Is the BBCs Ian Pannell complicit in crude anti-Syrian propaganda?

By Daniel Margrain

This is Ian Pannell’s latest BBC report on Syrian chemical weapon use (September 10) allegedly by the Syrian government. Apparently this is yet more evidence of chemical attacks.

I want to declare from the outset that I am not a conspiracy theorist. That’s not to say, historically, there have not been genuine conspiracies’ undertaken by the state against adversaries that have served the political agendas of their protagonists.These have come in many guises from false flag attacks such as the Russian apartment bombings in 1999, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 and the nurse Nayirah affair in 1990.

After having studied the contents of Robert Stuart’s blog in which he has meticulously and tenaciously examined the September 30, 2013 edition of the BBC Panorama documentary, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and other related BBC news reports by presenter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway, Stuart has attempted, without much success, to negotiate around its Orwellian complaints procedure.

Pannell’s reports’ appeared peak time on BBC TV a few days after the attack in Ghouta and were seemingly intended as a propaganda tool in the prelude to war. After having studied Pannell’s work and Stuart’s detailed analysis, it’s impossible to disagree with journalist Jonathan Cook who said that we, the news consumers, “are being constantly spun by the media machine that’s the modern equivalent of “soma”, the drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World that its citizens were fed to keep them docile and happy.” 

What the Panorama documentary and related reports actually illustrate, in line with Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model, is the media’s apparent ability to be able to keep many of us in a state of perpetual hypnosis. Stuart contends that sequences filmed by BBC staff and others at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 purporting to show the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school in Urm Al-Kubra are largely, if not entirely, staged.

Scenes from the documentary were shown as part of a brief BBC News at Ten broadcast report by Pannell and Conway which contained harrowing scenes of teenage boys and young men, their skin apparently in tatters, racing into what the report describes as “a basic hospital funded by handouts” to be treated for burns. In one particularly disturbing scene a tableau of young men writhe, drool and groan, seemingly in great distress.

My first impression after having seen the film was that it was totally contrived and staffed by actors. What initially led me to this conclusion were the actions of the central figure, Mohammed Asi, who looked directly into the camera for several moments before raising his arm, at which point the group around him instantly became animated before moaning in unison.

Many other anomalies and contradictions too numerous to mention here in detail were evident throughout the Panorama documentary and the related reports’. These included conflicting and contradictory accounts, a “victim” who appeared to be grinning, implausible demeanours’ of alleged victims, questions as to the authenticity of the alleged burns to victims by experienced doctors, apparent choreographed behaviour, unconvincing injuries and testimonies’ that challenge the BBC version of events.

But perhaps the most controversial aspect of all was the participation of Dr. Rola Hallam who appeared anonymously to report on the aftermath of another attack in Syria. Her emotional call for humanitarian intervention in the shape of bombs drew parallels with “Nurse Nayirah“‘s lies to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the run up to the US vote on the 1990-91 Gulf War.

But arguably most significantly of all, in a report headlined BBC Crew returns to Aleppo on 30 September 2013, rehashed footage from the original programme was aired again. The BBC explains “In a special edition, Panorama travels with British doctors inside Syria to exclusively reveal the devastating impact of the war on children caught in the conflict”  It is a heart-rending report of the suffering of the Syrian people, made so as to demonise the Syrian government.

Close inspection of the two different versions reveals that there were actually two or more takes of this scene.  The easiest tell is the arm position of the man in the fluorescent jacket next to the doctor.

If Dr Rola was as “overwhelmed” as the video claims, why take time off to do multiple almost identical takes of an interview?

The BBC portrayed this as a live action piece with casualties being rushed in. But clearly this is nonsense given that it must of been rehearsed because several takes were done. Furthermore, nobody else in the courtyard is wearing a face mask. One would have thought that if the doctor had time for various takes she would also have time to take her mask off to talk to camera.

Both Panorama programmes talk of two British female doctors, “volunteers for the Charity Hand-in-Hand-for Syria“, suspected to be Dr Rola Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan. The BBC did not mention the backgrounds of either of the “charitable volunteers”. Dr Rola’s connections to the SNO and FSA and the fact that she was shilling for military action under medical/charitable/ altruistic volunteer credentials, all of which the BBC clearly understood but deliberately witheld from the viewer.

Her father is Dr Mousa al-Kurdi, a senior SNO member – who actually taught Assad at university; the Dep leader of the FSA is Col Malik al-Kurdi. Her on-site colleague is a former Captain in the British Army Medical Corps. There is plenty of other clear corroborating evidence of her support for the rebellion too.

