Vital information missing in BBC reports on alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria

On the afternoon of December 7th the BBC News website published an article now titled “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian army“. Changes made to the various versions of the report can be seen here and its initial version read as follows:

bombing Syria

In addition, a filmed report by Beirut correspondent Jim Muir was broadcast on BBC television news and appeared on the website under the title “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian state TV“.

With Israel having declined to comment on the claims made by Syrian media and officials, both reports follow the format of previous ones on similar events, relying upon unconfirmed hearsay and conjecture. Notably, even after BBC News found itself under severe criticism nineteen months ago for uncritical repetition of the Assad regime’s propaganda (see here, here and here), the written article states:

“”This afternoon, the Israeli enemy targeted two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the Damascus International Airport,” the military statement said.

It described the air strikes as “direct aggression” carried out to help the Syrian government’s opponents.” [emphasis added]

No effort is made to inform audiences of the redundancy of that Syrian regime propaganda.

But both these reports are in fact far more notable for what they do not include than for what they do. Neither of them informs audiences of Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, with the written article stating:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several air strikes on Syria since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

They appear to have been mainly aimed at preventing weapons transfers to Syria’s allies in Lebanon, the militant Hezbollah movement, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Beirut.”

In the filmed version Muir stated:Muir filmed

“…which would be the fourth time that the Israelis have struck inside…erm…Syria since the war there began in 2011 – mainly attacks aimed at hitting or preventing weapons being transferred to Hizballah, according to the evidence that came out later. That’s of course Israel…Syria’s ally here in Lebanon.”

So, from international criminal and terrorist organization, Hizballah has been upgraded by Muir to the status of “Syria’s ally”, meaning of course that BBC audiences are being told a very selective part of the story. Interestingly, the BBC’s profile of Hizballah (faulty as it is) was not included in the ‘more on this story’ links presented at the side of and below the main article.

Neither was any effort made in either of the two reports to inform audiences of the highly relevant fact that, according to UN SC resolution 1701 all militias – including Hizballah – should have been disarmed and the sale or transfer of weapons to non-state actors is prohibited.

That factor, along with Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, is crucial for proper audience understanding of the story as it is presented. The BBC, however, elected not to provide the information to its audiences.

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BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast’s massive Middle East mangle

Mishal Husain’s deferential and decidedly uninformative ‘interview’ with Hizballah’s Muhammad Fneish on November 13th was apparently the inspiration for an item on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast programme on the same day.5 live breakfast

Presenter Rachel Burden’s introduction to the item (available here for a limited period of time from 02:39:40) began as follows:

“Now, the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has told the BBC that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers. In an interview with the BBC one of its leaders blamed IS for killing more Muslims than its longtime enemy Israel.”

Of course the implication that until ISIS came along Israel held some sort of record for killing Muslims is grossly inaccurate and misleading, but Burden made no attempt to clarify that fact to listeners – or to inform them of Hizballah’s terrorist designation – before introducing her interviewee; former British Ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton.

After a conversation about developments in Libya, Burden said:

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, what the Lebanese militant group Hizballah have told the BBC: that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers – it’s on the same side of a conflict as American forces for once. Is this just an extreme example of our enemy’s enemy being our friend and if it is, does it herald any possible rapprochement with the group and maybe a way of hope for the Israel-Palestine process – peace process?”

Why the topic of negotiations between Israel and the PLO was introduced into an item supposedly broadcast within the framework of a BBC special feature on Syria is unclear, but given that this was the second time in a matter of minutes that Burden had informed audiences that Hizballah had told the BBC that it now has “a common purpose” with Western powers, let’s take a closer look at the relevant segment of that interview.

Mishal Husein: “And do you therefore see those Western states as your allies then rather than your enemies, given the fact that you have a common fight at the moment?”

Fneish: “Sometimes common interests do cross, but not necessarily for the same goals. These Jihadi groups would not have thrived and expanded if it wasn’t for some policies by Western states like the United States, Britain and France and also the involvement of some regional states. […] For us, if there’s a convergence at the moment, it is the result of those states changing their positions and not because of common political goals.”

