Urgent submission to BBC Editorial Standards Committee

Full correspondence with BBC listed here.

Ref: CT/1400114

Dear Christina Roski

Further to my appeal request of 11 June regarding Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ I wish to urgently submit the following material.

1) The charity Hand in Hand for Syria has launched this fundraising appeal which identifies the hospital featured in Panorama as Atareb Hospital, Aleppo. That this is so is clear from images on Atareb Hospital’s Facebook page (please note there are some highly distressing images on this page).

This post on Atareb’s Facebook page states that on 26 August 2013, the date of the alleged “playground napalm bomb” attack, the hospital staff were “attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey”. This may indicate that some of the medics filmed by the Panorama team at the Atareb Hospital for ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ were not regular Atareb staff members. If not, who were they?

2) On 29 August Ian Pannell described Atareb as “a basic hospital funded by handouts” (03:17); Atareb is described as a “field hospital” by Mr Pannell in his text article of 30 September and also by Dr Hallam at 38:04 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

However images on the Atareb Facebook page posted prior to August 26 depict a relatively well-equipped facility, including a kidney dialysis machine and surgical and x-ray facilities (both images 8 July 2013). [1]

Indeed, was the “high-tech incubation unit funded by Rola’s charity” seen from 29:00 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ also located at Atareb “field” Hospital?

2) This report produced by opposition activist organisation Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria contains an account of the alleged events of 26 August by Mustafa Haid [2] in which he states:

At 3 in the afternoon, On 26 Aug 2013, I was in Al Atareb City and I heard rumours about a ‘chemical attack’ on Orm Al Kubra and that tens of casualties were brought to Al Atareb Hospital

However on 18 February Ian Pannell wrote:

The attack happened on the 26th of August at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day

One or other of these claims must be false.

3) The report links to this list [3] of 41 alleged victims of the attack, several of whom are identifiable as individuals featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

While the list corroborates Panorama’s claim that Loutfee Asee (Lutfi Arsi in Panorama) and Anas al-Sayed Ali (Anas Said/Sayyed Ali) died on 26 August (albeit citing both their ages as 15, rather than 14 and 18 respectively as in BBC accounts) it also claims that Ahmad Darwish (15), Siham Qandaree (17), Muhammad Assi (18) and Muhammad Abdullatif (15) all died on 26 August.

However according to Panorama Ahmed Darwish survived and was indeed filmed “a few weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey” along with Siham Kanbari who, according to Dr Ahsan, died on 20 October. The image of Mohammed Asi provided by BBC Audience Services on 18 February purports to show him “two weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey”. In the 29 August BBC News report Mohammed Abdullatif is the name of the adult eyewitness who (at 02:54) makes his formal address to the United Nations.

Correction 11/7/14 – BBC Audience Services claims that Anas Sayyed Ali “died a few days later in hospital in Turkey”, while Dr Saleyha Ahsan has stated (p15) he died “two weeks later”. The dates of death cited on the list and those of similarly named Panorama victims therefore coincide in respect of Loutfe Asee/Lutfi Arsi only.   

Addendum 21/7/14 – the list omits Mohammed Kenas who according to Panorama died “on the way to hospital” (i.e. presumably on 26 August). Mohamad Feda Khenass, 15, is noted as “one of the dead” on p20 of this Human Rights Watch report.    

4) This video features an extended sequence of the younger woman who seemingly shared clothes with another “playground napalm bomb” victim featured in Panorama. The woman excitedly relates (as I understand from a private translation) the alleged sequence of the events of 26 August before personally denouncing Assad and, from 02:02, remaining silent. Another young woman appears for few moments at 02:30 appearing entirely bored. The YouTube channel (‘atareb city‘) which hosts these unpersuasive performances also hosts videos of what are presumably Atareb Hospital volunteer staff posing with weapons (here and here). The partisan nature of Atareb “volunteers” is also evident from some of the hospital’s Facebook images.

