In writing a formal complaint to the overseer of Australian media ACMA over SBS’ failure to broadcast news that the OPCW’s claims on chemical weapons use in Syria had been exposed as fabricated, I have encountered a Kafkaesque problem – only complaints on specific broadcasts can be examined..
My letter to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, addressed also to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher, followed a long and detailed “Code complaint” to the SBS Ombudsman in June last year about the misrepresentation and – frankly – lies told following the alleged chemical weapon attack in Douma, Syria of 7th April 2018. But the worst of those lies were “lies of omission”, about which it seems impossible to complain!
In an accompanying letter to my complaint, which can be read here, I sketched the history of this story and the series of discoveries that have shed more light on what happened, and verified the ugly truth – that the “attack” was not just staged by Opposition militants and the White Helmets but that the OPCW had made false allegations in its report to implicate the Syrian Government in the crime, under pressure from Syria’s enemies.
The history is relevant to this story, as my initial complaint over SBS’ first report on the event, showing children in Douma hospital being given the hosing treatment and Ventolin, was rejected as outside the prescribed time period of six weeks. That my complaint was ten months later was for good reason, as the “truth of the lies” about what happened did not become clear for some time, while the Western coalition moved on to other stories like the “fight against ISIS” and the “Novichok poisonings”.
I too moved on, having visited Syria and Douma only weeks after the alleged attack, and seen life being restored to the suburbs of Damascus now liberated from their violent extremist occupiers. No-one in Syria knew much about the so-called chemical attack, which only materialised on Western TV screens and print media. They certainly never imagined their own army would do such a thing, even against the terrorists it was fighting – and indeed there is no evidence the Syrian army ever used chemical weapons in the nine years of war, nor conceivable reason that it would have.
Following the rejection of that complaint, there was no choice but to wait till “specific content” was broadcast which broke the code of “impartiality and lack of bias”. And as anticipated, as soon as the Syrian and Russian campaign to liberate Idlib began, the same old stories reappeared on SBS news – “barrel bombs” hitting hospitals, the White Helmets pulling children from piles of rubble, and a “new humanitarian crisis” as residents “fled from regime forces and Russian bombs” towards the Turkish border.
I described in detail my subsequent complaint to the SBS ombudsman in an article for the independent “OffGuardian” – “White Helmets and Black Lies”, which focused mainly on these “Heroes” of propaganda for the foreign-backed insurgents. While citing the content of six offending reports on the battle for Idlib as examples of the misleading content and “false narrative” they enabled, my prime focus was on SBS’ misrepresentation of the actual events in Syria, and particularly on how the OPCW’s – now proven false – claims about the Douma attack enabled the war on Syria to continue unabated.
The SBS ombudsman responded in pernickety and sometimes preposterous detail to demonstrate how the news reports had followed the requirements for balance and impartiality, but dismissed the whole basis for my complaint as “editorial responsibility”. She completely ignored my challenge over the leaked Engineer’s report, which after all had not been misreported by SBS; it was not reported at all!
Which brings me finally back to this week’s complaint to ACMA.
It is tempting to give up on complaints to the media, and attempts to get contrary opinion published in the mainstream on the subject of Syria. Back in 2103 with a couple of UK friends I set up “Step-back”, in a push to encourage more independent journalism about the war on Syria; seven years later it could be said that we failed spectacularly. It is now hard to find any opinion that strays outside the approved Western narrative on Syria – the pathetically simplistic story of the brave rebels fighting the brutal dictator and his wicked backer in the Kremlin – in any mainstream Western publication, or amongst the public in its thrall. That public is now so indoctrinated in this false narrative that it is no longer capable of believing the truth, and false memes are created to protect it – being a “conspiracy theory” or “Kremlin trolls” or “fake news”.
However, the continuing revelations from whistle-blowers in the OPCW, and the brave commitment of a few “mainstream” but independent minded journalists, gave me the nudge to make this last-ditch attempt through the formal avenues of complaint. Peter Hitchens of the Daily Mail, Jonathan Steele – once of the Guardian, and Paul Malone here in Australia, have all made applications to the OPCW following the dissenting whistle-blower’s revelatory leaks – that there was NO evidence of Chlorine use in Douma, rendering the subsequent joint US-UK-French missile strikes on Syria a major war crime.
The initial whistle-blower Ian Henderson, who led the OPCW Engineer’s team to Douma, recently gave a presentation by video-link to a UN meeting, having been denied a visa to travel to the US in person, as well as meeting with journalists and experts in Brussels. Most significantly, and setting a precedent for similar meetings elsewhere was a session last month at Portcullis House in Westminster, chaired by retired Major General John Holmes, where the full assessment of what happened in Douma was presented by members of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. It makes disturbing reading.
What is perhaps most surprising about this story – of criminal and recurrent deception by the Western powers who use the OPCW to further their interests – is how such a monstrous scandal is able to be simply ignored by almost the whole of the Western mainstream media constellation. In an Orwellian twist, these media even promote their “brave and fearless investigative journalism”, while carefully controlling who they investigate.
As I said in my complaint to ACMA, had the truth about what happened in Douma – and in Khan Shaikoun a year earlier, and Ghouta in 2013 – been exposed and reported by our mainstream media, then hundreds of thousands of innocent lives would have been saved, and the progress of the Western empires’ conquest and occupation of the Middle East cut short. It may be too late to save those lives, but it is not too late to expose this terrible fraud before many more are lost in the battle for Idlib.
David Macilwain is an independent writer and researcher, and visited Douma in May 2018 on a journalist’s visa. He lives off the grid on a small farm in NE Victoria with his wife, animals and an internet connection.