Further submission to BBC Trust

Full correspondence with BBC listed here.

Dear Sir / Madam

Further to my appeal request of 2 September 2014 I wish to submit the following information for the Trustees’ consideration.

Alleged eyewitness Mohammed Abdullatif

I noted in my first letter of complaint that the alleged eyewitness Mohammed Abdullatif is clearly reading from a prepared text and in my latest submission that the nature of Abdullatif’s hastily corrected stumble (“You’re recalling peace, you’re calling for peace”) can only be ascribed to an error of reading.

In its response to my first letter BBC Audience Services stated (my emphasis):

“The team met and interviewed Abdullatif in the corridor of the hospital. He was not reading a statement, he did not have paper or card in his hands. He was visiting some of his relatives who were injured in the attack and was considerably upset. He was speaking a language he is unfamiliar with (English) while being interviewed on TV (something he is also unfamiliar with) and attempted to be formal when he started talking, apparently feeling he should “address” the UN and the world about what is happening around him. What perhaps sounds like a “statement” at the start of this section, (when he looks into the camera) quickly lapses into regular speech and he looks to the right of the camera, at the cameraman”.

This completely contradicts a response on the same point provided on 1 September 2014 by BBC Complaints Adviser Colin Tregear to another complainant [1]:

“The extract used in the programme was just part of a longer interview during which the contributor addressed the camera directly on a number of occasions as well as talking to the reporting asking questions. At this point he was asked what his message was to the UN and he turned and spoke directly to the camera. There is [sic] indication that he is reading from a prepared text”.

According to BBC Audience Services Abdullatif’s decision to address the United Nations was spontaneous and his own; according to Mr Tregear’s explanation Abdullatif was directly responding to a request made by the Panorama team for him to provide a message for the United Nations. Both explanations cannot be true.

I request that the Trust ascertains the source of the information in each case and seeks an explanation for this contradiction.

Further questions regarding Abdullatif’s contribution to the BBC News report of 29 August 2013 are noted here.

Weakening claims re: baby’s alleged injuries and implicit request by BBC Editorial Complaints Unit for independent medical opinion

In the same response to my fellow complainant, in respect of the allegedly burned baby featured in Panorama, Mr Tregear writes:

“I have reviewed the rushes and remain of the view that the baby in question had what appeared to be burns on its face. I cannot confirm that the baby definitely suffered burns because I am not an expert in this field.

This an extraordinary admission. Not only is Mr. Tregear unable to confirm that the baby had suffered “severe burns”, as claimed by Ian Pannell, he is now unable to confirm that the baby had indeed suffered any burns whatsoever.

Mr Tregear offers the weakest conceivable grounds to attempt to  persuade the complainant to amend her view that the baby was in fact entirely unscathed. Furthermore his defence of them – that he “is not an expert in this field” – suggests an obvious solution, and one which I have requested throughout my correspondence: that the BBC indeed seeks the opinion of medical experts.

When a currently practicing medical doctor has cast the gravest of doubts on the authenticity of Saving Syria’s Children, stating “I think the scene of the school children coming in with the burns was an act” and “Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath is not that convincing it actually looks like more skin”, the Trust cannot in good faith refuse to grant Mr Tregear’s implicit entreaty for independent medical opinion on the veracity or otherwise of the baby’s alleged injuries, or my request for an independent expert view of the alleged injuries of all the supposed victims presented in Saving Syria’s Children and in all related third party footage.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

Notes

[1] BBC reference CT/1400312

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Final appeal to BBC Trust re: fabrication in Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

Full correspondence with BBC listed here.

Dear Sir / Madam

I have received the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser’s decision not to place my complaint (the main points of which are summarised here) alleging fabrication in the 2013 Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children before the BBC Trust.

My appeal request has been in the first place misinterpreted. My 11 June letter requested that the BBC Editorial Standards Committee review the previous decision of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit, contained in its reports of 23 April and 19 May, which found there had been no serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards, particularly in relation to Section 3 (Accuracy). In addition, I asked the Trust to consider a number of further points, including potential breaches of both the BBC Editorial Guidelines and Ofcom Broadcasting Code in terms of ‘Right of reply and fairness’ and ‘Misleading audiences’. These subsidiary points have been interpreted by the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser as the substance of my appeal.

As there has thus been a procedural error my request for an appeal should be reconsidered by the Trust. In addition to this overarching factor, there are further strong grounds for reassessing the Adviser’s decision. (Summary of the below points here).

Identification of possible participant in the napalm bomb event

New evidence identifying a possible participant in the “napalm bomb” has come to light.

A Dutch-Armenian woman (first two images below) contacted me via Facebook in June requesting (in Dutch) that I remove an image from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which I had posted on the site, claiming that she was in it and that she did not wish others to see it.

Although the woman was not featured in the particular image I had posted, I interpreted her words as likely meaning she had been filmed at Atareb hospital last August. Some weeks later I came across this video of the “napalm bomb” incident [1] in which at 20:36 a woman is briefly seen having white cream applied to her face and hands (third image below). The resemblance between this person and the woman who contacted me on Facebook is extremely striking and they would indeed appear to be one and the same.  NB the You Tube video referred is intermittently unavailable. Download available here.

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The woman’s Facebook page demonstrates that she travels between Syria and the Netherlands, where she resides. There is a gap in her Facebook posts in the weeks around 26 August 2013, the alleged date of the alleged “napalm bomb”.

Fuller details of the matter are here.

