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CBC Syria propaganda

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Posted 02 August 2012 - 08:49 PM

CMM Alert: CBC Syria propaganda by Brooks Kind, July 31, 2012

Like those in the entertainment and PR business, CBC journalists seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story, particularly when there is a western crime that needs whitewashing. The crisis in Syria is no exception, except that in this case their version of events is so detatched from reality it requires a more thorough and systematic suppression of facts than usual to make it hang together. Nevertheless, CBC producers, editors and journalists have been up to the challenge, accumulating a remarkable record of deceit, censorship and obfuscation over the past several months of reporting on Syria, as they try to spin yet another US/NATO crime as a humanitarian operation. The story goes something like this:
Once upon a time there was an evil dictator named Bashar al Assad who ruled over Syria with an iron fist. Tired of this repression, and inspired by the Arab Spring, the Syrian people began a peaceful uprising to try to replace him with a better, more democratic government. He responded with ruthless violence, and began indiscriminately "killing his own people” while the world watched in horror. The “international community”, which embodies and is always motivated by democracy, international law and human rights, tried to stop him by lawful means through the UN but were prevented by two of Assad's powerful friends, Russia and China (not members of the international community) who, for their own interests, were determined to keep him in power. So Assad continued to kill his own people with Russian weapons and support, and the protesters began to arm themselves and fight back. The international community deplored the loss of life and Russia and China's obstructionism, and tried to assist the rebels to achieve democracy. The fighting intensified, UN peace plans failed, and the country slid into civil war.
If this reads like caricature it's because it is, though it is also the basic outline of a story that is being spun on the two CBC news programs I have looked at carefully over the past three months, the World at Six, and World Report. For example, here is an excerpt from a Margaret Evans report of just a few days ago:

The opposition activists fighting for the downfall of Bashar al Assad say Syrian government troops have been trying to batter their way in to rebel enclaves in the city.... The international community has continued to voice both horror and concern over the build-up. Yesterday the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the Syrian regime one that "massacres its own people" and said the international community must find a way to overcome the situation. But so far western nations and the Arab League have remained impotent in the face of Syria's slide into chaos. And there's no sign that's about to change. (World Report, July 28)

This short paragraph, a typical example of CBC coverage, contains numerous false assumptions and omissions that are key elements in the US propaganda campaign intended to justify intervention in Syria. 

Newspeak, lies of omission, and unreliable sources 

As Chomsky has said, in the western doctrinal system “international community” is a technical term meaning the US and anyone else who happens to go along with it. Thus Russia and China which have taken a stand against armed intervention in Syria (for good reasons given how the US/NATO interpreted protecting civilians with a no-fly-zone in Libya) are excluded from the community, and the General Assembly, which cannot be counted on to support US policy is routinely ignored. In CBC reporting, as in the above example, it is usually used as more or less synonymous with NATO countries which basically confirms Chomsky's definition. So when the US, “the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet” to borrow Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase, voices “horror and concern” over someone else's crimes, a serious journalist would treat such statements with extreme skepticism. Not CBC reporters however, who have consigned the 60 year record of US aggression, invasion, occupation, epic slaughters and its ongoing support for murderous regimes in the middle east and around the world to Orwell's memory hole.

Furthermore, NATO countries are far from “impotent” bystanders; by arming, funding and training the insurgents and providing them with intelligence, their policy has considerably escalated the violence (more on this below) and arguably, probably deliberately, sabotaged Koffi Annan's peace initiative. The term “activist” in this context is also interesting. Seldom have CBC reporters been so passionately interested in what "activists" have to say (and never so ready to accept it uncritically). The word is generally used to refer to those engaged in grassroots organizing and peaceful protest. However, in Syria CBC has allowed armed rebels to retain their "activist" status as it helps obscure the nature of the insurgency, and pits Assad's tanks and helicopter gunships against the Syrian equivalent of occupy protesters. It is unimaginable that Margaret Evans or any CBC reporter would describe Palestinians engaged in this kind of armed resistance as “activists” and not “militants” or - more likely - “terrorists”.

