BBC’s Credibility Again Under Question: Pakistan challenges BBC story against Pakistan Army

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: For the first time in the history of relationship between Pakistan and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Pakistan on Tuesday (June 18, 2019) officially challenged BBC to come up with facts and contested the story published by BBC on June 2, 2019, the Dispatch News Desk (DND) news agency reported.

BBC, which is already facing credibility crises after it apologized to the former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in April 2019, has got another jolt as the Pakistani government is all set to take BBC at international journalistic forums, and demanded a justification from it for running a story which is challenged by Pakistan Army as well as by the Pakistani government.

According to the complaint number 1(i)/20119-DGEP, lodged by the External Publicity Wing (EP Wing) of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of Pakistan, BBC even manipulated response of Pakistan’s military media wing Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) to a BBC email, and the BBC Correspondent ran a story base of cooked, loaded, fabricated and contested information.

The byline BBC story from its Correspondent M Ilyas Khan titled “Uncovering Pakistan’s Secret Human Rights Abuses” dated June 2, 2019 was strongly challenged by the ISPR on the same day when it was published but now the Pakistani government has refuted the story and challenged the credibility of story with information shared with BBC comprising of over 3000 words.

The complaint, which has officially been submitted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of Pakistan, indicates that manipulating the news items through half-truths, lies and exaggeration, one sided accounts to support pre-determined conclusions, agenda setting, and it undermines the credibility of a news organization like BBC.

The Ministry of Information further said that public funded organizations (e.g. BBC) share greater responsibility to uphold objectives ordained in their charter and editorial guidelines but BBC’s story “Uncovering Pakistan’s Secret Human Rights Abuses” accuses Pakistan and its armed forces of killing innocent civilians without having a meeting with ISPR officials or taking their detailed viewpoint. BBC avoided to get any viewpoint of ISPR by telephoning or meeting any ISPR official anywhere in Pakistan; although, the ISPR Spokesman is available to national and international media and is one call away for journalists.

The complaint indicates that BBC went ahead with its one-sided story in violation of its own editorial guidelines and charter.

It may be mentioned that BBC in April apologized and paid damages to the former President of Ukraine Poroshenko for running a fabricated and baseless story against him.

Pakistan challenged BBC story against Pakistan Army
Pakistan challenged BBC story against Pakistan Army

Some important points of complaint lodged by Government of Pakistan against BBC are here under:

The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), office of the Pakistan Armed Forces spokesperson, received an email from Mr Simon Fraser – Asia Editor, of the BBC Website – titled “Human Right Abuses in North Waziristan” on 28 March 2019, claiming, “BBC has gathered evidence that members of Pakistan military are guilty of widespread human right abuses against residents in North Waziristan over a period of many years” (email attached as Anx ‘A’). After analyzing the questions and the vague statements termed as so called evidence, the ISPR responded to email on April 1 2019 saying that “the expression of email is highly judgmental. Before undertaking the story, an interaction is suggested to know the facts”. (copy attached as Anx ‘B’). However, despite ISPR’s offer for a detailed interaction, BBC went ahead with its one sided story in violation of its own editorial guidelines and charter including the following:

