BBC News website tones down Assad regime propaganda

The recently released report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) concerning the chemical weapons attack in April in Khan Sheikhoun was of course covered by many media organisations.

Once again many Western outlets (e.g. Reuters, NYT, Guardian, Telegraph) managed to strike an appropriate balance between portraying the report’s findings and putting the related denials of the Assad regime and its Russian patrons into appropriate perspective.

However, the BBC News website’s October 27th report on that story – “Assad forces behind deadly Syria sarin attack – UN” – yet again displayed false balance with its extensive promotion of responses from those sources.

“However, Syria’s foreign ministry said on Friday it “categorically denies” the report’s conclusions.

“This report and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth and distort the exact information on what happened at Khan Sheikhun,” the statement said.

The ministry went on to accuse the report of being a tool with which the UN could “exert more political pressures”, according to news agency AFP.

Syria’s opposition and Western powers have blamed the incident on a government air strike on the area, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia have repeatedly said the incident was fabricated.

Damascus and Moscow say an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical munitions. […]

Speaking to the Interfax news agency, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the UN report had “many inconsistencies”.

He said: “Even the first cursory read shows many inconsistencies, logical discrepancies, using doubtful witness accounts and unverified evidence.”” [emphasis added]

The BBC did not provide a link to the AFP report from which it ostensibly quoted the highlighted statement above but one of AFP’s articles on the story includes the following:

“”Syria categorically denies the content of the joint report between the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“This report and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth and distort the exact information on what happened at Khan Sheikhun.” […]

The Syrian statement, quoted by official media, denounced the “method of investigation”, saying it was based on “the words of the criminals who committed this immoral act in Khan Sheikhun and on dubious witnesses”.

The ministry said the UN report was written on the basis of “instructions from the US administration and Western countries to exert more political pressure” on Damascus.”

In other words, while the BBC tells its audiences that the Syrian statement said that the report “could” potentially be used by the UN in the future to exert political pressure on the Assad regime, AFP in fact reports that the Syrian statement claimed that the JIM report was intentionally written for that purpose.

A look at the report put out by the Syrian Ministry of Information linked state media organisation SANA confirms that the Assad regime is in fact claiming that the report’s findings were dictated in advance by “Western countries”. [emphasis added]

“Syria rejected the report of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which was announced yesterday, stressing that it came in implementation of the instructions of the US administration and Western countries to exert more political pressures and threats to Syria’s sovereignty. […]

The source said that since the establishment of this mechanism, Syria has repeatedly expressed that the Joint Investigative Mechanism needs to carry out its work in a professional and impartial manner and that if its reports were prepared in advance by the Western intelligence services then its work would be ineffective, noting that the manner of its investigative procedures showed the dominance of Western countries over it.”

Moreover, the Assad regime goes on to accuse some Western countries of supporting “the terrorist parties” that it alleges were in fact responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

“The source asserted that Syria has cooperated with the UN-OPCW mechanism and did not delay or hesitate to work with them in various fields, including providing accurate information required to show the fact that the terrorist parties had used chemical weapons directly and indirectly and are supported by parties in the region and beyond, particularly the US, France, and Britain, and their tools in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and other countries.”

This of course is far from the first time that BBC audiences have seen amplification of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box and give an impression of ‘balanced’ reporting. This time, however, that propaganda was apparently too ridiculous even for the BBC and so it was toned down and distorted into an inaccurate representation of the Syrian Foreign Ministry statement.

Related Articles:

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Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

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BBC Arabic amplifies Assad’s conspiracy theory in Golan attack report

Just after 5 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, October 21st residents of some of the northern communities in the Golan Heights were woken by the sound of the siren warning of incoming projectiles from Syria. Israel subsequently responded to the incident.

“The Israeli army on Saturday hit three Syrian artillery targets across the border in the northern Golan Heights, hours after five projectiles landed in open ground in Israel as a result of spillover fire from the fighting in Syria.

The IDF vowed it would intensify its responses to future such stray fire. “Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response,” a statement by the IDF said.” 

As the day progressed, however, assessment of the incident altered.

“Israel believes five rockets fired across the border from Syria early Saturday morning may have been deliberately launched at Israel, rather than constituting errant spillover from clashes in Syria, military sources said late Saturday. […]

The Israeli army said five projectiles were fired at around 5 am, and that four of them fell relatively deep inside Israeli territory. The rockets set off alarms in several locations. They landed in open ground, and caused no injury or damage. One of them landed close to an Israeli residential area.

