Full correspondence with BBC listed here.
On 29 December 2014 another individual submitted a final request that her complaint regarding ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ be placed before the BBC Trust.
The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) rejected this request at its 8 January 2015 meeting. The ESC’s decision, which is final, was published in its bulletin (pp 117 – 126) on 26 February 2015.
Below is an annotated copy of the decision with a number of weblinks which may help in assessing the ESC’s responses. Fuller background can be found here.
A complaint regarding the re-editing of the 29 August 2014 edition of Newsnight remains pending.
Decision of the Editorial Standards Committee
Ten O’Clock News, BBC One, 29 August 2013
Panorama – Saving Syria’s Children, BBC One, 30 September 2013
BBC Online – Syria: Agony of victims of ‘napalm-like’ school bombing, 30 September 2013
The complainant asked the Editorial Standards Committee to review the decision of the Trust Unit that the complainant’s appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration by the Committee.
In the summer of 2013 a BBC team travelled to Syria with two British doctors who were working with a charity to bring medical care to the war-affected region. This was the programme billing on the BBC website:
“In a special edition, Panorama travels with British doctors inside Syria to exclusively reveal the devastating impact of the war on children caught in the conflict. The doctors witness the aftermath of the bombing of a school by a suspected napalm-like incendiary device and medical facilities constantly under attack – both war crimes under international law. Filmed in the north of the country after the chemical weapons attack in Damascus which inflamed world opinion and brought America, Russia and the UN to the table, the film shows how the conventional war is intensifying with children bearing the brunt of this humanitarian catastrophe.”
The complainant alleged that the programme and related output contained some disturbing discrepancies which:
“… seem to me to be emotionally manipulative propaganda, with staged scenes and glaring inconsistencies, with the aim, I imagine, of promoting intervention in Syria.”
The complainant received detailed responses from BBC Audience Services at Stage 1 and from the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) at Stage 2. None of the complainant’s allegations were upheld.
The majority of the text below consists of a substantially edited version of the Trust Unit’s previous decision of 21 November 2014. Compelling new arguments and evidence set out in the complainant’s review request of 29 December 2014 are cursorily and incompletely noted in the penultimate, seven paragraph section ‘Request for review by Trustees’.
Appeal to the BBC Trust
The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust on 28 September 2014 for a review of the ECU’s response to the following five allegations:
- An eye witness appeared to be reading from a prepared text
- The nature and severity of the injuries of some of the victims seemed to be fabricated
- The affiliations between the doctors, the charity they worked for, and the Syrian Opposition Movement were not scrutinised.
The complainant’s detailed reasoning on each point is discussed more fully in the Adviser’s decision below.
The Trust Unit’s decision
The Trust’s Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser (the Adviser) replied to the complainant explaining that the relevant correspondence had been reviewed by the Trust Unit and she did not consider that the appeal had a reasonable prospect of success.
The Adviser considered the complaint against the guideline on Accuracy in respect of the first four points, and the guideline on Impartiality in relation to the final point.
The Adviser noted the detailed investigations carried out by BBC Audience Services at Stage 1 and the ECU at Stage 2 and their respective reasoning for rejection of the issues raised. The Adviser noted the ECU had viewed all of the rushes of the incident filmed by the Panorama team in considering its decision at Stage 2.
The Adviser noted also the outcome of an investigation undertaken by an independent editorial adviser (IEA). In September and October 2014 the IEA had examined similar allegations from a separate complainant who had also alleged a range of inaccuracies about the Panorama programme and related news output. Full correspondence here. The Adviser noted the scope of that investigation, in which the IEA undertook the following:
- viewed the rushes
- posed a series of questions to the Panorama team who had been to Syria and to Turkey
- asked a consultant plastic surgeon with training and experience in the presentation, prognosis and outcome of traumatic burns injuries to review the footage
- interviewed and corresponded with an independent journalist who had met with the father of one of the victims and had spoken with a number of other eye witnesses
- read the report on the Urm al-Kubra incident published by Human Rights Watch following their independent investigation. Human Rights Watch states that it has “not investigated this incident“. As noted here, a November 2013 Human Rights Watch report (cited by the Trust Unit) contradicts both Ian Pannell and ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ cameraman, producer and director Darren Conway over the time of the alleged attack (Pannell and Conway also contradict each other, a fact which is apparently being suppressed).
