BBC’s Jeremy Bowen admits he ‘got it wrong’ in Gaza hospital report but has ‘no regrets’

Jeremy Bowen admitting his reporting of an attack on a Gaza hospital on October 17th was wrong.
Jeremy Bowen told Behind the Stories he was 'measured throughout' and 'didn’t race to judgment' - BBC
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BBC international editor Jeremy Bowen has admitted his coverage of the alleged bombing of a hospital in Gaza was “wrong” but still said he “doesn’t regret one thing” about his reporting.

Speaking in a television interview, the veteran reporter said he was incorrect to have suggested Al-Ahli hospital “was flattened” in an explosion on Oct 17.

Stories on the blast were a key flashpoint in controversy over the reporting on the war between Israel and Hamas.

The BBC’s commitment to transparency comes in having a series of programmes called “Behind the Stories” on which Mr Bowen was talking and made the comments.

In an item on BBC One’s News at Ten, hours after the first reports of an explosion, Mr Bowen said: “The missile hit the hospital not long after dark. You can hear the impact.

“The explosion destroyed Al-Ahli hospital. It was already damaged from a smaller attack at the weekend. The building was flattened.”

No 10 agreed with Israeli version

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed the blast was caused by a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group and released imagery and communications intercepts to support their case. Hamas claimed an Israeli airstrike led to the blast, which was said to have killed at least 500 people.

The British government later concluded the Israeli version of events was more likely to be correct.

It later emerged that the hospital building was intact and any explosion had centred on the car park, claiming far fewer casualties than the first accounts of 500 dead. The Anglican diocese that manages the hospital reported 200 people had died after the blast.

News of the incident disrupted US president Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East, with the cancellation of a summit in Jordan where he had been due to meet Arab leaders.

In the following 48 hours, a synagogue in the central Tunisian city of Al-Hammah was set on fire during mass rioting while two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in central Berlin.

Asked about the report in an interview on Behind The Stories on the BBC News channel on Saturday, Mr Bowen said: “So it broke in, I suppose, mid-evening and to answer your question, no, I don’t regret one thing in my reporting because I think I was measured throughout. I didn’t race to judgment.”

Pressed further about saying the hospital had been “flattened”, he said: “Oh yeah, well I got that wrong because I was looking at the pictures and what I could see was a square that appeared to be flaming on all sides and there was, sort of, a void in the middle. I think it was a picture taken from a drone.

“So, you know, we have to piece together what we see and I thought, ‘It looks like the whole building has gone’.

“That was my conclusion from looking at the pictures and I was wrong on that, but I don’t feel particularly bad about that. It was just the conclusion I drew.”

Mr Bowen said sometimes the corporation had to “rely on things people say” as well as looking “at the multiplicity of videos” that are released before making a judgment on what to report.

In the first story about the hospital on the BBC on Oct 17, correspondent Jon Donnison suggested Israel was behind the blast. Speaking shortly after 8pm on BBC News, he said: “It’s hard to see what else this could be, really, given the size of the explosion, other than an Israeli airstrike or several airstrikes.”

First BBC reports prompted complaints

Mr Donnison’s comments prompted the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) to complain to the corporation.

Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, referred the complaints to the corporation’s executive complaints unit (ECU), which considered them in light of their “editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality”.

However, the ECU ruled that Mr Donnison had not offered a “definitive judgment” but accepted that it was “not consistent with the BBC’s standards of due accuracy to offer any view about responsibility for the incident at a point where so little reliable information was available”.

Hadar Sela, co-editor of Camera UK, told The Telegraph: “Anyone who was under the impression that the BBC had learned any lessons from its hasty assignment of blame to Israel for the explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital on October 17th will understand from Jeremy Bowen’s statements that they were sadly wrong.

“Bowen’s arrogant declaration that he ‘doesn’t regret one thing’ about his misreporting the hospital building as ‘flattened’ and his claim that he ‘didn’t rush to judgment’ even though he amplified unverified claims from third parties is sad testimony to the standard of BBC journalism on display throughout this conflict.”

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