Syrian journalist critical of foreign media and their coverage of the uprising


A short interview with a Syrian journalist based for many years in Damascus. Originally published in The Majalla

The Media and the Revolution

Syrian journalist: “Foreign media don’t care about protecting Syrian activists and fixers.” An interview with a Syrian journalist, who has been working for a private publication for the last five years in Damascus.
syrian media
The Majalla: What was the level of polarization on both sides before the revolution?
No one hated Bashar Al-Assad before the revolution, few people were criticizing him. The country was not ready for a revolution, I think 51 percent of Syrians wanted reforms
Q:What are the taboos of the Syrian press nowadays? Is there a way to cross “red lines” without facing the wrath of the authorities?The taboos are the army, ethnic minorities, the President and all the “mafia” members. I crossed the red lines several times: I wrote about Kurds, judicial corruption, and educational corruption. The way to do it is to talk with high officials, not civil servants, and be able to defend your point. However, sometimes they caused me trouble for really stupid layout-related issues. Look what happened to the Syrian-Palestinian writer Salamah Kilah, who has been arrested because they found a leftist magazine in his apartment!

Q: Has anything changed since the lifting of the State of Emergency in April 2011?
The end of the State of Emergency worsened the situation and the escalation produced more lies from State-run media. [Pro-revolution] citizen journalist Bara’a Al-Bushi has been killed in Al-Tell (Damascus), while he was talking to [pro-opposition] Orient TV. Four journalists from the State-run TV station Al-Ikhbariyyah were abducted this month. The explosion which targeted the State-TV offices [August 6] occurred really nearby the Presidential palace in the Muhajereen neighborhood. How is it possible? The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression was originally supported by Asma Al-Assad, but its president Mazen Darwish is detained since February 16 … The situation resembles the attacks on journalists that happened in Lebanon between 2005 and 2010 [responsibility for which is blamed on the Syrian Government by numerous analysts].

Q: What do you think about the mushrooming media of the opposition, are they reliable and independent?

I am wary of certain sponsors: why this businessman or country is sponsoring that media, what does he want from the post-Assad era? Some Gulf-funded TV stations are moved by clear political and sectarian agendas.
As for reliability, modern media depends on citizen journalists and revolutionary media are transparent and spontaneous, but sometimes you need to verify their accuracy.

Q: How do you evaluate the role played by internet in this revolution?

Look, in my village there are around 67.000 residents and I would say that only 200 of them have internet access. New media are important because they end up being broadcast on TV.

Those people who use new media will shape the change in this country, but they will not obtain Government posts in the future Syria.

Q: What is your opinion of the behavior of foreign media in Syria during the uprising?

The media have the duty of taking risks, regardless of threats. It’s not true that Al-Jazeera is not allowed inside the country: numerous foreign media were given permits to follow the UN observers. Al-Jazeera has been in Gaza and Iraq and they cannot enter Syria? On the other side, the same goes for pro-regime media such as [the Iranian] Press TV, who didn’t risk going into areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army.
Then you have those foreign journalists who reported about Syria while enjoying the summer in Beirut … Other foreign journalists have provided information about activists to the Syrian intelligence. I have been personally interrogated for working as a fixer, and the journalist I was following has never helped me … he didn’t even bring a bulletproof vest for me!

Q: Does regime change imply media freedom?

No, the future of media will imply lots of suffering and the regime will stay strong. I’m also concerned about the “newcomers,” those kidnapping journalists. For this aspect, I would like to quote Mazen Darwish, when he said: “I am not afraid of sectarianism, Islamists or Alawis, I’m afraid of tyranny and oppression, wherever it comes from.” The Syrian people won’t stay silent, because as long as there is no acceptance of other opinions, we won’t have a more liberal media.

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