Propaganda and Coverage of Syria
After months of intense and feverish coverage of Syria, it is high time that we ask: how bad has the coverage been? How much have we been served as readers by the coverage? To what extent has the Arab (Saudi and Qatari) media converged with Western media? And why do Western media toss out all token adherence to minimum standards of professional journalism when the coverage targets an enemy of the US (and Israel)? I keep waiting for an article in the Columbia Journalism Review to no avail.
Thus far, Western media has been playing games in its coverage about Syria. For the first few months, Western media insisted (against claims to the contrary by the repressive regime) that the Syrian uprising was peaceful: that is, it was part of the touted “Arab Spring.”
Western media insisted that all claims about armed elements of the opposition were mere fabrications by the regime. Yet, when an opposition “army” was announced, and when news of armed clashes in Homs and other places appeared, there were no explanations in the Western press. There was no attempt to reconcile the claims and the later reportage.
But what is also curious is that Western media was desperate to deliver propaganda services to the cause of the Syrian National Council (there is opposition in Syria beyond the council, of course). Western media have been mere cheerleaders for the Syrian National Council. (This criticisms also applies to the news media of the Saudi and Qatari ruling dynasties). Every demonstration is massive, and every strike is successful, and every Friday has topped the previous Friday in the size of protesters. But how true is that? Has there been a demonstration that was not massive? Has there been one Friday that has not been successful?
Of course, in Arab media it is even worse: demonstrations are declared a success even before they take place. Thus, Aljazeera and Al Arabiya declare a demonstration massive the day before it starts. Not once, have the media stated that a particular demonstration was not massive, or that protests this week were less intense than last week, when protests—naturally—go through ups and downs.
Furthermore, Western media rarely covers demonstrations in support of the regime: and those protests have often been rather massive. Western media felt that it would be useful to the regime to admit the obvious: that the regime has some bases of support.
Western media’s propaganda (not coverage) has been so useless from the information point of view that there was no explanation provided for the resilience that has characterized the regime thus far. How does one explain that there has been not one diplomatic defection and no major government defection (notwithstanding the defection of an inspector general in an accounting department of the Syrian government.)
Why is it difficult for the media to even inform the readers of what is happening? Why are they insisting that the token Christian representative in the executive body of the Syrian National Council is a true representative of all Syrian Christians. Why do they view their mission as primarily political and propagandistic?
Of course, one does not expect the truth from the Syrian regime media. But, would one expect any better from the Saudi and Qatari regime media? Are we now to trust the propaganda outlets of the ruling dynasties of Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Have the rules changed and are we to follow the thrust of Saudi media that only Arab republics are undemocratic and that the Gulf kingdoms, princedoms, sheikhdoms, and sultanates are an oasis of freedom?
There are attempts at telling the truth. In Arabic, New TV of Lebanon tries to cover both sides and has snuck its correspondent into Syria. New TV has been criticized by both sides in Syria. In the US, Anthony Shadid and Nir Rosen have tried to cover aspects of the uprisings that are not covered in the mainstream press. The coverage is largely lazy: the unverified claims and wild exaggerations of the pro-Saudi Syrian Observatory for Human Rights basically fill in the space in all Western articles on Syria.
The regime has stayed in power thus far, at great cost to the Syrian people. But the story about Syria is not being told. We don’t have an explanation. People are afraid of defying the will of Syrian National Council and its propaganda message. But the readers are not being served. It is understandable that the Syrian regime and the Qatari-run Syrian National Council are lying. But it is less so that the media partake in the lying charade.