Here’s a question for readers: if a journalist chooses to quote an obviously inaccurate – and in this case, patently unhinged – statement made by someone in the news, does that journalist also have an obligation to inform audiences of the statement’s inaccuracy? And, should the journalist chose not to provide background information which allows the audience to put that quote into its correct context, is he or she guilty of trying to shape audience perception of an event?
The BBC has so far produced three reports on the subject of Bashar al Assad’s claim made on February 3rd that the alleged Israeli attack on a benign-sounding “research centre” and/or weapons convoy last week is an attempt to “destabilise” his country and proves Israel’s involvement in the 23 month internal conflict in Syria.
On February 3rd the Middle East section of the BBC News website looked like this:
Articles included a written report entitled “President Assad accuses Israel of destabilising Syria”, a filmed report also shown on BBC television news entitled “Syria crisis: Assad claims Israel ‘destabilising’ country” and analysis by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Jim Muir under the title “Syria strike leaves dialogue bid open”.
The first two of those items repeat variations of the following claim:
“President Assad said on Sunday that last Wednesday’s raid “unmasked the true role Israel is playing, in collaboration with foreign enemy forces and their agents on Syrian soil, to destabilise and weaken Syria”.”
The trouble is that the reports make no attempt whatsoever to explain to those viewing or reading them – the majority of whom will not be familiar with the precise make-up of the forces fighting against Assad or the ins and outs of the conflict – just how ridiculous Assad’s claim is. The same bizarre notion was also promoted on BBC Twitter accounts.
In two of the articles Jim Muir promotes the idea that:
“..the air strike has strengthened President Bashar al-Assad’s regional credentials as the standard-bearer of Arab defiance to Israel.” [emphasis added]
That bizarre choice of phrasing, together with the BBC’s failure to put Assad’s ridiculous claims into any sort of context, makes the BBC sound more like one of the conspiracy theory-loving official Syrian news agencies rather than an objective Western media outlet committed to accuracy and impartiality.