But perhaps more significant than these examples of newspeak and the  cultivated historical amnesia which is a constant (really a CBC job requirement) and which makes possible the portrayal of US/NATO warmongers as international human rights defenders, is the substantial list of crucial facts and events relating to the situation in Syria that have been missing from CBC reporting. Here are some examples:

that there has been a steady flow of arms, money and training from the US, Qatar and Saudi Arabia into Syria via Turkey;

that the CIA is active on the Turkish-Syrian border funding and providing tactical assistance to the rebels;

that US and Libyan mercenaries are probably also involved;

that Turkey's active and consistent undermining of UN peace initiatives by providing a staging ground (including in refugee camps ) and border crossing for armed insurgents into Syria – i.e. active complicity in armed regime change – is tantamount to an act of war and was described by the head of the opposition in Turkey and former ambassador to Washington, Faruk Logoglu as “against all international norms. It's against neighbourly relations. If [a country] attempts to do the same thing to Turkey, we will move heaven and earth."

that Al Qaeda jihadists have been active the insurgency;

that the credibility of the SNC - one the western media's favourite sources - has been called into question not just by numerous journalists but by US intelligence agency Stratfor;

that, according to an investigative piece in the Guardian these same groups have close ties to US and European elites;

and that they have not only falsified evidence of massacres but may have themselves committed civilian massacres like the one at Houla;

that internal planning documents reveal that the US had made plans to overthrow the government of Syria as far back as 1957, and that former supreme allied commander of NATO, general Wesley Clark, reported that this was also part of George W Bush administration's plans to restructure the middle east post 9-11;

It is interesting to note that even when the "agenda setting" New York Times has felt compelled to report on one or two of these inconvenient but by now hard-to-hide facts about the nature of the insurgency or correct the record after transmitting some bogus “activist” claims about a massacre, the CBC has maintained a determined silence. So for instance, the rebel deaths at Tremseh on July 12 was initially reported as a Syrian government massacre of 200 “people” (civilians by implication). Here is an excerpt of Margaret Evans' report of the incident on July 13:

Cell phone images of bodies lined up in a row, taken according to the voice in the video in the village of Tremseh. Blood seeping through the sheets and blankets they've been wrapped in. Victims, say opposition activists on the ground, of a terrible massacre yesterday. (man's voice is heard explaining that than 250 people were killed, some in a 'field execution') Activists in Tremseh say the Shabiha, brutal militias loyal to the regime of Bahar al Assad, went in to the village after government tanks and helicopters attacked it. Damascus accuses the rebels of orchestrating the violence to make Syria look bad in the eyes of the international community. It couldn't look much worse.

The piece ends with a stock reference to Russia's obstructionism in preventing the “international community” from acting, and a spokesperson of the SNC accusing Moscow of “having blood on its hands.” Evidence later surfaced that in fact the number of killed was closer to 100, and that they were almost all young men, most likely armed rebel fighters who had engaged with the Syrian military.

This was covered by the New York Times on July 15.

Not by the CBC however, which did not correct the record on the programs that carried Evans' initial report. Furthermore, if this alleged massacre was indeed a battle between the Syrian military and armed rebels, why would Syria “accuse the rebels of orchestrating the violence to make Syria look bad in the eyes of the international community” instead of just admitting they were putting down an armed attack by a group trying to overthrow the government? When I emailed Evans requesting a source for this odd accusation, she did not respond.

Another way CBC has tried to lend credibility to its simplistic good-versus-evil Syria narrative is to report dubious claims by western belligerents as facts. So for example on June 26, Peter Armstrong, then host of World Report, stated that the Turkish jet shot down by the Syrian military on June 22 had “accidentally” strayed into Syrian airspace. When asked what evidence there was of this, he denied having said it, and that he (or rather his script writer) had qualified it with the words “Turkey claimed”. Presented with the evidence that there had been no such qualification in the report referred to, he then claimed to have included it in “other” reports.

