Context-Free Tweeting

BBC reporter under fire for tweets perceived as anti-Israel

Israelis demolish home lacking permits (AP)

The BBC is standing by one of its Jerusalem-based reporters after he came under fire this week from Israeli military officials and media critics for tweeting what they claim is biased and incomplete information about the Jewish state.

BBC Middle East correspondent Wyre Davies tweeted on Thursday about a Palestinian restaurant that was razed by Israeli authorities because it was illegally constructed within Israeli jurisdiction without the proper permits.

"Deemed illegal by #Israeli authorities, for the 2nd time Al Mahrour restaurant, on Palestinian land in Beit Jala, was destroyed this morning," Davies tweeted to nearly 15,000 followers.

Davies followed that up with a second tweet: "Recently reopened, $80,000 was put in to the project. The power supply across the valley also torn up – all of which #Israel calls illegal."

Pro-Israel observers criticized Davies’s tweets, saying he ignored facts about the demolition and misled the public about Israel’s activities.

A spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (CoGAT), a division of the Israeli Defense Forces, said that Davies "decided to ignore the facts" when he tweeted about the demolition.

"Regarding Al Mahrour restaurant, the restaurant was constructed without planning permission or the building permits needed," Major Guy Inbar, CoGAT’s spokesman, told the Free Beacon via email. "Therefore a demolition order was issued in 2005 and carried out in May 2012."

Israel assumed responsibility for the restaurant because it was build on land that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments recognize as be under the Jewish state’s administrative jurisdiction.

"The restaurant was then rebuilt—also illegally without the necessary planning permission or building permits," Inbar added. "The restaurant’s owner/constructor was given the opportunity to appear before the planning committee of the Civil Administration. A second demolition order was issued and that was carried out on April 18th 2013."

Inbar criticized Davies for neglecting to mention this context in tweeting about the event.

"Unfortunately, if Mr. Davies decided to ignore the facts—it's something the network has to deal with," Inbar said.

However, the BBC defended Davies’s controversial tweets when approached by the Free Beacon.

"We are confident that the tweets in question were factually accurate," a BBC spokesperson said.

Davies’s critics disagree. They maintain that this is just another misstep by a news organization that has a long history of castigating Israel in its reporting.

"This highlights yet again the pitfalls of social media for journalists," Hadar Sela, an Israel-based Middle East writer and researcher, said. "In the case of the BBC, journalists' tweets are bound by the same standards of accuracy and impartiality as is expected to be applied to conventional journalism."

Israel demolished the restaurant because it did not comply with basic building and safety standards, not because it systematically eradicates Palestinian businesses, Sela wrote in an article for BBC Watch, a watchdog group that tracks the British news organization’s biased coverage of Israel.

"One presumes that back in his native Wales, Wyre Davies would not raise so much as an eyebrow if his local authority issued a demolition order for a food and drink establishment intended to host members of the public which made no attempt to comply with planning regulations on issues such as fire safety, sanitation, hygiene, structure safety, drainage, waste disposal, electricity supply and so forth," Sela sarcastically wrote. "In fact, he might be quite relieved to see such an obvious disregard for public safety being addressed by those responsible."

Sela and others maintain that Davies’s tweets "breach BBC Editorial Guidelines on both accuracy and impartiality, as well as BBC News social media guidance and the specific guidelines on the use of microblogs."

The BBC claims "those involved in editorial or production areas must take particular care to ensure that they do not undermine the integrity or impartiality of the BBC or its output on their blogs or microblogs."

Davies is not the only BBC reporter to come under fire for promoting what critics claim is a biased anti-Israel agenda.

BBC reporter Jon Donnison became the center of controversy after he tweeted a picture of a dead child that he claimed was killed during and Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. The child, however, was Syrian and had been murdered in that country’s lingering civil war.

The Israeli government contemplated revoking Donnison’s press credentials even though he apologized for the factually inaccurate tweet.

Another group of BBC reporters came under fire earlier this month after they falsely posed as college students in order to gain access to North Korea.