Stage 1b complaint: Dr Saleyha Ahsan – The Truth About Fat, BBC One, 2 April 2015

Subsequent correspondence with the BBC on this matter:

I presented a summary of my concerns regarding Saving Syria’s Children to Jeremy Corbyn MP on 16 December 2015.  See also this presentation for Frome Stop War.

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29 July 2015

Reference CAS-3287852-HMRP7V

Submitted via BBC Complaints webform

Dear BBC Audience Services

Thank you for your letter of 6 July (below) responding to my complaint of 29 April regarding Dr Saleyha Ahsan.

Your response does not address any of the concerns I have raised, which to briefly restate are:

  • In publishing on Facebook photographs of a captive in Libya in 2011 Dr Ahsan has plainly breached provisions of the Geneva Convention protecting prisoners of war and others caught up in conflicts against insults and public curiosity. [1]

As noted by former BBC legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg, the same Geneva Convention provisions were used by the US Government to justify its 2004 decision not to allow photographs of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to be published, with military lawyers claiming that releasing their photographs “would be inconsistent with the obligation of the United States to treat the individuals humanely and would pose a great risk of subjecting these individuals to public insult and curiosity”.

  • In other Facebook images Dr Ahsan poses with armed units which appear to include adolescent members. In her February 2015 Radio 4 play about her experiences in Libya Dr Ahsan expresses the view that the primary need of a 17 year old boy exhibiting signs of battle trauma is to rejoin an armed military unit. Other of Dr Ahsan’s Facebook photographs demonstrate a nonchalant attitude towards the presence of children amidst armed groups.
  • In the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children Dr Ahsan is seen volunteering with Hand in Hand for Syria. Purportedly a humanitarian organisation, Hand in Hand for Syria’s co-founder has publicly proclaimed a desire to “bring Assad to justice; no matter what lives it takes, no matter how much catastrophe it makes”. A nurse who works alongside Dr Ahsan in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is pictured wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic and apparently treating the battle injuries of a fifteen year old “rebel” fighter in a web article which celebrates the child’s fighting prowess. [2] In December 2014 Sam Hewett, Operations Coordinator of ShelterBox International, indicated that Hand in Hand for Syria was being investigated by Special Branch.

Note also that in 2014 Dr Ahsan spoke at an event organised by Cage. Cage has been described by The Daily Telegraph as a “terrorism advocacy group” and branded as “extremist” by David Cameron.

Please address the points above and as expanded upon in my initial complaint in light of Section 15.4.5 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which states:

The external activities of BBC editorial staff, reporters and presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output.  External activities should not bring the BBC into disrepute.  It is also important that off-air activities do not undermine the on-air role of regular presenters.

Please note that my original complaint has been copied to Amnesty International which confirmed on 9 July that it has been forwarded to the relevant research team.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Stuart

[1] The appalling treatment of black Africans captured by Libyan “rebels” is well documented:

[2] Further shocking images of the same child and others attached to the same militia unit can be found here.


BBC Audience Services PO Box 1922, Darlington, DL3 OUR Telephone 03700 100 222

6 July 2015

Reference CAS-3287852-HMRP7V

Dear Mr Stuart

Thank you for your letter regarding ‘The Truth About Fat’. Please accept my apologies for the long delay in replying. We contacted the production team who have provided the following response:

Dr Ahsan is a practising Accident and Emergency doctor, and at the time of this commission, she was already part of the established presenting team for the popular BBC Two health series, ‘Trust Me, I’m A Doctor’.

`The Truth About Fat’ was commissioned alongside ‘The Truth About Calories’ by BBC Science, for BBC One. It was felt appropriate for both of those programmes to have a presenter with medical expertise, and in both cases, a presenter from ‘Trust Me, I’m A Doctor’ was selected. In the case of ‘The Truth About Fat’, this was Dr Ahsan.

A primary consideration in her selection for this programme was that Dr Ahsan had a particular interest in this subject, having presented items in this topic area for ‘Trust Me, I’m A Doctor’. Furthermore, she herself was prepared to undergo medical tests on camera that were relevant to the subject of the programme, and whose results would give the audience insights into how fat behaves within the human body.

