Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

On September 6th the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report which identifies the Syrian regime as having carried out the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this year.

“As part of an aerial campaign in northern Hama and southern Idlib, on 4 April the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Shaykhun, killing over 80 people, most of whom were women and children. The aerial campaign also targeted medical facilities throughout the area, resulting in a severe weakening of their ability to provide assistance to victims of the sarin attack and a consequent increase in the number of civilian casualties. In Idlib, Hamah, and eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syrian forces used weaponized chlorine. These attacks constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the report notes, which the Syrian Arab Republic ratified in 2013 following a previous sarin attack.”

Naturally that story was given extensive media coverage and many outlets managed to strike an appropriate balance between portraying the UN report’s findings and putting the related denials of the Assad regime and its Russian allies into appropriate perspective.

Washington Post:

“The Syrian government and its Russian backers had insisted that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was the fault of opposition forces in the area, or that it was entirely fabricated. The inquiry found no supporting evidence for either claim.”

Deutsche Welle:

“[UN commission chair] Pinheiro also ruled out claims by Assad and Russian officials following the sarin attack that military strikes had hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces that contained sarin gas.”

Guardian:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, but the report said the Syrian regime’s version of events, that an unknown weapons depot had been hit, was “extremely unlikely”.” 

Reuters:

“The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. It said its strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces, a claim “excluded” by Pinheiro.”

New York Times:

“The panel’s findings are the first authoritative statement to pin responsibility for the attack unequivocally on the Syrian government.

Although a number of foreign governments, watchdogs and news organizations, including The New York Times, had concluded that Syrian forces were most likely behind the attack, the latest report — released by a body tasked with investigating violations by all sides in the conflict — carries more weight and will be harder for the Syrian government and its allies to dismiss as politicized.”

The NYT’s report also includes a video titled “How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike”.

The BBC News website’s report on the story – “Syria government behind Sarin attack – UN investigators” – amplified the Syrian regime’s denials just three paragraphs in.

“UN human rights investigators have concluded that the Syrian Air Force carried out a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in April.

At least 83 people died when a Su-22 jet dropped a bomb filled with the nerve agent Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, a report by a commission of inquiry says.

Damascus insists the incident was faked and denies using chemical weapons.”

Later on readers were told that:

“They [UN investigators] also dismiss statements from the government’s ally, Russia, which has asserted that the Syrian Air Force struck a terrorist chemical weapons depot.”

Towards the end of the report the Syrian regime’s propaganda was repeated.

“President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun – which prompted the US to launch a missile strike on an airbase – was a “fabrication”.

He has insisted his forces destroyed their entire chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by the US and Russia after a Sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013.”

It is clearly evident that the Assad regime (with which a BBC reporter was once again embedded just last month) did not destroy its “entire chemical arsenal” as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 2118 in 2013 and the BBC itself published a report in May that quoted a “Western intelligence agency” as saying that “Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them”.

Nevertheless, BBC audiences continue to repeatedly see false balance in the form of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box. In addition to being plainly ridiculous, that editorial policy clearly undermines the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enhances its understanding of global issues.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

BBC News amplification of unchallenged Assad propaganda persists

 

 

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Weekend long read

1) The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies has published a paper by Yaakov Lappin titled “The Low-Profile War Between Israel and Hezbollah“.

“In defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon war, Hezbollah and its Iranian patron, with the assistance of the Bashar Assad regime, are filling Lebanon with surface-to-surface projectiles, and aiming them at population centers and strategic sites in Israel. To forestall this threat, the Israeli defense establishment has, according to media reports, been waging a low-profile military and intelligence campaign, dubbed “The War Between Wars,” which monitors and occasionally disrupts the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. This campaign has allowed Israel to reportedly exhibit the extent of its intelligence penetration of Hezbollah and the prowess of its precision-guided weaponry, thus boosting its deterrence, but has not weakened Hezbollah’s determination to expand its vast missile and rocket arsenal. It also carries the calculated risk of setting off escalation that could rapidly spin out of control.”

2) At the JCPA, Amb. Alan Baker takes a look at the topic of the laws of occupation.

“Israel has consistently claimed that the simplistic and straightforward definitions of occupation in the 1907 Hague Rules and 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, may not necessarily be appropriate with regard to the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip area, which do not fit within the rubrics set out in the above conventions.

