Barnabas Aid has challenged the BBC to correct a wholly false claim made last Sunday on prime time TV news about Christian refugees in the USA. In an interview with a Christian TV network President Trump defended the executive order he issued on 27 January by saying that the policy was about prioritising religious minorities. When specifically asked if persecuted Christians would be a priority he replied:
“Yes, they have been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very, very tough to get into the United States. If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian it was almost impossible.”
On Sunday evening at the start of the 10pm television news, the BBC broadcast the following comment on this by their New York correspondent, Nick Bryant:
“In an interview with an evangelical television network [President Trump] claimed without any factual basis the old Obama policy favoured Muslims over Christians” (emphasis added).
A few minutes later the BBC also posted online a video of the actual statement they had claimed was “without any factual basis”. This sweeping assertion broadcast by the BBC was not only wholly untrue, it was also potentially damaging to tens of thousands of Syrian Christian refugees.
Barnabas Aid has for many months been highlighting the massive institutional discrimination faced by Syrian Christian refugees – with only one half of one percent of Syrian refugees resettled in the USA last year being Christians. This is despite them constituting up to 10% of the pre-war population and US Secretary of State John Kerry declaring in March that they were facing genocide.
It is not just Barnabas Aid that has been saying this. For nearly a year major US news networks such as Fox News and CNS have also reported it. The simple fact is that of 10,801 Syrian refugees admitted to the USA last year only 56 were Christians (there were also only 20 Shi’a and 17 Yazidis – the other two groups that John Kerry said were facing genocide), while 99% were Sunni Muslims. A 30 second google search by the BBC would have revealed this.
There have been claims that the previous administration could not have been discriminating against Christians as the total numbers of Christian (44%) and Muslim refugees (46%) admitted to the USA were similar. However, this is a misuse of statistics because these totals primarily reflect which countries have crises causing refugee movements. It is therefore almost impossible, using that kind of raw data, to say anything meaningful about whether Christians/Muslims are being discriminated against. However, where Christians are BOTH being specifically targeted as they are in Syria AND very significantly underrepresented in the number given entry to the USA then it is almost certain that they are facing significant discrimination. It can be taken for granted that Syrian Christians are not averse to resettling in the USA, which is a number one goal for so many refugees and already has a large Arab Christian population which would make the newcomers feel at home.
Whatever one thinks of President Trump, it was wholly wrong for the BBC to make the sweeping claim that suggesting the previous administration’s policy disadvantaged Christians was “without any factual basis”.
Barnabas Aid wrote to the BBC Director-General the next day highlighting the damage such an erroneous statement could have for Syrian Christian refugees and asking for an immediate correction. We also specifically asked for a response from the BBC within the next 36 hours. The BBC failed to make any response.
On Wednesday we made three separate phone calls to the BBC asking for a response – and again highlighting the potential damage this erroneous statement could have for Syrian Christian refugees. We were told that the BBC would not correct this statement unless we made a formal complaint to the BBC Trust. When we pushed them as to whether they would respond to such a complaint within the next week, we were told “it wouldn’t be likely”. We told the BBC as a courtesy that we would be circulating this story to our 200,000 supporters and asked them for a comment. However, the BBC repeatedly declined to comment.
These actions are deeply irresponsible and wholly unjustified. False news statements need to be corrected immediately, particularly when they come from a broadcaster of such international standing as the BBC. This issue is particularly glaring as the BBC has just set itself up as a fact-checking unit to vet what it calls “false news” posted on the internet.
Whilst we have repeatedly tried to work with the BBC to correct the misinformation it broadcast on Sunday night, the BBC has repeatedly refused to engage with us or even comment on the issue. It is therefore with some sadness that we have been forced to make a formal complaint to the BBC Trust.