The BBC’s former head of television has called for an independent review into the corporation’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, as he accused a diplomatic correspondent of showing pro-Palestine bias.
He said: “The time has now come for a long-overdue independent inquiry into the corporation’s editorial and management failures in its reporting of Israel.”
In one example, he pointed out how Caroline Hawley, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, has written numerous posts on X, formerly Twitter, expressing concern for the “shocking” and “terrifying” situation in Gaza, sharing calls for a ceasefire and providing multiple updates on the number of deaths there.
But The Telegraph found that just 9 per cent – or 18 – of her 195 tweets and retweets since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct 7 have mentioned Israeli deaths, casualties and hostages, including case studies of families captured.
Since the proscribed terror group Hamas invaded Israel last month, Ms Hawley has frequently updated her 8,600 followers on the death toll in Gaza from Israeli military bombardment, which is attempting to eliminate Hamas.
Only last week, she wrote: “New life amid all the death and destruction – with more than 4,000 children killed, 100 UNRWA staff dead and 200 medics no longer able to help heal patients.”
That followed multiple other tweets commenting on how “the number of civilians killed in Gaza grows and grows” and sharing updates from the United Nations, other UN agencies, charities, NGOs and activists on Gaza death tolls and their various calls for a humanitarian ceasefire.
Earlier this month, Ms Hawley tweeted:
What shocks me in this small glimpse of the terror civilians are enduring in Gaza is how calm people appear ... I guess there's little choice .. https://t.co/5YG2G0sF6F
— Caroline Hawley (@carolinehawley) November 1, 2023
While she has reported on Israeli hostages and music festival victims on-air, on X she criticised the “shocking level of destruction in the Jabaliya refugee camp” following Israeli bombing without mentioning the Israel Defense Force’s justification that it was a stronghold for Hamas terrorists.
BBC faces ‘urgent’ questions
Mr Cohen, who is also the former BBC One controller, said her “biased, unbalanced” social media feed “reads like a series of press releases from Hamas central command”, as he demanded an inquiry into the corporation’s wider coverage following a series of rows.
He told The Telegraph: “Day after day Hawley reposts messages and photographs from Gaza without context or any apparent attempt at basic journalistic verification. There is barely a mention of the Oct 7 massacres or the ongoing plight of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
“So why has Hawley been allowed to continue to report in such a biased, unbalanced way? Is the BBC OK with her reporting or unable to control it? This is a question it must urgently answer.”
He claimed “the BBC’s credibility with the Jewish community is reaching a point of no return”, adding: “With these incidents piling up on a daily basis there is only one conclusion to draw. Either the BBC’s senior management is complicit in these egregious examples of bias, these regular breaches of its guidelines, or it lacks the ability to control the output of its own organisation.”
BBC staff’s social media investigated
The row comes after Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president, threatened to cut off access to the BBC last month over its “atrocious” refusal to describe Hamas as terrorists.
The BBC also apologised on air last week after a newsreader twice mistakenly claimed that Israeli forces were “targeting medical staff and Arab speakers” at Gaza’s largest hospital.
And the corporation launched an “urgent” investigation after social media activity by several of its journalists in the BBC News Arabic bureau appeared to celebrate and justify the Hamas attack.
A BBC spokesman said: “We take complaints about social media use very seriously, especially on such a sensitive and contested subject, and investigate accordingly. Impartiality is crucial for BBC news staff, and our guidelines require them to reflect a wide range of opinion in their social media. We will continue to remind all our journalists of their responsibilities.”
‘A new inquiry is essential’
On Sunday night, Michael Ellis, the former attorney general for England and Wales, backed Mr Cohen’s call for an independent inquiry of the BBC’s coverage.
The senior Conservative MP told The Telegraph: “The BBC are still concealing the contents of a report conducted nearly 20 years ago that was commissioned because of allegations then of BBC bias against Israel in their reporting on the Middle East.
“Licence-payers’ money was spent compiling the report and then more licence-payers’ money was spent fighting through the courts to conceal it from the licence-payers.
“As the BBC still refuse to release it, now there is no alternative but to commission another report – this time independent of the BBC.
“It is crucial people around the world can have confidence that the BBC is reporting fairly and accurately and it is quite clear that there is very real concern that their reporting of Israel now does not come close to commanding the confidence of viewers at home or abroad. A new inquiry is essential.”