All of it was hidden by the BBC who gave the impression she is just an ordinary doctor with selfless humanitarian concerns and plays to the Western interventionist agenda perfectly.

The BBC has not addressed any of the legitimate issues raised. All of the anomalies and contradictions call into question the authenticity of the entire alleged attack. George Galloway said:

The Bush-Blair Corporation as it became known leading up to the Iraq war has lost almost all journalistic integrity. A full inquiry must be launched into why the BBC used a piece of material that was not just wrong but was falsified…for the purpose of propelling our country into war. That’s not what the British public pays its TV license for so that it can be tricked into a war

It’s my view that it’s probable some kind of chemical attack did indeed take place but in a different location to the one depicted but the BBC embellished, fabricated and falsified the aftermath for propaganda purposes. The claims made throughout were that the Assad regime was responsible for the alleged attack despite the fact that there is no evidence supporting the assertion that he was responsible for the chemical attacks in Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus on September 16 prior to the BBC documentary.

What both Pannell’s latest BBC report and Jonathan Rugman’s recent piece for Channel 4 News before that highlight, is that once again, the British public is being conditioned for war. Two years ago, when the majority of MPs voted against intervention in Syria, would seem to suggest that MPs were sensitive to the views of a highly sceptical and hostile public. But Cameron’s cynical exploitation of the little boy found washed up dead on a Turkish beach, might change all that.

8 thoughts on “Is the BBCs Ian Pannell complicit in crude anti-Syrian propaganda?

  1. Thanks for writing about this. As the author of the blog referred to, I’d like to make a few observations. Apologies, this has ended up being a lot longer than I had planned.

    Firstly, let me just say that I believe there is now overwhelming evidence that the scenes of the alleged “playground napalm bomb” victims arriving at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013, filmed and reported on by the BBC Panorama team of Darren Conway and Ian Pannell, are a fabrication. All of the evidence points supporting this claim are set out on my blog https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

    However I don’t believe that that the notorious “interview” with Dr Rola Hallam at Atareb Hospital gate forms a substantial part of that evidence.

    The question of the number of takes of Dr Hallam’s “interview” is one that I pursued throughout my correspondence with the BBC (logged here http://bit.ly/1yaFKOq). The BBC maintains there was only one take:

    “I can confirm that there is only one recording of the comments made by Dr Hallam at the entrance to the hospital. I have seen no evidence which supports the suggestion that her comments were recorded twice or re-recorded for any reason.”
    BBC Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) provisional finding, 23 April 2014 http://bit.ly/1K09kf6 (p11)

    The ECU also provided images 4a – 4k here http://bit.ly/1K08WNF showing the full sequence of the “interview” – the differences that you note are all apparent within this sequence (your “Take 1” image corresponds roughly with 4h and “Take 2” with 4e).

    It does indeed now seem clear to me that there was only one, continuous, take.

    Hallam’s words were, notoriously, edited between the two transmissions, so that she is made to refer to “napalm” on 29 August 2013 (in a BBC 10 O’ Clock News report [1], broadcast just as parliament voted on Syrian intervention) and “chemical weapon” on 30 September 2013 (in another 10 O’Clock News report [2] and in the Panorama programme “Saving Syria’s Children” which followed it). She in fact said both “chemical weapon” and “napalm” in the full, unedited sentence [3].

    The 30/9/13 BBC 10 O’Clock News clip of the “interview” ends at the point where Hallam finishes saying “..it seems like it must be some sort of chemical weapon, I’m not really sure”. In the unedited recording of her words she then went on to “speculate” about “napalm” and it is this fractionally later section of the interview (editing out the “chemical weapon” reference in the audio) that we see in the 29/8/13 broadcast, and which creates the slight difference in the visuals. (The difference can be seen at 24 seconds in the side by side comparison here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5RKjYhzW-A – the point of departure in the edits is at the end of the phrase “some sort of…”). That’s how it seems to me, at least.

    It would indeed have been damning if there had been more than one take of an interview in the midst of supposed “mass casualty event” but I don’t believe that this was the case. I am also prepared to believe the explanation that the BBC has given for the editing (http://bit.ly/1O81tyI) – that on 29 August 2013, so soon after the alleged Ghouta sarin attack of 21 August:

    “To have included her speculation that this could have been a “chemical weapon” ran a considerable risk of being incredibly misleading and confusing to the audience, not least because the incident happened within days of an alleged chemical attack in Damascus”

    Whereas a month later, when the “chemical weapon” edit was shown on the 10 O’Clock News and in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’:

    “Her remark is then followed up, explained and elaborated upon effectively in Ian Pannell’s commentary; that the initial fear at the hospital was of a chemical attack (coming days after the Damascus incident), that it later became clear that a napalm-type substance had been used. As the structure of the Panorama piece was different and the time to explain events and the context more generous, it allowed the team to present this argument and then fully expand upon it.”

