Appeal to Information Commissioner re: BBC rejection of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ FOI request

From:  Robert Stuart
Sent: 11 February 2016 12:09:06
To: casework@ico.org.uk

Freedom of Information request – RFI20160158 (BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’)

Dear Sir / Madam

I wish to appeal against the BBC’s rejection of my request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for documents pertaining to the September 2013 BBC One Panorama programme ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and related BBC News reports.

I understand the BBC’s reports to have contravened Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states:

  1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
  2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

I believe that the BBC’s rejection of my request represents an obstruction to the pursuit of a prosecution under the covenant, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

I have previously communicated my concerns regarding ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ to the Metropolitan Police.

Yours faithfully

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

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Charity Commission: opposition logo and bloodthirsty slogan are “historical issues” for Syria charity

Please note these related posts:


The Charity Commission has determined that a complaint about the UK registered charity Hand in Hand for Syria, drawing attention to issues including the posting on Facebook by Hand in Hand’s co-founder and chairman Faddy Sahloul of the slogan “WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES”, does not “raise sufficient concern, or represent a significant or on-going risk in relation to the Charity that would warrant or justify regulatory action at this time.”

A review by the Commission’s Investigations Monitoring and Enforcement section (reproduced in full below) has found that the posting by Mr Sahloul on his personal Facebook page of “a political statement that potentially promoted violence against the Assad regime” [1], and which was “liked” by Mr Sahloul’s fellow Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder and trustee Fadi Al-Dairi, along with the charity’s original use of the Syrian opposition flag as its logo, are “historical issues that have since been addressed by the trustees”.

Hand in Hand for Syria amended its logo in 2014. Mr Sahloul deleted his Facebook banner image in July of the same year, shortly after it had been commented on below a Guardian article about the charity.

fsfbbanner

Facebook banner of Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder Faddy Sahloul, deleted July 2014


Picture3b

Mr Sahloul’s bloodthirsty slogan was “liked” by his fellow Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder and trustee Fadi Al-Dairi


The complaint also drew the Commission’s attention to photographs of a nurse wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic and apparently treating a child combatant. One of these images had been posted on a Syrian opposition website in celebration of the child’s “service” in the “revolutionary movement”. This material was not considered “sufficient verifiable evidence to substantiate… …concerns” that Hand in Hand for Syria “is celebrating or supporting violence”.

The Facebook account which hosted the images of the nurse – who had previously appeared in a BBC documentary featuring Hand in Hand for Syria – along with other shocking images of child fighters, several of whom had apparently been “martyred”, has been deleted subsequent to the commencement of the Commission’s enquiry. [2]

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=331960330291532&set=pcb.331962803624618&type=1&theater

A nurse wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic (the word “Hand” is visible upon enlarging the image) appears to treat a child combatant. The text accompanying the image on this site explicitly celebrates the child’s military prowess: http://slnnews.co/?p=2578


handinhandlogoontunic_.jpg

The word “HAND” is visible on the nurse’s tunic.


Nurse2

The same nurse (centre) appeared alongside Hand in Hand for Syria executive Dr Rola Hallam (left) and former British Army captain, freelance filmmaker, BBC presenter and Hand in Hand for Syria volunteer Dr Saleyha Ahsan (right) in scenes filmed at Hand in Hand for Syria’s Atareb Hospital in Aleppo and broadcast in the 2013 BBC Panorama special ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.


An image of the same nurse has been used to promote a Hand in Hand for Syria fundraising campaign


With regard to the information that the father of Hand in Hand for Syria executive member Dr Rola Hallam, Dr. Mousa al-Kurdi, is “involved politically with the Syrian National Council”, the Commission states that it:

does not consider, irrespective of whether or not it is true, that this either proves or demonstrates a risk that the Charity is operating for a political purpose, or that any undue political influence is or has been placed on the Charity.

While concluding that it does “not consider that it would be reasonable or proportionate to further pursue the specific issues raised within this complaint”, the Commission notes:

We will however engage with the trustees of the Charity to provide some general advice and guidance in relation to some of the wider issues that your complaint has raised.

Full text of the Commission’s review below


Charity Commission
PO Box 211
Liverpool L20 7YX

Twitheld upon request

Our ref: C-422596-R6Y5

Date: 05/02/2016

 

Dear Mr Stuart

Hand in Hand for Syria (1145862)

I write further to your previous correspondence and subsequent exchanges with the Commission regarding the complaint you have made in relation to the registered Charity ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’ (‘the Charity’). I apologise for the length of time that it has taken for us to provide you with a response; it has taken some time to receive and review all of the necessary information in order to allow us to fully assess the complaint and consider whether any regulatory action is required.