I believe this development clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” that any new point submitted at this stage must meet in order to be considered  by the Trust. [2]

I invite the Trust to contact me whereupon I will provide the woman’s name and further details in order that her possible connection with the events depicted in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ can be fully investigated by the BBC.

Results of local investigation pending

Since July a team of investigators from Aleppo and the vicinity of Urm Al-Kubra has been conducting independent research into the alleged “napalm bomb” incident.

The team has carried out interviews in and around Urm Al-Kubra. No-one the team has spoken to is aware of a “napalm bomb” in the town last August.

Initial findings further indicate that this list of victims of the alleged event compiled by the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (a regularly cited source in BBC reports and analysis), which contains several names ascribed to alleged victims seen in Panorama, is comprised of the names of people who were either killed in previous incidents, had previously been abducted or who are unknown and perhaps fictitious.

I believe this provisional information clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” [2] and that it would therefore be prudent for the Trust to consider my appeal, bearing in mind that evidence which may confirm these initial findings is currently being prepared. [3]

Adviser has disregarded urgent submission to the Trust

On 19 June, subsequent to my appeal request of 11 June, I made this urgent submission to the BBC Trust which, as I stated in my covering email, contained material I felt was of vital importance to my appeal and was thus potentially eligible for consideration by the Trust [2]. The Adviser has disregarded all of these potentially crucial points, which in summary were:

  • There are troubling discrepancies between the Panorama account and the list of casualties compiled by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. For example, the VDC list cites all the deaths as occurring on 26 August, whereas Panorama claims Anas Sayyed Ali (Anas al-Sayed Ali on the list), Ahmed Darwish (Ahmad Darwish), Siham Kanbari (Siham Qandaree) and Mohammed Asi (Muhammad Assi) all survived beyond this date, the latter three being filmed or photographed allegedly “weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey”. Of the five names on the list that are recognisable from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ it is only in the case of Lutfi Arsi (Loutfee Asee) that the VDC and Panorama are in accord over the date of death being 26 August. [4]
  • This VDC report gives the time of the alleged attack as 2pm; Ian Pannell claims it happened “at around 5.30pm
  • Substantial funding for Atareb Hospital from a “European donor” via an “INGO partner” was in place and it was well equipped with a kidney dialysis machine and x-ray and surgical facilities prior to Ian Pannell’s description of it as “a basic hospital funded by handouts”
  • At least four regular Atareb staff were away from the hospital on 26 August, the day of the alleged attack. This increases suspicion that the numerous alleged medics wearing Hand in Hand for Syria tunics seen in Panorama were not regular staff members, and were perhaps drafted in specifically for the staging of the “napalm bomb” footage.

Some of these points are expanded upon here.

Medical testimony supports allegation that injuries are fabricated

A practicing doctor has now offered this opinion of the alleged injuries in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’:

“I have watched the panorama BBC documentary. Makes for interesting viewing but I think the scene of the school children coming in with the burns was an act.

I worked on trauma and orthopaedics last year for four months, so I have worked with burns victims first hand. These victims displayed what appeared to be “less painful” burns. They were able to sit down, be touched by others even talk. This is not how a severe burn victim would present. Most victims:

  • would be screaming the place down in agony. Even after treatment and with all sorts of pain drugs they still hurt and still scream.
  • Many burns victims cannot even focus enough to follow instructions such as sit down and wait because of pain. This young boy, I found very odd (I don’t think it is cultural thing as pain is pain and it can drive a person mad).
  • would have difficulties with their airways, almost immidiatley, hence in the UK many are intubated and treated in ITU. This shows them able to speak and breathing very well no obvious signs of respiratory distress like coughing, shallow breathing etc. In such an attack the poisons are inhaled.
  • They say they douse them in water (wouldn’t the high spray of the hose cause more problems to burnt skin).
  • when they came to the hospital they have evidence of this white powder on their skin but not evident burn blisters which fill with fluid with in minutes. Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath is not that convincing it actually looks like more skin. *
  • The walk is very odd. why??
  • The other concern in burns is their fluid status as they will be losing large amounts of fluid through their burns. The cannula is essential to resuscitate them. Im not sure what A and E that doctor worked in but I have not worked in A and e this year and I have placed I think almost 6 cannulas in peoples feet.** Any access is essential in burns, a standard training skill!
  • If the poison was dropped from above (a plane) their hair would have been lost and patches would be evident. Many still had a full heads.”

* see first two images immediately below

** The reference is to 37:37 in Saving Syria’s Children (third image below) where Dr Saleyha Ahsan attempts to insert a cannula into Mohammed Kenas‘ foot, stating “As you can see there’s nothing coming up for me to put a cannula in”.

The doctor’s opinion is congruent with that of former UK ambassador Craig Murray who, in a 31 March 2014 email regarding the nomination  of Ian Pannell and the “Chemical [sic] School Attack” report for One World Media awards, wrote: “having personally been in my career in rather similar conflict situations, I was struck by the strange absence of panic and screaming both by patients and surrounding family – I have seen people in that sort of pain and situation and they are not that quiet and stoic, in any culture.”

This development clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” [2] and as such should be considered by the Trust. The BBC has yet to provide any independent medical opinion of the alleged injuries and the demeanour of the alleged victims presented in Panorama and associated third party footage.

