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.