BBC misleads in article on refugees in Lebanon

On April 3rd the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had passed the one million mark. That news apparently prompted the appearance on the same day of two items on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the topic of Syrian refugees in Lebanon by Julia Macfarlane – one filmed and one written – both of which focus on Syrians now living in Sabra and Shatila. Macfarlane art

Perhaps a function of the choice of location, Macfarlane’s otherwise informative written report ends with a statement likely to mislead BBC audiences.

“As the conflict rages on though, many Syrians living with Palestinian refugees – whose community has now been in Lebanon for more than 60 years – fear they could share the same fate in years to come.”

Of course the reason there are still Palestinian refugees in Sabra, Shatila and the other ten refugee camps in Lebanon is that the Lebanese government adheres to Arab League policy dating from 1959 according to which:

“Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries.”

Hence, for well over six decades those refugees have been deliberately kept in that artificial status for purely political reasons, suffering severe discrimination throughout the entire time.

The fears of Syrian refugees with regard to being forced to remain in Lebanon for an extended period of time in refugee status are undoubtedly well-founded. According to the UNHCR:

“Lebanon has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, although it has signed most other human rights treaties relevant to the protection of refugees. Constitutionally, the latter take precedence over domestic law but this is rarely observed by the courts, and there is no domestic legislation or administrative practice to address the specific needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.”

However, the political motivations and strategies of the Arab League which have kept Palestinian refugees in that status for so many years do not apply to Syria and refugees under the care of the UNHCR are not entitled to the same hereditary refugee status as those under the authority of the designated agency for Palestinian refugees – UNRWA – and so the two cases are not, as Macfarlane suggests, in any way comparable.  



BBC reporting on Golan Heights attack passes up on providing crucial background

On the afternoon of March 18th Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern part of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights noticed something suspicious near the fence which marks the western (‘Alpha’) side of the demilitarised zone, adjacent to an area of the border currently controlled by the Syrian army. After they got out of their vehicle to investigate, an explosive device was detonated, injuring four soldiers: one lightly, two moderately and one very seriously. Israel responded with artillery fire towards Syrian army positions.

Several hours later a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights“. The incident itself is described in three short paragraphs phrased to suggest to readers that the information has not been confirmed by the BBC. IED Golan Tues 1

“Four Israeli soldiers have been hurt by a bomb blast near the demilitarised zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria, Israel says.

The device was detonated as the troops approached the frontier on foot after identifying “suspicious activity”, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Israeli artillery subsequently fired on Syrian military positions in the area.”

The only reference to the severity of the injuries sustained by the soldiers comes in the caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article.

“The Israeli military said one of the soldiers was seriously wounded by the explosion”.

The report goes on to mention (partially) two previous recent incidents among several ignored by the BBC at the time.

“Two weeks ago, Israeli troops shot two “Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists” attempting to plant an explosive device near the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone, the Israeli military said.

And on Friday, an explosive device was detonated near soldiers patrolling the nearby border with Lebanon. No casualties were reported after the incident in the Mount Dov area, which Israel blamed on Hezbollah.”

The article’s next four paragraphs repeat versions of information appearing in the profile of the Golan Heights which appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – despite being last updated in May 2013 – still erroneously refers to “the pre-1967 border” instead of 1949 Armistice lines. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.

Since the uprising began in Syria three years ago, both government forces and rebel fighters have repeatedly crossed into the buffer zone, and there have been several exchanges of fire with Israeli troops.”

The report fails to make clear to readers that all of those “exchanges of fire” took place after cross-border attacks – intentional or not – from the Syrian side of the fence. It also fails to clarify sufficiently to readers that the presence of armed Syrian military forces inside the demilitarised zone contravenes the ceasefire agreement of 1974. Additionally, BBC audiences are not informed that the demilitarised zone is now only partially monitored by UNDOF or that the routine weapons inspections that body is supposed to carry out (to ensure that both Israel and Syria adhere to the permitted quotas specified in the ceasefire agreement) are no longer being carried out by UNDOF on the Syrian side.