This is all the more evident in situations where the sovereign status is recognized to be legally unclear or non-existent and as such cannot be seen as “territory of a High Contracting Party” as defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The legal questionability of pre-1967 Jordanian sovereignty, as well as Egypt’s self-admitted non-sovereign military administration of the Gaza Strip, give added relevance to the question whether the classic and simplistic concept of belligerent occupation could be legally relevant and applicable to Israel’s unique situation in the territories?

It is well known that prior to 1967, Jordan’s annexation of and claim to sovereignty in the West Bank were not accepted in the international community, except for the UK and Pakistan. Jordan’s claim to east Jerusalem was not accepted by the UK either.”

3) The Jerusalem Post carries a Kurdish writer’s impressions of his visit to Israel.

“I recently traveled to Israel as part of a study abroad program through the American University in Washington, DC. As a master’s student concentrating on peace and conflict resolution and as a Kurd from northern Iraq, I was curious about the intense hostility toward Jews in the Middle East, the negative bias in the mainstream media and the continuous antisemitic lectures and activities on college campuses, including my own university.”

4) At the Washington Examiner, CAMERA’s Sean Durns discusses “How terrorists and tyrants do PR“.

“”Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising,” observed the American writer Mark Twain. Unfortunately, this principle is known to terror groups and tyrants as much as it is to businesses that use high-flying public relations firms.

Terrorists of all types have long utilized the media for propaganda purposes—from the Irish Republican Army timing bombings to ensure they appeared on the nightly news to al-Qaeda’s exploitation of the Al-Jazeera news network during the second Iraq War. Indeed, as long-ago as 1987, the analyst and psychiatrist Dr. Jerrold Post was pointing out that many terror groups had what he called a “vice president for media relations,” tasked with orchestrating press coverage.”

 

BBC News amplification of unchallenged Assad propaganda persists

Several hours after reports of an attack on a facility in northern Syria emerged early on the morning of September 7th the BBC News website published a report that was originally titled “Israeli jets ‘hit Syrian chemical site'”. After an additional alteration, that headline was later changed to read “‘Israeli jets hit Syria’s Masyaf chemical site’ – reports” and in the hours after its initial publication the article underwent numerous amendments.

From version five of the report onwards, BBC audiences were delivered a dose of Syrian regime propaganda – including a link.

“The Syrian army said rockets had struck the base near Masyaf, about 35km (22 miles) west of the city of Hama, at 02:42 on Thursday (23:42 GMT on Wednesday), causing “material damage” and the deaths of two personnel.

It accused Israel of attacking “in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale” of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) and warned Israel about “the dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region”.”

This is of course far from the first time that BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes against military targets in Syria has included amplification of the Assad regime’s unfounded propaganda concerning supposed Israeli support for one or other of its enemy factions and intervention in the civil war in Syria. That practice has been in evidence for well over four years:

BBC unquestioningly promotes Assad’s “destabilisation” claims

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

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

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC report on shootings in Golan parrots Assad propaganda

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

Why is BBC Arabic amplifying Syrian regime propaganda?

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

BBC News amplifies unchallenged Syrian regime propaganda yet again

More unquestioned amplification of Syrian regime propaganda from BBC News

One presumes – and hopes – that BBC knows full well that such statements from the Syrian regime are mere baseless propaganda and yet it continues to serially feed those unqualified falsehoods to its audiences.

Similarly, readers of this article once again found amplification of Assad’s lies concerning another issue.

Version 2

“The attack comes a day after UN human rights investigators said they had concluded a Syrian Air Force jet had dropped a bomb containing the nerve agent Sarin on a rebel-held town in April, killing at least 83 people.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun – which prompted the US to launch a missile strike on an airbase – was a “fabrication”.

He has also insisted his forces destroyed their entire chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by the US and Russia after a Sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013.”

Clearly the BBC is not enhancing audience understanding of events in Syria (or its own reputation as a credible and relevant media outlet) by parroting the unchallenged propaganda of a brutal regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and displaced millions.

Related Articles:

Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

BBC’s ME editor suggests Syria chemical attack related to Israel

Three previously unreported stories appear in one BBC News article

Last month we noted that BBC audiences had not seen any coverage of the reports that began to emerge earlier this year concerning allegedly Iranian-built underground missile factories in Lebanon.

Reports of a similar project in north-west Syria also came to light in June and began to garner wider coverage in mid-August (though not from the BBC) after satellite images of the site were shown on Israel’s Channel 2.

Both those stories unfolded following reports from sources unconnected to Israel but audiences were not informed of that when the BBC’s first mention of either story came in an article published on August 28th under the headline “Iran building missile factories in Syria and Lebanon – Netanyahu“.

“Israel’s prime minister has said Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles.

Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel”. […]

Mr Netanyahu gave no details about the sites Iran was allegedly building to manufacture missiles, but he warned “this is something Israel cannot accept”.

Two weeks ago, the Israeli satellite imagery company ImageSat International published photographs it said appeared to confirm a report by a Syrian pro-opposition newspaper that a missile factory was under construction in north-western Syria under Iranian oversight.”

The same article also included the BBC’s first mention in English of a story it reported in Arabic three weeks previously.

“Mr Netanyahu also pressed Mr Guterres [UN Secretary General] on the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Unifil, which Israel alleges has failed to prevent Hezbollah building up its supply of weapons since they fought a war in 2006.

Mr Guterres promised to “do everything in my capacity” to ensure Unifil fulfilled its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he added.

Unifil’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month.”

Readers are not however told that earlier this month, Mr Guterres himself called for all non-state actors in Lebanon to be disarmed in accordance with UNSC resolution 1701 – including the terrorist militia that the BBC euphemistically portrays in this article as “Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement”.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are chronically deprived of information concerning Hizballah’s violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and so they are obviously not fully aware of the context to what the BBC describes Israeli ‘allegations’ concerning UNIFIL’s record.

While these stories have now finally received some brief BBC coverage in the English language, if audiences are to “engage fully” with the issues they raise as pledged in the BBC’s public purposes, they are clearly in need of much more background information.  

Related Articles:

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

BBC News yawns over another violation of UNSC resolution 1701

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

Will the new man in Beirut improve the BBC’s record of reporting?

Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?

The BBC’s main backgrounder on the topic of the civil war in Syria – “Syria: The story of the conflict“– includes a brief portrayal of the issue of chemical weapons that makes no mention of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun in April of this year.

Another backgrounder – “Why is there a war in Syria?“, 7 April 2017 – makes just one brief reference to the topic of chemical weapons:

“The US has conducted air strikes on IS in Syria since September 2014, and, in the first intentional attack on Syria itself, hit an air base which it said was behind a deadly chemical attack, in April 2017.”

With the deal that mandated the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons arsenal being enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution that was described at the time by the former US Secretary of State John Kerry as “precedent-setting” and by the then UK Secretary of State William Hague as “ground breaking”, the BBC’s funding public would obviously expect to be kept up to date on its implementation and efficacy – not least because British tax-payers contributed to funding the operation.

Last week Reuters published a special report titled “How Syria continued to gas its people as the world looked on“.

“A promise by Syria in 2013 to surrender its chemical weapons averted U.S. air strikes. Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that promise was a ruse.

They suspect that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability. They say Syria hampered inspectors, gave them incomplete or misleading information, and turned to using chlorine bombs when its supplies of other chemicals dwindled.

There have been dozens of chlorine attacks and at least one major sarin attack since 2013, causing more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries. International inspectors say there have been more than 100 reported incidents of chemical weapons being used in the past two years alone.

“The cooperation was reluctant in many aspects and that’s a polite way of describing it,” Angela Kane, who was the United Nation’s high representative for disarmament until June 2015, told Reuters. “Were they happily collaborating? No.”

“What has really been shown is that there is no counter-measure, that basically the international community is just powerless,” she added.

That frustration was echoed by U.N. war crimes investigator Carla del Ponte, who announced on Aug. 6 she was quitting a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing,” she said. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.””

In May of this year the BBC produced a report which also highlighted claims that Syria’s chemical weapons programme is still in operation.

“Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them, a Western intelligence agency has told the BBC.

A document says chemical and biological munitions are produced at three main sites near Damascus and Hama. […]

Despite monitoring of the sites by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the document alleges that manufacturing and maintenance continues in closed sections.”

However, that article also gave a platform to propaganda from the Syrian regime – as seen in additional reports.

On August 22nd Reuters published a story concerning chemical weapons shipments from North Korea to Syria.

“Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained. […]

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.”

That story was picked up by numerous media organisations around the world, including Newsweek, the Independent and the Guardian – but not the BBC.

Clearly the BBC could be doing a lot more could be done to provide its audiences with up-to-date information concerning the Assad regime’s failure to comply with the 2013 UN SC resolution 2118.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’? 

Weekend long read

1) At the Fathom journal, Jamie Palmer “explores the impact on the politics of the Left of desperately simplistic narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. 

