The synopsis to a filmed report which, in addition to being shown on BBC television, appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 1st under the title “Syria ceasefire key to European migrant crisis” tells BBC audiences that:
“Key to reducing the flow of migrants into Europe is an end to the the [sic] conflict in Syria.
The temporary ceasefire brokered by Russia and America is largely holding, though so-called Islamic State and the al Nusra Front, linked to Al Qaida, are excluded from it.
Steve Rosenberg has been embedded with Russian forces in the Northern Syrian province of Latakia.
He was taken to the villages of Kinseeba and Gunaymiyah and sent this report.”
Despite being “embedded with Russian forces”, Rosenberg made sure to qualify a claim made by his hosts:
“Later the general claims the blasts were artillery shells fired by terrorists from close to the Turkish border. But we cannot confirm what those explosions were or where they came from.”
A significantly less balanced approach was evident when a claim from Bashar al Assad made during an interview with a German TV station was highlighted later on in the report.
Rosenberg: “Today Syria’s president accused rebels of violating the agreement to halt hostilities.”
Assad: “As [for] the Syrian army, we [have] refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give the chance for that agreement to survive. But at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side.”
Notably, audiences were not informed of the fact that the widely seen claims that the temporary ceasefire is “largely holding” may be questionable given reports from the field and what appears to be an unreliable system for reporting violations. More importantly, viewers were not told that Assad’s claim that his forces have remained inactive is highly contentious or that reports of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces during the ceasefire have emerged.
Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an accurate and impartial broadcaster this is far from the first time that dubious claims from the Syrian regime have been amplified without challenge or qualification.