Channel 2 news reported that although the IDF officially referred to “spillover” fire in its statements Saturday, there was “a growing sense” in the army that the Syrian fire was deliberate.

There was no fighting going on in Syria at the time of the fire, the TV report said. It added that the area from which the rockets were fired is under the control of the Syrian army. And it noted that the projectiles fell deep inside Israeli territory on the Golan Heights, one after the other, rather than close to the border.”

Meanwhile, as usually happens in such cases, the Syrian regime promoted baseless conspiracy theory.

“Syria…claimed that Israel had “coordinated” with terror groups, inviting them to fire into Israel as a pretext for the IDF response, and it sent letters of complaint to the United Nations.”

While the BBC’s English language services did not consider the story newsworthy, the corporation’s Arabic language website did publish a report headlined “Israel bombs Syrian artillery in the Golan” in which – once again – the Syrian regime’s propaganda was uncritically amplified.

“The Syrian Defense Ministry said the armed opposition had fired missiles at Israeli-controlled areas to provoke them to retaliate against the Syrian army. […]

The bombing of the terrorists, acting under the direction of Israel, is a free zone to provide an excuse for this attack,” the ministry said.”

Earlier this year, when the BBC World Service began expanding its foreign language services following a £289 million boost in funding provided by the British tax-payer, the BBC’s Director General said:

“The BBC World Service is one of the UK’s most important cultural exports. In a world of anxieties about ‘fake news’, where media freedom is being curtailed rather than expanded, the role of an independent, impartial news provider is more important than ever.”

BBC World Service Director Francesca Unsworth added:

“For more than 80 years the BBC World Service has brought trusted news to people across the globe.”

As those two senior BBC executives acknowledge, it is supposed to be the job of the BBC – including BBC Arabic and other foreign language services – to distinguish itself from the countless media outlets in the Middle East that operate according to a particular political or ideological agenda by providing audiences with accurate and impartial reporting which will enable them to understand what is fact and what is fiction.

Uncritical and unchallenged amplification of Syrian regime propaganda that audiences could just as easily find at the Syrian State news agency is clearly not conducive to achieving that goal.

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BBC News amplification of unchallenged Assad propaganda persists

 

 

 

 

 

BBC News amplification of unchallenged Assad propaganda persists

Several hours after reports of an attack on a facility in northern Syria emerged early on the morning of September 7th the BBC News website published a report that was originally titled “Israeli jets ‘hit Syrian chemical site'”. After an additional alteration, that headline was later changed to read “‘Israeli jets hit Syria’s Masyaf chemical site’ – reports” and in the hours after its initial publication the article underwent numerous amendments.

From version five of the report onwards, BBC audiences were delivered a dose of Syrian regime propaganda – including a link.

“The Syrian army said rockets had struck the base near Masyaf, about 35km (22 miles) west of the city of Hama, at 02:42 on Thursday (23:42 GMT on Wednesday), causing “material damage” and the deaths of two personnel.

It accused Israel of attacking “in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale” of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) and warned Israel about “the dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region”.”

This is of course far from the first time that BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes against military targets in Syria has included amplification of the Assad regime’s unfounded propaganda concerning supposed Israeli support for one or other of its enemy factions and intervention in the civil war in Syria. That practice has been in evidence for well over four years:

BBC unquestioningly promotes Assad’s “destabilisation” claims

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC Q&A on alleged Israeli air strikes is political polemic

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC report on shootings in Golan parrots Assad propaganda

Vital information missing in BBC reports on alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

BBC News amplifies unchallenged Syrian regime propaganda yet again

More unquestioned amplification of Syrian regime propaganda from BBC News

One presumes – and hopes – that BBC knows full well that such statements from the Syrian regime are mere baseless propaganda and yet it continues to serially feed those unqualified falsehoods to its audiences.

Similarly, readers of this article once again found amplification of Assad’s lies concerning another issue.

Version 2

“The attack comes a day after UN human rights investigators said they had concluded a Syrian Air Force jet had dropped a bomb containing the nerve agent Sarin on a rebel-held town in April, killing at least 83 people.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun – which prompted the US to launch a missile strike on an airbase – was a “fabrication”.

He has also insisted his forces destroyed their entire chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by the US and Russia after a Sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013.”

Clearly the BBC is not enhancing audience understanding of events in Syria (or its own reputation as a credible and relevant media outlet) by parroting the unchallenged propaganda of a brutal regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and displaced millions.

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Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

On June 27th an article titled “US warns Syria over ‘potential’ plan for chemical attack” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and US & Canada pages.

The article includes references to the attack that took place in Khan Sheikhoun in April of this year and the language used is noteworthy.

