The BBC's sensitivity towards Muslim sensibilities is often seen by critics as being dangerous over-sensitivity. A common complaint on websites critical of the corporation is that it repeatedly censors details unhelpful to the Muslim community in reports about, say, crime.
An example being discussed over a Biased BBC at the moment (here, here and here) concerns the horrific acid attack on a young woman who works at a branch of the 'sexy lingerie' store Victoria's Secret. She was attacked by someone wearing a niqab (the Islamic veil). The acid was thrown into her face as she was nearing home after finishing work, leaving her disfigured.
I think it's worth adding some flesh to the complaints being made at Biased BBC so that you can see why they are being made - and why they are made so often against the corporation.
The story was broken by the Evening Standard:
Naomi Oni, 20, was on her way home from work when an unknown attacker dressed in a niqab threw a chemical substance at her leaving the retail assistant with severe burns on her head, neck, arms, legs and body.
These shocking images have now been released by Ms Oni in an appeal for help to catch the attacker whose identity was concealed behind the Muslim women’s dress which completely covers the face apart from the eyes.
London 24 soon took up the story:
Other news organisations then posted detailed reports of the attack.A friend of Naomi, Sheila Maclean, said the young woman had been on her way home from working at Victoria’s Secret at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, when the frightening assault happened.
She said: “She was about to get off the bus at 11.45pm and noticed a woman in a niqab [a Muslim veil] standing at the opposite bus stop. When she got off the bus she noticed the person had gone.
“Naomi then heard someone walking close behind her. As she turned, the woman came up behind her and threw the substance in her face.
The Daily Mail was the first of the national news organisations:
Victoria's Secret worker scarred for life when niqab-wearing attacker threw acid in her face as she walked home from shop
A young woman suffered horrific facial burns after a woman wearing a Muslim veil threw acid in her face.
Naomi Oni, 20, was walking home after finishing work at lingerie shop Victoria’s Secret when the woman, wearing a niqab – which reveals only the eyes – appeared and launched the apparently random attack.
It is not known whether the attack was motivated by the victim’s work for the store.
Other papers have followed, except for The Guardian, which has chosen not to report the story at all.
From The Times:
A young woman was left badly scarred and in danger of losing her sight after an attacker dressed in a niqab threw acid in her face.
From The Daily Telegraph:
Naomi Oni, 20, had just got off a bus when she was attacked by an assailant wearing a niqab, a traditional face covering worn by some Muslim women.
From The Independent:
London woman left disfigured by shocking random acid attack by mystery woman in niqab as she walked home from work at Victoria's SecretFrom The Sun:
Woman in niqab wrecked my life in acid assault
says Victoria's Secret salesgirl
The story is also being reported abroad.
Now, the identity and motive of the attacker remains a mystery. Police have got nowhere so far, hence Naomi's decision to release 'before' and 'after' photographs of her face to the press, hoping to get a bit of momentum going in the case and, presumably, to encourage any witnesses to the attack to come forward. There's plenty of speculation on blogs about a possible link between her occupation and the disdain many Muslims feel for such companies, but the reports remain cautious over this - as well they might.
But there's caution and there's caution..which brings us to the BBC's take on the story.
Unlike The Guardian they haven't ignored it altogether. This, however, is their online report on the attack, in full:
1 February 2013 Last updated at 16:26
Woman disfigured in Dagenham acid attack
A young woman has been left disfigured after acid was thrown in her face in east London.Naomi Oni, 20 was walking in Lodge Avenue, Dagenham, when she was attacked at about 00:40 GMT on 30 December. The attacker fled from the scene.The Metropolitan Police said Ms Oni managed to get home and an ambulance was called.Ms Oni, who was treated for burns, has been released from hospital. Nobody has been arrested over the attack.A police spokesman said officers "retain an open mind as to the motive at this early stage".
Unlike every other report mentioned, this remarkably short BBC report leaves out any mention of the fact that the attacker was dressed in the Muslim niqab, even though that's a key part of the story in that Naomi Oni says that her attacker was wearing it. If part of the purpose of the report is to encourage witnesses to come forward then failing to report one of the most important details that might job their memories and help to identity the attacker is very unhelpful. Moreover, it does offer a possible motive for the attack - as does the other detail that the BBC omitted from their report, that Naomi works for Victoria's Secret.
I fail to see how the BBC's usual response to such complaints - that the detail of the niqab is not relevant to the story - would apply here. It is surely relevant on several levels.
Can anyone think of a good reason why the BBC appears to have censored the detail of the niqab from this particular story, other than the BBC being sensitive/over-sensitive to Muslim sensibilities?
Hopefully, Naomi Oni's brave decision to release those photos will pay off and her attacker will be caught and punished.