  1. Being objective, factual and impartial are the core values of journalism. In line with these tenets, media must stay away from subjectivity, spinning news and biases. Equally important is to present the version of all stake holders without angling. Manipulating the news items through half-truths, lies and exaggerated, one sided accounts to support pre-determined conclusions, indicate agenda setting and undermines the credibility of a news organization. “Mass Media are the principal connection between events in the world and images in the mind of the public” (Walter Lippman, Public Opinion 1922). “Media has the ability to influence the importance placed on the topics of public discourse” (Agenda Setting Theory Max McCombs and Donald Shaw 1968). Therefore, words matter as they affect the public opinion.
  2. Public funded organizations (e.g. BBC) share greater responsibility to uphold objectives ordained in their charter & editorial guidelines. BBC’s story “Uncovering Pakistan’s Secret Human Rights Abuses” dated June 2 2019, accuses Pakistan and its Armed Forces of killing innocent civilians – a charge which doesn’t have an iota of truth and is not backed by evidence.
  3. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), office of the Pakistan Armed Forces spokesperson, received an email from Mr Simon Fraser – Asia Editor, of the BBC Website – titled “Human Right Abuses in North Waziristan” on 28 March 2019, claiming, “BBC has gathered evidence that members of Pakistan military are guilty of widespread human right abuses against residents in North Waziristan over a period of many years” (email attached as Anx ‘A’). After analyzing the questions and the vague statements termed as so called evidence, the ISPR responded to email on April 1 2019 saying that “the expression of email is highly judgmental. Before undertaking the story, an interaction is suggested to know the facts”. (copy attached as Anx ‘B’). However, despite ISPR’s offer for a detailed interaction, BBC went ahead with its one sided story in violation of its own editorial guidelines and charter including the following:

1.2.1   Trust. Impartial and honest, committed to achieving the highest standards of accuracy, impartiality and strive to avoid knowingly and materially misleading the audience.

1.2.2   Truth and Accuracy. Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We will strive to be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation.

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1.2.3   Impartiality. We will apply due impartiality to all our subject matter and will reflect a breadth and diversity of opinion across our output as a whole, over an appropriate period, so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly un-reflected or under-represented.  We will be fair and open-minded when examining evidence and weighing material facts.

1.2.4   Editorial Integrity and Independence. Our audiences should be confident that our decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.

1.2.6   Serving the Public Interest. We will be rigorous in establishing the truth of the story and well informed when explaining it.

1.2.10 Transparency. We will be transparent about the nature and provenance of the content we offer online.

1.3.2   The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter specifies that we should do all we can “to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality”.  It also states that our output is forbidden from expressing the opinion of the BBC on current affairs or matters of public policy, other than broadcasting or the provision of online services.

4.2.1   We must do all we can to ensure that ‘controversial subjects’ are treated with due impartiality in all our output.

4.2.2   News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument.

4.2.3   We seek to provide a broad range of subject matter and perspectives over an appropriate timeframe across our output as a whole.

4.2.4   We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly un-reflected or under-represented.

11.4.1 When reporting war, and in the early stages of covering national and international emergencies (including acts of terror, disasters and major accidents), it is particularly important to give the source of information and material from third parties, particularly when there are conflicting claims.  First estimates of casualty figures often turn out to be inaccurate.  If different sources give different estimates we should either report the range or go for the source which carries the greatest authority and attribute the estimate accordingly.

11.4.2 When reporting demonstrations, disturbances and similar events, we should treat estimates of involvement with due scepticism, report wide disparities and name the sources of the figures.  We aim to offer a comprehensive and impartial view of events.  When it is difficult for reporters located on one side of a confrontation to form a clear overall view, their material should be put into a wider context for broadcast.

1.2.11 Accountability (we will be open in acknowledging, mistakes when they are made and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them).