Michael Colton, CBC's Washington correspondent, reported on the World at Six, July 3, that the Turkish jet had been “unarmed”, another claim whose only source seems to be the government of Turkey. Asked for evidence, he refused to respond. When his producers were repeatedly pressed for a response, after more than two weeks of stonewalling, senior World at Six producer Don Spandier stated, in defense of Colton's report, that “several news reports” had made this claim. I had also asked Spandier about Colton's omission of any reference to Turkey's active participation in trying to overthrow the Assad government and its participation in sanctions against the country since these war-like acts were critical in assessing Syria's behaviour. This question was not even acknowledged.

Demonization of the official enemy

And of course CBC has made liberal use of this venerable technique of war propaganda, even extending it to Assad's wife. On a World Report item of April 18, Melissa Kent did a piece about Asma al Assad and a "video (that) shows the stylishly dressed president's wife contrasted with scenes of dead and dying Syrian chidren." Like past leaders on the US official enemies list, Assad has been the object of excoriating editorializing by CBC journalists. Here's Michael Colton in the same July 3 report just referred to:

Syrian attack helicopters belch their rockets on the outskirts of Damascus. The regime has a fascination with just about every type of violence: it's what it knows, practices, and depends on. And eventually it just might pay for it.

I am informed by a former CBC producer, that the network used to regard such tendentious language as unacceptable and unprofessional. Apparently not when the object is a target of western aggression. When I asked Colton if he had ever referred to an American president's “fascination with just about every type of violence” given that the US is perhaps the most violent country in world history and has killed upwards of 2 million people in Iraq alone since 1991, he refused to respond. While there is no doubt that Bashar al Assad's government is a brutal one and responsible for numerous atrocities, these are almost invisible beside those of US client Paul Kagame, to take one of example, whose genocide in Rwanda and the Congo has been enthusiastically supported by the US and totally suppressed by the CBC. In other words, CBC is using a pragmatic not a principled criterion to determine who are worthy and unworthy victims, to borrow a phrase of Chomsky and Herman's, a criterion rooted not in international law and human rights, but in the ideological imperatives of the western doctrinal system. Assad is on the US enemies list and has been targeted for destruction, so his victims are worthy, and a subject of intense and ongoing attention (and exaggeration). Kagame is a valued client in the US project of stealing the Congo's vast resources - in which Canada is also a player - so his victims, eclipsing Assad's by orders of magnitude, are unworthy and ignored. And Kagame's is just one on a very long list of murderous western-backed regimes who have been or are given a pass by the CBC.
These are just a few examples of the deep flaws in CBC's reporting on Syria but having monitored it closely over the past several months, I can say they comprise a representative sample. Given the grave threats posed to the whole region by a destabilized Syria, and the insane brinksmanship with Russia the US seems determined to provoke, these are not small matters, and the CBC's misrepresentation of them should be of concern to all Canadians.

Please write (politely) to CBC producers and journalists challenging their coverage of the Syrian crisis, and urging them to live up to their claims of providing “balanced” reporting, to stop ignoring evidence that undermines the claims of NATO and the SNC,  to interview dissidents as well as supporters of western policy, to broadcast the statements of relevant non-NATO government actors, and to treat the words of all parties – including Syrian insurgents and western leaders - with the skepticism that should be automatic and is the basis of credible journalism.

NB: Since this was written CBC's Philip Lee-Shanock did a piece for the World at Six which included a ten second clip of Janice Stein mentioning the “foereign fighters, openly jihadi or supportive of al Qaeda that are beginning to come in now.” To my knowledge, this is the first and only mention of this fact on either of the two programs.
Don Spandier, Senior Producer, The World at Six,
David Michael Lamb, Senior Producer, World Report
Derek Stoffel, CBC middle east correspondent,,
Margaret Evans, CBC foreign correspondent
Micharel Colton, CBC Washington correspondent
Kirk LaPointe CBC Ombudsman,

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