Many people in the UK get most of their news from the BBC. It is their window on the world, and therefore has a big impact on how they view the world. It is usually seen as more objective and less biased than most British newspapers, and unlike them, has official government support through its charter.
However, BBC news reporting is often so slanted as to be misleading. Indeed, its treatment of some news stories verges on the dishonest.
Let me give three examples.
The BBC News website has a page entitled “Can US election hack be traced to Russia?” dated the 22nd December 2016. It doesn’t give a definitive answer. But even the title is misleading. The basic question is “Where did Wikileaks get the emails?” There are two possibilities. One is that the emails were leaked by an insider who had access to them. The other possibility is that they were hacked by an outsider, and then passed to Wikileaks. But the title of the article does not even admit the possibility that they were leaked by an insider. It assumes a hack.
The really strange thing about the article, however, is not what it says, but what it leaves out. First, there is no mention of Julian Assange. Second, there is not even any mention of Wikileaks. It was not until the 4th of January 2017 that the BBC mentioned that “Mr Assange said Russia was not the source for the site’s mass leak of emails from the Democratic Party. ” Assange, however, had said this several weeks before, as was made clear in an article published in the Guardian on the 10th of December.
But it was not just Assange who said that Russia was not the source. In that Guardian article, Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, said “I know who leaked them. I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.“
And here is the interesting thing. While the Guardian and the Daily Mail both contacted Craig Murray, interviewed him, and published some of his comments, the BBC never contacted him, and never mentioned his comments. Why?
In short, the BBC didn’t actually say anything untrue. They simply omitted to mention a crucial fact. And that, it seems to me, is dishonest.
The BBC has, several times, run news stories about Bana Alabed, a seven-year-old girl tweeting out of besieged east Aleppo. The first on the 2nd October, 2016, was entitled: Meet the seven-year-old girl tweeting from Aleppo. The most recent was on the 24th January 2017 (by which time she was living in Turkey). In the initial report, the BBC says “As the Twitter account has gained followers, Fatemah [Bana’s mother] says people have accused her of running a “fake” account, or using her daughter for propaganda reasons. ” The BBC report does not say that these allegations are false, but it certainly implies it. And in the most recent report, no mention of these allegations is made.
However, it seems to me that Bana’s parents are almost certainly using the account for propaganda purposes.
In the first place, Bana’s tweets do make political points, and it is pretty obvious that any seven-year-old’s tweets on a political subject are going to reflect the point of view of whatever adult is supervising their tweeting. The political points made are subtle, and are appropriate for a seven-year-old, but the overall message has been “The Syrian Army and the Russians are killing the people of Eastern Aleppo”. The clear implication was that the Syrian Army and the Russians were the villains of the piece, and it would be good if someone intervened in some way against the Syrian Army and the Russians. The fact that the tweeting was in English made it clear that they were aimed at readers in the west.
Secondly, all the evidence suggests that all information coming out of Eastern Aleppo was controlled by the militants who ruled it at the time – and that these militants were pretty brutal. For example, Patrick Cockburn, a highly experienced and respected Middle East correspondent, recently wrote:
In East Aleppo any reporting had to be done under licence from one of the Salafi-jihadi groups which dominated the armed opposition and controlled the area – including Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly known as the Syrian branch of al-Qaida. What happens to people who criticise, oppose or even act independently of these extremist groups was made clear in an Amnesty International report published last year and entitled ‘Torture Was My Punishment’…
All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War. The ease with which propaganda can now be disseminated is frequently attributed to modern information technology: YouTube, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter.”
The fact is that, at the very least, Bana Alabed’s tweets could not have been going out of Aleppo without the blessing of an extremely brutal group of Islamic militants. But I think we can go beyond that, and say that it is quite likely that these Islamic militants encouraged and facilitated her tweets.
However, you would never guess that from reading the BBC’s accounts.
Andrew Ashdown is an Anglican clergyman who has visited Syria several times. On one of those occasions, he was part of a group that included Baroness Cox of Christian Solidarity International, and Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester. He has discovered and reported that most ordinary Syrians support the Syrian government in its war against the rebels. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Every source which is in contact with the Christian communities in Syria, and pretty well every independent journalist who has gone into Syria, says the same thing. This, however, is something that one would never guess from reading and listening to the mainstream media. They simply never say that.
Andrew Ashdown was interviewed by the BBC, about his travels in Syria. The experience was interesting. In his own words, they “gave me 2 minutes and told me I could not mention that refugees from East Aleppo were directly contradicting the mainstream narrative.They changed the subject when I tried to mention it!”
That suggests that the BBC was determined to make sure that certain information didn’t get out.
What is interesting about this particular case is that Andrew Ashdown has been interviewed by RT (Russia Today), the Russian state broadcaster. While the BBC told him what he couldn’t say, I understand that RT placed no such restrictions on him. Similarly, western journalists who have worked for RT have made it clear that RT has not interfered in their journalistic freedom.
It is clear that in all three cases, the BBC was not omitting crucial facts due to ignorance. But what is worth noticing is that in all three cases, the slant produced was in the same direction. The slant was against the Russian and Syrian governments. In other words, the bias was in exactly the same direction as that of British government policy.
Since the BBC is basically a state owned corporation, perhaps that isn’t surprising. But it seems to me that there is little reason to think that its news coverage is any more fair or objective than that of RT. Indeed, I suspect that in some subjects, RT coverage may turn out to have been more objective than that of the BBC. And if someone had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be saying that, I would have been surprised.