Above: Images taken from Syrian TV
Email to Federal and Victorian Politicians, ABC Journalists and other Interested Parties to Warn of the Dangers of Misleading and Biased Reporting on Syria, March 2012
From: Susan Dirgham
Sent: Tuesday, 27 March 2012 11:07 AM
To: Lindsay Tanner; Rudd, Kevin (MP); Bob.Carr; Bishop, Julie (MP); Turnbull, Malcolm (MP); Virtue, Liz (A. Wilkie, MP); Moores, Alex (A. Wilkie, MP); Wilkie, Andrew (MP); Brown, Bob (Senator); Poulter, Lachlan (J. Macklin, MP); Conroy, Stephen (Senator); Macklin, Jennifer (MP); Gareth Evans
Cc: Carr, Kim (Senator); Collins, Jacinta (Senator); Feeney, David (Senator); Marshall, Gavin (Senator); Burke, Anna (MP); Byrne, Anthony (MP); Cheeseman, Darren (MP); Crean, Simon (MP); Danby, Michael (MP); Dreyfus, Mark (MP); Ferguson, Martin (MP); Gibbons, Steve (MP); Gillard, Julia (MP); Griffin, Alan (MP); Jenkins, Harry (MP); King, Catherine (MP); Marles, Richard (MP); Mitchell, Rob (MP); O’Connor, Brendan (MP); Roxon, Nicola (MP); Shorten, Bill (MP); Smyth, Laura (MP); Symon, Mike (MP); Thomson, Kelvin (MP); Vamvakinou, Maria (MP); Reynolds, Anna (Sen B. Brown); Abbott, Tony (MP); Khalil Eideh, Adem Somyurek, Andrea Coote, Andrew Elsbury, Andrew Elsbury, Andrew Katos, Andrew McIntosh, Ann Barker, Anna Vidot, Anthony Carbines, Bernie Finn, Zappia, Tony (MP); Julie Rigg; Jon Faine; John Lenders, Joanne Woods; Joanne Duncan, Red Symons; Alexander, John (MP); John Eren, John Pandazopoulos, John Safran, Barrie Cassidy; Brad Battin; Donna Bauer, Ted Ballieu, Alan Saunders; Kerry O’Brien; Saturday Extra; Muditha Dias; Catherine Taylor; Catherine Freyne; Jonathan Green; Johan Scheffer; John Jacobs; Jonathon hutchinson; Andrew Davies; Annabelle Quince; Sue Pennicuik; Hudson, Phillip; Keri Phillips; Annie Warburton, firstname.lastname@example.org; Matt Brown (Indonesia); Editor The Scavenger; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Hannah Harborow; Jackson, Megan; Maree Edwards; Media Watch; Combet, Greg (MP); Hunt, Greg (MP); Zoe Daniel; Emma Alberici; Tony Delroy; Tony Eastley; Jones, Ewen (MP); Dee Ryall, Fiona Richardson, Gordon Rich-Phillips; Ross Kavanagh; Sheila Pham; Shevonne Hunt; Peter Crisp; Campbell @ ABC
Subject: Complaint to the ABC regarding dangerous, partisan stand of ABC reporter, Peter Cave, re ‘rebels’ fighting Syria
Dear Mr Tanner, Senator Brown, Mr Wilkie, Mr Turnbull, Senator Conroy, Ms Macklin, Mr Rudd, Ms Bishop, Mr Carr, and Mr Evans,
I am writing to you as I believe you all have an interest in the situation in Syria. Some of you I have spoken to directly about Syria, while others have expressed their views on Syria publicly or in emails to me.
What prompts me to write to you now is the Peter Cave report on ABC’s 7.30 program last night. In the report from Turkey, Mr Cave interviewed an armed rebel and let him have the last word:
ABU MUSTAPHA, FREE SYRIAN ARMY (voiceover translation): It is really bad there. It is common to come across dead people, injured ones. People are killed, are kidnapped. It is a terrible situation. What we want from foreign countries is to give us arms since this regime can only be defeated by armed struggle.
I have lodged an official complaint to the ABC about the report which I consider biased and lacking serious analysis, but my experience with such complaints tells me it will take months to get a response and in the end my complaint will not be upheld. There are efforts by extremists including Al-Qaeda, Salafi Jihadists, prominent extremist clerics, and oil rich monarchies to destroy secular Syria through violence and terror. Many Western governments and media outlets support these efforts, though they use different rhetoric to the extremists. I believe there is an urgent need for clearheaded analysis, particulaly when Kofi Annan and others are working hard to broken peace. 22 million Syrians deserve peace now, not after a decades long war which is brought about because of the extremism of some and the blindness or lack of integrity of others. This is why I am going public with my complaint.
