Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

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Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included the provision of a platform for blatant Iranian propaganda that went completely unchallenged and uncorrected.

Later the same day the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ also allowed the same interviewee to promote gross falsehoods without any effort made to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impressions they received from an Iranian academic who is infamously close to the Iranian regime and who, in 2009, was asked by a CNN interviewer:

“Do you worry that you will be seen in history as a mouthpiece for a dying, repressive regime in its death throes? That 20 years from now you’ll look back, and the world will look back at you, the way it did some of those smooth-talking, English-speaking, Soviet spokesmen who were telling us right in the middle 1980s, that the Soviet Union was all just fine and democratic and wonderful?”

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 00:59 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now we begin though with Israel, Iran and Syria and a military confrontation overnight which could mark a significant escalation of tension in the Middle East. Israel has for some time been conducting what some describe as a shadow war against Iran, inside Syria.”

Iqbal made no effort to inform listeners of the crucially relevant fact that what her unnamed sources “describe as a shadow war” in fact relates to weapons transfers by Iran to the widely proscribed terror group Hizballah in violation of UN SC resolution1701. She went on:

Iqbal: “Iran has a military presence there supporting the government of President Bashar al Assad and overnight it responded to Iran firing 20 rockets from Syria into the Israeli-controlled territory of the Golan Heights. Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israeli forces have hit most of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria in that wave of overnight airstrikes. Mr Lieberman said he hoped the latest round of exchanges between Israeli and Iranian forces was now over.”

After listeners had heard a voice-over recording of a statement from Lieberman, Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “State television in Iran says seven Iranian military advisors were killed in those Israeli strikes in Syria.”

Iqbal did not clarify that the incident to which she refers took place on April 9th at the T4 airbase or that the “advisors” were in fact members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Neither did she bother to remind listeners that two months earlier, an armed Iranian drone launched from that base had infiltrated Israeli territory.

Iqbal then interviewed the prime minister of Israel’s spokesperson to foreign media, David Keyes. Interestingly, the vast majority of her five questions steered audiences towards the view that Israel’s actions are causing “escalation”.

Question 2 Iqbal: “Are you not concerned that this is a manifestation of an escalation that could bring Israel into the Syrian conflict?”

Question 3 Iqbal: “Mr Keyes: I asked the question – sorry to interrupt you. I’m sorry to interrupt you. I asked the question precisely because you will be well aware that when Israel launched attacks against the T4 airbase back in April, Moscow’s anger was conveyed very clearly; that it felt that what Israel was doing was…was evil in fact – that’s what the state Duma defence committee called Israel’s action. Isn’t there a danger that you are on the verge of getting involved in the war in Syria because the bases that you speak of are not necessarily Iranian bases – they’re Russian bases.”

While – as was reported at the time – the chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee did call what he presumed to be Israel’s action “evil and unfriendly”, it is of course remarkable that the BBC chooses to quote a representative of a regime that has denied Bashar al Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians and accused the UK of carrying out a poisoning attack using a nerve agent on its own soil. Interestingly, Iqbal provided no evidence for her suggestion that the Syrian air force’s T4 base is “Russian”.

Question 4 Iqbal: “This confrontation between Iran and Israel could mark the most significant military confrontation…confrontation between your two…the two countries in the region and the danger of escalating regional tensions is ever-present. How concerned are you that none of this is helping? You continue to defend the reasons why Israel has taken the action that it has but isn’t there a responsibility on the part of Israel to try not to escalate tensions in the region also?

Question 5 Iqbal: “The implication in the question or the presumption in the question is really an acknowledgement that the conflict inside Syria is not just a conflict that deals with Syrians fighting and killing other Syrians. Russia is present in Syria. The United States has a presence in Syria. This is a mini world war and it’s quite possible that the escalation could result in direct confrontation between Syria and Israel.”

Following that conversation, at 07:31 Iqbal introduced her next interviewee.

Iqbal: “The Iranians and Russians have been supporting President Bashar al Assad in his fight to capture territory back from the Syrian opposition as well as ridding the country of Islamic State’s presence. Their involvement has changed the battle for Syria in President Assad’s favour but it has also had serious repercussions for the region. Israel sees Iranian military build-up in Syria as an existential threat to it. To get an Iranian perspective on what’s been happening I’ve been speaking to Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi who is head of North American studies at Tehran University about Iran’s strategic presence in Syria. What’s his reaction first to the comments we just heard from David Keyes?”

Unchallenged by Iqbal, Marandi repeated the same falsehoods aired earlier on the ‘Today’ programme about alleged Israeli support for the group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra and inaccurately claimed once again that “ISIS has never been attacked by Israel”.

Marandi: “Well as far as I remember the Israelis first struck Iranian troops, killing [inaudible] of them. These troops were in Syria to help the Syrian government fight against Al Qaeda. They were nowhere near the border between Syria and the Israeli regime. In fact, the border between the two countries is occupied both by ISIS to the south and Al Qaeda to the north. ISIS has never been attacked by Israel and Al Qaeda is actively supported by Israel – the Nusra Front. They treat their wounded soldiers…or militias…militiamen. But what he said actually about the strike this morning was very misleading because the Israelis carried out over a hundred strikes on Syria and just the night before the Israelis carried out further strikes. So the response that they received from Syria was in retaliation to their own actions.”

Once again failing to provide listeners with the context of Iranian violations of UN SC resolution 1701, Iqbal allowed Marandi to promote the notion that the Iranians may not have launched the May 10th attacks.

Iqbal: “So – sorry to interrupt you – are you saying that the attacks that took place overnight – the 20 missile strikes that Israel is talking about – that it was Syria that launched those and not Iran?”

Marandi: “Everything that happens in Syria is done through the hierarchy that exists in the Syrian government and the Syrian army. So whatever response there is, it’s under the central command of Syria, whether the Americans like to acknowledge that or not.”

Iqbal: “But was it Iran – Dr Marandi – in your understanding was it Iran that launched those 20 missile strikes into the Golan Heights or was it Syria?”

Marandi: “I don’t know. I don’t know about that but what I can say is that his claim that they destroyed Iran…Iranian command and control structures is obvious nonsense. Every Iranian soldier in Syria has a cell phone. All of them are in constant contact with their families. They send pictures. If there’s a single dead Iranian soldier, let’s see the photographs.”

Iqbal: “You dismissed any suggestion that there is a command and control structure that Iran has inside Syria. What infrastructure does Iran have inside Syria?”

Marandi: “Iranians are there to help the Syrian government. I think the Iranian presence is no secret in Syria. The Iranians have been there since 2005 [sic].”

Iqbal: “How big is that presence inside Syria?”

Marandi: “I don’t know the numbers – I’m not in the military. But it’s open: there’s no secret about Iran’s presence.”

Iqbal: “Israel…it has repeatedly accused Iran of being in Syria in order to make it easier for Iran to target Israel. Is there any truth in that?”

Marandi: “Let’s look at the evidence on the ground. The Israelis have murdered Iranians. Did the Iranians murder Israelis? No. The Israelis tolerate….”

Iqbal [interrupts]: “The Israelis…the Israelis dispute that. The Israelis say that if they didn’t have the defence system that they have, if they had not intercepted those missiles that came into the Golan Heights, people could have been killed.”

Listeners then heard more blatant propaganda and lies – including the false claim of an “information blackout” – that went completely unchallenged by Razia Iqbal.

Marandi: “Well first of all, they didn’t intercept them. Almost all the missiles struck their targets and that’s not…the Iron Dome failed last night and the Israelis know it quite well. There’s a black…the information blackout in northern Israel and that’s evidence in itself. I’m not talking about last night. I’m talking about the past few months. The Israelis murdered Iranians – not the other way round.”

Notably, only one of Iqbal’s questions to Marandi related to ‘escalation’ and – in contrast to her conversation with the Israeli interviewee – there was no suggestion on her part that Iran bears a “responsibility […] to try not to escalate tensions in the region”.

Iqbal: “To what extent do you now see that this situation is going to escalate even further?”

Marandi: “Well without a doubt every time that the Israelis hit, they will be hit back because if there is no response, then the Israelis will start striking more intensively and with greater impunity. So from now on the Israelis are going to have to expect to be hit back every time they strike. If the European and the Americans don’t want an escalation, then they should warn the Israelis to sit down and mind their own business.”

Iqbal: “That was Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi from Tehran University.”

The first of the BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – outlines the corporation’s obligation to:

“…provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

Obviously listeners’ understanding of what happened in the Golan Heights on May 10th was not enhanced in the least by their hearing unchallenged Iranian regime propaganda replete with lies and inaccuracies – quite the opposite. And so, once again, the BBC’s faux ‘impartiality’ sells its funding public short. 

Related Articles:

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

 

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

The BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – include the obligation to:

“…provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

In coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on both domestic and international radio stations, we learned that the BBC apparently believes that public purpose can be met by providing its audiences with unchallenged Iranian propaganda.

The May 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme included several items relating to that story. At 0:62 listeners heard a news bulletin with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and at 10:26 Knell gave another rather garbled report. At 01:08:53 co-presenter Nick Robinson introduced an interview with Maj Gen Yaakov Amidror with promotion of false linkage between the missile attacks and the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA announced by the US president a day earlier.

Robinson: “Has it begun? The wider Middle East war which many said was presaged by the decision of Donald Trump to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. A decision celebrated by Israel which has long warned that Iran is terrorising the region. Last night Iranian missiles based in Syria hit Israel for the first time. The residents of one town in the Golan Heights were instructed to go to bomb shelters. In response Israel launched one of its heaviest barrages in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. Syrian state television broadcast footage of air defences and played patriotic songs.”

In fact, some 24,000 residents of ten communities in the Golan Heights – rather than “one” – had to rush for shelters shortly after midnight.

Amidror pointed out to Robinson that there is no link between Iranian aggression against Israel and the US president’s decision, reminding him that an armed drone was sent by Iran into Israeli territory three months before that decision was announced. In response to Robinson’s reference to “Iranian forces that are in Syria to support President Assad”, Amidror clarified that there is no need for long-range missiles, anti-aircraft missiles or Republican Guards units in order to fulfil that mission.

At 02:36:51 the programme returned to the topic, with co-presenter John Humphrys telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Humphrys: “Israel has carried out a wave of airstrikes on Syria aimed at what it says were Iranian targets. The Israeli military said it was because Iranian forces inside Syria had been attacking its positions in the Golan Heights. The former head of the Israeli national security council Major general Yaakov Amidror says his country will not let Iran get a foothold in Syria. Well, Professor Mohammad Marandi of the Tehran University, who is close to the Iranian regime, is on the line. […] Your country will not let…the Israelis say your country will not get a foothold in Syria. Is that what you’re after – a foothold in Syria?”

Marandi: “No of course not. The Iranian presence in Syria is due to the fact that since 2011 the Saudis and unfortunately Turkey and others, along with US support, they started supporting extremists in the country, taking advantage of the unrest. And they helped create this civil war. I think if your listeners read the US defence intelligence agency document of 2012 which was partially released – this is the largest military intelligence organisation in the world; it’s in the Pentagon – they pointed out that from the very…almost the very beginning in Syria the extremists had the upper hand among the opposition. And the Iranians since 2015 began to become increasingly involved, only after tens of thousands of foreign fighters – including unfortunately many thousands of European fighters – came into Syria.”

Humphrys: “But whatever the motives for going into Syria in the first place were, we now know – don’t we? – that Syrian [sic] forces have been attacking Israel, attacking positions in the Golan Heights, from within Syria.”

Marandi: “Yes because in…the Israelis have struck Syrian positions over a hundred times over the past few years in support of the extremist groups. We know…you know that ISIS is alongside the Israeli border as we speak. The Israelis never strike ISIS. The Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda in Syria, they are on another part of the Israeli border with Syria and the Israelis admittingly [sic] have helped them.”

Humphrys: “Is this…sorry…I do beg your pardon. I’m going to have to shorten; we’ve very little time. But could this be the opening shots in a sense of a new war between Iran and Israel and perhaps then ultimately including many others – in other words a Middle East conflict?”

Marandi: “Well we have to see because it depends on the Israeli regime. The Israelis have already murdered seven Iranian soldiers who were there fighting Al Qaeda. The Iranians have not struck Israel. So you know it’s just…the Israelis are looking for a provoke…to provoke just like what we saw with regards to the JCPOA and the nuclear deal with the show that Netanyahu put on display. Remember just a few years ago Obama and the former French president Sarkozy, they were having a private conversation which there was a hot mike and they were both saying that Netanyahu is a serial liar and a very unpleasant person…”

Humphrys: “Alright.”

Marandi: “This is you know…so I don’t think you should really trust the Israeli narrative.”

Humphrys: “Professor Marandi; many thanks for talking to us.”

While obviously one would not expect anything other than such blatant propaganda from a regime apologist such as Mohammad Marandi, notably John Humphrys made no effort whatsoever to relieve Radio 4 listeners of the multiple false impressions given by his interviewee including the inaccurate claim that “the Israelis never strike ISIS” and the lie that Israel ‘helps’ the group known as Jabhat al Nusra. Likewise, Humphrys refrained from informing listeners that the seven “Iranian soldiers” Marandi described as having been “murdered” by Israel were actually members of the IRGC located at the T4 airbase from which the armed drone was launched in February.

Apparently though the BBC believes that such blatant but completely unchallenged propaganda meets the corporation’s supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality and that it enhances audience understanding of this story because this was not Marandi’s last appearance on BBC radio on May 10th.  

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Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Just after midnight on May 10th the attack by Iran that had been anticipated for several days took place in the northern Golan Heights.

“Some 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military bases by Iranian forces in southern Syria just after midnight on Thursday, with some of the incoming missiles being intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the army said, amid sky high tensions on the northern border. […]

The Israeli army said the missile barrage was carried out by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Forces. This appeared to be the first time that Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies. The late night rocket barrage was also the largest attack, in terms of the number of rockets fired, in the seven years of the Syrian civil war.”

The BBC News website, however, did not appear to be entirely convinced that Iran was behind the missile fire.

A report that also used qualifying punctuation in its original headline – “Iranian forces ‘fire rockets’ at Israeli positions in Golan Heights” – appeared on the website some three hours after the events began. The first five versions of that report included the following statement:

“…its [Israel’s] government has vowed to stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.” [emphasis added]

Later versions told readers that:

“Israel’s government has vowed to stop what it considers its arch-enemy’s “military entrenchment” in Syria…” [emphasis added]

Apparently the BBC is not persuaded that a foreign power which has moved sufficient military personnel, weapons and equipment into Syria to be able to launch missiles (and previously an armed drone) at a neighbouring country is engaged in military entrenchment.

Under the sub-heading “What happened in the Golan?” readers of earlier versions of the article were actually given an account of what subsequently happened in Syria.

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says it has targeted dozens of Iranian facilities with air strikes in retaliation for the attack, which has not been confirmed by Iran.

It said weapons stores, missile launchers and intelligence facilities were all targeted in the wave of strikes overnight.

Syria’s state news agency Sana said Israeli missiles had been shot down south of Homs, but reported that a weapons depot and a radar installation had been hit.”

The BBC did not inform its audiences that residents of ten communities in the Golan Heights – some 24,000 civilians – had to run for shelter when air-raid warnings were sounded just after midnight.  

The sixth version of the report (which by that time had been retitled “‘Iranian forces’ fire rockets at Israeli positions in Golan Heights”) told BBC audiences that:

“Israel has been anticipating a retaliatory attack by Iran since Israel killed seven Revolutionary Guards when it struck Iranian targets in Syria in April. That strike came immediately after Israel brought down what it said was an armed Iranian drone launched from Syria on a mission to attack Israel.” [emphasis added]

Obviously the April 9th attack on the T4 airbase which was attributed to Israel did not come “immediately after” the drone attack which took place two months earlier on February 10th.

Still later versions of the report were again retitled: “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rockets hit Golan Heights” and “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire”. Under the sub-heading “Why does Israel hit Iranian interests?” readers found the following claim:

“Iran is Israel’s arch-foe and has repeatedly called for an end to the existence of the Jewish state.”

Iran has not merely “called for” Israel’s destruction but has serially threatened to bring it about while funding and supplying terror groups similarly dedicated to that aim.

Remarkably, the three latest versions of the BBC’s report amplified spurious claims from a source based in Coventry and a pro-Syrian regime source that “Israeli forces had fired first”.

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the civil war in Syria, confirmed that “dozens of rockets” were fired from Quneitra province and the south-western Damascus countryside towards the occupied Golan.

It did not identify those responsible, but said the rocket attack came after Israeli forces bombarded Baath, a Syrian-controlled town in the Golan demilitarized zone.

 A senior source in an Iranian-led regional military alliance that supports Syria’s government also told AFP news agency that Israeli forces had fired first.” [emphasis added]

As the Times of Israel reported:

“Immediately following the Iranian attack at 12:10 a.m., Syrian state media reported that Israeli artillery fire targeted a military post near the city of Baath in the Quneitra border region, where Syrian regime forces were stationed.” [emphasis added]

A Syrian opposition TV station Tweeted that Hizballah positions near Baath were being targeted almost two hours after the Iranian attack began.

Nevertheless – as readers discovered at the end of the article – while apparently not having bothered to verify those claims before publishing them, the BBC does have the time to answer audience questions.

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

With Israel braced for an anticipated attack by Iran and/or its proxies in the north, it is worth taking a look at how the BBC has to date covered the background to a story it may yet have to report.

On April 9th the BBC News website reported that “[t]he Syrian government and its ally Russia have blamed Israel for a deadly attack on a Syrian military airport”. The very relevant Iranian connection to the site of the attack was only mentioned much later on in the same report:

“The Israeli military said Iran and its Revolutionary Guards had long been active in the T4 base, and were using it to transfer weapons, including to Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, an enemy of Israel.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on April 15th were told that most of the people killed during that attack were “believed to be Iranians” but not that seven of them were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, including the head of its drone programme.

Following that April 9th incident a series of threats against Israel were issued by various Iranian officials but those threats and the resulting increased tensions did not receive any BBC coverage.

On April 30th the BBC News website reported further attacks on military installations (including what was described by other media outlets as a “depot for surface-to-surface missiles”) in Syria.

“Missile strikes on military sites in northern Syria overnight reportedly killed a number of pro-government fighters, including Iranians. […]

It is not known who was behind the attacks. But Western nations and Israel have previously hit sites in Syria.”

Additional threats from Iranian officials followed that incident.

On May 6th Israeli media outlets reported that:

“…the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.””

On May 7th visitors to the BBC News website saw the first generalised mention of Iran’s threats against Israel in a report titled “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” –which promoted superfluous qualification of Iran’s military build-up in Syria.

“His comments came amid reports that Israeli authorities were preparing for missile strikes by Iran or its proxies.

Iran has vowed to avenge recent air strikes on its military facilities in Syria that were attributed to Israel.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the strikes, but it has said it will stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.” [emphasis added]

Additional threats by Iran’s chief of staff on the same day did not receive any BBC coverage.

On May 8th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel Golan Heights alert over Iran ‘irregular activity’ in Syria”.

“The Israeli military says it has detected “irregular Iranian activity” in Syria and has ordered residents of the occupied Golan Heights to prepare their bomb shelters.”

Despite there being no connection between that event and the same evening’s US announcement concerning the JCPOA, BBC audiences were told that:

“The alert came as President Trump announced the US was pulling out of a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

The report was later retitled “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus” and – despite having got it right earlier – the BBC managed to inaccurately describe the location of the “irregular Iranian activity”.

BBC audiences were told that:

“Syrian state media says Israel has launched an air strike against an army position south of the capital Damascus.

The Sana news agency said Syrian air defences had shot down two Israeli missiles in the Kiswah area on Tuesday. […]

A commander supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters news agency that the strike had targeted a Syrian army position.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the target was an arms depot.

The dead included members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or other Shia militiamen, it added.”

Other media outlets quoted the same source cited by the BBC as specifically saying that the site (which last November was mentioned in a BBC report about Iran’s establishment of military bases in Syria and last December was also described in a BBC report as “an arms depot”) was an “arms depot belonging to Hezbollah and the Iranians” while at least one Israeli media outlet described it as a storage facility for Iranian missiles rather than “a Syrian army position” as touted by the BBC.

Although Iran has been repeatedly threatening to attack Israel for the past month, the few headlines seen by BBC audiences in relation to that story have focused on Israel: “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” and “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus”. Obviously BBC audiences have not been provided with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of this still ongoing story.

Related Articles:

Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

BBC Radio 4 manages to report on Iran without the usual distractions

BBC WS ‘Weekend’ airs a confused report on Iranian drone story

Iran’s provision of weapons to Hizballah – sometimes via Syria – and Israeli efforts to prevent such transfers was common knowledge long before the civil war in Syria began in the spring of 2011.

In November 2009, for example, Israel intercepted the Francop which was carrying some 500 tons of weapons and ammunition.  

“According to the shipping documents, the cargo was originally loaded in Bandar Abbas, Iran, brought by another ship to the Egyptian port of Damietta, and then transloaded to the Francop, with an ultimate destination of Latakia, Syria. This destination was confirmed by Syria’s foreign minister, although he denied that the shipment included arms. […]

Following the preliminary search, the Israelis escorted the Francop to the port of Ashdod, where a complete search revealed the full extent of the arms shipment. Labels on the shipping containers and shipping documents, as well as markings on ammunition crates and the ammunition itself, established a clear link to various Iranian government organizations, including the Iranian state shipping line and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

In January 2010 – well over a year before the conflict in Syria broke out:

“…American intelligence services reported the transfer of 26 M-6002 missiles of Syrian manufacture to Hizbullah in Lebanon. These missiles, with a range of over 250 km., are intended to reinforce Hizbullah’s ability to strike at the Israeli home front if and when hostilities erupt. […]

Israeli and Western intelligence services have long been aware of Syrian and Iranian involvement in Hizbullah’s arms buildup. Damascus Airport has been identified as the transit point for airlifts of Iranian arms that were subsequently transferred to Hizbullah via the open Syrian-Lebanese border, under the supervision of the Syrian security services.”

Iran’s transfers of weapons to Hizballah – which of course breach more than one UN Security Council resolution, although the BBC regularly fails to inform audiences of that fact – did not cease after war broke out in Syria in March 2011. The BBC, however, has long depicted alleged Israeli efforts to thwart those transfers as being connected to the war in Syria and another example of that misleading portrayal was seen on February 10th in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘.

Listeners heard presenter Julian Worricker introduce the item (from 01:17 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “We’ll also go live to Jerusalem fairly shortly in this half-hour in the light of the news that Israel is saying that one of its fighter jets has crashed after attacking Iranian targets in Syria, the pilots parachuting to safety in Israel.”

Worricker then turned to one of his studio guests – journalist Mary Dejevsky – citing her recent visit to Israel. Dejevsky described “the mood” in Israel as:

Dejevsky: “…a great feeling of security and success in terms of foreign policy that Israel had managed to stay aloof, mostly, from the war in Syria. But at the same time there was a kind of looming apprehension about the ever closer encroachment – as it was felt in Israel – of Iran and Iranian influence towards the Israeli border…”

She added:

Dejevsky: “…Israel has tried very hard to keep its intervention such as it has been – airstrikes on select convoys that they regard as coming from Iran and supplying Hizballah in Lebanon – that they’ve tried to keep those interventions as absolutely discreet as possible. And suddenly everything in a way has been blown open.”

Obviously the events that followed the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on the morning of February 10th – an incident which was notably absent from Worricker’s introduction – are not directly connected to previous alleged strikes by Israel against supplies of weapons to Hizballah.  Julian Worricker, however, went on to suggest to listeners that efforts to prevent Hizballah getting weapons are in fact connected to the war in Syria.

Worricker: “I was going to pick you up on your remark of “aloof, mostly”, just stressing the mostly because clearly strikes by Israel in Syria are not uncommon per se. You alluded to the particular targets they would always say that they are aiming for when they do it but clearly when a fighter plane comes down – even in Israeli territory – that clearly ups the ante.”

Later on in the same programme (from 11:49), Worricker spoke to the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem. After listeners had at last heard an accurate portrayal of the sequence of events that began with the infiltration of an Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace from Bateman, Worricker asked:

Worricker: “A word about Israeli action in Syria of this nature: how common has it been in recent times?”

Obviously airstrikes in response to a serious breach of Israel’s sovereignty by an Iranian UAV have not been “common” but Bateman’s response did not clarify that to listeners.

Bateman: “It is not uncommon and what Israel says is that it has two red lines for its engagement in Syria. They are cross-border fire that comes from Syria into the Golan Heights and what they describe as weapons transfers from Iranian forces to Hizballah – Lebanese militant fighters who are fighting inside Syria. They are the two triggers, if you like, that Israel says causes it to act inside Syrian territory – usually airstrikes – and they’re not uncommon. Israel rarely comments on them officially although a senior military figure said last year that the number was around a hundred of these attacks that have taken place over the last few years. So these things do happen. I think what is uncommon here of course is the event that this appears to have ended with: this Israeli jet coming down.”

Since 2013 the BBC has been telling its audiences – inaccurately – that Israel is “involved” in the conflict in Syria. As has been noted here in the past:

“In spite of the BBC’s suggestion to the contrary, Israel is not “involved in the conflict” in Syria. That conflict is a civil war between Assad loyalists (and their foreign allies) and anti-Assad rebels (and theirs) and Israel does not support one side or the other. Any actions which may have been taken by Israel are exclusively linked to the protection of its citizens.”

The BBC has also repeatedly downplayed the threats posed to Israel by the presence of Iran and Hizballah in Syria as well as their repeated aggressive rhetoric.

It perhaps therefore comes as no surprise to see that the BBC’s own journalists are unable to provide audiences with a lucid and informative account that distinguishes between the factors that lie behind the recent events in Israel and Syria and the separate topics of Iran’s supply of weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon and the civil war in Syria.

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BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story – part two

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story –part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story – part two

As documented in part one of this post, the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 10th presented listeners with a lavish dose of Syrian and Iranian propaganda relating to the story that began when an Iranian UAV infiltrated Israeli airspace earlier on the same day, with presenter Julian Marshall steering listeners towards the view that the story should be seen in terms of ‘narratives’.

The evening edition of the same programme – again presented by Marshall – also led with the same story. The programme’s web page is titled “Israel Defends Attack on Iranian Targets” and the synopsis once again fails to mention the trigger for the day’s events.

“An Israeli army spokesman says airstrikes against targets in Syria were vital to protect national security.”

Opening the programme, Marshall told listeners:

Marshall: “Israeli war planes carry out a series of strikes in Syria during a day of cross-border tension – that is our top story today.”

Marshall’s introduction to the item (from 00:83) once again failed to clarify to audiences that previous Israeli strikes on military targets in Syria have nothing to do with the Syrian civil war and cast doubts on the veracity of official Israeli statements on the incident. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin with that wave of attacks on Syria by Israeli war planes. It’s certainly not the first time that Israel has launched air raids on Syria in the course of the current conflict but the latest are being described as the most significant attacks of their kind since the 1982 Lebanon war by a senior Israeli Air Force general. It all began with the incursion into Israeli territory of what Israel says was an Iranian drone. Israel dispatched planes in response to attack the drone launch site in Syria and one of the planes was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel. And then came the big raid: Israeli war planes attacking a dozen targets in Syria including air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.”

