BBC admits Syria gas attack report had serious flaws after complaint

BBC admits Syria gas attack report had serious flaws in ‘victory for truth’ after complaint by Peter Hitchens

  • BBC said a documentary on alleged chemical weapon attack had inaccuracies 
  • The programme dealt with an alleged chemical attack at Douma, Syria, in 2018
  • It included an account of ‘Alex’, a former inspector with the poison gas watchdog
  • BBC said it had no evidence that ‘Alex’ believed the attack in Douma was staged 
  • Adjudicators agreed it had failed to meet ECU’s editorial standards for accuracy

The BBC has admitted that a Radio 4 documentary on an alleged chemical weapon attack in Syria contained serious inaccuracies.

The Corporation’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld a protest from Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens following last November’s broadcast of Mayday: The Canister On The Bed.

Adjudicators agreed that the programme by BBC investigative journalist Chloe Hadjimatheou failed to meet the Corporation’s editorial standards for accuracy by reporting false claims.

The programme, part of a series on aspects of the conflict in Syria, dealt with an attack at Douma in 2018 and included an account of the role later played by ‘Alex’, a former inspector with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the poison gas watchdog.

The BBC has admitted that a Radio 4 documentary on an alleged chemical weapon attack in Douma (pictured in 2018), Syria, contained serious inaccuracies

Adjudicators agreed the programme by investigative journalist Chloe Hadjimatheou (pictured) failed to meet the Corporation’s editorial standards for accuracy by reporting false claims

Last week – nearly ten months after the broadcast – the ECU delivered its finding that the BBC was wrong to insinuate that ‘Alex’ was motivated to go public about his doubts over the attack by the prospect of a $100,000 (£72,000) reward from the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

No such reward was ever paid, according to WikiLeaks.

The BBC also accepted it had no evidence to back up its claim that ‘Alex’, a highly qualified and apolitical scientist, believed the attack in Douma, which prompted retaliatory missile strikes by Britain, the US and France, had been staged.

In its ruling, the Corporation withdrew the imputation that Mr Hitchens, who has reported on despotic regimes for more than 40 years, shared ‘the Russian and Syrian state views on the war’. 

The programme (pictured) dealt with an attack at Douma in 2018 and included an account of the role later played by ‘Alex’, a former inspector with the poison gas watchdog

The ECU ruled the BBC was wrong to insinuate that ‘Alex’ was motivated to go public about his doubts over the attack by the prospect of a reward from WikiLeaks. Pictured: Syrian police on a destroyed street in Douma in April 2018

Upholding his complaint, the adjudicators said: ‘The ECU found that, although they were limited to one aspect of an investigation into a complex and hotly contested subject, these points represented a failure to meet the standard of accuracy appropriate to a programme of this kind.’

Welcoming the ruling, Mr Hitchens said: ‘This is a major victory for the truth. The whistleblowers inside the OPCW were always motivated by a strict regard for scientific truth.

‘Far from seeking rewards, they realised that their actions would damage their careers but went ahead anyway. 

‘I do not serve any government, least of all those in Moscow and Damascus. 

‘I am glad the BBC has now made clear that it grasps that my reporting was motivated solely by the search for truth.’

He added: ‘It is astonishingly rare for the BBC to rule against itself.

‘This is a huge development. I hope it represents a wider change of heart in the Corporation.’ 

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