The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

h/t SF

In our recent review of BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration we noted that one of the backgrounders available online states that:balfour-in-timeline-1917

“During this period of change, three key pledges were made.

In 1916 the British Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, had promised the Arab leadership post-war independence for former Ottoman Arab provinces.

However, at the same time, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between war victors, Britain and France, divided the region under their joint control.

Then in 1917, the British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour committed Britain to work towards “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, in a letter to leading Zionist Lord Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration.”

Similarly partial portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence are found in additional material produced by the BBC – for example in an article from May 2016 by Jim Muir on the topic of the Sykes-Picot agreement and in an article by Kevin Connolly from July 2015. In May 2015 listeners to BBC World Service radio were told by historian-cum-political activist Avi Shlaim that:

“…Britain’s behavior during the First World War is a prime example of pure opportunism because in the course of fighting the First World War, Britain was desperate to gain allies and it made three major promises that were contradictory and couldn’t be reconciled and this should have been clear during the war. The first promise was to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca – to support an independent Arab kingdom under his rule in return for mounting an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The second promise […] is the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East between themselves at the expense of the Arabs. And the third and most famous promise was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain undertook to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. So Palestine was the twice-promised land – first it was promised to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca and then it was promised to the Zionists.” [emphasis added]

In an ‘educational’ feature about the First World War produced in September 2014 and presented by BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, BBC audiences are told (in section 5) that “British diplomats made a series of seemingly contradictory promises to potential allies” before being presented with portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

mcmahon-corr-on-iwonder

As has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim according to which “Palestine was the twice-promised land” is incorrect.

McMahon letter Times

That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

One must therefore ask why the BBC – committed as it is to accurate and impartial journalism – continues to enable promotion of the politically motivated myth of ‘contradictory promises’ relating to the area later assigned to the Mandate for Palestine.

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

On August 12th 2006 the BBC News website reported that:

“The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Resolution 1701 calls for “a full cessation of hostilities”, and UN and Lebanese troops to replace Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were also provided with the text of that UNSC resolution which of course includes the following:1701 text art

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

The resolution calls for:

  • “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;
  • no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;
  • no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

The same resolution expanded the mandate and capabilities of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and charged it, inter alia, with aiding the Lebanese government to prevent Hizballah’s rearmament.

While that UNSC resolution brought an end to the 2006 war, it has obviously failed to achieve its long-term goal of avoiding the next round of conflict by preventing Hizballah’s rearmament and entrenchment in southern Lebanon.

The BBC’s public purpose remit commits it to keeping its funding public “in touch with what is going on in the world” and to building “a global understanding of international issues” and so it would be reasonable to assume that audiences have been kept up to date on the issues pertaining to implementation of Resolution 1701 throughout the decade since it was adopted – but is that the case?

The ‘timeline’ in the BBC’s online profile of Lebanon (last updated in August 2016) makes no mention at all of the existence of UNSC Resolution 1701.

“2006 July-August – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging in 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border, followed by Lebanese army troops for first time in decades.”

The profile itself includes a generalised reference to the disarming of militias without specifically recalling Resolution 1701 and without clarifying the current status of that ‘demand’. 

“The UN has demanded the dismantling of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Palestinian militias and the military wing of Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon.”

The BBC’s current profile of Hizballah (last updated in March 2016) tells audiences that:

“After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah resisted pressure to disarm and continued to strengthen its military wing, the Islamic Resistance. In some ways, its capabilities now exceed those of the Lebanese army, its considerable firepower used against Israel in the 2006 war.”

And:

“Hezbollah survived the [2006] war and emerged emboldened. Although it is has since upgraded and expanded its arsenal and recruited scores of new fighters, there has been no major flare-up along the border area, which is now patrolled by UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese army.”

No mention is made of Resolution 1701 and the obligation to disarm the terrorist organisation, prevent its rearmament and remove it from southern Lebanon in either of those profiles currently appearing on the BBC News website.

Immediately after the 2006 war, the BBC was able to tell its audiences that:

“UN Security Council resolutions call for armed militia groups like Hezbollah to disarm.” 

Nearly a year after the adoption of Resolution 1701, the BBC sent Martin Asser to southern Lebanon to ‘examine UNIFIL’s performance’. The caption to the main photograph illustrating his article informed audiences that “Unifil troops are meant to prevent Hezbollah bearing arms”.1701 Asser art

“After the July 2006 war, the [UNIFIL] force received new orders and thousands of reinforcements under the ceasefire resolution 1701, which also stipulated the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area.

Previously the area had become the fiefdom of Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist and militant movement whose cross-border raid on 12 July – snatching two Israeli soldiers – was the catalyst for the 34-day conflict.

The post-conflict objective was for Unifil to help the Lebanese government extend its sovereignty to the southern frontier, so Hezbollah’s armed wing would no longer be free to menace nearby Israeli towns or troops patrolling the border.”

Asser added:

“Hezbollah fighters are masters of concealment and guerrilla warfare – their weapons were never on show before the war, so they are unlikely to be caught red-handed by Unifil or Lebanese troops now.”

An old profile of Hizballah from 2010 states:

“Despite two UN resolutions (1559 passed in 2004, and 1701, which halted the war) calling for disarming of militias in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s military arm remains intact.”

In 2013 BBC audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Beirut, Jim Muir, that “Hezbollah has scrupulously observed the ceasefire that ended hostilities in 2006”. In 2015 Orla Guerin reported from south Lebanon but failed to use the opportunity provided by a rare BBC visit to that area to inform audiences of Hizballah’s use of civilian villages to store weapons and as sites from which to launch attacks against Israel.

The BBC has also consistently avoided or downplayed the topic of Iranian breaches of UNSC Resolution 1701 in the form of its transfer of arms to Hizballah. In 2013 BBC audiences heard Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen playing dumb (and some Hizballah spin) on the issue of Syrian transfers of weapons to the terrorist organisation. 

Already in 2007 – just over a year after the war and the resolution which brought it to an end – the UN admitted that Hizballah had “rebuilt and even increased its military capacity” and since then its weapons stocks have vastly increased and diversified. The BBC is of course aware of that fact – as indicated in an article by BBC Monitoring’s Lamia Estatie published on July 11th 2016 under the headline “Hezbollah: Five ways group has changed since 2006 Israel war“.1701 Estatie art

“Its weapons arsenal grew from from [sic] 33,000 rockets and missiles before the 2006 war to an estimated 150,000. Similarly, it swelled from a few thousand members in 2006 to an estimated 20,000-plus.

After 2011, Hezbollah’s military support for the Iran-backed Syrian government – its weapons supply line – gave its fighters considerable combat experience and exposure to Russian military planning.”

No mention of UNSC Resolution 1701 appears in that report either.

It is apparent that as the decade since the UNSC’s adoption of 1701 progressed, BBC audiences saw less coverage of the topic of the existence of the resolution itself and the fact that its terms have been serially violated. Given the obligations to its funding public laid out in the public purposes remit, it is difficult to see how the BBC can justify that pattern of reporting.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

 

Weekend long read

On May 16th an article by the BBC’s Beirut-based correspondent Jim Muir appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Sykes-Picot: The map that spawned a century of resentment“.Muir Sykes Picot

In his opening lines, Muir tells readers that:

“Reaching its centenary amidst a general chorus of vilification around the region, the legacy of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 has never looked more under assault.”

However, just four paragraphs later he acknowledges that:

“In fact, virtually none of the Middle East’s present-day frontiers were actually delineated in the document concluded on 16 May 1916 by British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.”

Muir’s overall messaging is clear:

“But the spirit of Sykes-Picot, dominated by the interests and ruthless ambitions of the two main competing colonial powers, prevailed during that process and through the coming decades, to the Suez crisis of 1956 and even beyond.

Because it inaugurated that era, and epitomised the concept of clandestine colonial carve-ups, Sykes-Picot has become the label for the whole era in which outside powers imposed their will, drew borders and installed client local leaderships, playing divide-and-rule with the “natives”, and beggar-my-neighbour with their colonial rivals.”

And his closing lines reveal a typically simplistic take on the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, a no less quintessential attempt to portray the Arab-Israeli conflict as being at the centre of all regional conflicts and the implication that the Balfour Declaration is disconnected from the topic of self-determination for peoples indigenous to the Middle East.

“The Sykes-Picot agreement conflicted directly with pledges of freedom given by the British to the Arabs in exchange for their support against the collapsing Ottomans.

It also collided with the vision of the US President Woodrow Wilson, who preached self-determination for the peoples subjugated by the Ottoman Empire.

His foreign policy adviser Edward House was later informed of the agreement by UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, who 18 months on was to put his name to a declaration which was to have an even more fateful impact on the region.

House wrote: “It is all bad and I told Balfour so. They are making it a breeding place for future war.””

Some rather less predictable commentary on the Sykes-Picot Agreement has also appeared in the media this week, including an interesting column from the Financial Times’ foreign editor Roula Khalaf titled “An inconvenient truth for the Middle East and a line in the sand“.

“This week it is a century since Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot drew that “line in the sand”. It is, therefore, an opportune time for more fervent debate.

It is an enduring and unfortunate habit in the Arab world to blame outsiders for the ruinous state of the region and to see in every act the sinister hand of foreign conspirators. The alternative — the idea that maybe the Middle East has been ruined by its own people and its leaders — is an inconvenient truth. […]

When Arab youth rose up in revolt in 2011, their slogan was not “the people want the fall of Sykes-Picot”; it was “the people want the fall of the regime”. If ethnic and religious identity now trumps national attachment in many parts of the Middle East, that is the result of collective disenchantment and insecurity, not a harking back to some fictitious past.”

At the American Interest, Adam Garfinkle takes a historical look at the topic.

“Today, May 16, is the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot, and inanities and assorted stupidities about it are pouring out of the media woodwork faster than I can keep up with them. Let me get right to the point: Sykes-Picot did not—repeat, did not—establish the borders of the modern Middle East. That ought to make it hard to blame Sykes-Picot for anything, since it never came into effect. And what is falling apart today is not the Sykes-Picot interstate system but increasingly the units themselves; the bloody interstate clatter we see is not the source of the core problem in the region but a symptom of it. This is a lot to get wrong, and certainly it is foul fare to pass around to the uneducated like so many weird-tasting cocktail hour hors-d’oeuvres.”

Tim Marshall offers a typically realistic view:

“However, even if Sykes-Picot is useful shorthand for the problems bequeathed to the peoples in the region, it is far too broad a brush stroke to explain subsequent events.

Turkish history neither ended nor began with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey has never stopped being a player in the Middle East.

The various Ottoman vilayets, in what was known in geographical terms as ‘Natural Syria’, stretched from Aqaba in the south up to the Taurus mountains in the north, and from the Mediterranean in the west, across to the desert heading towards Mesopotamia. They divided it many ways. Even within the area we now know as Syria there were several geographic, linguistic, and cultural divisions. The idea that with the end of Turkish colonialism, but without Sykes-Picot, they would all have naturally formed into states with agreed borders, and an equitable division of natural resources, is fanciful.”

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part one

BBC’s Kevin Connolly erases Iranian patronage of terror, distorts history

 

How the BBC framed the story of Hizballah’s latest attack

There is nothing novel about the BBC suggesting to its audiences that major decisions about Israel’s security are made according to the electoral considerations of the country’s leadership. In 2012 the corporation’s journalists repeatedly misled audiences by portraying an entire military operation in the Gaza Strip as having been motivated by electioneering.

It therefore came as no great surprise to find that the BBC’s framing of the Hizballah attack on IDF soldiers near Har Dov on January 28th included ‘analysis’ from its Beirut correspondent Jim Muir into which he managed to shoehorn the upcoming Israeli elections.

Later versions of the report titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah clash on Lebanese border” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 28th included the insert below.

Har Dov Muir analysis a

An additional article published on January 29th under the headline “Hezbollah ‘sends anti-escalation message’ to Israel” informed readers that:

Har Dov Muir analysis b

In other words, Muir would have BBC audiences believe that the sole consideration taken into account by the Israeli leadership in deciding how to react to this latest terror attack is the potential effect on their chances at the ballot box. Really.

In addition to that so-called ‘analysis’, we see some interesting framing of Hizballah’s own considerations. Whilst Muir correctly cites the terrorist organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war as a factor which would deter it from escalating violence further, he refrains from telling BBC audiences about the domestic opposition inside Lebanon to being dragged into another war by the Iranian proxy.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story is the minimal mention of Iran. In the first article readers were told that:

“Mr Netanyahu said Israel was “prepared to act powerfully on all fronts”, adding, “Security comes before everything else.”

His office accused Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, of being behind a “criminal terror attack” by the Shia Islamist movement.”

Of course – contrary to the impression given to BBC audiences – the office of the Israeli prime minister is not the only body in the Middle East which recognizes Iran’s role in this latest attack carried out by its Lebanese proxy: so does Hizballah itself.

“Earlier this week, before the Katyusha fire, a Lebanese parliamentarian representing Hezbollah was asked on the TV station Al Manar about Hezbollah’s delay in responding to the January 18 strike. The parliamentarian replied that the organization is still formulating an appropriate response together with Syria and Iran. The response, he explained, must not be too small – like, for instance, planting bombs along the border fence where Israeli soldiers patrol – but that it also must not lead to war with Israel. Hezbollah, he said, must refrain from rash moves.”

Additional framing of the story comes in the form of an insert in both these reports titled “What are the Shebaa Farms?”.

Har Dov Shebaa Farms insert

The Shebaa Farms issue of course has nothing to do with this story directly other than the fact that the location of the January 28th attack on road 999 (part of which also serves civilian traffic going to and from Ghajar) is in close proximity to the area known as Shebaa Farms or Har Dov. Despite the fact that fifteen years ago the UN determined that the area does not belong to Lebanon, Hizballah has indeed used the issue as one of the pretexts for its continued existence. This particular attack, however, was clearly stated by Hizballah itself to be a response to the strike on its operatives and IRGC officers in the Syrian Golan Heights ten days earlier and is not connected to the subject matter of the BBC’s insert.

Framing, of course, is also facilitated by omission and in these two articles the BBC makes no effort to inform audiences of the fact that Hizballah is an internationally proscribed terror organization. Instead, the articles use terms such as “Hezbollah militants”, “fighters” and “Lebanese militant group”. Both articles include a side-bar link to the BBC’s profile of Hizballah which, as readers may recall, was given a sympathetic make-over in December 2013.

Another crucial factor affecting the framing of this story is the omission of any information concerning the various UN resolutions calling for the disarming of Hizballah, with the most recent of those being Resolution 1701. BBC audiences cannot form a proper understanding of this story if they are not informed of the fact that the party which carried out the attack, according to a unanimous UNSC decision, should not be armed and should not be operating south of the Litani River. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that the BBC has failed to inform – and even misled – its funding public on that issue. 

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

On the afternoon of December 7th the BBC News website published an article now titled “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian army“. Changes made to the various versions of the report can be seen here and its initial version read as follows:

bombing Syria

In addition, a filmed report by Beirut correspondent Jim Muir was broadcast on BBC television news and appeared on the website under the title “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian state TV“.

With Israel having declined to comment on the claims made by Syrian media and officials, both reports follow the format of previous ones on similar events, relying upon unconfirmed hearsay and conjecture. Notably, even after BBC News found itself under severe criticism nineteen months ago for uncritical repetition of the Assad regime’s propaganda (see here, here and here), the written article states:

“”This afternoon, the Israeli enemy targeted two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the Damascus International Airport,” the military statement said.

It described the air strikes as “direct aggression” carried out to help the Syrian government’s opponents.” [emphasis added]

No effort is made to inform audiences of the redundancy of that Syrian regime propaganda.

But both these reports are in fact far more notable for what they do not include than for what they do. Neither of them informs audiences of Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, with the written article stating:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several air strikes on Syria since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

They appear to have been mainly aimed at preventing weapons transfers to Syria’s allies in Lebanon, the militant Hezbollah movement, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Beirut.”

In the filmed version Muir stated:Muir filmed

“…which would be the fourth time that the Israelis have struck inside…erm…Syria since the war there began in 2011 – mainly attacks aimed at hitting or preventing weapons being transferred to Hizballah, according to the evidence that came out later. That’s of course Israel…Syria’s ally here in Lebanon.”

So, from international criminal and terrorist organization, Hizballah has been upgraded by Muir to the status of “Syria’s ally”, meaning of course that BBC audiences are being told a very selective part of the story. Interestingly, the BBC’s profile of Hizballah (faulty as it is) was not included in the ‘more on this story’ links presented at the side of and below the main article.

Neither was any effort made in either of the two reports to inform audiences of the highly relevant fact that, according to UN SC resolution 1701 all militias – including Hizballah – should have been disarmed and the sale or transfer of weapons to non-state actors is prohibited.

That factor, along with Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, is crucial for proper audience understanding of the story as it is presented. The BBC, however, elected not to provide the information to its audiences.

Related Articles:

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BBC suggests failure to convene Syria peace conference will be Israel’s fault

BBC transforms its correspondents’ conjecture into fact 

BBC coverage of STL amplifies Hizballah propaganda

There are currently two articles on the subject of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which opened proceedings last week, on the Middle East page of the BBC News website.

In the ‘Features & Analysis’ section appears an article by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Jim Muir titled “Lebanon polarised as Hariri tribunal opens” which also includes a filmed report by Muir broadcast on BBC television news programmes. That filmed report is also included in an article titled “Rafik Hariri murder trial begins at The Hague” which appears in the news section of the website’s Middle East page.

STL arts both

In all three of those items, Hizballah propaganda is uncritically promoted in among the rest of the information provided.

In the filmed report Muir states:

“But, the militant Shiite movement [Hizballah] has dismissed the trial as part of a conspiracy by Israel to discredit its enemies.”

In the article appearing in the news section it is stated:

“Hariri and 21 others were killed by a massive car bomb in Beirut in 2005.

The killings polarised Lebanon and led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

It instead says the assassination was part of an Israeli and US conspiracy.”

And:

“But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah says it was Israel that tracked Hariri’s movements by satellite, penetrating the phone system to falsify records and masterminding the assassination to discredit and undermine its enemies.”

In the ‘Features & Analysis’ article it is stated:

“But, with five men linked to the militant Shia movement Hezbollah indicted by the tribunal, many in the other half of the spectrum see the trial as a highly politicised affair aimed at undermining Israel’s opponents.”

And:

“The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, set out his movement’s narrative on the affair in August 2010.

Introducing video footage he said was intercepted from Israeli spy drones, he argued that Israel was behind the killing, tracking Rafik Hariri’s movements, and penetrating and manipulating Lebanese phone network records on which the bulk of the prosecution case is apparently based.

“The aim was to denigrate and demoralise the leaders and militants of the Resistance, and worse, to stir sectarian strife and even civil war between Sunnis and Shia in Lebanon,” he insisted.”

Both the above articles include links to an item titled “Q&A: Hariri Tribunal” in which it is stated:

“Hezbollah has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack and said the assassination was part of an Israeli and US conspiracy.”

And:

“Hezbollah, for its part, has dismissed the tribunal as an “Israeli instrument”, and produced what it regards as evidence that Israel was involved in the bombing.”

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was of course established by the UN Security Council.

This of course is by no means the first time that the baseless propaganda of the Iranian funded and controlled international terrorist and criminal organization Hizballah has been unquestioningly repeated and promoted by the BBC. As we have noted here in the past:

“The BBC clearly has a problem knowing how to relate to the streams of all too predictable propaganda regularly produced by regimes and terrorist organisations in the Middle East. Its current practice of uncritical repetition and amplification of baseless rumour, conspiracy theories and propaganda is clearly incompatible with its obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” and its self-declared aspiration to “remain the standard-setter for international journalism”.

The BBC’s remit is to help audiences look beyond the propaganda and rhetoric they can just as easily view on websites and television stations run by Hizballah or the Iranian and Syrian regimes rather than giving it inappropriate credence through uncritical repetition and amplification on its own website and television news.”

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BBC amplifies Hizballah propaganda yet again

Continuing serious breaches of editorial guidelines in ‘Newshour’ with Lyse Doucet

The BBC World Service’s flagship international news and current affairs radio programme ‘Newshour’ is broadcast in two daily editions – one at 13:06 GMT and one at 21:06 GMT every day. The January 11th 13:06 edition of that programme, which went on air just an hour after the official announcement of Ariel Sharon’s death, has already been addressed here. The same day’s later 21:06 edition of that programme purported to discuss “Sharon’s impact on the region”.

Newshour 11 1 14 ed 2

Again presented by Lyse Doucet, this edition begins with a version of the item by World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge which also opened the previous programme and which repeats the promotion of the myth that the second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon went to visit Temple Mount in September 2000 and once again has the geographically challenged Ahmad Tibi claiming that:

“He [Sharon] came here in order to burn up the area. Al Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic place. Al Aqsa is in the Palestinian territory.”

That is followed by a recording of Shimon Peres talking about Sharon and then one of Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri saying:

“The death of Sharon after eight years in a coma is a sign from God and a lesson for tyrants. The Palestinian people live in a historic moment due to the departure of this criminal who killed our people and our leaders.”

Next, a section of the defamatory rant by Mustafa Barghouti which was featured heavily in the prior edition of the programme is aired and that is followed by short interviews with former deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon and Ha’aretz journalist Amir Oren

At around twenty-five minutes into the programme a news bulletin is read in which the news reader gives audiences what we can understand to be the official ‘in a nutshell’ BBC view of Ariel Sharon and the one it intends millions of listeners worldwide to take away.

“One of the most senior figures from Israel’s founding generation, the former prime minister Ariel Sharon, has died at the age of 85 after eight years in a coma. Mr Sharon played a major and controversial role; first guerilla fighter and soldier known for both bravery and occasional recklessness and later as a politician. When he ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, his Lebanese Christian allies massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. An Israeli commission of inquiry found he bore personal responsibility and he stood down as Defence Minister. His visit to Islam’s holiest mosque in Jerusalem in 2000 sparked Palestinian uprising but Israelis voted him into power the following year. He defied domestic opposition by pulling Israel out of Gaza in 2005 but promoted West Bank settlements and commissioned a barrier to keep Palestinians out of Israel. President Obama said Mr Sharon had dedicated his life to Israel but Palestinians in Gaza celebrated by handing out sweets.” [emphasis added]

And that, ladies and gentlemen, comes from an organization supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, so please bear with us as we point out to the BBC World Service that:

1) Ariel Sharon did not ‘order’ the 1982 invasion of Lebanon – the Israeli government did as a result of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians which the BBC elects to airbrush from the picture.

2) All Lebanese Christian allies were allies of Israel – not of Sharon personally as suggested in this news bulletin.

3) The Kahan Commission found that Sharon and others bore indirect responsibility for failing to anticipate violence on the part of the Phalangists.

4) Sharon’s pre-coordinated visit to Temple Mount – not the Al Aqsa Mosque as erroneously stated – did not spark the second Intifada. That terror war was pre-planned by the Palestinians in advance of his visit, as numerous Palestinian officials have stated over the years.

4) The purpose of the anti-terrorist fence is – as the BBC might better appreciate were it to employ the correct terminology – to curb attacks by terrorists of the kind which resulted in the deaths, maiming and injury of thousands of Israelis before its construction. Its aim is not to keep out “Palestinians”, as is evidenced by the fact that over four million crossings were made by Palestinians in the first half of 2013 alone.

That news bulletin is followed by Doucet misrepresenting the Phalangists as being “under the control” of Sharon: 

“Today Palestinians as well as most Arabs remember Ariel Sharon as an Israeli who, in the words of many, left no good memories. His legacy can be perhaps found most vividly in the memories of those living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. A little more than thirty years ago, the brutal actions of a pro-Israeli militia acting under the control of the then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon have left deep scars. Jim Muir has been to one of the refugee camps today to gauge reaction to his death.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Doucet is telling listeners that the massacres in Sabra and Shatila were perpetrated by a militia which Sharon controlled, with the implication of course being that he also controlled the actions of that militia in the refugee camps.

What follows that is an audio version of a report by Jim Muir, which was also broadcast on BBC television news programmes and featured on the BBC News website. In the filmed version Muir tells audiences:

“It was here in September 1982 that Israel’s Christian militia allies carried out a massacre in these narrow alleys and streets that was to carry the name of Sabra and Shatila – Sabra is just next door – all around the world. The Israelis themselves didn’t come into the camp. They were controlling the perimeter all around and were over beyond there and they basically held the ring as the massacre took place. But, the following year the Kahan Commission report concluded that as Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.”

In the audio version broadcast in this ‘Newshour’ programme he says:

“Well this is the Palestinian camp of Shatila on the southern edge of Beirut. It’s a teeming, very densely packed neighbourhood, crowded with little streets and alleyways; very busy, very bustling here now, thirty years on. But back in September 1982 it was a very different story. Christian militia men allied to Israel came in here and perpetrated a massacre of hundreds of defenceless civilians. The Israelis themselves of course were not directly involved. They were controlling the surrounding area and holding the ring as their Christian militia allies went in. The following year the Kahan Commission in Israel concluded that the Defence Minister Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.” 

Beyond this additional misrepresentation of the findings of the Kahan Commission, Muir is clearly suggesting to audiences that Israel knew what was going on in the camp at the time of the massacre and even collaborating. The British idiom “held the ring” may be unfamiliar to some of Muir’s audience, but its definition is “to oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it”.

Muir interviews a ‘man in the Shatila street’ whom he names as Abu Majahed and who very predictably says:

“Well here for everybody Ariel Sharon is the name of the war criminal who is responsible about the tragedy of the Sabra and Shatila massacre and he was the leader of the invasion to Lebanon in 1982. […]

What is make us sad really, we don’t expect that he should die normal or by sickness without any punishment. He should be at the court. Of course they feel that he’s as criminal or as one of the cause of the tragedy for the people and make them lose so many people in the camp during Sabra and Shatila massacre and during the war in general, so his death doesn’t bring sadness to them.”

Following Muir’s report, Doucet speaks to Rami Khouri whom she describes as the Director of the Issam Fares Public Policy Institute at the American University of Beirut and “a syndicated columnist”. Readers can get some idea of American-born Rami G Khouri’s writing from this recent column. Answering Doucet’s request for his “first thoughts”, Khouri says:

“My first thought was that this is a man who spent all of his life in an antagonistic, military, confrontational and violent relationship with all of the Arabs around him – in Palestine, in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria. He was constantly at war, killing, occupying, and annexing or laying siege to Arabs or imprisoning tens of thousands of them and in his death his legacy that was the result of his life’s action is perpetuating all of this confrontation, suffering, anger. So this is a very, very negative man in terms of his political actions. The consequences which continue to plague us today because of the settlements, because of the siege of Gaza, the rise of Hamas, the rise of Hizballah, all of the different things that he has done I think will be seen probably much more negative in regional and global terms than any positive way that he is viewed by some Israelis or Zionists.”

Doucet then asks if there should be recognition of Sharon’s pragmatism because of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Khouri continues:

“I think the only thing that we can say about that that would be acknowledging something positive was that you can uproot Israeli settlers, but that was done before: Begin did it in Yamit in the Sinai. But that one symbolic move was, I think, way overshadowed by all of the other negative things that were associated with that, which were a vast expansion of settlement in the West Bank, building the wall, mass imprisonment and laying siege to Gaza. So all he did is redeploy some soldiers on the surface of the ground of Gaza but this led to the wars in consequent years. So I would give him one mark for a positive move to redeploy settlers and get them out of Gaza and I would give him nine negative marks for all the other bad things that were associated with that.”

Doucet asks Khouri if Sharon might also have carried out disengagement in Judea & Samaria had he not been taken ill. His response is as follows:

“I think he might have been thinking about another unilateral disengagement from some parts of the West Bank and he probably would have done what Netanyahu is talking about now: trying to keep the whole Jordan Valley, annex about 20% of the West Bank where the wall runs and maintain control of the underground water resources, maintain control of the air-space above it. So again this is not a serious engagement for peace. This is a unilateral security-minded way to engage with the Palestinians as inferior people who do not have the same rights to statehood and sovereignty and security and human dignity that Jews and Israelis and Zionists do.

This is the problem with Sharon: that he would make these bold, dramatic gestures which would catch the attention of the world and the media and many Israelis, but when you disaggregate his actions and you look at them one by one, they’re essentially colonial in spirit and even, I would say, semi-racist and apartheid-like in their motivation. And this is the real problem with him. He was a man of great complexity, of great drama, but I think also of great criminality at one level because the actions he did – the settlements, the wall, the killings, the siege – were all basically against international law.”

Not a peep is heard from Doucet in response to that polemic. Not even a reminder to listeners that the partial blockade on Gaza came about – almost two years after the disengagement and 18 months after Sharon fell ill – as a result of the increased terror attacks from the Gaza Strip which Khouri of course completely airbrushes from the picture. One actually has to wonder what was the point of having Doucet in the studio at all – other than as scenery for Khouri’s diatribe. 

But she is not quite finished yet. After the final guest – former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who gives a very interesting account of his impressions of Sharon – parts of the ‘interview’ with Rami Khouri are rebroadcast.

Not only was no attempt made in this programme to conform to editorial standards of accuracy, but inaccurate information was actively promoted – including in the news bulletin. In addition, whilst listeners heard three positive or neutral opinions (Peres, Ayalon and Indyk), they heard negative or even demonizing ones from a Hamas spokesman, Mustafa Barghouti, Amir Oren, Jim Muir’s interviewee and twice from Rami Khouri, not to mention Doucet herself and Wooldridge. Clearly, as far as editorial guidelines on impartiality are concerned, no genuine attempt to give a balanced view was made.

This programme was broadcast just eight hours after the previous – and no less problematic – edition also presented by Doucet in which the balance was also tipped in favour of negative and even defamatory commentary. It is abundantly clear what the producers and presenter of both programmes were trying to convey to BBC audiences around the world and it is also very obvious that they were not going to let BBC editorial guidelines get in their way.

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Breaches of editorial guidelines in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special Sharon broadcast

Loving the hate: BBC coverage of Sharon’s death

One of the notable features of the BBC’s tsunami of coverage of Ariel Sharon’s death – and one which has already received no small amount of criticism on social media for its inappropriate lack of taste – has been the generous inclusion and amplification of hate-filled views of the man and his life.

On the live page which appeared on the BBC News website on January 11th immediately following the official announcement of Sharon’s death under the tacky heading “As it happened: Ariel Sharon dies“, the feed included the following. [all emphasis added]

“1446: Arab Twitter users were celebrating Sharon’s death within seconds of it being announced. Tweets in Arabic seen by the BBC recount what many see as Sharon’s crimes from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war through the occupation of Lebanon in 1982, to the storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque complex in 2000.

“Sharon is a shedder of blood, all the curses of the skies and the Earth are on him, he killed children and women, and displaced families,” read one tweet.

“There are many like Sharon in the school of the Zionists,” read another. “Like many before him he died, and the school of crimes survives.”

Many regretted Sharon had not stood trial. “I did not see him standing behind bars to be tried for the pain and harm he caused for the Palestinian people, but it is fate, yes fate,” wrote one.”

Is the phrase “storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque complex” really an accurate description of the events of September 28th 2000 in the eyes of the BBC? 

“1504: Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, welcomed the departure of a “tyrant”. “Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile,” said spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi.”

“1505: A former minister in the Palestinian Authority, Ghassan Khatib, has told BBC World Service that Palestinians will never forgive Ariel Sharon for what he did. “We all only have negative and bad memories of Sharon,” he said.

“I think the consensus among Palestinians is that Sharon needed to be treated as a war criminal more than anything else. In all his political life he was a leading figure in the Israeli political camp that worked by all possible means, legal and illegal, in order to maintain the illegal control of Israel over the Palestinians.” “

“1535: Few tears are being shed for Sharon in Egypt, if the blog posts seen by BBC Monitoring are anything to go by.

“Sharon died years ago, today he is being taken to the courtroom,” wrote well-known Egyptian actor and activist Nabil al-Halafawi on Twitter.

Khayri Ramadan, a prominent presenter on one of the most watched private channels in Egypt, CBC TV, tweeted: “The murderer Ariel Sharon. Sharon died and is thrown in the history’s dustbin because of his brutality, maltreatment of our brothers in Palestine and Lebanon.” “

“1620: In the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis, correspondents saw some people burning pictures of Sharon or stamping on them, while others distributed sweets to motorists and passers-by.”

“1627:

Image on Iran's Fars news agency

 This image appeared on Iran’s Fars news agency with the caption “The story of the butcher of Sabra and Shatila is over”.”

“1652: Tawfik Tirawi served as Palestinian intelligence chief when Sharon was prime minister. His reaction to his death: “He wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map… He wanted to kill us but, at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive.” “

“1658: BBC Monitoring has been watching Iranian media for their coverage of Sharon’s death. For the state TV of one of Israel’s greatest enemies, he was a “criminal Zionist racist” and “mastermind of the brutal massacre of more 3,300 oppressed Palestinians and refugees”. According to a presenter on the channel, Sharon “got involved in the genocide and occupation of Palestinian lands by enrolling in a Zionist group in his youth”.”

“1738: Palestinians who survived the 1982 Sabra and Shatila camp massacre in Beirut show no sympathy or compassion over Sharon’s death, Reuters news agency reports.

“I personally, as a witness and what I suffered from that person, I say to Hell and hellfire Sharon and similar to Sharon,” said one of them, Youssef Hamzeh.

“We have been suffering for the past 32 years, he suffered for only eight years,” said another, named as Milany Botros Alha Borje. “I wish he could for 10 more years so that I would be happy. There is nothing we can do. That’s God’s will.” “

For some inexplicable reason, official BBC Twitter accounts also saw fit to amplify and spread such hateful opinions.

BBC News world sharon tweets 1

BBC News world Sharon tweets 2Similar comments were amplified – and also solicited – in BBC reports appearing on the BBC News website and on BBC television news programmes.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Lebanon took the trouble of going to Shatila to gather comments from people there. 

Sharon Muir Lebanon

A recording of an interview with Mustafa Barghouti (presented only as a member of the PLC) which appeared on the BBC News website on January 12th was apparently taken from a telephone interview elsewhere, but its source is difficult to determine because the interviewer does not bother to intervene no matter how ridiculous Barghouti’s claims are or how many times BBC style guide rules are breached.

“And the most bad memory we have is – the worst memory – is that he practically undermined and destroyed the peace process – the Oslo process – when he visited Al Aqsa Mosque and launched a campaign against the implementation of the peace process, eventually building what has become the apartheid wall or the segregation wall that is confiscating and occupying big parts of the West Bank. And also he was responsible for the building of so many settlements – illegal Israeli settlements […] besides of course the fact that many people suspect that he was responsible for the assassination of Mr Arafat…”

Sharon filmed Barghouti

A filmed report by Kevin Connolly from January 11th has a ‘man in the Gaza street’ interview and shows footage of pictures of Sharon being burned in Gaza and celebratory sweets being handed out. 

Sharon Connolly street

An additional article from January 11th which appeared on the BBC News website is titled “Ariel Sharon death in Israel: World reaction“. That article features quotes from various Palestinian personalities and, notably, from the politically motivated NGO Human Rights Watch.

“There was little sorrow among Palestinians at Ariel Sharon’s death, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At Khan Younis in Gaza, sweets were handed out and posters of the late Israeli prime minister was burned.

“We don’t say good riddance but I don’t think he has left us anything positive,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. She told the BBC his legacy was one of violence, bloodshed and cruelty. Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was a “unilateral redeployment” that maintained a “very strict siege”.

Former minister Ghassan Khatib said “in all his history, he played a negative role” and a senior official in the Fatah movement, Jibril Rajoub, condemned him as a criminal whom Palestinians had wanted to see tried as a war criminal.

Khalil al-Haya of Gaza’s Islamist militant Hamas movement said after eight years Ariel Sharon was going in the same direction as “other tyrants and criminals whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood”.”

“The organisation Human Rights Watch said Ariel Sharon had died without facing justice for the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.”

Another article appearing on the BBC News website on January 12th saw fit to reproduce chosen quotes from the Middle East press such as the one below.

“Antar Farahat in Egypt’s privately-owned daily Al-Misri al-Yawm

His crimes and the massacres he committed against Palestinians and Arabs are witness to unprecedented racism and bloodiness… He has well-deserved the names of ‘Dracula’, ‘the Bulldozer’, ‘the hungry wolf’ and ‘war criminal’ and despite this his people regard him as a national hero in light of the achievements he made for them at the expense of Arab and Palestinian blood by taking part in all the wars Israel waged.”

But apparently the BBC policy of amplifying the hate-speech of anyone and everyone – from the Tweeter in the street to members of terrorist organisations and tame editors of newspapers from theocratic dictatorships – when statesmen and politicians pass away is selective. We certainly saw no evidence of such policy when Mandela recently died and it will be remembered that the BBC saw fit to censor a song about former British PM Margaret Thatcher at the time of her passing on the grounds that it was an inappropriate “celebration of death”.

One wonders how the licence fee-paying public would react if, when their time comes, former British statesmen were treated according to the version of those selective criteria deemed appropriate for a former Israeli Prime minister and their families exposed to BBC-sponsored tirades of hatred before they are even buried.

 

BBC amplifies Hizballah propaganda yet again

Late on the night of Tuesday December 3rd a senior Hizballah operative named Hassan Lakkis (also Laqis) was allegedly shot outside his home in Beirut and later died of his wounds. By Wednesday lunchtime local time, a Lebanese Sunni group had taken responsibility for the incident. 

“The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Battalion officially claims the heroic jihadist operation of assassinating the leading member in the party of the devil [Hezbollah] Hassan Houlo al-Laqis in [Hezbollah’s] home ground,” the group wrote on twitter.

“The jihadist operation was implemented by free Sunni lions from Lebanon,” another tweet wrote.

Now Lebanon tweet

The BBC News website’s coverage of the story began on Wednesday morning and has since undergone extensive changes. From the first version of the article, however, one of its dominant themes was the repetition of unfounded Hizballah accusations concerning Israel’s involvement in the attack, despite the BBC clearly being aware of the absence of any evidence to support them. 

Colebourn Lakis tweet

Lakis art 1

The article as it currently stands at the time of writing, together with the side box of analysis by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Jim Muir, totals 666 words – with the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli’ being used nine times. Muir sidebox Lakis

In the body of the article readers are told that:

“Hezbollah blamed Israel for his death but Israel has denied the accusation. […]

“The group [Hizballah] said Israel had tried to kill him several times previously.” […]

“Israel denied any involvement in the death.”

“These automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “They don’t need evidence, they don’t need facts. They just blame anything on Israel.” […]

“Hezbollah fought a destructive 34-day war with Israel in 2006. The group said that one of Lakkis’s sons had been killed in that conflict.”

In his sidebox of analysis Muir writes:

“One of his colleagues, Ghaleb Awali, was killed by a car bomb in southern Beirut in 2004, an incident which Hezbollah also blamed on Israel.” […]

“Israel usually does not comment on assassinations in which it is believed to have had a hand, such as the killing of another senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in a bomb explosion in Damascus in 2008. But on this occasion it adamantly denied killing Hassan Lakkis, in what appears to have been a fairly clumsy operation by whoever did it.”

In a filmed report broadcast on BBC television news and also placed on the BBC News website, Muir repeated the Hizballah line.

“But of course Hizballah itself has been very quick to blame Israel for this killing – something the Israelis have denied. Now normally, if they have had a hand in something, or it’s believed they have, they keep quiet – they say absolutely nothing.”

Muir filmed Lakkis

So busy is the BBC repeating and promoting the baseless propaganda of a terrorist organization, that exploration of the possibility that the assassination might have been carried out by any actor which is not Israel is reduced to one vague sentence in Muir’s analysis, which was repeated in the body of the main article’s earlier versions – including the decidedly curious use of the term “unlikely target”.

“But Lakkis might be an unlikely target for Sunni militants angered by Hezbollah’s role in Syria.”

Likewise, the terrorist organisation’s role in the Syrian civil war is also downplayed, both in the article itself and in Muir’s sidebox.

“Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad.”

“Lakkis’s death comes in the context of repeated attacks on Hezbollah’s heartland in Beirut’s southern suburbs which are seen as connected to the movement’s involvement alongside Syrian government forces in their struggle with mainly Sunni rebels.”

Notably, the article fails to make clear to readers Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization which is operational worldwide, describing it thus:

“Hezbollah – or the Party of God – is a powerful political and military organisation in Lebanon made up mainly of Shia Muslims.

It emerged with financial backing from Iran in the early 1980s and began a struggle to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon.”

As Michael Totten has noted:

“And yet Hezbollah is still often described, by itself and by its Western apologists, as an indigenous Lebanese “resistance” movement in a twilight struggle against the Jewish state. It is, in fact, a multinational terror operation with Iran as its funder and controller.”

The BBC article also states that:

“Little is known publicly about Lakkis, but he was reputedly close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and an expert in weapons manufacturing.”

As is documented in Matthew Levitt’s recently published book, Lakkis was previously also responsible for Hizballah’s procurement of arms and military equipment.

“In 2001, Mohammad Dbouk was indicted in U.S. federal court under Operation Smokescreen. According to U.S. investigators, Dbouk is an Iranian-trained Hezbollah operative and “an intelligence specialist and propagandist [who] was dispatched to Canada by Hezbollah for the express purpose of obtaining surveillance equipment.” According to information collected by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) during its investigation into Mohammad Dbouk’s activities in Canada, first in Montreal and then in Vancouver, Dbouk was acting under the direction of Hezbollah’s then chief of procurement, the aforementioned Haj Hassan Hilu Laqis, who was based in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]

Just a couple of weeks ago the BBC was amplifying Iranian propaganda on the subject of the terror attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut – see here and here.  In this article (as well as in a separate one) it now adds Hizballah propaganda to its cocktail of unfounded accusations surrounding that incident.

“The news comes a day after Hassan Nasrallah said Saudi Arabia was behind last month’s bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut.”

The BBC clearly has a problem knowing how to relate to the streams of all too predictable propaganda regularly produced by regimes and terrorist organisations in the Middle East. Its current practice of uncritical repetition and amplification of baseless rumour, conspiracy theories and propaganda is clearly incompatible with its obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” and its self-declared aspiration to “remain the standard-setter for international journalism”.

The BBC’s remit is to help audiences look beyond the propaganda and rhetoric they can just as easily view on websites and television stations run by Hizballah or the Iranian and Syrian regimes rather than giving it inappropriate credence through uncritical repetition and amplification on its own website and television news.

Related articles:

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BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC Arabic’s Edgard Jallad promotes Iranian propaganda on BBC World News

BBC amplifies Iranian propaganda over Beirut embassy bombing

BBC suggests failure to convene Syria peace conference will be Israel’s fault

Disagreements over who will attend it, flat-out rejection of the idea by some of the opposition militias, differences of opinion regarding preconditions relating to Bashar Assad’s departure from power: these are just some of many unresolved issues dogging the proposed Geneva conference on Syria, for which even a date has yet to be finalised. 

The BBC, however, apparently has its own ideas as to what might prevent the conference from coming about and they were promoted to readers of a November 1st article appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and titled “Syria conflict: Israel ‘carries out Latakia air strike’“.

“The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says the reports come at a delicate moment, with the Russians – who apparently made the weapons that Israel is said to have targeted – working closely with the US to get a peace conference on Syria off the ground.”

And, from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

“The US, Israel’s closest ally, may be a little concerned. The consignment of expensive weapons destroyed is thought to have come from Russia, and Washington won’t want to see Russian displeasure provoked at a moment when its co-operation is needed to keep alive any hope of peace talks.”

This BBC report is of course based entirely upon speculations arising from a statement attributed to one anonymous White House official rather than on any hard evidence or fact. Nonetheless, that does not prevent the BBC from jumping to – and promoting – conclusions it apparently finds convenient. Later versions of the report included a filmed item – also broadcast on BBC News – by Quentin Sommerville, which opens with the words:

“Israeli air power on show just last week; only days before the air force carried out an attack on Syria.”

No ‘alleged attack’, no ‘said to have carried out’: Sommerville – who, bizarrely, even implied that he is privy to information on which specific planes were involved in an operation which has not been officially acknowledged –  and his colleagues promote a version of events cribbed from hearsay from a second-hand source they not even capable of identifying. 

Latakiya article

At some point it was apparently understood that Sommerville’s bizarre implication was a step too far along the credibility path and the caption to that video was changed. 

changed caption vid Latakia art

As usual, this BBC report misleads readers by describing Hizballah in euphemistic terms such as “Lebanese militant group” and “Shia militia”, making no attempt to explain to its readers that the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hizballah contravenes UN resolution 1701 or to remind them of the international community’s abject failure to meet the rest of the terms of its own resolutions regarding that terrorist organization. 

Confusingly for readers, the BBC does not seem to be able to decide how many previous air strikes it wishes to attribute to Israel. Whilst in the body of the latest version of this article it is stated that “[t]his is believed to be sixth Israeli attack in Syria this year”, the side box by Kevin Connolly states that “[t]his is thought to be the fifth or sixth such attack this year”. Another side box cites four “[a]lleged Israeli strikes on Syria” whilst earlier versions of the article used the number three, which was also the number the BBC was citing two months ago.

That confusion is of course a symptom of the fact that the BBC has no concrete information to offer its audiences on this subject and so its reports are based entirely on hearsay and conjecture. Whatever the actual facts behind this incident, it is difficult to understand how such speculative reports can be claimed to conform to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality. 

Related articles:

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

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC unquestioningly promotes Assad’s “destabilisation” claims

BBC’s Jim Muir paints ‘cartoon villain’ Israel

BBC’s Muir continues to caricature Israel