As quietly as possible, BBC world news editor Jon Williams has admitted that the coverage of last month’s Houla massacre in Syria by the world’s media and his own employers was a compendium of lies.
Datelined 16:23, June 7, Williams chose a personal blog to make a series of fairly frank statements explaining that there was no evidence whatsoever to identify either the Syrian Army or Alawite militias as the perpetrators of the May 25 massacre of 100 people.
By implication, Williams also suggests strongly that such allegations are the product of the propaganda department of the Sunni insurgents seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
After preparatory statements of self-justification noting the “complexity of the situation on the ground in Syria, and the need to try to separate fact from fiction,” and Syria’s long “history of rumours passing for fact,” Williams writes:
“In the aftermath of the massacre at Houla last month, initial reports said some of the 49 children and 34 women killed had their throats cut. In Damascus, Western officials told me the subsequent investigation revealed none of those found dead had been killed in such a brutal manner. Moreover, while Syrian forces had shelled the area shortly before the massacre, the details of exactly who carried out the attacks, how and why were still unclear.”
For this reason, he concludes somewhat belatedly, “In such circumstances, it’s more important than ever that we report what we don’t know, not merely what we do.”
“In Houla, and now in Qubair, the finger has been pointed at the Shabiha, pro-government militia. But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it’s not clear who ordered the killings—or why.”
No trace of such a restrained approach can be found at the time on the BBC, or most anywhere else.
Instead the BBC offered itself as a sounding board for the statements of feigned outrage emanating from London, Washington and the United Nations headquarters—all blaming the atrocity on either the Syrian Army or Shabiha militias acting under their protection.
Typical was the May 28 report, “Syria Houla massacre: Survivors recount horror”, in which unidentified “Survivors of the massacre ... have told the BBC of their shock and fear as regime forces entered their homes and killed their families.” Nowhere was the question even posed that in such a conflict these alleged witnesses could be politically aligned with the opposition and acting under its instruction.
Only now does Williams state:
“Given the difficulties of reporting inside Syria, video filed by the opposition on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube may provide some insight into the story on the ground. But stories are never black and white—often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior Western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as ‘brilliant’. But he also likened it to so-called ‘psy-ops’, brainwashing techniques used by the US and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true.”
Williams is in a position to know of what he speaks.
On May 27, the BBC ran a report on Houla under a photo purporting to show “the bodies of children in Houla awaiting burial.”
In reality this was an example of opposition propaganda that was anything but “brilliant”. The photograph of dozens of shrouded corpses was actually taken by Marco di Lauro in Iraq on March 27, 2003 and was of white body bags containing skeletons found in a desert south of Baghdad....read more