Ofcom launches probe into BBC's report of anti-Semitic bus attack

BBC apologises for report suggesting Jewish victims of anti-Semitic bus attack used ‘anti-Muslim slurs’: Ofcom launches probe as corporation upholds complaint over accuracy and impartiality of its coverage

  • Video showed men hurling abuse and spitting at Jewish teens on a bus last year 
  • In original report, BBC said ‘racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside bus’
  • Broadcaster has since amended online story and issued clarification of TV report
  • Complaints unit said original reports ‘did not meet standards of due accuracy’

The BBC has apologised for a report suggesting the Jewish victims of an anti-Semitic bus attack used ‘anti-Muslim slurs’ as Ofcom launches a probe into the corporation. 

Last November, a video emerged of a group of men hurling abuse and spitting at a group of around 40 Jewish teenagers sitting inside a bus on London’s Oxford Street, before banging on the windows as it pulled away. 

The incident was treated as a hate crime by police, but in its original report of the incident, BBC News said ‘racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus’. 

The broadcaster has since upheld complaints over the accuracy and impartiality of its coverage on December 2 and has amended a story on its news website, alongside issuing a clarification of a TV report aired on the same day. 

Following its coverage, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi were among a significant number of groups and individuals who complained to the broadcaster about the accuracy and impartiality of the coverage. 

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie then instructed the corporation’s executive complaints unit (ECU) to investigate the complaints ‘as a matter of urgency’.


Last November, a video emerged of a group of men hurling abuse and spitting at a group of around 40 Jewish teenagers sitting inside a bus on London’s Oxford Street

Footage showed the group of Jewish teenagers dancing as they celebrated Hanukkah moments before the attack. The incident was treated as a hate crime by police, but in its original report, BBC News said ‘racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus’

The BBC said the complaints were ‘particularly in relation to the claim that an anti-Muslim slur had been heard from inside the bus’. 

In its findings published on Wednesday, the ECU said the original versions of both the online and television story ‘did not meet the BBC’s standards of due accuracy’.

It said: ‘The original online copy spoke of ‘some racial slurs about Muslims’ whilst the TV report explained ‘you can hear some racial slurs about Muslim people’. 

‘In later versions the online copy was changed to ‘a slur about Muslims’ reflecting that the original iterations had mischaracterised the nature of the insult and there was insufficient evidence that it had happened on more than one occasion.’

The ECU also considered whether the BBC had been right to continue to defend the statements in its reports about an anti-Muslim slur as accurate and not requiring amendment.

The unit said it noted that while three of four translators who listened back to footage had agreed on what the slur might have been, one differed, and the ECU therefore concluded that ‘the sole exception indicates that it was not the only possible interpretation’.

CAA’s “BBC News: Stop Blaming Jews!” protest outside Broadcasting House, backed by Lord Grade and Dame Maureen Lipman, over its coverage of the incident on Oxford Street

The BBC said the complaints were ‘particularly in relation to the claim that an anti-Muslim slur had been heard from inside the bus’

Jewish broadcaster resigns from BBC over ‘inexcusable’ anti-Semitism

A Jewish BBC broadcaster resigned after the corporation’s coverage of an anti-Semitic attack wrongly accused the victims of making offensive Muslim slurs. 

Rabbi YY Rubinstein, a contributor to BBC programmes including Good Morning Sunday and the Thought For The Day, quit via a letter.

He released it on Facebook, addressed to a member of staff, only known as Gabby.

The letter said: ‘The current crisis over anti-Semitism at the Corporation and its attempts to turn the victims of the recent anti-Semitic attack on Jewish children in London and claim that the victims were actually the perpetrators, was and is inexcusable. The obfuscation, denial that followed, was and is utterly damning.

‘The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles actually includes the BBC in its annual global anti-Semitism, ‘Top Ten’.

‘This does not in any way reflect on your own production company whose own record in this regard is exemplary. It also does not apply to many of the individuals I have worked with at the BBC over three decades.

‘They were among some of the most courteous, kind and talented people I ever met or worked with. The same applies to you and your colleagues.

‘I simply don’t see how I or in fact any Jew who has any pride in that name can be associated with the Corporation anymore.’

The unit added: ‘In the ECU’s judgment this, taken together with the evidence put forward by the Board of Deputies, should have led the BBC to recognise at an earlier stage that there was genuine doubt about the accuracy of what it had reported.’

The ECU concluded: ‘It follows that the online article as it stands must now be regarded as no longer meeting the BBC’s standards of due accuracy and, to the extent that the anti-Muslim slur claim has itself become controversial, it also lacks due impartiality in failing to reflect alternative views.’

It said the same outcome applies to the television report ‘though that could not have been updated as an online item can’.

Following the ECU’s findings, a BBC spokesman said it had been ruled ‘that the inclusion in our reports of the existence of an alleged slur, said to have come from within the bus, was included in good faith, following a great deal of editorial scrutiny’.

But they added: ‘However, the ECU has also found that more could have been done, subsequent to the original report, to acknowledge the differing views and opinions in relation to what was said; this should have been reflected in our reporting; and the online article amended.

‘We accept this and apologise for not doing more to highlight that these details were contested – we should have reflected this and acted sooner.

‘Following the ECU’s ruling, we have amended the story posted on the BBC News website on 2 December 2021 and issued a clarification in relation to a news report aired on BBC London on the same day.’

An Ofcom spokesman said: ‘We have reviewed the BBC’s final response to complaints about this news programme.

‘We consider it raises issues under our due accuracy rules and have launched an investigation.’

Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl welcomed Ofcom’s decision to investigate, adding: ‘We trust that justice will prevail.’

She said: ‘We note the ECU finding that the BBC did not meet standards of due accuracy and impartiality. 

Rabbi YY Rubinstein, a contributor to BBC programmes including Good Morning Sunday, quit after the corporation’s coverage of the anti-Semitic attack

Part of Rabbi YY Rubinstein’s resignation later, which he posted onto Facebook

‘We are however dismayed that the Corporation continues to justify certain erroneous editorial decisions that continue to cloud the issue and will compound the distress faced by the victims.’

A spokesman for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: ‘It took the BBC two months and four pages to deliver a whitewash non-apology that stands by its spurious reporting of an anti-Muslim slur and dismisses the monumental offence generated by its coverage.’

They added that they welcomed Ofcom’s investigation, which they said ‘will hopefully deliver the justice to the Jewish community that the BBC has once more denied’.

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