Open letter to BBC: bias over casualty figures

The letter below was sent to the BBC on 29 September 2014, with 7,000 signatures


In August, the BBC published an online article questioning the UN's description of Israel's attacks on Gaza as 'indiscriminate'. The BBC's Head of Statistics, Anthony Reuben, spun the Palestinian casualty figures in an attempt to prove that Israel was carrying out targeted attacks only, as claimed by the Israeli government.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign has written an open letter to the BBC's Director General, Tony Hall, calling on him to ensure that Reuben is no longer allowed to write on Palestine and Israel for the BBC, as his impartiality on this subject cannot be guaranteed.

The open letter is below. 

Letter to the BBC:

Dear Lord Hall

We are concerned that, during Israel’s 50 day assault on Gaza this summer, the BBC published an online article which used statistics about Palestinian fatalities to spin a story claiming that the majority of those killed had been fighting men, not civilians.

And we note with particular concern that Anthony Reuben, the BBC’s Head of Statistics, who authored this article continues to write on the BBC website about casualty figures in Gaza.

Reuben has contributed to an article this month, headlined Gaza crisis: toll of operations in Gaza. This article links to his August report, titled Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures.

In August’s article, Reuben attempted to present Israel’s slaughter and wholesale destruction in Gaza as targeted killing, aimed only at fighting men. He did this by pointing to statistics which showed that more Palestinian men than women had been killed by the Israeli bombing and shelling which began in July.

He wrote: “If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”

The BBC has since removed this thoroughly discredited sentence from Reuben’s report, following complaints from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) and others.

The BBC news team has also attempted to insert some balance into Reuben’s previously one-sided article, with comments added in from academic Jana Krause explaining that Palestinian men were more likely to be killed than women, not because they were fighters, but because they left shelters to source food and water, and to care for abandoned homes.

However, the fact remains that the BBC’s Head of Statistics manipulated a story out of these tragic figures in an apparent attempt to give credence to Israel’s claims that it carried out only targeted attacks on Gaza. And the fact remains that the BBC presented his writing as impartial journalism.

But Reuben’s impartiality on the subject of Palestine and Israel is extremely doubtful. You will be aware that he has previously interned at The Jerusalem Post, a notoriously right-wing Israeli newspaper, which is vocal in its support of Israel’s occupation.

The views which are apparent in that Israeli newspaper appear to have seeped into Reuben’s reporting for the BBC. What is more, his writing for the BBC has been quoted approvingly in other right-wing Israeli press, including Times of Israel and Ynet.

We therefore call on the BBC to assure its audiences that Reuben will no longer be assigned to reporting on Palestine and Israel, as his impartiality and journalistic integrity on this subject cannot be guaranteed. We believe that this is the very least the BBC can do if it truly believes in its Royal Charter commitment to producing, and being seen to produce, balanced and impartial journalism.

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely


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