October 30, 2013
Remaining balanced in war coverage and conflicts is a challenge magnified in the Syrian conflict, says Dr. Nabil al-Sharif, where journalists encounter difficulty accessing the field from all sides: the government monitors journalists it allows in, and those entering with the rebels face the same danger and uncertainty on the ground that they do.
“It is said that truth is the first victim of wars,” said al-Sharif, founder of the Imdad Media Center, a non-profit organization in Amman with a mission to train journalists and increase awareness of the professional standards of journalism. Sharif holds a Ph.D in English Literature from the University of Indiana, where he defended his doctoral thesis on “the impact of ecological awareness on American poetry in the 1960’s.”
Al-Sharif was formerly the chief editor of Al-Dustour, one of Jordan’s largest daily newspapers. He then served in a variety of high-profile government posts, including as government spokesman. Al-Sharif was appointed as a member of Jordan’s Senate in 2010.
Al-Sharif spoke with Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri about Arab journalists’ coverage of the Syrian conflict and the performance of the Syrian opposition media in delivering its message to the region. “The [opposition’s] media message to be successful, it must be objective, balanced and compelling,” says al-Sharif.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Arab media and the Syria conflict?
A: The problem with the entire Arab media is that it is a transmission media. The number of correspondents on the ground in Syria, in battlegrounds, is lacking or non-existent.
In comparison to the number of foreign correspondents who are covering the Syrian conflict – the number of them on the ground and the number of them killed, Arab correspondents are rarely on the ground, with Al Jazeera and maybe just a few other channels.
Q: In general, the principal demands of the Arab Spring were accountability and transparency from governments. How can journalists today cover events in a balanced way when regimes continue to arrest journalists, monitor the internet and censor the media?
A: It is said that truth is the first victim of wars, and we are witnessing this as the crisis rages in Syria. There, truths are hidden while other truths are amplified during the course of events. I think that the world still knows very little about events in Syria, because of a media blackout imposed by all parties. The image is grainy.
This happens in all wars, and I do not think there is a way to avoid or overcome that except to have journalists present, on the ground, trying to cover as much as possible. I think the media has only covered a small portion of what has happened in the raging conflict. Syrian journalists do not have freedom to cover many issues.
Q: Do you think the Syrian opposition is capable of communicating effectively with the Syrian people and the Arab street?
I believe the opposition does not have the same resources the regime does. In the end, the potential, resources and capabilities of its media are inadequate. I think the voice [of the opposition] is not reaching the Arab citizen deeply enough. The Arab citizen is primarily exposed to only one point of view. For the [opposition’s] media message to be successful, it must be objective, balanced and compelling.
It is not enough to be right on an issue; you must also know how to make a convincing case.
*Photo courtesy of Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri
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