Like most people in the UK, I have a contradictory relationship with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). On the one hand, I disagree entirely with its ideology and standpoint. On the other, I visit the news site every day and believe it to be (on most issues) the most well-presented, and reliable news service in the country.
This strange situation, of trusting and yet despising the same organization, is difficult to justify. How can a news source be accurate and reliable, and yet also ideological and opinionated?
The explanation, I think, involves the difference between the BBC’s coverage of strictly European matters and those matters which affect the Islamic world.
Normally, when addressing the banal developments in Westminster, the BBC has a Left-leaning bias, but this is nothing so extreme that it can change a government or – in most cases – even the opinion of an ordinary citizen. Where this bias matters more, and where we should hold it to greater account, is when it effects events far away.
We shouldn’t forget that the BBC is not just the main News source for the UK. It is also one of the most popular news sources in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. While it might seem harmlessly centrist to us, carefully crafted techniques of misdirection and manipulation can have devastating consequences elsewhere in the world.
Take the issue of the BBC’s coverage of Jihadi groups in the Middle East. Today (Saturday- 07/27/2013), the top story on BBC Mobile News reports on the violent events in Egypt with the headline ‘Egypt military kills ‘dozens’ at rally’. Alongside the headline there is a photograph of a screaming woman kneeling by a corpse. If one reads the article in full, we learn the body to be of one of many Muslim Brotherhood militants who were killed after instigating violence. This qualifying factor however is included in a single sentence right at the end of the text.
For those who do not read the whole report (which requires loading a separate page), the headline “Egypt Military Kills dozens at rally’ together with that highly cynical choice of photo, aligns with a pro-Brotherhood interpretation of the event. Without investing time to find out otherwise, casual observers will go away thinking that the military is massacring people for the sake of it (and there is no evidence for that contention whatsoever).
This is, in many ways, the signature style of BBC deception. The BBC doesn’t actually lie (it would be discovered very quickly if it did that), but it does gloss the truth in its own subtle propaganda. It doesn’t lie, it misdirects.
Before the troubles in Egypt erupted, the BBC was employing the same trick on the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian civil war between the totalitarianism of Bashar al-Assad and the Free Syrian Army (which includes the al-Nusra Front terrorist organization) is rightly reported as the biggest humanitarian disaster active in the world today. When this bloodbath reaches a resolution, it will not be around a negotiating table, but after one side has been decisively wiped out. One hundred thousand people may have already been killed since the conflict began.
As part of the global response to this, International organizations have (correctly) taken a cautious position. They distribute the blame for the conflict evenly between the government and the terrorists, accusing al-Nusra of bomb attacks against civilians, government buildings, and religious minorities (especially Christians and Shia Muslims), as well as condemning the Assad government of military overreaction, cruelty and imprecision.
For those of us who are wary of both dictatorship and Islamism, picking a side in this conflict has been difficult for us too. For me though, such difficulty disappears when we read about the behavior of the Islamists. Assad’s forces may have committed massacres in their time, but rarely do they cut out the hearts of their victims and consume them on camera. Nor – to my knowledge – have they amassed a reputation for feeding the bodies of slaughtered Christians to wild dogs.
Despite all this grisly detail, if you follow the Syrian civil war on the BBC, you might well believe the heart-eating maniacs of Al-Nusra to be the modern-day equivalents of the Résistance Francaise.
Time after time, the BBC has over-reported government retaliations against Al-Nusra terrorism without mentioning (or only mentioning as a footnote) the acts of terrorism that were being responded to. They have also treated us on a daily basis to stomach churning images of dead children, bloodied faces and ripped apart bodies; but only those ripped apart by government bombs. I have yet to see a single report with pictures of the victims of Syrian ‘rebels’.
Who knows how many Syrian, Egyptian and Libyan men have seen images of regime crimes on the BBC news channel and turned to Jihad as a result?
Of course, when a rebel atrocity is large enough, the BBC do (begrudgingly) cover it. But only way-down its ranking of news and almost always without photographs, despite the aftermath of such crimes being easy to access given the individual regime’s keenness for them to be reported.
We are not being Alex Jones-style paranoiacs to wonder what is going on here. There is a very clear and very definite pattern emerging. Since the Arab spring began, the BBC has promoted Islamist movements in Somalia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, often at the expense of liberal-democratic and secular opposition. The question must therefore be asked: Why is the BBC backing the Islamist takeover of the Middle East and North Africa – and furthermore, is this even legal? There are after-all laws in place in Britain which forbid the promotion, justification, or glamorisation of terrorism. Why doesn’t this qualify?