Syria: Running Blog

Blog: The Editors, 3 September 2013 | 2 Comments
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This page contains a number of short snippets of analysis on the reporting of the Syria crisis in late August/early September 2013. Newest entries are at the top of the page.

When the BBC publish headlines like this about a man who was last week trying to get permission to bomb Syria, it does look slightly on the propagandistic side. The news page simply reports on a discussion between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The fact that Cameron was last week talking of bombing Syria has not stopped the BBC highlighting his 'vow' to push for peace as part of the headline:

We emailed Jonathan Marcus about his article mentioned below ('Syria crisis: How could US target chemical weapons?') asking whether he thought perhaps that articles discussing such attacks should point out that they would be illegal under international law. His reply is below (highlighting is ours):

...I don't, simply because that is not the subject of this particular article.
The BBC has given a lot of coverage both on-line and on air about the legal arguments
And of course the situation - as so often in international law -is not clear-cut.
The Government argues it has a legal justification, critics say that it has not.
Some prominent advocates of the responsibility to protect argue there is a moral duty to intervene etc etc.
All of this has been extensively covered.

This one really is turning reality on its head. We are often told by the BBC about the 'fears' that Israel has, despite the fact that it regularly attacks its neighbours and threatens Iran. Today, it is reported that the US and Israel have been carrying out missile tests in the Mediterranean in preparation for an attack on Syria - and still, the headline emphasises that Israel is the one that has something to 'fear' as a result of such strikes.

The image caption on the article's page points out that 'Israel fears military strikes on Syria could provoke a response against its territory.'

While it is not being disputed that Israel would have something to fear if an attack on Syria were to go ahead (usually, if one country is complicit in the attack of another, it may have something to fear), this has been highlighted as an illustration of the bias at the BBC when dealing with Middle East conflict. At the moment, the country that has something to 'fear' is presumably Syria, as threats are being made towards it by the US and France. The BBC has a record of presenting Israel as the victim during conflict in what appears to be reporting that justifies their military actions.

Jonathan Marcus at the BBC has written an analysis article entitled 'Syria crisis: How could US target chemical weapons?' Notable is the benign language used when describing the world's largest military superpower gearing up to carry out an attack (particularly given that Obama 'may be planning wider action' than previously suggested) on Syria. As is the case with many of Jonathon Marcus's articles about US military options, no mention is made of the fact that such actions are war crimes and illegal under international law.

Also as is the case with a lot of BBC reporting on Syria, the focus is not on the potential victims of such action, or the general public (the majority of whom are opposed to such action). It is once again Obama that is shown to have a 'difficult task':

Mr Obama has a doubly difficult task. First to sell the idea of a punitive strike to politicians with a variety of views at home; but then to calibrate the scale and scope of the attack itself, if it goes ahead, to ensure that it delivers the necessary warning while not totally overturning the situation on the ground.

Perhaps President Obama would not have a 'doubly difficult task' if he obeyed international law.

The UN Refugee Agency's call regarding the Syria refugee crisis is clear: ' the need to significantly increase humanitarian aid and development support to host communities has reached a critical stage' ... 'Humanitarian agencies are worryingly underfunded, with only 47 per cent of funds required to meet basic refugee needs received.'

In late August, there were prompt, multiple calls from the UK media calling on Western governments to 'act now' following the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. Yet since the release of this UN report, so far no major UK news outlet has called upon West to 'act now' with increased humanitarian aid.

At the Guardian, Dr Steve Caplan suggests that we should be convinced by the evidence provided by John Kerry on 30 August that the Assad regime is guilty of using chemical weapons. Caplan writes that:

there remains little doubt that Assad's regime in Syria bears responsibility for the horrific gassing which killed over 1,400 people on 21 August

After the unclassified evidence was released, the Guardian themselves pointed out that the document 'mostly refers to evidence as opposed to presenting it.' Nothing conclusive was presented in the White House press release, yet Caplan sees it differently:

On Friday 30 August, Secretary of State John Kerry laid out a wealth of unclassified information showcasing the involvement of Assad's regime in the massacres, and highlighting the US moral obligation to act.

Jeremy Bowen has interviewed Faisal Mekdad, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, for BBC News. Though it is a useful interview to watch, it demonstrates some of Bowen's biases on the issue of US threats towards Syria. He claims that the US has put forward a 'convincing body of evidence' to prove that the Syrian regime is guilty of using chemical weapons, yet such 'convincing' evidence has not yet been presented to the public in any news.

Interestingly, Bowen's responses to Mekdad are often prefixed with clauses like 'if that is true...' - a level of scepticism we rarely see in interviews with those in favour of US wars.