“Some people do approach the conflict with fully formed antisemitic attitudes previously learned elsewhere. Stalinists, white supremacists, and Islamists all encourage distrust and dislike of Jews for ideological reasons of their own. But what of the majority of young writers and activists on university campuses who will go on to work in NGOs and write for the mainstream left-wing press? For the most part, such people take pride in their antipathy to racism, and do not come to the Arab-Israeli conflict with a pre-existing and irrational antipathy to Israel.

In cases where such attitudes subsequently develop and become manifest in antisemitic statements and tropes, it is usually as a means of explaining what otherwise seems incomprehensible. Motivated reasoning has led to the construction of conflict narratives designed to protect the Palestinians’ preordained status as righteous victims. But as the explanatory limitations of these narratives have encountered unfolding complexities on the ground, they have only produced new crises of understanding, and a requirement for ever more conspiratorial explanations of Israeli behaviour.”

2) The JCPA explains the background to a story touched upon by the BBC last month: “Why Israel Is Concerned About American-Russian Understandings on Syria“.

“The agreement reached during the G-20 meetings in Hamburg between U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin on July 7, 2017, about establishing a de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria was accepted with mixed feelings in Israel.

Jerusalem, of course, welcomes stability in the southern part of Syria. But Prime Minister Netanyahu voiced concern about the agreement mainly because it focused on the de-escalation zone. It tacitly gave legitimacy to the prolonged presence of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces throughout the regions of Syria nominally controlled by the Assad regime.” 

3) Palestinian Media Watch reports on an increase in Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families.

“The PA has publicized its budget for 2017, which includes how much it will be spending on salaries to terrorist prisoners and to families of terrorist “Martyrs.” Ignoring demands to stop rewarding terror by the United States, EU countries, Israel and many others, the PA in 2017 is actually increasing significantly these outlays.” 

4) At the Times of Israel, Amanda Borschel-Dan brings some background to a story the BBC reported last month.

“The Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, which has in a settlement agreed to pay some $3 million in fines and to forfeit thousands of ancient artifacts from Iraq, is implicated by US prosecutors of — knowingly or not — participating in a smuggling scheme out of the Middle East. Among other ruses, antiquities dealers forged provenance and intentionally mislabeled imported looted items to the US as “tile samples.” […]

During Sunday’s operation, which involved the Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Police and Israel Tax Authority, the East Jerusalem homes and businesses of five antiquities dealers were raided, garnering previously unreported antiquities including ancient parchment pieces written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, as well as ancient weapons, sculpture from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, pottery and bronze, silver and gold coins.”

Weekend long read

1) In light of events in Jerusalem this past week (that have at the time of writing gone unreported by the BBC), a JCPA briefing on the subject of the incitement constructed around lies concerning Temple Mount provides useful background.

““Al-Aksa is in danger” is a classic libel that was embroidered in the first half of the twentieth century against the Jewish people, the Zionist movement, and, eventually, the State of Israel. The state and its institutions – so, in brief, the libel claims – are scheming and striving to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and build in their stead the Third Temple. The longer the libel lives, its delusive variants striking root, the more its blind and misled devotees proliferate. The libel is ramifying, taking hold of the academic, religious, and public discourse of the Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim world as if it were pure truth. Absurdly, it strikes at the Jewish people and the State of Israel precisely in the place where the Jewish state has made the most generous gesture, the greatest concession, ever made by one religion to another – on the Temple Mount, the holiest place of the Jewish people and only the third place in importance for the Muslim religion.”

2) At the Times of Israel, David Horovitz writes about the same story.

“It’s outrageous that in parts of the Muslim world, Israel is being castigated for installing metal detectors designed to boost security at the holiest place in the world for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims. Don’t they want security there?

It’s outrageous that many of those who are castigating Israel for ostensibly “changing the status quo” at the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa Mosque compound are doing so without so much as mentioning the murderous attack that defiled the holy site and prompted the deployment of the metal detectors: On Friday, three Muslims — Israeli Arab Muslims — emerged from the compound, guns blazing, and shot dead two Border Police officers who were stationed on duty immediately outside. The two victims just so happened to be Druze — an Arabic-speaking monotheistic community incorporating many Islamic teachings. To put it really crudely then, Arabs killed Arabs at a holy place, the Jews are trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and the Arab world is furious with the Jews about it.”

3) At ‘Point of No Return’ we learn of a proposed new museum in Jerusalem.

“An architect of Tunisian origin is behind a project to build a Museum to Jews from Arab Countries.  Jean-Loup Mordehai Msika explains why such a museum, in the heart of Jerusalem, is vital to inform visitors of the ancient roots of the Jewish people in the Middle East. The project, unveiled publicly for the first time on Point of No Return,  has the backing of  the coalition of associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel and is now with the Jerusalem municipality for approval.” 