Clearly Burden’s interpretation of the Hizballah representative’s words does not accurately reflect what was said. Richard Dalton replied to her question as follows:

“I wouldn’t go as far as that, no. These are local conflicts with local dynamics. One of the reasons for example that Iran has got such a strong link with Hizballah in Lebanon is that it wishes to provide deterrents against attacks on Iran’s own territory. So this is not a simple matter of being able to count on a particular alliance for one purpose and then seeing that alliance extended for another. The fact is that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is currently getting worse, with a negotiated solution further off than ever – largely because of policies adopted in Israel. And the fact is unless Western policy changes towards Israel and towards the Palestine-Israel conflict as a whole, we’re not going to see progress on that issue just because of a temporary coincidence of interest in confronting Islamic State.” [emphasis added]

Rachel Burden made no attempt whatsoever to clarify or challenge Dalton’s pejorative and inaccurate allegations or to point out to listeners that the last round of negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a unity government with a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction whilst knowing full well that act would bring an end to talks.

In other words, listeners to a peak-time breakfast show were misled by inaccurate representation of the words of a senior figure in a terrorist organization not defined as such, with that misrepresentation used as hook for an equally inaccurate representation of the reasons for failure of negotiations between Israel and the PLO – all in an item supposedly forming part of the BBC’s coverage of events in Syria.

So much for the BBC’s claim to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

 

 

BBC amplification of Hizballah propaganda

On November 13th the head of the BBC’s Middle East bureau proudly announced a scoop on Twitter.

Hizb int Colebourn tweet

Mishal Husain’s interview with Muhammad Fneish of Hizballah – conducted as part of the BBC’s recent Syria feature – was promoted on a variety of BBC platforms. An abridged version appeared in the November 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:10:10 here) with Husain describing the organization her interviewee represents as follows:Hizb int on website

“…founded to resist Israel, regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization, blamed for the killing of US marines and the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s…”

Following the interview, listeners heard ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen, who likewise played down Hizballah’s terrorist designation:

“…seen by the likes of Britain and America as a terrorist organization…”

Listeners were told by Bowen that Hizballah is one of the “friends of Iran” with no proper information provided on the topic of Iran’s role in the organisation’s founding, the material support it provides or the agenda it dictates.

Hizballah is of course designated as a terrorist organization in its entirety by Bahrain, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and the US and in part by Australia, the EU, New Zealand and the UK.

The interview was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Hezbollah minister blames foreign ‘intervention’ for Syrian suffering” with no mention made of the fact that Husain’s interviewee is a member of a terrorist organization in that version’s synopsis and the Iranian connection erased altogether.

A video of most of the interview was also uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. Like the website version, its synopsis informs audiences that Husain’s interview marks the “first time the Hezbollah leadership has spoken to the international media since the Syrian crisis began in 2011″.

So, did the corporation which claims to be “the standard-setter for international journalism” use this rare opportunity to challenge the Lebanese minster with regard to his party’s primary allegiance to Iran and its role in exacerbating  the Sunni-Shia conflict both inside Lebanon and further afield? Was any attempt made to raise the issue of the terrorist-militia-within-a-state maintained by Fneish’s organization in contradiction of multiple UN resolutions? Did Husain question the Hizballah representative with regard to its terrorist and criminal activities both at home and abroad? Was he asked why his organisation provides support for a regime which has killed more than 200,000 of its own people? And did she ask him why Hizballah even continues to exist given that Israel withdrew from Lebanon almost a decade and a half ago?

Well; no. Instead BBC audiences were treated to undiluted, unchallenged Hizballah propaganda comparing Israel to ISIS, promoting the notion that Western support for parties opposing the Assad regime is designed to “protect Israel” and claiming that the organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is part and parcel of its so-called “resistance” against Israel.

Husain: “I wonder which you think is the bigger enemy today; the Islamic State or the enemy that Hizballah was founded to fight, which was Israel?”

Fneish: “We don’t really differentiate between the two really because the whole problem as we see it revolves around ending the resistance. When Israel, backed by the US, failed in 2006 to end the resistance, the focus on Syria was to stop it supporting the resistance. Therefore this whole battle aims to protect Israel. The role of the jihadists is to benefit from the political developments in the region and to work on their project which is a threat to the region and to all those who oppose their views. Syria is a key component in the balance of the regional conflict and was threatened by those groups due to Western policies. And those groups threaten Lebanon and the resistance movement in it. It means that this continues to be a battle against Israel but the rules and the locations of the engagement have changed.”

Given the docile and unchallenging nature of Mishal Husain’s interview with Fneish and her reverent approach to that senior representative of an international terrorist organisation, one can hardly find it surprising that Hizballah decided that speaking to the BBC fit its agenda. 

