When George Galloway promotes Assad regime propaganda on Iran’s Press TV or the Iranian/Syrian funded Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV, most of us are probably not in the least bit surprised that media outlets beholden to totalitarian regimes make no effort whatsoever to conceal their conscripted status.
However, we reassure ourselves that such blatant and unabashed amplification of the baseless lies and propaganda of a vicious dictatorship could not happen in Western countries where reliable and reputable broadcasters operate according to clearly defined editorial standards. Or could it?
We recently witnessed one instance in which the BBC ran a headline (later amended) composed of pure, unadulterated Assad propaganda. On Sunday, May 19th 2013 BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ programme – which claims to “explore the week’s religious and ethical news and examine the key debates from the worlds of culture and ideas” with host William Crawley – permitted a long segment of the show to be devoted to running interference for the Assad regime, together with the promotion of anti-Israel conspiracies and tropes of an antisemitic nature.
The programme’s guest who was provided with a BBC platform from which to engage in that diatribe was prolific anti-Israel campaigner, Vanunu fan, ‘Global March to Jerusalem‘ supporter, ‘Russell Tribunal on Palestine’ “jury” member and former flotilla passenger Mairead Maguire. Host William Crawley – apparently rather over-awed by her status as a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner – refrained from informing listeners about Maguire’s rich history of anti-Israel activity before allowing her to launch into her largely unhindered propaganda rant.
The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time, with the relevant segment commencing at 08:04. Not far into the broadcast we already hear Maguire state:
“No – Assad is not murdering his own people.”
That is followed at 11:19 by Maguire’s ‘explanation’ of the ‘reasons’ behind potential Western intervention in the Syrian civil war.
“And do you know what the agenda is? The agenda is Israeli security. The agenda is taking over Syria so they can destroy Iran and then we move from Iran to North Korea.”
But Maguire really gets into her stride from 18:10 onwards when Crawley asks:
“Why do you think – why do you believe – the Syrian crisis is really about Israel?”
MM: “The President of Syria took a very strong stand against the Iraqi war. The President of Syria has taken a very strong stand in defence of the rights of the Palestinian people. He has not bowed down or cowed down to the Israeli and the American agenda. So in that situation he runs the risk of being someone outside who’s not doing as he’s told.”
Of course neither Maguire nor Crawley bother to inform listeners that the Assad dynasty’s supposed “defence of the rights of the Palestinian people” has never extended to Palestinians living in Syria.
“Between 70 and 90 thousand refugees arrived in Syria, the majority from Tzfat, Haifa, Tiberias and Acco. In 1954 they were awarded partial rights, which did not include political rights. Until 1968 they were forbidden to hold property. Syrian law allows any Arab to obtain Syrian citizenship as long as his permanent residence is in Syria and he is capable of supporting himself economically. But the Palestinians are the only ones excluded from the terms this law. Even if they are permanent residents and affluent, the law prevents them from receiving citizenship.
Only thirty percent of those still considered for some reason ‘Palestinian refugees in Syria’ live in refugee camps. In fact, they should have been considered as Syrians from all points of view a long time ago. They were part of the Arab national identity, they are linked by family connections, they should have been integrated into economic life. Yet despite this, as a result of political brain-washing, they remain in Syria as a foreign body, dreaming endlessly of ‘the right of return’, and beaten by their inferior situation. Most of them are at the bottom of the career ladder, in service industries (41%) and construction (27%). But there is nothing like the field of education to clarify their situation. 23% do not even get to elementary school and 3% only get academic education.”
At 19:28 Maguire goes on to say:
“Somebody has to say to the Americans and to the Israelis you need to make peace out here or you’re going to destroy the whole Middle East and that will affect the whole world. Israel doesn’t want peace. I’ve been many, many times to Israel and Palestine – they don’t want peace. They have chosen land. And as long as Israel chooses land, then it will continue to cause a slow genocide of the Palestinian people, stealing their land. And America says nothing because America’s afraid of Israel and President Obama is afraid of the Israeli [sic] vote in America because it is powerful. But America has to take a stand. It’s funded to the tune of millions of pounds – the militarization of Israel. And Israel with its nuclear weapons is the greatest threat in the Middle East.”
That barrage of downright lies, factual inaccuracies, defamations and antisemitic tropes is met with a tepid “there are two sides to this story, aren’t there?” reaction from Crawley, but he makes no effort to correct the erroneous impressions audiences have already received from Maguire. At 20:34 Maguire claims:
“Well you see when we were in Syria, Israel attacked Syria. Two planes over Syria.
“Because of concerns about chemical weapons.”
MM: “No – because it wants to control…”
WC: “But that is their explanation.”
MM: “But I mean this idea that there are chemical weapons – the Syrian government, immediately this myth was put out – immediately wrote to the UN and said send in anybody you want because we can prove we don’t have chemical weapons. And the UN never even answered their letters. But that kind of thing has sort of slowed down now because they knew it was disinformation to destroy Syria.”
The Syrian regime has of course refused entry to UN weapons inspectors and the existence of its chemical weapons stockpiles is common knowledge, but Maguire’s lies go uncorrected by Crawley, who instead poses a question which one seriously doubts he would ask in relation to any other country:
“Do you believe that Israel has a right to exist?”
Maguire’s presumably unintentionally clichéd reply to that is:
“I totally believe that Israel has the right to exist and I love my Jewish friends. I have very many Jewish friends. But I totally oppose the policies being carried out by Israel. Israel has not the right to attack other countries and feel that it will not be held accountable under international law.”
The programme continues with what is presumably supposed to be a ‘balancing’ phone interview with Professor Beverly Milton-Edwards, which will do little to correct the perverted impressions listeners have already received from Maguire – not least because of its dismal sound quality and the fact that it lasts far less than half the time which she was allocated.
The Assad regime and its Iranian backers will no doubt be very impressed with the latest BBC voluntary contribution to the cause of spreading classic Syrian dictatorship propaganda – although the MP for Bradford West might be somewhat put out at no longer being the only star of the Assad makeover show. Real journalists – particularly publicly funded ones bound by standards of accuracy and impartiality – should, however, know better.