The BBC has been criticized for “inaccurate and misleading” claims that will be broadcast by Panorama, which allege that money given to the Syrian police has been going to jihadists. The broadcaster has said it is confident in its journalism while the Foreign Office has suspended the funding program.
The report “Jihadis You Pay For” will be aired on Monday and will claim that money given to the Free Syrian Policy (FSP) by the British Foreign Office has reached people linked to al-Nusra Front. The FSP is a 3,300-strong unit of mostly unarmed officers operating in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa provinces.
“Millions of pounds of British aid money have been spent trying to bring security to Syria and to protect the UK from terrorism. But whistleblowers say our development efforts have been undermined by mismanagement, waste and corruption,” the preview for the program says.
Adam Smith International (ASI), one of the biggest UK foreign aid contractors, has “described the claims as entirely inaccurate and misleading” and called on the BBC to change the title of the program, according to The Guardian.
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The organization manages the British-funded Access to Justice and Community Security (Ajacs) program to support the FSP in rebel-held areas in Syria. According to the newspaper, an ASI review found that only $1,800 of the $20 million in funds sent to the FSP ended up in the hands of FSP members linked to extremist groups, and this was not taxpayers’ money.
Lawmaker Andrew Mitchell told The Guardian that it was inevitable that some FSP members would contact extremist groups, but this complexity should not deter the British government from involvement. Mitchell also warned against the BBC jumping on an “anti-aid bandwagon,” stressing that this is an “extremely important project” contributing to the curbing of terrorism in Syria.
“This work is too important to fall victim to an anti-aid narrative,” the lawmaker said.
The founder of the FSP, General Adeeb ab-Shallaf, accused the broadcaster of “irresponsible journalism,” according to The Guardian.
The BBC has responded to the criticism, saying it is “confident in its journalism” and the report will be aired without amendments.
In turn, the Foreign Office said that it has suspended the funding of the FSP until investigations are completed.