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.[1]

Internet activists

Social media

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.[2]

As of 2015 the largest Facebook page in support of the Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad has more than 2,958,595 followers.[3]

  • Bana Alabed, a 2016 Twitter account of unclear provenance about a child purportedly tweeting in English from Aleppo as the city was being destroyed.[4]


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.[5][6] 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[7] is one of the most popular persons using tweets to inform about the conflict development (using pictures from mobile phones).

Visual media

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.[8] 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."[9]

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.[10][11]


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.[12]

Syria is ranked the third most repressive country in the world in terms of press freedom by the Committee to Protect Journalists,[13] and the 4th most repressive by Reporters Without Borders.[14]

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.[15][16]

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.[17]

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."[18]

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.[19]

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.[20][21]

Propaganda has been used by the Syrian government since the beginning of the conflict.[15] 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'.[22] 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.[23] Syrian public school instructors teach students that the conflict is a foreign conspiracy.[24]

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",[25] 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.[26]


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.[27][28]


  • A Gay Girl In Damascus, a 2011 blog written by an American posing as a gay girl in Damascus.[29]
  • "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[30] 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.[31]
  • 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.[32]

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.[33] During the same period, Reporters Without Borders said a total of 33 journalists were killed.[34] The Sunday Times contributor Marie Colvin was killed by an explosion during the battle of Homs,[35] but at least one, French journalist Gilles Jacquier, was killed by rebel mortar fire.[36]

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.[37] '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.[38] Jordanian Salameh Kaileh was tortured and detained in deplorable conditions before being deported.[39]

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.[40] Engel's account was however challenged from early on.[41] 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.[42]

See also


  1. "I. Measuring conflict incidence in Syria". Sipri Yearbook. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  2. "The Syrian Revolution 2011". Facebook.
  3. "قناة الميادين - Al Mayadeen Tv - Facebook". Facebook. Archived from the original on 13 July 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  4. Rick Gladstone; Megan Specia; Sydney Ember (7 December 2016). "Girl Posting to Twitter From Aleppo Gains Sympathy, but Doubts Follow". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  5. "Media Watch: Beware the 'trusted' source". ABC. Australia. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  6. "Gigantisk DR-bommert uden konsekvenser –". 18 May 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  8. "Syria's War Viewed Almost in Real Time". The Wall Street Journal. 27 September 2013.
  9. "Watching Syria's War". NYT. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  10. "Syria: Brigade Fighting in Homs Implicated in Atrocities". Human Rights Watch. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  11. "Outrage at Syrian rebel shown 'eating soldier's heart'". BBC. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  12. Alison Meuse (1 November 2016). "The Damascus Paradox: Everyday Life In A Country Torn By War". NPR National Public Radio. Retrieved 5 November 2016. 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.
  13. "10 Most Censored Countries". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  14. "Press Freedom Index 2011-2012". Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  15. "Defecting Syrian propagandist says his job was 'to fabricate'". CNN. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  16. Chulov, Martin (3 July 2012). "Syrian regime TV reporter defects". The Guardian. London.
  17. "Al-Jazeera Gets Rap as Qatar Mouthpiece". Bloomberg.
  18. "Ex-employee: Al Jazeera provided Syrian rebels with satphones — RT News". Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  19. "Syria's Electronic Warriors Hit Al Jazeera". Al Akhbar English. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  20. An exclusive interview with a news editor of Al-Jazeera Channel at AxisOfLogin
  21. An exclusive interview with a news editor of Al-Jazeera Channel Archived 14 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine at FilmBoxOffice
  22. "State TV reports 6 dead in Damascus 'terrorist' blast". CNN. 8 September 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  23. "Opposition: 127 dead as Syrian forces target civilians". CNN. 7 April 2012. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  24. "Damascus School Struggles to Carry On". Voice of America. 1 October 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  25. Syria accuses U.S. of chemical weapons propaganda. The Daily Star (Lebanon), 1 October 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  26. Daily Mail
  27. Military & Defense Contributors (13 November 2012). "Disturbing Fake Videos Are Making The Rounds in Syria". Business Insider. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  28. Tracey Shelton. "The most disturbing fake videos making the rounds in Syria". GlobalPost. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  29. Washington Post
  30. "SYRIA! SYRIAN HERO BOY rescue girl in shootout. SEE THIS!! الصبي السوري البطل". YouTube. alaa hassen. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2016. from 00m00s to 1m06s
  31. "#BBCTrending: Syrian 'hero boy' video faked by Norwegian director - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  32. [ CNN}
  33. "Journalists Killed in Syria since 1992". Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved 19 July 2012. N.B. According to the organisation, no journalists were killed in Syria between 1992 and the start of the uprising.
  34. "Thirty-Three Professional and Citizen Journalists Killed since March 2011". Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  35. Wardrop, Murray (22 February 2012). "Syria: Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin 'killed in Homs'". Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  36. Malbrunot, Georges (17 July 2012). "Jacquier: l'enquête française pointe les rebelles syriens" [Jacquier: French investigation points to Syrian rebels] (in French). Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  37. "Syria: Rampant Torture of Protesters". HRW. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  38. "Citizen journalist sentenced to death for Al-Jazeera interview - Reporters Without Borders". Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  39. "Syria: Deported Palestinian journalist speaks out about torture in custody". Amnesty International. 17 May 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  40. Brian Stelter; Sebnem Arsu (18 December 2012), "Richard Engel of NBC Is Freed in Syria", The New York Times, retrieved 8 December 2015
  41. Jamie Dettmer (22 December 2012). "Richard Engel's Kidnapping: A Behind the Scenes Look". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  42. Ravi Somaiya; C. J. Chivers; Karam Shoumali (15 April 2015). "NBC News Alters Account of Correspondent's Kidnapping in Syria". Retrieved 8 December 2015.

Further reading

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