At the head of the article readers find a video – originally broadcast by the BBC a month after the attack – with the caption “Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the suspected chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun”. [emphasis added]

The article itself opens:

“The US says it has identified “potential preparations” for another chemical attack in Syria, and issued a stark warning to the Syrian government.

The White House said the activities were similar to those made before a suspected chemical attack in April.” [emphasis added]

Later on readers are told that:

“President Assad denied his forces were behind the suspected nerve gas attack in the rebel-held north-western town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.”

The link in that paragraph leads to a BBC video from April showing an AFP interview with Bashar al Assad that the Syrian regime found friendly enough to post on its own website.

In the weeks since that attack took place a number of investigations have been conducted by various parties.

A report published by the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that samples taken from victims and from the environment indicated exposure to “sarin or a sarin-like substance”.

The French government also published a report in late April in which it was concluded that sarin was used in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th and that:

“The  sarin  present  in  the munitions used on 4 April was produced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib [in April 2013]. Moreover, the presence of  hexamine  indicates  that  this  manufacturing  process  is  that  developed  by  the  Scientific Studies and Research Centre for the Syrian regime.”

Similar conclusions were reached by additional parties including the US, Turkey and the UK as well as Human Rights Watch – an NGO usually considered by the BBC to be an impeccable source.

Is it possible that the BBC is not aware of those reports and hence is still describing the attack as “suspected” and amplifying Assad’s propaganda on the topic? That possibility is ruled out by the fact that included in the related reading at the bottom of this article is a link to a BBC report from April 26th titled “Syria chemical ‘attack’: What we know” that informs readers of the results of the investigations carried out by the OPCW, Turkey and France.

And yet despite that, visitors to the BBC News website still find plenty of content relating to that story which is presented using language and punctuation which suggests to audiences that there is reason to doubt whether an attack took place, what type of weapon was used and who carried it out.

This is of course far from the only case of false balance in BBC reporting that obstructs audience understanding of a story. The BBC News website, for example, still carries a report amplifying inaccurate Hamas claims concerning a 2014 incident in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza despite the fact that the circumstances have been repeatedly clarified over the last three years. The practice of promoting false balance clearly hampers the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enables understanding of  global issues. 

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BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’ 

BBC’s ME editor suggests Syria chemical attack related to Israel

The day after the chemical weapons attack in Syria that shocked the world, the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” took to Twitter to promote his own conjectures concerning the incident in Khan Sheikhoun.

Yes, the BBC’s Middle East Editor really is promoting the “theory” that the Assad regime slaughtered children in Idlib province because Israel has allegedly carried out strikes in Syria against Iranian/Syrian weapons shipments to the Hizballah terror organisation.

It is worth remembering that the man publicly promoting that bizarre ‘rationale’ is the gatekeeper of all ‘accurate and impartial’ BBC reporting concerning the war in Syria – as well as coverage of Israel.

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BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

 

 

BBC News promotes unchallenged Assad propaganda

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:Syria report Rosenberg

“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.

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An award-winning BBC interview and a dictator’s legacy wish

Last week’s Royal Television Society awards ceremony for television journalism saw BBC News win the ‘Interview of the Year’ category.

“The winner secured an exclusive news-making interview with the key figure at the heart of one of the biggest stories of the year. The judges recognised the hard work that went into setting up the interview, negotiating terms, maintaining editorial independence and the cool-headed expertise which produced a compelling encounter.”

RTS award Assad interview

As was noted here at the time, that interview was particularly remarkable for the fact that the words Iran and Hizballah did not appear in any of Bowen’s questions and the points made in the Times editorial which followed it still ring true a year later.

“The worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War has its origins in President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to crush dissent in Syria four years ago instead of listen to it. Assad lied about this in an interview with the BBC, broadcast as UN negotiators arrived in Damascus yesterday for peace talks. He called the demonstrators terrorists.

He lied, too, when he said his armed forces have not used chemical weapons or barrel bombs against civilians. The evidence in both cases has been painstakingly gathered and is overwhelming.  Yet the fact that Assad is willing once again to answer questions from western reporters reflects an awkward reality. […]

Assad’s aim in speaking out is to persuade those with short memories that in a region convulsed with violence he is a leader with whom the wider world can do business. […] Assad is busy rewriting history to rationalise atrocities and lay spurious claim to power.”

Moreover, the issue of “editorial independence” was called into question seven months later when Jeremy Bowen produced a series of reports which not only uncritically amplified Bashar al Assad’s agenda but actively misled audiences with regard to the Syrian regime’s role in creating the migrant crisis in Europe.

