The makers of a viral video purporting to show a "Syrian hero boy" dodging sniper fire to save a young girl have apologized for the clip, which they admitted was fake and intended to raise awareness about children in conflict zones.
"We stand for our good intention behind this but we're also sorry if it is making some harm and we're sorry if it makes documentation or reporting in war zones more difficult," Norwegian producer John Einar Hagen told AFP on Sunday.
Lars Klevberg, who directed the clip, told BBC Trending last week that he wrote a script after watching news coverage of the civil war in Syria, and that the video was shot in Malta on the same set used by Hollywood films "Troy" and "Gladiator" using child actors.
The video received funding from the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI) and the Arts Council Norway.
By the time the filmmaker admitted the hoax in a statement released on Friday, the video had been viewed more than five million times. It has since been removed, although copies of it can still be seen.
Klevberg tweeted a statement on Friday, saying the clip was meant to “spur debate, urge action on behalf of innocent children all over the world who are affected by war.”
The response turned out to be a huge backlash, particularly by journalists and human rights activists.
“If the video hoax achieved any short-term goals by highlighting the plight of children in war, those have been washed away by undermining confidence in professional reporting and war crimes documentation that is done with care and consideration for the facts,” Human Rights Watch childrens’ rights adviser Fred Abrahams said in a statement.
“By releasing a fake video, Klevberg has made it easier for war criminals to dismiss credible images of abuse."
In an open letter to Klevberg and the film's financers, journalists and other opponents of the clip wrote, "Syrian children have been the target of snipers, barrel bombs and massive atrocities for over three years, much of which has been documented, painstakingly, by citizen journalists and journalists alike in the most dangerous and dire of circumstances. This film undermines the work and the people who continue to document crimes against humanity."
The Norwegian Film Institute responded with a statement that read in part, "The film was valued as an artistic project, where fiction was embeded in an authentic framework. We advised the filmmakers they should announce the intention of the film shortly after it was launched, but unfortunately it took them too long before that information was published. The damage was done and the rest of the handling was unprofessional and reprehensible."
United Nations figures show that at least 191,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, including at least 8,800 children.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now