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Journalist hails ‘victory for truth’ after BBC concedes serious flaws in alleged Douma attack documentary

A destroyed street in Douma, Syria, in 2018 (file photo by AFP)

UK's national broadcaster, the BBC, has admitted that there were serious flaws in a Radio 4 documentary on an alleged 2018 chemical attack in Syria, in a “victory for the truth” after a complaint was filed by journalist Peter Hitchens over allegations raised in the program.

In a statement released on Thursday, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld a protest from Hitchens, a Mail on Sunday columnist, ten months after “Mayday: The Canister On The Bed” was broadcast by the corporation.

The ECU agreed that the documentary, created by BBC journalist Chloe Hadjimatheou, failed to meet the corporation’s editorial standards for accuracy by reporting false claims.

“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 program of this kind,” it said.

Part of a series on aspects of the conflict in Syria, the documentary dealt with an alleged attack in the Syrian city of Douma, after which the United States, Britain and France launched bombing raids into Syria.

It included an account of the role subsequently played by a former inspector with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), known pseudonymously as “Alex”, who had expressed concerns about the OPCW’s conclusions on the matter.

Hitchens protested that the documentary had been inaccurate in suggesting that Alex’s disclosures had been motivated by a reward of $100,000 offered by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The other claims Hitchens contested were that Alex believed the attack had been staged, and that the British journalist himself shared the Russian and Syrian state views on the conflict.

The ECU admitted that the documentary’s reference to Alex’s disclosures in the winter of 2019, which it said “came at a time when WikiLeaks was offering a $100,000 reward for any leaked material relating to the Douma incident,” amounted to “an insinuation about Alex’s motives” without having evidence to back up the insinuation.

No such reward was ever paid, the Daily Mail reported, citing WikiLeaks.

Similarly, the BBC also accepted that it had no evidence to justify the claim that Alex believed the attack in Douma had been staged, and withdrew the claim that Hitchens shared the abovementioned views on the conflict.

Hitchens welcomed the ruling, saying, “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.”

“This is a major victory for the truth,” he stated. “The whistleblowers inside the OPCW were always motivated by a strict regard for scientific truth. Far from seeking rewards, they realized that their actions would damage their careers but went ahead anyway.”

The British journalist also pointed out that it took almost ten months to “achieve this,” and expressed hope that the BBC and others would do some decent reporting of the scandal of what happened at the OPCW, namely the doctoring of a vital report to justify rash military action by the US, Britain and France.

The United States and its allies blamed Damascus for the alleged Douma attack although the Syrian government surrendered its entire chemical stockpile in 2014 to a joint mission led by the UN and the OPCW, which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.

Also, the exposed OPCW documents have shown that the investigators of the Douma incident had found “no evidence” of a chemical weapons attack.

However, the organization censored the findings under pressure from the US and its allies to conceal evidence undermining the pretext of the US-led bombing of Syria on April 14, 2018, days after the alleged attack.

Syria and Russia have on many occasions said members of the so-called White Helmets civil defense group stage gas attacks in a bid to falsely incriminate Syrian government forces and fabricate pretexts for military strikes by the US-led military coalition.

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