Whitewashing Hizballah on BBC Radio 4

The March 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item by Mishal Husain who is currently in Lebanon for a special broadcast from that country on March 11th to mark eight years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.

Although the report (from 35:20 here) was introduced by both co-presenter Martha Kearney and Mishal Husain as being connected to the topic of “the war in Syria” and UK aid to Syrians displaced by that conflict, its focus soon shifted to a different topic.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “The UK’s just pledged an extra £100 million for Syrians in need and the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt has told me host countries like Lebanon need ongoing support too. He came to Beirut straight after the government’s decision to ban the political wing of Hizballah – an organisation that’s had elected MPs in the Lebanese parliament for years. It’s part of the current government, controlling three ministries. I’ve been speaking to Amal Saad, professor of political science at the Lebanese University and the author of a book on Hizballah.”

As we see, that introduction (notable for Husain’s promotion of the entirely false notion of separate ‘wings’ of Hizballah) was no more helpful in aiding listeners to understand that they were about to hear from a Hizballah supporter than were the introductions heard by audiences on previous occasions when the BBC brought in Amal Saad for comment.

Listeners also received no information which would help them understand that when Hizballah and its supporters speak of ‘resistance’ against Israel, they in fact mean the destruction of that state.

Saad: “It’s first and foremost priority is resisting Israel and now fighting jihadis.”

Husain: “How entrenched is it in Lebanese politics, in Lebanese society today?”

Saad: “For the past 15 years or so Hizballah has been deeply entrenched in the Lebanese state: in the civil service, also in municipalities – across the board basically. And of course there is also the military and security cooperation that Hizballah has with the Lebanese army and with Lebanon’s security services.”

Listeners heard no mention of the fact that the 2006 UN Security Council resolution 1701 stated that there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State” should be implemented. Predictably, neither Husain nor her interviewee bothered to inform listeners that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that UN resolution) by a foreign power.

Husain went on to once again promote the chimera of different ‘wings’ of the terror group.

Husain: “The UK says it can no longer make a distinction between the military and the political wing of Hizballah. Is it a false distinction to make?”

Saad: “I think it was an artificial one and it was a politically expedient one to facilitate dialogue and cooperation with Hizballah in Lebanon. In fact Hizballah is not a party with a military wing. It’s a resistance army and it has a political wing.”

Husain: “And that has meant fighting on the same side as President Assad in Syria and it’s been linked to the Houthi fighters backed by Iran in Yemen. One assumes that that is what the UK means when it says it’s destabilising the Middle East.”

The BBC’s domestic audiences then heard the claim that their own government’s policies are dictated by foreign interests.

Saad: “The British focused a lot on its role in Syria in the parliamentary report. The main argument was about Hizballah’s destabilising role in the region with emphasis on Syria. There was very little about actual terrorist incidents anywhere in the world. The UK is very troubled by Hizballah’s role in the region in the sense that it conflicts with US interests in the region. I think that’s the real problem.”

Despite having been told that Hizballah is a militia, Husain persisted in labelling it as a political organisation:

Husain: “But it is a party which has a history in what you call the resistance to Israel. It’s been responsible in the past for bombings, there were tunnels that have been dug into Israel. You look at all of that and around and then perhaps people say well, this is a valid decision for the UK to have taken.”

Saad: “This is part and parcel of an open war between Hizballah and Israel. There’s a balance of deterrence between the two. Even if we were talking about any transgressions that the UK has decided Hizballah has made, you know, they could try Hizballah for war crimes if they like. But that’s not the same thing as terrorism.”

That part of the item closed with that whitewashing of Hizballah’s terror activities and with no mention of UNSC resolution 1701 or Iran’s role as Hizballah’s mentor and supplier and no explanation of what the euphemism ‘resistance’ really means.

Despite having been told by Amal Saad in very plain terms that the notion of separate wings of Hizballah is “artificial”, Husain then went on to press her point (from 38:35) with Alistair Burt.

Husain: “We did make that distinction for more than a decade. So what has changed?”

Husain: “Last year a minister said that there wasn’t the evidence to proscribe the political wing of Hizballah. What changed between last year and this year?”

And when Burt mentioned the annual ‘Quds Day’ marches in the UK, Husain interrupted him with the following flippant remark:

Husain: “You made this decision on the basis of flags at a demonstration?”

