In what is possibly the most shameful Western reporting to come out of Syria recently, a popular British news channel gave positive coverage to known child murderers, and is now hiding its own report from public view.
On Wednesday 5 October, Channel 4 News published a report from Aleppo via its official social media channels. The video report entitled Inside Aleppo: Up Close with the Rebels was presumably featured earlier on Channel 4’s live broadcast. But it has since been removed from public access in what appears to be Channel 4’s censoring of its own embarrassing and disturbing content.
Astute observers on social media, however, had been quick to save the news segment before it disappeared.
Uncritical coverage of ‘moderates’ in Syria
The segment followed Syrian rebels in East Aleppo fighting the Assad government. In the segment, Channel 4’s correspondent is embedded with the Nour al-din al-Zenki rebel militia and provides narration of the action. Surprisingly, the narrator consistently describes the Zenki group as “moderates” – even going so far as to describe the core of the group as initially formed by “farmers and factory workers” which had only recently turned towards ultra-conservatism as “Islamists”.
But Zenki is the same rebel group that received broad media coverage in July 2016 for the brutal beheading of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy named Abdullah Issa. The boy had reportedly been kidnapped from a hospital. His public decapitation with a small knife by Zenki rebels was filmed and subsequently uploaded to the internet (the rebels themselves referred to the boy as “a child” in the grotesque footage).
The barbaric act and celebratory nature of those who filmed themselves carrying out the crime caused a stir in Washington, as Zenki had been a CIA-vetted group receiving heavy weaponry from the West. A tense State Department briefing ensued, with Associated Press and other reporters demanding accountability from the US government, which had previously been openly supportive of the group.
War crimes glossed over
Even after knowledge of Zenki’s crimes had gone viral, Channel 4 clearly chose to feature this group as representing ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria. And it didn’t once ask the group about the beheading of a child which was, by that time, known around the world.
In fact, Amnesty International had issued a report in July condemning Zenki’s crimes, describing the group as having:
truly plumbed the depths of depravity.
But Channel 4 didn’t only embed itself within Zenki. It also gave favourable coverage to two of the very rebel leaders who directly carried out the child’s beheading. In a 19 August article, The Canary was the first Western news outlet to identify one of them as Umar Salkho.
Channel 4’s October report featured Salkho throughout. It even uncritically captured a moment where Salkho verbalises plans to attack a bakery as he looks at a map. Amazingly, the narrator rationalises this proposed attack on a presumably civilian target simply as:
their way of defending East Aleppo is to hit back.
Live broadcast segment removed
The Channel 4 footage may have actually captured other war crimes in the making, too. The final scene featured Zenki members capturing civilians, including young children, from a pro-government area. In the scene, the Channel 4 correspondent notes that the first question asked of one nervous civilian by a Zenki fighter was about his ethnic identity (“are you Kurdish?”). The trucks then carry the civilians away to an unknown fate.
On 7 October, Channel 4 hid the video report, marking it as “private” on YouTube. This was possibly in response to an early public outcry on Twitter as people started to recognise Umar Salkho as one of the murderers of 12-year-old Abdullah Issa. The news segment had been accessible for just two days.
The Canary reached out to Channel 4 News for comment, but received no response. That leaves us with the following questions:
Did the channel knowingly attempt to soften the public image of the notorious Zenki group? Was it just ignorant? Or did it take the video down after realising it may have captured war crimes on tape?
While the video remains censored, the public demands answers.
View the censored segment from Channel 4 News below (provided by another YouTube account):