IPSO rejects Telegraph “new” “barrel bomb” footage complaint

This post does not directly relate to BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, which remains the focus of this blog. 

See also: “Recent” barrel bomb footage – correspondence with Channel 4 News Managing Editor

Below is an exchange with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) regarding the 20 May 2015 Telegraph article Bashar al-Assad’s airmen laugh as they drop barrel bombs on fellow Syrians.

The Telegraph article states “New footage has emerged showing Syrian aircrew using barrel bombs”. However as observers noted, and I pointed out (19 July 2015, below), one of the two relevant clips in the al-Jazeera report which formed the source of the Telegraph’s claim has been available on You Tube since 27 October 2012.

In rejecting my complaint (23 July) IPSO stated that I “do not appear to be in a position to dispute that the video shown had been newly obtained by al-Jazeera, or that other sections of the footage had been recently filmed.”

In my appeal of IPSO’s decision (30 July) I noted that the Telegraph had not claimed that the footage was “newly obtained”, but simply that it was “new”, i.e on a commonsense understanding that it was roughly contemporary with the Telegraph’s report, rather than being at least two and half years older.

Apart from a brief holding response (4 August) I heard no more from IPSO for over a month. In a further submission (8 September) I presented a case for believing that the other section of “barrel bomb” footage in the al-Jazeera report was at least as old, and possibly even older, than the section which had been available online since October 2012. [1]

I had no acknowledgement of this submission, however less than three hours later I received IPSO’s Complaints Committee’s decision not to re-open my complaint. The committee’s decision did not reference the question of the age of “the other sections of the footage” but was instead based on the fresh point that “the article referred to President Assad’s claim that no barrel bombs had ever been used by his forces” and that therefore the age of all of the footage “was not relevant to whether President Assad’s forces had ever used such munitions”. (Confusingly, the decision states that I had not disputed Assad’s assertion, perhaps an indication of the haste in which it was drafted).

[1] Further to the evidence I submitted to IPSO, a diagram entitled “What is a barrel bomb?” and which is attributed to the website of “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses states that “Early designs used fuse wicks”; both of the relevant segments of footage presented by the Telegraph show munitions which appear to have fuses that are lit by crew members, adding to the likelihood that both sections of footage are of a similar vintage.


From:  Ciaran Cronin (Ciaran.Cronin@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 18 September 2015 10:26:50
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart,

Thank you for your email.

We would firstly like to apologise that your email of 8 September was not properly acknowledged. You should have been sent a reply on that date stating that the Committee had already considered your request for review, that your email of that date was too late to be considered by the Committee, and that we would email you that decision in due course.

I should explain briefly how our process works. You confirmed by email on 30 July that you wanted the decision of IPSO’s Executive to reject your complaint to be reviewed by the Complaints Committee. That email also explained on what basis you wished the Committee to review your complaint. You were sent an acknowledgment email on 4 August confirming that the Complaints Committee had been asked to review your complaint, and that we would revert to you in due course.

At this point, the Committee were asked to consider your request for review, and were provided with a copy of your original complaint, the email of 23 July from IPSO’s Executive notifying you of its view that your complaint did not raise a possible breach of the code, and your email of 30 July 2015 requesting a review of that decision. You subsequently received an email on 8 September informing you that your request for review had not been successful.

The purpose of a review is for the Committee to review the decision of IPSO’s Executive; this does not generally involve the consideration of new material that has not been seen by the Executive. As a result, even though your email of 8 September was out of time for consideration by the Committee, it would not have made any substantive different to their decision .

If you have any queries about this process, please do get in touch.

Best wishes,

Ciaran Cronin


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 17 September 2015 13:21:07
To: Ciaran.Cronin@ipso.co.uk (ciaran.cronin@ipso.co.uk)
Cc: xavier.bastin@ipso.co.uk (xavier.bastin@ipso.co.uk); telegraphenquiries@telegraph.co.uk

Dear Mr Cronin

Bashar al-Assad’s airmen laugh as they drop barrel bombs on fellow Syrians – The Telegraph, 20 May 2015.

Thank you for the Complaints Committee’s decision of 8 September below, declining to reopen my complaint about the above Telegraph article.

I note that this decision was issued less than three hours after my submission of 8 September (attached) wherein I had responded to IPSO’s Executive’s observation of 23 July that I “do not appear to be in a position to dispute that.. …other sections of the footage had been recently filmed” by presenting a case that the other relevant section of “barrel bomb” footage in the Telegraph’s report was at least as old, and possibly older, than that which I had previously demonstrated had been available on You Tube since 27 October 2012.

I received no acknowledgement of my submission of 8 September, which I appreciate was somewhat untimely.