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“Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath is not that convincing it actually looks like more skin” – practicing doctor with trauma and orthopaedic experience on the alleged victims in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (see also image below – click to enlarge)

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“Im not sure what A and E that doctor worked in but I have not worked in A and e this year and I have placed I think almost 6 cannulas in peoples feet. Any access is essential in burns, a standard training skill!” – practicing doctor on the efforts of Dr Saleyha Ahsan to insert a cannula at 37:37 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

Adviser mistakenly identifies the two “black dress women” as the same person

In Section 2.8 the Adviser states that the two women wearing identical clothing are “clearly the same individual”.

BDW5BDW6BDW3BDW4

The older woman (top two images) appears at the hospital gate at 36 minutes in Panorama and moments later is seen in a chronologically earlier sequence being carried into the hospital on a stretcher. She is perhaps 40. The younger woman (lower two images) features in this You Tube video of the same event. She is perhaps in her early twenties, possibly even a teenager.

The age difference between the two women is self-evident upon watching the relevant clips. Furthermore, the younger woman is presented as an alleged student at the supposed school (“all I saw was people on fire, I was on fire, my friends were on fire”) whereas there is no attempt in Panorama to suggest that the older woman who appears at the gate with her “father” (who in fact appears of similar age to his “daughter”) is a student, which would indeed be extremely implausible given her obviously mature years. [5]

The Adviser therefore avoids responding to my suggestion that the same clothing – the distinctive dress with gold flower design and blue headscarf – was ‘recycled’ between two different amateur actors/Syrian opposition supporters involved in the fabrication.

New observations regarding Mohammed Abdullatif

In my initial letter I observed that the alleged eyewitness Mohammed Abdullatif stumbles over his words in a manner which suggests he is reading from a cue card or prepared text of some kind:

“Dear United Nations, you’re recalling peace – you’re calling for peace. What kind of peace are you calling for?”  (02:55, BBC News, 29 August 2013)

On further consideration it is clearer still that the nature of Abdullatif’s error – “You’re recalling peace, you’re calling for peace” – strongly indicates that he had misread the words “you’re calling” written on a prepared text from which he was cribbing.

In this video of the same interview Abdullatif can clearly be seen continually looking down as he speaks, as if glancing at a sheet out of vision. The You Tube account which hosted this video has been terminated – copy here.

Further, I feel there is a query over BBC Audience Services’ claim that the Panorama team “met and interviewed Abdullatif in the corridor of the hospital”. One might naturally assume that the man at the left of screen at the start of the You Tube video (see second image below) is part of the crew filming Abdullatif; however he appears to be local.

There is also the curious point that the Violations Documentation Center lists “Muhammad Abdullatif ” as a 15 year-old child who was killed in the alleged incident of 26 August.

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Abdullatif frequently glances down to the left of camera during his “interview” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4EtLR1elKg

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Who filmed the “interview” that is being recorded with the green microphone and which was broadcast on BBC News on 29 August 2013? Is the man at the left of the screen part of the film crew? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4EtLR1elKg

Location of the alleged ‘napalm bomb’ attack (the “Iqra” school)

In several articles and interviews Dr Saleyha Ahsan identifies the location of the alleged attack as the Iqraa Institute. [6]  This video shot at the location and uploaded to You Tube on 28 August 2013 confirms that the location was signposted inside and out as “Iqra particular school”. [3]  NB the You Tube video referred is intermittently unavailable. Download available here.

The Panorama scenario in which the “Iqraa Institute” is presented as a private residence which was being used for “summer courses” for male and female children in academic subjects such as mathematics and English is challenged by further information about the nature of the education system in “liberated” areas and the Iqra school system in particular.

The local Syrian investigative team’s first report notes that “Iqra” is “the first word pronounced by the angel Gabriel talking to Muhammad” and that “Iqra” centres are “mobile” proselytising “Islamic educational centers” set up by local opposition councils with the purpose of indoctrinating the local adult population with Wahhabi fundamentalism.

Iqra centres are led by Muslim clerics, presumably quite unlike the youthful and casually dressed “headmaster” and “teacher” seen at 41:14 and 33:38 respectively in Panorama (2nd and 3rd images below). Iqra meetings are not regular, but “from time to time”, when the cleric visits. Iqra sessions are “an informal meeting for adults where children are almost absent. The meeting is never very crowded but will have a maximum of 35 to 40 people”.

This May 2014 article by Ola Rifai, research fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at St. Andrews university, notes generally that “Salafi armed groups inside Syria (who possess the necessary military and logistic capabilities to successfully implement an education policy) seem to be primarily interested in indoctrinating the minds of students with their ideology.”

Ms Rifai describes how Iqrà schools were instituted in eastern Ghouta in 2011 by Salafi fighting group Liwa al-Islam (‘Islam Brigade’), itself founded by “Sheikh Zahran Alloush, a former prisoner who was given a presidential pardon in June 2011”. Iqrà runs “around 20 schools and twenty institutions teaching primary, secondary and graduate level students” in the area. Ms Rifai continues (bracketed notes and highlights in bold are mine):