- interviewed and corresponded with a representative from Human Rights Watch
The Adviser invited the IEA to consider her review of the rushes again in the context of the allegations raised in this complaint.
The Adviser decided the question for her to consider was whether, on the balance of probabilities, taking into account all the available evidence, there was any reason to believe the incendiary bomb incident had been staged, or that there was any other reason to believe the BBC output in question was not duly accurate.
The Adviser noted the IEA’s conclusion with reference to the allegations in this appeal, that on the basis of her investigation, the incident depicted in Panorama, and shown also in BBC news bulletins and reported on BBC Online, took place as described. She noted also the results of the review of the footage by the consultant plastic surgeon, who had concluded that the presentation of the victims’ injuries and the clinical outcome appeared to be wholly consistent with what might be expected following an incendiary bomb attack of this nature. The complainant subsequently noted the existence of HOSPEX medical simulation exercises and the personal connection between an army officer leading the recreations and Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the doctors featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.
The Adviser noted that the IEA who reviewed the rushes had had considerable previous experience operating as a television producer in war zones (not for the BBC), including in the Middle East. She noted too that the IEA had never previously met any of the BBC team who were in Syria.
The Adviser then considered each of the allegations raised in the complainant’s letter of appeal, with particular reference to the analysis of the rushes and other research undertaken by the IEA.
- An eye witness appeared to be reading from a prepared text
The Adviser noted the detail of the allegation from the complainant’s Stage 1 submission:
“The alleged eyewitness [name] appears to be reading out a letter from a cue card; he commences with the words ‘Dear United Nations’ and proceeds to stumble over unfamiliar text.
In my opinion this appears to be blatantly staged.”
The Adviser noted the complainant’s rejection of the ECU’s view, reached from its assessment of the rushes, that there was no indication that the witness had been reading from a prepared text.
The Adviser noted, amongst other matters, the IEA’s conclusion that there was no indication that the witness’ responses were either staged or rehearsed and there was nothing in the unedited sequence which gave her any cause to believe his answers were not spontaneous.
- Scenes in the hospital purporting to depict victims were staged
The Adviser noted the complainant’s allegation that sequences were “blatantly staged and part of a shocking piece of propaganda”. She noted relevant detail from the complainant’s Stage 1 submission which was representative of the nature of the allegation on this point:
“In one such scene a number of alleged victims are shown, including (a) man seen twice earlier in (a) blue tattered shirt… the group appears fairly static and quiet, then the man in the tattered blue shirt looks into the camera, and as he raises his left arm in a distinctive gesture, the group suddenly begins to writhe and moan in unison.
The adolescent in the white shirt… rises with perfect ease and equanimity, and is clearly not in the least distress [sic]. The now seemingly prostrate young man in the red shirt, third from the right, had previously had no difficulty climbing down from the back of the truck (and then trotting into the hospital at some speed)… I would ask anyone, having watched these sequences carefully, to deny that they are also blatantly staged and part of a shocking piece of propaganda.”
The Adviser noted the ECU’s response to the allegation at Stage 2:
“I have viewed all the rushes from the hospital and I can confirm they provide no support for your claim that sequences were ‘blatantly staged and part of a shocking piece of propaganda’. The video and audio material which was recorded appears to be consistent with the events that were described in the programme and do not support your allegation that the nature and severity of the injuries of some of the victims were fabricated. … You do not appear to have provided any substantive evidence to support the allegations in your complaint, which I understand to be based solely on the impression you took from edited material.”
The Adviser noted the IEA’s overall conclusion formed on the basis of her review of the rushes that she saw no evidence that any of those featured in the Panorama programme and associated output were acting for the camera. The IEA made the following points:
- the unedited rushes of events that August afternoon appeared entirely consistent with what a television crew would be likely to film when it was observing an unfolding event rather than directing events itself.
- it was clear that the cameraman had no control over what was happening in the scenes he was filming, but was attempting to capture events as they happened around him.
- there were not any extra “takes” for interviews or pieces to camera; the cameraman and the correspondent appeared to have “grabbed” what they could when they could and then removed themselves to leave space for the first responders to do their work.
- there was no evidence that any of the scenes were directed in any way, nor that the events unfolded in a materially different way from how they were subsequently portrayed in the programme.
The Adviser noted the IEA’s observation that the rushes also supplied some wider context which helped explain some of the sequences which the complainant had highlighted as problematic.
- The nature and severity of the injuries of some of the victims seemed to be fabricated
The Adviser noted that the complainant considered that the depiction of victims appeared to be fabricated. It was noted that the complainant considered that the behaviour of a female victim was incongruent with pain or physical discomfort. The complainant also noted that the “alleged” victims were able to walk and all of them retained their eyebrows. The complainant’s points were supported by the comments made by an unnamed practising medical doctor. Amongst other points, the unnamed practising medical doctor considered that a scene of school children coming in with burns was an act. Note that the Adviser equally does not name the consultant plastic surgeon whose testimony she cites.
The Adviser noted that the IEA had shown the footage from the Panorama programme to a(n unnamed) consultant plastic surgeon in his rooms at a(n unnamed) leading London teaching hospital.
The unnamed consultant concluded that he was wholly convinced that the footage was genuine. He took the view, from a review of the footage, that most of the severely burnt patients he saw in the Panorama footage would most likely have died due to their injuries even if they had been taken to a leading European burns unit. He considered that the doctors shown in Panorama appeared to have done everything correctly within the context of what was available and he saw nothing that suggested to him that anything was staged or exaggerated. The unnamed consultant plastic surgeon was not asked to review his opinion in light of the medical simulation techniques subsequently noted by the complainant.
- Burns to the baby’s face appear to have been exaggerated
The Adviser noted details of the complainant’s allegation from her Stage 1 submission which referred to the content of an article from BBC Online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24288698 and also to commentary and actuality from the Panorama programme:
“[The correspondent’s] article of 30th September states, ‘A seven-month old baby boy arrived, his pink face was blistered and raw. His father was also burnt and sat helplessly on a stretcher clutching his son as the staff rushed to help.’ The commentary also refers to the fact that this baby has ‘severe burns’, and [the doctor] is heard to say, ‘…don’t hold the face so hard… he’s burnt’. Please could you explain why this baby and his father appear to be entirely unscathed and this footage therefore completely contradicts [the correspondent’s] description?” Note that the complainant’s point is that the baby is entirely unscathed; this is reframed by the Adviser into discussion solely of putative burns to the infant’s face. The complainant subsequently points to references by Dr Rola Hallam, one of the doctors present at the scene, to the child having suffered “80%” or “full-body” burns. The latter claim is significant as it was made “days after the attack”: in correspondence with me (pp 4-5) the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit had dismissed the “80%” claim on the grounds it was a single reference made “after the event”.
The Adviser noted a still frame depicting the baby from the relevant sequence as broadcast in Panorama, which the complainant included in her submission.
The Adviser noted the ECU’s final response at Stage 2:
“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. However, if you zoom in on still frames from the programme you will see a round mark on the baby’s forehead and you will see skin which appears to be blistered on its right cheek and towards its ear.”
The Adviser noted the complainant’s submission in her letter of appeal:
“I find this an extraordinary admission – namely that not only is (the ECU) unable to confirm that the baby in question had ‘severe burns’, as the correspondent claimed, but that he is also unable to confirm that the baby had indeed suffered any burns whatsoever.