Clearly this item, with comment coming from a Hizballah supporter and numerous grave omissions, comes nowhere near to providing licence fee paying listeners with the “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards” that is supposed to improve their ability to understand their own government’s decision to proscribe Hizballah.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

Usual mantras in BBC News report on Hizballah designation

 

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BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Unnecessary BBC correction does a makeover on Nasrallah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with Lebanese academic Amal Saad who was presented only as a “political analyst and author” and who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The evening edition of the programme – again presented by Rebecca Kesby – ran with the Saad Hariri resignation story as its lead item (from 00:48 here). Kesby began by telling listeners that an unidentified “many” suspect that Hariri “was coerced at the very least” into resigning from his post as prime minister of Lebanon before going on to amplify more Hizballah hyperbole.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said the move amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon and the Reuters news agency quoted today an unnamed senior Lebanese official quoting the President Michel Aoun saying that he’d told foreign diplomats that he believed Mr Hariri had been kidnapped by Saudi Arabia.”

Listeners then heard from the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher who reported on a statement put out by Hariri’s party before remarking that “the mystery, internationally, is growing”.

From 04:30 Kesby continued:

Kesby: “Over the past few days many nervous eyes have been watching the Middle East as Saudi Arabia ordered its nationals to leave Lebanon with immediate effect earlier this week and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was warning yesterday that other countries should not use Lebanon for proxy conflict – he called it – a comment that seems to have been aimed at Riyadh potentially. So could this tense situation spill over into a new war in the region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who’s a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of Kesby’s previously broadcast interview with Saad – up to and including the allegation that “Saudi Arabia is […] paying Israel money”, thereby “pressuring it to invade Lebanon” along with amplification of additional Hizballah propaganda.

Following that interview, Kesby continued to promote the theme of Israeli involvement in the Hariri story.

08:17 Kesby: “So what could the implications of Mr Hariri’s apparent resignation be for the region and what role might Israel play?  I’ve been speaking to Amos Harel the defence correspondent at Ha’aretz and I asked him first was there any genuine appetite in Israel for a fresh war with Hizballah militants in Lebanon.”

After Harel responded that there is no such “appetite”, Kesby went on:

Kesby: “Even so though, there are some analysts – and even the former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro – have been suggesting that Israel could actually find itself manipulated or provoked somehow into another war with Hizballah. Is that something that would concern you?”

Harel replied that such a possibility always exists, pointing out that if Hizballah’s hundreds of thousands of missiles were used to attack Israeli civilians it would not be “taken lightly”. Kesby continued:

Kesby: “I wonder what you make then of these reports circulating that Prime Minister Netanyahu has apparently sent a memo out to Israeli ambassadors to advocate in favour of Saudi Arabia in the past week or so. If those reports are true, does it make you rather nervous that this relationship could be getting a bit too cosy with the Saudis?”

Harel pointed out that the claim – reported by Israel’s Channel 10 – “doesn’t mean action” and that Saudi Arabia and Israel “see eye to eye on Iran”.

The item ended after the rest of that interview with Harel, meaning that listeners once again heard nothing at all to counter the Hizballah (and Iranian) talking points promoted by Amal Saad.

Obviously Kesby’s bland presentation of Saad as a “political analyst and author” was not conducive to aiding audiences to understand her “particular viewpoint” – as required by the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality – and thus be able to put her assertions and allegations into their appropriate context.

Even a cursory look at Saad’s Twitter account gives ample insight into the views of the academic who claims to have had her contract with a US think tank “terminated because of my ‘biased’ work on Iranian foreign policy” and does not consider Hizballah to be a terrorist organisation but describes it instead as a “grassroots resistance movement”.

We do not of course know whether or not the ‘Newshour’ team actually bothered to research Amal Saad’s political agenda before inviting her to be the sole ‘analyst’ of the Hariri resignation story in these two episodes of ‘Newshour’. What is clear, however, is that her completely unchallenged recycling of Hizballah propaganda contributed nothing to helping BBC audiences better understand the story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

The November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with a person presented only as a “political analyst and author” who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The item in afternoon edition of the programme (from 30:00 here) – presented by Rebecca Kesby – opened with an introduction that made no mention of the relevant context of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kesby: “Now the shock resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri a week ago has thrown the Middle East into diplomatic confusion. He made his announcement from Saudi Arabia. That fact alone has caused great unease in Lebanon with many suspecting that he was coerced into that decision. Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah said Mr Hariri’s resignation had been orchestrated by the Saudi government and its actions amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of Nasrallah’s speech that had been aired in the previous evening’s edition of ‘Newshour’.

Nasrallah (v/o): “In short it is clear that Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon and on Hizballah in Lebanon. But I have to say, this is a war on Lebanon.”

Kesby: “So just how serious is this situation for Lebanon and the wider region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who is a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard uncritical repetition of the claim made by the head of the Lebanese terror organisation from the BBC’s chosen ‘analyst’.