The Education Committee [of Liwa al-Islam] has revised the curriculum for all levels. It cut the qaumiyya [‘nationalism’] and history modules while retaining the exact same curriculum for Arabic literature, maths and sciences. However, it altered the Islamic religious module and added more compulsory teaching hours in an effort to educate students regarding Islamic principles. Naturally, these principles were taught from a Salafi perspective. On a video-report uploaded to the Iqrà Facebook page, Mohamed Abu Ziad – the deputy manager of the Iqrà organisation – stresses that the curriculum focuses on religious affairs and attempts to “raise a generation that has a sense of pride in its religion”. In schools, female teachers wear strict Islamic costume: a dark hijab and a long coat. Additionally, female students are not allowed to mix with their male peers. Owing to logistic difficulties and the danger of Syria’s current war-torn state, students do not gather in the schoolyard and the schools do not fly flags. Nevertheless, posters of revolutionary and Salafi flags and Islamic slogans adorn the walls of classrooms. One example is a poster that reads: “Mohamed is our leader, Allah Akbar is our slogan and freedom is our demand.” Another reads: “the gun is the mujahed’s weapon and the pencil [referring to education] is this generation’s weapon”. A female teacher in a niqab surrounded by young students appears in the same video-report, assuring the camera that “the school day starts with reading Quran and the daily duaa, before beginning tutorial sessions on maths and Arabic literature”. She emphasises that teachers “seek to apply a religious dimension to all teaching modules, as much as they can”. According to her, the school day should end with ‘recreational’ activities, such as the singing of religious songs.

The local investigative team informs me that, while it is the case that Iqra schools opened in Ghouta for children in 2014, this remains unheard of in Aleppo province where the Iqra brand is associated with “pseudo schools” for the religious indoctrination of adult males.

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Exterior of location of alleged napalm bomb from video uploaded to You Tube 28 August 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-sBqj_2pRo). Signs on wall read (left to right) “IQRA PARTICULAR SCHOOL” and “BE WELCOME IN”

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The casually-dressed, youthful “headmaster” in Panorama and the 29 August BBC News report, named as Mohammed Abu Omar by Dr Ahsan, bears scant resemblance to the Muslim cleric leaders of “Iqra” centres

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“Teacher” who appears in Panorama from 33:38 to 33:46 (swaying bizarrely in the background) interviewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41KQSO7mOks. Attire and appearance is not in keeping with an “Islamic educational center” led by Muslim clerics.

Abundant evidence of allegiance between Hand in Hand for Syria and the Syrian opposition

In section 2.9 the Adviser states that she does not believe that there is “any evidence to support the complainant’s implicit allegation that the Hand in Hand charity was formally linked to the Syrian Opposition, such that the programme was obliged to mention the fact in order to achieve due accuracy and due impartiality”.

In all its responses to date the BBC has not acknowledged the indisputable fact, explicitly made in my first and third letters, that Hand in Hand for Syria’s original three-star logo, as seen emblazoned on the tunics of Dr Rola Hallam and other Atareb hospital medics in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’,  is plainly based on the flag adopted by the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council.

If further clear, and highly disturbing, indication of Hand in Hand for Syria’s allegiances were needed, it could hardly be plainer than from the fact that, until July 2014 the Facebook banner of Hand in Hand’s founder Faddy Sahloul openly bore the slogan WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES. The image was removed in July 2014, some time after this comment under a Guardian article.

More recently, the police and the Charity Commission have been presented with the thorough exploration of Hand in Hand for Syria’s political affiliations and financial affairs authored by Dr Declan Hayes of the University of Southampton.

More relevant background on Hand in Hand’s establishment in Syria and details of “very serious problems of administration, honesty, transparency and professionalism” in the organisation’s management of Atareb Hospital can be found in the first report of the local Syrian team currently investigating the “napalm bomb” incident. [3]

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Facebook banner of Hand in Hand for Syria founder Faddy Sahloul, deleted July 2014

HIHLOGO

Original logo of Hand in Hand for Syria bearing the three stars of the Free Syrian Army/Syrian National Council flag

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Medics in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ wear clothing bearing the Hand in Hand for Syria logo, which is clearly based on the emblem of the Syrian opposition (34:17)

BBC Worldwide blocking You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

In July 2014 BBC Worldwide began blocking  You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, including the copy I had been referencing in my correspondence with the BBC and that referenced by Australian peace campaigner Susan Dirgham in her letter of complaint to the BBC.

I began substituting links in my blog to correspond with an alternative You Tube copy of the programme. On 20 July this too was blocked by BBC Worldwide. (On 23 July it was removed by the channel owner). The final full You Tube copy of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was deleted by BBC Worldwide between 25 and 28 July. The BBC iPlayer version is available in the UK until 30 September 2014 only, after which there will be no widely available copy of the programme. [7]

BBC Worldwide claims that it “has not been pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking out or blocking” ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ above other editions of Panorama  and that “the blocks are made by the automated YouTube copyright protection system”. It states that its priority is to “protect the newest episodes” which “are blocked faster than older and archive episodes which can take up to 6 months for the YouTube system to find and block”.

However a far from exhaustive check on 2 August 2014 found that at least 25 more recent editions of Panorama than ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ remained available on You Tube, in many cases in multiple copies. A further inexhaustive check on 28 August found there still to be 23 more recent editions – just two fewer than almost a month earlier, when BBC Worldwide had offered its thanks “for highlighting those episodes of Panorama that are still live on YouTube” stating “we will look into removing these as soon as possible”.

It is also notable that one part (which featured Panorama footage) in a series of You Tube postings by Australian broadcaster SBS  has been blocked by BBC Worldwide while another part with an almost identical title, but which features no footage of the “napalm bomb” event, remains unblocked.

It is therefore no longer credible for the BBC to claim that the blocking of You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is not deliberate and targeted and the matter should be treated as evidence for the Trust to consider in this appeal.

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At least four full-length You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria Children’ have been blocked by BBC Worldwide since the start of July 2014.

Fresh uncertainty over Demotix images of ‘Victim X’

The Demotix photos feature images of Victim X being given oxygen, ostensibly upon arrival Bab al-Hawa hospital on the Turkish border.

However in two videos (this and this) Victim X is presented as deceased. These films were shot in an ambulance, likely in the environs of Atareb hospital (as both videos feature the medic filmed with the younger of the two “black dress women” in a room recognisable as Atareb). Why then would a supposedly deceased victim be given oxygen upon later arrival at Bab al-Hawa, as depicted in the Demotix images and in this video?

It would seem likely that Victim X is the person referred to by Dr Hallam in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and in this BBC article:

“We lost a gentlemen on transfer to Bab-Al-Hawa, he had extensive third degree burns. I’ve never seen a burn that bad. I think his face is going to stay with me for quite a long time”.

If so, this further suggests either that the Demotix photos are staged with Victim X’s corpse, or that he was not dead in the ambulance videos.

Still no consensus over number of casualties

In Section 9 my letter of 30 January I noted the immense variation in the numbers of reported fatalities and other casualties, at that point ranging from eight to 37 killed.

Since that time a consensus is no nearer to being established. For example in a January 2014 report (pp 8 & 30) the UK-based Syrian Human Rights Committee claimed the alleged attack “led to the death of 38 people, mostly school children and inflicted 100 others
with severe burns” while the United Nations Human Rights Council Syrian Commission of Enquiry, writing a month later (p19), stated “The bomb created “a ball of fire” that killed 10 civilians and severely injured dozens of others, mostly children and teenagers”.

In the mind of any reasonable person the ongoing great uncertainty and stark contradictions in the reporting of such basic details would cast doubt on the veracity of the incident as a whole.

Adviser has not viewed rushes of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

It is clear from the text of her decision that neither the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser nor the Independent Editorial Adviser reviewed the rushes of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ but rather merely asked questions of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) as to their “nature and content”.

The ECU’s claims regarding the rushes are notably weak, for example in relation to the allegedly burned baby and his alleged father (my italics):

I have seen the rushes which were filmed at the time and can confirm that Dr Ahsan clearly refers to the baby having burns on its face; the footage appears to confirm this.

I have viewed the rushes and the material appears to confirm that the individual described by Panorama as the baby’s father (seen wearing a beige top) had sustained some burns. Shots of him patting the child in a somewhat vacant and distressed manner could reasonably be described in the terms used by Mr Pannell in the online article.

The Adviser’s approach in this respect does not seem adequate and I suggest the Trust itself should have the opportunity to view the relevant material.

Blunders and misrepresentations in the Adviser’s decision

  • P3 – “In the summer of 2012” – this should of course be 2013
  • P6 – “The Adviser noted that the complainant had been provided with a full transcript of the Panorama programme by the ECU when it issued its provisional finding at Stage 2” – I hadn’t previously received a transcript of the programme (not that I particularly required one)
  • P10 – “a chair appeared to have moved from its original position in successive shots” – this was not a concern
  • P14 – “..to have deceived such an experienced team” – the substance of all my correspondence is my belief that the Panorama team was complicit, not deceived

Further unanswered points

Despite erroneously interpreting my complaint wholly under the rubrics of ‘Right of reply and fairness’ and ‘Misleading audiences’, cited in one of four subsidiary points in my appeal letter of 11 June, the Adviser has neglected to address matters I raised in other of the same set of subsidiary points:

Section 2.2 of the Adviser’s decision quotes Ian Pannell’s response of 18 February 2014:

“..not everything was edited in exact chronological order other than the start and end of the day”

I have noted the fluctuating levels of light in sequences featuring Dr Hallam at the “end of the day”. The Adviser has ignored this point. [8]

Similarly it remains unanswered whether the doctors made a round trip from Atareb hospital to the frontline clinic and back, as suggested by the sequence from 05:47 and 15:53, or whether these scenes feature another, unacknowledged location. (Where is the rooftop with the red leaves at 08:22 – 08:56?) [9]

Further serious compliance issues relating to BBC Editorial Guidelines

In a letter of complaint dated 2 July 2014 Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria, raised serious issues of compliance with regard to ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ in respect of BBC Editorial Guidelines around Accuracy, Impartiality, Fairness, Conflicts of Interest and Accountability.

I understand Ms Dirgham’s complaint has been rejected as untimely, however would suggest it is eminently worthy of consideration by the Trust in conjunction with the points raised in my appeal.

Saving Syria’s Children ‘retrospective’ obscures  unconvincing background performances

On 18 July 2014 BBC News published a short “retrospective” item on the “napalm bomb” incident. The Trust may wish to note that, from 00:32 – 00:40, the implausible behaviour of background figures in the hospital – including Lutfi Arsi‘s casual ambling and the bizarre “zombie” lurching and swaying of the supposed teacher – has been deliberately heavily blurred.

BBC Newsnight 29 August 2014

The 29 August 2014 edition of Newsnight was devoted to the consequences of the UK Commons vote on intervention in Syria exactly a year previously. Footage of alleged victims from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was featured from 03:00 – 03:20 and from 04:48 – 05:08. Over the latter scenes, which were date stamped “August 2013”, presenter Laura Kuenssberg states “by chance, just as MPs voted, these images of a chemical [sic] attack were shown for the first time”.