“Not only does the ECU offer the weakest conceivable grounds to attempt to persuade me to amend my view that the baby was in fact entirely unscathed, his defence of them – that he ‘is not an expert in this field’ – amounts to an expression of despair. There is, of course an obvious solution to a case demanding the opinion of experts… that the BBC seek the opinion of experts.”
The Adviser noted the IEA’s review of the rushes and also the review of the footage by the unnamed consultant plastic surgeon, in which he did not identify any inconsistencies between the footage as broadcast and the commentary which accompanied it. The Adviser noted that in the IEA’s view it was not possible from the rushes to reach any view on the extent of either the baby or the father’s burns, although she was able to discern that the baby was clearly in some distress. The Adviser noted this section of unbroadcast interview with one of the doctor’s, which was filmed whilst the baby was being treated behind her; the baby is heard screaming in the background throughout:
“First and second degree burns are very painful and clearly he is very distressed as is his dad. You can see the burnt hair, his dad’s burnt hair”
The Adviser noted that the baby was the first casualty to arrive following the incendiary bomb incident and it only transpired later that he was injured in what were the first of two explosions that afternoon. Whilst relative to the more severe presentations of the burns of subsequent arrivals at the hospital, the baby’s burns might appear less serious, the Adviser did not consider that this had any bearing on an objective assessment by the doctor at the time, as captured on microphone, that the baby had sustained facial burns.
- The affiliations between one of the doctors, her charity, and the Syrian Opposition Movement were not scrutinised.
The Adviser noted the complainant’s allegation in her letter of appeal that the political affiliations of the doctors featured in the programme and the charity they work for should have been made clear to the viewer.
The Adviser noted, amongst other matters, the complainant’s reference in her letter of appeal to an article written in February 2013 by one of the two British doctors featured in the programme (Dr Saleyha Ahsan), in which she said about her colleague (Dr Rola Hallam), who featured in the film:
“The crisis has had a very personal impact on [my colleague’s] family. Her father, also a doctor, helped coordinate medical logistics from inside Syria in the early days of the uprising. He is now involved politically with the Syrian National Council. A number of her relatives have been killed and many injured.”
Dr Rola Hallam’s father is Dr Mousa al-Kurdi. In an Al Jazeera interview Dr al-Kurdi proclaims the Syrian National Council to be the “representative of all Syrians” and relates how, following his address to the Friends of Syria summit in Istanbul in 2012, he had told the Turkish Foreign Minister “You’re not doing enough”, demanding “either you defend us or you arm the Syrian Free Army to defend us – you have the choice”. Until at least October 2013 the Deputy Commander of the Free Syrian Army was identified as a Colonel Malik al-Kurdi.
The Adviser noted the following from the complainant’s letter of appeal:
“My main point with regard to the political affiliations of the doctors featured in the programme, and the charity they represent, was not the precise details of [name]’s family connections with political organisations. This was just one element of the point that the doctors and charity are not merely anti-Assad or pro-revolution sympathisers, but indisputably allied to the militarised opposition.”
The Adviser noted that the complainant asked for this point to be considered against Impartiality guideline 4.4.14.
The Adviser did not consider that the political affiliations, if any, of a relative of a contributor were a relevant consideration in reaching her decision on this point. She noted, however, that the contributor had responded elsewhere about her father’s alleged political affiliations, saying:
“He is certainly not a member of the Syrian National Council, he is a gynaecologist who like most Syrians has taken an interest in what’s happening in his country.” Dr Rola Hallam’s words here are from the same November 2013 Save the Children event at which she also spoke of the baby’s “80% burns“, a statement which, as noted above, was considered invalid (pp 3 – 4) by the BBC.
The Adviser noted the ECU’s response in its provisional finding at Stage 2:
“I think it was implicit that the charity was working in an area of Syria controlled by the opposition and would therefore be likely to share its aims and objectives (as opposed to supporting the Syrian government).