I note too that the grounds for the committee’s decision no longer include the question of whether “other sections of the footage had been recently filmed” but are instead focussed on Assad’s claim that his forces have never used barrel bombs. (Confusingly, the committee’s decision states that I did not dispute Assad’s assertion. What would be the significance of my having done so? Perhaps this apparent error is an indication of the haste in which the committee’s decision was drafted).

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart


From: Ciaran Cronin (Ciaran.Cronin@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 08 September 2015 10:21:26
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart,

The Complaints Committee has considered your complaint, the email of 23 July 2015 from IPSO’s Executive notifying you of its view that your complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) did not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, as well as your email of 30 July 2015 requesting a review of that decision.

The Committee acknowledged your concern about the publication’s claim that the video footage was new. However, the Committee noted that the article referred to President Assad’s claim that no barrel bombs had ever been used by his forces, an assertion that you did not dispute [sic]. Therefore, the Committee took the view that while the age of the footage would have been relevant to whether President’s Assad’s forces had recently used barrel bombs, it was not relevant to whether President Assad’s forces had ever used such munitions.

The Committee was, therefore, satisfied that your complaint did not raise a possible breach of the Code, and it declined to re-open your complaint.

The Committee would like to thank you for giving it the opportunity to consider your concerns.

Kind regards,

Ciaran Cronin

Ciaran Cronin
Complaints Officer


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 08 September 2015 07:41:29
To: Xavier Bastin (xavier.bastin@ipso.co.uk)

Dear Mr Bastin

I wish to add a further observation to my email of 30 July.You stated in your July 23 response (below) that I “do not appear to be in a position to dispute that the video shown had been newly obtained by al-Jazeera, or that other sections of the footage had been recently filmed”.

As previously noted, I have demonstrated that the sequence at 1 minute 54 seconds (Section B, for ease of reference) in the al-Jazeera report contained in the Telegraph article, in which a crewman lights the fuse on a cigar shaped munition and ejects it overboard, dates from at least 27 October 2012.

The other section at issue is the first 47 seconds of the al-Jazeera report (Section A).Please note that the munitions which appear from 27 to 35 seconds in Section A are identical to those in a video published on You Tube on 13 January 2013. (As well as to those in Tweets cited in my last email).

Please note too that “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses has stated that the devices in the 13 January 2013 You Tube video “appear to be of a similar style to some of the ADIEDs shown in videos on my Youtube ADIED playlist”.

I have noted the videos in this playlist to which Brown Moses most likely refers [1], i.e. those which contain munitions which most closely resemble those in the 13 January 2013 You Tube video (and Section A of the al-Jazeera report). The earliest such video on the playlist dates from 10 September 2012. [2]Notwithstanding this extra submission, I hope to hear back from the Complaints Committee at its earliest convenience. I am sure you will agree that a swift resolution to my complaint is important in order that any retraction or correction by the Telegraph remains timely.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

[1]

Video 27 (29 September 2012)

Video 29 (10 September 2012)

Video 31 (10 October 2012)

Video 32 (12 October 2012)

Video 38 (3 December 2012)

Video 43 (31 December 2012)

Video 49 (18 May 2013)

Video 53 (12 October 2013)

[2] Videos 21-25 in the Brown Moses playlist include the munitions seen in Section B of the al-Jazeera report. (Video 25 in the list contains the same shot of the munition being ejected that is in Section B). All five videos were published on 26 October 2012.

In a 22 December 2013 blog post Brown Moses describes the Section B munitions as “early barrel bombs”. A graphic attributed to Brown Moses’ blog included in a February 2014 article by the Associated Press also describes the Section B munitions as an “early design”.

If the Section B munitions, videos of which were published online on 26 October 2012, are considered “early barrels bombs” and an “early design” by “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses, these designations arguably must also apply to the Section A munitions, videos of which were published online over a month earlier, on 10 September 2012.


From: Xavier Bastin (Xavier.Bastin@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 04 August 2015 08:53:12
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart,

Thank you for your email.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee has been asked to review the Executive’s decision about your complaint on the grounds you provided. We will revert to you in due course.

Kind regards,

Xavier Bastin


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 30 July 2015 13:35:11
To: Xavier.Bastin@ipso.co.uk; inquiries@ipso.co.uk

Dear Mr Bastin

Bashar al-Assad’s airmen laugh as they drop barrel bombs on fellow Syrians – The Telegraph, 20 May 2015

Thank you for your email of 23 July (below) containing the decision of the IPSO Executive to reject my complaint (attached). I wish to request that this decision be reviewed by IPSO’s Complaints Committee on the following grounds:

The decision states:

You said that it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) to describe the footage referred to in the article as “new”. We note your position that some sections of the footage shown had been published some time ago. However you do not appear to be in a position to dispute that the video shown had been newly obtained by al-Jazeera, or that other sections of the footage had been recently filmed. The newspaper was entitled to report Al-Jazeera’s position on the footage, and the article’s description was not misleading.