One year on Assad has been talking to the Western media again and now says that he wishes to be remembered as “the man who saved Syria”. Some of the material available in the BBC’s “historical record” – including this prize-winning interview – will do little to present members of the public with a realistic view of Bashar al Assad’s claim to that title.

BBC does damage control after Bowen’s Assad advocacy

In an article titled “Bashar al-Assad is still the problem” which appeared recently in the Telegraph, Shiraz Maher and Nick Kaderbhai observed that:

“The idea that the Assad regime’s violence is somehow morally or strategically different to that of jihadist actors in Syria has become fashionable among some sections of the Western media. Perhaps a symptom of fatigue or sympathies forged during time spent as guests of the regime, mainstream commentators such as Patrick Cockburn and Peter Oborne have been at the forefront of this trahison des clercs.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 95 per cent of all civilian deaths in the conflict have come from the regime. The refugees now fleeing to Europe do so as a direct result of Assad’s policies.”

As readers are already aware, the BBC – and in particular its Middle East editor – also appears to have been afflicted by that particular trend.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

More BBC amplification of the ‘ISIS worse than Assad’ meme

However, it would appear that following Jeremy Bowen’s repeated uncritical promotion of Bashar al Assad’s agenda earlier this month, some damage control was deemed appropriate and that came in the form of an article by Charles Lister which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 28th under the title “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria“.

Mr Lister writes:

“Amid recent geopolitical machinations, one simple reality appears to have been forgotten or purposefully ignored: Assad is not and should never be seen as a better alternative to IS. […]

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011.”

Of course BBC audiences – who only a short time ago were informed that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village” and that “the real threat in Syria is Islamic State, not the country’s leader” – may well find that this latest article only adds to their confusion seeing as it contradicts everything they were told in Jeremy Bowen’s numerous reports.

Rather than helping audiences to form a clear picture of what is happening in Syria and why so many people are fleeing to other countries as its public purpose remit demands, the BBC’s indulgence of Jeremy Bowen’s partisan reporting serves only to muddy audience understanding of this topic.

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC News coverage of what it terms the “Europe migrant crisis” has recently involved sending various members of staff to report from different countries including Libya, Jordan, Hungary and Turkey.

The person chosen to provide BBC audiences with the information which would supposedly help them understand the reasons behind the mass movement of people from Syria to Europe was the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and it is worth taking a look at some of his recent reports from Syria in order to determine whether or not audiences did in fact receive the full range of factual information concerning the situation in the country from which a large proportion of the migrants fled.Bowen tweets Mekdad presser

After having arrived in Damascus on September 2nd, Bowen produced a report from a press conference with the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister in which he failed to present any challenge to Mekdad’s claim that “the Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village”. That and other regime propaganda was further amplified by Bowen on Twitter.

Bowen made two filmed reports for television news programmes, both of which were also promoted on the BBC News website. The September 8th report “Inside a hospital in Syrian leader Assad’s Latakia heartland” was obviously made with the consent and help of the Assad regime and in addition to being allowed to film in a government military hospital, Bowen produced footage from a camp for internally displaced persons in Latakia. At no point in that report were the regime’s attacks on its own population mentioned and viewers received no information concerning the Iranian regime’s patronage of Assad or the participation of Iranian and Hizballah forces in the conflict.Bowen tweet camp Latakia

Another September 8th filmed report by Bowen – “Syria: Snapshot of life inside Assad stronghold” – likewise failed to include any information about the role of Iran and its Lebanese proxy in the Syrian civil war. Bowen did however manage to shoehorn another Middle Eastern country into his report by telling viewers that Yarmouk, near Damascus, “was a Palestinian refugee camp for families who were forced out of Israel in another war” [emphasis added].  Bowen’s presentation of the manner in which Palestinians – the majority from Tsfat (Safed), Haifa and Tiberias – arrived in Syria is of course both simplistic and inaccurate.

In that report too viewers saw sympathetic footage from the displaced persons camp and the military hospital in Latakia. It is of course inconceivable that Bowen visited those sites, the regime held part of Yarmouk or the military funeral in an Alawite town which also features in some of his reporting, without considerable cooperation from the Syrian regime. Stating the obvious, Bowen tells viewers that:

“…the refugee crisis is created and driven by war…”

A subsequent brief statement shows that, despite his failure to challenge Faisal Mekdad’s propaganda several days earlier, Bowen is indeed aware of the reality:

“Syrian army attacks often create more refugees and so do attacks by Jihadists.”

