Concerns expressed over BBC reporting of Anti-semitic incident in Oxford Street.

On 29th November there was a deeply worrying incident in Oxford Street, when a busload of Jewish people, mostly teenagers, who were minding their own business taking part in a religious celebration (Hanukkah), were subjected to shouting and threats by a group of men who appeared to be taking exception to their race.

I don't think many people who have seen the footage of the incident, which circulated widely on social media will be in any doubt that this incident would have been very frightening for the people against whom it was directed and that there was more than sufficient grounds for a police investigation into whether racially aggravated public order offences had taken place: the Met did indeed investigate and released pictures of three men they would "like to speak to" in relation to the incident. 

The Jewish community is understandably very concerned about this incident but they are also concerned about the way the BBC reported it: 

The Jewish Chronicle as revealed that the BBC’s Litigation Unit had tried to find out the names of the victims before it would consider any complaints they had about its reporting of the attack.

3D Solicitors, the firm acting for the youngsters, wrote to BBC Director General Tim Davie warning that the BBC could be breaching the Equality Act in its controversial reporting of the incident.   

The letter highlights how BBC reports qualifies the anti-semitic nature of the gestures and verbal abuse directed at the Jewish youths as “apparent” or “alleged” yet the same report states with no such qualification that someone inside the bus can be voicing making an anti-Muslim smear.

I have listened to the section of the recording in which the BBC says contain an anti-Muslim slur. I am quite confident that no such slur is voiced in English, but there is a comment in a language which I do not speak: I understand that this is in Hebrew. The Board of Deputies of British Jews commissioned digital experts DigFind and D3 Forensics, who used audio technology to slow down and clean up the recording so that each syllable of the phrase in dispute could be heard.

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages as the University of Adelaide inSouth Australia, one of the most senior experts in his field, then studied the tape.

The Professor, who is fluent in 13 languages, including Hebrew, and is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary,  says that the comment the BBC alleges is an "anti-muslim smear" is actually a call for help in Hebrew. The experts say that the phrase in Hebrew is, “Tikra lemishehu, ze dachuf,” meaning: “Call someone, it’s urgent.”

The letter was passed to BBC lawyers who have refused to consider the complaint until the teenagers are named, despite the solicitors flagging obvious concerns for their safety.

One of Britain’s foremost legal experts, Lord Alex Carlile, said it was “wholly unacceptable” of the BBC to make such a demand at this stage.

He told the Jewish Chronicle: 

“It is wholly unacceptable for the BBC to try and force frightened teenagers to reveal their names, particularly as there is film of the incident anyway.   It is not part of a civil action all they are doing at this stage is seeking answers from the BBC and an apology.    The BBC is just wrong and it goes against public interest to insist that people, whether they are adults or children, who have been subjected to an attack should identify themselves at this stage.”

Secretary of State Nadine Dorries has written to the BBC pointing out that the event was “not only distressing for those involved but also the wider Jewish community” and urging the BBC to “resolve the issue” of the complaint about their reporting as quickly as possible.


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