BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

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

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

 

Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

On the morning of August 25th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drones’ in Syria to prevent attacks” on its Middle East page. The headline was later amended to read “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drone’ sites in Syria”.

The article in fact relates to two separate incidents, the first of which took place over twelve hours before the publication of the BBC’s report. The BBC described that incident as follows:

“Israel has struck Iranian military sites in Syria to prevent what it said was a pending drone strike by Iran.

Israel’s military rarely acknowledges operations in Syria, but it claimed on Saturday its strikes had prevented an attack on Israel “using killer drones”. […]

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes on Saturday targeted Iran’s Quds force in Aqraba, south-east of the capital, Damascus.”

A part of that story which the BBC chose not to tell – even though the information was readily available – is as follows:

“The Israeli military said its strike late Saturday targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives. […]

[IDF Spokesman] Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said. […]

“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”

He said the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.””

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that, as reported by Ha’aretz:

“A commentator close to the Revolutionary Guards wrote [on Thursday August 22nd] in the Iranian newspaper Kayhan that Israeli actions in Iraq and Syria would be met with surprises, such as launches of UAVs at sensitive security targets, ports and nuclear sites in Israel. The plan that was foiled, according to the IDF, was identical to the action threatened beforehand by the commentator.”

The BBC did choose to amplify Syrian claims:

“A Syrian military source quoted by the official Sana news agency said that Syrian anti-aircraft defences “detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus”.

“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets,” the source said.”

BBC audiences were not informed that – despite those claims – at least three Hizballah operatives were reportedly killed.  

By way of ‘context’ BBC audiences were told that:

“Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, to try to prevent Iran gaining a foothold.”

While Israel has indeed carried out strikes in order to prevent both advanced weaponry reaching the Hizballah terror organisation and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, that context is not relevant to this particular story, which is about the prevention of an imminent attack by Iranian forces on Israel. That fact of course explains why in this case Israel did release statements concerning the incident.

The second story in this report relates to an incident which took place a few hours later in Lebanon and which was portrayed by the BBC in the first two versions of the article as follows:

“Separately, reports said two Israeli surveillance drones had come down in a stronghold of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Hezbollah officials said an unmanned drone fell on the roof of a media centre belonging to the group, and was followed by a second unmanned drone that exploded in mid-air and crashed nearby.

Residents told the Associated Press they heard a large explosion that shook the area, after hearing the sound of an aircraft. Israel’s military declined to comment on the reports.”

Some two and a half hours after the report’s initial publication, the sub-heading “Blatant attack” was added along with comments from the Lebanese prime minister.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Israel’s alleged surveillance drones a “blatant attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty”.

“This new aggression… forms a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards more tension,” he said in a statement.”

The BBC does not appear to have carried out any independent verification of the claims put out to news agencies by Hizballah – including the allegation that the drones were Israeli – before publishing its own report.

And so BBC audiences got superficial and incomplete reporting on two separate incidents based in no small part on second-hand claims made by ‘reliable’ sources such as the Hizballah terrorist organisation and the Assad regime.

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, David Hirsh discusses the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

“The working definition does not seek to see a person’s essence to find out whether they are antisemitic. What it does instead is to help in the recognition of antisemitic actions and ways of thinking. It is concerned with what people do, what they say and what they tolerate; not what they are.

Many in the movement to boycott and to de-legitimize Israel are afraid of the working definition. They say that it defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It actually does the opposite. It helps us to make the distinction between what kinds of criticism may be legitimate and what kinds of hostility or demonization may either lead towards, or result from, antisemitism.”

2) The JCPA has a paper by Liora Chartouni titled “70 Years after UN Resolution 181: An Assessment“.

“Initially, both Jews and Arabs were shocked by the idea of partition. “The Zionist movement viewed the whole of Eretz Yisrael as a Jewish patrimony,” according to Israeli scholar Prof. Shlomo Avineri, “and the effort to reach a Jewish majority was aimed at giving this claim international support and legitimacy. And the emerging Palestinian national movement … viewed Falastin as integral a part of the great Arab homeland as all other lands from Morocco to Iraq.”

However, although the two sides shared the surprise, their reaction to the partition plan diverged significantly. The Jews accepted the plan with a mixture of joy and hesitation, while the other rejected it and launched a war to forcibly prevent its implementation.

Although both parties claimed a legitimate right to inhabit the area, the Arabs denied the Jews any right whatsoever in their ancestral homeland, and a large majority still maintains this view to this day. The adoption of UN Resolution 181 was seen as cataclysmic by the Arab side; not only did they not abide by it, but they went to war against the nascent Jewish State to express their discontentment and their refusal to allow a such a state to exist.”

3) Following the UNGA’s adoption of resolution 181 on November 29th 1947, Arab forces launched immediate attacks on the Jewish community in Palestine and acts of violence also took place against Jews in several Arab countries. The Israel State Archives recently put online documents relating to the pogroms in Aden, Yemen (at the time a British protectorate) that took place between December 2nd and 4th 1947 in which 82 Jews were murdered, 76 wounded, synagogues destroyed and property looted. The file – mostly in English – can be found here.

4) Writing at Newsweek, David Daoud and Jason Brodsky provide some insight into the domestic politics behind the recent story concerning Lebanon’s prime minister.

“Hariri’s dramatic resignation arose from an awareness that he no longer inspires the confidence of his Lebanese Sunni base, and that will cost him in parliament—his pro-Western camp’s last holdout—in the upcoming May 2018 elections. For over a decade, he’s been consistently outmaneuvered by Hezbollah and its political allies even while in power. Worse yet, his concessions over the last two years have made him look like a polite fig-leaf for creeping Iranian domination of Lebanon, further eroding his Sunni support—a fact he bemoaned in a recent interview from Riyadh. […]

Hariri’s Future Party is currently parliament’s largest—with 28 of 128 seats. With his broader allies, he theoretically has a slim majority. However, that is a holdover from the country’s last parliamentary elections in 2009. With his eroded credibility and Lebanon’s new electoral law placing a higher premium than before on popular support, he’s guaranteed to lose it the 2018 elections. Given parliament’s power of electing the president and confirming the prime minister and his cabinet, it is a particularly important body to lose.”

BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

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

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Unnecessary BBC correction does a makeover on Nasrallah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with Lebanese academic Amal Saad who was presented only as a “political analyst and author” and who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The evening edition of the programme – again presented by Rebecca Kesby – ran with the Saad Hariri resignation story as its lead item (from 00:48 here). Kesby began by telling listeners that an unidentified “many” suspect that Hariri “was coerced at the very least” into resigning from his post as prime minister of Lebanon before going on to amplify more Hizballah hyperbole.

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

Kesby: “Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said the move amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon and the Reuters news agency quoted today an unnamed senior Lebanese official quoting the President Michel Aoun saying that he’d told foreign diplomats that he believed Mr Hariri had been kidnapped by Saudi Arabia.”

Listeners then heard from the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher who reported on a statement put out by Hariri’s party before remarking that “the mystery, internationally, is growing”.

From 04:30 Kesby continued:

Kesby: “Over the past few days many nervous eyes have been watching the Middle East as Saudi Arabia ordered its nationals to leave Lebanon with immediate effect earlier this week and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was warning yesterday that other countries should not use Lebanon for proxy conflict – he called it – a comment that seems to have been aimed at Riyadh potentially. So could this tense situation spill over into a new war in the region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who’s a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of Kesby’s previously broadcast interview with Saad – up to and including the allegation that “Saudi Arabia is […] paying Israel money”, thereby “pressuring it to invade Lebanon” along with amplification of additional Hizballah propaganda.

Following that interview, Kesby continued to promote the theme of Israeli involvement in the Hariri story.

08:17 Kesby: “So what could the implications of Mr Hariri’s apparent resignation be for the region and what role might Israel play?  I’ve been speaking to Amos Harel the defence correspondent at Ha’aretz and I asked him first was there any genuine appetite in Israel for a fresh war with Hizballah militants in Lebanon.”