Note, it is not only the Syrian people I am concerned about. I also worry for people in Australia as we are kept ignorant of the extremist views which are fueling much of the violence in Syria. Such extremism is already having an impact on communities here in Australia. President Sarkozy and the people of France have recently been made aware of the dangers of extremism and are taking some actions.
Please find below a copy of the complaint I sent yesterday.
I would be grateful if you could check this alternative approach of a UK journalist to the crisis in Syria. It offers analysis and attention to peaceful efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria. It is titled ‘Syrian voters non-people for the West’ :
It is tragic if the future of secular Syria and the lives of millions of people are to be determined by the efforts of individuals who do not give the impact their work can have on political affairs and on the determination of war or peace. It is my belief that many in Australia would rather trust the views of two or three people, such as Robert Fisk and Peter Cave, than do the research required to know what the wishes of 22 Syrian people might be and what they actually face in their country.
Above: Images taken by the writer in Syria before the conflict and in a refugee camp in Lebanon, May 2013
COMPLAINT TO ABC; RESPONSE FROM ABC
To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Susan Dirgham
Subject: Impartiality and diversity of perspectives not evident in P.Cave report
Date: 27/03/12 00:15
ABC program: 7.30
Date of program: 26 March 2012
Subject: Impartiality and diversity of perspectives not evident in P.Cave report
ABC reporter Peter Cave presented a report from Turkey on the situation in Syria (26/3/12) which was not impartial and which did not present a diversity of perspectives as required by the ABC Code of Practice.
Mr Cave “traveled to a refugee camp and rebel stronghold on the Turkish-Syrian border” and interviewed WASSIM SABAGH and ABU MUSTAPHA, from the FREE SYRIAN ARMY and referred to “Footage uploaded to the internet” to support claims. He also quoted ‘villages’ who said that they had seen the Iranian flag flying at a guard post across the border.
Mr Sabagh claims that the Syrian army have committed some horrendous atrocities.
There is much evidence to refute or at least to call into question the claims of Mr Sabagh as well as those of Mr Cave.
Human Rights Watch has drawn attention in the last week to the atrocities of the armed ‘opposition’ in Syria. Mr Cave must be aware of this. The rebel fighter he interviewed may well be responsible for or supportive of some of the atrocities noted by HRW. Yet Mr Cave does not give any hint to the viewer that rebels are guilty of terror and murder in Syria.
Chris Uhlmann introduces the report with the words: “8,000 people have died in the year-old uprising”. But this figure must be analyzed. Other perspectives are available. For example, political analyst from Oxford, Sharmine Narwani, has examined the casualty lists carefully and calls them into question.
The atrocities which occurred in Homs recently were presented in Peter Cave’s reports as atrocities committed by the Syrian army. This would be disputed by most Syrian Australians and the majority of people in Syria. I view a lot of Syrian TV and I have seen the same images presented on Syrian TV and interviews of many Syrians in the street. In their minds the atrocities were committed by ‘terrorists’ supported by or linked to Al-Qaeda, Salafi jihadists or others. Sheik Qaradawi, an extremist cleric who has urged his followers to destroy the ‘heretical’ Syrian government, has said on Al-Jazeera that even if 1/3 of the people are killed that is OK as long as the government is destroyed. This information must be presented to viewers so we can better assess the word of armed rebels. In today’s news (not on the ABC), President Sarkozy has announced that Qaradawi is not welcome in France and several weeks ago, the UAE police chief said he would be arrested if he travelled to the UAE. I have heard people in the streets of Damascus blame Qaradawi for fomenting much of the terror and killings of people. Yet Peter Cave does not present this to us. On Lebanese television three or four weeks ago, a Salafi jihadist leader urged his followers to overthrow the government in Syria. This is nothing new – I was aware of the terror of the Salafi extremists last year – but Mr Cave has not informed us of it.
In April 2011, the brother-in-law of a good friend was killed along with his two young teenage sons and a nephew. They were shot dead by ‘militia’. There is dreadful terror and violence occurring in Syria which Peter Cave is not presenting to the ABC audience.
Peter Cave allows a ‘rebel’ fighter to have the last word: “What we want from foreign countries is to give us arms since this regime can only be defeated by armed struggle.”
In order to be ‘impartial and present a diversity of perspective’ Mr Cave must point out that there are alternatives to violent armed struggle against the Syrian army. This article by Dr Fiona Hill makes that very clear:
Peter Cave also said in the report that “The Syrian opposition has been able to turn out tens of thousands on the streets week after week to oppose the Assad regime despite more than a year of often brutal repression.” I have found no evidence of this in my searches on the Internet. I have, however, found evidence of huge rallies in support of peaceful reform and a united, secular Syria.
And I have captured the faces of Syrians who support peace and reform in their country and who condemn armed struggle and outside interference.
What Mr Cave should also be noting is the resignation of reporters from Al-Jazeera. One of them, Ali Hashem, is from the Al-Jazeera Beirut office and he speaks excellent English. He would surely be an ideal person to interview in order to present a ‘diversity of perspectives’ and to question Al-Jazeera’s presentation of news on Syria. The claims that there are tens of thousands protesting against the government come first from Al-Jazeera and are then wired around the world.
Ali Hashem says in this interview that there is ‘no independent news on Syria anymore’. Mr Cave’s report certainly supports that claim.
By not informing Australians of the bigger picture in Syria and the dangers of terror inspired by extremists, Peter Cave is letting Australia down. Our PM and police should be as alert as Sarkozy and the UAE police chief to the dangers of extremism. Peter Cave has a huge responsibility to inform us fully, not just for Syria’s future, but for our own.
Dear Ms Dirgham
Thank you for your email regarding the 7.30 story Turkey refugee camp provides Syrian conflict insight.
Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality.
ABC News has provided the following statement on its coverage of events in Syria;
“The ABC has covered the violence in Syria extensively, but despite repeated attempts to enter, our applications for visas have been routinely rejected. Because of the difficulty of obtaining permission to enter the country we felt it was important to visit the refugee camps in Turkey to obtain first hand, on the ground, information about the situation in Syria. This was the point of the story.
Our reporter could only report from neighbouring countries and has reported the viewpoint of both Syrian authorities and opposition sources. Of course it is difficult to verify internet sources, but Mr Cave clearly made it clear that the footage was taken from the internet and analysed the footage as not telling the complete picture, as demonstrated by the following par “Footage uploaded to the internet often shows small victories by the Free Syrian Army. But the fact is that the FSA is poorly equipped, poorly organised and losing the battle against the Syrian Army’s overwhelming force and artillery”.
Mr Sabagh’s comments were attributed as his opinion as a refugee who had family members left in Homs and was having difficulty contacting them. He mentioned what he saw and he attributed the violent attacks to Syrian government forces.”
Given the context of the report was the people stuck in refugee camps along the border, who were concerned for the wellbeing of family members still in Syria who they could not contact, Audience and Consumer Affairs cannot agree that there was any editorial requirement for the program to also examine the role of the disparate opposition groups who have taken up arms against the Syrian government. We cannot agree that the absence of this issue from the report is a breach of the Corporation’s editorial standards for impartiality. The program continues to broadcast a diversity of perspectives on the situation in Syria and a newsworthy basis over time.
In regard to the claims of Wassim Sabagh, as you are aware the ABC has been unable to gain entry to Syria to report on the violence first hand. Consequently, reports of injuries and fatalities, which the ABC has been unable to independently verify, will be attributed to their source. The reporter attributed the claim that the Syrian government had committed sustained and systematic attacks against civilians to the UN. The reporter also made it perfectly clear that the claims of Abu Mustapha were his view, not the view of the ABC.
In regard to the presenter’s reference to 8,000 dead, the program has advised that it relied on the credible and respected United Nations estimate, recently published, for the figure. We are satisfied that use of the 8,000 figure is in keeping with the accuracy standards in section 2 of the ABC Editorial Policies.
The ABC has noted a range of reports from respected media organisations around the world that have reported on the thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in protest at the Assad government. We are satisfied that Mr Cave’s reference to this fact was in keeping with the Corporation’s editorial standards for accuracy.
On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the story you refer to was in keeping with ABC editorial standards. ABC News coverage has included a range of viewpoints on matters relating to Syria, including the views of the Syrian government.
The ABC Editorial Policies are available online at the attached link; http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/documents/20110408/EditorialPOL2011.pdf
Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority http://www.acma.gov.au .
Audience and Consumer Affairs