As previously explained, as you did not raise your concerns directly with the Charity, as is your choice to do so, the Commission conveyed the substance of the complaint to the trustees and afforded them the opportunity to respond to this.

The Charity Commission

The Charity Commission (‘the Commission’) is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. Its job as regulator is to ensure that charities are accountable, well run and meet their legal obligations. Its work means that the public can be confident about giving their support to charities and beneficiaries can have confidence about the services they receive.

Charities are independent organisations run by trustees; they play an important part in our society and many of us are involved with them, as trustees, volunteers, through using their services or as donors. Occasionally people have cause to complain about charities and look to the Commission as the regulator to take up their complaints.

The Commission does not act as a complaints service looking at all complaints on behalf of complainants. It assesses and identifies if there is a regulatory issue or concern that requires its involvement. The Commission will only intervene if it determines that there is a sufficient regulatory concern which suggests misconduct and/or mismanagement within the administration of the Charity or a risk to its property.

Not all complaints will fall into this serious risk category and consequently the Commission will not always become involved in every problem or dispute that arises or is brought to its attention.

Complaint about the Charity

You have raised a number of issues in respect of the Charity. Specifically, you raised concerns; regarding the personal Facebook page of one of the Charity trustees, wherein an image posted in 2014 included a political statement that potentially promoted violence against the Assad regime; that a web article celebrating the battle prowess of a child combatant featured a photograph of a nurse, working for the Charity, who was providing medical attention to the child in question; that the Charity’s original logo (subsequently amended in 2014) was based on the flag adopted by the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council; that the father of an executive member of the team is involved politically in the Syrian National Council.

Having also considered the additional information that you provided alongside your complaint, the Commission understands that the issues raised in relation to the Charity fall within a number of wider concerns that you hold, originally stemming from the BBC Panorama Programme ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ broadcast on 30 September 2013, and two related BBC News Programmes on 29 August 2013 and 30 September 2013. The Commission understands that you have engaged with both the BBC (Editorial Complaints Unit, the BBC Trust and the Editorial Standards Committee) and Ofcom in relation to your concerns about these programmes, and as part of our assessment and wider context we have also considered the outcomes of these appeals.

It is not for the Commission to comment on the wider issues that you have in relation to these programmes, other than those that you have also raised with the Commission that directly relate to the Charity.

Please note that I have not considered your comments in relation to ‘Shelterbox’ and a comment attributed to its staff, as these have previously been addressed and clarified by the Commission and communicated to you. [3]

Assessment of complaint

The Commission has now completed its review of your complaint; in doing so we have considered the specific issues that you raised with regard to the Charity as well as the additional information provided to support your complaint. As previously explained, the Commission considers that it is fair and appropriate to provide trustees of a charity an opportunity to offer explanation or the right of reply to any complaints made against them. In this instance the Commission sought information from the Charity in relation to these specific issues, and we have therefore also considered the trustees’ response in forming our assessment of the complaint and response to it.

The Commission notes that two of the concerns raised within the complaint relate to historical issues that have since been addressed by the trustees. The Commission understands that the photograph on the personal Facebook page was removed in July 2014; similarly we are aware that the Charity took proactive steps to amend their logo in 2014. The Commission is not aware of any further concerns or complaints in relation to these issues or any similar issues, and we are therefore satisfied that they do not represent a present or on-going concern in relation to the Charity.

You have raised concerns about a nurse working for the Charity appearing to attend to a child combatant, with the implication being that the Charity is celebrating or supporting violence. Having reviewed the material that you have provided in relation to this, and from our own enquiries, the Commission is not satisfied that there is sufficient verifiable evidence to substantiate your concerns in this regard.

With regard to the claim that the father of an executive member of the Charity is involved in the Syrian National Council, the Commission does not consider, irrespective of whether or not it is true, that this either proves or demonstrates a risk that the Charity is operating for a political purpose, or that any undue political influence is or has been placed on the Charity. The Commission has seen no evidence or information to raise concern that the Charity is undertaking political activity that is not relevant to, or does not support, its charitable purposes.

