Sunday 29 May 2022 | 11:47 | SYDNEY
Sunday 29 May 2022 | 11:47 | SYDNEY

Lies, damn lies and Syria


Rodger Shanahan


31 July 2012 11:27

You know your credibility is seriously in doubt when you have to rely on the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) for accurate information. When French cameraman Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs in January, SANA was quick to blame rebel mortar fire while the Syrian National Council blamed the Syrian Government. Yet it now appears that a French investigation has concluded that SANA was actually correct.

Obfuscation, embellishment and fabrication are part of any conflict, but the degree to which it has been exercised in the case of Syria has meant that gaining a feel for what is actually happening is nearly impossible. The Interpreter yesterday carried a link to a photoshopped image from an Austrian newspaper just to emphasise the point. Most people want to believe that there is a good and a bad side in the conflict, and the Syrian opposition obviously want to be seen as the good side. This also applies to defectors who, while happy to be part of a repressive regime while things are going well, all of a sudden find their moral compass once things look terminal. 

For their public exoneration, they need to paint the regime they left as having crossed some retrospectively inserted moral red line. As a consequence, their public claims are anything but objective. Take for example the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq, who claimed in a BBC interview that he believed chemical weapons had been used in Homs, and that the Alawite Assad regime was collaborating with Salafist al Qaeda to carry out mass bombing attacks. Another FSA member claimed nerve gas had been dropped from a plane in Homs.

This article from the Asia Times, while giving a somewhat jaundiced view of the issue, gives further insights into the way information continues to be used to skew perceptions of the conflict. 

When the Syrian uprising/civil war/insurgency is over, little if any time will be spent on a retrospective of who was right about what claim. But if Syria should teach us one thing, it is that the more complex the conflict, the greater the responsibility that news services have to separate fact from conjecture, to verify sources and the plausibility of claims. Otherwise, the news media will simply serve the interests of regimes and external powers by reporting the conflict as they would want it to be reported rather than how it is.

Photo by Flickr user Melissa Wall.