I HARDLY know where to begin in reply to Mr Mackie’s knee-jerk response to my letter regarding being sceptical of the mainstream media’s output on Syria (Letters, February 27). Perhaps his smears would be a good place.

The first (and classic) smear is to accuse me of being a “conspiracy theorist”. This for having the gall to suggest that what we read in the mainstream media might not be the whole picture and that, for balance, it might be productive to widen your reading ... to “look behind the curtain”, as I put it.

By the way, Mr Mackie (I presume you are a supporter of Scottish independence as you read The National?), don’t you think The National gives us just that? A chance to look behind our mainstream media’s curtain of negative anti-independence propaganda? You don’t think there’s a wee parallel there?

But then I guess Mr Mackie is not interested in checking out a broad swathe of opinion and information as it might damage the obvious total faith he has in the veracity of the mainstream media. He even berates The National for daring to publish an opinion at odds with his own. In case he’s not aware of the idea, it’s called “freedom of speech”.

The second smear is more serious as he accuses me of “praising Assad and Putin”. If he re-reads my letter (more calmly this time) he will discover that I did no such thing. I merely pointed out that the West’s demonisation of them has reached hysterical proportions. Which is true.

The third smear is the accusation that I get my information from press releases from Moscow. I’m surprised he didn’t ask me what the weather was like there. He also says the only place you won’t find out the “facts” about Syria is on Sputnik. Spookily enough, although my reading is wide and varied, I have never looked at Sputnik. I guess that will have to be remedied.

As to his contention that Assad used barrel bombs, this is hugely disputed by independent, professional analysts in the US and UK, as is the accusation that he used chemical weapons.

There is no doubt that innocent civilians are being killed in East Ghouta. It is a tragedy. But until you understand the context in which this is happening you are in no position to point a finger. East Ghouta is controlled by a mixture of notorious terrorist groups, the main ones being Jaish al-Islam, who carried out the horrific slaughter of dozens of civilians in Damascus but are regarded as “moderates” by the West, Ahrar al-Sham, whose aim is to exterminate Syrian religious minorities, and al-Nusra Front, who are responsible for atrocities and suicide attacks.

These al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have launched more than a thousand mortar shells into Damascus, deliberately targeting civilians. Groups who, it is alleged, are supported by Saudi Arabia. These are the people the Syrian Army are fighting.

One of the main reasons for doubting the mainstream media news stories that emerge from Syria is that they mostly come from anti-Assad, pro-Jihadi groups with an axe to grind.

Mr Mackie talks of the “death of innocents” as if the West is not complicit in this horror too. Untold thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians have died in “coalition” drone and air strikes. Mosul and Fallujah and other places have been utterly destroyed. In Fallujah the US’s use of depleted uranium shells has created a humanitarian catastrophe. We hear little of this in the mainstream media.

Mr Mackie has resorted to the tired old ploy of traducing those he doesn’t agree with. His oracles in the media use it all the time. It is no way to conduct an informed discussion. But then again, I suspect that’s not what he wants.

Frank Rodgers