Saad: “Well it’s definitely a serious one. Now when we talk about war, I’m not quite sure that military warfare is the only way this situation could escalate. I mean obviously that is an option but I don’t think it’s a very likely one at this moment. Just to kind of like centre Lebanon into this discussion, Lebanon is basically the new battleground where this regional escalation is…basically might take place, right? And Saudi Arabia has now basically declared war on Lebanon and in so doing, is also attempting to weaken Iran –of course focusing on Hizballah here in Lebanon. Now pundits are saying and a lot of people are very concerned that this could actually mean a Saudi-Israeli aggression on Lebanon. I think that’s quite unlikely at the moment. Obviously there isn’t going to be a Saudi-Iranian war so to speak. So what’s most likely to happen I think is a kind of security, possibly de-stabilisation of Lebanon. There might be an attempt to do that. And definitely some kind of economic war on Lebanon, which could actually harm Lebanon quite a bit – not just Hizballah. And the reason I say that is it’s very unlikely that the Israelis are going to allow themselves to do Saudi’s dirty work for them. First of all Saudi is definitely not going to launch any war on Lebanon on its own and definitely not one where it has to actually be at the forefront. It wants Israel to do most of this work.”

Kesby: “And why is that? Because it’s involved in actions elsewhere like Yemen?”

Saad then inaccurately told listeners that the coalition fighting in Yemen is “led by” the US, which – according to the BBC itself – is actually supplying “logistical and intelligence support”.

Saad: “Well that’s one reason of course and even in Yemen where it’s fighting an asymmetrical war against the much, much weaker Houthis, it’s still faring miserably. And it’s not only fighting there alone but fighting alongside an entire coalition – an international and Arab coalition – led by the US. So I really don’t see how the Saudis could expect to fare any better if they chose to confront Hizballah in Lebanon and of course Hizballah is far more sophisticated as a military power than the Houthis are. The Houthis have actually been accused, and so has Hizballah, of aiding the Houthis which means the Houthis are seen as a potential Hizballah model. But Hizballah is definitely here the template they fear the most so if they’re not doing very well fighting the Houthis, then it’s going to be much harder for them to fight Hizballah.”

Kesby: “OK, so let’s unravel why they see Hizballah as such a threat and whether that’s a growing threat in recent years. Obviously Hizballah has been around since the ’80s but there is this concern in the region certainly from the Saudis, isn’t there, that there’s this corridor – geographical as well as political and militarily – linking Hizballah in Lebanon, through Syria, to Iran. Why are they so threatened by Hizballah?”

Saad avoided answering that question, instead opting to amplify more Hizballah propaganda and present a context-free account of the second Lebanon war instigated by Hizballah that went completely unchallenged by Kesby.

Saad: “Well Hizballah has been perceived by Saudi Arabia as an enemy for many years now, especially over the past ten or twelve years. Yesterday, in fact, Nasrallah suggested that Saudi Arabia is not only now basically paying Israel money, pressuring it to invade Lebanon – now it actually did so in 2006 – and that’s because Hizballah is seen by Saudi Arabia as an impediment and a huge obstacle for its regional ambitions inside Lebanon.”

Saad then amplified another Hizballah talking point:

Saad: “It wants to dominate Lebanon and we’ve seen that very clearly over the past few days now with the arrest of the Lebanese prime minister Saad al Hariri. And it’s also being seen as a close ally of Iran and clearly Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its main rival in the region.”

Kesby: “Now we know that President Aoun hasn’t actually accepted Hariri’s resignation. We understand that he is planning to meet or meeting foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries today. I don’t know if you can tell us any more about that and what sort of support he might be seeking and how likely he is to get any support.”

Saad again parroted Hizballah messaging in her response – once again with no challenge at all from Kesby, despite the fact that the BBC had itself reported the previous day that “France’s foreign minister said France believed Mr Hariri was able to move freely”.

Saad: “Well he’s already asked European officials – in fact we saw the French yesterday as well. They issued a statement saying they too…it suggested that Hariri might be being held against his will. So I do think that Aoun’s activities borne some fruit so far because there is a concern among many European capitals and diplomats and I’ve been reading in Western media in fact that they do fear that Hariri is being held under some kind of house arrest and they are attempting to broker some kind of an agreement whereby he could be released. At the very least constitutionally he has not resigned until he comes back and submits a written resignation. This is one of the reasons why many people also believe he’s under house arrest as he’s not being allowed to do that. He’s not even making his resignation official. It was done in a very shoddy, lazy kind of manner on TV. He didn’t even come and submit an official resignation and at the very least, I think, what many of Lebanon’s diplomats in Lebanon would like to see is for at least this issue to be resolved because the government now is kind of suspended. It’s in a state of suspension. It’s not able to meet without their prime minister and yet it’s not a caretaker government either so it’s a very kind of fluid situation and one that isn’t at all conducive to Lebanon’s stability.”

Once more describing her sole interviewee as a “Lebanese political analyst”, Kesby closed the item there.

Parts of this interview were re-broadcast in the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day, which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports