BBC radio passes the microphone to Iranian propaganda

h/t SG

The January 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update’ – titled ‘Iran vows revenge for US killing of military leader’– included an early item (from 04:35 here) which was introduced by presenter Dan Damon thus:

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

Damon: “I spoke to one of the loyal Iranian voices that we can reach in Tehran. He’s Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi at the University of Tehran. He told me how important the General was to the people of Iran.”

Damon did not adequately clarify the meaning of that highlighted phrase and so audiences were unlikely to appreciate that they were about to hear largely unchallenged propaganda from a regime loyalist who has for years been rolled out to defend the Iranian regime in the English language mediaincluding the BBC

Marandi: “He’s very popular because he helped defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq. Many believe that if it wasn’t for him in Syria the capital would have fallen to the extremist forces that were backed by Saudi Arabia and other countries of the region as well as the United States. And the same is true with Iraq. Iraq was on the verge of collapse and he went there and personally commanded troops in both countries to prevent the fall of these capitals to these forces and people in Iran believe that if these two capitals had fallen we would be fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda and other such groups inside Iran today.”

Damon: “The United States says he also led operations that killed many American soldiers. Do you accept that?”

Marandi: “I think it’s somewhat ridiculous for the Americans to blame Iran for their illegal occupation of Iraq and to deny the Iraqi people agency. The Americans helped create Saddam Hussein – they created the monster that they later destroyed. They imposed sanctions on Iraq where roughly a million people were killed. Then they invaded the country illegally with…and lied about weapons of mass destruction and alleged links to Al Qaeda. They destroyed the country and then after they helped create the mess in Syria by supporting extremist forces, those forces came into Iraq and the Americans refused to help Iraq when ISIS was advancing on the capital. So the United States is in no position to complain about anything in this part of the world.”

Damon made no effort to question or challenge that account.

Damon: “Why was Major General Soleimani so vulnerable? We all knew, didn’t we, that he was being monitored by the Americans very closely. Why wasn’t he protected?”

Marandi: “He was on an official visit. He entered the country through the Iraqi airport. There was nothing secret about his visit and he was met by senior Iraqi military officials who were also murdered [sic] by the US army. The Iranians believe that this is an act of war and the Iraqis believe that this is an act of war because they also killed a senior Iraqi military hero. And the Americans should not be fooled by the former Saddam Hussein supporters or ISIS supporters or American NGO people who are celebrating in Baghdad. We’ll see soon where public opinion in Iraq stands and how that will impact the US occupation in Iraq.”

Even that highlighted propaganda failed to prompt any challenge from Damon.

Damon: “President Donald Trump says he doesn’t want war and he doesn’t think Iran wants war because, to quote him, it would be very short. Do you think that’s right?”

Marandi: “The Americans will not win in any war in this region. Iran is not alone. Iran’s allies in Yemen, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, across the board are on the ascendance and Iraqis themselves are outraged by this act of war against Iraqis. The murder of innocent Iraqi soldiers on the front line against ISIS by American troops. Iran is a very powerful country. Iran is not the Iraq of Saddam Hussein and the Americans are in a very vulnerable position and American allies in the region are very vulnerable. This is not a war that the Americans can win. But the Iranians will definitely respond to the United States and the Iraqis will definitely respond to the United States. There will be a heavy price to pay.”

Referring to one of Marandi’s ‘contributions’ to Iranian English language TV earlier in the day, Damon went on:

Damon: “I think you said on Iranian TV that all Westerners should leave the Middle East. What did you mean?”

Marandi: “The situation is very dangerous. Western citizens in the United Arab Emirates and in other countries should leave because the United States has bases in all these countries and Iraq and countries like the Emirates, Saudi Arabia are a part of the US war against the Iranian people [sic].”

Damon closed that interview there. Those four minutes of unchallenged Iranian regime propaganda (in which the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad and other relevant events were completely whitewashed) were promoted separately by the BBC World Service and embedded into the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ updates – without any indication to audiences of Marandi’s regime connections.

Four days later Marandi was back on the BBC airwaves. The January 7th edition of the BBC Radio 5 live programme ‘Up All Night’ – hosted by Rhod Sharp – gave him over fifteen minutes of airtime (from 3:06:25 here) after having introduced him using only his academic titles.

Marandi began by describing Soleimani as a “war hero” who, during the Iran-Iraq war, had survived chemical weapons attacks. He went on to promote a lie he has been peddling for over a decade, claiming that those chemical weapons “were provided to Saddam Hussein by European countries and the United States”.

Sharp failed to provide any challenge to that falsehood or to the subsequent claim that Soleimani “helped the Palestinians and their cause…ah…they’re…they live under apartheid and colonisation.”

He was similarly silent when Marandi claimed that it was a US objective to “create a Salafist state between Syria and Iraq”.

Marandi’s falsehoods and conspiracy theories continued unquestioned until Sharp closed the item by reminding listeners of his academic titles but with no mention of his regime connections.

Obviously the amplification of Iranian regime approved propaganda does not meet the BBC’s public purpose remit of providing “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world” – especially when that propaganda goes unquestioned and unchallenged by underinformed BBC presenters clearly trying to fill airtime. Moreover, the damage done to audience understanding of the story is exacerbated when audiences are not informed (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) of the relevant context of the contributor’s “particular viewpoint” and affiliations  and he is presented as a supposedly neutral and reliable ‘academic’.

 

 

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

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

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

 

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humphrys: “Alright.”

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

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

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

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

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