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Request to Guardian for response & right of reply to Solon White Helmets article


Following are two letters sent to the Guardian by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media in response to an article titled How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine which appeared on December 18. The article claims the White Helmets have become victims of ‘Russian propaganda’. The letters express concern over the factual accuracy of the article and deplore the refusal of right of reply to those attacked in the piece. The letters were sent on December 23 and January 5 respectively. As of Jan 13 no reply has been received to either. Originally at Tim Hayward’s blog.

From the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media:

Seeking Truth About White Helmets In Syria

The recent Guardian article by Olivia Solon attacks those investigating and questioning the role of the White Helmets in Syria and attributes all such questioning to Russian propaganda, conspiracy theorizing and deliberate disinformation. The article does little, however, to address the legitimate questions which have been raised about the nature of the White Helmets and their role in the Syrian conflict. In addition, academics such as Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson have been subjected to intemperate attacks from mainstream media columnists such as George Monbiot through social media for questioning official narratives.

More broadly, as Louis Allday described in 2016 with regard to the war in Syria, to express ‘even a mildly dissenting opinion … has seen many people ridiculed and attacked … These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views: instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations’. These are indeed difficult times in which to ask serious and probing questions. It should be possible for public debate to proceed without resort to ad hominem attacks and smears.

It is possible to evaluate the White Helmets through analysis of verifiable government and corporate documents which describe their funding and purpose. So, what do we know about the White Helmets? First, the ‘Syria Civil Defence’, the ‘official title’ given to the White Helmets, is supported by US and UK funding. Here it is important to note that the real Syria Civil Defence already exists and is the only such agency recognised by the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO).

The White Helmets receive funding from the UK government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the US government’s USAID, Office of Transition Initiatives programme – the Syria Regional Program II. The UK and US governments do not provide direct training and support to the White Helmets. Instead, private contractors bid for the funding from the CSSF and USAID. Mayday Rescue won the CSSF contract, and Chemonics won the USAID contract. As such, Chemonics and Mayday Rescue train and support the White Helmets on behalf of the US and UK governments.

Second, the CSSF is directly controlled by the UK National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, while USAID is controlled by the US National Security Council, the Secretary of State and the President. The CSSF is guided by the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which incorporates UK National Security Objectives. Specifically, the White Helmets funding from the CSSF falls under National Security Objective “2d: Tackling conflict and building stability overseas”. This is a constituent part of the broader “National Security Objective 2: Project our Global Influence”.

The funding background of the White Helmets raises important questions regarding their purpose. A summary document published online indicates that the CSSF funding for the White Helmets is currently coordinated by the Syria Resilience Programme. This document highlights that the core objective of the programme is to support “the moderate opposition to provide services for their communities and to contest new space”, as to empower “legitimate local governance structures to deliver services gives credibility to the moderate opposition”.

The document goes on to state that the White Helmets (‘Syria Civil Defence’) “provide an invaluable reporting and advocacy role”, which “has provided confidence to statements made by UK and other international leaders made in condemnation of Russian actions”. The ‘Syria Resilience CSSF Programme Summary’ is a draft document and not official government policy. However, the summary indicates the potential dual use of the White Helmets by the UK government: first, as a means of supporting and lending credibility to opposition structures within Syria; second, as an apparently impartial organisation that can corroborate UK accusations against the Russian state.

In a context in which both the US and UK governments have been actively supporting attempts to overthrow the Syrian government for many years, this material casts doubt on the status of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organization. It is therefore essential that investigators such as Vanessa Beeley, who raise substantive questions about the White Helmets, are engaged with in a serious and intellectually honest fashion. The White Helmets do not appear to be the independent agency that some have claimed them to be. Rather, their funding background, and the strategic objectives of those funders, provide strong prima facie grounds for considering the White Helmets as part of a US/UK information operation designed to underpin regime change in Syria as other independent journalists have argued. It is time for the smears and personal attacks to stop, allowing full and open investigation by academics and journalists into UK policy toward Syria, including the role of the White Helmets, leading to a better-informed public debate.

Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

Steering Committee

Professor Tim Hayward, Professor of Environmental Political Theory, University of Edinburgh

Professor Paul McKeigue, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics, University of Edinburgh

Professor Piers Robinson, Chair in Politics, Society and Political Journalism University of Sheffield

Researchers

Jake Mason (PhD candidate, University of Sheffield)

Divya Jha (PhD candidate, University of Sheffield)

When no response at all was forthcoming the group sent a follow-up letter on January 5, this time to the Guardian’s Readers’ Editor.

Again they received no reply.

Here is the text of the follow-up letter:

Dear Mr Chadwick

We are writing in relation to an article by Olivia Solon “How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine” published on 18 December. This article asserted that those who have questioned the ostensible role of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organization, including the experienced journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, are part of “a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government “.

We sent on 23 December a request (reproduced below) to Comment is Free requesting that they consider for publication a brief (800-word) response to Solon’s article. This article set out the grounds for a more serious engagement with the questions that arise from UK and US government support for media-related operations in Syria. The text of this article is reproduced below. The original is attached as a Word document, in case the embedded links do not work in the unformatted text.

Despite a second message on 28 December specifically requesting a written response to the original message on 23 December (and copied to you), we have not had any response from the Guardian other than automated acknowledgements. Before we proceed to publish this material elsewhere, it is important to document that this article has been seen by an editor and rejected (if that was the decision). I understand that Comment is Free editors are not able to reply to every pitch, but this one concerns an article that has serious implications for the Guardian’s reputation.

We request therefore that you ask your editorial colleagues to respond in writing with a confirmation that our article has been seen and rejected. A one-sentence email message from an editor would be enough – we shall not bother you again.

Signed:

Prof. Tim Hayward, Professor of Environmental Political Theory, University of Edinburgh

Prof. Paul McKeigue, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics, University of Edinburgh

Prof. Piers Robinson, Chair in Politics, Society and Political Journalism, University of Sheffield


20 Comments

  1. Hack “journalists” like Solon should be treated as the “journalist” Julius Streicher was at Nuremberg in 1945.

    • No one should be hanged for opinions, even stupid or dangerous opinions. Violence is not often a solution to anything.

  2. From somewhere this conversation came into my head.

    “Look George, times are changing and the Graun has to change its game to match. Now, you get to write whatever you like on the environment, including nuclear power . . . yeah, really, anything you want. Oh, and you collect large wads of dosh. In return, you write what we tell you about the US, foreign policy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, all that, and ONLY what we tell you. Deal?”

    “Ah umm hmm erm . . . deal.”

  3. MichaelK says

    In a wider perspecitve, the Solon piece, is part of a broader deterioration in basic journalistic standards at the Guardian and elsewhere. Facts really don’t matter very much anymore, whether something, some ‘story’ is literally true or false; what matters is, is it ‘good’ story or a ‘bad’ one. In the sense of, does this story make us in the West look ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Does it make our ideas or actions look ‘bad’ or ‘good’? The world has been devided into two groups… us… and them. We are ‘Good’ and they are ‘Bad’, really, really, bad – Evil! It’s incredibly primitive and dreary, but that’s the way they seem to think.

  4. MichaelK says

    I wonder if the Guardian ran this piece by their lawyers? ‘Cause, on the face of it Solon seems to be close to libel, by linking Bartlett, Heywood and Bealey to the Russian government, implying that they are working for it is some fashion spreading ‘disinformation’ designed to miscredit the White Helmets. Or am I being to harsh on Solon? Nevermind, the Guardian peice was shameful and a disgrace, especially as this smear attacks named individuals and doesn’t allow them the right to defend themselves against the attacks aimed at them.

  5. Stop confusing people with facts obtained by actually investigating–on the ground–what is taking place in Syria.

    Follow the MSM’s tactic of sitting in your comfy–and SAFE–home, sipping on some French wine while you talk with CIA backed contacts who proclaim to be in Syria, but are in Paris and NYC.

    Or just retype the press release you get from your MI5 handler and claim it as your own, freeing up more time to spend that bonus money you got from someone.

    • Harry Stotle says

      Exactly, its incredibly tedious if San Francisco based journalists have to visit combat areas in Syria or even seek out the endless stream of refugees fleeing for their lives.
      Hell, its not even necessary to posses any sort of in-depth knowledge about Middle Eastern geopolitics before proclaiming without absolute certainty your, err, revelations about the ‘white helmets’, a group that only seem to operate in rebel strongholds, are funded by the west, and have allegedly been present during atrocities.

      I, for one, can barely wait for Olivia’s next magnum opus telling us why the Russians and Koreans are absolute bastards – its the sort of balanced reporting that has strengthened the Guardians reputation as a reliable new source.

  6. Harry Stotle says

    ‘Target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation.’ Solon said

    ‘The Guardian has unconvered how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).’ – she claims.

    Well like a few other I have been waiting all day for Solon to produce evidence which finally proves the Guardian has indeed unearthed more than just the usual propaganda scaps fed to them by intelligence figures or acolytes acting on their behalf.

    But so far nothing – maybe the big reveal will come tomorrow?

    • Anyone here being paid anything by anyone ever at anytime ?

      As far as I’ve seen a ‘Moral Compass’ is free & motivated by a sense of humanity & desire not to be lied to. We’ve been very badly let down by BBC, The Guardian etc etc not to mention US’s CNN etc MSM which is beyond the Pale – ironically an Irish expression.

      If targetted assassination of war profiteers, promoters of civilian murder by Scum Journalists & Political Leaders were legal we’d have a moral peaceful World in about 10 minutes flat ?

    • Big B says

      Hi Phillip: this could be my manifesto…

      Climate breakdown is a global concern. Rewilding, bike-riding, protecting bees and polar bears, and developing new sustainable technologies are all vitally important. But such actions will amount to little if we fail to turn a highly sceptical eye on the activities of a western military-industrial complex ravaging the planet’s poorest regions.

      These war industries fill their coffers by using weapons indiscriminately on “enemy” populations, spawning new and fiercer enemies – while often propping them up too – to generate endless wars. The consequences include massive displacements of these populations who then destabilise other regions, spreading the effect and creating new opportunities for the arms manufacturers, homeland security industries, and the financial industries that feed off them.

      A true environmentalist has to look as critically at western policies in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and many other areas of the globe as he does at UK policy in the Welsh hills and the Lake District.

      I told you you were being too light on Monbiot! [LOL!] He is a very dangerous man, as Jonathan Cook points out? From a recent article on the commons (a subject close to my heart)…

      My hope is that, after exploring a wide range of potential solutions, with the help of your comments and suggestions I can start to develop a synthesis: a new political, economic and social story that might be matched to the demands of the 21st century. Realising it is a further challenge, on which we also need to work. But first we must decide what we want. Then we decide how to get it.

      Could this be Monbiot’s manifesto? Given his NATO-apologist and pro-imperialist propagandising – is George Monbiot the man we want to be developing our political economy and telling ‘our’ story for the 21st century? Then intellectually vanguarding ‘our’ grassroots movement? He writes about the commons, which is laudable, but (as far as I am aware; and I can barely force myself to read him) he never mentions Peter Kropotkin; who worked all this out years ago. But that is anarcho-communism; which to my mind, the logical extension of the commons – as universal vested-interest community ownership – is identical with? So do we trust Monbiot to re-invent the wheel and re-package an essentially eco-Marxist vision for Western liberal [bourgeois] consumption? Or will he try to develop a capitalist-imperialist hybridised syndicalised ‘commons’ socio-political movement and take it on a roadtrip to nowhere? Will uranium, coltan, copper, rare earth minerals be preserved from neo-colonialism and imperialism as commons? Because if not: the commons and capital ultimately can’t and won’t mix.

  7. Neil Youngson says

    It’s easy to understand the Guardian’s position on issues like this when you follow the money. Before the Snowden revelations the Guardian was little known in the US, being a British newspaper. The Snowden stories and the Guardian’s role in breaking them raised their profile in the US at a time when they, like most print-based newspapers, were struggling with falling circulations.

    New revenue streams needed to be developed, and they decided to take advantage of their new higher profile in the US to expand their operation there – it’s in the US where the big advertising $$ are to be found. The trouble is those advertisers tend to be big corporations whose income depends greatly on US foreign policy which “rearranges” the world to be friendly to corporate exploitation. If you want the advertising $$ you don’t print stories that are critical of US foreign policy. They sold their soul to the imperialist devil, shame on them.

  8. James Graham says

    The Guardian represents independent, impartial, unbiased and neutral news reporting and journalism…my arse. Let 2018 be the year of the truth in Syria and this time next year dance round the smoking ashes of the Guardian.

  9. Directly and powerfully confront warmongers wherever they emerge on this Earth. Take them on without letting up until the evil, criminal entities are stone-cold dead.

  10. I am no lawyer but are not the attacks on Eva and Vanessa slanderous defamation? Perhaps we all need to photocopy the letter and go out early Sunday and slip a copy into each Observer. Though I am not sure anybody actually buys it anymore. I hope one day there will be a Nuremberg style trials for those involved in the military industrial complex responsible for the millions of deaths the past 1/4 century and that propagandists are seen as criminally responsible as any.

  11. rtj1211 says

    Interesting to see how the fake missile strike in Hawai’i is reported. My take is that, until proven otherwise, it is part of plans to ensure war in Korea takes place.

    How thick do they think we all are??

  12. Harry Stotle says

    Western sock puppets (like Solon) complaining about media disinformation – oh, irony of ironies!

    A series of horrific international crimes built on ‘a vast tapestry of lies’ (to again quote from Pinter’s nobel peace address) and yet Solon, from the comfort of her home in San Francisco, throws a hissy fit just because there is a certain degree of scepticism about an organisation that mysteriously appear, all wearing white helmets, and all apparently pro-west / anti-Assad (or ant-Putin) – no wonder some people believe they are funded by exactly the same western backers who trained and armed ISIS.

    Solon begins her turgid analysis by claiming ‘The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation. The Guardian HAS UNCOVERED (lol) how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).’ – unquote.

    The fucking Guardian – they can’t even see the problem with Bush’s 2 plane 3 buildings version of 9/11 so how on earth can we trust them with claims about Syria when none of them are brave enough, or more likely care enough, to provide a first-hand account of what western backed forces have actually been doing there?

    Having funded Sunni extremists, devastated an entire region, killed thousands of civilians and precipitated a mass exodus Solon wants to have a go at the only actors (politically and in the media) who seem determined to establish some degree of stability.

    No doubt the Solon’s of this world think our sacred duty is to next flatten Iran ……. or is it Korea?

Please note the opinions expressed in the comments do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or of OffG as a whole