The Telegraph article does not claim that the footage has been “newly obtained”, it claims straightforwardly that it is “new”. The difference in meaning is self-evident.

Neither does the Telegraph “report Al-Jazeera’s position on the footage”, it simply states that the footage was “obtained by al-Jazeera” and – as is perfectly plain from viewing it – that it “appears to have been shot on a mobile phone inside a Syrian helicopter”.

As you note, I have demonstrated that some of the footage described by the Telegraph as “new” (the scene at 1 minute 54 seconds in which a crewman ejects a munition) has been in circulation since at least October 2012 (see section at 4 minutes 32 seconds).

There is ground for believing that the very similar footage in the first 47 seconds of the al-Jazeera report is of the same vintage.

As noted by a commenter under the Telegraph article, all the footage shares the same “dated quality”. [1]

Moreover, the distinctive cigar-shaped munitions seen at 27 seconds appear identical to those in the 2012 footage, at 1 minute 54 seconds. There are claims that these munitions are in fact IEDs manufactured by the opposition which were captured and re-used by Syrian government forces:

https://twitter.com/2ndNewMoon/status/619561662601916416

https://twitter.com/2ndNewMoon/status/619562939683602432

https://twitter.com/2ndNewMoon/status/625891760984690688

https://twitter.com/KrasserF/status/619210061886410752

If it is the case that the munitions in both scenes were captured from “rebels” by Syrian forces in 2012 or earlier, then it would seem likely that the stock would have been depleted long before the al-Jazeera report was produced. [2]

I assume from the inclusion in the al-Jazeera footage (at 47 seconds onwards) of scenes from the site of a Syrian helicopter which crashed on 22 March this year that a connection is being made between this event and the footage of the aircrew shown in the report.

If the suggestion is that the footage shows the crew of the helicopter which crashed, then this is persuasively refuted by a commenter on another site (search for “JimBeam”) who points out that the crew members seen in the al-Jazeera video are quite different from those featured in (distressing) images and videos posted on Twitter of the captured crew of the crashed helicopter.

If the suggestion is that the footage was obtained from the wreckage of the helicopter, or from captured crewmembers, for example from retrieved mobile phones, then it seems odd that a portion of it has also been available online since October 2012.

If the suggestion is that the footage was obtained from the wreckage of the helicopter, or from captured crewmembers, and that some of it is roughly contemporary with the date of the crash, then it appears we are to believe that the crewmembers carried with them souvenirs of sorties spanning at least a two and a half year period.

None of the above possibilities or sceptical viewpoints were considered in the Telegraph’s report which instead chose to label the al-Jazeera footage straightforwardly as “new” (not “newly-obtained”).

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

[1] Another observer expressly claims that the scene at 27 seconds in the al-Jazeera report (which a recent Channel 4 News report described as “the response” to a “rebel” operation on 9 June 2015) is “old”.

[2] One of the previously cited Twitter correspondents claims that the “material” seen at 27 seconds “was certainly years old”. This could be read either as a reference to the munitions or to the footage.


From: Xavier Bastin (Xavier.Bastin@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 23 July 2015 16:20:07
To: Robert Stuart
Cc: telegraphenquiries@telegraph.co.uk

Dear Mr Stuart,

I write further to our earlier email regarding your complaint about an article headlined “Bashar al-Assad’s airmen laugh as they drop barrel bombs n fellow Syrians”, published by the Daily Telegraph on 20 May 2015.

On receipt of a complaint, IPSO’s Executive reviews it to ensure that it falls within our remit, and discloses a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The Executive has now completed an assessment of your complaint under the terms of the Code. Having considered the points you have raised in full, we have concluded that your complaint does not raise a possible breach of the Code.

You said that it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) to describe the footage referred to in the article as “new”. We note your position that some sections of the footage shown had been published some time ago. However you do not appear to be in a position to dispute that the video shown had been newly obtained by al-Jazeera, or that other sections of the footage had been recently filmed. The newspaper was entitled to report Al-Jazeera’s position on the footage, and the article’s description was not misleading. Further, you did not contend that Philip Hammond’s comments had been mis-reported, and it was not inaccurate to use the tense he did. The newspaper was entitled to report the comments of Philip Hammond about the footage, and doing so did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.

You are entitled to request that the Executive’s decision to reject your complaint be reviewed by IPSO’s Complaints Committee. To do so you will need to write to us within seven days, setting out the reasons why you believe the decision should be reviewed. Please note that we are unable to accept requests for review made more than seven days following the date of this email.

