The­re­al­sto­ry­to­day­isin­syria

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Nick Co­hen

and po­lice forces, As­sad has Alaw­ite mili­tias and Hezzbol­lah death squads he can un­leash on a largely de­fen­sive pop­u­la­tion.

Syria is story that cries out for cov­er­age. But it is not re­ceiv­ing the ‘play’ it de­serves. Not be­cause west­ern jour­nal­ists are an­ti­semites, al­though a few can give a pass­able im­i­ta­tion. Rather, for the bor­ing rea­son that the regime will not let jour­nal­ists work in the coun­try. And this ba­sic re­stric­tion makes all the dif­fer­ence.

In the 20th cen­tury, closed to­tal­i­tar­ian states could hide great crimes against hu­man­ity from out­siders. De­spite the ex­tra­or­di­nary work of Frank Dikot­ter, Jung Chang and Jon Hal­l­i­day, for ex­am­ple, we do not know and per­haps can never know the full ex­tent of the hor­rors Mao and the Chi­nese com­mu­nists per­pe­trated more than 40 years on.

But Syria is noth­ing like Mao’s China. It is not a closed to­tal­i­tar­ian state. Al­most by def­i­ni­tion, to­tal­i­tar­ian states can­not have rev­o­lu­tions be­cause their rulers al­low no in­de­pen­dent op­po­si­tion forces to mo­bilise. Al­though the odds are hor­ri­bly loaded against it, a Syr­ian op­po­si­tion has mo­bilised and the rest of the world can talk to it and ex­am­ine its claims.

When the Baathists re­fused to al­low a mis­sion from the UN’s Office of the High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights into the coun­try be­cause it would have ex­posed the regime’s pro­pa­ganda, it found ways round the ban.

It spoke to refugees and de­fec­tors from the army and ex­am­ined the huge amount of ma­te­rial Syr­i­ans are post­ing on the net from in­side and out­side the coun­try. The UN pro­duced a scrupu­lously cross-checked au­thor­i­ta­tive ac­count of mass ex­e­cu­tions and the rape and tor­ture of sus­pects.

As its re­searchers showed, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism can be done.

Even your cor­re­spon­dent has taken ad­van­tage of the new tech­nolo­gies and spo­ken to rev­o­lu­tion­ary or­gan­is­ers, not just in ex­ile but in Syria it­self, and been im­pressed by their de­ter­mi­na­tion to avoid turn­ing the up­ris­ing into a com­mu­nal­ist war against the Alaw­ite mi­nor­ity.

The rolling news net­works de­mand hack work from their re­porters, and nowhere more so than when jour­nal­ists cover for­eign news.

Ed­i­tors de­mand that the re­porter gives the il­lu­sion of om­ni­science by speak­ing live from the scene of the story. They gloss over the fact that the re­porter may well not be om­ni­scient be­cause he or she rarely has the time to move away from the spot di­rectly in front of the cam­era at the in­ter­na­tional ho­tel to find out what is go­ing on.

The viewer must see their man or woman at the heart of the ac­tion, re­lay­ing news in real time, even if time dif­fer­ences mean that it is the mid­dle of the night in the trou­ble zone and no news of im­port has hap­pened for hours.

The Syr­i­ans are not the story they should be be­cause an­chors can in­ter­view cor­re­spon­dents in Jerusalem and Cairo but can­not ‘go live’ to a jour­nal­ist Da­m­as­cus, Hama, Ho­mas or Daraa. They have to make do with re­porters in Beirut and that is not the same.

One of the most im­por­tant rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gles of our time would re­ceive the at­ten­tion it de­served if only chan­nel con­trollers could break with cliché and al­low their re­porters to tell what they know — which in the case of Syria would be far more than their view­ers might have guessed.

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