BBC accused of ‘breaching trust’ as ‘serious mistake’ over London bus attack sparks fury
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Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board, the UK’s largest Jewish communal organisation, outlined her concerns in a letter dated January 19. In it, she accused Fran Unsworth, BBC News’ Director of News & Current Affairs, of “highly inappropriate” comments and called for her to be disciplined.
Ms van der Zyl also urged the BBC to reimburse the Board for the cost of commissioning independent reports which she said disproved allegations of anti-Muslim remarks.
The complaint relates to video footage in November showing Jewish teenagers celebrating Hanukkah on a London bus.
The group is then abused by several men who perform Nazi salutes and chase after the vehicle.
In its initial report, the BBC said “racial slurs about Muslims could be heard inside the bus” – claims vehemently denied by the Board and other Jewish groups.
“Furthermore, we were extremely taken aback by the comments made by Fran Unsworth during the meeting; her false accusation that we had accused the BBC of ‘anti-Semitism’ was offensive and damaging; we noted with regret that you did not contradict her.”
She added: “I would also like to reiterate the point made by our organisation’s Chief Executive regarding reimbursement of the Board’s costs.
“The Board of Deputies expended a significant amount of money to commission independent reports which throw the BBC’s actions concerning this process into significant doubt.”
Ms van der Zyl’s letter concluded: “I cannot stress enough the urgency of bringing this issue to a swift conclusion.
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“This is for the benefit of the victims of the antisemitic bus attack, who have had to suffer significant damage to their reputations since the BBC reporting on the matter, and for the benefit of the Corporation’s relationship with the British Jewish community.
“This incident has led to a major breach of trust between our community and the BBC, and we sincerely hope that the Corporation will swiftly reach the correct conclusion regarding this matter.”
Commenting on Wednesday, Ms van der Zyl said: “The meeting we had with the BBC was unsatisfactory.”
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If the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit report, due this week, did not “unequivocally” make it clear the Corporation had made a “serious mistake”, the Board will lodge a complaint with Ofcom, she warned.
A BBC spokesman declined to comment, but said the corporation will respond to Ms van der Zyl’s letter.
Speaking on December 2, Detective Inspector Kevin Eade confirmed police were treating the bus incident as a hate crime.
He said: “This was a deeply upsetting incident for a community group who were celebrating the Jewish festival, Hanukkah.
“There is no place in our city for hate crime. Everyone should be able to enjoy their lives without harassment and I urge anyone who can name the individuals pictured to contact police without delay.”
Sky News reporter Tamara Cohen, who was on the bus, said she did not hear anyone saying anything provocative to the men outside the vehicle.
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She added: “Then as it went on they started getting really aggressive, shouting and being abusive.
“We wanted to leave but couldn’t because of the traffic.
“That’s when they came up to the bus and started banging on the bus with their shoes, swearing and shouting at us and making gestures.”
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