I trust you will give consideration to the above points in your deliberations over whether to review the Editorial Complaints Unit’s decision.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

Notes 

[1] Images dating from only a short time after 26 August show a “radioscopy machine in use” (31 August 2013) and other hi-tech medical equipment (23 September 2013).

[2] An exchange with Haid is detailed in my letter of 30 January.

[3] This is a cached version, as since making this post the original link has become intermittently unavailable. (This note  added 30 June 2014) 

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Request to BBC Trust for review of Editorial Complaint Unit’s report

Full correspondence with BBC listed here.

11 June 2014

Ref: CT/1400114

Dear Christina Roski

I am writing to request that the BBC Editorial Standards Committee review the decision of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit re: Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘. [1]

In addition to the points in my previous correspondence I add the following:

Demotix photographs  

Mr Tregear invites me to supply evidence that the Demotix photographs were published before 26 August, the date of the alleged attack. I have already provided evidence that they were originally published dated 25 August; it is incumbent upon the BBC to provide proof this was not the date of their publication on Demotix. Clearly this matter can only be settled by accessing the metadata of Amer Alfaj’s original photographs. Demotix refuses to respond to me; a request from the BBC may be received differently.

Mr Pannell’s supposed inability to recognise the two victims in the Demotix images, with whom he had been in close proximity for several hours, is not plausible, especially considering the images’ subsequent use in the media to illustrate the “playground napalm bomb” incident. [2]

Timeline of events presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ 

  1. Mr Tregear states:

The visit to the frontline clinic occurred on the morning of 26 August

The doctors’ movements from 05:47 to 15:53 [3] are clearly presented as a chronological sequence, suggesting they made a round trip starting at the Hand in Hand hospital, discussing and then embarking upon what appears a lengthy and highly eventful trip to the frontline clinic, before returning the same day (26 August) to the Hand in Hand hospital, as seen later in the programme from 30:38, prior to the arrival of the “napalm bomb” “victims”. Is this what is claimed?

Only on close scrutiny is it evident the doctors are dressed differently across these scenes, and that the rooftop shown from 08:22 – 08:56 is not the same as that seen from 38:37 at the Hand in Hand hospital (the latter has no railings or red leaves). Where is the ‘first’ rooftop located? When was that footage made? Where and when were the scenes of the doctors setting off by car (09:29 – 10.10) shot? The location also does not appear to be the Hand in Hand hospital.

  1. At 15:56 Mr Pannell states:

Four days later we see the area being pounded by the Syrian air force; the clinic’s overrun with casualties, rebel fighters wounded on the frontline

The use of “we” scant seconds after Drs Ahsan and Hallam are seen speaking with clinic staff strongly suggests the doctors were also present “four days later” when the casualties arrive, even though they do not feature in this sequence.

  1. Mr Tregear writes:

When he said at 17.48 “The next morning, we moved to a village…” the footage showed children at the refugee camp and Mr Pannell was referring back to the previous sequence from the camp which was featured at the start of the programme (filmed on 23 August). The “next morning” was therefore 24 August.

This is incorrect. The section from 17:35 to 18:22 does not show “children at the refugee camp”, it plainly shows children at the village well [4]. There is therefore no reference whatsoever to the “camp which was featured at the start of the programme”, either in the narration or the visuals, and therefore no indication that the “next morning” does not follow on from the immediately preceding footage of rebel casualties arriving at the frontline clinic. Indeed Mr Pannell describes the village (17:48) as being “a few miles west of the front line”, strongly suggesting proximity to the clinic.

  1. Judging by the varying levels of darkness, the scenes from 38:21 to 40:52, from the point where the “first two” ambulances set off for Bab al-Hawa to the shot of Dr Hallam against the setting sun, are out of sequence. In the first two scenes in this section (38:21 – 38:25 and 38:26 – 38:36) the ambulances are being loaded and Dr Hallam is crying, both in pitch darkness. In the next scene (38:37) Dr Hallam is on the rooftop in twilight, where she gives an interview. A shot from the rooftop at 40:07 also shows the ambulances below in twilight. This mixture of twilight and fully dark shots continues until 40:52.

