BBC rejects ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Freedom of Information request

BBC Information Policy & Compliance has rejected my 16-point request for documents pertaining to Saving Syria’s Children and related BBC News reports on the grounds that:

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

Media Lens observes that the exemption of BBC News editorial decision-making from the Freedom of Information Act “is a longstanding, fundamental barrier to making @BBCNews accountable.”

I have lodged an appeal against the BBC’s decision with the Information Commissioner.

I presented a summary of my concerns regarding Saving Syria’s Children to Jeremy Corbyn MP on 16 December 2015.   


Information Policy & Compliance

bbc.co.uk/foi   bbc.co.uk/privacy

Robert Stuart

26th January 2016

Dear Mr. Stuart

Freedom of Information request – RFI20160158

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 14th January 2016, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“ I wish to request under the Freedom of Information Act the following documents relating to the September 2013 BBC One Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (SSC) and related BBC News reports. 1. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports relating to the commissioning, planning and production of SSC. 2. All subsequent internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to SSC and related BBC News reports. 3. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports. 4. All video footage shot by Mohammed Abdullatif [1] of the aftermath of the alleged incendiary attack on “The Iqraa Institute”, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria, on 26 August 2013, sections of which were broadcast in SSC and related BBC News reports. 5. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on 26 August 2013, retaining time codes. 6. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on a subsequent visit to “The Iqraa Institute”, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria on 28 August 2013, retaining time codes. 7. All correspondence between BBC personnel and the personnel, executives and trustees of the charity Hand in Hand for Syria during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 8. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Dr Saleyha Ahsan during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 9. All correspondence between BBC personnel and SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 10. Recordings or transcripts of interviews with members of the SSC team conducted by the BBC Trust Unit’s Independent Editorial Adviser (IEA). [2] 11. A recording or transcript of the IEA’s interview with freelance journalist Paul Adrian Raymond. [3] 12. All other recordings or transcripts, correspondence, documents and reports pertaining to investigations and deliberations at Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the BBC complaints process in respect of complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports. 13. All correspondence between BBC personnel, including SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif, and the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital in Antakya, Turkey, relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the unit. [4] 14. All correspondence between the BBC’s Istanbul Producer and Turkish health officials relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital. [5] 15. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in respect of the alleged incidents of 26 August 2013, including the chain of correspondence between the BBC and HRW commencing on 29 August 2013 and any appended reports and the IEA’s correspondence with the Advocacy Director of HRW’s Arms Division. [6] 16. All correspondence between BBC personnel and UK and foreign state agencies relating to the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.

[1] Mr Abdullatif is identified as the cameraman by Ian Pannell at 3 minutes 25 seconds in this BBC World Service report https://soundcloud.com/bbc-world-service/another-horrific-attack-in-a

[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.1

The limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters was to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.

That said, the BBC makes a huge range of information available about our programmes and content on bbc.co.uk. We also proactively publish information covered by the Act on our publication scheme and regularly handle requests for information under the Act.

Appeal Rights

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF, tel: 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or 01625 545 745 (national rate) or see http://www.ico.gov.uk/

Please note that should the Information Commissioner’s Office decide that the Act does cover this information, exemptions under the Act might then apply.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Hayes
BBC News Division


1 For more information about how the Act applies to the BBC please see the enclosure which follows this letter. Please note that this guidance is not intended to be a comprehensive legal interpretation of how the Act applies to the BBC.


Freedom of Information

From January 2005 the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities. The Act also sets out exemptions from that right and places a number of obligations on public authorities. The term “public authority” is defined in the Act; it includes all public bodies and government departments in the UK. The BBC, Channel 4, S4C and MG Alba are the only broadcasting organisations covered by the Act.

Application to the BBC

The BBC has a long tradition of making information available and accessible. It seeks to be open and accountable and already provides the public with a great deal of information about its activities. BBC Audience Services operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week handling telephone and written comments and queries, and the BBC’s website bbc.co.uk provides an extensive online information resource.

It is important to bear this in mind when considering the Freedom of Information Act and how it applies to the BBC. The Act does not apply to the BBC in the way it does to most public authorities in one significant respect. It recognises the different position of the BBC (as well as Channel 4 and S4C) by saying that it covers information “held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. This means the Act does not apply to information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output (TV, radio, online etc), or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

A great deal of information within this category is currently available from the BBC and will continue to be so. If this is the type of information you are looking for, you can check whether it is available on the BBC’s website bbc.co.uk or contact BBC Audience Services.

The Act does apply to all of the other information we hold about the management and running of the BBC.

The BBC

The BBC’s aim is to enrich people’s lives with great programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain. It broadcasts radio and television programmes on analogue and digital services in the UK. It delivers interactive services across the web, television and mobile devices. The BBC’s online service is one of Europe’s most widely visited content sites. Around the world, international multimedia broadcaster BBC World Service delivers a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices, together with BBC World News, the commercially-funded international news and information television channel.

