On Oct. 17, BBC editor Jeremy Bowen reported that the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was “flattened” by an Israeli airstrike. While appearing on the news channel’s “Behind the Stories” on Saturday, Bowen said that though his coverage was not correct, “it broke in, I suppose, mid-evening. And to answer your question, no, I don’t regret one thing in my reporting, because I think, I think I was measured throughout.”
“I didn’t race to judgment,” he added. Bowen had been asked by a BBC reporter about Bowen’s initial reporting at the time of the explosion, which indicated that the hospital had been hit by Israeli missiles and that hundreds of Gazans had died. In subsequent days, many countries and news channels amended those reports after evidence indicated that an Islamic Jihad rocket had misfired in the hospital’s parking lot and caused the explosion and deaths.
At the time, Bowen reported, “The missile hit the hospital not long after dark. You can hear the impact. The explosion destroyed Al-Ahli Hospital. It was already damaged from a smaller attack [on] the weekend. The building was flattened.”
The BBC “Behind the Stories” reporter asked Bowen, “The BBC was criticized heavily for its reporting of that event. Tell us what happened that night. And, you know, bluntly, where were you getting your information? And do you regret anything that you said that night?”
After Bowen insisted he didn’t have regrets, the reporter replied, “But you said that building had been flattened.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, I got that wrong because I was looking at the pictures and what I could see was a square that appeared to be flaming on all sides. And there was a, you know, sort of a void in the middle,” Bowen said.
“And it was, I think it was a picture taken from a drone,” he added. “And so, you know, we have to piece together what we see. And I thought, well, it looks like whole buildings gone. And that was my conclusion from looking at the pictures. And I was wrong on that. But I don’t feel too bad about that.”
The BBC issued a correction of its coverage on Oct. 19. The correction began, “We have reviewed our coverage of the immediate aftermath of an explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday night. During this our correspondent was giving instant analysis on the ground from Jerusalem in what was a confusing and difficult story. The programme repeatedly made it clear that it had yet to verify who was behind the blast, including in the questioning by the presenter.”
“The correspondent said that the Israelis had been contacted and were investigating, adding ‘It’s hard to see what else this could be really given the size of the explosion other than an Israeli air strike or several air strikes,” the statement continued. “He then explained that in his experience as a reporter in Gaza that he had never seen explosions of this scale caused by rockets being fired out of the territory.”
The statement concluded, “He again stressed that the pictures had yet to be verified. We accept that even in this fast-moving situation it was wrong to speculate in this way about the possible causes and we apologise for this, although he did not at any point report that it was an Israeli strike. This doesn’t represent the entirety of the BBC’s output and anyone watching, listening to or reading our coverage can see we have set out both sides’ competing claims about the explosion, clearly showing who is saying them, and what we do or don’t know.”