After Harel responded that there is no such “appetite”, Kesby went on:

Kesby: “Even so though, there are some analysts – and even the former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro – have been suggesting that Israel could actually find itself manipulated or provoked somehow into another war with Hizballah. Is that something that would concern you?”

Harel replied that such a possibility always exists, pointing out that if Hizballah’s hundreds of thousands of missiles were used to attack Israeli civilians it would not be “taken lightly”. Kesby continued:

Kesby: “I wonder what you make then of these reports circulating that Prime Minister Netanyahu has apparently sent a memo out to Israeli ambassadors to advocate in favour of Saudi Arabia in the past week or so. If those reports are true, does it make you rather nervous that this relationship could be getting a bit too cosy with the Saudis?”

Harel pointed out that the claim – reported by Israel’s Channel 10 – “doesn’t mean action” and that Saudi Arabia and Israel “see eye to eye on Iran”.

The item ended after the rest of that interview with Harel, meaning that listeners once again heard nothing at all to counter the Hizballah (and Iranian) talking points promoted by Amal Saad.

Obviously Kesby’s bland presentation of Saad as a “political analyst and author” was not conducive to aiding audiences to understand her “particular viewpoint” – as required by the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality – and thus be able to put her assertions and allegations into their appropriate context.

Even a cursory look at Saad’s Twitter account gives ample insight into the views of the academic who claims to have had her contract with a US think tank “terminated because of my ‘biased’ work on Iranian foreign policy” and does not consider Hizballah to be a terrorist organisation but describes it instead as a “grassroots resistance movement”.

We do not of course know whether or not the ‘Newshour’ team actually bothered to research Amal Saad’s political agenda before inviting her to be the sole ‘analyst’ of the Hariri resignation story in these two episodes of ‘Newshour’. What is clear, however, is that her completely unchallenged recycling of Hizballah propaganda contributed nothing to helping BBC audiences better understand the story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

 

 

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

The November 11th afternoon and evening editions of BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ both included an interview with a person presented only as a “political analyst and author” who on both occasions promoted Hizballah propaganda – including in relation to Israel.

The item in afternoon edition of the programme (from 30:00 here) – presented by Rebecca Kesby – opened with an introduction that made no mention of the relevant context of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation.

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

Kesby: “Now the shock resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri a week ago has thrown the Middle East into diplomatic confusion. He made his announcement from Saudi Arabia. That fact alone has caused great unease in Lebanon with many suspecting that he was coerced into that decision. Yesterday the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah said Mr Hariri’s resignation had been orchestrated by the Saudi government and its actions amounted to a declaration of war on Lebanon.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of Nasrallah’s speech that had been aired in the previous evening’s edition of ‘Newshour’.

Nasrallah (v/o): “In short it is clear that Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon and on Hizballah in Lebanon. But I have to say, this is a war on Lebanon.”

Kesby: “So just how serious is this situation for Lebanon and the wider region? I’ve been speaking to Professor Amal Saad who is a Lebanese political analyst and author of ‘Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion’.”

Listeners then heard uncritical repetition of the claim made by the head of the Lebanese terror organisation from the BBC’s chosen ‘analyst’.

Saad: “Well it’s definitely a serious one. Now when we talk about war, I’m not quite sure that military warfare is the only way this situation could escalate. I mean obviously that is an option but I don’t think it’s a very likely one at this moment. Just to kind of like centre Lebanon into this discussion, Lebanon is basically the new battleground where this regional escalation is…basically might take place, right? And Saudi Arabia has now basically declared war on Lebanon and in so doing, is also attempting to weaken Iran –of course focusing on Hizballah here in Lebanon. Now pundits are saying and a lot of people are very concerned that this could actually mean a Saudi-Israeli aggression on Lebanon. I think that’s quite unlikely at the moment. Obviously there isn’t going to be a Saudi-Iranian war so to speak. So what’s most likely to happen I think is a kind of security, possibly de-stabilisation of Lebanon. There might be an attempt to do that. And definitely some kind of economic war on Lebanon, which could actually harm Lebanon quite a bit – not just Hizballah. And the reason I say that is it’s very unlikely that the Israelis are going to allow themselves to do Saudi’s dirty work for them. First of all Saudi is definitely not going to launch any war on Lebanon on its own and definitely not one where it has to actually be at the forefront. It wants Israel to do most of this work.”

