An award-winning BBC interview and a dictator’s legacy wish

Last week’s Royal Television Society awards ceremony for television journalism saw BBC News win the ‘Interview of the Year’ category.

“The winner secured an exclusive news-making interview with the key figure at the heart of one of the biggest stories of the year. The judges recognised the hard work that went into setting up the interview, negotiating terms, maintaining editorial independence and the cool-headed expertise which produced a compelling encounter.”

RTS award Assad interview

As was noted here at the time, that interview was particularly remarkable for the fact that the words Iran and Hizballah did not appear in any of Bowen’s questions and the points made in the Times editorial which followed it still ring true a year later.

“The worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War has its origins in President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to crush dissent in Syria four years ago instead of listen to it. Assad lied about this in an interview with the BBC, broadcast as UN negotiators arrived in Damascus yesterday for peace talks. He called the demonstrators terrorists.

He lied, too, when he said his armed forces have not used chemical weapons or barrel bombs against civilians. The evidence in both cases has been painstakingly gathered and is overwhelming.  Yet the fact that Assad is willing once again to answer questions from western reporters reflects an awkward reality. […]

Assad’s aim in speaking out is to persuade those with short memories that in a region convulsed with violence he is a leader with whom the wider world can do business. […] Assad is busy rewriting history to rationalise atrocities and lay spurious claim to power.”

Moreover, the issue of “editorial independence” was called into question seven months later when Jeremy Bowen produced a series of reports which not only uncritically amplified Bashar al Assad’s agenda but actively misled audiences with regard to the Syrian regime’s role in creating the migrant crisis in Europe.

One year on Assad has been talking to the Western media again and now says that he wishes to be remembered as “the man who saved Syria”. Some of the material available in the BBC’s “historical record” – including this prize-winning interview – will do little to present members of the public with a realistic view of Bashar al Assad’s claim to that title.

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