  1. The detailed response to the contents of this highly defamatory, libelous and false story of the BBC is as under:

Ser Content / Issues Response

  1. Title – “Uncovering Pakistan’s Secret Human Rights Abuses” •    The State of Pakistan has been implicated without proof.
  • The word “secret” is misleading as Pakistan is fighting against terrorism as declared four pillar strategy (clear, hold, build & transfer) and the operations undertaken after government’s approval and AACPO (The Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation) 2011 and in line with UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (UNGCTS-2006).
  • These efforts have been recognized by the world, in particular by UK CGS, Nick Carter during his visit to Miran Shah on 19 October 2016 (text attached).
  • The word abuse is also incorrect in the given context as it alludes to a state policy of coercion of civilians which is nothing but part of the disinformation campaign against the Pakistan Armed Forces.
  1. There was no response to BBC requests for comment from Govt of PM Imran Khan. •    This is another lie as the External Publicity (EP) wing/ Secretary Info/ PIO (Principal Information Officer)/ Special Assistant to PM on Media was not contacted which contradicts BBC’s official editorial guideline no 11.4.1 that while reporting on war and covering national/intl emergencies (incl issues on terrorism) we will report the source carrying the greatest authority.
  • Available official government stance (both federal & KP government) on the issues was not included in the story in a willful manner.
  1. Pakistan military spokesman declined to respond to cases highlighted by PTM, and which BBC investigated independently. •    Wrong attribution to ISPR.
  • ISPR never declined; rather it offered an opportunity including interaction to ascertain facts.
  • The expression of the email reflected slant favoring one of the stake holders, while falsely implicating the other – the Pakistan Military- without any interaction.
  • The BBC did not share any evidence, instead emailed five vague questions.
  • The first question regarding a family allegedly targeted in some strike did not mention names of the alleged victims. How can the Government / ISPR respond to query about hospital bills’ payment, when these “victims” were not named.
  • The BBC’s email starts with an allegation; “guilty of widespread human rights abuses”. Declaring any one guilty right at the formulation stage of the story indicates pre-conceived conclusion. Similarly quoting five false allegations do not justify the use of qualifying words such as ‘wide spread’. This shows bias and angling of the events, which is nothing but yellow journalism.
  • Second question is subjective, showing a clear bias, as number of terrorist attacks occur across the world, wherein security forces despite best efforts can not preclude such activities e.g. 9/11, 7/7 bombings in London, Christchurch mosque incident etc. Most importantly, the cited incident is of 2007, when the military operation had yet not been undertaken and terrorists were morphed into tribal areas’ population particularly Afghan refugees.
  • More than 80,000 casualties across Pakistan have occurred through targeting of civilians and the security forces by terrorism. Since 2001, more than 1200 major and minor operations & 96,000 IBOs have been conducted throughout Pakistan including Waziristan. In this particular story, the BBC has tried to manipulate information only about Waziristan, which still is a volatile area.
  • The 3rd, 4th and 5th questions of the email are unsubstantiated allegations without quoting source or sharing any evidence. Lack of BBC’s interest in ascertaining the facts, is proved by no response to ISPR’s offer for an interaction to know the facts.
  1. Evidence of murder & torture by soldiers & insurgents is emerging only now. •    Equating terrorist actions with the state’s legitimate operations is highly misleading. Pakistan went after these terrorists after proofs of their killing and torturing and terrorizing the local civilian population, undermining the state writ.
  • Operations in these terrorist – infested areas were only undertaken after ensuring that peaceful civilian population had moved out of the conflict areas and relocated in the temporary displaced person (TDP) camps. The Operations were against the terrorists and not against the civilians who themselves were the worst victims of terrorism.
  • In conflicts sometimes civilians do inadvertently get caught in the cross fire, but Pakistan Armed Forces’ record in this regard is excellent and there are hardly any fratricide incidents. In the United Kingdom, Hutton inquiry also pointed towards such incidents. UK Prime Minister publically apologized for actions on wrong intelligence. Has BBC filed a similar report about the UK Army in Iraq & Afghanistan as part of NATO? Mr Leon Panetta acknowledged operations carried out on wrong intelligence.
  1. TV news networks trumpeted a major victory in the war against Pakistani Taliban – the killing of one of the group’s most senior commanders in a night-time air raid. •    The author mentions TV networks (not any specific TV Channel), quoting security officials (without names); no authentic evidence cited.
  • Air raid was never claimed by ISPR/Govt.
  • Military did not claim killing of Adnan Rasheed, let alone the air raid.
  • The operations in North Waziristan had yet not been undertaken by then (20 January 2014, as quoted in the story).
  1. BBC travelled to Dera Ismael Khan (DIK) to meet the man whose house was hit. •    BBC managed to travel all the way to Dera Ismail Khan; but did not avail the offer made by ISPR for a detailed interaction, include the official government stance or approach Ministry of Information. This shows the mala fide intent, writer’s personal biases, evident from his social media activities (copy attached as Anx ‘C’)
  • The only witness Mr Nazir Ullah, quoted in the BBC has not talked about any operation or air strike.
  1. Waziristan and other parts of vast mountainous tribal region have been controlled and locked down by the Pak Military since the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, which saw Taliban fighters, Al-Qaeda Jihadists and other militants flee over the porous border.
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Locked down & porous border are self-contradictory. 2611 kilometers long porous border cannot be locked down and controlled without security forces physically manning on both sides of the border.

  • In 2001 & 2008, security forces were pulled out from the western borders in the wake of standoff with India.
  • To clear the area from terrorists, Operations Rah-e-Nijaat & Zarb-e-Azab were undertaken in 2009 & 2014 in South Waziristan & North Waziristan, respectively.
  1. Outsiders, including Journalists, cannot get in – so verifying claims from the security forces is extremely difficult. Those who have reported stories from Waziristan that don’t reflect well on the military have found themselves punished.
  • Those in media who have not heeded the ban, have faced physical threats and financial pressure. •    Despite security constraints, foreign & domestic media got full opportunity to visit tribal areas. BBC alone has visited tribal areas 14 times. Foreign Media excluding BBC has also visited erstwhile FATA 137 times. Domestic media undertook more than 400 visits in the tribal region. Operations in Waziristan have been one of the most extensively covered / reported in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. The author of the BBC’s defamatory story did not request for even once to visit the area. The non-availing of ISPR’s offer for interaction and no request for visit of the area by the BBC writer reflects that the aim of the story was not ascertaining the facts, but to peddle anti Pakistan Army agenda.
  • Recently, BBC team (Ms Humaira Kanwal) visited NWD &SWD (7-14 January 2019).
  • Besides media teams, foreign delegations have also been visiting these areas, including the late US senator John Mccain in SWA, British Chief of Staff General Nicholas Patrick Carter, General John W. Nicholson, Commander Resolute Support Mission along with US Force members in Afghanistan and Defense Attaches.
  • The allegation that those who reported stories from Waziristan not reflecting well with the Army’s point of view, have found themselves punished has not been substantiated by even a single example, quoting specific sources or giving any evidence.
  • Such baseless accusations without taking the version of the accused party are in clear violation of fair, factual and unbiased journalistic standards and BBC’s Editorial policy.
  • “Those in media who have not heeded the ban, have faced physical threats and financial pressure.” The allegation is again a complete lie and highly misleading. Can BBC name any media house or individual, who has been victimized, targeted or punished for covering the war against terrorism in Waziristan? Clearly this statement underlines the biased and antigovernment/Pakistan Military slant of the writer.
  1. Instead of taking out top militant, Pak military had actually killed the family of a local man who had his home blown to pieces. The authorities have never acknowledged that they made a mistake. •    “The authorities have never acknowledged that they made a mistake”, is not just a judgmental expression, but is incorrect. Such arbitrary judgments are in contravention of BBC Editorial Policy clauses 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, 1.2.4, 1.2.10, 1.3.2, 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.4 & 11.4.1.
  • No evidence of the so called strike was either shared in the BBC’s mail sent to the ISPR or was quoted in the story.
  • It is once again reiterated that military operations had yet not started by the time of the alleged strike.
  • Despite presence of World’s best Army, having the best intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mechanism, United States still couldn’t stop collateral damage. Incidents like killing of innocent children in Kunduz due to air attacks. US military – assistance mission operating from the Helmand base was attacked and Afg troops were killed.
  1. Local right activists say scores of civilians have been killed in successive air campaigns and ground operations by the military. They have been collecting video/documentary evidence to back up their claims. •    The expression “scores of civilians” is vague, in correct and gives a misleading impression of mass atrocities. It is an attempt to malign and defame the Pakistan Armed Forces through lies.
  • This promotes a one side’s point of view, without any cogent evidence & third party’s take on the matter. It amplifies the biased nature of the story with particular motives to defame Pakistan as state in general and its security forces in particular.
  • The air attack component, wherever used, was only when all population had been moved out from that area. All the airstrikes were targeted against specific terrorists’ hide outs, located away from the inhabited areas.
  • The writer accuses Pakistan of “Successive air campaigns” but did not mention scores of drone strikes in the area. This again shows the dishonest approach of the BBC writer.
  • The false claims made by the so-called rights activists have not been double checked / confirmed from the federal or provincial KP governments, cross-section of the public representatives of the region and third party sources. Even the available response was twisted/ wrongly quoted.
  1. The army said that at least three activists were shot dead after a military Check post was attacked. • Twisting even available content.
  • Pak Army never said that three activists were shot dead. ISPR issued a statement (copy attached) “A group led by Mohsin Javed and Ali Wazir assaulted Kharkamar check post. Due to the firing of the group five army soldiers got injured. In exchange of fire three individuals who attacked the post lost their lives”.
  • The writer willfully only gave the point of view of the so called activists. This tantamounts to distorting the facts and deliberately ignoring the official government / ISPR version on the issue.
  1. When the US attacked Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban forces that had sheltered Al-Queda leader Osama Bil Ladin melted away without a fight. Pakistan had an interest in keeping the movement alive as part of its efforts to prevent Indian influence from spreading in Afghanistan. • “Pakistan had an interest in keeping the movement alive…” is a biased assumption and allegation. Can the BBC or the author quote who divulged Pakistan’s interests to them?
  • This is a clear example of libel, and implicating state of Pakistan, without citing not even a single source.
  • Giving such opinions is gross violation of BBC’s Editorial Policy.
  • As BBC is public funded organization, does is this opinion also shared by the British Govt or has it been intently included in the story only to taint the facts and create misperceptions against Pakistan?
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Pakistan allowed Taliban to carve out sanctuaries in Pakistan, semi-autonomous tribal areas, notably North Wazirstan Districts /South Wazirstan Districts.

  • It is sweeping generalization without proof, ignoring the ground realities of porous border, the historical baggage of US supported post-Soviet invasion resistance ‘Jihad’, ineffective border mechanism on the Afghan side despite presence of NATO forces, power contestations through proxies in the region etc.
  • Ex US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on record to have said, “People we are fighting today, we funded 20 years ago. We then left Pakistan – we don’t have anything to do with you; we are sanctioning you”.
  1. Unauthentic sources quoted. • The story does not cite any credible source or provides evidence. The shadowy and shady sources quoted in the story, including “an eye witness who watched the operation from wheat field”, unnamed local activists etc.

 

 

Anx A

 

 

Anx B

 

 

Anx C

Social Media Tweets in Support of Social Activist Groups

Anx D

A group led by Mohsin Javed and Ali Wazir, assaulted Kharqamar check post, Boyya, North Waziristan tribal district this morning.

 

Rawalpindi – May 26, 2019

No PR-106/2019-ISPR

A group led by Mohsin Javed and Ali Wazir, assaulted Kharqamar check post, Boyya,North Waziristan tribal district this morning. They wanted to exert pressure for release of suspected terrorists’ facilitator arrested the other day. Troops at the check post exercised maximum restraint in the face of provocation and direct firing on the post. Due to firing of the group 5 Army soldiers got injured. In exchange of fire 3 individuals who attacked the post lost their lives and 10 got injured. All injured evacuated to Army Hospital for treatment. Ali Wazir along with 8 individuals have been arrested while Mohsin Javed is at large after inciting the crowd.

Anx E

Gen. Nicholas Carter, Chief of Staff British Army- Statement

It’s a great privilege for me as head of British Army to come to Miran Shah and I have heard so much about this place and I have heard so much about the work Pakistan Army has been doing in this part of the world. I have spent a lot of my time in Afghanistan and I really do understand the nature of task, the problem of this common threat that we will face and I think it’s the huge credit of Pakistan Army that they have managed to clear and hold this area. The trick now is to building peace to it and it’s really inspiring to see how that is underway in Miran Shah and I look forward to see population return.

Download complete complaint to click this link