Thursday, July 26, 2012

Interrogating the BBC on Syria

Watching SBS World News last night, I found myself riveted by the item Syria's Turkish border units 'head for Aleppo'. It came from the BBC and featured reporter Ian Pannell, embedded, predictably, with a group of anti-government  "rebels" and [freedom?] "fighters."

Frankly, whether Pannell intended it or not (and I'm inclined to think not), the rebels came across as a bit of a worry. As indeed did the man showcasing them.

A close and critical reading of the transcript raised all sorts of interesting and disturbing questions, best addressed (on the buck stops here principle) directly to Ian Pannell himself:

"It's the Islamic month of Ramadan so when the sun goes down another day of fasting is done. And in Syria, the rebel army comes out to fight. We joined a convoy on a highly dangerous mission to Aleppo, driving around army checkpoints, sneaking along backroads, headlights off to avoid being seen passing under the nose of government troops and into Syria's 2nd city where the insurgency has found its loudest voice and the battle is at its most fierce."

So the rebels were outsiders in Aleppo, Mr Pannell? Were they invited in or did they simply impose themselves on the city? And just who in Turkey issued them orders?

[In Aleppo: A small group of people are screaming the familiar 'allahu akbar'.]

Was this perhaps staged for the BBC cameras, Mr Pannell?

"Many here are desperate for the rebels to succeed..."

How many, Mr Pannell?

"... but as the rebels take over this district many fear what you're really seeing is an Islamic takeover that'll unleash a whirlwind of devastation and bloodshed across this region. [Men construct a makeshift barricade.]"

Many fear? Many Aleppans, you mean?

Then are these Islamist - your word, Mr Pannell - rebels forcing themselves on Allepo?

"Hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand rebel fighters have now pushed into this part of Aleppo city."

I think that answers my question. This is no indigenous force, right?

"As you can see, they've set up burning barricades to try and protect this particular district."

Run that past me again? These rebels are there to "protect" this bit of Aleppo? Did it need protecting, Mr Pannell? Did you gather any evidence that the residents wanted or needed protecting?

"There's a police headquarters and an intelligence office up the road and their fear is that reinforcements will head from downtown Aleppo."

Perhaps the police and their reinforcements thought they were protecting the district... from invading terrorists? What do you think, Mr Pannell?

"[Rebels snipe from buildings.] By daylight rebel snipers take to the roofs, copying army tactics. They control a number of districts and are ready to defend them. It was another day of intensive fighting as the fighters try to extend their control and seek revenge against men they accuse of being shabiha, members of the brutal government militia. There's little justice on either side here. [A group of what appear to be civilians are squatting on the road. The rebels fire over their heads, while another rebel puts the boot in.]"

Is shabiha the only Arabic word you know (apart from allahu akbar), Mr Pannell? Where's the proof these men were shabiha? And what happened to these men, Mr Pannell? Why didn't your camera stick around to show their fate? Or has that been edited out of your footage?

"Losing Aleppo would be a potentially fatal blow to President Asad and today the fightback began with helicopter gunships firing at rebel positions. [Scene of rebels firing skywards from a captured tank.] But even with a tank they'd captured from the army the fighters are vastly outgunned. But what happened next marked a dramatic escalation. [A jet streaks overhead.] For the first time fighter jets took to the skies, arcing through the air and strafing the ground, a mark of how desperate the government has become. But the last word goes to the victims, to the wounded and to the dead. [Swaddled corpse of woman shown.] Aisha almost looks like she's sleeping but she was killed today by an artillery shell. Only the victims are blameless here, and however this ends there will be more of them."

Only the victims are blameless here? So, Mr Pannell, in retrospect, what proportion of blame would you assign to the forces who entered Aleppo in the certain knowledge that they'd be drawing government firepower at the expense of the city and its people? And, just to take you back to Turkey, have you ever thought of doing a piece on their controllers and paymasters there?

Oh, and one more question, Mr Pannell. You're an experienced journalist. You've reported from Gaza. When Gaza was being pulverised by the Israelis in 2008/2009, Israelis being Israelis, they never tired of claiming that Hamas fighters - sorry, militants - were using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Is anyone in Syria using civilians as human shields do you think, Mr Pannell?

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