4) This week the IDF revealed details of its operations providing humanitarian aid to Syrians battling with the effects of the civil war in their country.

“Over four years ago, an injured Syrian came to the border asking for medical help from the IDF. Back then, there was no policy, just a commander’s on-the-spot decision to provide care to an injured civilian. Since then, the aid has continued on a near daily basis. In June 2016, as part of a decision to expand humanitarian aid efforts, the IDF Northern Command established the headquarters of Operation Good Neighbor.

The goal of Operation Good Neighbor is to provide humanitarian aid to as many people as possible while maintaining Israel’s policy of non-involvement in the conflict. The first activities coordinated by the headquarters took place in August 2016. Since then, there have been more than 110 aid operations of various kinds.”

Additional reporting on that subject can be found here, here and here.

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q2 2017 – part one

Between April 1st and June 30th 2017, a total of seventy reports with content relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, one of which was carried over from the previous quarter.

Some of the reports were produced by other departments (e.g. BBC Technology) or appeared on other pages of the website (e.g. ‘UK’ or ‘US & Canada’) but were also posted on the Middle East page.

Although the Israeli security services recorded 356 terror attacks during the second quarter of 2017 (see ‘related articles’ below), just three of those attacks received coverage on the BBC News website.

(The dates in brackets represent the period of time in which a report was available to visitors to the website’s Middle East page.)

Israeli killed in West Bank car-ramming attack  (6/4/17 to 10/4/17) discussed here

Jerusalem stabbing: Tributes paid to Hannah Bladon (14/4/17 to 18/4/17) discussed here

Israeli policewoman stabbed to death in Jerusalem (16/6/17 to 20/6/17) discussed here and here 

Two other reports related to Syria:

Syria war: ‘Israeli strike’ hits military site near Damascus airport (27/4/17 to 30/4/17) discussed here and here

Syria war: Israel Patriot missile downs ‘target’ over Golan (27/4/17)

In all, 7.14% of the BBC News website’s reports in Q2 covered stories relating to security/terrorism. The additional topics found in the BBC’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians during the second quarter of 2017 will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – April 2017

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – May 2017

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – June 2017

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q1 2017 – part one

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q1 2017 – part two

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2016 – part two (includes links to previous reports) 

Superficial BBC News reporting on southern Syria ceasefire

Anyone getting their news exclusively from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that heavy fighting has been taking place for some weeks in the Daraa district of south-western Syria. The BBC also did not report any of the numerous recent cases of spillover fire into Israel: ‘side effects’ of fighting between regime and opposition forces in the Quneitra area.

BBC audiences might therefore have been rather puzzled to find an article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 7th titled “Syria crisis: US, Russia and Jordan agree ceasefire deal“.

“The US, Russia and Jordan have agreed to put in place a ceasefire across south-western Syria, which is due to begin on Sunday. […]

This agreement, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said would cover the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, is reported to be the result of several months of undisclosed meetings between Russia and the US on Syria.”

A follow-up report appeared on the Middle East page on July 9th under the headline “Syria ceasefire: US and Russia-backed deal in effect“.

“A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has come into force in south-western Syria.

It was announced after Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met for the first time at G20 talks on Friday. The truce is also backed by Jordan.

It is in force along a line agreed by Syrian government forces and rebels. […]

The ceasefire, which Russia has said covers the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Sweida, was reported to result from months of undisclosed talks between Russian and US officials.”

Neither of those articles informs readers that – as the Jerusalem Post reported:

“… it was not clear how much the combatants – Syrian government forces and the main rebels in the southwest – were committed to this latest effort.”

While the second report does not clarify at all how that ceasefire is to be enforced, the earlier report includes the following ambiguous statement:

“Mr Lavrov said Russia and the USA would coordinate with Jordan to act “as guarantors of the observance of this [ceasefire] by all groups”.”

The Times of Israel reports that:

“There has been no official comment from Syria’s government on the announcement, and there was no mention of the ceasefire on state television’s noon news bulletin. […]

The truce is to be monitored through satellite and drone images as well as observers on the ground, a senior Jordanian official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with reporters. Syria ally Russia is to deploy military police in the area.”

