Unreporting of West Bank: letter to the BBC


Helen Boaden, Director BBC news

Steve Herrmann, Editor, News Online

Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC TV News

Richard Sambrook, Director of World Service and Global News

I've just returned from the West Bank, witnessing, yet again, the scale and severity of Israel's oppressive containments and brutal activities. And, once again, I've come to see the appalling failure of BBC reports from all parts of the West Bank.

Here's a few examples:

On 10 September 2008, the IDF invaded Nablus (the day after we left the city) shooting dead a Palestinian man, rounding-up others and causing general terror. BBC coverage: nothing.

On 11 September 2008, near Ramallah, Israeli soldiers arrested three Palestinian minors, using one as a human shield against other Palestinians. BBC coverage: nothing.

On 12 September 2008, at the brutal Huwarra checkpoint, a pregnant woman lost her baby, after the soldier refused to let her through the security point to reach hospital. A terrible, terrifying tragedy for her and her family. BBC coverage: nothing. (See below.)

On 13 September 2008, the Israeli army invaded a Bethlehem neighbourhood and killed a 16 year old child with a bullet to the chest. BBC coverage: nothing.

These are but a few incidents over just three days, none of them in the least unusual for suffering Palestinians, yet we find not a word in any BBC news outlets. Why not?

Can you, at least, see how so many people remain blithely unaware of what is really happening in this part of the world? And why that failure to inform is allowing this inhumanity to continue?

Before leaving for Palestine, I had a look at what was on offer at BBC News Online. Among the scattered features was a 'flyover' tour of the 'disputed region' from Paul Wood. Besides the privileged nature of the BBC's mode of reportage, it told us precisely nothing about what's happening on the ground. It was a top-down view of 'the conflict' loaded with 'Israel says'-type language and the strong suggestive message that 'Israel is just defending itself'.

Much more usefully, as suggested by the above links, one can click on Ma'an News Agency http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php a concentrated Palestinian-run outfit offering almost hourly stories from every key locale in the West Bank: Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, Tulkarem, Qalqilia, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho -as well as the Gaza Strip. Dismally, the BBC's 'localised' output is of cursory comparison.

You will, no doubt, offer the standard excuses of limited personnel and other logistical restrictions. Yet, besides the consistently biased language and impressions given in favour of Israel, the actual absence of daily news detailing such atrocities belies any BBC claim of an all-covering news agency.

Why would I, as an interested viewer, bother to consult the BBC when I can read accurate and, yes, unbiased daily reports from sources like Ma'an?

Likewise, the BBC may send an occasional report from currently 'high-profile' places like Ni'lin. But the content and truth are a pale shadow of this kind of qualitative output from Al-Jazeera's Jackie Rowland:

Palestinians are being killed with rubber-coated steel bullets. Yet these and other routine daily atrocities receive practically zero coverage. It's a disgraceful and shameful abrogation.

The BBC would actually offer a better service in citing Ma'an and other such reports as 'sourced news' . Or, better still, having local 'feeder' journalists based in these places. Alas, one suspects, this would not quite fit with the BBC's grand ethos of 'independent' news gathering - or, more likely, the establishment etiquette of keeping within safe and 'respectable' reporting boundaries.

Palestinians are dying and suffering in virtual anonymity. I'd be pleased to hear your thoughts on what the BBC can do to improve its 'localised' coverage of death and misery in the West Bank.


John Hilley



The story about the woman at Huwarra checkpoint was, in fact, reported by the BBC:

However, one may usefully note the absence of any personalised detail of the family's suffering in the BBC version, as compared here in the Ma'an piece:

Mu’yed described his feelings during the experience as mixed with pain, oppression, hope and wonder. The child was declared officially dead when paramedics arrived at the checkpoint one hour after his birth.

When the ambulance arrived medical workers assisted Nahil with the rest of her delivery, ensuring the afterbirth was removed and her own health stable. After paramedics operated on the woman, she, the dead child, and her husband, were permitted through the checkpoint for care in the Nablus hospital.

“On the next day,” said Mu’yed “we carried our child in a cardboard box from the hospital to bury him in the graveyard of the village. On our way home through the checkpoint , the soldiers started to laugh telling each other “ Do you want to see a dead child, come over here. He is there inside the box.”