Early in the morning of March 19th Israel responded to the previous day’s attack with strikes on Syrian military facilities on the eastern side of the Golan Heights. Here is how that event was presented by one official BBC Twitter account:

tweet bbc world response

And here by another:

tweet bbc me english response

An article titled “Israel attacks Syrian army sites in Golan Heights clash” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on March 19th. The caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article states: Golan incident response report

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has great political and strategic significance”. [emphasis added]

Earlier versions of the article opened:

“Israel says it has attacked several Syrian military sites in retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s military said its targets included a Syrian army headquarters, a training facility and artillery units.”

Readers of the report’s initial versions were not provided with any updated information regarding the wounded soldiers (one of whom, at the time of writing, remains in a critical condition) and most of the information given was recycled from the previous day’s report in the form of a link.

“It comes after four Israeli soldiers were hurt in an explosion on Tuesday. […]

Israel said four of its soldiers were injured as they approached the demilitarized zone after identifying “suspicious activity” on Tuesday.”

In the report’s third and fourth versions (which appeared some two hours and four hours respectively after the original) the above was replaced by the following statement:

“On Tuesday, the four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, when an explosive device was detonated as they approached the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone.”

In the report’s two earlier versions, once again audiences were encouraged to see prior cross-border incidents in terms of equivalence rather than them being accurately described as Israeli responses to attacks from the Syrian side.

“Syrian and Israeli forces have traded fire a number of times over the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights since the uprising in Syria began.” [emphasis added]

The third and fourth versions of the report included the following:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several attacks on Syria since the uprising began three years ago.

Those air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.”

Of course Israel has not given any official notification of having carried out those strikes, but yet again it appears that in this case – despite editorial guidelines on accuracy - the BBC is in no need of confirmation before turning its correspondents’ conjecture into ‘fact’. 

This report too includes general background material based on the BBC’s less than accurate Golan Heights profile. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Once again, the BBC failed in all versions of this report to adequately clarify to audiences the current situation regarding the demilitarised zone, the decline in UNDOF supervision and the presence there of armed Syrian forces in violation of the ceasefire agreement. 

The article’s fourth version (which had its title changed to “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier’”) included Syrian state media notification of military casualties resulting from the Wednesday morning strike and uncritically quoted a bizarre official statement from a regime which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years. Golan response art vers 4

“But the Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces was quoted as saying the air strikes were an attempt to “divert attention from the successive victories” of its troops against rebel forces, particularly the recapture of the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, over the weekend.

It also warned Israel that “such aggressive acts would jeopardise the region’s security and stability, and make it vulnerable to all options”.”

That version of the article also included the following outlandish assumption from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

“The choice of targets demonstrates that Israel is clearly blaming Syrian government forces, and not rebel fighters or units of Hezbollah, for the attack on its patrol, our correspondent says.”

In fact, whilst it has yet to be established which organisation carried out the attack, the Israeli minister of defence made it clear that “Israel viewed Syrian President Bashar Assad as the person responsible for what happens in his country”.

Earlier versions of the report  included the following:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the border with Syria has been recently “filling up” with jihadist fighters hostile to Israel and militants from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.”

No attempt was made to provide BBC audiences with further background information on the topic of the different armed elements to be found on the Syrian side of the border.

The article ends by again mentioning the previously unreported incidents of March 4th in which an attempt was made to plant an IED in the same area and last Friday’s attack at Har Dov. It is not made clear that Tuesday’s attack took place along a stretch of the frontier controlled by Assad’s forces, in contrast to much of the rest of the border which is held by opposition militias of one description or another. 

The BBC’s coverage of incidents in the Golan Heights over the past year or so has been patchy at best.  Hence, with audiences already lacking much of the context to this latest incident, proper provision of factual information relevant to the story’s background would have enhanced readers’ understanding of events. Unfortunately however, the opportunity to inform audiences on the current state of affairs along the border and of the reasons for the growing ineffectiveness of the demilitarised zone in preventing attacks such as the one which took place on Tuesday – and any future ones – was passed up by the BBC.

