How Channel 4 News put faces on the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo

The Syrian city of Aleppo was under siege for years in a bloody conflict that killed and displaced thousands of civilians.

British broadcaster Channel 4 News said it was impossible to enter the rebel-held eastern section of the city, so instead of using activist video or footage shot by residents on mobile devices, the network commissioned 26-year-old Syrian filmmaker Waad al Kateab to document the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis.

The result was Inside Aleppo.

“On a weekly and sometimes daily basis she… delivered footage for us… from rebel-held east Aleppo that [shows] the devastating consequences of this war, the helplessness of the children trapped there and the huge burden that just a handful of doctors are left carrying as they battle to save lives,” Channel 4 said.

It included regularly filming at the Al Quds hospital, where reports say her husband worked – and her family lived.

“Her camerawork is stunning, but it's also sensitive in the most harrowing of situations and it's this combination that makes it impossible for the viewer to turn away,” Channel 4 said.

These dispatches include doctors trying to save the life of a mother and her unborn baby after she was caught up in a bombing on her way to the hospital.

“Through focusing on this one moment in the makeshift operating theatre, we are given a glimpse of the wider struggles in this broken city,” Channel 4 said.

Al Kateab also told the story of the last gardener in Aleppo, who Channel 4 said “fought to preserve beauty in a world of desolation”.

And, in what Channel 4 said is the most watched and most shared piece it has ever done, another video shows a child bearing witness to the last hospital in east Aleppo.

Channel 4 News editor Ben De Pear called the results “searing testaments to life under siege in the rebel-held east of the country’s largest city”.

He added, “She has done that most important thing in journalism: she humanised the victims, showed us whole families in their worst moments, chronicled their pain and showed the world the horror, without intruding, and with a skill it takes most decades to learn.”

As a result, Channel 4 said more than three million people shared the videos that were viewed almost 400m times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the Inside Aleppo microsite. One has more than 70m views on Facebook alone – and another is not far behind.

This makes them the most watched reports on Aleppo by any one filmmaker, Channel 4 said.

Each video comes with warnings it contains distressing themes, but Channel 4 said putting the videos on Facebook meant they were in viewers’ feeds, directly where viewers were.

The coverage also prompted discussion around the world, including an op-ed in the New York Times that called the video of the gardener "shattering" as it talked about the failure of the US to act in Syria.

Channel 4 said Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the UN, also watched the reports and called them "heartbreaking”.

In addition, Channel 4 said the series made a notable impact within Syria, where civilians have contacted the network about reporting the war through their own eyes as well.

The series was also a critical success, winning the Best Video Journalism award at The Drum’s Online Media Awards earlier this month.

In addition, al Kateab was lauded by Amnesty International for Television News and received Amnesty International's Gaby Rado Award for Best New Journalist. She was also awarded by the Royal Television Society Awards, which named her Young Talent of the Year and Camera Operator of the Year.

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