Did the BBC hide a headline on Syrian rebels killing children in Aleppo?
Syrian pro-government forces drive past heavily damaged buildings in Aleppo on November 8, 2016. (AFP/Georges Ourfalian)
The international media has long been accused of promoting their own political agenda, despite most journalists’ claims that they remain objective in their work. This debate has been circulating around Twitter today, with a recent BBC article at the center of the discussion.
The BBC has provoked criticism after changing a story headlined, “Aleppo rebel attack on school kills seven children,” to one under the title, “Aleppo self-rule plan rejected by government.”
The original story reports that seven children were killed on Sunday by rebel rocket fire, which hit a school in the government-held west of Aleppo city. These details were later removed, and replaced with a report on the Syrian government’s rejection of a UN proposal to end heavy fighting in Aleppo.
The change was noted by News Sniffer, a website that documents news sites and documents changes:
The first reports on the rocket fire originated on Syrian state media, and were picked up by other international agencies, including AFP. While it is unclear why the BBC felt the need to drastically alter the story, it might be due to the fact that the only source for the report was Syrian state media, and could therefore not be independently verified.
Nevertheless, the change has stimulated criticism. By shifting focus away from atrocities committed by rebels, many have argued that the BBC, and Western media in general, has shown bias against the Assad regime and its Russian ally.
This links back to recent comparisons which were made between the media's reporting on Mosul and Aleppo. There are several similarities between the two cities, with Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria both held by armed groups, surrounded by armies and bombarded by international air power. However, the way in which the two conflicts have been reported on in international media differ considerably.
“...The government soldiers laying siege to this city [Aleppo] are the bad guys, condemned for assaulting and bombing the city - which is exactly what the good soldiers do in the first city [Mosul],” veteran journalist John Pilger recently observed of the coverage.
In the case of Mosul, the defenders ( Daesh) are often blamed for endangering civilians and using them as human shields. However, in Eastern Aleppo, the story is read differently. While there are no human shields, the Syrian government and Russia are often depicted as the side responsible for the high number of civilian casualties.
Funny the way all Russian bombs hit children's hospitals in Aleppo, while our nice bombs in Mosul don't do this: https://t.co/0F4LePmtg2— Peter Hitchens (@ClarkeMicah) November 20, 2016
There’s no denying that the Syrian government and Russia are responsible for the death of countless civilians. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, at least 103 people have died in rebel-controlled areas since Syrian government forces last Tuesday attempted to retake the eastern rebel-held side of Aleppo using airstrikes, barrel bombs and artillery.
However, less focus has been placed on what’s occurring in the government-controlled west, where it was reported that thirteen have died from rebel attacks since Tuesday, including nine children.
While the altered BBC article may not be the clearest indicator of bias in the international media, it is undeniable that many are frustrated with the ‘black-and-white’ reporting of the Syrian conflict and its various players.