Reporting on the Protests in Syria

23May11

Last weekend Photo Forum Beirut held a panel event called “Special Revolutions” to discuss photographers documenting the uprisings throughout the Middle East. Photojournalists repeatedly put their lives at risk in covering such events, especially in places like Libya where two respected photographers were tragically killed. The panel allowed selected photographers to show their work on the ground as well as speak about their job in the editing room. One photographer explained his take on so-called citizen journalists. He explained that what they offer wire services is ultimately propaganda, because they selectively choose to submit only those pictures that back up their political claims and are thus unreliable. Whereas he believes professional photographers are more reliable in presenting something closer to a neutral documentation of events.

I thought that this was a really interesting discussion, but at times also worry about the reliability of many professionals these days, especially when it comes to reporting on the situation in Syria. The matter is made much worse, of course, by the Syrian government’s refusal to allow journalists to cover the ongoing demonstrations there. Nevertheless the media still has the same obligation to be balanced.

And yet there is a disturbing article in today’s The Independent about a young dissident in Syria. The lead for the story is “Protester Who Exposed Lies at the Heart of Syria’s Regime“. The article describes the case of dissident Ahmad Biasi who recorded a video of police abuse against demonstrators in Syria, including himself. The government responded to this video by lying and saying that the abuse was faked, so Biasi bravely recorded another video of himself with his Syrian identity card to prove that he is authentic. He was soon arrested and human rights organizations reported him tortured and killed. However the government subsequently released a video of him refuting these claims. Which means that human rights organizations also lied by suggesting that the government killed him. So the dishonesty seems to be flowing both ways here. The article could have just as easily been titled “Syrian Government Exposed Lies at the Heart of the Protest Movement,” no?

Another article in today’s The New York Times suggests that dissident social media users are being selectively targeted by the Syrian government. For example, pro-government supporters are hacking into the accounts of Facebook users who are anti-government. This is because, as the article reports, “With foreign journalists barred from the country, dissidents have been working with exiles and using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter  to draw global attention to the brutal military crackdown on protesters that has killed more than 700 people and has led to mass arrests in the last nine weeks. The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, which now has more than 180,000 members, has been a vital source of information for dissidents. ” I was surprised at the large number of members in this group since the Times also reports that there are only 580,000 active Facebook users in Syria. So I just visited the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page and six of my friends are members, none of whom is Syrian. Which leads me to wonder if this is a page actually dedicated to revolution or imperialist intervention? Certainly the amount of non-Syrian supporters on this page is a significant “fact” that ought to be reported on and analyzed by the Times in an article about social media supposedly giving voice to the Syrian people?

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