BBC News still promoting faux impartiality in Iran reporting

On December 5th a report headlined “Iran developing nuclear-capable missiles, European powers warn UN” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

“Three European powers have warned the UN that Iran is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in violation of a Security Council resolution.

A letter sent by the UK, France and Germany says Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile variant “equipped with a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle” that could deliver a nuclear weapon.

Such activity is “inconsistent” with a resolution endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it argues.”

It would of course have been helpful to readers had it been pointed out at that stage in the report that the UK, France and Germany – also known as the E3 – were part of the P5+1 which negotiated the JCPOA with Iran. However that information was only revealed three paragraphs from the end:

“The five other parties to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – have tried to keep it alive.”

Readers were told that:

“Iran has breached a number of commitments under the deal in recent months in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to abandon the deal and reinstate economic sanctions.

Mr Trump wants to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran has refused to negotiate unless the US first lifts its sanctions.”

They were not however informed that the context to the US president’s decision was the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – passed in 2015 – which required the US administration to certify to Congress every ninety days that Iran was fully implementing the JCPOA.

The BBC report also stated:

“In a separate development, US officials said a US Navy warship deployed in the Gulf of Oman had seized advanced missile parts believed to be headed from Iran to Yemen. The parts were on board a small boat stopped last week, they said.”

Readers were not informed that smuggling weapons into Yemen is a violation of other U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The most predictable aspect of this BBC report, however, is its amplification of Iranian spin.

“Iran has denied the allegation.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the letter was a “desperate falsehood” put out by the European powers “to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum” of their obligations under the nuclear deal.”

And:

“Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and denied that its ballistic missile programme violates the resolution.”

The BBC News website has of course repeatedly amplified such messaging in the past – for example:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

More superficial BBC reporting on Iranian nuclear programme PMDs

BBC News promotes Iranian missile ‘deterrent’ propaganda

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

It also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues and that just last month the IAEA reported the finding of multiple particles of natural uranium of “anthropogenic origin” at an unnamed site in Iran.

Nevertheless, the BBC News website continues to amplify Iran’s denials without qualification (presumably in the name of ‘impartiality’) in every report it produces in connection to the Iranian nuclear programme. That editorial policy has clearly not been revised in light of reports by the IAEA or this letter from the E3 and so the promotion of Iran’s talking points continues, even though it contributes nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

 

 

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include the following in the section concerning ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Hizballah was designated in its entirety by the UK earlier this year and so we must presume that an interview with the terrorist organisation’s deputy leader by Jeremy Bowen that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 6th (as well as a longer filmed version which was promoted by BBC News) was approved in advance by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.

The question that therefore arises is of what journalistic value was that specially approved interview? Did it provide BBC audiences with “a range and depth of analysis and content” which could not otherwise be achieved and did it contribute to their being better “informed citizens”?

‘Today’ co-presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:36:22 here) with a pinch of Iranian propaganda.

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

Husain: “Protests in Iraq, Lebanon and in Iran where Iranian state television has said that those killed by security forces during last month’s mass protests against the petrol price rise were thugs and rioters. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen joins us now. What’s your reading of those protests, Jeremy?”

Bowen: “Well Mishal, you know, what’s interesting is that there are others who say that they weren’t thugs and rioters but they were protesting and they started protesting as well against the regime and that is why the security forces opened fire in the way that they did and killed so many people. Now it’s clear that the Iranians have got a big set of problems at the moment. Ah…the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home. Maximum pressure as Trump calls them, American sanctions and also what’s important for them is they project power through their allies and in Iraq and Lebanon where there’ve been demonstrations – and those are generally regarded as Iranian allies – many people there see Iran as part of their problems.”

It is not clear what Bowen intended to communicate with that reference to “the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home” and his description of Lebanon – rather than Hizballah – as an Iranian ally clearly does not enhance audience understanding of the topic.

Bowen: “It’s really hard for us to try and work out what’s going in Iran [laughs] partly because they won’t let us in there. Ahm…so one good way of doing it is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah who are in Lebanon and they are Iranian proteges but they’re very powerful as well. One of Israel’s big enemies along with Iran itself. Now I’ve just come back from Beirut and while I was there I talked to the deputy leader of Hizballah who’s a man called Naim Qassem. He’s late 60s, he wears robes, he’s got a white turban, gives the impression of being very shrewd actually, and intelligent and strong views about the region. And he doesn’t talk much so it was a good opportunity to talk about the Middle East and they’re uncomfortable about what’s happening. They like the status quo. So anyway I started off by asking Naim Qassem of Hizballah about the crisis in Lebanon.”

Obviously any interview with a representative of a terrorist organisation needs to be very carefully edited and presented so that audiences can put its inevitable propaganda into the appropriate context. Bowen’s sartorially focused introductory portrayal of Qassem clearly did not provide any meaningful background information about the terror group’s record or agenda. Neither were listeners given sufficient information about the current political crisis in Lebanon before they were exposed to Qassem’s allegations.  

Qassem [voiceover]: “Of course the situation in Lebanon is very dangerous. Consequently you can see how the economic situation is collapsing. And you can see how people are suffering from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. We cannot accept things to continue like this. So for this reason we said very clearly that the government has to be formed in order to put an end to this collapse and decline. And unfortunately there are some who are trying to cause damage to Lebanon and especially the United States. And every two or three days the US Secretary of State Pompeo makes statements and says he doesn’t want to see Hizballah in the government. And Hizballah is part of the people. So let America put a stop to its meddling.”

Bowen: “Now Secretary Pompeo in the US, like the British government, regard your organisation as a terrorist organisation. That’s why he says the things that he says.”

Qassem: “What concerns us is how our people view us. We as Hizballah in the minds of our people, we are a resistance that liberated the land. A party which serves the interests of the people and also serves for a better future for the people. And because America and Britain support Israel which is an occupying power, a power of aggression, a criminal power, they are taking political stance against Hizballah. If they label us as terrorists this doesn’t mean that their designation is right. We consider America to be the leading terrorist entity because it does not serve the interests of the people. The same goes for Britain as well.”

Bowen made no effort to inform listeners of the real background to the designation of Hizballah by the US, the UK and other nations and bodies or to provide factual information concerning the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Hizballah, including their military entrenchment in Syria.

Bowen: “You’re part of a coalition led by Iran that faces off against Israel and by implication against the United States as well. Iran is in real trouble at the moment, isn’t it? There are anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq, there is feeling against Iran in this country and there’ve been big demonstration inside…demonstrations inside Iran itself. Your friends in Iran are in trouble, aren’t they?”

Qassem: “First of all we don’t deny that we are part of an axis led by Iran because Iran advocates the causes of the people’s rights and also supports the resistance. It believes in justice. It believes in the liberation of Palestine. Now, when it comes to the problems within Iran because of the decision to increase the price of gasoline, this is a domestic matter related to Iran.”

Audiences should of course have been informed at this point that in Hizballah-speak “the liberation of Palestine” means the annihilation of Israel.

Bowen: “Now with your allies in Iran you have amassed an enormous arsenal of rockets and missiles including guided missiles that presumably you’d use in a war with Israel. Under what circumstances would you use that arsenal of weapons?”

Qassem: “We are a resistance and we are defending. If Israel were to launch an aggression or attack us, we will respond. And so we don’t have any plans when it comes to initiating any confrontation with Israel. But we are determined to respond to Israel if it were to attack. Israel understands this language only. It won’t be deterred except if we are strong.”

Bowen made no effort to counter that propaganda by, for example, reminding listeners that it was Hizballah which initiated the 2006 conflict and Hizballah which just a year ago had its cross-border tunnels exposed and destroyed. Neither did he bother to clarify the background to any hypothetical attack on Iran’s “nuclear facilities”.

Bowen: “What if Israel or the US attacked Iran; attacked its nuclear facilities? Would you then use your weapons against Israel?”

Qassem: “I don’t know what could happen but what I do know is that any aggression of such scale could ignite the whole region. And those who initiated the aggression will take a big responsibility and also take responsibility for very large-scale reactions. My estimation is that war with Israel is unlikely at this stage. The balance of deterrence is what contributes to the absence of war because they are not convinced of what the results would be if a war were to take place.”

The interview ended there with a laconic statement from co-presenter Martha Kearney.

Kearney: “And that report was by Jeremy Bowen.”

In his introduction Bowen claimed that “one good way” to try to “work out” what is going on in Iran “is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah”. Whether or not that was also the rationale given when approval was sought to interview a senior figure in “an organisation […] designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary” is of course unknown but obviously this interview contributed nothing at all to that supposed aim.

In fact all audiences heard was over four minutes of barely challenged propaganda from the number two in a notorious terrorist organisation: propaganda that they could just as easily have found on Hizballah’s own media channels – and without paying a licence fee.

Related Articles:

Why the new BBC editorial guidelines may not mean less terror showcasing

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

Earlier this month we noted that an article written by the BBC’s Middle East editor on the subject of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon had avoided the issue of protests against Iranian intervention in those countries.

An item aired in the November 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The World This Week’ – titled “Iran in the crosshairs” – did relate to that issue, but from a remarkable viewpoint.

“There’s growing pushback against Iranian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon. Iran is being seen by some as the kind of interfering foreign state it often criticises.”

Presenter Caroline Wyatt introduced that lead item with the erroneous claim that Iran had fulfilled its JCPOA obligations concerning the Fordow nuclear plant. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Wyatt: “Iran turned the nuclear screw this week, bringing back into operation nuclear equipment it shut down under the terms of the nuclear deal agreed with Western powers in 2015 but which President Trump later walked away from. But was this a warning or a sign of weakness? The security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said this week that Iran was winning the struggle for strategic influence in the Middle East. But is that starting to change? Protests in Lebanon and Iraq against their political elites have focused much of their criticism on Iran with the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Karbala coming under attack. So I asked Kasra Naji of BBC Persian how worried is Iran that it may now be in the process of losing the power and influence it’s acquired in Iraq and Lebanon.”

That IISS report was the subject of an article which appeared on the BBC News website on November 7th.

Kasra Naji gave listeners a highly sanitised view of the Iranian regime’s decades-old activities in other countries.

Naji: “Well I think Iran is very worried. I think Iran is concerned particularly about what’s going on in Iraq. Iraq is next door and the demands of those people on the streets of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq are not all that different to the demands of the Iranians within Iran. It could easily come this side of the border so they’re watchful of that. Over the years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 Iran has invested heavily in setting up political parties, militias, its proxies, its political influence and that is suddenly in danger. If not danger, the prestige of Iran in the region and in Iraq is under serious question today and that doesn’t look good for Iran at all. And in Lebanon also Hizballah has been a major component of Iran’s influence in the region. Iran looks at southern Lebanon as basically a province of Iran. And they don’t want to see that coming under threat.”

Remarkably, neither Wyatt nor Naji bothered to explain to listeners what “the demands of those people on the streets” actually are. Neither did they make any effort to inform audiences even in passing that over 300 Iraqi protesters are reported to have been killed by security forces which allegedly include Iranian-backed militias and that rather than merely ‘worrying’ about the situation in Iraq as suggested by Naji, the Iranian regime is taking an active role in events there.

Both Wyatt and Naji seemed intent on framing objections to Iranian intervention in neighbouring countries as something recent.

Wyatt: “According to one commentator in Iraq, the shoes are out again so the public discontent is growing. Isn’t Iran now in danger of being seen as just the kind of regime that it likes to criticise?”

Naji: “That’s right. That’s another danger of all this. Iran is suddenly seen as a usurping power, a foreign power trying to influence events within those countries, particularly within Iraq.”

After an equally superficial discussion of Iran’s involvement in Syria, the conversation turned to Iran’s recent nuclear activities with Wyatt asking “so why is it continuing to risk more sanctions?”.

Naji: “Because it doesn’t have any other choice. It’s come under heavy pressure of US sanctions and they are crippling Iran’s economy. […] So what they’re trying to do is to put pressure on the Europeans particularly and say ‘listen, if you don’t come up and save this deal and do your part of the deal – your commitments in the deal – then there’s no point in staying in this agreement. It’s a cry for help. It’s like saying that we cannot continue like this; come and help us, save this deal, otherwise this deal is going to collapse.”

BBC World Service listeners were not informed what those allegedly unfulfilled European “commitments” supposedly entail before Wyatt closed with a final question about the opinions of “ordinary Iranians” on the nuclear issue and Naji’s reply failing to inform audiences that those opinions carry little weight as far as the Iranian regime is concerned.  

Obviously this item presented BBC audiences with a decidedly one-sided view of the story which focused on framing Iran as being “in the crosshairs” rather than the Lebanese and Iraqi people actually being attacked by its proxy militias on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad.

Related Articles:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

 

 

 

 

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

Iran’s latest breach of the 2015 JCPOA was portrayed by the BBC as “rolling back another commitment” in the opening line of an article headlined “Iran nuclear deal: Uranium enrichment to resume at underground facility” which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on November 5th.

As is inevitably the case in BBC reporting on that deal and Iran’s nuclear programme, audiences were told that:

“Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.”

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

The BBC also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues. Nevertheless, it once again chose to amplify Iranian propaganda but not to inform readers of those relevant parts of the story.

Regarding the Fordo (or Fordow) facility at which Iran’s president announced centrifuges would resume operation, the BBC’s report states:

“Before 2015, the country had two enrichment facilities – Natanz and Fordo – where uranium hexafluoride gas was fed into centrifuges to separate out the most fissile isotope, U-235. […]

Iran also agreed to install no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026, and not to carry out any enrichment at Fordo until 2031. The 1,044 centrifuges there were supposed to spin without uranium hexafluoride gas being injected.”

An illustration informs readers that “changes agreed” under the deal included Fordo being “converted from fuel enrichment to technology centre”.

Iran did not however comply with that requirement – as explained in this report – but the BBC made no effort to inform readers of that obviously relevant information.  

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer shares ‘Some Further Thoughts on the Situation in Northern Syria’.

“The fate of the 60,000 ISIS prisoners currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, should also be considered.  The Kurdish-led SDF was holding these captives as part of their alliance with the US. That alliance has just been pronounced dead. The SDF looks set to be about to fight an advancing Turkish army – a project for which, it may be presumed, it will be in need of all available personnel.

Can Turkey, whose own relationship in recent years with ISIS  included verified episodes of collusion, be trusted with the task of holding these individuals in continued captivity, pending some future legal process?  The record would suggest otherwise.”

2) At The Hill, Behnam Ben Taleblu is ‘Making sense of Iran’s nuclear moves’.

“Things are about to get worse on the Iran nuclear front. That’s essentially what Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promised in a speech on Wednesday before commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s most infamous military force. Per Khamenei, Iran is slated to continue reducing its adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), until “the desired result” is achieved.

Khamenei’s comments help frame recent technical developments, confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, about Iran’s latest nuclear violations. The country is now using advanced centrifuges, fragile machines that spin at high speeds, to enrich uranium. […]  Earlier in September, an Iranian government spokesman had warned that Iran would grow its nuclear research and development aptitudes by installing and testing a series of advanced centrifuges.”

3) At the INSS Ofir Winter and Orit Perlov analyse recent events in Egypt.

“Over recent weeks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was confronted was with his gravest public crisis since taking office. Mohamed Ali, a former Egyptian military contractor, posted videos on social media accusing the top military and political echelons of a range of corruption offenses and encouraged the public to protest against the President. Despite the wide dissemination of the videos, only a few thousand people responded to Ali’s call and took to the streets. But the regime’s success in containing the protests is no cause for nonchalance on its part, as the fundamental economic and political problems that sparked the public anger remain in place. Many of the regime’s supporters see in the protests a wake-up call and an opportunity to embark on measured policy amendments from a position of strength, hoping to prevent another wave of protests. Initial announcements on behalf of regime spokesmen promised economic, political, and media reforms, but these have yet to be translated into action on the ground.” 

4) Seth Frantzman takes a look at ‘Smoke signals in the next Middle East war’ for Tablet Magazine.

“Taken all together, the Israeli strikes in Lebanon last month and in Syria and possibly Iraq as well, the attack in Saudi Arabia, and the statements from Iranian and Hezbollah officials form part of a larger pattern in which Israel and Iran are locked in an escalating conflict playing out across the region. In the long term, Iran’s land bridge strategy connecting Tehran to the Mediterranean coast through a chain of contiguous client states in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, points directly at Israel.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned about this Iranian encirclement and “entrenchment,” but the warnings have not been enough to stop the advance. The Abqaiq attack, like the Israeli airstrikes that preceded it, was both another salvo in this war and a challenge to the U.S. and the Gulf Arab states, testing their reactions as Iran ramps up its next phase in the war against Israel.”

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem documents a recent Palestinian Authority story that was predictably sidelined by the BBC.

“PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced on August 19, 2019, that all of his advisers had completed their work, regardless of their level and titles, and the conditions afforded by their status no longer applied.

This announcement relates to dozens of advisers that Abbas employed in various capacities. The most prominent include Nabil Shaath, adviser on international affairs; Mahmoud Al-Habash, adviser on religious affairs; Gen. Ismail Jaber, adviser on security affairs; Ali Mahana, legislative adviser; and Majdi Al-Haldi, adviser on foreign affairs. […]

Fatah sources are not sure if Abbas fired all of his advisers because his decision did not include a list of all of them and their functions. Mahmoud Abbas remains vague here because some of his associates were defined as his “advisers” so that they could receive a large salary and the perks of the job, such as an office, a car, and so forth.”

2) The ITIC analyses this week’s speech from Hasan Nasrallah.

“On August 25, 2019, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave a belligerent speech claiming Israel was behind the two attacks in Lebanon and Syria: a quadcopter attack on the southern Shi’ite suburbs of Beirut (Israel did not claim responsibility) and the aerial attack on a base southwest of Damascus (Israel did claim responsibility). The attack in Syria disrupted an Iranian Qods Force plan to launch armed quadcopters to attack northern Israel. Nasrallah greatly exaggerated the so-called threat to Lebanon inherent in the use of explosive quadcopters (“suicide quadcopters”) which he claimed set a precedent in the attack on the southern suburb of Beirut. Such a precedent was liable, he claimed, to turn Lebanon into another arena for Israeli attacks (as he claimed Israel had done in Iraq).”

3) Writing at An Nahar, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing in the U.S Department of the Treasury explains “Why we sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank”.

“Jammal Trust Bank is a primary Hizballah banker in Lebanon, with a long and continuing history of providing an array of financial services to the terror group. Jammal Trust Bank has tried to conceal its relationships with numerous front companies for the U.S.-designated Martyrs Foundation. The malfeasance within Jammal Trust Bank runs to the core. Hizballah’s Member of Parliament, Amin Sherri, who engages in criminal behavior on behalf of Hizballah, openly coordinates Hizballah’s financial activities at the bank with its management. By working with Sherri in this way, the bankers of Jammal Trust Bank have betrayed the trust of their fellow citizens and their banking colleagues. By actively concealing Hizballah’s affiliation with these accounts from the Central Bank of Lebanon, these bankers violated their civic, social, and business responsibilities to innocent account holders, and have risked damage to the international perceptions of the Lebanese banking sector.”

4) At the FDD Jacob Nagel and David Adesnik examine “How the UN’s Nuclear Watchdog Can Restore its Credibility on Iran”.

“After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the Mossad’s discovery of a secret atomic archive in a Tehran warehouse, Amano’s response entailed a blend of procrastination and excuses. Last November, seven months after the Israeli revelations, Amano was still insisting, “We need to analyze the information, and it will take time, of course.” To this day, the IAEA has not stated whether its inspectors have ever visited the Tehran warehouse that stored the archive, or even that the agency requested a visit. Meanwhile, independent experts demonstrated, based on documents from the archive, that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been far more advanced than the IAEA had ever known.”

BBC News continues to parrot Iran’s nuclear messaging

A report was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 16th under the headline “Netanyahu: ‘Europe might ignore Iran threat until nuclear missiles hit’”.

That title, along with a further 181 words in the 690 word report related to remarks made by the Israeli prime minister following a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels concerning Iran’s breaches of the agreement reached in 2015 on its nuclear programme.

“Israel’s prime minister has said the European Union might not wake up to the threat of Iran “until Iranian nuclear missiles fall on European soil”.

Mr Netanyahu likened Europe’s approach to Iran’s recent breaches of a 2015 deal limiting its nuclear programme to the appeasement of Nazi Germany.

He spoke after EU foreign ministers said the breaches were not significant.”

Readers found information on Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA and the EU’s related stance. The US approach and the Iranian stance were also reflected, with BBC audiences told that: [emphasis added]

“Iran says they [breaches of the JCPOA] are a response to reinstated US sanctions, but insists it is not trying to build nuclear weapons.”

And:

“Mr Netanyahu, who was a staunch opponent of the nuclear deal, has accused Iran of lying about not pursuing nuclear weapons and of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons knowledge since 2015. Iran has called the allegations “ridiculous”.”

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed upon) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

The BBC also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues.

Nevertheless, it chose not to inform readers of this report of those relevant parts of the story.

Instead – despite being under obligation to “offer a range and depth of analysis…not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers…so that all audiences can engage fully with major…global issues…as active and informed citizens” – the BBC continues to uncritically parrot Iranian messaging while sidestepping important background.

Related Articles:

More superficial BBC reporting on Iranian nuclear programme PMDs

BBC continues to promote ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme theme

 

BBC News’ Iranian ‘hardliners’ and ‘moderates’ myth on view again

In recent days the BBC News website had published two reports pertaining to the resignation (apparently no longer relevant) of Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.

Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran’s foreign minister submits resignation” originally appeared on the evening of February 25th.

Iran president ‘has not accepted foreign minister’s resignation’” was published on February 26th and its headline has since been amended.

Both those reports include repeated framing of Zarif as someone who represents a “more moderate” Iran and is different from that country’s “hardliners”.

Article 1:

“He has served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN and became foreign minister in 2013 after President Hassan Rouhani was elected promising a more moderate, outward-looking Iran.”

“Mr Zarif has been under pressure at home from hardliners since the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear pact, which binds Iran to limit its nuclear activities.”

The article includes analysis from the BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet:

“But he’s under huge pressure from hardliners who never liked or trusted his negotiations with the West.”  

“…is this the exit of the US-educated diplomat who became the smiling face of Iran’s new engagement with the world?”

Article 2:

“His role negotiating the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers exposed him to sharp criticism from hardliners.”

The article includes analysis from BBC Persian’s Kasra Naji:

“The fact is that Iranian hardliners resent him for agreeing to dismantle much of the country’s nuclear programme.”

“Mr Zarif, most observers agree, has put up a robust defence of Iran on the world stage in spite of the fact that many of Iran’s positions, actions and behaviours – with which he has had little to do – have been indefensible.” [emphasis added]

Leaving aside the fact that the JCPOA negotiations could not have been conducted or finalised without the agreement of Iran’s Supreme Leader, is the BBC’s framing of Javad Zarif as someone inherently different to Iran’s “hardliners” actually accurate?

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change recently published a report by Kasra Aarabi based on analysis of speeches made by Iranian leaders perceived by some in the West as either ‘hardliners’ or ‘moderates’ – including Javad Zarif.

“The 2015 international nuclear deal did not alter Iran’s anti-US stance. The previous US administration’s signing of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was seen as a stepping stone to better relations between Iran and the world. Yet despite the deal, anti-US sentiment—and anti-Western sentiment in general—continues to abound in the rhetoric of Iran’s leaders. For both Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, both of whom were involved in the negotiations, 60 per cent of their speeches featured explicit anti-US rhetoric.”

“…when the West speaks of moderates in the regime, it often overlooks the fact that all figures in the establishment are committed to Islamism and are vehemently opposed to liberal, secular values. This includes officials the West perceives as moderate, such as Zarif.”

“This research shows that although Rouhani and Zarif were willing to negotiate with the five permanent United Nations (UN) Security Council members plus Germany (P5+1) and the European Union (EU), at home their position towards the West did not shift—certainly not when it came to what they said in public. Antipathy towards the West might have been expected after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in May 2018, but it was not a new feature of Rouhani’s discourse. Even while his government was negotiating the deal, he was repeating the same positions at home.”

“The anti-US rhetoric maintained by figures such as Rafsanjani, Rouhani and Zarif indicates that these individuals were never ideologically moderate, even though their actions—such as the negotiation of the nuclear deal—were perceived as moderate by Western counterparts. When it comes to policymaking, this is a vital lesson to learn. What sets these figures apart from the hard-line ideologues of the regime, such as Ahmadinejad, is that they understand that an unhealthy Iranian economy constrains the state’s ability to function. This, in turn, damages the implementation of Iran’s ideological objectives, both at home and overseas, as laid out in the constitution. […] These figures are more pragmatic ideologues than moderates or reformists.”

As regular readers know, the BBC has nevertheless been promoting the notion of Iranian ‘hardliners’ and ‘moderates’ for many years.

While the BBC is not alone in having bought into the myth of ‘moderates’ and ‘reformists’ within the Iranian political establishment, one would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information which will enable audiences to “engage fully with issues across…the world” could and would do considerably better.

Related Articles:

More spin than a centrifuge: BBC report on Khamenei nuclear deal speech

BBC’s summary of Khamenei speech censors pledge to support terror

BBC News coverage of Iranian election touts ‘moderate’ Rouhani yet again

Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

BBC does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at the Jerusalem Post, Tamara Berens explains how an “Anti-Zionist Minority Holds British Universities Hostage”.

“With the BBC’s prominence as a breaking news source on social media, British students have been inculcated with a highly distorted vision of Israel. On campus, students of my age grew up reading extensive reporting on Operation Protective Edge in 2014, characterized by stark omission of the facts on the ground. Coverage of the conflict was marred by the BBC’s repeated failure to showcase the barrage of rockets fired at Israeli homes and city centers – a total of 4,897 rockets in 2014. Trusted news source The Guardian frequently prints opinion pieces rationalizing Palestinian terrorism and portraying Israelis as violent. Ill-informed students in Britain go into university with the impression that Israel is an inherently evil aggressor in a one-sided conflict. With such unchallenged media coverage, who should blame them?”

2) MEMRI reviews the escalation of tensions between Fatah and Hamas.

“Relations between Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud ‘Abbas, and Hamas are now extremely tense, and the two organizations’ positions have not been farther apart since the 2007 Hamas coup against the PA in Gaza. In recent weeks, the tension has become so great, and the schism between them so wide, that it appears that both sides – which, incidentally, both accuse the U.S. of striving, by means of the Deal of the Century, to create two separate Palestinian entities, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – are doing just that on their own, without any help from the U.S. Things have reached the point where each side is saying that the other no longer represents the Palestinian people, that it will never return to talks or reconciliation efforts, and that it will act to bring down the regime of the other.”

3) Also at MEMRI – translated excerpts from an interview with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

“Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was interviewed on Channel 4 TV (Iran) on January 22, 2019. He said that the negotiations surrounding the JCPOA had required Iran to destroy the Arak reactor’s calandria by filling it with cement, but that Iran had secretly acquired replacement tubes ahead of time so that the reactor’s functionality would not be ultimately affected. He also said that pictures that had circulated that showed the Arak reactor’s pit filled with cement had been photoshopped. He explained that Iran has no intention to build a nuclear weapon, and that the Arak reactor is nonetheless incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. In addition, Salehi said that the yellowcake production facilities in Ardakan are operational and that Iran has been authorized to produce two additional IR-8 centrifuges. Salehi added that Iran has advanced rapidly in the field of nuclear propulsion.”

4) Khaled Abu Toameh reports on “The ‘Political Detainees’ No One Talks About” at the Gatestone Institute.

“In a letter to Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a number of Palestinian human rights organizations recently demanded that the international agency speak out against the politically motivated arrests by the PA in the West Bank.

“We wish to express our deep concern and condemnation over the increased arrest campaigns carried out by the PA security forces against residents because of their opinions and political affiliations,” the organizations said in their letter. They also expressed deep concern over the “systematic torture” of Palestinians in PA prisons. […]

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah can sit pretty, all the same, despite their continued assault on public freedoms. The mainstream media in the West has shown itself to be wholly indifferent to the torture taking place inside Palestinian prisons.”

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD, the Institute for Science and International Security documents “New Information about the Parchin Site“.

“A great deal of on-the-ground information about Iran’s Parchin site has publicly emerged.  This site was involved prior to 2004 in high explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons.  The new information, mainly in the form of Iranian documents and photos, is from an archive seized by Israel in Tehran, a fact that was publicly revealed on April 30, 2018 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He reported that this archive shows that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site, if a political decision was made to test. The Parchin site was a key part of that nuclear weapons research and development effort.”

2) Dr Shiraz Maher has published an essay titled “The primacy of praxis: clerical authority in the Syrian conflict”.

“A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground.

This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.”

3) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem takes a look at the background to a story first reported by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh.

“On October 13, 2018, Sheikh Akhram a-Sabri, preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque, issued a fatwa (ruling in Islamic law) stating that anyone who sells property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jews no longer belongs to the Islamic religion.

“We will not accept his repentance, and he will not be buried in a Muslim cemetery,” Sabri declared. […]

On October 20, 2018, the Jerusalem police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) apprehended Adnan Gheith, the PA’s Jerusalem governor, and Jihad al-Faqih, director of the PA’s intelligence office in east Jerusalem, both of whom are supporters of Gen. Majid Faraj. They were arrested on suspicion of abducting a Beit Hanina resident (whose name is known to the author), a known realtor dealing in land and property, whom they suspected of selling a property in the area of Herod’s Gate in the Old City.

The realtor is an Israeli citizen who also holds a U.S. passport.”

4) Also at the JCPA, Nadav Shragai discusses a Jordanian request.

“Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.”