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Outrage as BBC Arabic reporter snapped with Assad soldiers

Assaf Abboud (R) purportedly next to Assad regime soldiers [Facebook]

Date of publication: 12 September, 2016

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A picture purportedly showing correspondent of BBC Arabic with Syrian regime officers has sparked controversy and outrage among Syrian journalists opposed to the regime, reports The New Arab's Arabic service.

A picture purportedly showing a correspondent of the BBC Arabic service with Syrian regime officers has sparked controversy and even outrage among Syrian journalists opposed to the regime, reports Mohammad al-Amine of The New Arab's Arabic service.

Many have denounced what they say is the British television's "clear bias" in favour of the Assad government.

News outlets affiliated to Syrian opposition groups posted a picture of the BBC's correspondent in Syria, Assaf Aboud, "smiling" next to Syrian regime officers. The picture was apparently taken on Saturday morning in the Ramussa district of Aleppo, which regime forces retook from the rebels last week, re-imposing a siege on the rebel-held parts of the city in the east.

The picture with the officers of an army accused of war crimes and even genocide prompted Syrian journalists to demand the BBC take action against Abboud, up to sacking him. To many, the picture was a declaration of "alignment and loyalty."

BBC Arabic is yet to issue a comment.

Syrians opposed to the regime have accused the BBC of bias since the start of the rebellion in 2011, and say it has abandoned its own rigorous standards when it comes to covering the war in their country.

"Since the start of the rebellion in Syria, it became clear that correspondents of several prestigious outlets were misleading people or providing incomplete coverage," Ali Eid, head of the opposition Syrian Journalists Association, told The New Arab.

This applies to the BBC's correspondents and editorial line, he added.

"The BBC correspondent in Damascus...should have instead remained neutral, which he also failed to do in many of his reports that come accross as biased in favour of the regime owing to the language he uses and the guests he interviews."

Syrian journalists who support the rebellion accuse Abboud of supporting the regime publicly. This, they say, helps explain why he has been allowed to continue reporting out of Syria at a time when the regime closed down the offices of most 'neutral' Arab and foreign media in Damascus in the early months of the rebellion.
Syrians opposed to the regime have accused the BBC of bias since the start of the rebellion in 2011, and say it has abandoned its own rigorous standards when it comes to covering the war in their country
According to a source in the BBC who asked not to be named, there is a pro-Assad wing as well as a pro-Iranian and a pro-Sisi wings in the Arabic service, in reference to Egypt's strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The source told The New Arab: "This is no longer a secret to viewers who follow the channel, whose viewership has declined in a frightening manner."

"Management knows this, yet has not taken action," the source said, adding that it would be unlikely for Abboud to receive serious measures apart from a warning to abide by the BBC's standards.

Supporters of the Syrian revolution have said the London-based media outlet displays clear sympathy with the regime narrative. Language closely reflects Damascus' own propaganda, they added.

Damascus-based BBC Arabic Syria correspondent Assaf Aboud had also come under flack for reporting on the war while embedded with regime troops. 

The fact that he reported from the security-tight government-held capital – where dissent leads to arrests and ultimately death – means he was also unable to report truthfully or impartially, they add.
Consultancy firm Media Tenor analysed more than 47,000 BBC news reports in 2015 and concluded that the state broadcaster's coverage of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was more favourable than its portrayal of the European Union

BBC English presenters have also been accused of giving sympathetic portrayals of life under government control.

It is not just the Syrian opposition who have pointed this out. 

Consultancy firm Media Tenor analysed more than 47,000 BBC news reports in 2015 and concluded that the state broadcaster's coverage of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was more favourable than its portrayal of the European Union.

The BBC prides itself on being an impartial news provider. But in a war as politically charged and bloody as Syria they appear to have picked sides... activists say, it's the wrong one.

This is not the first time the BBC or its staff have shown bias or made glaring mistakes. In May, a report filmed at rebel-held areas in Aleppo portrayed them as regime-controlled. The 'mistake' sparked widespread anger on social media, forcing the channel to apologise.

In May as well, Dima Izzedin resigned from the channel, saying: "The standards upon which the channel was founded and that made it a prestigious name are no longer being applied."

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