After listeners had heard a recording of part of the Israeli prime minister’s statement, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “And I asked the spokesman for the Israeli Defence Force, Jonathan Conricus, to tell me more about the targets in Syria.”

Conricus: “This was indeed a large-scale attack – probably the largest that we’ve made over the last thirty or so years. We specifically targeted 12 different targets. Eight of them were Syrian military targets located in the surroundings of Damascus and related to the air defence array – the same ones that fired missiles towards Israeli aircraft. And the four additional targets are perhaps the most special ones because they were Iranian targets inside Syria. All of them part of the effort that Iran has been undertaking for quite some time and that we have been warning against over a long period of time. The four targets belonged to the Iranian military or the Revolutionary Guard – training facility, support facilities and the likes. That was really I think the most important part of the attack that we did was that for the first time we have actually attacked Iranian targets on Syrian soil.”

Marshall: “And attacking Iranian targets on Syrian soil was very much in retaliation for the overflight of what you say was an Iranian drone onto Israeli territory.”

After Lt-Col Conricus explained that the sequence of events began with the penetration of the Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace and that Israel “know[s] for sure that this specific UAV was dispatched by Iranian military and it was handled by Iranian military while it was violating Israeli airspace”, Marshall came up with a claim for which he provided no evidence whatsoever.

Marshall: “With all due respect sir, this was a surveillance drone – was it not? – rather than an armed drone. Did it really pose any threat to the Israeli state?”

Conricus: “We’ll be able to elaborate on that in the coming days. As of now I’m not at liberty to say exactly what that drone was doing but I can assure you that it was not a peaceful mission monitoring the weather or following migrating birds. This was a military UAV that had a specific military mission to penetrate into Israel and to perform a military task.”

After Lt-Col Conricus had spoken about the interception of the drone and the subsequent attack on its command module in Syria, Marshall resurrected an old BBC favourite: the ‘disproportionate’ allegation.

Marshall: “I mean some might think it a somewhat disproportionate response to the flying of a drone over your territory that you mounted such a massive raid on Syrian territory.”

After his interviewee replied, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “But I mean Israel has known for a long time – as have other nations – about an Iranian military presence in Syria. Why choose now to attack? I mean was it simply that drone coming into your airspace? Is that what the trigger was?”

After the IDF Spokesman replied – explaining that Israel had responded “to an act of aggression against us…by striking only military targets in a proportionate manner” – Marshall closed that interview (part of which was later promoted separately on social media) before going on to amplify more propaganda from the Iranian regime and its proxy:

Marshall: “Well Iran has accused Israel of lying about the drone – which it said had not entered Israeli territory – while Hizballah has said the downing of an Israeli plane by Syrian missiles marks the start of a new strategic era.”

Listeners then once again heard the entire interview with the Syrian regime TV journalist Alaa Ebrahim that was aired in the earlier edition of ‘Newshour’ – including the unchallenged repetition of Syrian regime messaging and the claim that there was no such thing as an Iranian UAV at all and so “the Israeli attacks were unprovoked”.  

Once again we see that BBC World Service audiences hoping to get clear, accurate information that would help them understand this story were instead sold short by a ‘report’ that presented the unchallenged propaganda of the Syrian and Iranian regimes on an equal footing with factual information from an Israeli official which Marshall found fit to repeatedly question.

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BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two

 

 

 

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story –part one

Earlier we saw (here and here) how BBC News website reporting on a story that began with the infiltration of an Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace on February 10th focused audience attentions on a subsequent effect rather than on the cause. We also saw how the BBC News website unquestioningly gave amplification to disinformation put out by Iran and Syria while implying to audiences that there is room for doubt regarding the veracity of official Israeli accounts of the events. So did BBC radio do any better?

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ devoted considerable airtime to that story on February 10th. The webpage of the afternoon edition of the programme presented the subject under the title “Israeli Airstrikes Hit Targets In Syria” without any mention of what began the sequence of events: the Iranian drone that infiltrated Israel.

“Israel has carried out large-scale airstrikes against targets in Syria. The Israeli Defence Force says it attacked air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. Earlier an Israeli fighter jet was brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire after a strike on what the Israelis say was an Iranian drone-launch site.”

Presenter Julian Marshall opened the programme with a similarly slanted view of the story:

Marshall: “In a moment: Israel attacks a dozen targets inside Syria. One of its planes is shot down.”

Marshall introduced the item itself (from 01:44) with a description that failed to adequately clarify that previous Israeli airstrikes against targets in Syria have been specifically aimed at preventing the transfer of weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon and are not connected to the civil war in Syria. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Syrian armed forces and their allies since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. But the latest are potentially the most serious: large-scale attacks against a dozen targets in Syria including, says Israel, air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. Earlier an Israeli jet crashed in Israeli territory as it encountered massive Syrian anti-aircraft fire. It had been attacking what the Israelis say was a site from which an Iranian drone aircraft was launched. The drone was shot down after it penetrated Israeli airspace. People in northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights reported hearing sirens and explosions.”

Listeners next heard very brief ‘man in the street’ interviews with two anonymous speakers before Marshall went on to unquestioningly parrot Syrian and Iranian propaganda.

Marshall: “Well Syrian state media has acknowledged the Israeli air raids and says more than one plane has been hit. Iran’s foreign ministry has rejected the Israeli claim of an Iranian drone while the deputy head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said that Iran had no military presence in Syria and were only there as advisors. And this is how state controlled TV reported the downing of that Israeli plane.”