Northern exposure: what the BBC isn’t reporting about the Israel-Syria border

As was noted here recently, two errant mortars fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights on the afternoon of February 18th. A few days later a bout of particularly heavy fighting took place south of Quneitra – which, unlike other areas proximate to the border, is still held by Assad’s troops – with the latter apparently retaking two villages from the anti-regime forces.  On March 1st the IDF found the remains of two Katyusha rockets in the northern Golan, which appear to have been fired from Syria. 

On the night of March 4th another attempt was made to place an improvised explosive device on the northern section of the border fence between Israel and Syria. Israeli forces responded with live fire. 

On the morning of March 7th Israeli Air Force jets had to be scrambled several times as Syrian aircraft came very close to the border during their attacks on an opposition-held village just beyond the ceasefire lines.

Like many other incidents which have taken place in the Golan Heights since the Syrian civil war began, none of the above was reported by the BBC, despite their staff clearly being aware of at least some of the events. 

Tweet Shuval Golan 18 Feb

Meanwhile, the flow of wounded Syrians arriving at the border to seek Israeli medical care continues. BBC Watch recently went to meet one of the doctors working at the field hospital established by the IDF in the Golan Heights to provide ‘first stop’ care for the wounded. Captain Dr S. noted that the types of injuries her team is treating – mostly gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions – are ones which are rarely seen in Israel these days and hence her generation of young doctors had little practical experience in dealing with such cases before the field hospital was set up. She also noted that the wounded Syrians arrive in a state of extreme fear seeing as they are, after all, coming to a country which they have been educated to regard as an enemy. Hence, she and her team deliberately avoid speaking Hebrew in the presence of the patients so as to try to reduce at least one stress factor, and instead converse with them in English and Arabic. 

Patients with more complex injuries are transported to one of several civilian hospitals in the north of Israel. Here is the director general of the Western Galilee hospital in Nahariya, Dr. Massad Barhoum, talking at the recent AIPAC conference about his institution’s work in helping Syrian patients. 


BBC News reframes Iranian arms shipment story, censors information

On March 10th a BBC producer made his way to Eilat to cover the story of the weapons shipment seized aboard the Klos-C as it was shown to the media the day after its arrival in Israel’s southern port. 

Klos C tweet Shuval

The report on that topic which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website later that evening is notable for the fact that instead of fully and accurately informing BBC audiences about the details of the weapons shipment itself, it frames the story in very different terms.

On the Middle East homepage the heading linking to the report read “Israel attacks ‘hypocrisy’ over Iran” and, still using the “Israel says” caveat, the subheading informed readers that:

“Prime Minister Netanyahu shows his anger at the West as he unveils a shipment of weapons Israel says were being sent from Iran to Gaza.” [emphasis added]

Klos C art on ME pge 10 3

The article itself is titled “Israel attacks ‘hypocrisy’ of international community on Iran” and it opens with repetitions of the Iranian and Hamas propaganda previously touted by the BBC in earlier reports. Klos C art 10 3

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the international community of “hypocrisy” over Iran.

Mr Netanyahu spoke as the Israeli military unveiled what it alleged was a cache of Syrian-made weapons being sent by Iran to militants in the Gaza Strip.

He criticised EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Tehran at the weekend, for her “smiles and handshakes” with Iran’s leaders.

Iran has dismissed as “failed lies” the accusation it was behind the shipment.

A spokesman for Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamist movement that governs Gaza, has meanwhile said it is all a “silly joke”.” [emphasis added]

The factual information provided to reporters at the event was condensed by the BBC into two short paragraphs, the wording of which is quite remarkable when one considers that at least one BBC employee saw the forty 302 mm missiles, the 181 Iranian-manufactured 120 mm mortar shells and the 400,000 7.62 mm calibre bullets seized aboard the Klos-C with his own eyes.  

