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Reporting Syria

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 21:00 UK time, Thursday, 23 August 2012

Yesterday, on BBC World News, BBC Arabic and the BBC News at 10, we broadcast footage filmed by the New York Times of a group of Free Syrian Army fighters leading the fight for Syria's second city Aleppo. For five days, a team from the New York Times spent time with the so-called "Lions of Tawhid" - charting their battles with President Assad's forces in the city. You can see their full report here.

The BBC report focused on a sequence where fighters built a 300 kilogram bomb in the back of a truck. A prisoner - said to be a member of the Shabiha, a government militia - is seen blindfolded, being taken into the city, where the fighters were said to be planning to use him as an unwitting suicide bomber.

In the event, the bomb failed to explode but the story has generated much interest across the Arab World and beyond. Amnesty International suggested that the video amounted to the attempted murder of a captive, under international law classified as a "war crime".

Some pro-government news agencies in Syria have suggested the BBC and the New York Times have termed the act as a "war crime". This is not true. The role of news organisations is to report facts and allow others to draw conclusions. The BBC and the New York Times reflect all sides of any story. It is not our role to pass judgement - we leave that to others.

Jon Williams is the BBC world news editor.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice-sounding words, but utterly false. Since its imaginary bombardment of Lattakia, the BBC has selected and edited to support the terrorists that the government (who has given the BBC extra millions to "promote democracy") fosters.

    The public needs to find honest reporting as the aggressors prepare their attack against Syria.

  • Comment number 2.

    This US Naval report outlines the US objectives against Syria prior to 2007. They haven't changed, but the BBC is not going to mention them:

    ''The old pre-pro/edit suite combo at work, eh?"

  • Comment number 3.

    "The role of news organisations is to report facts and allow others to draw conclusions."

    Perhaps, but that often takes the form of what is termed anaemic journalism i.e. "He said, she said". You need some analysis too. The other issue is the way that facts are reported (or what facts are selectively not reported).

    P.S. Why is the character limit so ridiculously low? To deter discussion?

  • Comment number 4.

    All are beginning to realize that the FSA and like terrorists are paid and supported by the West to overthrow a majoritarian secular government in Syria and this for unrealistic geopolitical, rather than humanitarian, goals.

    Why not report this so that the public can vote accordingly?

    @Steve: The character limit applies only to those who would rebut the propagandist.

  • Comment number 5.

    More and more people are becoming wise to the BBCs propensity for lying and supporting criminal act's. Be aware that you some day in the near future you will all be held to account for the crimes you are committing daily by supportung this immoral invasion of Holy Syria. Did you really think your corrupt actions would not have consequences?

  • Comment number 6.

    Free Syrian Army fighters leading the fight for Syria's second city Aleppo:
    Certainly seems like a war crime to me, but who was first in the line, who supports, pays for these rebels, this so-called Opposition. It's the west, including shamefully Turkey.
    Are these facts that have been reported? How can we know?

  • Comment number 7.

    'Free Syrian Army' aka the hardcore Islamists. Why is the BBC supporting the Islamists and putting out propaganda against Assad? BBC has mastered the art of propaganda make no mistake.

  • Comment number 8.

    Gary Gambill - Middle East Forum states: "The Sunni Islamist surge may also be essential to inflicting a full-blown strategic defeat on Iran," before concluding at length as to why THE WEST SHOULD SUPPORT TERRORISM IN SYRIA:
    Iran constitutes an immediate threat to western interests. Whatever misfortunes Sunni Islamists may visit upon Syrian civilians, it will be preferable to the Assad regime.

  • Comment number 9.

    Gary Gambill, "Two Cheers for Syrian Islamists," (2012): So long as Syrian jihadis are committed to fighting Iran & its Arab proxies, we should QUIETLY ROOT FOR THEM - while keeping our distance from a conflict that is going to get very ugly. There will be plenty of time to tame the beasts after Syrian & Iran's regional hegemonic ambitions have gone down in flames.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    I work in advertising.

    BBC News functions just like an advertising agency.

    The over-all strategy is agreed upon upfront. Then all the individual producers go away and make their pieces to fit within that strategy.

    They may tip a nod to alternative perspectives but not deviate too far if they want their piece to be shown.

    We can all guess what the 'upfront strategy' is regarding Syria and Iran.

  • Comment number 12.

    Then: All the news that's fit to print
    Now: All the news that fits our narrative, we print

  • Comment number 13.