Audiences then heard a translated recording from Iranian TV.

“The end of the Zionist regime’s era of hit and run in Syria. For the second time in less than a week, the Zionist regime sent its fighter jets to Syria in the early hours of this morning. But this time, despite the expectations of Israeli officials, Syria’s air defence shot down an Israeli fighter jet.”

Marshall: “And as for Syrian government ally Russia, it’s called on all sides to exercise restraint and avoid escalation.”

Listeners next got an additional copious dose of Syrian regime messaging from a journalist who has in the past promoted the Assad regime’s denials of use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on the Russian government’s RT channel and who was described by Iran’s Press TV as ‘our correspondent’ in a report amplifying previous false Syrian regime claims regarding Israeli planes.

Marshall: “A short while ago I spoke to Alaa Ebrahim; a journalist in Damascus who works for Syrian state TV and international media. What have the Syrian authorities been saying?”

Ebrahim: “Well officially the Syrian government issued a statement this morning from the command of the Syrian army in which they said that Israeli fighter jet tried to attack Syrian army bases in central Syria and that Syrian aerial defences intercepted that airplane and managed to actually damage it without saying whether the plane went down or not. Well the Syria…what the Syrian government is saying right now is that they actually did not provoke the Israeli airstrike. The airstrike was initiated by Israel – it wasn’t a retaliatory act by Israel. On the other hand the Syrian government is saying that they were reacting to Israeli aggression against them. Later on the state news agency SANA said in its reports that aerial defences from the Syrian army intercepted several missiles fired from Lebanese air space from Israeli fighter jets targeting several bases belonging to the Syrian army both south and west of the Syrian capital Damascus and later on we got the statement that came out from what the Syrian government calls the operation room of the Syrian government allies in Syria which is usually a reference to Iranian advisors and Hizballah fighters fighting alongside the Syrian government and in that statement they said that there was not an Iranian operated drone flying over Israeli airspace and that all the drones belonging to the allies – which is a term used to refer to Iranian and Hizballah fighters – were accounted for, operating in the deserts of central Syria looking over positions belonging to terrorist groups such as ISIL and other groups. So these are the official statements we have been getting since dawn today about the latest developments and I think we can recap once again and say that the Syrian government is saying that they did not initiate anything – they were just reacting to an Israeli airstrike against them.”

Marshall: So the Syrians are…are denying that they were in any way involved with the flying of that drone over Israeli territory?”

Ebrahim: “No, I don’t think the Syrians are denying that they were involved with the flying of the Iranian drone. What the Syrians and their allies – Iran, Hizballah – are saying [is] that they have never flown a drone into Israeli airspace and as a result they say that the Israeli attack was unprovoked.”

Refraining from challenging any aspect of that long repetition of Syrian regime propaganda, Marshall then changed the subject and went on to ask what Damascus residents had heard on the morning of February 10th and whether “any kind of retaliation” is to be expected. After concluding that interview, Marshall introduced both his next guest and the redundant theme of ‘narratives’.

Marshall: “And we’ve approached the Israeli Defence Force for an interview but no-one is available. Anshel Pfeffer is an Israeli journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper and the author of a forthcoming book ‘The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. He joins us from Jerusalem. And Mr Pfeffer, the Israelis have a very different narrative of the events of the past 24-36 hours and for them the original provocation was the flying of this drone over their territory.”

Pfeffer: “Yes, that’s the Israeli version of events: that round about 4:30 am local time an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace, was intercepted and shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter and that was what sparked off the chain of events of the last few hours.”

Marshall: You say an Iranian drone: why the certainty?”

Pfeffer: “Well that’s…like you said that’s the version of the Israeli government. They claim to have been tracking the drone, to have known its source at a launch site near Palmyra in northern Syria. According to the Israeli military they have the fragments of the drone and it’s an Iranian model. I’m assuming that at some stage they’ll present those pieces and we’ll be able to see whether it was indeed an Iranian drone. But it’s not new that there are Iranian…there is a significant Iranian military presence in Syria – has been since almost the start of the Syrian war in 2011 – and that this presence also has drone capabilities. So it’s not…the Israeli version of events is rather believable in this case.”

The conversation continued with discussion of the war in Syria and Russia’s role in the region.

By this time listeners could be forgiven for being confused. Was there an Iranian drone or wasn’t there? Is there an Iranian military presence in Syria or not? Rather than providing audiences with clear, concise and factually accurate information that would (as the BBC’s public purposes require) help them understand this story, the corporation once again opted to promote a ‘he said-she said’ account of events that actively hinders audience understanding.

When the BBC World Service launched a new foreign language service last year the then director of the division’s said that “[f]or more than 80 years the BBC World Service has brought trusted news to people across the globe” and 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.”

As we see, a considerable portion of this item was devoted to unquestioned amplification of unsupported claims and disinformation from two regimes that curtail media freedom – and much worse. But rather than providing listeners in those countries and others with the accurate and impartial information which would be the antidote to such propaganda, the BBC World Service simply facilitated a wider audience for Iranian and Syrian disinformation and added insult to injury by justifying it as ‘narrative’.

And as we will see in part two of this post, that practice continued in a later edition of ‘Newshour’.

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BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the BBC News website’s written report on the infiltration of Israel’s air-space by an Iranian UAV and the events that followed amplified Iranian and Syrian disinformation on the story while also implying to audiences that there is room for doubt regarding the veracity of official Israeli accounts of the various incidents.

“The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.” [emphasis added]

“Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.”

“Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.”