“Israel’s navy seized a Panamanian-flagged vessel, the Klos-C, in the Red Sea off Sudan last Wednesday, and said it was carrying dozens of M-302 rockets, which have a range of 150km to 200km (93-124 miles).

The weapons had been tracked for several months as they were flown from Damascus to Tehran and then taken to a port in southern Iran, it alleged. From there, it added, they were loaded on to the Klos-C, which sailed to Iraq, where containers of cement were added.”

Significantly, BBC audiences are kept entirely in the dark with regard to the information provided to the press which shows that the weapons shipment did indeed come from Iran. The fact that the shipment included Iranian-produced mortars is disappeared entirely from the BBC’s report. The fact that the weapons were concealed under bags of cement marked as being made in Iran and that the containers carrying the arms had unique seals used by the Iranian customs authorities is also not mentioned. 

Klos C customs seal

Reporters were also shown the Klos-C’s paperwork which indicates that 100 numbered containers – including those carrying the weapons – were loaded at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas (click on the links to see the documents).

Klos C manifest Bandar Abbas

Klos C manifest Bandar Abbas 2

The ship then sailed to Umm Qasr in Iraq, where a further 50 containers were loaded.

Klos C loading Umm Qasr

The ship’s manifest was then altered manually to create the false impression that all 150 containers – including those carrying weapons – had been loaded in Iraq. 

Klos C forged manifest

The BBC, however, has elected to censor all that information and continues to encourage audiences to view the story in terms of competing Israeli and Iranian claims by means of unquestioned promotion of the latter’s propaganda and liberal use of phrases such as “Israel says” and “Israel alleged”.

The rest of the BBC report is devoted to remarks made by the Israeli prime minister at the press conference, with the curious inclusion of a video showing an interview with the EU’s Catherine Ashton during her recent visit to Iran and a link to a previous BBC report from Iran by Lyse Doucet. 

The fact that this BBC report conceals crucial information, and instead seeks to turn readers’ attentions to a version framing the Israeli prime minister’s remarks as the story’s focus, of course actively hinders BBC audiences’ ability to form their own fact-based opinions on the subject of Iran’s policy of arming and financing terrorist organisations in the Middle East and further afield and the implications of that in relation to the ongoing P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. 

Sadly for BBC audiences however, there is nothing novel about that. Since this story first broke, the BBC’s coverage of it has been notable in that it has consistently tried to distract audiences’ attention from the actual issue of Iranian arms shipments to terrorist organisations by reframing the story to focus on the Gaza Strip, on Iranian denials of involvement and now on the Israeli prime minister’s “anger”. By repeatedly reframing the story and by deliberately omitting crucial information it had at its disposal, the BBC has clearly breached its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and failed to meet its public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

Related Articles:

BBC employs smoke and mirrors in report on Iranian weapons smuggling ship

Inaccurate map used to illustrate BBC reports on Klos-C weapons interception

BBC News website self-conscripts to ‘Mini Me’ role on Klos-C weapons interception

More BBC amplification of Iranian propaganda on Klos-C story

More BBC amplification of Iranian propaganda on Klos-C story

On March 8th an article currently running under the title “Catherine Ashton in landmark bridge-building trip to Iran” appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The subject matter of the report – which was written by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet – is as expressed in its latest headline: a visit to Iran by the EU’s foreign affairs representative.

However, one of two photographs chosen to illustrate the article is this one below, which is accompanied by the following caption:

“Iran has rejected Israeli allegations that it was behind a shipment of Syrian-made rockets intended for Palestinian militants in Gaza”

Doucet art 8 3Doucet’s report does not at any point relate to the incident last week in which a ship sailing from Iran to Sudan was seized by Israeli naval forces in the Red Sea due to its carrying Syrian-made missiles destined for terror groups in the Gaza Strip. 

Doucet art main 8 3 vers 3Hence the gratuitous inclusion of this photograph and its context-free caption can only be seen as yet more promotion of Iranian propaganda on the part of the BBC. 

