The complainant objected to one reference to Bashar al-Assad as “dictator” in a panel discussion on The National.

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Michael Jaeger, objected to one reference to Bashar al-Assad as “dictator” in a panel discussion on The National. He said he was elected by a majority and Syria is a member state of the United Nations. Those facts are true, but so are the facts that there were many irregularities in the election and Syria has one of the worst human rights records. I did not agree with the complainant’s view.


You objected to a reference pertaining to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “dictator.” On December 14, 2016 The National featured several reports on the situation in Syria, specifically Aleppo, where fighting had erupted despite a ceasefire. There was one story from Aleppo, one featuring refugees here in Canada anxious for news of their family and a “Turning Point” panel discussion about the geopolitical and diplomatic implications about the latest developments in Aleppo.

You stated that President Assad was democratically elected in 2014 and that it was “inappropriate bias” to label him a “dictator”. You said that the entire interview implied that the fighting was Assad’s fault, and that is not the case. You dispute the characterization of the conflict as a civil war but rather “a massive covert war (using “rebels” of questionable intent) backed by the US/CIA/Saudi Arabia.”

You pointed out that Syria is a sovereign nation with a seat at the United Nations, and that “every indication also is that President Assad remains popular”:

And while the election of President Assad in 2014 may be questioned by some, the West is not the universal arbiter of these issues. Especially when the West is busy interfering in the affairs of Syria, including arming and equipping so-called “rebel” groups and factions.

Just because Mr. Mansbridge or other commentators might disagree politically with someone does not give them the right to call them a dictator. There was an election and for all we know it was valid – there is no universal mechanism for determining which election is valid and which isn’t. An international team of observers had no major concerns with it and given the corruption and gerrymandering displayed in western elections who are we to judge anyway?


The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your complaint. He agreed with you that the Syrian president was elected in a multi-candidate election. He pointed out that the conditions for that election made it “difficult to maintain that they were “fair or democratic;”

The vote was only held in government-controlled areas, it was boycotted by the opposition parties, and rebel groups threatened violence at the polls. At the end of the day, Syria’s allies – chiefly Russia and Iran – endorsed the results, but just about everyone else – including the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council – said it was illegitimate.

Read this story on the CBC website, where it was first published.