Attacks on Israel’s northern border not news for the BBC

On October 7th an explosive device was detonated in the Har Dov area of the Golan Heights, wounding two Israeli soldiers. Shortly afterwards a second device was detonated with no injuries caused. Israel responded with artillery fire.SONY DSC

“An initial army investigation into the attacks found the explosives were planted in advance and were waiting for the troops. Following the attacks, IDF troops were searching the area for additional explosives. […]

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the incident violated a UN Security Council resolution that was adopted to end the 2006 Second Lebanon War. He said the UN force in Lebanon, which has been in place for decades, has launched an investigation and contacted both sides to urge restraint.”

Later in the day the terrorist organisation Hizballah claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Hezbollah operatives “detonated an explosive device on the Shebaa hills against a motorized Israeli patrol causing a number of injuries among the occupation’s soldiers,” the group said in a statement.

A Hizballah official added:

“”This is a message.. Even though we are busy in Syria and on the eastern front in Lebanon our eyes remain open and our resistance is ready to confront the Israeli enemy,” Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese OTV television late on Tuesday.”

The incidents followed an earlier one on October 5th in which two infiltrators were identified in the same region border region.

BBC staff in the region were aware of the incidents.

Shuval tweets Har Dov

However, cross-border attacks carried out and claimed by an Iranian-backed terrorist organization were apparently not deemed newsworthy enough for coverage on the BBC News website.

Omission and inaccuracy on ME terror misleads BBC audiences

May 29th saw the appearance of a filmed report on the BBC News website’s main, Magazine and Middle East pages under the title of “The CIA spy who could have brought peace to Middle East” [sic]. The report is devoted entirely to author Kai Bird talking about his new book concerning the decade-long relationship between the CIA’s Robert Ames and Fatah’s Ali Hassan Salameh.Magazine Ames book

Leaving aside both the perhaps fanciful notion promoted in the BBC’s synopsis that the relationship “helped lay the groundwork for the negotiations which culminated in the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993″ and the fact that the Oslo Accords did not bring peace, it is notable that both in the synopsis and in the filmed report itself, Ali Hassan Salameh is described as “Yasser Arafat’s intelligence chief”, “Arafat’s chief body-guard” and “Arafat’s virtual intelligence chief”.

No mention is made whatsoever of the fact that Salameh was a senior figure in Fatah’s Black September terrorist group and one of the architects of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Black September – established in 1970 – was of course responsible for numerous additional terror attacks during the years between 1969 and 1979 throughout which Ames and Salameh, according to Bird, were in contact – including the deaths of two American diplomats in Khartoum in March 1973.

An equally bizarre inaccuracy in this report comes when Bird, speaking of the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983 in which Robert Ames was killed says:

“Oddly enough, there was no retribution for the security lapses. The US government really didn’t know who had done this. Hizballah didn’t exist then.”

Although the Hizballah manifesto was published in 1985, the organization was founded – under Iranian tutelage – in 1982 and so did in fact “exist then”. Moreover, responsibility for the US embassy bombing was, as shown in news reports at the time, claimed by a group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organisation – one of Hizballah’s early monikers.

The omission of any mention of Salameh’s terrorist activities and the inaccuracy regarding Hizballah’s founding in this report both materially mislead BBC audiences.   

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

The following Tweets (among others) were sent by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen to his eighty-two and a half thousand followers on May 23rd.

May 23 tweets Bowen 1

May 23 tweets Bowen 2

May 23 tweets Bowen 3

This is not the first time that Bowen has proffered his particular version of the tragic incident which took place on May 23rd 2000 on Twitter – he did so last year too – and it is also not the first time that he has failed to provide his Twitter followers with a full account of what happened that day.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

“Early in the morning of Tuesday May 23rd 2000 – the day before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon – a tank crew stationed on the border fence near Kibbutz Menara received an intelligence alert concerning the likelihood of terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. Later in the day, the crew spotted a Lebanese vehicle transporting men in civilian clothing and suspected that these were Hizballah terrorists carrying equipment for firing an anti-tank missile. The tank crew was given permission to fire at the suspected terrorists. 

Later it emerged that the men were actually a BBC film crew headed by Jeremy Bowen and that driver Abed Takkoush had been killed. The IDF investigated the incident and issued an apology. Understandably, that tragic incident appears to be still very much at the forefront of Bowen’s mind, although he does not appear to accept that it was possible to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing.”