Secondly, there were various comments from the contributor which would have left the viewers in little doubt as to where her sympathies lay. For example, at the end of the day of the attack, she said:
‘I feel so angry right now, I feel so, so angry. The whole world has been watching us for two and a half years. We feel like some sort of, not even a second class citizen, like we just don’t matter, like of all these children and all of these people who are being killed and massacred, we don’t matter. The whole world has failed our nation and it’s innocent civilians who are paying the price. It’s an absolute disgrace on the United Nations and all of humanity.’”
The Adviser noted the following sections of commentary from the programme, particularly how they helped signpost for the audience the contributor’s personal interest in the conflict (beyond her medical role). The Adviser noted too how the commentary signposted that the film was shot entirely in rebel-controlled areas:
- In the first few minutes of the programme, the contributor is introduced thus:
“[the contributor’s] family is from Syria and she lived here as a child.”
- A few minutes later the reporter states:
“By travelling with the doctors I’m hoping to see the humanitarian crisis through their eyes – but we can only film their work in rebel held areas.”
- The contributor refers to Syria in the possessive:
“…the last couple of years the focus has been so much on trauma and war injuries that actually everything else had gotten forgotten. And now, we found ourselves like two and a half years down the road, our whole healthcare system has essentially been destroyed”
The above points re: the commentary are addressed in section 5 of the complainant’s review request of 29 December 2014.
The Adviser noted too how the reporter explained the context in which the filming was taking place: that the violence was not only from the Government side, or only perpetrated by the Government on rebel-held areas. She noted the following amongst many such examples and wider context which were included in the commentary throughout the programme:
- The war in Syria is now in its third year. Sectarian differences and extremism have taken hold on both sides. And the conflict threatens the stability of the region…
- Rival rebel factions now fight each other as well as the government
- On the both sides of the divide children are becoming orphans and refugees.
The Adviser considered that no evidence had been produced that the contributor had either formal or informal links to the Syrian opposition. The Adviser considered the audience had been accurately informed that the doctor was of Syrian extraction and agreed that viewers would have been able to judge for themselves on the basis of the doctor’s contributions in the programme, where her loyalties might lie. Contrary to the complainant’s contention, the Adviser was not aware of any information that had been withheld from the viewer which required to be included.
The Adviser considered also whether there was any evidence to support the complainant’s allegation that the charity featured 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. The fact that the founder of the charity had pledged that President Assad should be made to account for his actions and that the charity was founded by members of the Syrian diaspora, did not in the Adviser’s view provide any information that the charity was “indisputably allied to the militarised opposition” as the complainant had alleged.
As the complainant subsequently observes, the co-founder of Hand in Hand for Syria, Faddy Sahloul, goes far beyond merely pledging that Assad should account for his actions. The sentiments in Sahloul’s (now deleted) Facebook banner “express a disdain for human life utterly divergent from what one would expect of a humanitarian charity and moreover are in stark contrast with Hand in Hand for Syria’s Charity Commission classification as an organisation concerned with “the advancement of health or saving of lives”.
The Adviser was of the view that the programme had referred to the contributor’s beliefs and those of the charity in a duly accurate manner in the programme, and she saw no evidence to suggest that the audience had been misled in that regard.
The Adviser therefore concluded that there would be no reasonable prospect of success if this allegation proceeded to appeal.
For all the reasons above, the Adviser concluded that were this complaint to proceed to appeal, Trustees would not be likely to conclude that the events presented had been fabricated. She therefore did not consider the appeal had a realistic prospect of success and did not propose to put it before Trustees.
Request for review by Trustees
The seven paragraphs below constitute the Committee’s response to the complainant’s 6,000+ word review request.
The complainant requested that the Trustees review the decision not to proceed with her appeal.
