Media Blog

BBC Attacks WSJ Over Article on Kidnapped BBC Gaza Correspondent, Taking Cheap Shot at Daniel Pearl As It Does

A senior BBC news exec has attacked the Wall Street Journal over an article in which Journal columnist Bret Stephens accused the BBC of “failures of prudence and judgment” that put abducted BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston’s “life in jeopardy.”

Writing on the BBC website’s editors’ blog, the BBC head of newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, called Stephens’s article “a scurrilous piece of journalism.” She also then takes a cheap shot at Daniel Pearl.
Stephens had written last week that:

The BBC seemed to operate in the Palestinian Authority with a sense of political impunity… the broadcaster might have felt relatively comfortable posting Mr Johnston in a place no other news agency dared to go… For now, one can only pray for Mr Johnston’s safe release. Later, the BBC might ask itself whether its own failures of prudence and judgment put its reporter’s life in jeopardy.

Unsworth hit back:

Aside from the lack of sympathy shown by the Wall Street Journal, who must have asked themselves a few questions over the appalling tragedy of Daniel Pearl [who was decapitated by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan five years ago], it also happens to be totally unfounded….

I am surprised that one of the US’s leading newspapers with a great tradition appears to think that a desire to provide first-hand reporting for our audience, on a key news story of major significance, was an enterprise to be regarded as foolish and complacent, rather than what journalism is supposed to be for.

Stephens’s view, however, is widely accepted among reporters covering the Middle East, including myself. It is common knowledge that Johnston, who was abducted in Gaza on March 12, was one of the most pro-Palestinian reporters in the region. However, sources tell me that some in Hamas may have felt that his reporting had become too pro-Fatah, which is one possible factor in his abduction by a Hamas-connected group, and also a possible reason why (despite the BBC’s repeated claims that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority is doing everything in its power to secure Johnston’s release) in fact the Palestinian Authority has been doing next to nothing to help release the kidnapped BBC man.
When will the BBC realize that pandering to terrorism just doesn’t work?

Tom Gross — Tom Gross is a former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.

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