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July 24, 2018 11:28 am

The BBC Promotes What It Previously Called ‘Conspiracy Theories’ to Smear Israel

avatar by Hadar Sela

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IDF soldiers look on toward people standing next to the Israel-Syria border fence in the Golan Heights, July 17, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

On the morning of July 22, the IDF announced the completion of the overnight evacuation of 800 Syrian “White Helmets” personnel and their families from southern Syria through Israel into Jordan.

The evacuation took place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Golan Heights and where the civil defense team was trapped. …

The evacuees arrived at the border with Israel, and the IDF opened the gates and let them through. Medical treatment was provided to those in need, and the evacuees were provided with food and water.

The humanitarian workers and their families then boarded a fleet of buses that was already waiting for them at the site. The army and police blocked roads in the area, allowing the convoy to pass unimpeded.

After the story broke, the BBC News website quickly produced a report titled “Syria conflict: Israel evacuates ‘White Helmets,’” which appeared on its main homepage as well as its World and Middle East pages.

In that report BBC audiences were told that:

The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.

They say they are non-partisan but supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, and his ally Russia, allege links to jihadist groups.

And again — in a sub-section headed “Who are the White Helmets?” — the BBC reported:

[The organization says] they are neutral and have no political affiliation but have been accused of links to jihadist groups by the Syrian government and its Russian allies.

That propaganda has indeed been vigorously promoted by the Assad regime, Russia, and their sympathizers. However, it has also been exposed and debunked, as the The Guardian reported in December 2017:

The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s army with airstrikes bombarding opposition-held areas. Almost immediately, Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik started falsely claiming that Isis was the only target and throwing doubt on the bombings of infrastructure and civilian sites.

The same propaganda machine scooped up fringe anti-American activists, bloggers and researchers who believe the White Helmets are terrorists, giving them a platform on state TV and amplifying their articles through social media.

In April of this year, BBC Trending produced a report titled “Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories,” which included a whole section on conspiracy theories relating to the White Helmets:

The Sarah Abdallah account is, according to a recent study by the online research firm Graphika, one of the most influential social media accounts in the online conversation about Syria, and specifically in pushing misinformation about a 2017 chemical weapons attack and the Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are widely known as the “White Helmets”. …

Graphika found 20 million messages about the White Helmets, split between tweets in support and in opposition. Among the opponents, Kelly says, Sarah Abdallah was “by far the most influential,” followed by Vanessa Beeley.

The firm found that Sarah Abdallah’s account was primarily followed by a number of different interest clusters: supporters of pro-Palestinian causes, Russians and Russian allies, white nationalists and those from the extremist alt-right, conservative American Trump supporters, far-right groups in Europe and conspiracy theorists.

These groups were instrumental in making the hashtag #SyriaHoax trend after the chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.

Nevertheless, three months later, BBC News is amplifying the propaganda of the Syrian and Russian regimes concerning the White Helmets — and smearing Israel in the process. This is occurring despite the corporation’s obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news … of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Judging by many of the replies to a tweet relating to the story posted by the British Foreign Secretary, the BBC News website’s longstanding habit of promoting false balance in the name of “impartiality” by repeatedly amplifying any and every piece of propaganda put out by the Assad regime and its Russian ally is certainly not contributing to meeting that particular “public purpose.”

Hadar Sela is the Managing Editor of BBC Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). This article was originally published at BBC Watch.

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