Thursday, September 20, 2007

BBC playing down Israel's strike on Syria

Why is the BBC playing with such a straight bat (note to US readers: the expression is cricket parlance, and is used to suggest that someone doesn’t want to take sides on an issue, or give away more information than is necessary), over Israel’s air strike on Syria?

Almost every other major news outlet has reported, some in considerable detail, that the Israeli raid targeted nuclear material that had been shipped from North Korea. While the BBC has quoted some of these accounts, its first-hand reporting continues to talk of the incident being ‘shrouded in mystery’.

Its story today, on Binyamin Netanyahu confirming that some kind of raid did in fact take place, is typical. After reporting Netanyahu’s remarks, (incidentally I think Netanyahu, who I generally have a lot of time for, is an idiot for publicly talking about the raid, and thereby dispelling the air of mystery that was working to Israel’s advantage), the story lapses into the vagueness of previous BBC accounts of the raid itself.

For example, no serious observer doubts that the Israelis got into and out of Syria with ease, or that the first the Syrians knew of the raid was when things started blowing up around them; yet the BBC persists in parroting the official Syrian response: ‘The Syrian authorities say that the aircraft were forced away, and that they fired their weaponry into a deserted area.’ As for the target of the raid, the report only notes that: ‘US officials have indicated that at least one target in northern Syria was hit.’

You would think the BBC could do a little better, given its considerable, taxpayer-funded resources, and its global network of correspondents (although it would hardly be surprising if senior military and intelligence figures in Israel were unwilling to talk to the BBC, given its barely concealed hostility to the state).

The BBC might argue nobly that it only reports the facts, and doesn’t engage in speculation. But of course it engages in speculation every day, when speculation suits it.

More likely the BBC is playing down the incident because it’s averse to reporting on completely justified and successful Israeli strikes against its enemies, and equally averse to talking about developments that might portray Syria in a negative light. As if it were needed, clear evidence of the BBC’s position with regard to Israel and Syria is provided by this paragraph towards the end of the report:

The Syrian government has insisted that peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights, which it seized in 1967.

As usual, there's no context, and no balance. The BBC might have mentioned that from 1948 to 1967 Syrian forces used the Golan Heights to shoot at and later shell Israeli kibbutzim, and that Syria allowed Yasir Arafat's Fatah terrorists to launch raids into Israel from the territory; and all this before Israel occupied an inch of Arab territory. If you didn’t know any better – and many people don’t – you might be forgiven for thinking that Israel seized the Golan Heights in an unprovoked act of aggression against a harmless, peace-loving neighbour.

Thus does the BBC rewrite the history of the Middle East, day in and day out. And if it won’t tell the truth about Israel’s past conflicts with the Arab world, it can hardly be relied upon to tell the truth about what’s going on in the region today.

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