BBC and AFP Headlines Ignore Israeli Victims
Their emphasis is on the Palestinian killer bulldozer driver's death, instead of his victims
HonestReporting Newsletter, July 23, 2008 (title and subtitle by Take-A-Pen)
Less than three weeks after a Palestinian from east Jerusalem used a bulldozer to kill three people on a busy street in Israel's capital, now another east Jerusalem resident attempted to replicate the attack. The second attacker rammed his bulldozer into a bus, then began flipping cars on the street, wounding at least 16 people.
When the first bulldozer rampage took place, we were stunned to see the BBC's initial headline focusing on the fate of the driver - who was shot by Israeli security - rather than the victims of his attack. The BBC subsequently changed its headline to make it more neutral, reflecting what appeared to be a better understanding of the incident and its significance.
Or so we thought. Despite a virtual repetition of the first incident, the BBC's initial response the second time was a headline questioning whether an attack had taken place at all. The headlines on the BBC's web page went from "New Vehicle ‘Attack' in Jerusalem" to "New Digger ‘Attack' in Jerusalem," then finally settled on "Israel Hit By New Digger Attack."
It is difficult to understand how the BBC ever saw the incident as anything other than an attack. The bulldozer driver rammed into a bus, then pushed into it several more times, shattering glass and throwing the passengers into a panic. He then zigzagged through the road to harm as many motorists as possible before he was stopped. This is how the bus driver described the incident to the Jerusalem Post.
"I was driving on the main road when suddenly the tractor hit me in the rear on the right hand side," said bus driver Avi Levy.
At first Levy thought it was a traffic accident, but then the attacker struck the bus over and over, causing pandemonium as passengers shouted: "God save us" and "escape, escape."
"He made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head - he came up to my window and death was staring me in the eyes," Levy said.
"Fortunately I was able to swerve to the right [onto a small side street], otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker," he said as he stood next to the badly damaged bus, whose left-side windows were completely blown out.
In the news story beneath the headline, the BBC does not put quotes around the word "attack." However, the headline writers make the first impression with readers and undermine what otherwise could be fair coverage of the incident. But the BBC was not the only media outlet that skewed the story with its initial headline. Agence France-Presse (AFP), the third largest wire service after the AP and Reuters, repeated the BBC's shocking error from the first attack, placing all of the emphasis on the driver instead of his victims.
Although the AFP changed its headline to "Palestinian Shot Dead After New Bulldozer Rampage," its first story on the incident was headlined, "Jerusalem Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead: Police." The headline leaves out any information about victims or a rampage, leaving the casual reader scanning headlines to believe that a construction worker had been killed without cause.
There is no excuse for such a misleading headline, even as an initial report. The first paragraph of that first story already acknowledges police sources saying that the driver was killed after injuring several people, so it is impossible to argue that the headline writers didn't have the facts available.
You can send your comments to the BBC Complaints website - http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints (for detailed instructions on how to navigate the BBC Complaints website, click here). For the AFP, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.