Email to BBC Journalist re Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

I wrote to David Gritten (no I’d never heard of him either) the BBC ‘journalist’ who wrote a piece for their website about the horrific attack on the Syrian military academy on October 6th. The attack was carried out by NATO funded Islamists who waited until the recruits had gathered with their families for the graduation ceremony in order to cause maximum carnage. I will be writing separately about why there was scant coverage and no outcry in the mainstream western media about this massacre, but here, I question Gritten on his reliance on a particular source for information about what’s going on in Syria. The use of ‘approved’ sources is one of the biggest reasons the public is fed a diet of distorted news and it is important to address it. Email below. Unsurprisingly I have received no reply, but it is still crucial to hold corporate hacks to account. They feel the pressure whether they respond or not.

Hi David

I read your piece about the attack on the Syrian military academy of October 6th which killed over 100 people and injured over 200, and noticed you quoted ‘the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ regarding victims of government bombing of Idlib. We could discuss whether that region is ‘an opposition stronghold’ or the place where captured Al Nusra (Al Qaeda inside Syria, ISIS, and other Jihadists) were bussed by the government after their defeat to await political settlement. The term ‘rebel’ by definition does not apply to these extremist groups who are intent on creating their Islamic State. But back to my main point. 

Are you aware that SOHR is just one person, Ossam Suleiman, who lives in Coventry UK and is the sole individual behind the group? He often uses the pseudonym, Rami Abdul Rahman. As Peter Hitchens pointed out in the Daily Mail, Suleiman received 195,000 pounds from the UK Foreign Office when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary. He did not disclose he’d received this money which surely points to a worrying absence of transparency and a clear lack of impartiality. CNN reported that Suleiman met with William Hague back in 2011 as part of a delegation of Syrian opposition officials. In the same year he told Reuters he would return to Syria only when Assad is gone. Is this your impartial source? 

Suleiman runs a clothes shop so is not even working at ‘monitoring’ full time. He claims to have a ‘network’ of up to 250 people inside Syria but who has ever verified this? You? Anyone at the BBC? 

It seems to me that quoting one man in Coventry who has a track record of stating he wants Bashar al-Assad out of power, has received money from the British government and hasn’t stepped foot inside Syria since the year 2000 is not the reliable source you present. Indeed, your report gives the reader the impression that SOHR is a group, not one man, and a legitimate and unbiased human rights organisation. Does this really reach the standard of journalism the public should expect? 

It does not reflect well on the mainstream media that Suleiman is the go-to source for reliable information on the Syrian situation. I met Lyse Doucet in a press convoy in Syria as we drove from Damascus to Aleppo, and I saw what she did not report. Is it actually good enough to rely on official sources, or officially approved sources, when reporting events of such importance?


Alison Banville 

Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews, a writer, singer-songwriter, performance poet and activist.

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