In conclusion, the Commission’s overall assessment is that we are satisfied that the issues raised within your complaint do not raise sufficient concern, or represent a significant or on-going risk in relation to the Charity that would warrant or justify regulatory action at this time. The Commission does not therefore intend to progress this complaint further. We will however engage with the trustees of the Charity to provide some general advice and guidance in relation to some of the wider issues that your complaint has raised.

In reaching our decision, the Commission has assessed all of the information available to us and have considered this alongside the Commission’s Risk Framework. At this time, we do not consider that it would be reasonable or proportionate to further pursue the specific issues raised within this complaint. We are satisfied that our assessment has not identified sufficient regulatory concern to support regulatory action or formal engagement with the Charity.

Whilst we appreciate that this may not be the outcome that you were hoping for, I hope that you can see from this and our previous responses that we have seriously considered your complaint and the issues that you have raised. If you do have any on-going issues or concerns, you may wish to address these directly with the Charity as is recommended in our published guidance regarding complaints against charities – CC47 Complaints about Charities.

I would like to thank you again for taking the time to contact the Commission.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Morag Edwards
email address witheld upon request


Notes

[1] The Commission’s interpretation that the slogan “WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES” potentially promotes violence solely against the Assad regime is arguably a narrow one.

[2] Some of the images on the deleted Facebook account are below. The first four feature the child photographed with the Hand in Hand for Syria nurse. Further images from the deleted account have been saved here.

[3] In response to concerns I had raised regarding its partnership with Hand in Hand for Syria (see for example here), on 19 December 2014 ShelterBox International’s Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett had responded:

We look forward to the results of the investigations of the Charity Commission. Special Branch have also been in contact with ShelterBox, and we have no doubt that they will also have been making investigations with Hand in Hand for Syria.

Having submitted Mr Hewett’s comments to the Charity Commission, on 26 October 2015 the Commission’s Investigations Monitoring and Enforcement section wrote to me:

With regards to the comments made by ShelterBox; the Commission has sought clarification on this issue. It can also clarify that it has not, nor is it ‘investigating’ the Charity. The Commission uses the term ‘investigation’ in reference to its statutory inquiries conducted under section 46 of the Charities Act 2011. The Commission’s published policy is to publicly announce the opening of an inquiry and to report on its findings and outcome, in the form of a published report. It is the Commission’s understanding that reference to ‘Special Branch’ investigations was in reference, more generally, to individuals who were stopped and questioned on their return to the UK having travelled to Syria (and/or the region more generally) – as opposed to referring to a specific Special Branch investigation into the Charity.

(“The Charity” in the above extract refers to Hand in Hand for Syria).

Email to Metropolitan Police re: ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, 29 March 2014

From: Robert Stuart
Sent: 29 March 2014 19:57:36
To: new.scotland.yard@met.police.uk

Dear Sir/Madam

I have just contacted the Metropolitan Police on 101. My call has been logged with the reference: CHS8881, dated 28 March 2014. [1]

The officer who took my call kindly provided this email address, as I wish to provide the Metropolitan Police with a more detailed record of my concerns.

These relate to the BBC Panorama programme ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, broadcast on 30 September 2013, and related BBC news items, and are laid out in detail in my correspondence with the BBC, which is in blog form. The blog has had over 5,000 views to date.

In chronological sequence the posts are:

In my first letter I noted the tampering with the audio soundtrack between the two BBC News reports of 29 August and 30 September 2013. I contacted former diplomat and blogger Craig Murray with this information, and his piece about it on 7 October gained the matter a wide currency at that time.

I recently collaborated with a journalist from RT, who produced this report, transmitted on 23 March. George Galloway MP is interviewed in the report and supports the view that the Panorama report was fabricated.

I approached Ofcom in September 2013 with some of my concerns, however I understand from their lack of response that my complaint did not fall within their remit.

I have also contacted the General Medical Council with my concerns about the two doctors featured in the film (Dr Rola Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan). I attach the GMC’s two responses of 28 February and 10 March 2014 (NB page 2 of the 28 February reply is erroneously included as p1 of the second attachment). My first complaint was in regard to the doctors’ part in what I believe to be the fabrication of a medical emergency, my second complaint cited instances of dishonesty and lapses in professional ethics and conduct. All of these points are also made in my correspondence with the BBC.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Stuart
(Address and mobile number supplied)

[1] I clarified in a subsequent email that the date of my call to the Metropolitan Police was 29 March 2014, the same day as my emails.