Saturday, September 3, 2016

REVIEW: “White Helmets” Documentary For Netflix Is Moving, Misses Turkey's Role, Qs of Yemen, Lanka, Gaza

By Matthew Russell Lee, Review

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- The “White Helmets” documentary slated to air on Netflix on September 16 starts with dramatic footage of airstrikes and searching through buildings, saving a week-old baby from a collapsed wall - then settles into a training camp in Turkey.

  The director and producer, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, collaborated in 2014's Virunga, about gorillas in the Congo. This time for Netflix they wade into the Syrian conflict, with amazing footage but, at least for some viewers, a lack of analysis.

   Turkey, for example, is portrayed as a helpful haven across the border. Now Turkey has entered Syria to fight not ISIS but the Kurds. Could these nuances not be included in a 40-minute documentary?

   In terms of the politics of Netflix, one wonders if a similar-length documentary for example about Gaza, or more to this point Sri Lanka, would be aired. There were airstrikes on civilians in Sri Lanka; Channel 4 aired Callum Macrae's “No Fire Zone.” But would a paean to a Tamil Tiger medical teams be screened on Netflix?

  In “White Helmets,” the protagonists give heartfelt testimony looking straight into the camera. One White Helmet has a two-week old son while a one week old baby is rescued. In the long Turkey segment, another cranes into his cell phone to see the most recent car bomb in Aleppo. In a tip of the hat to balance, the phrase “ISIS on the ground, the Russians in the air” is used. The United Nations, tellingly, is not or barely mentioned. UNrelevant.

   Turkey is portrayed as a paradise, and in fairness the filming in early 2016 was before the attempted coup. Still, Turkey had and has an interest in Syria, now largely targeting the Kurds, and this is not mentioned. Instead there are long segments of fireman training - one wonders, will Dennis Leary endorse the film?

  In one sequence in Turkey, television news mentions MSF, Doctors Without Borders. As their facilities in Yemen have been destroyed by the Saudi-led Coalition supported by the US, is Netflix considering any coverage of Yemen?

   Still, “White Helmets” is moving and well-produced. It should be seen - but so should much else.

Before the UN Security Council meeting on the Syria chemical weapons report on August 30, the Permanent Representatives of four of the Council's five Permanent members spoke about the report, not on UN Television but capture by Inner City Press, here.

  Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, when asked if Russia had given Turkey the “green light” in Syria, said no, that is not true.

  UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, when asked of Turkey's operations in Syria, supported them unequivocally, not echoed in US State Department briefings this week. Inner City Press shouted out to Rycroft on the Next Secretary General race, if the piece by UK Andrew Mitchell against Irina Bokova was coordinated with the government, but this was not answered.
  French Ambassador Delattre spoke; earlier in the day he answered on Burundi (Beyond the Vine here) and Western Sahara, here.

  And finally US Ambassador Samantha Power, for whom the glass door locked to non-resident correspondents at the UN was opened spoke. When asked if any ICC referral, she said, we'll see what the traffic bears.

Here was UK Rycroft's answer, as transcribed by the UK Mission:

Q: Ambassador, about Syria again, Turkey just entered the war recently. What’s the UK’s position on this?

The UK position is that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey, both in this fight against terrorism and as a frontline in Syria. Turkey has the right to defend itself, and we’re working very closely with Turkey. Turkey is a leading member of the International Syria Support Group and will be instrumental in finding a final resolution to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

  As Turkey's August 24 military operations inside Syria began, in New York the Turkish mission filed a letter with the UN Security Council, which Inner City Press puts online here. 

In the letter, Turkey's outgoing Permanent Representative to the UN Halit Cevik cited not only Article 51 of the UN Charter but also UNSC resolutions 1373, 2170 and 2178. It does not mention the Kurds but only DEASH (sic).

  Turkey's letter states among other things that “Turkey initiated a military operation in the early hours of August 24, 2016, against DEASH which has been directly and deliberately targeting Turkey.” It states that Turkey respects Syria's territorial integrity and political unity. The word sovereignty is not used, but “political transition” is.

  Meanwhile a journalist from Turkey's state media TRT, also apparently outgoing, to his credit disclosed that his interview with Cevik's Syrian counterpart Bashar Ja'afari was unceremoniously pulled from broadcast and won't be online.

  As noted, Ban Ki-moon's UN gives this same Turkish state media TRT a solo office, (for) now next to Egypt state media Akhbar al Yom, while throwing the independent Press into the street and confining it to minders. We'll have more on all this.

On the evening of August 23, an item was added to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's online schedule:

* 9:30 a.m. Briefing on the “Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and other Issues related to Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic”

  Then UN Television said it would broadcast this “photo op” at 10:30 am.  Doesn't “briefing” connote more than photo op? And why isn't it in the UN's Media Alert? Inner City Press wrote to Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Q: UNTV has just announced a “photo op” of the Secretary General, seemingly related to the revised listing * 9:30 a.m. Briefing on the “Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and other Issues related to Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic”

Where is this “briefing”? Who has been informed of it, and who will be permitted to attend / observe this “briefing”? And if it is a briefing, why does DPI's UNTV describe it as a photo-op?

What is the update on this fourth round of questions on Burundian Lt Col Mayuyu, email of 29 hours ago?

Dujarric, we report upon receipt, responded:

"At 9:30 the SG will receive the report of the OPCW/UN mission and be briefed on its content. The report will then be transmitted to the Security Council. The photo-op is just the handover of the report.  When I something on Burundi, I will share it with you."

It's appreciated - but on the Burundi question, Inner City Press has asked it four times; UN Peacekeeping or after this amount of time the mission in CAR should be able to answer. On Syria, why a photo-op is created - with Kim Won-soo? - is UNclear. But it is appreciated.  Watch this site.

On August 11 when the the UN's third Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura invited the media to a question and answer stakeout on August 11, the turn-out was decidedly light. While the UN used to provide interpretation of stakeouts, this time it didn't.

 Present for a predictable question was Voice of America, with which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman has worked to evict the critical Press (one FOIA document here, more forthcoming). Ban finally did the eviction earlier this year, film here. This is Ban's UN.

   In his prepared statement, de Mistura added a word to the UN's old saw, saying there is no “sustainable” military solution. He quoted a response the day prior in New York by OCHA's Stephen O'Brien - an answer which the UN Department of Public Information under Cristina Gallach didn't even include when it put up the video of the OCHA briefing (which was about South Sudan, another failure of Ban's UN.)

   More than anything, Ban's UN seems to want to be perceived as relevant: it wants to be spoken with, and to brag about its discussions. De Mistura told the near-empty stakeout about his work in previous mediation. Ban himself was out in Los Angeles, bragging about talks with... Norman Lear. This is today's UN.