Media on Trial - Leeds 2018


Recent conflicts in both Libya and Syria have involved Western support for militant extremist and internationally designated terrorist groups and in both cases Western governments very probably stand in violation of international law prohibiting the overthrow of sovereign states.

“International law is indifferent to the perceived legitimacy of the state and to the form of government; both democracies and authoritarian regimes have the right to fight insurgencies and to defend themselves from external powers which aid the insurgents. Either way, it falls under the domestic jurisdiction of the state. Foreign powers are prohibited from assisting insurgents. General Assembly resolution 2131 (XX) declares that “no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.” This was reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in Nicaragua v. USA. The injured state is even entitled to adopt countermeasures against the intervening state.”  ~ Amal Saad, Professor of Politics in Lebanon

In light of these cases, the panel of experts this time focus on the media's propensity to embed its journalists directly with extremist militants and terrorist groups, such as ISIS and Nusra Front, Al Qaeda in Syria. These journalists include most notably, Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy embedded with Nour Al Din Zinki (a US supported extremist group) and the Guardian’s Martin Chulov, embedded with ISIS and Al Qaeda in Idlib and East Aleppo.

In Syria, the White Helmets have been overwhelmingly the source from which establishment and corporate media have taken their information and this group has been demonstrated to have clear affiliations to a number of extremist and terrorist groups while being multi-million-financed by governments who have a publicly declared objective of ‘regime change’ in Syria.

Previous reporting from Libya in 2011 followed a similar pattern when the BBC's Ian Pannell was embedded with extremist, anti-government forces, while the media narratives frequently reflected information from those same sources.

The question therefore arises, by reporting alongside groups which meet commonly accepted definitions of terrorism, through gaining entry into sovereign nations by way of these forces, and by presenting these groups as merely 'activists', “rebels” or 'opposition forces', has the mainstream print and broadcast media violated legislation controlling the platforming of terrorist and extremist ideology and propaganda in order to achieve the foreign policy aims of their respective governments?

Sheila Coombes, founder of Frome Stop War and Media on Trial introduces the event, and the circumstances surrounding the attempts to prevent it taking place.

Professor Piers Robinson is Chair of Politics, Society and Political Journalism at Sheffield University. He has written the Handbook of Media, Conflict and Security, discussed media manipulation in television appearances and written articles on the deployment of propaganda in the media.

Robert Stuart is an independent researcher whose presentation on the ‘irregularities’ in the BBC Panorama episode ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ encouraged film producer and writer Victor Lewis-Smith to tear up his BBC contract in disgust.

Professor Tim Hayward is Professor of Environmental Political Theory and Director of the Just World Institute at the University of Edinburgh. Tim has written extensively on human rights and ecological concerns, and he is currently completing a book on Global Justice and Finance. He has published articles calling into question media reporting – particularly that of Channel 4 News, as well as the BBC Panorama episode ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

American journalist and broadcaster Patrick Henningsen is the founder of 21st Century Wire, which consistently provides a platform to those reporting from on the ground in conflict zones and who often calls into question, or directly disproves, the narrative of the mainstream media pundits.

Peter Ford was the UK ambassador to Bahrain from 1999–2003 and to Syria from 2003–2006. Following his retirement from the Foreign Office, he became Representative of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the Arab world. In February 2017 Ford became a Director of the British Syrian Society.

International investigative journalist and photographer Vanessa Beeley has reported from inside Syria, Egypt and Palestine including liberated East Aleppo and has exposed the true Al Qaeda pedigree of the mainstream media darling – the White Helmets – in exhaustive and highly lauded investigations.