Shameful episode of Four Corners

ABC TV’s flagship current affairs programme, Four Corners, has done serious damage to its professional reputation by screening “The Battle for Syria” under its colours.

It was an imported programme so no one on the staff of the ABC bears any ethical responsibility. But the question remains – who bought it in and decided to transmit it under the flag of Four Corners?

Made by a UK production house, Clover Films, the producer was Jamie Doran and the reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad.

ABC presenter Kerry O’Brien introduced the film saying that the programme makers had “embedded” themselves with “a rebel militia” and filmed their story in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city where control has been contested for months.

Purporting to be a eye-witness account of the savage struggle between the Syrian military loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the militarised opposition, the programme contained confronting and questionable images.

The most troubling episode was the detention of a young male who had been caught trying to earn some money selling military information. But instead of talking to the official Syrian army he was entrapped and found himself talking to the rebel militiaman.

They detained him and then marched him into a bombed out building for interrogation. The final footage showed him disappearing through the door in the company of the armed militiamen.

Then cut to a shot of reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad who said the man was tortured for hours by his captors. He did not reveal the man’s fate but viewers were left to presume he has been tortured to death.

Why didn’t the filmmakers intervene to save his life? Did they send a report of the apparent war crime to the UN and the appropriate international authorities? If they didn’t, why not?

We weren’t told because the filmmakers were “embedded” and presumably felt unable to come into conflict with their hosts.

Kerry O’Brien said in an introduction which extolled the film: “They (the filmmakers) witness Syrian soldiers defecting, and are helpless to intervene when a Government informer is captured and tortured.”

“Helpless”? That’s the trouble with “embedded” journalism: the media ends up working for their protectors, whether it is the US army, the British army, NATO or the Australian army.

What ABC viewers weren’t told is that the anti-Assad forces are a collection of heroic idealists and vicious terrorists. They have different aims and methods. They are united in opposing the pro-Iranian, pro-Moscow Shi’ite regime in Damascus but they are utterly divided over what the new Syria will be.

The imperialist powers aren’t intervening openly but, behind the scenes, they are backing the insurgency (as they backed the Taliban and others against the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s) thereby fuelling the bloodshed. Their desired outcome is to see the Syria torn into warring communities and its schools, hospitals, universities and infrastructure smashed. They welcome the enforced departure of Syria’s intellectual and professional classes and every bomb that breaks to the spirit of the Syrian people.


In conclusion the programme interviewed Foreign Minister Bob Carr who displayed his ignorance, arrogance and dilettantism. Why couldn’t the West intervene militarily to end the Assad regime, asked O’Brien.

Carr: “I just think the military strength of the Assad regime would militate against intervention. I just think it’s too formidable a proposition.”

What baloney. Syria is a short step away from being an impoverished Third World country. Are we to take seriously Carr’s claim that the US, with the biggest war machine in world history, couldn’t flatten the Assad regime in a day’s operation. Ditto NATO or the British from their bases on Cyprus.

I’m not calling for imperialist intervention (I oppose it) but Carr is perpetuating a furphy when he says that the Syria regime is too strong militarily to be taken on.

Carr offered his own solution – assassination of President Assad. Carr, the darling of the media, right-wing social democracy and the US State Department, said: “But perhaps, this sounds brutal and callous, perhaps an assassination combined with a major defection taking a large part of its military, is what is required to get, one, a ceasefire, and, two, political negotiations.”

It is the first time an Australian foreign minister has publicly called for the assassination of the leader of another nation. It is all the more remarkable because Australia has enjoyed full and friendly diplomatic relations with Damascus for half a century.

O’Brien asked: “Now is that just hopeful (!!) conjecture? … Is there intelligence about anything?”

Carr: “I have no intelligence data, none has flowed across my desk that suggest that this is about to happen. But it would seem to be a pre-condition towards what Kofi Anan said was essential.”

For the record, Anan, the former UN secretary-general, did not include assassination in his peace plan, but Carr has elevated it to a “pre-condition” for resolving the crisis.

It isn’t about Assad. It’s about destroying the Syrian regime; breaking the anti-Zionist resolve of the Syrian people; and weakening the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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