The one was that he [the soldier] was 21 and not 19, thus he would have been of the age to be a corporal. The second is that he did not say he was conscripted. My presumption regarding conscription is wrong as regards Arab Israelis.

The purpose of my contribution was to highlight the fact that in any peace process, the concordat is not the conclusion, but a stage in a process which will take centuries before peaceful co-existence is secured. It was my specific intention to avoid any bias against one of the two national communities.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz also reported on the BBC apology, posting on its Web site a story originally published by the Daily Telegraph. Ironically, Haaretz itself is guilty of poor fact checking. (Click here and here for more information.) But unlike the BBC, Ha’aretz has yet to admit their mistakes.

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