We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider the points you have raised, and have shared this correspondence with the newspaper to make it aware of your concerns.

Best wishes,

Xavier Bastin

Cc Daily Telegraph

Xavier Bastin
Complaints Officer


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 21 July 2015 22:15:57
To: Lauren Hay (lauren.hay@ipso.co.uk)

Dear Ms Hay

Thank you for your email.

I do not know what al Jazeera may have claimed about the footage, only that the Telegraph presents it  as “new”.

I do not contend that the article misreports Philip Hammond. My point is that the inclusion of comments by a prominent politician describing President Assad’s alleged use of “barrel bombs” in the present tense reinforces the impression, plainly stated as fact elsewhere in the article, that the video footage is new.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart
https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/


From: Lauren Hay (Lauren.Hay@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 20 July 2015 12:49:12
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart

I write further to our earlier email.

For the avoidance of confusion, can you confirm whether Al Jazeera has indicated that it had recently obtained the footage?

Can you also confirm whether it is your contention that the article mis-reports comments by Philip Hammond?

I look forward to hearing further from you within the next seven days.

Best wishes

Lauren Hay
Systems Handler


From: Mel Huggett (mel.huggett@ipso.co.uk)
Sent: 20 July 2015 09:55:21
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart

Thank you for contacting the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Your complaint is currently being assessed, and we will be in touch with you again shortly. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions.

Should IPSO decide that your complaint falls outside of our remit, or does not raise a possible breach of the Code, we will write to you to explain why and send a copy of your complaint and our letter to the publication.

Alternatively, if we decide that the concerns you have raised fall within our remit and raise a possible breach of the Code, and you have not previously exhausted the publication’s internal complaints procedures, a copy of your complaint and any other correspondence you have sent to us, including contact information, will be sent to the publication to provide it with the opportunity to resolve the matter directly with you.

A copy of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which is administered by IPSO, can be found at https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/cop.html.

Please note, in addition, the following information about our confidentiality and data protection procedures:

Confidentiality: The system of self-regulation requires good faith on both sides. In order for us to be able to investigate complaints effectively, it is essential that neither party to a complaint, complainant or newspaper/magazine, publishes information which has been provided as part of the investigation – most notably correspondence – without the consent of the other party. Publication, without consent, may affect our ability to continue to deal with a complaint or may be considered when we reach a decision as to whether the Code has been breached. Material provided by both complainants and publications during an investigation must only be used for the purpose of the complaint to us. This will not generally prohibit the publication of any ruling by IPSO on the complaint.

Data protection: By pursuing the complaint, you consent to the processing of any personal data which may be provided for the purposes of dealing with your complaint.

Publication of decisions: Should IPSO’s Complaints Committee be asked, after an investigation of your concerns by IPSO, to decide whether your complaint raises a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, its conclusions will be published. You will be identified as the complainant, unless you have requested to be anonymous, and the Committee has granted the request.

Further information about complaining to IPSO, including a summary of the complaints procedure, can be found at: https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/makeacomplaint.html.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely

Mel Huggett
Systems Handler


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 19 July 2015 14:08:02
To: inquiries@ipso.co.uk (inquiries@ipso.co.uk)

Bashar al-Assad’s airmen laugh as they drop barrel bombs on fellow Syrians – The Telegraph, 20 May 2015

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to complain that the above print and web article breaches Clause 1 of IPSO‘s Editors’ Code of Practice, relating to Accuracy.

The article refers to “New footage obtained by al-Jazeera” in the subheading and states in the first paragraph that “New footage has emerged showing Syrian aircrew using barrel bombs”.

The Telegraph includes the al Jazeera footage in the online version of its article. However the section of the video commencing at 1 minute 54 seconds, in which a crew member uses a cigarette to light the fuse on a long, slender munition which is then ejected overboard, appears at 4 minutes 32 seconds in this You Tube video which was published on 27 October 2012.

At least part of the al Jazeera footage was therefore over two and half years old – and possibly even older – at the time the Telegraph article was published.

Further statements in the Telegraph article suggest that the al Jazeera footage is contemporary:

  • The inclusion of a quote from President Assad from February 2015 denying that his government uses “barrel bombs” indicates that the al Jazeera footage can be considered subsequent evidence countering this claim.
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is quoted saying of the al Jazeera footage: “It shows the casual and indiscriminate way in which Syrian regime forces are dropping these horrific weapons out of helicopters onto civilians below. For months we have seen reports of barrel bombs hitting hospitals and schools, killing thousands.” The use of present tenses (“are dropping”, “have seen”) strongly indicates that the al Jazeera footage is to be understood as depicting current events.

Yours faithfully

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

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