Rod Liddle

At the BBC, the Arab Spring has only just ended

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Have you seen much on the BBC news about the persecution and indeed murder of Syria’s Christian population by the liberal-minded and agreeable rebel forces who are not at all Islamist maniacs allied to al-Qa’eda? Nope, me neither. There was a short report in April about the Christians fearing that they might be ‘caught in the middle’ of the fighting — in much the same way, I suppose, that Bosnian Muslims were somehow ‘caught in the middle’ between the Serbs and, er, themselves. 

There was no suggestion that the rebels might, for some mysterious reason, have it in for the Christians: this wouldn’t fit the template for the BBC’s coverage. I saw nothing on the BBC a week or so back about Christians being ordered out of the town of Qusair by the local Islamist rebel commander, and either fleeing to Damascus or Lebanon or being shot while their churches were occupied and destroyed. The Vatican complained long and loud but I don’t believe its protestations reached as far as Shepherd’s Bush. Maybe it was on, and I missed it. But I don’t think so because I would have remembered a piece of journalism from the BBC which suggested that the rebels were anything other than brave, secular students and academics fighting with their bare hands to overthrow fascism. I haven’t seen one of those pieces yet, but one lives in hope.

There was a strange reluctance to follow up the story about two alleged Britons, Hassan Blidi and Walid Hassan, who were killed while occupying themselves in Syria with a spot of rigorous jihadi-ing. According to the boss of MI5, Jonathan Evans, there are quite a few British-born Islamist mentalists journeying to Syria and Libya and the like for a few weeks training with al-Qa’eda, from whence they will return to fail to blow us up as a consequence of their own incompetence. Evans said that parts of the Middle East were now more ‘permissive’ for al-Qa’eda, as a result of the Arab Spring, and we might expect a bit of trouble back home.

Someone tell the BBC. This week the corporation’s head of news, and possibly the next director general, Helen Boaden, admitted that its coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’ might have been a bit ‘over-excited’ and that this over-excitement could have ‘infected’ news reports. Well, credit to the woman for at least this mild admission of culpability. The BBC usually waits a decade or more before admitting that it may have shown a soupçon of bias here or there. But even then, Boaden rounded off her statement to the BBC Trust by insisting that the coverage had been generally impartial. 

No, it hasn’t. No it hasn’t. It has been resolutely and — until this week — unapologetically gung-ho for the Arab Spring in all of its geographical manifestations, and remarkably unquestioning of the policies, and popular support, of and for the rebels. Its reporters, who, as Boaden admitted, were ‘embedded’ within the rebel ranks, have daily lamented cruel and vicious attacks by the Assad regime on ‘innocent’ people, but have devoted little or no time to the equally ghastly attacks upon civilians from the other side, in Aleppo and Homs and Damascus and indeed Qusair. It has been fantastically biased reporting based on the simplistic and infantile premise that the Assad regime is de facto in the wrong and the rebels, therefore, de facto in the right; a case of black and white. 

The BBC is not alone in this, of course; the liberal media en masse likes nothing more than a fight between what it perceives to be David and Goliath, so it can take sides and wring its hands and look brave and glorious on the side of the underdog; even if David is a homicidal mentalist who poses a greater threat, down the line, to our own country. This is much less a case of straightforward political bias than a sort of journalistic imbecility. 

To be honest, some of the BBC’s reporting from Syria — and before it, Libya — has been truly courageous and one can forgive those reporters in the field a certain inflection, an identification or sympathy with the people with whom they are stationed. If that were just a part of the coverage, that would be fine and even admirable. But is there nobody in the BBC — not a senior editorial monkey, or a producer, or a junior researcher — who thought to ask: is this it? Is this really the whole story? Isn’t there another side? Have the Russians and the Chinese just got it completely and utterly wrong? Is Assad completely wrong when he says al-Qa’eda is behind some of those attacks in Damascus and Aleppo? And shall we try to find out? Are we absolutely convinced that the rebels have mass popular support — I mean, not just in Homs, but across the country? And are there not some real badduns in the opposition? 

It is this lack of contrariness, this ­refusal to question the liberal establishment point of view, that lets down the BBC’s ­coverage. They all sing from the same hymn sheet, a hymn sheet written by a right-on six-year-old. 

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of six-year-olds, a final word about the BBC’s coverage of another interesting event, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations — for which it was comprehensively panned, right left and centre. I think I know why it did what it did, why it subjected the viewing public to an entire weekend of halfwits like Fearne Cotton jabbering utter inanities. I think it thought to itself: what sort of people are interested in watching this sort of reactionary old bollocks? Gumbys. Old Gumbys without much of an IQ. The sort of people who watch The One Show. Nobody with a brain would be terribly interested in the Queen, would they?

The argument continues….