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The BBC have replied to HRI’s initial complaint about their “Idlib double Tap Air Strike Russia says never happened” report, failing to apologise or issue a retraction whilst strengthening the case they have used faulty OSINT and deliberate video fakery to make the case that Russia was responsible for an alleged double- tap air strike in Maarat al Numan on 22 July 2019.

In response to HRI pointing out that they have used the same footage to make two different narratives (firstly that the White Helmets were arriving at the scene and secondly that a sun dial calculation immediately followed the alleged second strike.) the BBC have claimed that the footage was taken by an eyewitness called “Mohammed Sharawy”:

“We asked this eyewitness to send us his complete footage that day and we are able to follow his journey and match it to map and satellite imagery of the town. It is clear that he was very close to the attack and approached the back of the block that was destroyed. He hid in a building when the second strike took place alongside a White Helmets team and then ran and followed them into their ambulance which drove around the corner to the other side of the building where there was greater damage.  We did not show this ambulance footage for taste/decency reasons as it contained images of dead bodies and body parts.”

So, the BBC’s new narrative is that after running from his house in his pajamas, Sharawy hid in a house coincidentally with the White Helmets from where the second strike was filmed, before asking the White Helmets if he could take a lift to the scene of the bombing in the ambulance. They allowed him to do so despite the ambulance already containing body parts and bodies from the first strike. The ambulance, with a Mohammed and bodies on board, headed for the bomb location with its windscreen wipers on despite it being a completely dry day on 22 July.

This unlikely narrative poses a number of questions, not least why the BBC maintains Sharawy is independent of the White Helmets and why there is no footage of a cameraman wearing pajamas at the scene, but lets move on to a couple of points before getting to the main point of this article:

  1. The BBC fails to apologise or issue a correction for the obvious mistake in its geolocation of Sharawy’s initial footage.

One of the major flaws in the BBC report is the erroneous geolocation of Sharawy’s shots allegedly after the first strike.

In their response to HRI’s complaint, the BBC gloss over this, despite the fact it means there are major doubts over the verification measures over other shots in the report (in particular those supposedly showing the second strike).

Just to lay out the BBC’s error so it is crystal clear:

The BBC geolocate Sharawy’s footage at 02.29 (English version) here:

The footage which they now claim was taken by Sharawy after jumping out of the ambulance they geolocate here:

As we can see the BBC geolocations are in the same place, but the actual street scenes are radically different (from street shown at 02.29) as we can see from the continuation of the shot at 00:08:

So the BBC now tacitly admit their mistake saying, Sharawy approached the back of the block that was destroyed.”

The BBC also claim:

“We forensically analyse footage using a variety of techniques, including video verification, posting information and usually interviews with the people posting content.  We compare footage posted by different people claiming to show same incident with satellite imagery and with any other stills in the public domain. We use mapping techniques and identify individual identifiable buildings, or distinctive parts of buildings (such as doors or windows) in order to match the location where something was filmed with previously existing material in the area or otherwise. Using this process we are able to determine with a significant degree of accuracy the location of an incident.”

However, they have failed to correct their report, failed to explicitly admit to their mistake, failed to provide any geolocation evidence for the “back of the block” claim and failed to explain why they made the mistake after all the verification methods they claim to have in place.

This leads to the second point:

  • The BBC have shown no evidence as to the location from which the shots of the alleged second strike were taken.

Having failed to correctly verify Sharawy’s initial location we have no evidence the BBC has correctly verified the location of the shots showing the alleged second strike, They have provided no evidence they have even geolocated these shots. So how do we know this footage was not taken at a different place or a different time? – A strange omission as it should be easy enough for the BBC to prove the location.

So BBC Arabic – Let’s see the locations of the “distinctive parts of buildings (such as doors or windows)” which are shown in the shots of the alleged second strike:

If we freeze frame the second strike shots we can see that what first appears to be continuous footage includes a number of cuts and it is has to be doubted that the individual shots which are spliced together were taken at the same place and time.

Here are some freeze frames from the BBC report to illustrate the point (which may also be useful in geolocating the actual camera locations):

Shot within sky sequence showing top of building:

Apparently behind glass. Beginning of bomb noise (Bomb noise and fast movement of the camera are classic tricks used to disguise a cut):

End of bomb noise, behind window frame, no points of similarity in this frame (BBC Russian version):

How the BBC used fakery to persuade its audience of a Russian double tap.

It’s a tactic previously used by insurgent propagandists to splice two pieces of footage together in order to fake evidence of, for instance, a helicopter bomb drop. The audio sound tracks may be altered to try and deflect the viewers’ attention away from the cut.

So, have the BBC fallen for a similar technique, or even used it themselves?

Following the shots showing an alleged second strike, the camera person runs from the location and the narrator says:

“In the footage filmed by Mohammed immediately after the second hit, we can see the shadow cast by a rescuer, which we use as a sundial. 30 minutes after the reported time of the first strike – the “double tap”.”

The narrative is clearly at odds with the explanation the BBC have now given.

The BBC are now claiming the footage used for the sun dial to establish the time of the second strike was filmed after Mohammed asked the White Helmets for permission to ride in the ambulance with the body parts, after he and the White Helmets got into the ambulance and after the ambulance had driven to the location of the bombing at the front of the building from the location of the filming of the second strike.

So not “immediately” as the BBC claim in their report.

In what appears to be a deliberate technique to hide the relevant cut, the audio on the shot of people running out of the building after the second strike is synchronised with the audio of the White Helmet running leading up to the sun dial frame. This is done by having the sound of radio communication on both shots (around 03:27).

The BBC now implicitly admit, through their claim Mohammed traveled on the White Helmet’s ambulance, that the two shots they spliced together link two pieces of action separated by some time.

The exact same footage of the White Helmet running, used at the beginning of the BBC report (at 00:08), has no such radio communication noise on the audio track, but rather than sound of an ambulance.

Viewers are thus provided with audio clues which deceive them into perceiving that the action is continuous between the video of the second strike and the shot of the White Helmet whose shadow is used as a sun dial.

Viewers are indeed prompted to pay particular attention to the audio track, by the device of showing a graphic of the audio whilst Mohammed is talking.

The deception is achieved through a combination of the audio and video tracks and also because the narrator falsely (as we now know from the BBC’s own admission) claims that:

“In the footage filmed by Mohammed immediately after the second hit, we can see the shadow cast by a rescuer, which we use as a sundial. 30 minutes after the reported time of the first strike – the “double tap”.”

Conclusion

The BBC fail to admit the obvious flaws in their anti-Russia hit piece.

Their new narrative (in response to HRI’s complaint) is at odds with the narrative in their report.

The BBC have manipulated the video, audio and narrative to create a false impression of continuity between the supposed second air strike and the point at which they use the shadow of the White Helmet as a sun dial – which is their primary evidence of a second strike.

So what does the “Idlib double Tap Air Strike Russia says never happened” represent? It has nothing at all to do with journalism, educating or entertaining the public and everything to do with propaganda.

There is no consideration of alternative explanations of the incident including fakery and use of car bombs or VBIEDs.

The targets of the propaganda are not just the public, but also US and UK politicians and the timing can be seen in the light of the changing dynamic on the ground in Syria, which has been reflected in the USA having recently turned against members of the insurgent camp, no doubt much to the dismay of the regime change lobby.

The legal situation with such a broadcast, which has a propaganda intention rather than an intention to educate or entertain, is set out in Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

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Guest post by

Nicolas Boeglin, 
Professor of International Law, Law Faculty, University of Costa Rica (UCR)

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