The terms of the BBC’s constitutional document commit the corporation to building “a global understanding of international issues” and enabling “individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”. Although the BBC has shown no qualms about repeating and amplifying Iran’s propaganda on this topic, it has made no attempt whatsoever to justify that promotion with any sort of independently verified factual information which would support the notion that the Syrian-made missiles did not arrive in Tehran from Damascus and were not transported from there to the port of Bandar Abbas with the knowledge of the Iranian regime.

Instead, it seems that the BBC is of the opinion that all audiences need to know is that “Iran has rejected Israeli allegations” (with the use of that last word being highly significant). Whether or not there is any evidence to support that “rejection” is apparently deemed superfluous to audiences’ “understanding of international issues”, meaning that not only is their ability to participate in the “debate” on Iran’s long record of arming and financing terrorist organisations constrained, but so is their awareness of the fact that such an issue exists.  

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BBC employs smoke and mirrors in report on Iranian weapons smuggling ship

Inaccurate map used to illustrate BBC reports on Klos-C weapons interception

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BBC Arabic’s Edgard Jallad promotes Iranian propaganda on BBC World News

BBC News website self-conscripts to ‘Mini Me’ role on Klos-C weapons interception

Consider this: on March 6th the foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, put out the following chronologically challenged propaganda on Twitter.

KlosC tweet Zarif

Within hours of Zarif’s finger having hit the ‘Tweet’ button (a privilege of course not afforded to the vast majority of his countrymen), the BBC News website had published an article based on that ’140 characters or less’ agitprop under the none too subtle headline “Iran’s Zarif says Israel lying about Gaza rocket ship”  - and thrown in a bit more Hamas propaganda for good measure.

KlosC Zarif tweet art bbc

The article opens:

“Iran has rejected Israeli allegations that it was behind a shipment of Syrian-made rockets intended for Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed them as “failed lies”.

He claimed they were published “just in time” for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which took place earlier this week.”

Later on the report states:

“On Thursday, Mr Zarif rejected the allegations and questioned why they had surfaced just after the conference a pro-Israel US lobby group.

“An Iranian ship carrying arms for Gaza,” he wrote on Twitter. “Captured just in time for annual AIPAC anti-Iran campaign. Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies.”

A spokesman for Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamist movement that governs Gaza, said they were a “silly joke”.”

The article then duplicates the statement made in the BBC’s previous reports on the subject of the seizure of Syrian-made weapons on a ship sailing from Iran to Sudan, which deliberately misleads BBC audiences by creating the impression that Iran’s well-documented funding and arming of numerous terrorist organisations is nothing more than an Israeli claim.

“Israel has long accused Iran of arming groups such as Hamas.”

The report also reproduces the previously touted notion of equivalence between the actions of terrorist organisations targeting civilians and the responses to those attacks by the armed forces of a sovereign country charged with defending its citizens.

“More than 60 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip have hit Israel since the start of last year, Israel says.

Hamas denies that it has fired any rockets since a 2012 ceasefire agreement with Israel, with other Gaza-based groups claiming responsibility. However, Israel says it hold Hamas responsible for any attacks from Gaza and has repeatedly launched deadly air strikes.”

Despite the ample readily available contradictory evidence, the article repeats the BBC’s frequent promotion of Iranian claims regarding the nature of its nuclear programme.

“At a news conference in Jakarta on Thursday, Mr Zarif insisted that Iran’s nuclear programme was solely for peaceful purposes.”

So just what was the point of this BBC report? No new information is provided to readers on the topic of the seizure of the missiles itself and the article’s sole purpose appears to be amplification of Javad Zarif’s straw-clutching propaganda along with a re-run of Hamas comments of the same genre and repetition of the same misleading ‘smoke and mirrors’ focus on the Gaza Strip which detracts audience attention from the real issue at hand – Iran’s long and continuing history of material support for terrorist organisations.

Considering that Iran was scheduled to receive a further $550 million in sanctions relief the day after the publication of this BBC report, this would have been a timely opportunity to inform audiences of the facts behind the extent of that country’s enabling of the internationally designated terrorist organisations which destabilize the Middle East. 

If members of the general public wish to immerse themselves in undiluted and unchallenged Iranian propaganda, they can of course do that via several official or semi-official Iranian media outlets. The remit of the BBC is not to be Press TV’s ‘Mini Me’, but to provide its audiences with the kind of accurate information which will enable them to distinguish between the propaganda of a repressive, theocratic, terror-enabling regime and the actual facts behind a story.  

Sadly, the BBC seems intent upon rendering itself irrelevant to discerning news seekers by repeatedly running interference for the Iranian regime with uncritical amplification of its propaganda – at least when that propaganda can somehow be linked to Israel. 

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Inaccurate map used to illustrate BBC reports on Klos-C weapons interception

On March 5th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel’s clandestine battle with weapons smugglers” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. KlosC Marcus art

The article is obviously intended to provide audiences with background and context to the incident earlier on the same day in which Israeli naval forces seized a ship transporting Syrian-made missiles from Iran to Sudan, with their eventual destination being the Gaza Strip.

On the whole, the article is both accurate and informative but it is marred by one feature. As Jonathan Marcus correctly notes:

“In the March 2014 case – unusually – the Israelis say that the weaponry actually originated in Syria from where it was flown to Tehran.

It was then put on board the Klos-C at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

From there it went to Um Qasr in Iraq, before heading back out of the Gulf and round to the Red Sea where it was intercepted.

The Israelis say that it was due to dock in Port Sudan, from where the weapons would have moved overland through the Sinai Peninsula and ultimately into the Gaza Strip.”

However, the map inserted into the article does not accurately reflect the written information provided by Jonathan Marcus. Rather, it misleads readers by tracing an “intended route” for the ship which ends up in south Sinai, somewhere near Sharm el Sheikh.

KlosC BBC map

In fact, the vessel’s destination was Port Sudan.

KlosC IDF map destination

As is explained in this video:

“The ship is headed to Port Sudan but is stopped before reaching its destination. Israeli naval forces intercept the vessel and prevent the weapons from reaching the Gaza Strip. Without this initiative, the rockets would have been smuggled via land through the Sinai peninsula and into Gaza.”

KlosC route

The same inaccurate map – which oddly states that it is sourced from the IDF – also appears in the additional BBC article on the subject, discussed here

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March 7th: The inaccurate map has now been removed from both the above BBC reports.


BBC employs smoke and mirrors in report on Iranian weapons smuggling ship

In the early afternoon of March 5th the IDF announced that an Iranian cargo ship sailing under the flag of Panama had been intercepted early that morning in the Red Sea by Israeli naval forces. Concealed among its legitimate cargo, the ship was also carrying Syrian-made 302mm missiles destined to be smuggled via Sudan and Sinai to the Gaza Strip. A video report on the background to the operation can be viewed here.

The BBC’s initial coverage of the breaking news was garnished with revealing punctuation. 

BBC ME tweet ship

Iran ship on ME HP

Breaking Iran ship

The article subsequently underwent numerous changes. First came the version below, going under the same bizarrely punctuated title as the breaking news item and including liberal use of the standard BBC disclaimer “Israel says” as well as the statement below, which would be comical were it not such a damning indictment of the BBC’s failure to meet its commitment to accurately inform its article Iran shipaudiences. 

“Israel has accused Iran of arming groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Neglecting to inform readers of the violent circumstances in which Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and of its terrorist designation, the article also states:

“There has not yet been any comment on the incident from Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.”

But apparently, the BBC’s notion of ‘government’ does not include the prevention of terrorist activity from the territory Hamas controls:

“Almost fifty projectiles were fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip last year, Israel says.

Hamas denies that it has fired any rockets since a 2012 ceasefire agreement with Israel, and has blamed other groups such as Islamic Jihad.

Israel has in turn launched several air strikes on the Gaza Strip, causing several deaths.”

