Syrian Protests and the Media: Part I
The Syrian regime media are now desperate: Not only do they have to defend the regime: but they have to respond to an avalanche of “enemy” media that are focused on Syrian developments. Syrian regime media have always been what you expect from state media in the region: stale, unprofessional, boring, dishonest, deceptive, non-subtle, and fawning about the leader—whoever he is—and contributing to his (it is always a man) personality cult. But there is something particularly distinctive about Baathist media—and this applies to the Baathist regime of Salah Jadid as well: They excel in the art of curses and in vicious personal attacks. They have habitually resorted to describing their enemies as “Zionist spies and traitors,” although Baathist governments have been least effective in fighting or catching real Zionist spies and traitors. And when a Baathist government actually captures an Israeli spy (as the Syrian government did recently), the public often dismisses the claims because they are aware of how casual the Baathist governments have been in describing dissidents as such (it is called the art of takhwin—or declaring the other as a traitor: call it a secular version of takfir). Syrian newspapers still appear as a relic from 1960s newspapers: don’t be surprised if you read on the front page a piece of news about Bashar Assad meeting with a delegation from the Potato Association of Syria (assuming there is such an association). Or you may read about the president receiving a friendly letter from the leader of a small country that most Syrians have not heard of.
But now we live in the age of TV: there is not only the state TV, also the semi-state TV, Dunya: reportedly owned by the Makhluf family. It is obvious that Syrian regime media have no respect for the truth. That they are willing to say or claim anything: even when they may be truthful on occasion, it is hard to believe what they say given their track record of misinformation. The regime still sticks to its story: that the victims in Syria are victims of “terrorist or criminal armed gangs.” There are no civilian victims by state troops’ gun fire, according to state media. That is not part of the official narrative. As chief propagandist, Bouthaina Shaaban, said recently to Russian media: there are no innocent victims in Syria: only members of the security forces and members of the armed gangs are victims. The civilian victims don’t count at all. Dunya TV is now doing much of the counter-propaganda against Syria’s enemies. It is much more effective than the stale Syrian regime TV, from a propaganda point of view: it uses mockery and sarcasm and a mixture of imagery and contrasts to rebut Saudi and Qatari propaganda outlets.
Arab viewers are left to scramble between Saudi-Qatari media on the one hand, and the Syrian media on the other hand. It is a war of propaganda where truth is the sure victim. Syrian speakers (on the various outlets) are rather effective for their cause: unlike Lebanese speakers, they are consistently articulate and eloquent in the use of the Arab language. They all seem to speak fast and forcefully. The star of Syrian propaganda as of late is someone by the name of Muhammad Dirar Jammu: he appears on Syrian propaganda outlets and on Amal TV in Lebanon. There is no one more outlandish and more theatrical and more demagogic than this guy. He is reckless in his propaganda message, and is thriving in the Baathist limelight. He once told Syrian dissidents (on NBN TV—owned by Amal Movement--which has been fierce in defending the Syrian regime): we know where you are, and we know what you eat and what time you go to sleep and where do you drink your coffee. It was quite Orwellian. He is the one who often faults Bashar for his excessive “mercy”: Bashar’s mercy has now cost the Syrian people some 3000 civilian victims. And Jammu, like other propagandists for the regime—including the Lebanese guests—often threatens to “reveal” damning documents to prove the wild conspiracies that are posited by the regime. But they never feel rushed to release those damning documents. Yet, the one real conspiracy against the Syrian regime (the Saudi plot to unseat Bashar), never gets specific mention in Syrian regime media. Syrian propaganda outlets still refrain from criticizing Saudi Arabia: Al-Watan (reportedly owned by the Makhlufs too) newspaper may make a passing reference here and there but that is about it. Syria is not winning the propaganda war, but the Saudi and Qatari media are not doing any better. My next blog entry will deal with that.