In its response of 1 December 2013 BBC Audience Services had said:

“The phrase “chemical weapon” was taken out of the [29 August 2013] news piece because by the time it was broadcast it was known that this was an incendiary bomb that had been used in the attack.”

and that:

“To have included her [Dr Hallam’s] speculation that this could have been a “chemical weapon” ran a considerable risk of being incredibly misleading and confusing to the audience, not least because the incident happened within days of an alleged chemical attack in Damascus.”

Consequently I alerted Ms Kuenssberg on Twitter to her use of the term “chemical” in her report (and indeed her Tweet).

At 4.30am on 30 August a re-edited version of the same edition of Newsnight was transmitted on the BBC News Channel in which from 04:44 the sequences from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ had been substituted with footage from a different event or events, presumably from Syria, featuring adults apparently in distress, but without a date stamp or any other identifying information.

Laura Kuenssberg’s narration remained the same. However, seeing as the scenes from Panorama for which the script had clearly originally been drafted had been removed, there can be little confidence in the description of the substituted film as having also been “shown for the first time”  “just as MPs voted”, i.e. specifically on the evening of Thursday 29 August 2013. Indeed, while it would have been clear to many viewers who recalled Panorama that the scenes in the first version of Newsnight were from a BBC programme, in the case of the substituted set of scenes a question remains over precisely which media outlet supposedly showed them “for the first time” “just as MPs voted” on Thursday 29 August 2013.

The two differing versions of Newsnight are currently listed here. No indication is provided that the content differs in any way. As both versions expire in the next few days I shall shortly update this document with uploads or screengrabs of the relevant sections.

The Trust may wish to consider whether this incident is likely, in the mind of a reasonable person, to cast doubt on the BBC’s editorial standards, particularly in respect of the “napalm bomb” incident.

Concluding comments

The introduction to Section 3 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy commences:

The BBC is committed to achieving due accuracy. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation and the trust of audiences, which is the foundation of the BBC. It is also a requirement under the Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter.

In my previous correspondence and above I have set out evidence and reasons why I believe the BBC has failed, in the most serious manner imaginable for a news service, to achieve due accuracy in respect of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and associated news coverage. A recent commenter on the Media Lens Message Board expressed their view of the way in which the BBC has dealt with my complaint to date:

Each individual data point is deduced to be insufficient by itself to be put to the trustees. The weight of all these pieces of evidence, all these discrepancies, together would be enough so they are carefully separated and isolated. It’s like the BBC looking at a dead body covered in knife wounds “Well, the killing blow may have been a shaving accident, so that doesn’t support murder. Individual laceration #1 could have been an accidental cut on a piece of paper….some time later… cut #2,735 could also have been a bug bite or a papercut. All in all, with careful BBC consideration, we could not find evidence that this dead body covered in knife wounds was murdered.”

Furthermore, as noted at the start of this appeal, the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser has misinterpreted my appeal as being made under very specific sections of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines  – ‘Right of reply and fairness’ (Section 6.4.25) and ‘Misleading audiences’ (Section 3.4.16) – when I had in fact clearly requested a review of the ECU’s decision that there had been no serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards generally, but particularly in relation to Section 3 (Accuracy).

I therefore disagree with the decision of the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser not to put my complaint before the BBC Trustees. In the first instance, I believe that a major procedural error and a number of other serious oversights and mistakes have been made by the Adviser. Furthermore, there is compelling new evidence strongly supporting my complaint, including the likely identification of a participant in the fabricated sequences of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, as well as further evidence supporting my previous observations and suggestions. I am therefore confident that my complaint stands an excellent chance of success should it be put before Trustees.

Notes

[1] The video was among this tranche from the “napalm bomb” event posted on the ‘Free Halab’ blog. Several of the videos are referenced in this appeal; all are worthy of study by the BBC and journalistic organisations.

[2] In an email of 12 June acknowledging receipt of my appeal to the BBC Trust, Complaints Adviser Christina Roski wrote:

We will now consider your request for a final appeal under the BBC’s Editorial complaints procedure. In order to do this we will review your complaint and your previous correspondence with the BBC and decide whether your appeal qualifies for consideration by the Trust. We will only consider the points you raised at Stage 2 that you want the Trust to reconsider.  Therefore, unless there are exceptional circumstances, we will not consider new points at this stage. We also ask that you do not now submit any further documentation unless you consider this to be necessary for the purposes of your appeal.

[3] The team has also provided valuable background information about the origins of the organisation Hand in Hand for Syria, on Atareb and Bab al-Hawa hospitals and the medical and schooling system in the “liberated” areas and analysis of the local insurgent factions. These studies can be downloaded in Word format here and here.

[4] A further seeming discrepancy exists between this version of the Violations Documentation Center list, which filters for Aleppo province, “Warplane shelling” and “Napalm” and cites a total  of 41 victims, 25 of whom are from “Mount Simon: Great Orme” (Urm Al-Kubra) and this permutation for the same day which has wider filters and contains 138 victims, only 21 of whom are listed as from the “Great Orme” area.

[5] Others have noted what could appear to be an attempt to mask laughter by the man in the high-visibility jacket as the dramatic display by the “father” and “daughter” reaches its climax at 36:23 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. What is indisputable is the appearance of an entirely unscathed, and indeed entirely bored looking, young woman presented as a burns victim at 02:30 in the You Tube film of the younger “black dress woman”.

