The BBC loves to boast about how “objective” and “neutral” it is. But a recent article, which it was forced to change, illustrates the lengths to which the British state-funded media outlet will go to protect one of the U.K. government’s closest allies, Saudi Arabia, which also happens to be one of the country’s largest arms purchasers (just this morning, the Saudi ambassador to the U.K. threatened in an op-ed that any further criticism of the Riyadh regime by Jeremy Corbyn could jeopardize the multi-layered U.K./Saudi alliance).
Earlier this month, the BBC published an article describing the increase in weapons and money sent by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf regimes to anti-Assad fighters in Syria. All of that “reporting” was based on the claims of what the BBC called “a Saudi government official,” who — because he works for a government closely allied with the U.K. — was granted anonymity by the BBC and then had his claims mindlessly and uncritically presented as fact (it is the rare exception when the BBC reports adversarially on the Saudis). This anonymous “Saudi official” wasn’t whistleblowing or presenting information contrary to the interests of the regime; to the contrary, he was disseminating official information the regime wanted publicized. This was the key claim of the anonymous Saudi official (emphasis added):
The well-placed official, who asked not to be named, said supplies of modern, high-powered weaponry including guided anti-tank weapons would be increased to the Arab- and western-backed rebel groups fighting the forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies.
He said those groups being supplied did not include either Islamic State (IS) or al-Nusra Front, both of which are proscribed terrorist organisations. Instead, he said the weapons would go to three rebel alliances – Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Southern Front.
So the Saudis, says the anonymous official, are only arming groups such as the “Army of Conquest,” but not the Al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front. What’s the problem with this claim? It’s obvious, though the BBC would not be so impolite as to point it out: the “Army of Conquest” includes the al-Nusra Front as one of its most potent components. This is not even in remote dispute; the New York Times‘ elementary explainer on “the Army of Conquest” from three weeks ago states: