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

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

See also: IPSO rejects Telegraph “new” “barrel bomb” footage complaint

The below correspondence relates to the Channel 4 News web article Syria: living under the horrors of barrel bombs in Aleppo published on 10 June 2015. 

I have received no reply to my email of 21 October 2015, in which I asked Mr Fraser how I might formally pursue a request that the text of the web article be amended to reflect the considerable uncertainty over the vintage of barrel bomb footage which Channel 4 News continues to describe as “recent”.

Should further evidence casting doubt on Channel 4’s claim be required, note the shot of fuse wick barrel bombs from 6 seconds in this video (see screengrab below), published on You Tube on 23 August 2012 – over a month earlier than the oldest video of this type of munition that I had previously identified in my correspondence with Mr Fraser. These munitions – here in the hands of opposition group Lions of Tawheed – are identical to those which feature in video described in the Channel 4 News web article as “footage of recent barrel bomb attacks” and by Mr Fraser (23 July 2015, below) as “new footage not seen before”.

Interestingly, it appears that the text of the Channel 4 News website is not regulated by any external body. Ofcom does not cover complaints about TV or radio station websites. Neither does such material fall within the remit of IPSO, the “independent regulator for the newspaper and magazine industry” (the person to whom I spoke at IPSO confessed this was “a grey area”).

As complaints to Ofcom regarding broadcast material must be made within 20 working days, it is also now no longer possible to pursue issues relating to the video report incorporated in the web article, which was shown on the Channel 4 News of 10 June 2015. As this report is not deemed to fall in the category of “video on demand” it is also not regulated by ATVOD (whose functions will be undertaken by Ofcom after 31 December 2015).

Scroll down for earliest correspondence 


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 21 October 2015 17:08:02
To: ed.fraser@itn.co.uk
Cc: news@channel4.com; jon.snow@itn.co.uk; krishnan@channel4.com; cathy.newman@itn.co.uk; alex.thomson@itn.co.uk

Dear Mr Fraser

Thank you for your reply of 14 October.

It seems you now concede that there is doubt over the date of the footage in question (albeit the phrase “precise dates” does rather suggest that the uncertainty is perhaps over a matter of days rather than, as is likely, years). [1]

I would be grateful if you could explain why, in addition to a note in your archive, it is not possible for a caveat to be included in the Channel 4 News web article itself. If I wished to formally pursue a request to this effect, how would I proceed?

[1] In a post of 8 July 2015 “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses describes how in late 2013 “there was a significant change in the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian military” away from the earlier designs which employed “crude wick fuses” (ie the type which features in your report) to a much larger design with three tailfins and a metal impact plate fuse. This design “appears to have replaced all earlier designs of barrel bombs across Syria”. The post goes on to note that in April 2014 “a new type of barrel bomb” which features “the addition of a gas cylinder inside the bomb” was used.

This seems to make it plain that the fuse wick design of barrel bomb which features in the footage described in your report as “recent” is indeed long redundant and at least two design stages earlier than at least one type which has more recently been used in Syria.


From:  ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
Sent: 14 October 2015 14:21:31
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart

Thank you for your emails of 24 September and 7 October 2015.

We have given this matter further consideration and note the point raised that you consider the footage shows an early design of barrel bomb and therefore you believe the footage was not recent.

We take your point seriously. It is clear you have a specific interest in the area being reported. The editorial team have been made aware of your views about the footage. We are always willing to listen to different perspectives and points that challenge what we report. This is a helpful part of the editorial process and we intend to mark the footage in our archive so that anyone seeing this footage is aware there was an issue raised questioning the precise dates when this footage was filmed.

We hope that you can also see the issue from our perspective. There are very difficult reporting conditions in Syria. We have recently reported from inside Syria when Lindsey Hilsum travelled with the permission to Damascus and some selected areas outside the capital but this is not a free reign to travel anywhere within this war torn country.  It must be noted we are not able to report from the ground in the normal way and thus you will understand determining the full facts presents many challenges that we work hard to overcome. We use best endeavours to ensure our reporting is accurate at all times.

Please continue to write to us if you believe that what is reported is open to question. Such input is very helpful for our editorial process and editorial decision-making.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Fraser

Managing Editor

Channel 4 News


From:  ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
Sent: 12 October 2015 17:15:53
To: Robert Stuart

Mr Stuart

I will come back to you on this.

Ed Fraser


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 07 October 2015 12:14:25
To: ed.fraser@itn.co.uk
Cc: news@channel4.com; jon.snow@itn.co.uk; krishnan@channel4.com; cathy.newman@itn.co.uk; alex.thomson@itn.co.uk

Dear Mr Fraser

I would be grateful for a reply to my email of 24 September.

My opinion that the munitions in your broadcast appear to have fuses is shared by the author of the Telegraph article of 20 May 2015 (Report 3) who writes that this section of footage “shows an airman crouching inside a Syrian military helicopter, chatting to his neighbour as he lights the fuse of a barrel bomb”.

As I observe at footnote [2] of the attached PDF, a graphic attributed to the website of “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses entitled “What is a barrel bomb?”states that “Early designs used fuse wicks”. This would seem a very strong indication that your footage shows an early design of barrel bomb and is therefore not “recent” as the Channel 4 News website continues to claim or “new” as you state below.

You write “I can assure you we take feedback seriously”. I trust you will demonstrate this by responding to my concerns now.

Yours sincerely,


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 24 September 2015 14:40:40
To: ed.fraser@itn.co.uk
Cc: news@channel4.com; jon.snow@itn.co.uk; krishnan@channel4.com; cathy.newman@itn.co.uk; alex.thomson@itn.co.uk

The material below was submitted as a PDF attachment

Dear Mr Fraser

Thank you for your response of 23 July 2015 to my complaint of 7 July.

For ease of reference I shall follow your numbering of the relevant reports:

You write:

The footage inside a helicopter seen in both reports 1 and 2 was recently identified as new footage not seen before and we have no reason to believe it is anything other than that. We have spoken with our expert in video verification from this region and he is firmly of this view.

This image is from 34 seconds in Report 2:

Picture1
http://www.channel4.com/news/barrel-bombs-syria-assad-aleppo-deraa-idlib-civilian-deaths (Report 2)

The munitions in the above scene appear identical to those in this video published on You Tube on 13 January 2013:

Picture2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ7UZX2mUGQ (Published 13 January 2013)

Brown Moses, whom Channel 4 News describes as a “respected weapons blogger”, states here 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 from this playlist to which Brown Moses most likely refers [1], i.e. those which show munitions most closely resembling those in the 13 January 2013 You Tube video (and hence also resemble those in Channel 4 News’ Reports 1 and 2). The earliest such video on the playlist (video 29) was published on 10 September 2012:

Picture5
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1YgzazE6Xw&list=PLPC0Udeof3T7JqsCa586FSo7QoQYycP-1&index=29 (Video 29 in the Brown Moses ADIED playlist, published 10 September 2012)

The somewhat more slender munitions which appear in the 27 October 2012 You Tube video (Report 4) and at 1 minute 54 seconds in the al-Jazeera/Telegraph report (Report 3) are of the type which can be seen in videos 21-25 in the Brown Moses playlist. (Video 25 on the playlist contains the same shot of one of these slimmer munitions being ejected from a helicopter that is included in Reports 3 and 4). All five of these videos (21 – 25) were published on 26 October 2012.

Picture3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HkxIVXN9Ds (Report 4)

Picture4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4_NmRgsJAc&list=PLPC0Udeof3T7JqsCa586FSo7QoQYycP-1&index=21  (Video 21 in the Brown Moses ADIED playlist).

In a 22 December 2013 post on the Brown Moses blog, Richard M. Lloyd, Warhead Technology Consultant at Tesla Laboratories Inc., describes this more slender design as an “early barrel bomb”:

Picture5
http://brown-moses.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/syrias-barrel-bomb-technology-relative.html (Richard M. Lloyd: “early barrel bomb”)

A graphic attributed to Brown Moses’ blog featured in a February 2014 Associated Press article similarly describes this slimmer type of munition as an “earlier bomb design”:

Picture7 Picture8
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/shocking-video-shows-barrel-bomb-attack-on-syria-which-killed-at-least-11-including-children

If this (slimmer) type of munition, several videos of which were published on You Tube on 26 October 2012, is considered by Warhead Technology Consultant Richard M. Lloyd  as an “early barrel bomb” and by “respected weapons blogger” Brown Moses an “earlier bomb design”, then the (somewhat broader) munitions which are featured in Channel 4 News’ reports 1 and 2, videos of which type certainly date from 13 January 2013 and possibly from 10 September 2012, would seem to have an approximately equal, and quite possibly a stronger claim to the status of “early barrel bomb” and “earlier bomb design”. [2]

I therefore remain unpersuaded that the footage shot inside a helicopter which featured in the Channel 4 News report of 10 June 2015 is, as claimed in the caption of Report 2 , “recent”, and, as you claim in your reply to me, “new footage”.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

[1]

Video 27 (Published 29 September 2012)

Video 29 (Published 10 September 2012)

Video 31 (Published 10 October 2012)

Video 32 (Published 12 October 2012)

Video 38 (Published 3 December 2012)

Video 43 (Published 31 December 2012)

Video 49 (Published 18 May 2013)

Video 53 (Published 12 October 2013)

[2] Note too that the graphic attributed to Brown Moses states that “Early designs used fuse wicks”; a Reddit post of 30 March 2015 similarly observes that “early barrel bombs had actual fuses that had to be lit by hand”. The munitions seen aboard helicopters in Reports 1, 2, 3 and 4 all appear to have fuses which are lit by crew members.


From: ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
Sent: 23 July 2015 13:54:25
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart

Thank you for taking the time to write to us regarding this broadcast on Channel 4 News.  I am now in a position to respond. I apologise for the slight delay in responding to your complaint which has only recently been brought to my attention.

There are a number of reports in issue here. The Channel 4 News/ Youtube report (report 1) concerned many matters relating to the conflict in Syria including the fact that troops of President al Assad were losing territory, barrel bombing by President al Assad’s troops on civilian areas and an interview about the reality of living under the threat of a barrel bomb. There was reference to an incident in May 2015 where a primary school was hit by a barrel bomb. Footage was also shown of fighting with the so-called Islamic State. Reference is also made to President Al Assad’s possible exile in Russia.

The report on the Channel 4 News website (report 2) was slightly different. The report included footage that was not voiced . The report is accompanied by written text about barrel bombing and concerns raised by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and Amnesty International.

The footage inside a helicopter seen in both reports 1 and 2 was recently identified as new footage not seen before and we have no reason to believe it is anything other than that. We have spoken with our expert in video verification from this region and he is firmly of this view.

Neither report 1 or 2 uses the footage at 1:54 of the Telegraph report (report 3) or the footage on the Youtube report (report 4) that  you refer to. That is different footage so I can see where this confusion may arise.  On that footage our expert confirms your view that the other picture contained within the Telegraph item is old footage – which we believe we have previously used ourselves in the past.

As for the wording in report 1 the use of the word “response” referred to the words immediately preceding: “ the government which has been rapidly losing territory”. The footage showed how the government responded to losing territory – by barrel bombing.  The report was an examination of the broad tactic of barrel bombing.  While specific incidents were described, the thrust of the report as a whole was to describe the tactics used and the fear which barrel bombs instil in populations in rebel held areas. However we note the point made about the wording and recognise that, with hindsight , it may have been preferable to preface the word “response” with the word “usual” or “typical” to make this clearer.

We are grateful to you for your communication. Our editorial team have been made aware of your concerns.

On behalf of Channel 4 News I can assure you we take feedback seriously.

Yours sincerely

Ed Fraser

Managing Editor

Channel 4 News

ED FRASER
MANAGING EDITOR, CHANNEL 4 NEWS

200 GRAY’S INN ROAD
LONDON
WC1X 8XZ
UNITED KINGDOM
T +44 207 430 4257
E ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
www.channel4.com/news


From: ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
Sent: 16 July 2015 16:20:32
To: Robert Stuart

Dear Mr Stuart

I apologise for the delay in responding to you.  We shall investigate this matter and come back to you.

Best wishes

Ed Fraser

ED FRASER
MANAGING EDITOR, CHANNEL 4 NEWS

200 GRAY’S INN ROAD
LONDON
WC1X 8XZ
UNITED KINGDOM
T +44 207 430 4257
E ED.FRASER@ITN.CO.UK
www.channel4.com/news


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 15 July 2015 10:20:36
To: news@channel4.com
Cc: jon.snow@itn.co.uk; krishnan@channel4.com; cathy.newman@itn.co.uk; alex.thomson@itn.co.uk; lindsey.hilsum@itn.co.uk

Dear Sir or Madam

I am very surprised to have received no response to my email of 7 July (below).

When I used this email address to contact Channel 4 News on a separate matter in January 2014 I received a reply from the Managing Editor the same day.

Please treat the below as a formal complaint and kindly acknowledge receipt.

Yours faithfully

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/


From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 07 July 2015 22:27:02
To: news@channel4.com
Cc: jon.snow@itn.co.uk; krishnan@channel4.com; cathy.newman@itn.co.uk; alex.thomson@itn.co.uk

Syria: living under the horrors of barrel bombs in Aleppo, Channel 4 News, 10 June 2015 

Dear Sir or Madam

I wish to raise concerns regarding the above Channel 4 News report.

The first video on the Channel 4 News webpage above is captioned “amateur footage of recent barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo and Deraa”. At 34 seconds there is a shot of two men aboard a helicopter, one of whom appears to take a cigarette from the mouth of the other which he uses to light the fuse on a munition which they then both push overboard.

The same scene appears at 23 seconds in the second, longer report on your webpage, at the conclusion of the following narration:

“Sweets for the Syrian rebels yesterday after they drove out Bashar Al Assad’s troops from the Brigade 52 base in Deraa. It’s another setback for the government which has been rapidly losing territory. Syrian air force video online shows the response: they drop four barrel bombs, which hit not only rebel positions but civilians.”  

This clearly indicates that the scenes of the two men pushing the munition out of the helicopter took place shortly after the “rebel” victory in Deraa, which you inform viewers occurred on Tuesday 9 June 2015, and to which the images you show were “the response”.

A portion of the same footage of the same two men is included at 27 seconds in video “obtained by Al Jazeera” embedded in a Daily Telegraph article of 20 May.

However, another portion of the Al Jazeera/Telegraph footage – the section at 1:54 where a crewmember uses a cigarette to light the fuse on a long, slender munition which is then ejected overboard – appears at 4:32 in this You Tube videowhich was published on 27 October 2012.

It would seem very likely that the Al Jazeera footage presented by the Telegraph is all of the same vintage, i.e. around two and half years prior to the Telegraph’s and to your report – and quite possibly even older.

Are you able to provide an assurance that the footage of the two airmen featured in your 10 June report is, as you claim, “recent” and specifically that it represents, as you claim, “the response” to the capture of the Syrian army’s Brigade 52 base on Tuesday 9 June 2015?

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

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