It is of course worth remembering that those Tweets were sent by the person who is ultimately the gatekeeper of all “accurate and impartial” BBC reporting from the Middle East.

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Another Hizballah plot against Israeli tourists gets the BBC silent treatment

Earlier this month the authorities in Thailand arrested two suspected Hizballah terrorists.Thailand

“Investigations into two suspected foreign terrorists are progressing swiftly as one of the men admitted to a planned attack on Israeli tourists in Khao San Road during Songkran, according to an investigator. […]

They were arrested on suspicion of links to militant Islamist group, Hezbollah.”

Via Ha’aretz we learn that:

“The men arrived in Bangkok on April 13, and police suspect they were planning to direct an attack on Israeli travelers during Passover.

The two suspects are Daoud Farhat, a Lebanese national who also holds French citizenship, and Youssef Ayad, a Lebanese man who is a citizen of the Philipines. […]

The two are suspected of belonging to a larger terror cell, thought to be comprised of at least nine Hezbollah members. […]

A senior officer in the Thailand police told the Bangkok Post that Ayad admitted he was planning attacks against Israelis while under investigation. Various materials that could be used to fabricate bombs were found in his Bangkok residence, the officer said, adding that further searches would be carried out in other residences thought to be used by members of the cell.”

As readers will of course be aware, this is far from the first time that Hizballah has carried out or planned attacks against Israeli tourists abroad.

The BBC’s reporting on a previous incident in Cyprus began as non-existent and proceeded to tardy. Its reporting of the 2012 bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, in which six people were killed and dozens injured has been hallmarked by the use of the euphemistic term “militants” to describe an internationally active, Iranian backed terror group. BBC coverage has promoted the myth of a separate “armed wing” to the organization.  Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization has frequently been inaccurately represented and downplayed by the BBC, including in a report concerning a previous incident in Thailand

In this case, the BBC has chosen to ignore the story altogether. 

BBC omission of Saudi Arabia’s designation of Hizballah corrected after reader complaint

On March 7th the BBC News website published an article titled “Saudi Arabia declares Muslim Brotherhood ‘terrorist group’” on its Middle East page. The article opens: SA terrorist banning story

“Saudi Arabia has formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

An interior ministry statement also classified two jihadist groups fighting with the Syrian rebels – the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – as terrorist groups.”

A reader noticed that despite the fact that the Saudi branch of Hizballah was included on the same list of terror designations at the same time, no reference to that fact was included in the BBC’s report and he contacted the corporation to point out that omission.

The reply received six days later included the following:

“We have updated the story to include reference to Hezbollah and published a note at the end of the article explaining this.”

The article’s eighth paragraph (out of fifteen) now reads:

“The interior ministry also said the Saudi branch of the Shia militant movement Hezbollah was now banned.”

The footnote added to the report reads:

Footnote S Arabia terrorist banning story

Despite that correction, the description of Hizballah as a “Shia movement” – or at most a “Shia militant movement” – continues the BBC tradition of inadequately informing audiences with regard to the organisation’s terror designation in numerous countries and its terrorist and criminal activities at home and abroad. 

Why doesn’t the BBC present an accurate picture of Hizballah?

On February 26th an article titled “Hezbollah vows to respond to ‘Israeli air strike’” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Hizb art

Let’s take a look at how the BBC chooses to present the international terrorist and criminal organization Hizballah to its audiences.

The article begins with the standard euphemistic portrayal of a terrorist organization designated by numerous countries as a “militant movement”.

“Hezbollah has said it will respond to an alleged air strike by Israel warplanes on one of its bases on the Lebanese border with Syria on Monday.

The militant Shia Islamist movement described the attack as a “blatant assault on Lebanon, and its sovereignty and territory”, al-Manar TV reported.” [emphasis added]

Al Manar is of course a Hizballah run channel, but the article fails to make that point clear. The BBC also once again misleads audiences by promoting the myth that the terror organization has a separate “military wing”, even though Hizballah itself denies that such a separation exists.

“Hezbollah’s statement said the air strike caused material damage, but denied that it targeted any artillery or rocket positions or caused any casualties. Local reports had said four members of its military wing, the Islamic Resistance, were killed.” [emphasis added]

The BBC also fails to inform audiences of the redundancy of the propaganda moniker “resistance” and its political meanings.

