Al-Akhbar and Syria: No Room for Silence
By: Jamal Ghosn
Published Thursday, June 21, 2012
Revolution, Uprising, Protest Movement, Crisis, Armed Insurgency, Civil War, and many other variations of titles have been used over the past 15 months to describe events in Syria. There have been many disagreements on Syria over this span of time, but there is no disagreement over the fact that Syria has been the central event on the global political scene.
With the increased noise, rational debate on Syria was drowned out by a screaming match between an increasingly divergent dichotomous chorus of pro's and anti's. The longer the violence dragged on, the lower the tolerance for different opinions became. But the problem is that opinion and conviction were based on false, flawed, or in the best case incomplete information.
For an event with so much media coverage, there was and still is a scarcity of information. Whether by design, out of convenience, or just due to professional laziness, news coverage out of Syria was closer to rumor mill than journalism.
Media organizations, including Al-Akhbar, failed to deliver proper journalistic coverage of Syria. Unreliable sources, inaccessibility of troubled areas and many other factors may be used to rationalize this shortcoming. While the debate regarding a clear editorial line was ongoing, the publication that prides itself on doing things differently found itself partner in a collective media failure in dealing with Syria.
Fifteen months into the events, Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy is that it stands for the basic rights of the Syrian people, for a united and free Syria, and against violence, hatred, destruction and civil unrest. The Syrians must have full sovereignty in deciding their political path without any foreign interference. All crimes should be investigated and all perpetrators, irrespective of their positions, should be held accountable by an independent judicial authority. This applies to all without exception.
However, the collective media failure has laid the groundwork for a situation that is dire in Syria, where only absolutes are tolerated – an absolute crushing of an uprising, or a complete destruction of a regime. Clarity is sought in the most murky of environments. But absolute answers do not exist. Just like there is no black and white in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and other places, the political landscape in Syria is also painted with shades of gray.
Bashar al-Assad shouldn't go today. Bashar al-Assad should have never been president. After all, countries are not personal assets that are passed on as inheritance.
Theory is simple and beautiful and can even be principled – reality, not so much.
It is in this bloody reality, where the stakes are highest, that solutions journalism is most needed. This requires extra courage and effort to deal with the challenge of providing pro-active, alternative news coverage first. When talking about solutions, problems have to be identified. Both solutions and problems are in plural form. Reducing problems to a singular cause is nothing more than lazy evasion. This applies both to hailing someone as a savior or vilifying a person as the source of all ills.
When problems abound, ideas are needed. It is only in a free exchange of ideas that solutions can be found. Even wrong ideas can inspire the right ones. Modern communications technology and the new forms of media it brought with it have created a reality where opposing views are accessible on demand. Ignoring the fact that opposing views exist is self-deceit.
Yet when it comes to Syria, strong convictions and the deep divide lead many to both turn a blind eye to facts that may raise question marks about these convictions and dismiss opinions that disagree with them. A variation of Dante's deepest hell is often invoked to defend these positions. Censorship and oppression cut debates short, but also human egos and one-upmanship lead the way to dead-ends.
It is a time of crisis. While neutrality leads nowhere, the intolerance of the other and the refusal of debate has a very clear path – and it's not a pretty one.
Jamal Ghosn is Editor of Al-Akhbar English.