Media coverage of the Syrian Civil War
Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, all sides have used social media to try to discredit their opponents by using negative terms such as 'Syrian regime', 'armed gangs/terrorists', 'Syrian government/US State Department propaganda', 'biased', 'US/Western/foreign involvement'. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict, media bias in reporting remains a key challenge, plaguing the collection of useful data and misinforming researchers and policymakers regarding the actual events taking place.
As in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Internet played a major role in the organization and coverage of the protests/armed-uprising. As of 2011 the largest Facebook page in support of the Syrian uprising was "The Syrian Revolution 2011", which claimed more than 383,000 followers. The page, co-founded by Fida al-Sayed, reports on news related to the uprising and provides general guidelines for protests.
- Bana Alabed, a 2016 Twitter account of unclear provenance about a child purportedly tweeting in English from Aleppo as the city was being destroyed.
Since international news media was banned in Syria, the main source of second-hand information/dis-information was private videos usually taken by shaky mobile phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube. Such videos were difficult to verify independently, and several TV stations showed older footage from Iraq and Lebanon, which was claimed to have been filmed in Syria. Twitter accounts have also been used to spread news and opinions about the conflict, using pictures from mobile phones. For example, pro Assad Rana Harbi from Lebanon is one of the most popular persons using tweets to inform about the conflict development (using pictures from mobile phones).
Between January 2012 and September 2013, over a million videos documenting the war have been uploaded, and they have received hundreds of millions of views. The Wall Street Journal states that the "unprecedented confluence of two technologies—cellphone cams and social media—has produced, via the instant upload, a new phenomenon: the YouTube war." The New York Times states that online videos have "allowed a widening war to be documented like no other."
Prominent videos include the rebel commander Abu Sakkar cutting organs from the dead body of a Syrian soldier and putting one of them in his mouth, "as if he is taking a bite out of it". He called rebels to follow his example and terrorize the Alawite sect, which mostly backs Assad.
Since the start of the war, all sides have used the media to try to discredit their opponents and show them in their worst possible light. On the other hand, not all situations have been shown in the worst possible light.
It has been rumoured that Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) television interviews sometimes use government supporters 'disguised as locals' who stand near sites of destruction and claim that they were caused by rebel fighters.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir cited outtakes of interviews showing that the channel's staff coached Syrian eyewitnesses and fabricated reports of oppression by Syria's government. It refers to leaked internal e-mails suggest that Al Jazeera has become subordinated to the Qatari emir's assertive foreign policy, which supports Syria's rebels and advocates military intervention in the country.
In March 2012, Al Jazeera correspondents Ali Hashim and two others resigned from their jobs because of objections over the reporting on the conflict. They reported that Al Jazeera paid $50,000 for smuggling phones and satellite communication tools to Syria's rebels. Hashim concluded, "The channel was taking a certain stance. It was meddling with each and every detail of reports on the Syrian revolution."
Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the Al Jazeera's coverage on Syria, is the brother of a leading member of the opposition Syrian National Council. Al Jazeera reportedly put pressure on its journalists to use the term "martyr" for slain Syrian rebels, but not pro-government forces.
In January 2013, a former news editor at Al Jazeera, who was from Syria, and had been at Al Jazeera for "nearly a decade" was fired without cause given, but in an interview stated their belief that it was linked to his/her resistance of ongoing strong pressure to conform to biased coverage of the Syrian civil war. The former editor stated that the Muslim Brotherhood was "controlling the Syrian file at Al-Jazeera" with both organizations biasing news coverage in favour of the Brotherhood ousting the Syrian government of Assad by force and warning the then-editor "the majority [in Syria] is with the Muslim Brotherhood and [taking power] is within our grasp" so "thank your god if you get a pardon when we become the government." The source named the names of several other former employees who resigned in protest, including director of the Berlin bureau Aktham Sleiman, a Syrian, "who was, at the beginning, with the [Syrian] opposition" but resisted what the interviewee terms the "lies and despicable [political and ethnic] sectarianism" and concluded that "Al-Jazeera has lied and is still lying" about Syria and in favour of armed overthrow and of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Propaganda has been used by the Syrian government since the beginning of the conflict. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the official government news agency, often refers to the FSA and ISIS as "armed gangs" or "terrorists"—while other media sources maintain that only part of the opposition are 'extremists'. President Assad has characterized the opposition as armed terrorist groups with Islamist "takfiri" extremist motives, portraying himself as the last guarantee for a secular government form. Syrian public school instructors teach students that the conflict is a foreign conspiracy.
The Syrian foreign ministry called the U.S. government's statements in 2012, concerning the danger of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against civilians a myth they invented to launch a campaign against Syria and "a joke", thus accusing the U.S. of propaganda on that subject; which accusation and denial of above-mentioned danger, 'are in turn of course again examples of propaganda'.
In 2016, it was revealed through emails of Hillary Clinton that Google and Al-Jazeera planned to encourage defections from the Syrian government, through various internet tools that disseminate information.
Both sides have been distributing on social media videos and photos of violence, while falsely claiming that the atrocities had been committed by the opposition: later it turned out to be footage from conflicts in other countries.
- A Gay Girl In Damascus, a 2011 blog written by an American posing as a gay girl in Damascus.
- "Syrian Hero Boy", a 2015 viral video showing a Syrian boy rescuing a girl under gunfire, watched online by millions of viewers, was faked by a Norwegian film crew, according to its director. Posted on YouTube, the "Syrian Hero Boy" video was shot on location in Malta in the summer of 2014 with professional actors, directed by 34-year-old Norwegian Lars Klevberg, who hoped to provoke debates about media distortion and context children in war zones.
- In 2011, the 18-year-old Zainab Alhusni was claimed to have been taken in Syrian custody and later killed and mutilated, due to her brother being an activist. Her family held a funeral, but she later turned out to be alive, and had run away from home because her brothers beat her.
Attacks on journalists
It has been maintained that, by October 2012, 'more than hundred professional or citizen journalists' had reportedly been killed in the Syrian Civil War. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists were killed in work-related incidents during the first eighteen months of the uprising. During the same period, Reporters Without Borders said a total of 33 journalists were killed. The Sunday Times contributor Marie Colvin was killed by an explosion during the battle of Homs, but at least one, French journalist Gilles Jacquier, was killed by rebel mortar fire.
Except for those selected by the Syrian government, journalists have been banned from reporting in Syria. Those who have entered the country regardless have been targeted. Within a month of the protests taking off, at least seven local and international journalists were detained, and at least one of them was beaten. 'Citizen journalist' Mohammed Abdelmawla al-Hariri was arrested in April 2012, tortured in prison, and sentenced to death in May 2012 for giving an interview for Al Jazeera. Jordanian Salameh Kaileh was tortured and detained in deplorable conditions before being deported.
NBC News team kidnapping
On 13 December 2012, NBC News reporter Richard Engel and his five crew members, Aziz Akyavaş, Ghazi Balkiz, John Kooistra, Ian Rivers and Ammar Cheikh Omar, were abducted in Syria. Having escaped after five days in captivity, Engel said he believed that a Shabiha group loyal to al-Assad was behind the abduction, and that the crew was freed by the Ahrar ash-Sham group five days later. Engel's account was however challenged from early on. In April 2015, NBC had to revise the kidnapping account, following further investigations by The New York Times, which suggested that the NBC team "was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army," rather than by a loyalist Shia group.
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Many here seem to be carrying on with grace and dignity, even enjoying mundane, simple pleasures — like the teenage girls and a 40-something man snapping selfies in front of a giant "I (Heart) Damascus" sculpture in a main square.
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