BBC Trust ESC upholds appeal on Dan Snow’s Syria documentary

Readers may remember that back in March we took issue with Dan Snow’s distorted presentation of the commencement of the Six Day War in his BBC Two documentary titled “A History of Syria“. We were of course not the only ones to note Snow’s egregious depiction of Israel as the sole initiator of the war and his airbrushing of the Syrian and Egyptian belligerence which preceded its outbreak. 

“In 1967 [Hafez al] Assad was Minister of Defence when Israel launched a series of strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Israelis humiliated Arab forces and took control of part of Syria; the Golan Heights.” [emphasis added]

One audience member, having exhausted options further down the chain of the BBC complaints procedure, took the issue to the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee and there the complaint was upheld.

Readers can view the full text of the ESC’s decision on pages 20 to 23 here and will no doubt note the fact that, curiously, the ESC used a book by the BBC’s own Jeremy Bowen as one of the bases for its decision rather than independent sources.

“The Committee decided that the events of the Six-Day War were so important in the history and politics of the Middle East, and remain so today, that, despite the brevity of the reference, more context was required and the need to use clear and precise language was particularly acute in relation to content dealing with conflict in the Middle East, as the Committee has also stated in previous findings. The Committee appreciated that this was one line in an otherwise informative and nuanced programme, but concluded that, particularly given the evidence that Jordan launched attacks on Israel before Israel’s forces were engaged, it was not duly accurate to describe the events on 5 June 1967 in the way this programme did. The Committee decided the programme breached the Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy. “

The question now pending is how does the BBC intend to communicate the fact that Snow’s depiction of the Six Day War’s commencement was inaccurate to the many thousands of audience members who watched the programme eight months ago. 



5 comments on “BBC Trust ESC upholds appeal on Dan Snow’s Syria documentary

  1. Coupla things: I read the three pages of the response from the Trust and noted the extraordinary contortions it went through before eventually, right at the end, acknowledging that the complainant had a point and that the complaint was upheld.

    I found this response from the Executive Producer of the programme revealing:

    The ‘offending’ line – about Israel launching a series of airstrikes in 1967 – is
    not inaccurate. It is bald, admittedly, but given the Syrian context of the film,
    I don’t think it is reasonable to think that we should have created the space to
    place the line within a broader Israeli context.

    But the complainant was not asking the BBC to put the 1967 war in an Israeli context, but simply to report it accurately. Why is that so difficult for these shmucks to understand? I note also the sneer quotes around offending. Not only does the BBC continually cause offence to anyone who would like to see straight, unbiased reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict, it’s comfortable with mocking those who are offended.

    The question now pending is how does the BBC intend to communicate the fact that Snow’s depiction of the Six Day War’s commencement was inaccurate to the many thousands of audience members who watched the programme eight months ago.

    I would guess that issue is at the very bottom of the BBC’s list of priorities. But even if it made some mention of Snow’s anti-Israel propaganda, few people would notice it and anyway the damage has been done long ago.

  2. See Miko Peled’s piece on Israeli generals pressing Eshkol for war in June 1967:–six-day-war-20120606
    “Many believe now, as they believed then, that Israel was forced to initiate a preemptive strike in 1967 because it faced an existential threat from Arab armies that were ready — and intending — to destroy it. As it happens, my father, Gen. Matti Peled, who was the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of logistics at the time, was one of the few who knew that was not so. In an article published six years later in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, he wrote of Egypt’s president, who commanded the biggest of the Arab armies: “I was surprised that Nasser decided to place his troops so close to our border because this allowed us to strike and destroy them at any time we wished to do so, and there was not a single knowledgeable person who did not see that. From a military standpoint, it was not the IDF that was in danger when the Egyptian army amassed troops on the Israeli border, but the Egyptian army.” In interviews over the years, other generals who served at that time confirmed this, including Ariel Sharon and Ezer Weitzman.

    In 1967, as today, the two power centers in Israel were the IDF high command and the Cabinet. On June 2, 1967, the two groups met at IDF headquarters. The military hosts greeted the generally cautious and dovish prime minister, Levi Eshkol, with such a level of belligerence that the meeting was later commonly called “the Generals’ Coup.”

    The transcripts of that meeting, which I found in the Israeli army archives, reveal that the generals made it clear to Eshkol that the Egyptians would need 18 months to two years before they would be ready for a full-scale war, and therefore this was the time for a preemptive strike. My father told Eshkol: “Nasser is advancing an ill-prepared army because he is counting on the Cabinet being hesitant. Your hesitation is working in his advantage.” The prime minister parried this criticism, saying, “The Cabinet must also think of the wives and mothers who will become bereaved.”

    Throughout the meeting, there was no mention of a threat but rather of an “opportunity” that was there, to be seized.

    Within short order, the Cabinet succumbed to the pressure of the army, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Six-Day War began three days later and was over on June 10, 1967. When the guns fell silent, one general saw yet another opportunity, one that would take most of Israel’s other leaders some decades to recognize. This was my father. A 1995 newspaper profile reconstructed the first weekly meeting that the IDF general staff held after the war. When it came his turn to speak, my father said: “For the first time in Israel’s history, we have an opportunity to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. Now we are face to face with the Palestinians, without other Arab countries dividing us. Now we have a chance to offer the Palestinians a state of their own.”

  3. The question now pending is how does the BBC intend to communicate the fact that Snow’s depiction of the Six Day War’s commencement was inaccurate to the many thousands of audience members who watched the programme eight months ago.

    By putting a similar article to the Ariel one in their Entertainment and Arts section.

    Worth noting that Dan Snow has also been involved with the Secular Society this week saying the Church of England should no longer have a formal role in the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall because Britain was now a secular country.

    Since it’s fair to assume that most Allies who gave their lives in WW1 did share the values and qualities received from Christianity, it’s clear Snow and the Secular Society are not remembering them at all, but looking for more power for themselves in the future.

    Anti-Israel and anti-Church, he sure ticks the BBC boxes.

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