However, the BBC’s Middle East editor failed to expand upon that topic in any of his reports and made no effort to inform audiences of the fact that more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes whilst scrupulously avoiding all mention of topics such as the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs by the regime.Bowen tweet soldiers

Latakia again featured in an audio report by Bowen broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update: Daily Commute’ on September 9th (from 03:06 here). Bowen described idyllic beach scenes before interviewing people who are clearly regime supporters. He then reported again from the same military hospital, and listeners heard more pro-regime comment.

Also on September 9th, a written report by Bowen appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Migrant crisis: How Middle East wars fuel the problem“. Once again Bowen inserted a context-free reference to Israel which is entirely irrelevant to the story he was supposedly telling.

“I walked through the ruins of Yarmouk, one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds in Damascus, only a few miles from the centre of the city.

Yarmouk used to be a Palestinian refugee camp for families who had fled or been driven from their homes when Israel won its independence war in 1948.”

He later added:

“An unknown number of Palestinian civilians, in their thousands, are trapped there [Yarmouk] too.

UNRWA, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, has not been able visit them with relief supplies since March.”  

Bowen neglected to tell readers that Yarmouk was reclassified by the UN in June.Bowen tweet Syria mukharabat

Yet again Bowen’s tepid and generalised portrayal of the issue of migrants fleeing the war in Syria did nothing to inform BBC audiences of the role played by the Assad regime and its Iranian and Hizballah backers in creating and exacerbating the migrant crisis.

In fact, all the reports produced by Bowen during his recent visit to Syria are little more than amplification of one very specific side of the story and they exclusively reflect the interests of the regime with which he was obviously embedded.  It is therefore difficult to see how the BBC can claim that those reports contributed to providing its funding public with an accurate understanding of why so many Syrian civilians are leaving their country. 

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

Considerable efforts were put into the promotion of Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Bashar al Assad across all BBC platforms on February 10th, including this Tweet from the BBC Middle East editor himself:

Assad int Bowen tweet

Those who watch the interview may well be left the impression that there was in fact no need for the Syrian regime to censor any of Bowen’s questions seeing as the words ‘Iran’ and ‘Hizballah’ did not appear in any of them. Similarly, discussion of challenging topics – such as to what extent the approach adopted by Western powers including the UK and the US in the late summer of 2013 in place of military intervention after the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons contributed to Assad’s survival – did not take place.

On the BBC News website the interview with Bashar al Assad was presented together with additional items of recommended reading. One of those articles was an arguably narcissistic round-up of traditional and social media reactions to the BBC’s broadcast complied by BBC Monitoring and titled “Syria conflict: Mixed reaction to President Assad’s BBC interview“. There BBC audiences were told:Assad int on ME pge

“And a pro-government Facebook user said: “The interview did not aim to shed any light on the future. Bowen merely served as a prosecutor building a case against a defendant, forgetting in the midst of his hate the fact that terrorists are funded by the Gulf and trained by Israel”.”

Despite having seen fit to highlight and amplify that comment, the BBC did not find it appropriate to clarify to readers that Israel has not played any part in training any of the assorted elements fighting against Syrian government forces.

Another accompanying article came from Jeremy Bowen: a written summary of the interview with added commentary in which Bowen claims “I tried to put to him some of the hard points that have been on peoples’ minds” and goes on to speculate:

“The fact that Mr Assad has started giving interviews again to foreign broadcasters must be a sign that he is feeling more secure.”

In fact, Bashar al Assad never stopped giving interviews to the foreign media – as his own website shows – and the BBC’s interview is rather less “exclusive” than the corporation makes out. Interestingly, Bowen refrains from discussing the reasoning behind the BBC’s decision to provide a platform for amplification of Assad’s entirely predictable propaganda.

Visitors to the BBC News website were also offered yet another summary of the filmed interview under the headline “Assad says Syria is informed on anti-IS air campaign” – which was opened to comments from the public. Among those which passed BBC moderation were several off-topic comments promoting inaccurate claims and conspiracy theories concerning Israel.

Assad art comments 1

Assad art comments 2

Assad art comments 3

Assad art comments 4

Despite the considerable hype engineered by the BBC around this interview, its value in enhancing audience’s understanding of the issue of the civil war in Syria is minimal, with little said by Assad which could not be found on official Syrian government media channels and its avoidance of discussion of Iran and Hizballah meaning that no attempt was made to inform audiences of the bigger regional picture.  

The fact that the BBC allowed its plethora of ‘related articles’ to become in some cases a medium for amplification of inaccurate claims and conspiracy theories about Israel is of course worthy of note.