How could Dr Hallam find time to give her twilight interview while ambulances were still being loaded below, a process which evidently went on until night completely fell?

Breaches of BBC Editorial Guidelines and Ofcom Broadcasting Code 

Right of reply and fairness

The BBC has made the supremely serious allegation that the Syrian government has deliberately targeted schoolchildren with an incendiary device, yet has at no point requested or published a response from the Syrian government as required by section 6.4.25 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines and section 7.11 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Misleading audiences

‘Saving Syria’s Children’ breaches section 3.4.16 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines in the misleading chronology presented in its first half (see 1 – 4 above), the editing out of all chronology of the scenes of the “napalm bomb” “victims” from 30:38 onwards [5] and, above all, in the staging of an atrocity.

Women wearing identical black dress

Mr Tregear mistakenly believes my position has changed between 17 March and 7 May from claiming there was one woman in the black dress to two. In fact I had mentioned the second, younger woman, on 30 January (section 11). My point, which Mr Tregear professes not to understand, is not whether they are the same person – they are not – but why it should be that they are wearing not merely similar, but identical dresses and headscarves. My suggestion, which I had plainly stated, is that this was a costume recycled among the amateur actors used in the fabricated episode. [6]

This programme is the subject of worldwide scepticism as to its authenticity. The credibility of the BBC’s news service therefore depends on not merely a review of the ECU’s decision, but on an independent investigation, incorporating medical and munitions expertise, of the material presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Stuart

Notes 

[1]  The ECU’s report is in two parts, its provisional finding of 23 April and its final report of 19 May.

[2]  On the matter of the date of the alleged incident, recall too the conflicting date (27 August) provided by Dr Ahsan – an astonishing error for a journalist to make, especially considering her statement “out of all the war zones I have ever been to, today has been by far the worst”.

[3]  Sequences from 05:47 – 15:53, presented as chronological (and hence implicitly all taking place on 26 August):

  • (05:47 – 08:21) Assessing facilities at the Hand in Hand hospital Dr Ahsan wearing plain dark scarf, Dr Hallam wearing green scarf
  • (08:22 – 8:56) On a rooftop discussing the prospect of going further into Syria Dr Ahsan wearing gold scarf, Dr Hallam wearing multicoloured scarf
  • (From 09:29, following a brief montage of combat scenes and explosions) Setting off by car to the frontline clinic where their convoy arrives at 13:54 Dr Ahsan wearing patterned dark scarf, Dr Hallam wearing green scarf 
  • (14:00 – 14:37) Supposedly sheltering from a fighter jet before entering the frontline clinic
  • (14:37 – 15:53) Assessing medical supplies at the clinic, speaking with staff and listening to an eight year old boy recite from the Koran

[4]  Including “11 year old Wahta” and her obviously coached personal denunciation of Assad.

[5]  See section 16 of my 30 January letter. I here further note:

At 34:08 Mr Pannell’s narration states “within minutes the hospital is overwhelmed” over footage of Lutfi Arsi’s third appearance in the programme (being carried into the hospital), having previously been seen at 32:26 and from 33:05 – 33:44.

Despite his having previously been seen being “treated” indoors from 34:36 – 34:55 Victim X is then shown arriving in the hospital yard at 35:35, heralded by Dr Ahsan with the words “I think there’s more coming; I think there’s more coming”.

The identical audio clip of someone exclaiming “yama yama yama” occurs at both 31:44 and 34:02. What justification can there be for this repetition other than to heighten drama in order to manipulate the Panorama audience?

[6]  In addition, a Syrian observer has noted privately that the clothing of all the participants in the “playground napalm bomb” footage is not typical of the supposed local area.

BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Final Report, 19 May 2014

Full correspondence with BBC listed here.

BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Final Report, 19 May 2014 – click here to view