Dumbing down ME politics with BBC Monitoring

On June 1st the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a video by BBC Monitoring which purported to assist audiences in finding an answer to the question “Why can’t Lebanon elect a president?“.BBC Monitoring president Lebanon

The synopsis reads:

“On Thursday, for the 40th time in two years, the Lebanese parliament will attempt to fill the vacant position of the country’s president.

BBC Monitoring looks at why Lebanon has struggled to elect a leader.”

Sadly for BBC audiences, the video did not do what it said on the tin. Viewers were told that:

“Lebanon hasn’t had a president for the last two years. On Thursday parliament will try and elect one. It’s their 40th attempt. The president can’t be anyone. They need to be a Maronite Christian. To balance this the PM has to be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament must be a Shia Muslim. The last president blames Hezbollah for the stalemate. Hezbollah leads one of the main blocs in parliament. The group backs Syria’s President Assad and is supported by Iran. The other main bloc is pro-western and backed by Saudi Arabia. But two-thirds of MPs need to come together to elect a president. With this much disagreement, that’s a big ask.”

The Lebanese parliament again failed to elect a president the day after that video was published.   

“The Lebanese parliament failed again — on its 40th try — to choose a new president after only 39 members showed up for the electoral session Thursday, which was boycotted by parliament speaker Nabih Berri and most MPs from Hezbollah’s political bloc. The country has been without a president since May 2014.”

That ‘March 8 bloc’ boycott is nothing new, as Yalibnan reported in April:

“Since Sulaiman ended his presidential term in May 2014, Hezbollah and most of its March 8 allies boycotted 38 parliamentary  sessions that were allocated for electing a president

Without a two-thirds quorum, parliament sessions led to bickering, as Iran-backed Hezbollah insisted that it would only participate if it received solid guarantees that its candidate, Aoun, would be elected.”

In other words, this item refrained from informing BBC audiences that the reason Lebanon can’t elect a president according to its democratic process is because a religiously motivated proscribed terrorist organisation that is sponsored (and not just “supported”) by Iran is preventing it from doing so.

“Former prime minister Fouad Saniora told journalists after the failed Thursday session that he thought it was the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group that was preventing an election from taking place.

According to Saniora, Hezbollah says it is supporting General Michel Aoun for president but is, in fact, using the election as a bargaining chip with respect to sanctions on the group and the debate over its role in the region.”

Possible broader incentives for Hizballah’s stance have also been discussed by analysts – for example here and here.

In August 2014 the Middle East Institute published an article on the topic of the failure to elect a president in Lebanon which opened as follows:

“The presidential vacuum in Lebanon since May 24, when president Michel Sleiman’s term ended without the Lebanese parliament having elected a successor, is likely to continue until an electable candidate is found who respects Hezbollah’s military autonomy and does not challenge its Syria policy.

Parliamentarians in Hezbollah’s “Loyalty to the Resistance bloc” have played an instrumental role in delaying the election process by boycotting all nine presidential election sessions, contributing to the lack of quorum needed to select a president.  An anti-Hezbollah president cannot be elected because the March 8 bloc (of which Hezbollah is a part) can prevent parliament from achieving the required quorum.”

That article was written by Lamia Estatie who now works for BBC Monitoring and who is credited as having produced this video.

Estatie obviously knows full well why Lebanon can’t elect a president. Why then did BBC Monitoring elect to waste audiences’ time with a dumbed-down report which skirts around the real point rather than meeting the corporation’s obligation to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”?


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