    Gambill - agenda behind destabilizing Syria - isolation & undermining of Iran (east); & Hezbollah in Lebanon (West). He mentions destruction of Syria as means of realigning Iraq to US. He claims US can do "little" about what he calls "political ascendancy" of these sectarian EXTREMISTS; violence across Levant is ALIGNED TO WESTERN INTERESTS, & something that should be allowed - even encouraged.

  • Comment number 14.

    Gambill fails to mention "political ascendancy" was planned by US, Israel, & Saudi Arabia - back to 2007.
    9-page report SEYMOUR HERSH, New Yorker entitled "The Redirection.":
    To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, west has decided to reconfigure priorities in Middle East. e.g. In Lebanon, Admin has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s Govt (Sunni) in operations to weaken Hezbollah.

  • Comment number 15.

    Seymour Hersh, The Redirection (2007):
    US has also taken part in operations aimed at Iran & Syria. By-product = bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam & are hostile to America & sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
    Saudi Govt, with US approval, provides funds to weaken Govt of President Bashir Assad.

  • Comment number 16.

    Gambill's gushing support for terrorism - terrorists who likely fought & killed Americans - is latest spin & repackaging of Al Qaeda & FRAUDULANT "War on Terror".
    Al-Qaeda's terrorism in Syria," (published by Council on Foreign Relations' think-tank) stated: "The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks.

  • Comment number 17.

    Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels are tired, divided, chaotic - ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with Assad regime's superior weaponry & professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters IMPROVE MORALE. Influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni Gulf, & death.

  • Comment number 18.

    Gambill causally says: "There will be plenty of time to tame the beast after Syria & Iran's regional hegemonic ambitions have gone down in flames." = more US troops will be deployed, & some will die, all in the pursuit of corporate-financier interests in ME. Gambill specifically refers to "hegemonic ambitions," NOT ANY CONCEIVABLE THREAT to US defense.

  • Comment number 19.

    The BBC also has a duty to remember that the observer is not capable of being 100% independent of the "observed" events.

    Many things will not happen when potential perpetrators know they are being watched, and not a few events occur precisely because there is a ready-made audience in the form of a TV camera. To pretend otherwise is either disingenuous or naïve, and I'm not even a journalist.

  • Comment number 20.

    Yes, the BBC is obliged not to "pass judgement". So why use loaded language such as "Syrian regime" instead of the impartial term "Syrian government"?
    Please remember that you are journalists rather than propagandists?

  • Comment number 21.

    Why is the BBC lying in claiming they didn’t characterize the act as a war crime? Perhaps it’s because their removal of the story constitutes covering up for a war crime. Maybe it made the lawyers and senior editors nervous.

  • Comment number 22.

    BBC has video evidence of a war crime.
    The reporter concerned described it as a war crime.
    Jon Williams now lies on record saying it was not described as a war crime.
    This is an attempt to cover up a war crime.
    Those responsible will be held to account one day soon by the British people.
    In the meantime, shame on you.

  • Comment number 23.

    At 21:05 23rd Aug 2012, madmaxtheprof9 wrote:

    Nice-sounding words, but utterly false.

    Well, it is the BBC 'The Editors' thread.

    So far not much by way of counter.

    I predict a closing soon.

  • Comment number 24.

    Slowly revealed - the ugly face of self-serving elitist 'engineered' US/European financial collapse and murderous plans for the middle east. Swift removal of previously released (but suddenly "inconvenient truth") videos no longer works Mr Williams. Discerning people have captured and reposted the video - which has now been seen by tens of millions globally. (Word 59 - characts 328).

  • Comment number 25.

    It looks like the beeb have got it 'just about right' again. Wow i am relieved.

  • Comment number 26.

    Unfortunately for the BBC; "Truth Resonates" with the rising conscious and politically aware who are now (because of this video) monitoring your editorial decisions with regard to possible "relocation" of reporters of the truth. To quote an oft used phrase of recent years; "The Whole World is Watching".
    Comments will close here because no discussion wanted (330 characters allowed)

  • Comment number 27.

    The bbc has disgustingly supported every imperialist war that uk has been involved in. From following "our" boys through the illegal massacre in Iraq to the bombing of Libya. Now they want us to believe that these jihadis are glorious freedom fighters.

    The bbc has blood on its hands and wants us to believe up is down and left is right

  • Comment number 28.



    If it's getting near closing time better have one for the road!

  • Comment number 29.

    One more? Oh, all right. If you insist!


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