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

On September 6th the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report which identifies the Syrian regime as having carried out the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this year.

“As part of an aerial campaign in northern Hama and southern Idlib, on 4 April the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Shaykhun, killing over 80 people, most of whom were women and children. The aerial campaign also targeted medical facilities throughout the area, resulting in a severe weakening of their ability to provide assistance to victims of the sarin attack and a consequent increase in the number of civilian casualties. In Idlib, Hamah, and eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syrian forces used weaponized chlorine. These attacks constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the report notes, which the Syrian Arab Republic ratified in 2013 following a previous sarin attack.”

Naturally that story was given extensive media coverage and many outlets managed to strike an appropriate balance between portraying the UN report’s findings and putting the related denials of the Assad regime and its Russian allies into appropriate perspective.

Washington Post:

“The Syrian government and its Russian backers had insisted that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was the fault of opposition forces in the area, or that it was entirely fabricated. The inquiry found no supporting evidence for either claim.”

Deutsche Welle:

“[UN commission chair] Pinheiro also ruled out claims by Assad and Russian officials following the sarin attack that military strikes had hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces that contained sarin gas.”

Guardian:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, but the report said the Syrian regime’s version of events, that an unknown weapons depot had been hit, was “extremely unlikely”.” 

Reuters:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. It said its strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces, a claim “excluded” by Pinheiro.”

New York Times:

“The panel’s findings are the first authoritative statement to pin responsibility for the attack unequivocally on the Syrian government.

Although a number of foreign governments, watchdogs and news organizations, including The New York Times, had concluded that Syrian forces were most likely behind the attack, the latest report — released by a body tasked with investigating violations by all sides in the conflict — carries more weight and will be harder for the Syrian government and its allies to dismiss as politicized.”

The NYT’s report also includes a video titled “How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike”.

The BBC News website’s report on the story – “Syria government behind Sarin attack – UN investigators” – amplified the Syrian regime’s denials just three paragraphs in.

“UN human rights investigators have concluded that the Syrian Air Force carried out a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in April.

At least 83 people died when a Su-22 jet dropped a bomb filled with the nerve agent Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, a report by a commission of inquiry says.

Damascus insists the incident was faked and denies using chemical weapons.”

Later on readers were told that:

“They [UN investigators] also dismiss statements from the government’s ally, Russia, which has asserted that the Syrian Air Force struck a terrorist chemical weapons depot.”

Towards the end of the report the Syrian regime’s propaganda was repeated.

“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 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.”

It is clearly evident that the Assad regime (with which a BBC reporter was once again embedded just last month) did not destroy its “entire chemical arsenal” as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 2118 in 2013 and the BBC itself published a report in May that quoted a “Western intelligence agency” as saying that “Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them”.

Nevertheless, BBC audiences continue to repeatedly see false balance in the form of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box. In addition to being plainly ridiculous, that editorial policy clearly undermines the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enhances its understanding of global issues.

Related Articles:

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Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

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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Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

The BBC’s main backgrounder on the topic of the civil war in Syria – “Syria: The story of the conflict“– includes a brief portrayal of the issue of chemical weapons that makes no mention of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun in April of this year.

Another backgrounder – “Why is there a war in Syria?“, 7 April 2017 – makes just one brief reference to the topic of chemical weapons:

“The US has conducted air strikes on IS in Syria since September 2014, and, in the first intentional attack on Syria itself, hit an air base which it said was behind a deadly chemical attack, in April 2017.”

With the deal that mandated the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons arsenal being enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution that was described at the time by the former US Secretary of State John Kerry as “precedent-setting” and by the then UK Secretary of State William Hague as “ground breaking”, the BBC’s funding public would obviously expect to be kept up to date on its implementation and efficacy – not least because British tax-payers contributed to funding the operation.

Last week Reuters published a special report titled “How Syria continued to gas its people as the world looked on“.

“A promise by Syria in 2013 to surrender its chemical weapons averted U.S. air strikes. Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that promise was a ruse.

They suspect that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability. They say Syria hampered inspectors, gave them incomplete or misleading information, and turned to using chlorine bombs when its supplies of other chemicals dwindled.

There have been dozens of chlorine attacks and at least one major sarin attack since 2013, causing more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries. International inspectors say there have been more than 100 reported incidents of chemical weapons being used in the past two years alone.

“The cooperation was reluctant in many aspects and that’s a polite way of describing it,” Angela Kane, who was the United Nation’s high representative for disarmament until June 2015, told Reuters. “Were they happily collaborating? No.”

“What has really been shown is that there is no counter-measure, that basically the international community is just powerless,” she added.

That frustration was echoed by U.N. war crimes investigator Carla del Ponte, who announced on Aug. 6 she was quitting a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing,” she said. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.””

In May of this year the BBC produced a report which also highlighted claims that Syria’s chemical weapons programme is still in operation.

“Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them, a Western intelligence agency has told the BBC.

A document says chemical and biological munitions are produced at three main sites near Damascus and Hama. […]

Despite monitoring of the sites by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the document alleges that manufacturing and maintenance continues in closed sections.”

However, that article also gave a platform to propaganda from the Syrian regime – as seen in additional reports.

On August 22nd Reuters published a story concerning chemical weapons shipments from North Korea to Syria.

“Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained. […]

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.”

That story was picked up by numerous media organisations around the world, including Newsweek, the Independent and the Guardian – but not the BBC.

Clearly the BBC could be doing a lot more could be done to provide its audiences with up-to-date information concerning the Assad regime’s failure to comply with the 2013 UN SC resolution 2118.

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

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 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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