Kesby: “And why is that? Because it’s involved in actions elsewhere like Yemen?”

Saad then inaccurately told listeners that the coalition fighting in Yemen is “led by” the US, which – according to the BBC itself – is actually supplying “logistical and intelligence support”.

Saad: “Well that’s one reason of course and even in Yemen where it’s fighting an asymmetrical war against the much, much weaker Houthis, it’s still faring miserably. And it’s not only fighting there alone but fighting alongside an entire coalition – an international and Arab coalition – led by the US. So I really don’t see how the Saudis could expect to fare any better if they chose to confront Hizballah in Lebanon and of course Hizballah is far more sophisticated as a military power than the Houthis are. The Houthis have actually been accused, and so has Hizballah, of aiding the Houthis which means the Houthis are seen as a potential Hizballah model. But Hizballah is definitely here the template they fear the most so if they’re not doing very well fighting the Houthis, then it’s going to be much harder for them to fight Hizballah.”

Kesby: “OK, so let’s unravel why they see Hizballah as such a threat and whether that’s a growing threat in recent years. Obviously Hizballah has been around since the ’80s but there is this concern in the region certainly from the Saudis, isn’t there, that there’s this corridor – geographical as well as political and militarily – linking Hizballah in Lebanon, through Syria, to Iran. Why are they so threatened by Hizballah?”

Saad avoided answering that question, instead opting to amplify more Hizballah propaganda and present a context-free account of the second Lebanon war instigated by Hizballah that went completely unchallenged by Kesby.

Saad: “Well Hizballah has been perceived by Saudi Arabia as an enemy for many years now, especially over the past ten or twelve years. Yesterday, in fact, Nasrallah suggested that Saudi Arabia is not only now basically paying Israel money, pressuring it to invade Lebanon – now it actually did so in 2006 – and that’s because Hizballah is seen by Saudi Arabia as an impediment and a huge obstacle for its regional ambitions inside Lebanon.”

Saad then amplified another Hizballah talking point:

Saad: “It wants to dominate Lebanon and we’ve seen that very clearly over the past few days now with the arrest of the Lebanese prime minister Saad al Hariri. And it’s also being seen as a close ally of Iran and clearly Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its main rival in the region.”

Kesby: “Now we know that President Aoun hasn’t actually accepted Hariri’s resignation. We understand that he is planning to meet or meeting foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries today. I don’t know if you can tell us any more about that and what sort of support he might be seeking and how likely he is to get any support.”

Saad again parroted Hizballah messaging in her response – once again with no challenge at all from Kesby, despite the fact that the BBC had itself reported the previous day that “France’s foreign minister said France believed Mr Hariri was able to move freely”.

Saad: “Well he’s already asked European officials – in fact we saw the French yesterday as well. They issued a statement saying they too…it suggested that Hariri might be being held against his will. So I do think that Aoun’s activities borne some fruit so far because there is a concern among many European capitals and diplomats and I’ve been reading in Western media in fact that they do fear that Hariri is being held under some kind of house arrest and they are attempting to broker some kind of an agreement whereby he could be released. At the very least constitutionally he has not resigned until he comes back and submits a written resignation. This is one of the reasons why many people also believe he’s under house arrest as he’s not being allowed to do that. He’s not even making his resignation official. It was done in a very shoddy, lazy kind of manner on TV. He didn’t even come and submit an official resignation and at the very least, I think, what many of Lebanon’s diplomats in Lebanon would like to see is for at least this issue to be resolved because the government now is kind of suspended. It’s in a state of suspension. It’s not able to meet without their prime minister and yet it’s not a caretaker government either so it’s a very kind of fluid situation and one that isn’t at all conducive to Lebanon’s stability.”

Once more describing her sole interviewee as a “Lebanese political analyst”, Kesby closed the item there.

