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Guilty until proven innocent: Assad and the mainstream press

Days of incessant propaganda from the ABC, SBS and all other mainstream media toeing the Trump/US Establishment line on chemical weapons in Syria, without any overt logical basis, prompted the author to make a complaint. David Macilwain was in Syria in 2010, corresponds internationally with diverse people concerned about Syria's rights, and has visited Russia twice in the past three years, in a quest to discuss and share views on current events and to build up contacts who might be interviewed by the Australian press rather than the narrow sample usually referred to.

This morning the ABC’s RN breakfast presenter Fran Kelly interviewed a ‘former adviser to the Syrian government and Bashar al Assad’ – Dr Samir Altaqi - who now lives in Dubai. Ostensibly the purpose of the interview was to find out who might replace Assad once he has been ‘removed’. According to the ABC and other Western media, this removal will happen once Rex Tillerson has persuaded Vladimir Putin to stop supporting ‘the Syrian dictator’.

Unsurprisingly for a member of Syria’s government who has abandoned his own country and moved to one of the West’s local allies in the war on Syria, nothing Dr Altaqi said related to the reality of Syria, where the vast majority of citizens now support both their elected President and their defending Army.

You can judge for yourself here:

One has to ask who is responsible for finding such NATO-friendly 'dissident' voices who will back up the accepted narrative, and one which is almost the only view to be heard on the ABC. I had assumed that long-time presenter Fran Kelly, who has pushed a pro-Syrian 'opposition' viewpoint since the start of the war, played some part in choosing her interviewees, but it appears not so simple.

This interview was almost the last straw, following days of incessant propaganda from the ABC, SBS and all other mainstream media, and pushed me to phone the ABC Australia Radio breakfast programme immediately.

I spoke to the executive producer, Cheryl Bagwell, who was impatient and busy and advised me to phone later when the program finished, while at the same time explaining that she ‘didn’t want to get into an argument over Syria’.

When I phoned back, I got the same impatient and petulant response, despite explaining I was a spokesperson for Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation)In Syria (AMRIS), and had a complaint over the interviewee’s viewpoint on Assad. She said something like ‘so you support Assad and dismiss his use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons’ – to which I said – “Of course I support him, along with at least 15 million Syrians!”

Then she said something like, 'We’ve had too many calls from your people recently and we’re tired of it'. I’m not ‘your people’ – by which presumably she meant those from Hands off Syria (HoS), who’ve been victimised by the Murdoch Press and the ABC’s Media Watch just recently.

She went off into what seemed to me a bit of a tirade about how the ABC was the best and most balanced coverage of the issue and ‘can you tell me of one that is better?’ – she demanded.

I said that there was nothing that was any better in Australia, as they were all bad and biased and failed to air the Russian or Syrian viewpoint, and I asked if she listened to RT or other non-Western media, mentioning how RT was no different from the ‘independent’ ABC since they are both State supported broadcasters.

She said that only just the other day they had interviewed a Russian analyst – as if any would do. I heard that interview, with the ‘leading Russian military analyst’, Pavel Felgenhauer. (Podcast at

In this interview, the first question was, “At what point will Russia abandon Assad?” Pavel Felgenhauer's response was that Russia won’t abandon Assad - not because Assad isn’t responsible for a chemical weapons attack - but because Russia has invested so much in Syria, both militarily and politically. He said that some Russian advisers should have known that Assad was going to use chemical weapons, but may not have told the Kremlin.

Fran Kelly then asked, “But why would Russia stay so solid behind Assad? What’s the bigger picture?"

Pavel Felgenhauer said that, “Politically it would be too embarassing to abandon Assad, and lose face.” [...] “Russia right now is in a very isolated position, with even China supporting Trump’s actions... "

The ABC’s choice of interviewee in both cases, whether made by Fran Kelly or by Cheryl Bagwell, shows extreme confirmation bias. When I challenged the views espoused by the Russian guest, Bagwell said that he was from Moscow, and would know more than any of us about the situation.

In fact, knowing the views of many Russian analysts and commentators, I would assert that it would be hard to find any others who believed that Assad had actually used chemical weapons, leave alone ‘against his own people’. Just as you wouldn’t find someone from Syria, outside the ‘rebel-occupied’ zones, who would confirm the view that Bashar al Assad is head of an Alawite coterie oppressing the Syrian people.

Whoever is ultimately responsible for choosing the ‘analysts’ and ‘experts’ at the ABC, it is now clear that changing the thinking there is almost impossible. Any voice dissenting from the ABC narrative on Bashar al-Assad, or Vladimir Putin, would be accused of being one of ‘your people’, and their viewpoint dismissed out of hand.