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BBC’s Israel-Hamas coverage inflames community tensions, says former attorney general

A BBC newsreader claimed that Israeli forces were targeting medical teams at Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa
A BBC newsreader claimed that Israeli forces were targeting medical teams at Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa - Abed Khaled/AP Photo

The BBC has inflamed community tensions with its coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, MPs will be told on Tuesday.

Sir Michael Ellis, the former attorney general, is also expected to accuse the corporation of institutional failings in the way it handles accusations of anti-Semitism.

In a Westminster Hall debate, Sir Michael will reference a BBC News report in which a reporter speculated that an explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was likely to have been perpetrated by Israel.

The Israeli military said that the hospital was hit by a rocket misfired by Palestinian militants, and the BBC later conceded that a mistake had been made.

A BBC News report speculated that an explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was likely to have been perpetrated by Israel
A BBC News report speculated that an explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was likely to have been perpetrated by Israel - Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu/Getty Images

Sir Michael, who is Jewish, is expected to say that such reports have worsened tensions at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Britain.

The Telegraph understands that Sir Michael will raise the issue of Jewish employees at the BBC who have submitted formal complaints about the corporation’s coverage, and who believe that the complaints procedure is ineffective.

‘Mark its own homework’

The debate into the Government’s role in upholding the impartiality of BBC news coverage will ask whether complaints about bias should be investigated by an independent body rather than allowing the BBC to “mark its own homework”.

Since the Oct 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, the BBC has faced criticism over its coverage of the conflict.

In November, a BBC newsreader claimed that Israeli forces were targeting medical teams at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa. The BBC later apologised, explaining that the presenter had misunderstood a Reuters report.

In December, BBC radio news bulletins ran a story in which Hamas accused the Israeli army of carrying out summary executions in the Gaza Strip. The BBC later apologised for not making sufficient effort to seek corroborating evidence to justify reporting the Hamas claim.

BBC presenters have also been accused of posting pro-Palestinian messages on social media, while some staff were upset that a BBC executive responsible for the Storyville documentary strand hugged a Palestinian film-maker on stage after he chanted “from the river to the sea” at a film festival.

There was controversy in January when Gary Lineker, the corporation’s highest-paid presenter, shared a pro-Palestinian campaign’s call for Israel to be barred from international football tournaments. Lineker removed the post and said he had posted it by mistake, believing that it was a news report.

Ahead of the Westminster Hall debate, a BBC spokesman said: “We reject the characterisation. We are reporting on this topic like any other, staying true to our commitments to trusted, impartial journalism.

“With regard to staff, their welfare is always paramount and we have well-established and robust processes in place to handle any issues, concerns or complaints raised with us, along with a range of support available to anyone who may need it.”

A survey of 2,000 people carried out by the think tank More in Common found that 15 per cent of those polled believe that the BBC’s coverage is pro-Palestinian and 17 per cent consider it to be pro-Israel.