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”.

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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

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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’.

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

  1. Pingback: Fabrication in BBC Panorama’s ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ | Uprootedpalestinians's Blog

  2. Pingback: Final appeal to BBC Trust re: fabrication in Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ | sand49

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