Picture2

Some observers have noted what may appear to be an attempt to mask laughter by the man in the high-visibility jacket as the histrionics of the “father” and “daughter” reach their peak

new8

Young woman presented as a victim at 02:30 in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRuiJyIts-w is plainly unscathed and appears utterly bored

[6]

[7] This copy of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ adheres to the timings given in my blog. It can be downloaded here.

[8] Point 4, Timeline of events in ‘Saving Syria’s children’.

[9] Point 1, Timeline of events in ‘Saving Syria’s children’.

Summary of points in final appeal to BBC Trust

Summary 

BBC One, Panorama: Saving Syria’s Children, 30 September 2013

BBC One, Ten O’Clock News, 29 August 2013

BBC One, Ten O’Clock News, 30 September 2013

Complaint by Robert Stuart: BBC Trust ref: 2751936

I disagree with the decision of the Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser of 8 August 2014 not to put my complaint before the BBC Trustees. In the first instance, I believe that a major procedural error and a number of other serious oversights and mistakes have been made by the Adviser. Furthermore, there is compelling new evidence strongly supporting my complaint, including the likely identification of a participant in the fabricated sequences of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, as well as further evidence supporting my previous observations and suggestions. I am therefore confident that my complaint stands an excellent chance of success should it be put before Trustees.

Misinterpretation of my appeal request

The Adviser has misinterpreted my appeal as being made under specific sections of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines – ‘Right of reply and fairness’ (Section 6.4.25) and ‘Misleading audiences’ (Section 3.4.16) – when I had in fact requested a review of the ECU’s decision that there had been no serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards generally, but particularly in relation to Section 3 (Accuracy).

Identification of possible participant in the napalm bomb event

Compelling fresh evidence has come to light identifying a likely participant in the fabricated elements of ‘Saving Syria’ Children’. This development clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” set out in an email of 12 June from Complaints Adviser Christina Roski and as such should be considered by the Trust.

It is clearly incumbent upon the BBC, as a journalistic organisation, to fully investigate this person’s role in these events, and specifically to ascertain whether they have suffered burns from a “napalm like” substance, as footage from the incident seems intended to indicate. I shall provide the Trust with this person’s name and other details upon request.

Results of local investigation pending

A team of investigators from Aleppo and the vicinity of Urm Al-Kubra, the alleged location of the “napalm bomb”, is currently conducting independent research in the area.

The team has provided two background reports, submitted with my appeal, which provide a wealth of highly relevant information. Further, the team’s preliminary findings suggest the “napalm bomb” event is fabricated and that the names of alleged victims as featured in Panorama and a separate list published by the Violations Documentation Centre have either been falsely attached to the “napalm bomb” event or are fictitious. This development clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” and as such should be considered by the Trust.

A full report is imminent and I shall forward it as soon as it is available. It would clearly behoove the Trust to consider its contents as part of my appeal.

Adviser has disregarded urgent submission to the Trust

The Adviser has not taken into account several highly important points I made in an urgent submission of 19 June, contrary to advice I received in an email of 12 June from Complaints Adviser Christina Roski that further documentation may be submitted if I considered it necessary for the purposes of my appeal.

Medical testimony supports allegation that injuries are fabricated

A practicing medical doctor has offered a damning opinion on the veracity of the alleged injuries and treatment presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. The BBC has at no point provided an independent medical view of the relevant sequences. This development clearly meets the criteria of “exceptional circumstances” and as such should be considered by the Trust.

Adviser mistakenly identifies the two “black dress women” as the same person

The Adviser demonstrates a startling failure of judgement in her inability to distinguish between two identically dressed women of substantially differing ages. The Adviser has also not considered the clear presentation in relevant third party footage of the younger woman as a student, a description which would be entirely implausible of the older woman. These failures enable the Adviser to unfairly dismiss my suggestion that the women had shared clothes by dint of the fact that they were amateur actors in the “napalm bomb” fabrication.

New observations regarding Mohammed Abdullatif

Further scrutiny of the precise nature of an error and correction made by an alleged witness in an interview can only be the result of his having misread a written text or cue card and subsequently corrected himself. Third party video of the same interview confirms that the alleged witness is likely cribbing from an illicit source.

Location of the alleged ‘napalm bomb’ attack (the “Iqra” school)

Local information provided by the Syrian investigation team, in conjunction with reputable academic research, entirely contradicts the characterisation of the schooling system in rebel-held areas of Syria as presented in Panorama. In particular, the “Iqra” school brand, of which the institution featured in Panorama is said to belong by one of the key witnesses, in no way corresponds with informed and well-documented information which identifies Iqra schools as institutions for the religious indoctrination of adult males led by clerics quite unlike the alleged school staff seen in Panorama. Where Iqra schools are attended by children, which is only recently and not at all in Aleppo province, male and female students are not allowed to mix, as would seem to be the case presented in Panorama.

Abundant evidence of allegiance between Hand in Hand for Syria and the Syrian opposition

The Adviser refutes the existence of evidence to support my allegation that the charity Hand in Hand for Syria is formally linked to the Syrian opposition, despite my having repeatedly pointed to the clear and indisputable fact that both organisations share the same logo.

Further, the charity’s founder has openly posted belligerent and bloodthirsty pro-opposition sentiments on the internet, utterly divergent from what one would expect of a humanitarian organisation. The charity has recently been the subject of scrupulous academic research which lays bare its partisan connections and gross financial irregularities. The matter is presently in the hands of the police and the Charity Commission.