On the same day – February 10th – the BBC News website also posted a filmed report on the same topic titled “Israeli jet downed during Syrian attack: What happened?“. The film’s synopsis makes no mention of the UAV infiltration that was the cause of the subsequent strike on the mobile command vehicle that launched and guided the Iranian drone at the T4 airbase near Tadmor in central Syria.

“An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed amid Syrian anti-aircraft fire after an offensive against Iranian targets in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel.

It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in conflict since 2006.”

Viewers of the report were told that: [emphasis added]

“This is the wreckage of an Israeli jet that crashed following Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

What happened?

Israel’s military, the IDF, released this footage from one of their helicopters. They say it shows an Iranian drone flying over Israeli territory.

The IDF destroyed the drone. The helicopter returned to its base. Then, says the IDF Spokesperson, Israel flew jets into Syria to strike ‘Iranian and Syrian targets’. The Syrian army launched anti-aircraft missiles in retaliation. Two pilots ejected from their jet. It crashed in northern Israel. The pilots were flown to hospital. One is in a serious condition.

Syrian media quoted a military source saying they had hit ‘more than one plane’ in response to ‘Israeli aggression’.

Iran denied it had sent a drone into Israel and defended the Syrians’ right to self-defence.”

As we see, once again the BBC opted to present a ‘he said-she said’ view of the story which – contrary to the claim made in both the headline and the body of this report – in fact does nothing to help its audiences understand “what happened?”.

The same editorial policy was evident in a follow-up article published on the BBC News website on February 11th under the headline “Israel warns Iran after launching major raids in Syria“.

“Israel launched raids against Iranian targets after saying it had intercepted an Iranian drone crossing the Syria-Israel border.

Iran denies the allegation.”

Israel’s military says one of its combat helicopters downed an Iranian drone infiltrating Israel on Saturday. It tweeted footage of the incident. […]

In response, Israel said it attacked Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, during which an F-16 jet was fired upon, Israel says, causing it to crash. […]

Syria’s state media say air defences opened fire in response to an Israeli attack on a military base, hitting more than one plane.”

While there is no evidence to support either that Syrian claim of having hit “more than one plane” or Iran’s assertion that it did not launch the drone , the BBC continues to amplify those claims regardless.

Meanwhile, as details of Saturday’s events were still emerging, a BBC News producer found the time to translate and amplify disinformation from another source too.

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BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

 

 

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

As readers are probably aware, an Iranian UAV infiltrated Israeli air-space early on the morning of February 10th, triggering a series of events that were initially reported on the BBC News website under the headline “Israeli jet downed by Syrian fire – army” – even though the investigation into the circumstances under which the crew had to evacuate their plane is still ongoing.

The BBC subsequently changed that headline to “Syria war: Israeli fighter jet crashes under Syria fire, military says” – once again erroneously suggesting that the events were linked to the civil war in Syria. In the sixth version of the report, the BBC added a qualification:

“It was not clear whether the F-16 jet was hit by anti-aircraft fire or went down for other reasons.”

The final version of the report was re-titled “Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates“.

In other words, the headlines of all thirteen versions of this report confused cause and effect by informing BBC audiences that the story was about an Israeli plane crashing rather than the infiltration of Israeli air-space by an Iranian drone.

In the final version of the BBC’s report the first reference to the first and second occurrences in that sequence of events – the UAV infiltration into Israel and its interception by an Israeli air force helicopter – came only in its third paragraph.

“The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down.”

Later on readers were told that:

“The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.” [emphasis added]

However, the BBC – which, notably, recently took it upon itself to launch “a new scheme to help young people identify real news and filter out fake or false information” – had no qualms about amplifying Iranian disinformation.

“Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.”

The third event to take place on the morning of February 10th was an IAF strike on the mobile command vehicle that launched and guided the Iranian UAV at the T4 airbase near Tadmor in central Syria. The BBC reported that event as follows:

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria. […]

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.”

In other words, BBC audiences were not informed that the drone was launched from a Syrian airbase used by Iran’s Quds Force.

Syrian air defence systems attacked the planes carrying out that strike, leading to event number four – the evacuation of the plane that crashed near Harduf in the Galilee region and the sounding of air-raid sirens in communities in the Golan Heights. In other words, the headlines and initial paragraphs used in various versions of this BBC report all relate to the fourth event in the sequence rather than the first.

“An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.[…]

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said. […]

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.”

The BBC also chose (not for the first time) to amplify Syrian propaganda:

“Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.”

The fifth event in the chain was a number of strikes by the IAF on additional Syrian and Iranian military sites in Syria. Syrian anti-aircraft fire again triggered sirens in northern Israel. The BBC reported that event as follows:

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes. […]

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.”

final version

Towards the end of the report – under the subheading “What is the Iranian presence in Syria?” – readers were provided with background information which failed to enhance their understanding of Iran’s use of Syrian territory as a launch pad for attacks against Israel (with Syrian cooperation) in recent years while conflating the role played by Iran and Hizballah in the Syrian civil war with their pre-existing hostility towards Israel.

“Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

While subsequent analysis from Jonathan Marcus was more lucid, it conformed to the usual BBC policy of failing to clarify that Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon breaches UN Security Council resolution 1701.

As we see the BBC’s reporting on this story focused primarily on the loss of an Israeli jet rather than on what caused that event – also the story’s main issue – the attempt by Iran to infiltrate Israel. Not only did the BBC choose to amplify Iranian and Syrian disinformation on the story but it also implied to audiences that there is room for doubt regarding the veracity of official Israeli accounts. 

That approach was also seen in additional BBC reporting – as we shall see in part two of this post.

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