On Friday, the BBC – on its website and in its broadcast coverage – published blatantly fake news when it claimed that ‘chemical weapons watchdog’ the OPCW had confirmed that a chlorine gas attack took place in the Syrian town of Douma.
The BBC was forced to amend its article after the SKWAWKBOX pointed out its falsity – but the article is still highly misleading.
The new version of the article states that:
The report said two samples from gas cylinders recovered at the scene tested positive for chlorine.
This is a classic example of a technically-correct claim that is completely misleading.
The report does note the presence of chlorine in some samples tested from the cylinders – but not chlorine gas or the residues that would be expected from its reaction with other substances. Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it would not simply disperse upwards and would have time to react and leave behind tell-tales.
The relevant page of the OPCW’s full report states that no ‘relevant chemicals’ were found from a swab inside the opening of one cylinder:In debris and on other items around the cylinder, chlorine compounds were found – but these are common compounds that would be unlikely to be formed simply by chlorine reacting with something on site.
For example, dichloroacetic acid – which appears in most of the samples – is commonly used for cosmetic ‘skin peels’ and for removing warts. It is normally made by processing trichloroacetic acid, which was also found in some samples, and sometimes from processing chloral hydrate, which also appears.
Chlorophenol, also found, is commonly used as a herbicide or pesticide and as disinfectants.
Trichlorophenol is the active substance in the well-known antiseptic TCP – which derives its name from the compound.
Chlorine gas, by contrast, is pure chlorine (CL2).
The BBC’s article states that chlorine was identified by the OPCW ‘fact-finding mission’. This is technically correct – but it was only found as a component in other commercial compounds.
Does this mean the OPCW concluded that chlorine gas was definitely not used in Douma? No – but equally it has definitely not concluded that it was. The report states:
various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites, for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is on-going. The FFM team will continue its work to draw final conclusions.
By baldly stating that ‘chlorine’ was found in the samples – rather than the report’s ‘various chlorinated organic chemicals‘ – the BBC continues to mislead readers, just more subtly than in its original fake news.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted the BBC for comment and also asked whether the BBC would be issuing a correction on its broadcast news, so viewers would understand the facts and that they had been misled.
No response has been received.
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