In respone to Faisal Mekdad's claims that the rebels used chemical weapons:

If that's true, why are the Americans so certain [that the Assad government used chemical weapons]? They came out with an impressive body of evidence.

In respone to Faisal Mekdad saying US evidence is non-existent:

So if that is the case, why are the Americans lying?

Watch the video clip at the BBC News website.

Norman Solomon has written on Common Dreams that Barack Obama 'is reserving the option of attacking Syria no matter what Congress does.' - a point widely missed by the UK media. Solomon writes that:

A careful reading of Obama’s Rose Garden announcement on Saturday verifies that he never quite said he will abide by the decision of Congress if it refuses to approve an attack on Syria. Instead, the president filled his statement with hedging phrases, detouring around any such commitment...

In an interview with George Osborne, Andrew Marr, seemingly in step with the government line, frames a question in such a way to assume that Britain historically attacks other countries when 'civilian populations' are under threat. His question:

Do you think this is a historic moment in Britain's role in the world? For a long time we were always on the front foot - if anything ahead of America - intervening in wars where there were civilian populations under great threat? We prided ourselves being first in, now we're not going to be in at all.

Watch the video clip at the BBC News website.

The BBC News Middle East page runs with the headline "US delay 'could embolden Assad'" today.

The majority of the British public may be against any attack on Syria; yet such headlines, which play up the supposed drawbacks to not attacking Syria, can suggest that an intervention in Syria is appropriate.

Mark Urban at BBC News has written about UK foreign policy after Parliament voted against intervention in Syria. Of the US/UK 'special relationship' he comments that destruction has been rained on 'their foes' without mentioning the countless civilian casualties:

the two countries have happily joined forces to rain destruction on their foes in the years since.

Further to this, Urban goes on to simplify criticism of US militarism in the world by partially putting it down to supposed 'anti-Americanism' in the British public:

Now it would appear that the ability of a British government to commit to military action without broad parliamentary support in any but the most urgent emergency has gone. Given the war weariness and indeed anti-Americanism of much of the British public, that has important implications for the future of UK-US relations.

(we have written previously on the use of the term 'anti-American' in the BBC News - see the article and comments)

In the reporting on the Syria crisis, the majority of the sources interviewed in the news are in favour of an attack on Syria, leaving little opportunity for the arguments against to be explored. One such opportunity to explore the opposition was provided when Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, was interviewed on the BBC. The interviewer's questions appear heavily underpinned by official statements of the US and UK governments and the assumption that they have a truthful and factual basis:

As Downing Street have said, can the world stand idly by while chemical weapons are being used?

The Americans are talking about releasing or making public some of their intelligence by the end of the week. Is that not enough?

If you end up doing nothing, doesn't that simply give the green light to Assad, if he has used them in this instance, to use them again - the chemical weapons?

With this conflict, every diplomatic effort that William Hague and other have tried have not worked.

Watch the video below.

Mark Mardell, US Correspondent for BBC News, has kindly replied to one of our tweets during a White House press conference. We asked if he could ask State Department spokesperson Jay Carney for some proof of the Assad regime's guilt, and received this reply:

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) have written on the US media's coverage of the US preparations to attack Syria. In particular they discuss the tendency of the US corporate media 'to jump to the conclusion that the chemical attacks were launched by the Assad regime, while admitting that perhaps this was not yet proven.' Some coverage which assumes the guilt of the Assad government, based on US claims, is discussed:

Of course, providing convincing evidence that the attacks actually were the work of the Syrian government should be the first order of business. But when news accounts, like one from USA Today (8/27/13), open with this–"A limited strike against Syria might convince the Assad regime not to use chemical weapons again"–it's hard not reach the conclusion that some have already made up their minds. On CBS's Face the Nation (8/25/13), Reuters journalist David Rohde said: "There has to be a price for gassing hundreds of civilians. There has to be."

So far, the U.S. government has mostly made emphatic assertions–often anonymously. In the August 26 New York Times, readers learned that "a senior Obama administration official said Sunday that there was 'very little doubt' that President Bashar al-Assad's military forces had used chemical weapons against civilians last week."

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Comments (2)

1. Nad8702 September 2013 17:02

Nice blog thanks. It's amazing how the language they use in mainstream media is designed to mislead.

Syria is confusing because there is evidence of both sides committing atrocities. I have no right to argue against a Syrian victim of Assad calling for western intervention.

But did we bomb the Bush regime when they napalmed Fallujah?
Did we bomb Israel when they dropped white phosphorous on Gaza?

If the West is jumping the gun before even presenting evidence then it looks a bit too opportunistic.
And even if they did get involved, that would inevitably lead to more direct civilian deaths.

2. Mikel02 September 2013 18:39

To Nad87, where is there evidence of Syria government atrocities?

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