In the next version of the report, the BBC saw fit to reproduce patently absurd Hamas propaganda:  

“Hamas denied any involvement and said that story was being used by Israel to “justify the blockade” on Gaza.”

It then went on to cite anonymous “critics”, denying BBC audiences the opportunity to judge the merits of such a statement by clarifying the identity and political motivations of those “critics”. 

“Israel tightly controls its border with Gaza, restricting what is allowed in for what it says are reasons crucial to its security. It also maintains a naval blockade. Egypt blockades Gaza’s southern border.

Critics say the blockade is tantamount to collective punishment.”

In this version of the report the number and time-scale of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip was amended and despite that information being in the public domain (even if the BBC does consistently fail to report it), the caveat “Israel says” appeared once again.

“More than 60 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip have hit Israel since the start of last year, Israel says.

Hamas denies that it has fired any rockets since a 2012 ceasefire agreement with Israel, with other militant groups in the Gaza Strip claiming responsibility.

Israel says it hold [sic] Hamas responsible for any attacks from Gaza.”

Once again the curious use of the phrase “in turn” appears, with the result that readers are encouraged to view the issue in terms of equivalence rather than cause and effect.

“Israel has in turn repeatedly launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip, causing several deaths of militants and civilians.”

The later version of the report – with the amended title “Israel halts ‘weapons shipment from Iran’” – again included the same Hamas propaganda statement and citation of anonymous “critics”. Iran ship v4

Once again, what is well-known fact is presented to audiences as an exclusively Israeli claim:

“Israel has accused Iran of arming groups such as Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.”

In conclusion, BBC audiences are actively misled by this report in that they are encouraged to view Iran’s long and well documented history of arming and financing terrorist organisations as a debatable Israeli claim. The repetition of obviously ridiculous Hamas propaganda and citation of barely veiled accusations of war crimes from unidentified “critics” does nothing to lend ‘balance’ or ‘impartiality’ to the article and distracts from the actual subject matter. The deliberately equivocal presentation of the actions of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip and the responses of the armed forces of a nation protecting its citizens from that terrorist activity is clearly politically motivated. 

What should have been a very straightforward story to report has been rendered absurd by the BBC’s self-censorship and the insertion of faux ‘balance’. The end result of that inability to report in an objective and pertinent manner is that BBC audiences are distracted by the report’s ‘smoke and mirrors’ focus on the Gaza Strip at the expense of the provision of accurate information on this latest incident of provision of lethal weaponry to internationally designated terrorist organisations – and the ensuing destabilisation of the region – by the Syrian regime and Iran, even whilst negotiations with the P5+1 on the issue of the latter’s nuclear programme go on.


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”. 

Related Articles:

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BBC unquestioningly promotes Assad’s “destabilisation” claims

BBC Q&A on alleged Israeli air strikes is political polemic

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC’s ‘Today’ repeats basic historical inaccuracy corrected two weeks ago

The February 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item presented by James Naughtie in which he spoke to Lyse Doucet about conditions in the Yarmouk camp area of Damascus. The programme is available for a limited period of time here and the relevant segment begins at around 02:34:20. 

A couple of minutes into the item, Naughtie says:

“And of course they’ve been refugees from a time long before this awful conflict began.”

Doucet replies:

“Yarmouk camp was set up in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which led to the establishment of the State of Israel. They fled there.”

As we noted here earlier this month, a similarly inaccurate claim was made in an article by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali about the same subject which appeared on the BBC News website.  

“The unofficial camp [Yarmouk] was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

And as we remarked at the time (and as is equally applicable to Doucet’s inaccurate statement):

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers. “

The BBC News website’s Middle East desk later revised that statement in response to a complaint and noted in its reply that:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

But two weeks on it seems that basic facts of Israeli history still evade other BBC reporters too.

We look forward to an on-air correction by the Today programme, together with some equally urgently needed context for listeners regarding the political motivations which lie behind the fact that Syria and other countries have deliberately kept the refugees their attack upon the new Israeli state created – and generations of their descendants – in second-class refugee status for the last sixty-six years.