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Rishi Sunak's six-word warning to BBC after Hamas coverage 'put lives at risk'

Rishi Sunak has warned the BBC and other media outlets “the words we say have impact” – adding that broadcasters should “not rush to judgement” in reporting the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Prime Minister told journalists they should treat statements from Hamas with the same distrust as those from the Russian government after hundreds of people died in a blast at a hospital in Gaza City.

Hamas has blamed an Israeli air strike for the atrocity at al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital while the Israeli military said the medical facility was hit by a rocket misfired by Palestinian militants.

The blast on Tuesday (October 17) was reported by various outlets – including BBC News, Sky News and Reuters – citing a statement from Hamas claiming Israel was to blame.

A BBC Breaking News message on social media read: “Hundreds feared dead or injured in Israeli air strike on hospital in Gaza, Palestinian officials say.”

While Sky News wrote on Twitter, formerly X, saying: “Gaza Health Ministry says at least 500 people have been killed in Israeli air strike on al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital in Gaza City.”

Mr Sunak told the Commons on Wednesday (October 18): “We should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts on the appalling situation that we saw yesterday, particularly given the sensitivities… the impact on communities here, but also across the region.

“As I said, it is incumbent on all of those in positions of responsibility in this House and outside in the media to recognise that the words we say will have an impact and we should be careful with them.”

The PM’s official spokesman said no-one should be taking at face value the word of a terrorist organisation. Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the British Government.

Conservative former minister Damian Green said broadcasters have a “responsibility” to “make sure that they do not disseminate false information”.

Mr Green asked if the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly agreed social media platform owners “have some responsibility to try and avoid hate being spread literally around the world at times like this”.

Mr Cleverly, who warned ill-informed coverage could “put lives at risk”, said: “I would make a broad point to broadcasters. I have had this conversation directly with broadcasters in the past. I believe there is an attempt by broadcasters to try and outpace those social media platforms.

“The days of breaking news on those traditional platforms is long in the past. They should focus on accuracy rather than pace because their words have impact here in the UK and around the world.”

He said there are ongoing efforts in Government to urge social media platforms to “act with greater professionalism and greater consciousness of the impact they have”.

Britain’s top diplomat added later in the Commons session: “It is incredibly important the BBC and other broadcasters are very careful in their reporting of this issue because of the sensitivity and because of the implications, not just in the region itself but here in the UK. And that is a general plea to all broadcasters.”

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden appeared to side with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him during a visit to Tel Aviv that it “appears as though it was done by the other team, not you”.

Mr Sunak – who held talks with the National Security Adviser and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning – said he would not “rush to judgment before we have all the facts on this awful situation”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, he said: “Our intelligence services have been rapidly analysing the evidence to independently establish the facts. We are not in a position at this point to say more than that.”

During a visit to Essex on Wednesday afternoon, the PM said the “very heightened, sensitive situation” demanded “calm heads”.

He added: “This is obviously a complicated situation on the ground but it is right that we approach it with a calm and cool manner, don’t rush to premature judgments, take the time to understands what’s happened, that’s what we’re doing. “



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