    Whether this is acceptable journalism is another question and one which I continued to raise in my correspondence with the BBC.

    Incidentally, although I believe there was only one take of the interview, there are clear differences in the audio quality: most noticeably, in the “napalm” version there is more background noise, particularly from a revving engine [4]. A forensic analyst who examined the material has suggested the difference in audio quality between the two versions is attributable to Hallam’s words having been recorded by two different microphones. His guess is that the noisier “napalm” version transmitted on 29/8/13:

    “…is most likely from a single low quality mic without noise cancellation – hence traffic noise etc. Quite possibly this is a camera mic or other recording device. The second clip [i.e. the “chemical weapon” edit of 30/9/13] has a much better dynamic response and much better noise cancellation. I strongly suspect it was a professional body mic or other recording system.”

    This sounds right to me: Ian Pannell wrote that the Panorama team was “recording the audio of the two doctors with radio microphones at all times” http://bit.ly/1JfUqTD

    So while I think that the discrepancy in the audio has been extremely valuable in bringing attention to bear on the “napalm bomb” fabrication, I don’t ultimately think it serves as evidence of the fabrication.

    There are other considerations about the sequence though – for instance Dr Hallam’s uncertainty about whether the munition used in the attack was chemical (such as Sarin, as had allegedly been used in Ghouta a few days before) or an incendiary weapon, such as napalm, might perhaps appear odd. Dr Declan Hayes has written [5]:

    If Dr Hallam cannot tell the difference between symptoms of nerve gas attacks from other, burns-related attacks, her medical competence and that of her collaborators has to be called into question in a most serious way. (p142)

    All medical doctors are trained ab ovo to recognise, diagnose and treat, as best they can, the symptoms of every different type of life threatening injury. In the case in question, those injuries are either extensive burns, which affect the flesh and/or gas inhalation, which affects the internal airways and which is treated very differently from flesh burns. Just as the competency of a cook, who could not tell the difference between water boiling and fat frying, would be called into question, so also would the competency of any doctor, Dr Hallam included, be called into question if they could not differentiate one from the other. (p143)

    The point is that Dr Hallam, in the oddest of ways, first claimed nerve gas was used before claiming, almost in the same breath, it was a napalm-like device. As nerve gas and napalm-like bombs would give very different symptoms to the victims and would cause a competent doctor to treat them very differently, Dr Hallam should explain how she can reconcile those two successive but conflicting claims with her professional expertise. This is all the more so as the symptoms from burns would be very obvious, very audible and very easily distinguishable from those of nerve gas. No competent doctor should be confused on this point. (p144)

    A couple of minor points: Dr Hallam’s call for “humanitarian intervention” in Syria was on the Newsnight programme of 30 August 2013 [6], the day after the parliamentary vote, and so was in the aftermath of the Aleppo “napalm bomb” attack (not any other). And, despite her coyness about using her full name in the August 2013 BBC reports, there is no doubt that “Dr Rola” is Dr Rola Hallam http://bit.ly/1F3lZrM

    Regarding the other doctor featured in Saving Syria’s Children, Saleyha Ahsan, another complaint is currently lodged with the BBC: http://bit.ly/1hIO03s

    I have also written more about the charity for which the two doctors volunteer, Hand in Hand for Syria, here http://bit.ly/1hYNSMR

    [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23892594

    [2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24288698

    [3] “I need a pause because it is just absolute chaos and carnage here… Umm, we have had a massive influx of what look like serious burns, it seems like it must be some sort of chemical weapon, I’m not really sure, maybe napalm, something similar to that.” BBC’s response to my initial complain, 2/12/13 http://bit.ly/1O81tyI

    [4] https://archive.org/details/BBCSyriareport1

    [5] http://www.taigs.com/Hand-in_Glove.pdf

    [6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23909554

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  2. Reblogged this on Fabrication in BBC Panorama 'Saving Syria’s Children' and commented:
    A post reviewing my analysis of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, which contends in particular that there was more than one take of Dr Rola Hallam’s notorious “interview” at Atareb Hospital gate. This is a widespread belief in relation to this material and in my view a mistaken one, so I have drafted a fairly lengthy response in the comments section (a direct link to my comment is here: http://bit.ly/1QyKJPE).

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