BBC Worldwide blocking You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

BBC Worldwide has deliberately targeted and blocked all You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, presumably in order to ensure that no copies remain in the public domain after the BBC iPlayer version expires on 30 September 2014.

BBC Worldwide’s explanation that Saving Syria’s Children has been removed from You Tube by an automated system because it is a “relatively new Panorama”, and that its priority is to “protect the newest episodes” which “are blocked faster than older and archive episodes” is rendered wholly implausible by the fact that, as of 28 August 2014, 23 more recent editions of Panorama remained readily available on You Tube, only two fewer than was the case almost a month earlier on 2 August when I provided links to all 25 then newer editions present on You Tube, and at which point BBC Worldwide affirmed that it would “look into removing these as soon as possible”. Additionally, one instalment of an Australian You Tube upload containing relevant footage from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ has been blocked, whereas another instalment with a virtually identical title but no Panorama footage remains available.

Fresh uncertainty over Demotix images of ‘Victim X’

Third party videos cast doubt on the sequence of events portrayed in the Demotix images and endorsed by the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit in its two reports of 23 April and 19 May.

In the videos “Victim X” appears to have been portrayed as deceased prior to arrival at Bab Al-Hawa hospital, whereas the Demotix photos, the import of which the Editorial Complaints Unit concurs with, suggest he was successfully transferred to Bab Al-Hawa.

Still no consensus over number of casualties

Many months after the alleged “napalm bomb” the most basic factual details are yet to be ascertained. Two presumably reputable sources – the United Nations Human Rights Council Syrian Commission of Enquiry and the Syrian Human Rights Committee – writing at approximately the same time report 37 and 8 fatalities respectively.  Along with the questions raised by the local Syrian investigative team as to the veracity of published names of victims, such stark contradictions are likely to cast doubt over the entire incident in the mind of any reasonable person.

Adviser has not viewed rushes of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

Bearing in mind the gravity of the accusations, the Adviser has been negligent in not personally viewing the relevant rushes. Where such a serious matter of trust in the BBC’s journalistic output has been raised, it was surely incumbent upon her to do so, especially when considering that the claims made by the Editorial Complaints Unit in respect of the rushes are notably weak. The Trust should be permitted – indeed should be eager – to have the opportunity to the view the rushes for itself.

Blunders and misrepresentations in the Adviser’s decision

The Adviser has demonstrated a degree of carelessness in her decision document as well as a lack of sympathy bordering on mischievousness in several mischaracterisations of my position.

Further unanswered points

Despite explicitly (if erroneously) undertaking to interpret my complaint under two narrow rubrics which were cited under a subsidiary point in my appeal letter of 11 June, the Adviser has failed to consider other matters raised in the same set of subsidiary points. One of these is an important matter of editing which challenges the Editorial Complaints Unit’s previous assertion that material from the “end of the day” was shown in “exact chronological order”; another questions the true chronology of events in an earlier sequence.

Further serious compliance issues relating to BBC Editorial Guidelines

A rigorous appraisal of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ in terms of its compliance with BBC Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy, Impartiality, Fairness, Conflicts of Interest and Accountability, composed in the form of a letter of complaint, has recently been rejected by BBC Audience Services as untimely, however it is a highly enlightening document which Trustees should strongly wish to consider alongside my own appeal material.

Saving Syria’s Children ‘retrospective’ obscures  unconvincing background performances

A recent brief “retrospective” BBC News item on the “napalm bomb” engenders further mistrust in the material by choosing to selectively obscure background “performances” which, when scrutinised in the original programme, appear unconvincing to the point of risibility.

BBC Newsnight 29 August 2014

Audiences’ trust in the BBC’s editorial standards specifically in relation to the “napalm bomb” is further and severely damaged by clear evidence of editorial chicanery in respect of footage of the alleged incident by the BBC’s flagship news programme Newsnight.

A recent edition of Newsnight originally contained footage, dated August 2013, of the “napalm bomb” incident accompanied by narration by Newsnight Chief Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg which correctly stated the date and time the images were broadcast (as MPs voted on intervention in Syria, on the evening of Thursday 29 August 2013), but incorrectly attributed the scenes to a “chemical attack”. BBC Audience Services having gone to considerable pains to explain to me that to refer to the use of a “chemical weapon” in relation to the alleged event (except where very specific circumstances dictated it) “ran a considerable risk of being incredibly misleading and confusing to the audience”, I alerted Ms Kuenssberg  to her error on Twitter.

Several hours later, perhaps partly or wholly as a result of my communication, a different version of the same Newsnight was broadcast on the BBC News Channel in which the scenes from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ had been excised and different, undated and unidentified, footage of another incident or incidents had been substituted at the same juncture. However, as the narration had not been amended in any way, the claim that the newly presented film was, too, “shown for the first time” “just as MPs voted” on the evening of 29 August 2013 was rendered highly questionable.

While both versions of Newsnight remain on BBC iPlayer for seven days, there is at the time of writing no indication given that the content differs in any way.

The Trust should consider that, given the controversy that has surrounded ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ since its original broadcast and the wealth of material I and others have submitted challenging aspects of its authenticity, the conduct of the BBC Newsnight editorial staff  in respect of this incident must be viewed in the most serious light.

BBC Editorial Strategy Adviser’s decision, 8 August 2014

Please find at this link the decision of the BBC Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser not to place my complaint (see here and here) regarding Saving Syria’s Children before the BBC Trust.

  • Full chain of correspondence with the BBC here.
  • More background here.