The BBC’s remit as a public service broadcaster is defined in the BBC Charter and Agreement. It is the responsibility of the BBC Trust (the sovereign body within the BBC) to ensure that the organisation delivers against this remit by setting key objectives, approving strategy and policy, and monitoring and assessing performance. The Trustees also safeguard the BBC’s independence and ensure the Corporation is accountable to its audiences and to Parliament.

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Complaint to BBC: old footage used in 2016 Madaya report

Submitted via BBC Complaints webform

Dear Sir / Madam

Syrian government ‘to let aid into besieged Madaya’ – BBC News, 7 January 2016

As evidenced by the copy below [1], at 50 seconds in the original version of the above BBC report a young man is shown passionately addressing cameras as Jim Muir’s narration states:

“Back in October when the last food got in things were already bad enough.”

However the scenes of the young man date from at least July 2014, when the You Tube video below was uploaded. Further, the title of this video claims that the scenes were shot in Yarmouk refugee camp, not Madaya.

Picture1crop

Screengrab showing date of upload to You Tube of scenes featuring young man

I note that some scenes, including those of the young man, have been removed from the version of the report which is now available on the BBC website.

Please can you explain how the scenes of the young man came to accompany narration describing the situation in Madaya in October 2015 and why the subsequent re-editing of the report has not been acknowledged on the BBC website.

Yours faithfully

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

[1] A copy of the original report is also saved here.


The BBC’s response is here.

Further questions surrounding Ian Pannell’s Syria coverage

The below material, which has been provided to me by its author, discusses two 2012 BBC news reports from Syria by Ian Pannell, prior to Pannell’s highly questionable 2013 BBC Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children.


A REPORT by [name supplied] ACCUSING THE BBC OF BREACHING SECTION 11 (WAR, TERROR AND EMERGENCIES) OF THE BBC’s EDITORIAL GUIDELINES

The two videos being reported here have not been specially selected, they both appeared on the BBC website within hours of each other on the 25th and 26th June 2012.

They are typical of most videos being fed to the UK public by the BBC on the Syrian crisis. These are both from embedded reporter Ian Pannell who has little regard for peace-loving Syrians who support their homeland army and no doubt have sons and daughters serving in that army.

Video 1 – “’Deadly cycle of bloodshed’ in Syria”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18603713

Using the picture of an injured child on the video link will no doubt raise its “hit-rate”. It is no doubt designed to upset those who want to believe that an eight year old child was deliberately targeted by a gunship helicopter shown in the opening of the clip.

Picture1

The video and narrative claim that a “shell” fired by Syrian government forces hit the bedroom where six children were in bed, killing one and injuring the others.

You will note from the screen capture below that the “shell” did not penetrate the roof . The iron reinforcement bars can be clearly seen bridging the hole. Even the chandelier is still in place and relatively undamaged. Not being a military person, I cannot suggest what made that hole.

Picture15

The only blood visible in the bedroom was on the curtain.

Picture16

The blood could have come from a rebel fighter hit by a bullet entering the window rather than one of the boys allegedly laying on the bed. This is more than likely because two army sandbags can be seen in the room and may have been used to support heavy weapons. Then there’s the question: “Where did all the debris on the staircase come from?”

Picture17

Clearly a wall or roof had been blown out, but the bedroom was hardly damaged.

The bedroom looks like one belonging to a wealthy family. It could be the master bedroom with a cot in the corner or a young girl’s bedroom with a doll’s cot in the corner. Either way it doesn’t give the appearance of a bedroom normally inhabited by six boys. So if they were there, why?

It is also difficult to believe that the father of these boys owned the house. His appearance and demeanour is not, in my opinion, in keeping with the lush interior.

Picture4

Did the father and his six boys live in this house?

Picture5

The video narrative said the children were taken to a secret location (shown below) because if taken to a hospital they would be arrested. Even so, it’s hard to believe that a father would not hesitate to do so.

Picture6

One child had what appeared to be a serious head injury and shrapnel wounds. But not the type of injury associated with falling debris.

Picture7

So where did these shrapnel wounds come from? He must have been close to an explosive device when it went off, but definitely not in “his” bedroom.

Any father who loved his children would take them to hospital and face any consequences later. No mention in the report was made as to why his family should fear arrest. Unless of course he was using his home and children as a human shield for the rebels to attack the Syrian army.

Then there’s the testament of the young boy who was constantly looking up (probably at a rebel fighter) and saying the right words at the right time and crying on demand.

“The Syrian army did this to me” the little boy says, and the commentary follows with “ and the rebels vow revenge as they plan to raid an army base”.

The video then switches to the rebel army. They are shown heavily armed with RPGs, grenades and home-made pipe bombs designed to kill and maim indiscriminately. Possibly breaching Protocol II: Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices

Picture8

Picture9

Picture10

Picture11

Home-made pipe bombs and hand-grenades are part of their armoury.

Picture12

After the now familiar and obligatory speech by the rebel army commander claiming there has been many massacres here of old men, women and children, the footage follows the rebel army towards its planned raid.

Approaching their target (the base of the Syrian army) they prematurely announce their presence by opening fire too early and spoil the intended massacre of homeland troops.

Gunfire erupts and street battles commence but the Syrian Army doesn’t appear to “be at home”. The rebels continue into the area. They fire rounds upon rounds around corners then fire at buildings but don’t appear to have anything to aim at.

It looks like an exercise. There is no indication of any response from the Syrian Army. Ian Pannell says “the rebel plan failed because the shooting broke out early, the base responded with heavy weapons, as you heard”. It is hard to follow Ian’s understanding of events because contrary to his narrative NO heavy weapons were shown to been or heard to have been fired at the rebels. In fact ALL the noise was coming from rebel RPGs. The middle-aged man dressed in casual clothes was particularly cool and active. Shown initially drawing a pin from a hand grenade or priming a pipe bomb – then …cut. He is not shown throwing it but I’m sure he didn’t hang-on to it.

Picture13

Next clip shows him on one knee firing a RPG then standing up and running back shouting orders.

Picture14

During the attack thousands of rounds were fired at surrounding buildings but seemingly without any specific target. In fact it looked more like a residential area than an army base. The RPGs must have damaged a lot of buildings, some of which may have been inhabited.

Maybe Ian (or UN peacekeepers) could return to the scene. They may find a few dead women and children, but that would not be reported would it?

Video 2 – “Evolving tactics of Syrian rebels”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18580029

This report REALLY puts the BBC to shame in the face of the world and in my opinion makes Ian Pannell complicite to a war crime. He is shown practically gloating over the laying an IED designed to murder entrapped homeland troops and any civilians in the immediate area.

The laying and activating of IEDs breaches Geneva Convention.Protocol II: Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices.

I sincerely hope that somebody within the BBC hierarchy with an ounce of integrity will demand a change in course before the BBC are shown to be the USA/Israeli puppets as so often accused.

[Name and address supplied]

Saving Syria’s Children: Freedom of Information request

On 26 January 2016 BBC Information Policy & Compliance rejected this request in its entirety. I have lodged an appeal with the Information Commissioner.


foi@bbc.co.uk

14 January 2016

Dear Sir / Madam

Freedom of Information Request:

I wish to request under the Freedom of Information Act the following documents relating to the September 2013 BBC One Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (SSC) and related BBC News reports.

  1. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports relating to the commissioning, planning and production of SSC.
  2. All subsequent internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to SSC and related BBC News reports.
  3. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports.
  4. All video footage shot by Mohammed Abdullatif [1] of the aftermath of the alleged incendiary attack on “The Iqraa Institute“, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria, on 26 August 2013, sections of which were broadcast in SSC and related BBC News reports.
  5. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on 26 August 2013, retaining time codes.
  6. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on a subsequent visit to “The Iqraa Institute”, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria on 28 August 2013, retaining time codes.
  7. All correspondence between BBC personnel and the personnel, executives and trustees of the charity Hand in Hand for Syria during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.
  8. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Dr Saleyha Ahsan during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.
  9. All correspondence between BBC personnel and SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.
  10. Recordings or transcripts of interviews with members of the SSC team conducted by the BBC Trust Unit’s Independent Editorial Adviser (IEA). [2]
  11. A recording or transcript of the IEA’s interview with freelance journalist Paul Adrian Raymond. [3]
  12. All other recordings or transcripts, correspondence, documents and reports pertaining to investigations and deliberations at Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the BBC complaints process in respect of complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports.
  13. All correspondence between BBC personnel, including SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif, and the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital in Antakya, Turkey, relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the unit. [4]
  14. All correspondence between the BBC’s Istanbul Producer and Turkish health officials relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital. [5]
  15. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in respect of the alleged incidents of 26 August 2013, including the chain of correspondence between the BBC and HRW commencing on 29 August 2013 and any appended reports and the IEA’s correspondence with the Advocacy Director of HRW’s Arms Division. [6]
  16. All correspondence between BBC personnel and UK and foreign state agencies relating to the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.

Yours faithfully

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

[1] Mr Abdullatif is identified as the cameraman by Ian Pannell at 3 minutes 25 seconds in this BBC World Service report https://soundcloud.com/bbc-world-service/another-horrific-attack-in-a

[2] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

[3] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

[4] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

[5] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

[6] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/