Dispute on Wahat death toll continues, SIS demands BBC, Reuters list names

The head of the State Information Service (SIS) Diaa Rashwan on Tuesday dispatched two letters to Reuters and BBC directors in Cairo over their coverage of the al-Wahat al-Bahariya (Bahariya oases) incident that resulted in the killing of 16 police officers and conscripts and the injury of 13 others about 130km south-west of Cairo, according to a statement by the Interior Ministry.

The SIS condemned in a statement on Saturday the coverage by the two agencies which claimed a higher number of casualties than is officially being reported in the incident.

The two letters included a reaffirmation of the SIS request that the two agencies either deny the previously published figures of victims that contradicted official figures and to apologize for the inaccuracy of such information, or to confirm the figures by publishing the names of the alleged victims.

BBC Arabic reported that 52 people had died in the attack. Reuters reported that 23 of those were police officers, while BBC reported the number to be only 18, according to anonymous security sources, SIS said in a statement, on Saturday.

SIS added, “It is appalling that two of the most prominent news agencies in the world have come to err with such magnitude in terms of the following: Using “anonymous security sources” instead of resorting to, or waiting for, accurate information to be disseminated from official governmental institutions.”

“Such reporting violates the known and agreed upon international regulations of covering terrorist attacks, which in some cases requires news agencies to wait while security forces address the attack and issue official information on it,” SIS said in the statement.

The Interior Ministry’s statement used the term “terrorist elements’” to refer to the perpetrators in the shootout, whereas BBC Arabic paraphrased the original quote taken from the ministry’s statement which clarified the perpetrators to be, “elements that were described as terrorist.”

SIS added that the English version of BBC and Reuters replaced the word “terrorists,” which the interior ministry mentioned in the original statement as “armed men,” could possibly carry a positive denotation for the reader.

SIS asked both the BBC and Reuters to retract, refute and apologize for what was previously published, using the official statistics issued from the ministry, or that they publish the names of all the victims if they are confident of the figures they published.

“We take seriously our obligation to report the news fairly and accurately, and were careful here to report both the Interior Ministry’s account of the situation as well as information we received independently from other sources,” a Reuters spokesperson said in a statement published by the agency on October 24.

“Reuters ‘English’ exchanged the term ‘terrorists’, which is only accurate and realistic description of those elements, with the term ‘militants’, a matter that may give a positive connotation to the reader,” the statement added.

The BBC also responded to the SIS statement on October 23.

“Security sources told Western media the police death toll was far higher,” the BBC said.

“The BBC was told that 53 officers and conscripts had been killed, while Reuters cited three sources as saying that at least 52 had died”.

“The Associated Press also reported that at least 20 officers – including two brigadier-generals, a colonel and 10 lieutenant-colonels – and 34 conscripts were killed, and Agence France-Presse put the death toll at 35,” it added.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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