Parts of this interview were re-broadcast in the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day, which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

The story of the Lebanese prime minister’s “stunning resignation” – as the BBC described it when news of Saad Hariri’s announcement broke on November 4th – can obviously only be fully understood if one is familiar with one of the other major players in that story: Hizballah.

Essential context to that story of course includes the background to the current political landscape in Lebanon – a story that was reported very superficially by the BBC at the time. Clearly too it is important to understand the extent of Hizballah’s influence within the Lebanese government and armed forces as well as the effects that Hizballah’s intervention and actions in other countries has had on Lebanon. An understanding of which countries and bodies designate Hizballah as a terrorist organisation is also crucial, as is familiarity with the extent to which Hizballah is financed and supplied by Iran – and how that translates into Iranian influence in Lebanon.

As one Middle East analyst put it:

“Over the last 11 months, Hariri became a fig-leaf for Hezbollah. As one of the main leaders of the opposition, his appointment as prime minister ostensibly proved Lebanon was maintaining its independence vis-a-vis Iran.

Now, however, the charade is over, and Lebanon remains as it was without the disguise — pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian, and with Hezbollah firmly in control. The Lebanese president is considered to be an Iranian and Hezbollah appointment, the Lebanese army is cooperating and coordinating with Hezbollah, and the Shiite terror group does whatever it likes in Lebanon.”

Since Hariri made his announcement the BBC News website has produced a considerable amount of coverage of the story. However, much of that reporting included softball portrayal of Hizballah which failed to provide BBC audiences with the context essential for full understanding of the story.

The website’s first article on the story – “Lebanese PM Hariri resigns, saying he fears assassination plot” (4/11/17) – whitewashed the financial and military support provided to Hizballah by Iran and airbrushed the terror group’s militia from view, calling it a ‘political party’. No explanation was given regarding the fact that the “political deadlock” was caused by Hizballah.

[all emphasis in bold added] 

“Mr Hariri also attacked the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.”

“Taking up the prime minister’s office last year, Mr Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

“In Lebanon, the Saudis support Mr Hariri while Iran backs the Shia movement, Hezbollah.”

A report appearing the next day – “Lebanon Hariri resignation a plot to stoke tension, says Iran” (5/11/17) – mentioned the murder of Hariri’s father without clarifying that Hizballah operatives have been indicted by the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

“Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.”

“The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

A report titled “Lebanon PM forced by Saudis to resign, says Hezbollah” that appeared on the same day also failed to mention the STL, downplayed Iran’s financial and military support for Hizballah and once again failed to make any mention of its numerous terror designations.

“The leader of Lebanon-based Shia group Hezbollah has said that Saudi Arabia forced the Lebanese prime minister to resign.

Saad Hariri stepped down in a televised broadcast from Saudi Arabia on Saturday, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, and saying he feared for his life.”

“As he resigned on Saturday, Mr Hariri blamed Iran for meddling in several countries, including Lebanon, and said he felt the climate was similar to that which “prevailed” before his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a bomb in 2005.

The attack was widely blamed on Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon but denies it was involved.”

“After taking office last year, Mr Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government he led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.”

An article by Lyse Doucet – “Riyadh’s night of long knives and long-range missiles” (6/11/17) – briefly touched on some of the essential background that BBC audiences had hitherto lacked – albeit mostly in the form of quotes rather than her own analysis.

“Looking visibly distressed, Hariri spoke of fears for his life in his own country. He pointed an accusing finger at Iran for spreading “disorder and destruction”. And he charged that its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, a major Shia militia and powerful political force, with building a “state within a state”.”

“”By his actions, Hariri created a veneer of respectability for a state which in reality is captured by Hezbollah,” said Ali Shihabi.”

“One Western diplomat with long experience in the region highlighted possible next moves: withdrawal of major Saudi bank deposits; trade embargo; action by the Lebanese military, which the US and UK has long helped train and build in an effort to provide a national counterweight to Hezbollah’s military might.”

“Just last month, the US House of Representatives endorsed the imposition of new sanctions against Hezbollah as part of the Trump administration’s drive to exert greater pressure on Iran.

The measures, which have yet to become law, include a resolution urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah’s political wing, and not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation.”

