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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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’?