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.

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BBC News ignores brewing Red Sea tensions

Back in late June we highlighted a report by the INSS on the topic of the Red Sea.

“Although the threat posed by pirates in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait has declined in recent years as a result of international action, a new threat to freedom of navigation has emerged there due to the war in Yemen, which assumed a distinctively regional character with the onset of the Saudi campaign against the Houthis in 2015. The Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have mined areas along the coast of Yemen, used explosive boats and anti-ship missiles to attack primarily American and Saudi military maritime vessels, and on at least one occasion (in April 2018) struck a Saudi oil tanker. […]

The Red Sea arena possesses considerable economic importance. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 29 kilometers wide and constitutes a maritime chokepoint and strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  A significant volume of the world’s maritime traffic passes through the Strait, including a daily average of some five million barrels of oil. The Suez Canal constitutes an important source of income for Egypt, as does the port of Aqaba for Jordan and the port of Jeddah for Saudi Arabia (its most important port). It is also the route of passage to the port of Eilat.”

On July 25th another attack on Saudi Arabian ships in the Bab el-Mandeb strait took place and Saudi Arabia subsequently temporarily halted oil exports via that route.

“Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. […]

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage.

“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” he said. […]

Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated at around 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to analysts and Reuters data. Most Gulf oil exports that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline pass through the strait.”

Ha’aretz reported that the incident was “attracting a great deal of attention among intelligence organizations in the region and from the oil industry”.

“The tanker, the Arsan, was flying a Saudi flag and transporting some 2 million barrels of oil to Egypt. It was struck by missiles near the port of Hodeida in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacking the Houthis for the past few months. According to the Washington Institute the tankers were hit by a rocket fired from a fast-attack vessel or a ground-to-sea missile fired from Yemen, possibly a C-802, which Iran supplies to the rebels. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and the Saudis announced that they were suspending tanker shipments in the Red Sea until the situation was sorted out and marine traffic was safe again.”

Despite an extensive search on the BBC News website – including its Saudi Arabia and Yemen pages and its business section – we have not been able to find any BBC reporting whatsoever on that incident.

The following day – July 26th – the BBC News website published an article headlined “Iran general warns Trump war would ‘destroy all you possess’” in which readers were told that:

“An Iranian special forces commander has warned President Donald Trump if the US attacks Iran it “will destroy all that you possess”.

Major General Qassem Soleimani vowed that if Mr Trump started a war, the Islamic Republic would end it, Iranian news agency Tasnim reported.

It follows Mr Trump’s all-caps-lock tweet warning Iran’s president to “never, ever” threaten the US. […]

Maj Gen Soleimani – who leads the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – was quoted on Thursday as saying: “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats. […]

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.

“If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”

The BBC did not inform its readers that Soleimani’s threats included – as reported by the Guardian and others – a specific mention of the Red Sea.

“The senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani has hit back at Donald Trump’s tweeted threats against Tehran in colourful language, likening him to a gambler and a cabaret owner, and saying Iran would be the one to “end” any war between their two countries. […]

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] … The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” added Suleimani, according to the Tasnim news agency. […]

Suleimani’s warning to the US about the Red Sea comes on the same day Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, suspended oil exports through the strategic shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb due to missile attacks on two oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels off the Yemen coast.”

Clearly any Iranian threats concerning the potential disruption of international shipping in the Red Sea are of considerable significance – and not only for countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel

Moreover, MEMRI reports that:

“On August 6, 2018, the Iranian news agency Fars published statements by Gen. Naser Sha’bani, a top official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in which he noted that the regime of the Islamic Revolution had ordered the pro-Iran Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia in Yemen to attack two Saudi tankers, and that it had carried out those orders. […]

It should be emphasized that the quote about the order to attack the tankers was deleted from the Fars website after the statements were published. MEMRI has in its possession a copy of the original prior to the deletion.”

To date, however, the BBC’s funding public has seen no reporting whatsoever on this story.