Roughly an hour after the interception of a Syrian aircraft that had entered Israeli airspace on the afternoon of July 24th the BBC News website published a report initially headlined “Israel shoots down Syrian warplane”. The report was amended seven times over the next eight hours and now goes under the title “Israel shoots down Syrian fighter near Golan Heights” – with the reason for the confusing use of the word “near” unclear.
Refraining from informing audiences exactly what had happened in the BBC’s own words, the report opened with a ‘he said-she said’ account which obviously did not contribute to audience understanding of the events.
“Israel says it has shot down a Syrian warplane which entered its airspace – a rare incident between the two foes.
Two surface-to-air missiles were fired at the Sukhoi fighter jet, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted.
According to Israeli reports, it happened over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The pilot’s fate is not clear.
Syrian news agency Sana said Israel had targeted the jet over Syrian airspace, but did not say whether it was hit.” [emphasis added]
With readers none the wiser where – and therefore why – the incident took place, the report continued:
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that Syria had committed a “blatant violation” of a 1974 ceasefire agreement, which defines the lines of separation between the two sides’ forces on the Golan Heights.”
The UN witnessed 1974 ‘Separation of Forces Agreement Between Israel and Syria’ was also mentioned (though not by name) in a subsequently added insert of ‘analysis’ from BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman.
“Israel and Syria fought their last war 45 years ago and later agreed to separate their forces either side of a 50-mile-long buffer zone – a boundary that had remained Israel’s quietest since.”
Bateman did not clarify to readers that what he described as a “buffer zone” is actually a demilitarized zone or that the agreement states that “Air forces of the two sides will be permitted to operate up to their respective lines without interference from the other side” [emphasis added].
In addition to aiding BBC audiences to understand the story, that information may also have helped BBC Arabic’s Feras Kilani to avoid an embarrassing Tweet.
Amplifying the Assad regime’s baseless propaganda, Bateman also told readers that:
“…Syria will see the Sukhoi’s downing as proof of its belief that Israel has been prepared to help rebel groups to stop the government’s advances.”
“On Monday, the Syrian government condemned the evacuation by Israel over the weekend of the White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in the south of the country.
Damascus described the move as a “criminal operation” by “Israel and its tools”.
With much of this article based on IDF statements as well as local and agency news reports, it is notable that the BBC News website did not inform its readers that Israel had tried to contact the pilot or that due to the fighting in Syria close to the border, earlier in the day the IDF had put out warnings.
“The IDF said it had noticed increased air force activity in southwestern Syria, near the border, since the morning.
“We have issued numerous warnings through numerous channels and in various languages to make sure that no one on the other side violates Israeli airspace or threatens Israeli civilians or sovereignty,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.”
Obviously the basic task of any journalist reporting this story was to inform members of the public what happened and where. Rather than doing that, the BBC News website chose to present two conflicting versions of where the aircraft was located when it was intercepted and leave readers to decide which one they prefer to believe. Apparently the BBC is of the opinion that passes as journalism.