“The attack confirms the nature of the Zionist hostility and requires frank and clear position from all,” Hezbollah added. “The Resistance will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it.” [emphasis added]

Once again, no mention is made of the fact that Hizballah is supplied, funded and supported by Iran or of the particularly relevant fact that under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (like its predecessors, 1559, 1608 and the Taif Accords), militias and terrorist organisations in Lebanon should have long since been disarmed and the sale or supply of weapons to such groups stopped.

The article concludes:

“Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006, during which Israeli warplanes bombed Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon and in Beirut, while Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets at Israel.

More than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, died during the 34-day conflict, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 45 civilians.”

Readers are not informed that the 2006 war began as a result of a cross-border raid carried out by Hizballah in Israeli territory or that missile attacks by Hizballah preceded Israeli air-strikes. Notably, Hizballah’s missile attacks are described as having been directed “at Israel” rather than at Israeli civilians in towns, cities and villages across northern Israel. The BBC claims that the war’s Lebanese casualties were mostly civilians but does not inform audiences that Lebanese figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, that Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah fighters, that UN officials gave similar figures and that Israeli estimates stand at around 600 – more than half (and therefore “most”) of the total Lebanese casualty figures.

At the bottom of the article a link is provided to the BBC’s profile of Hizballah dating from December 4th 2013. As has been noted here previously, that profile replaced another one dating from July 2013 and the newer version heavily airbrushes Hizballah’s terrorist designation by numerous countries worldwide, its terrorist activities outside Lebanon, its involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri and its role in the Syrian civil war. No mention is made whatsoever of Hizballah’s criminal activities around the globe. 

There is, of course, nothing new in this article’s tepid representation of Hizballah. Regular readers will be only too aware that the policy of downplaying Hizballah’s terrorist designation, its close connections with Iran, its terrorist and criminal activities and its role in the Syrian civil war are par for the course.

Whatever the reasons behind that policy, it cannot be seen as an appropriate for an organization obliged under the terms of its constitutional basis to provide its audiences with ” a global understanding of international issues”.

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BBC transforms its correspondents’ conjecture into fact

On February 24th a short report titled “Israeli warplanes ‘strike eastern Lebanon’” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Nabi Sheet

The report relates to allegations that the Israeli air-force attacked targets in the Bekaa Valley on that evening. As is intimated by the BBC’s use of cautious punctuation in its headline and as is stated in the body of the article, those reports – which originated from a Lebanese source – remain unconfirmed. 

“Israeli jets have carried out air strikes in eastern Lebanon near the border with Syria, Lebanon’s state news agency says.

Israel’s military has not commented although an Israeli security source quoted by Reuters said there had been “air force activity in the north”.

Lebanon’s national news agency said the air raids took place near the village of Nabi Sheet in the Bekaa Valley.”

Hizballah’s television station ‘Al Manar’ initially denied the reports (with the terrorist organisation only changing its stance two days later), but that information is not communicated to readers of the BBC article.

In the second half of the report the BBC ignores international designations of Hizballah as a terrorist organisation and downplays its paramilitary activities in the Bekaa Valley with coy euphemism.

“The Lebanese militant Hezbollah group has a strong presence in the valley.”

According to the ‘Daily Star’:

“…the Janta area is known to house a Hezbollah post, where recruitment and training of fighters are carried out. Janta is also a well-known route for arms smuggling between Lebanon and Syria…”

The BBC report concludes by citing unidentified “correspondents” and “security sources”:

“Correspondents say Lebanon’s eastern border is frequently used by smugglers and Israeli planes have targeted the area several times in the past two years.

Security sources say the targets may have been trucks of weapons from Syria destined for Hezbollah.”

Whilst it is certainly the case that various BBC correspondents have claimed in the past that Israel has targeted consignments of weapons en route from Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon, those correspondents actually have no verified factual evidence for their claims, not least because Israel has never officially confirmed the various allegations. Hence, this report’s transformation of conjecture based on hearsay and assumption into a categorical – rather than qualified – statement which is then communicated to BBC audiences as though it were fact, clearly breaches BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy.

As has been the case with similar past articles, this short report focuses upon alleged Israeli activities, making no attempt to provide audiences with the necessary background information to enable them to place the reports of those actions in the correct context. Mention of the UN SC resolutions banning the arming of militias in Lebanon is omitted, as is any reference to Hizballah’s status as a heavily armed terrorist organisation supplied and supported by Iran. Clearly those important omissions are not conducive to the fulfilment of the BBC’s stated remit as an organisation which builds “a global understanding of international issues”. 

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