The BBC committed “significant editorial failings” in its TV and online reporting of an antisemitic attack on Jewish students travelling on a bus in London, according to an investigation by Ofcom.
The UK media regulator said that its investigation into the BBC’s coverage, which drew complaints from parties including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the chief rabbi, found that the corporation failed to follow its own editorial guidelines to report news with “due accuracy and due impartiality”.
The incident, which occurred on 29 November last year, involved a group of about 40 young Jewish people aboard a Hanukkah party bus travelling along London’s Oxford Street that was attacked by a group of men who swore, made obscene gestures and threw a shopping basket at them.
In its coverage, the BBC said that an audio recording made during the incident included an anti-Muslim slur made from inside the bus.
“Our investigation uncovered significant editorial failings in the BBC’s reporting of an antisemitic attack on Jewish students travelling on board a bus in London,” said Ofcom in a statement.
“The BBC’s reports claimed that an audio recording made during the incident included anti-Muslim slurs – which it later changed to the singular ‘slur’ – which came from inside the bus. Shortly afterwards, it received evidence which disputed this interpretation of the audio.”
Ofcom said that the BBC failed to “promptly acknowledge” that the audio recording was disputed and did not update its online news article to reflect this for almost eight weeks.
The media regulator said that during this time the BBC was aware that the content of the article was causing “significant distress and anxiety” to the victims of the attack and wider Jewish community.
“This, in our opinion, was a significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality,” said Ofcom.
Ofcom also investigated a news report on the incident, which aired on BBC London News. The regulator said that given the information available at the time of broadcast the programme did not breach the UK broadcasting code.
However, Ofcom added: “The BBC made a serious editorial misjudgment by not reporting on air, at any point, that the claim it had made about anti-Muslim slurs was disputed, once new evidence emerged. This failure to respond promptly and transparently created an impression of defensiveness by the BBC among the Jewish community.”
Ofcom said it would also review how the broadcaster addressed the complaint, handling and transparency issues raised by the incident.
The media regulator’s investigation followed an investigation by the BBC’s executive complaints unit, which concluded both the online and TV story “did not meet the BBC’s standards of due accuracy”.
In January, the BBC issued an apology and confirmed it had amended the story on its website, and also issued a clarification of the TV report.
“While Ofcom has found that our reporting was not in breach of the broadcasting code, the BBC’s executive complaints unit ruled in January this year that more could have been done sooner to acknowledge the differing views about what could be heard on the recording of the attack,” a spokesman for the BBC said. “The BBC apologised at the time for not acting sooner to highlight that the content of the recording was contested.”