In respect of the first point she raised in her appeal, alleging that an eye witness appeared to be reading from a prepared text, the complainant said discrepancies in the responses she had received had not been addressed by the Adviser and that in her decision the story had changed yet again. The BBC’s varying accounts of the “eyewitness” Mohammed Abdullatif’s testimony can also be found here.
In respect of her second point, that scenes in the hospital were staged, the complainant said the Adviser’s response was “almost entirely meaningless”. The complainant said that she had no means of evaluating for herself the unedited rushes which had been available to the IEA. She said that her point that references to such material were neither evidence nor did they constitute transparency, had not been addressed. The complainant alleged her point had been misrepresented.
In respect of her third point, alleging the fabrication of victims’ injuries, the complainant said the Adviser’s response had insinuated it was a significant admission for her to have omitted the name of the doctor she had referred to in her evidence, yet the consultant plastic surgeon referred to by the Adviser had not been named either. She also submitted new evidence which she said illustrated that it is possible to mimic the type of injuries seen in the programme, using actors and make-up artists. As noted, a personal connection exists between Dr Saleyha Ahsan and Brigadier Kevin Beaton, who leads HOSPEX medical simulation exercises.
In respect of the complainant’s fourth point, the complainant said her argument had been misrepresented: she was alleging that the baby and his father appeared to be entirely unscathed, not that the injuries had been exaggerated. The complainant also included arguments not previously raised in her appeal, nor at previous stages, alleging discrepancies between accounts elsewhere in the media of the baby’s injuries, and the evidence considered by the Adviser in her decision. As noted above.
In respect of the complainant’s final point, she again said her argument had been misrepresented; she said she was alleging that the affiliations of both doctors, their charity and the Syrian opposition were “neither scrutinised nor made explicit to the viewer”. The complainant disagreed with the Adviser that sections of commentary and contributions in the programme would have signposted to the viewer [the doctor’s] personal interest in the conflict. She said references did not indicate the doctor was likely to be sympathetic to the opposition and in one case she said the reference could be interpreted as suggesting loyalty to the Assad government. The complainant reiterated the argument in her appeal, that the charity featured in the programme was “indisputably allied to the militarised opposition”. She said the BBC should launch an investigation into the charity’s activities, political affiliations and financial affairs.
The complainant then submitted ten new allegations which had not been raised in her appeal, nor at Stages 1 and 2. These included submissions relating to the allegiance of the second doctor featured in the Panorama programme. A second letter was received a week later with further comments relating to the complainant’s allegation about the doctor.
The ten points dismissed by the Editorial Standards Committee are:
- An image of one of the alleged thermite victims smiling cheerfully shortly after the attack.
- Discrepancies of up to six hours between accounts of when the attack allegedly took place, including a contradiction between accounts given by ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ reporter Ian Pannell and his colleague, cameraman, producer and director Darren Conway (which is seemingly being suppressed).
- The apparent self-identification of an amateur actor who participated in the role of a thermite victim. The BBC rejected the opportunity to be provided with this person’s name so that her seeming involvement could be investigated.
- The audio testimony of a commander in the Free Syrian Army, stationed in the area at the time, stating that a field investigation conducted in partnership with the “Free Syrian Red Crescent” (Syrian Arab Red Crescent) has confirmed that the alleged attack did not take place. The BBC rejected the commander’s offer to provide a full statement. See section FSA commander attests “napalm bombing” did not occur here.
- The potential breach of BBC guidelines represented by the editorial decision to employ Mughira Al Sharif as the programme’s “fixer” and translator. A 2012 photograph on Al Sharif’s Instagram account pictures him bearing the standard of the Idlib Martyrs Brigade, amid an array of other images graphically demonstrating opposition affiliations and sentiments. Some of Al Sharif’s images celebrate the arming of children – notably, one such image was posted the day after Al Sharif had supposedly witnessed dozens of injured and dying children and teenagers during the “napalm bomb” incident.