The BBC’s new Beirut correspondent Martin Patience also briefly referred to one crucial point in a report titled “Lebanon in crosshairs as Saudi-Iran tensions soar” (10/11/17) but again failed to clarify the real meaning of the phrase “Iran backs”.

“Iran backs the Shia movement Hezbollah here. Its supporters believe Mr Hariri’s resignation was orchestrated by the Saudis in order to weaken their influence in the country.

Hezbollah has been accused of operating a “state within a state”. Its armed wing is more powerful than the Lebanese army and it leads a bloc which dominates the cabinet.”

However, on the same day a report titled “France’s Macron makes surprise Saudi visit amid Lebanon crisis” (10/11/17) returned to vague phrasing.

“In the video statement, Mr Hariri also attacked Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily powerful in Lebanon, and Iran.”

Readers saw the use of a standard BBC euphemism – “militant group” – in a report titled “Lebanon Hariri crisis: President Aoun demands Saudi answers” (11/11/17) which made no effort to explain Iran’s financial and military support to Hizballah.

“Iran and its Lebanese ally, the militant group Hezbollah, accuse Saudi Arabia of holding Mr Hariri hostage.”

“He [Hariri] accused Iran and Hezbollah, a Shia group, of taking over Lebanon and destabilising the wider region.”

The same was seen in an article headlined “Saad Hariri: Lebanon return from Saudi Arabia ‘within days’” (13/11/17).

“He [Hariri] has blamed the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement for his resignation, citing concerns over his and his family’s safety.”

“”I am not against Hezbollah as a party, I have a problem with Hezbollah destroying the country,” he said.

The main problem for the region, he said, was “Iran interfering in Arab states”.”

On November 15th audiences saw the BBC’s first reference to Hizballah as an Iranian proxy in a report titled “Saad Hariri: Saudis detaining Lebanon PM says Michel Aoun” that gave a very limited description of its terror designation and made no effort to explain the background to the current political landscape in Lebanon. However – eleven days into the story – readers also saw the first mention of Hizballah involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri.

“The Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement, an Iranian proxy that Riyadh considers a terrorist group, is part of the unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year.”

“Mr Aoun is a Maronite Christian former army commander who is an ally of the Islamist militia and political party Hezbollah.”

“His [Hariri’s] father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.”

“Mr Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who became prime minister for the second time in late 2016 in a political compromise deal that also saw Mr Aoun elected president, has close ties to Saudi Arabia.”

The same reference to the STL appeared in a report titled “Saad Hariri: Lebanon PM ‘can go to France when he wants’” on November 16th along with a description of Hizballah as Iran’s “proxy”.

“Saudi Arabia has denied forcing Mr Hariri to resign in an attempt to curb the influence of its regional rival Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which is part of a national unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year.”

“His [Hariri’s] father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.”

By November 18th Hizballah had again been downgraded to an “ally” of Iran with the report titled “Saad Hariri, Lebanon PM, to return to Beirut ‘in coming days’” making no mention of Iran’s patronage of the group or its terror designations.

“In a televised announcement, Mr Hariri accused Iran of sowing “discord, devastation and destruction” in the region. He also accused Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which is part of a national unity government that Mr Hariri formed last year, of destabilising his nation.”

“He also said he feared for his life. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague over the car-bomb assassination of Mr Hariri’s ex-PM father, Rafik, in 2005.”

As we see, none of these BBC reports gave audiences a comprehensive view of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by the United States, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Israel and the designation of its so-called ‘military wing’ by the EU, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The majority of the reports (eight out of eleven) failed to clarify that Hizballah members have been indicted for the murder of a previous Lebanese prime minister.

Portrayal of the extent and significance of Hizballah’s influence on Lebanese politics and armed forces was mostly absent from the BBC reports and the role it played in the “political deadlock” before Saad Hariri became prime minister was ignored.

Most glaring, however, is the fact that none of these eleven reports made any effort to provide BBC audiences with details of the extent of Iran’s financial and military support for the terror group’s activities.

Clearly BBC audiences have not been provided with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of this story.