In the event, Dr Ahsan was able to deliver the content of the programme with the mix of authority and personal engagement that was required to make the subject accessible to a non-specialist audience.

I hope you will find this response helpful.

Kind regards

Lucia Fortucci

BBC Complaints

BBC upholds complaint re: substitution of “napalm bomb” footage

22 July 2015

Ref: CT/1500344

Dear Mr Steel

Thank you for your provisional finding of 20 July (reproduced below) informing me that you propose to uphold my complaint regarding the substitution of Syria footage in respect of accuracy.

The finding does not address the points I have raised regarding the journalistic ethics of substituting images without acknowledgement or of the disturbingly vague and seemingly arbitrary categories of “taste of decency”. As your colleague Mr Tregear patricianly put it:

You have been given an explanation as to why the footage was changed; there is no reason why the audience should be made aware that any such editing has taken place; and BBC News is under no obligation to tell you the source of the substituted images which were broadcast.


In response to your comment about the paragraph in my email which you found “astonishing”, I can only say the point I was making was that there is no formal policy which obliges BBC News to inform viewers that footage has been changed or to confirm when asked the source of material used.  It is a matter for BBC News to decide whether to provide that information.

I shall wish to pursue these matters following receipt of your final report.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Stuart


British Broadcasting Corporation White City, 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TQ

Telephone: 020 8743 8000 Email:

Editorial Complaints Unit

Mr R Stuart


Ref: CT/1500344

20 July 2015

Dear Mr Stuart

Syria Vote: One Year On, BBC News Channel, 30 August 2014

I’m writing to let you know the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s investigation into your complaint about a report broadcast on the BBC News Channel at 4.30am BST on 30 August 2015 [sic]. I’m sorry this has taken longer than we initially led you to expect.

We’re now in a position to add to the account you were given in the email of 17 May from the BBC Complaints Team. As explained in that email, the report was re-edited in order to replace the footage of the Aleppo attack of August 2013 with less graphic images (of an attack in Saraqeb, Northern Syria, on 29 April 2013) for a different audience. We’ve now established that the editing was carried out by the Newsnight team after the programme came off the air – at about midnight, in fact, and after Laura Kuenssberg had left the studio. I’m told that they didn’t check the sound-track, and the fact that the replacement of the pictures rendered the accompanying script line inaccurate simply didn’t register with them –and of course the News Channel team would have no reason to suppose there was anything amiss with the report as it reached them. I agree with the view that the change of pictures didn’t change the journalistic integrity of the piece, in the sense that it wouldn’t have affected viewers’ understanding of the matters under discussion. Nevertheless, it would have given them the impression that they were seeing footage of an attack which took place just before MPs voted when the footage actually dated from four months earlier – an impression which could have been avoided if the script had been appropriately edited or if less graphic images from the Aleppo attack had been used. I’m therefore proposing to uphold your complaint in respect of accuracy, though I hope the explanation I’ve given will reassure you that there was no intention to mislead.

As my colleague, Colin Tregear, explained in his letter of 18 June, this is a provisional finding and so I’ll be happy to consider any comments you may wish to make provided that you let me have them by 3 August. Alternatively, if you are content with the finding as it stands, let me know and I’ll finalise it without further ado.

Mr Tregear also said he would ask the relevant BBC manager to respond to your concerns about the time it took tom [sic] address your complaint at Stage 1 of the process. This is their response:

We have reviewed the delays in replying after Mr Stuart’s return complaint was received in November and do apologise again for these on behalf of the BBC Executive. There was already a backlog of complaints being investigated in BBC News which caused some initial delay when Mr Stuart escalated his complaint in November 2014. This was a consequence of large volumes of complaints following the conflict in the Middle East during the summer and then the Scottish Referendum in September. Although the relevant editor was asked on a number of occasions for a response over many weeks, he had not provided one by March when he moved on to a new role. A response from his successor was consequently delayed and provided over a month later. We apologise for these delays, which do not reflect the level of service we strive for and are normally able to provide.

Yours sincerely

Fraser Steel
Head of Editorial Complaints