Although at least one BBC journalist is aware of concerns raised by Israel relating to Russian enforcement of the ceasefire along its border, that issue is not mentioned in either article. Ha’aretz reports:

“…Israel wants the de-escalation zones in southern Syria to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. […]

One of Israel’s main concerns is how the cease-fire would be enforced in areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders and who would be responsible for enforcing it. A senior Israeli official said Russia has proposed that its army handle the job in southern Syria. But Israel vehemently opposes this idea and has made that clear to the Americans, he said.”

Channel 10’s military analyst Alon Ben David notes:

“One must remember that the Russians in Syria are not separate from the Shia axis. The soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian support forces and even often with Hizballah.”

Ynet’s analyst Ron Ben Yishai points out that:

“The agreement does have a serious disadvantage from an Israeli perspective: It halts the advance of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, but fails to completely remove them from the area, as Israel likely demanded behind the scenes. This means that if and when the ceasefire is violated, the forces supported by Iran and Hezbollah would be able to continue their advance towards the Syrian-Jordanian border and the Syrian-Iraqi border, which will make it possible for them to create a strategic corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Even worse is the fact that they would be able to advance and establish a stronghold in the Golan Heights.

Another disadvantage of the ceasefire deal is that the Assad army and the Russians, which both have an interest in keeping Assad and his people in power, will be responsible for the agreement’s implementation on the ground. If Assad stays in power in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will stay there too. […]

The Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran have a totally different interest in a ceasefire: Assad and the Iranians have realized that they are incapable of conquering the city of Daraa on the Jordanian border and that the rebels—to ease the pressure on Daraa—are successfully attacking them near new Quneitra in the Golan Heights, where the spillovers that Israel responded [to] originated. The Syrian army is pressed in the Quneitra area. It’s failing to advance in Daraa despite help from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, and therefore has no other choice but to agree to a ceasefire.

This is also why this ceasefire may not last very long. The moment the Syrian regime and the Iranians reach the conclusion they are strong enough to reoccupy Daraa and the border crossings between Syrian and Iraq, they will do it without any hesitation.”

Obviously there is a much broader story to tell than the one presented in these two superficial BBC News reports that cannot be said to meet the BBC’s mission of providing news “of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Why does the BBC describe the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack as ‘suspected’?

On June 27th an article titled “US warns Syria over ‘potential’ plan for chemical attack” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and US & Canada pages.

The article includes references to the attack that took place in Khan Sheikhoun in April of this year and the language used is noteworthy.

At the head of the article readers find a video – originally broadcast by the BBC a month after the attack – with the caption “Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the suspected chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun”. [emphasis added]

The article itself opens:

“The US says it has identified “potential preparations” for another chemical attack in Syria, and issued a stark warning to the Syrian government.

The White House said the activities were similar to those made before a suspected chemical attack in April.” [emphasis added]

Later on readers are told that:

“President Assad denied his forces were behind the suspected nerve gas attack in the rebel-held north-western town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.”

The link in that paragraph leads to a BBC video from April showing an AFP interview with Bashar al Assad that the Syrian regime found friendly enough to post on its own website.

In the weeks since that attack took place a number of investigations have been conducted by various parties.

A report published by the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that samples taken from victims and from the environment indicated exposure to “sarin or a sarin-like substance”.

The French government also published a report in late April in which it was concluded that sarin was used in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th and that:

“The  sarin  present  in  the munitions used on 4 April was produced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib [in April 2013]. Moreover, the presence of  hexamine  indicates  that  this  manufacturing  process  is  that  developed  by  the  Scientific Studies and Research Centre for the Syrian regime.”

Similar conclusions were reached by additional parties including the US, Turkey and the UK as well as Human Rights Watch – an NGO usually considered by the BBC to be an impeccable source.

Is it possible that the BBC is not aware of those reports and hence is still describing the attack as “suspected” and amplifying Assad’s propaganda on the topic? That possibility is ruled out by the fact that included in the related reading at the bottom of this article is a link to a BBC report from April 26th titled “Syria chemical ‘attack’: What we know” that informs readers of the results of the investigations carried out by the OPCW, Turkey and France.

And yet despite that, visitors to the BBC News website still find plenty of content relating to that story which is presented using language and punctuation which suggests to audiences that there is reason to doubt whether an attack took place, what type of weapon was used and who carried it out.

This is of course far from the only case of false balance in BBC reporting that obstructs audience understanding of a story. The BBC News website, for example, still carries a report amplifying inaccurate Hamas claims concerning a 2014 incident in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza despite the fact that the circumstances have been repeatedly clarified over the last three years. The practice of promoting false balance clearly hampers the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enables understanding of  global issues. 

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BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC’s Davies suggests ulterior motives for IDF Sarin report

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’