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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Different views of Gaza deaths
Huda Ghalia (BBC TV)
Huda Ghalia became a symbol of grief
The explosion which killed eight Palestinians on a Gaza beach last Friday was an horrific event, even by the violent standards of the Middle East.

It was made all the more poignant by the harrowing pictures of 11-year-old Huda Ghalia mourning the loss of her father and sisters.

There's still doubt over what caused the deaths. An Israeli shell was blamed, but following an inquiry, the Israeli Defence Force announced this week that it was not responsible.

Other theories have surfaced, some suggesting a Palestinian mine or discarded artillery could have been the cause. Some viewers have accused the BBC TV news of failing to give a full picture of events. World News Editor Jon Williams responds to their concerns.

Gemma Daniels wrote: "It is somewhat unprofessional to merely assume that the rocket was launched by Israel without any form of evidence whatsoever. Why are the BBC using assumptions to form their news stories?"

Jon Williams: I don't think we made any assumptions at the outset. I think what we were dealing with was a very confused situation, where even the British government on Friday issued a statement saying they deplored the deaths on the beach caused by an Israeli shell.

As ever with stories coming out of the Israel-Palestine conflict there are two versions of events. We did our best to try and keep an open mind and I accept that we may not always have been as open as we might have been in terms of giving the audience sight of those two different versions of events.

Dai Huws said after an item on Monday's Ten O'Clock News: "Your report on the deaths of children in Gaza on the beach made not one reference to the fact that an Israeli Defence Force investigation has found that they died 15 minutes after Israeli forces ceased firing, when a stockpile of Hamas Qassam rockets exploded."

And Stephen Ufland commented: "If you were aware of what was actually being reported in Israel you will have read/heard that the army and navy did not fire on the beach and that the belief is now that it was the Palestinians themselves who had fired the shells."

Jon Williams: I think we need to be clear about the timescale. There were some reports in Israeli newspapers on Monday that the Israeli Defence Force was casting doubt on whether it was responsible.

Israel Defence Forces press briefing (AP)
Israel reported the results of its inquiry on Tuesday
There's some suggestion that the Israeli cabinet was briefed on Sunday to that effect. But when we checked the story out on Monday nobody was prepared to stand up those doubts and the first time that anybody went on the record was on Tuesday.

This story was so significant we rely on primary sources and when we reported on Monday the follow-up to the story, we were not able to establish to our own satisfaction that there were any doubts around the story, no matter what people might have heard in terms of chatter and gossip.

In terms of the Middle East, we're not in the business of reporting chatter and gossip.

Frank Weinberg said: "What really concerns me is that the BBC seems to have acted with a complete lack of investigative journalism and you report whatever's fed to you by the Palestinian authorities."

Jon Williams: We've not taken as fact what anybody has been saying. Our responsibility is to present those two different versions of events and to my knowledge the Israeli Defence Force has still said that while it may not to be blame, nobody has yet articulated an alternative version of events.

And I think it is our job simply to lay the facts before the audience and to allow the audience to make up their mind, particularly on a story that's so significant.

It's not our job to speculate. It's not our job to attribute blame to anybody and it's up to the audience to form their own judgements.

A report on Monday focused on Huda Ghalia, who was being presented as a symbol of Palestinian suffering. Maurice Freedman said: "I notice today you have made a very emotional video of the beach deaths in Gaza caused by an accidental Israeli shell.

"Can you tell me how many similar videos you have made in the last five years when a deliberate atrocity has been carried out against innocent Israeli citizens and children?"

Jon Williams: I don't think it was overly emotional. I think the piece focused on a little girl we had featured on Friday night.

Two weeks ago I appeared on the NewsWatch programme answering a complaint from a viewer who said we don't ever follow up stories.
Jon Williams
We're not in the business of reporting chatter and gossip
Jon Williams
World News Editor

We felt it was our responsibility, having introduced the audience on Friday night, to finish telling the story so we went to visit her on Monday.

It's also worth noting that in James Reynolds' piece, he included the script line "whatever the cause", referring to the explosions on the beach. I don't accept that the coverage was over-emotional.

I was happy it was a justified and responsible piece of journalism.

Some people have cast doubt on the veracity of the footage from the beach, questioning how the cameraman could have been on the scene so quickly.

Beach rescue operation
The cameraman was on the scene within minutes
Jon Williams: Before the explosion on the beach an Israeli missile had killed three Palestinians elsewhere in Gaza.

The cameraman had gone to the hospital to film the arrival of the bodies. When he heard there had been an explosion on the beach at Gaza, he jumped into the ambulance, in the front seat of the ambulance, and he arrived at the beach simultaneously with the ambulance crew and that is how he got those pictures.

We take our responsibility seriously - we investigate how those pictures came to show what they showed before we put them on the television. I hope that convinces some of the audience that we don't do these stories lightly.


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