- Concerns over the integrity and objectivity of Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the two doctors featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. A number of Dr Ahsan’s Facebook photographs from Libya in 2011 depict her support for the Libyan opposition; several feature Dr Ahsan posing with armed groups which include children. Others featuring an apparent prisoner may contravene provisions of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Despite unambiguously stating “I want to be part of this Arab Spring” Dr Ahsan has been employed by the BBC to report on the Libyan conflict.
- The complainant’s direct question about the identity of the western male who appears at 2:06 in the BBC News report of 30 September 2013 has been ignored. The presence of this person – carrying a camera and demonstrating evident concern that the BBC’s footage is recorded without interruption – is perplexing, as Ian Pannell and Darren Conway are alleged to constitute the entire Panorama crew in Syria at that time.
- Renewed evidence that BBC Worldwide has selectively blocked You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.
- The complainant’s request for clarification as to whether a collection of non-BBC videos of the alleged event posted online correspond with the BBC’s account has been ignored.
- Conclusive evidence that, contrary to the BBC’s assessment, two alleged female victims filmed at separate times on the day of the alleged attack, and who appear to have shared the same highly distinctive clothes, are quite clearly separate individuals.
The Committee’s decision
The Committee was provided with the complainant’s appeal to the Trust, the response from the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser and the two letters from the complainant asking the Committee to review the Adviser’s decision. The Committee was also provided with the relevant content in question.
It was noted that the complainant had made the following broad points during the complaints process:
- The footage in Panorama and the associated output was fabricated and the Panorama team was complicit in their depiction of “staged sequences”.
- The authenticity of Panorama was further called into question by an eye witness interview and the depiction of victims in the programme.
- The audience had not been informed about the affiliations of contributors, and questions remained about the suitability of the individuals who contributed to the reports.
The complainant also referenced points that had been made by another complainant last year (referred to in this finding as “Mr C”). Mr C had published his full correspondence with the BBC in a blog, which may have enabled the current complainant to draw directly from his arguments. Mr C’s complaint had been considered at the November 2014 Editorial Standards Committee meeting and the finding is set out from page 134 in the link below: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/esc_bulletins/2014/oct_nov.pdf an annotated copy of the finding is here.
It was observed that Mr C and the current complainant both considered that the Panorama team was complicit in depicting fake footage. Trustees noted their overarching conclusion regarding Mr C’s complaint:
“In relation to the main allegation that the Panorama team was complicit in fabricating footage of an incendiary bomb attack, Trustees wanted to emphasise that none of the substantive evidence provided by the complainant had been persuasive, and that any attempt to investigate his unsubstantiated claims that third parties might provide such evidence would incur further cost to the BBC which could not be justified. The Trust was concerned at the resources the BBC had already had to devote to defend itself against this complaint.
The Editorial Standards Committee wanted to put on record that, on the basis of the credible evidence it had seen, it had no reason to doubt the authenticity of a programme which had played an important role in bringing home to UK audiences the realities of the civil war in Syria, and which could only have been made with the personal courage and commitment of the Panorama team.”
It was observed that there had been a considered investigation by the Trust Unit into the allegations which had led the Trustees to dismiss the allegations that the relevant content had breached the Editorial Guidelines. The new points raised by the complainant did not persuade Trustees to change their initial conclusion that Panorama and associated BBC content had depicted events broadly as they occurred.
Additionally, Trustees considered that they had not seen any credible evidence to support the complainant’s arguments that audiences were misled about the affiliations of contributors and their associated charity.
The Committee took the view that the costs of carrying out further investigations and analysis to establish the compliance of this programme and its associated content could not be justified. In particular, Trustees noted their previous decision regarding the Panorama programme and their current view that none of the points raised had persuaded them that there was a reasonable prospect of concluding that the relevant BBC content had breached the editorial guidelines. Therefore, the Committee took the view that it was not appropriate, proportionate or cost effective to take this matter on appeal.
The Committee therefore decided that this appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration.