The Decline Of The Australian Media And The Crash Of 7K9268


Australian reporting around the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai, Egypt is shallow smear, writes James O’Neill.

It is a measure of how low the Australian media has sunk that it uses the tragic crash of the Russian airliner Flight 7K9268 over Sinai, Egypt which killed all 224 people on board as a vehicle to continue its relentless campaign of the demonization of Russia in general and President Vladimir Putin in particular.

The twin targets in the latest media assault are Russia’s involvement in Syria and the continuing saga of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.

Exhibit 1 is a column in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) by Daniel Flitton, published on 2 November 2015, entitled “IS Claim Puts Putin in a Bind.”

The “IS Claim” referred to in the title was a claim made by the ISIS terrorist group that they were responsible for the crash of the aircraft in retaliation for Russia’s military support for the Syrian government.

Mr Flitton poses the Russian President’s alleged dilemma in the following terms:

“How does Vladimir Putin, the man forced to defend Russia’s military meddling abroad only last year after a passenger jet was shot from the skies over Ukraine, choose to respond to this latest loss of civilian life?”

Mr Flitton goes on to say:

“But the gloating by Islamic State no matter how empty, leaves Putin in a difficult bind. Does he insist the crash be subjected to a full and transparent investigation, of the kind he obstructed in the case of MH17, the Malaysian airlines (sic) destroyed over Ukraine? Or does he claim a conspiracy?”

Not only does Mr Flitton conflate two entirely separate and disparate disasters, he poses a series of rhetorical false alternatives as if the answers to his questions might provide an explanation for either or both disasters. Either way in Mr Flitton’s fact free constructs, Mr Putin emerges as the villain.

Russian president Vladimir Putin. (IMAGE: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera, Flickr).
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (IMAGE: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera, Flickr).

Did Russia obstruct the MH17 Inquiry? Mr Flitton has clearly not read the Report of the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) or the voluminous appendices attached to that Report.

There is no criticism of Russian “obstruction” in the Report. In fact, Russia provided radar, satellite and Air Traffic Control data as early as 21 July 2014, four days after MH17 was shot down. They also released classified military data on the technical capabilities of the BUK missile, one version of which the Report blamed for the destruction of MH17.

As to who might have fired the BUK missile, the Report appended as Appendix T the Report for the DSB of the Dutch Intelligence Services. That report stated (at page 23) that although the “separatists” had captured a Ukrainian military base where BUK missiles were located, those missiles were “not operational” and therefore “could not be used by the Separatists.” Appendix T goes on to say that although the Russians has supplied weapons to the separatists, “there were no indications that these were powerful anti-aircraft systems.”

If there was any obstruction to the Inquiry it is to be laid firmly at the door of Ukraine, which withheld important air traffic control data as well as military information relating to, for example, the use of BUK missile controlling radar operational on 14 July 2014.

Another culprit guilty of withholding relevant information and thereby obstructing the inquiry was the United States who, despite John Kerry’s boast to NBC’s Meet the Press on 20 July 2014 that they (the US) “knew everything” refused to release its satellite data from the satellites directly overhead the Donbass region at the time of the shoot down, or the data from the US warships monitoring the civil war from the Black Sea.

Mr Flitton fails to mention any of this, just as he fails to mention the agreement of 8 August 2014 between Australia, Belgium, Netherlands and Ukraine (with Malaysia added in December 2014) to not publish the results of the Dutch Inquiry unless all four (now 5) parties agreed.

This gives at least one of the prime suspects, Ukraine, an effective veto over a criminal investigation.

Neither does Mr Flitton refer to the suppression of the autopsy report of Professor David Ranson on the Australian victims of MH17.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry. (IMAGE: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine, Flickr)
US Secretary of State, John Kerry. (IMAGE: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine, Flickr)

That report effectively refutes the DSB conclusion as to the source of the missile and its type. A conclusion incidentally, that accords with the results of the detailed empirical investigation carried out by Almaz-Antey, the BUK’s manufacturer, that also refutes the DSB’s conclusion about the physical source and the type of BUK missile used.

It is only in the peculiar world of the Australian mainstream media that you can refuse to publish relevant information and then accuse the enemy du jour of obstructing an inquiry by not providing relevant information, while simultaneously ignoring the blatant obstruction of justice, to put it mildly, of a friendly country whose foreign policy is followed so uncritically.

Has Mr Putin failed to demand a full and transparent inquiry into the crash of 7K9268 as Mr Flitton alleges? None of the media reports thus far have suggested any such thing. In accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation protocols the inquiry is being conducted by Egypt, being the country where the tragedy occurred.

Russia is assisting with the inquiry, providing technical and manpower assistance, as again it is entitled to do under ICAO protocols as the country of source for the crashed airliner.

The two black boxes, both of which have been recovered, will be analysed by an independent team, including German and French specialists from Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer, and a specialist from Ireland.

Will Mr Putin claim a conspiracy? To even raise the possibility Mr Flitton resorts to the tired cliché of all those who wish to denigrate somebody whose opinions one finds uncomfortable as a “conspiracy theorist.”

The answer to Mr Flitton’s rhetorical question is self-evident. Preliminary reports from the crash investigation suggest that the plane disintegrated in mid-air at over 31,000 feet, before plummeting to the ground and dispersing over a relatively limited area (unlike MH17). Overnight, the United States is claiming it’s “99.9 per cent sure” that the cause of the disaster was a bomb, however it’s yet to be formally determined.

A screencap from a Reuters report into the crash in Sinai, Egypt.
A screencap from a Reuters report into the crash in Sinai, Egypt.

The facts suggested so far lend themselves to three possibilities:

  • The plane suffered a catastrophic structural failure arising from some flaw or flaws in the plane itself. This would be unusual for a modern aircraft, but far from impossible.
  • There was a bomb on board that exploded. This could cause the abrupt disintegration of the aircraft. One would expect the debris field to be more widespread than was the case but it is certainly a real possibility.
  • There was an external cause as the plane’s operator has been quick to suggest, such as a missile, either air-to-air or fired from the ground. As with MH17 the radar and satellite data should be definitive on this possibility, assuming that the data are not suppressed.

The preliminary reports also show that there was no indication from the pilots that the plane was in distress, there was no Mayday call, or any advance warning of any kind to indicate that something was amiss. This suggests that the disintegration of the plane was extremely rapid.

If this is confirmed, then options (b) and (c) would emerge as the leading hypotheses. As a conspiracy is simply an agreement by two or more persons to carry out an unlawful act, then if (b) or (c) are established as the cause of the crash, a conspiracy is an overwhelmingly likely component of the tragedy.

Mr Putin would not be the only person to draw that inference. Given that a conspiracy is at least a viable hypothesis at this stage of the inquiry, then the only reason for Mr Flitton to raise it in the way he did was to smear the Russian President by implying that he was in that favoured pejorative group of conspiracy theorists.

All of this should be reasonably obvious to the dispassionate observer prepared to look at the evidence. Unfortunately, as Mr Flitton’s article, and the follow up cartoon in the SMH of 3 November 2015 amply demonstrates, facts, logic and the evidence trail come a poor second to the editorial imperatives of a continued demonization of Russia and its President.

James O'Neill is a former academic, and has practiced as a barrister since 1984. He writes on geo-political issues with a special emphasis on international law and human rights issues. You can contact James at