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The war in Syria: mission impossible?
Material posted: Publication date: 18-09-2016
For many, media coverage of the conflict is fraught with terrible difficulties, physical dangers, information to the government and approach to the display of conflict that leaves a wide field for maneuver of the Islamic state.

"Hello Marin, we start in 30 minutes. Are you ready to make a report on Eastern Aleppo?"

30 minutes. East Of Aleppo. Fifteen minutes in the air. East Of Aleppo. 300 kilometers from my home in Beirut.

This article is a reflection of my anger, which boils up with the approach of the new inclusions, while the Syrian and the Russian bombardment intensified after the news of the signing of the Treaty of Russia and America trying to get the best position to promote the entry into force of the truce.

Live broadcast is part of "classic" journalism. They teach you that at journalism school. Overall, it's pretty simple if you can refer to the black circle (camera lens), as a living person. I'm on the spot. As respects the deontology of the journalist who needs to convey information to all, I talk about what I see with my own eyes. Burnt-out cars, dust which is hammered into the nose, eyes and ears when the bombs collapsing buildings, the roar of planes and drones, a woman crying. And you believe me. I am there to be your eyes and ears. It's called first-hand information.

In Aleppo the same nothing like this. It's impossible to get. Are you from Beirut: is the fate of all correspondents. Therefore, we delve into Twitter, become experts on the "pages Abu" (Abu so-and-so or so-and-so), has studied all types of machine translation and literally live in WhatsApp in the pursuit of grim stories: doctors, rescuers, activists and human rights defenders. And looking at the reports of the Syrian centre for human rights, a symbol of the Syrian horrors.

Sometimes, getting to France, the journalist has to listen to turned to our entire profession accusations, like reporters is a unified whole that follows a shared logic: "Why nothing more is heard about Syria? When are you going to Syria?"

Cropped beards, burned and forgotten veil of objectivity

To go to the scene. Or, rather, on the scene, because in each zone (and it can be the size of a quarter) has its own political logic. Some, like the Kurds in Eastern Syria, are willing to accept foreign media. That only greet restricted the movements of journalists. It's easy to understand after many years of warring parties imposed information blockade. Only now it happens that because of this, they start to forget about the precautions.

You've probably seen photos and videos of the liberation of the city of Manbij in Northern Syria, which is two and a half years lived under the rule of the terrorists of the Islamic state. In early August knocked them out of the Democratic forces in Syria, who receive arms, training and funding from the US, where the main role of the Syrian Kurds. Remember those touching shots of women who are burning the veil, the beard and sostrigla men.

"Solid PR" — raging Hala Kodmani, a reporter for Libération and specialist on Syria. I agree with this and several other journalists covering the situation in the region. "It all just seemed feigned," — says the middle East correspondent of one of the largest Anglo-Saxon media. However, you, the viewers and Internet users have seen the footage without the footnotes and comments. At first they were charged the Kurdish channel Kurdistan 24, and then transmitted by Reuters to its subscribers, that is, almost all the media.

"I have seen the material before installation, says the Anglo-Saxon journalist. One man comes with a pair of scissors to the other to trim his beard. He refuses. Beg him and he finally agrees." "It would be interesting to look at these people, look how long their beard," without a smile he continues.

"These shots off to win the favor of the Western media", — said Hala Kodmani. Kurds draw a picture that allows them to enlist the sympathy of the Western public. "I know people in Manbij who say that the Islamic state is not fundamentally changed their life in comparison with the Syrian regime, and certainly do not think the Kurds saviors." With regard to the imposed by the jihadists of the veil, everything looks like a joke: "Women in Manbij say that to ISIS they are already covered head. And with DAYS they were to be closed and the face... No major changes were not here".

Bashar Assad is a master of PR

The position of the Assad regime about the presence of journalists were changed over the course of the conflict. At first, the regime did not want to take press. Footage of peaceful demonstrations of women and children contrary to the rhetoric of the regime on threatening the security of the state terrorism. Western journalists flooded into the opposition-controlled areas: HOMS, Hama, Aleppo.

Everything changed with the kidnapping of Western journalists (including four of the French: Nicolas Anena, Didier Francois, Pierre Torres and Edouard Elias) in the summer of 2013 and launched a year later by the killings of seven Western prisoners (three journalists, three members of humanitarian organizations and the representative of private security firm). Although neither the French journalist was an unwitting participant in the bloody video Directors in the ISIS, four killed under the bombardments and sniper fire: photographer Remi Ochlik and well-known journalist of France 2 Gilles zhake in early 2012, photojournalist Olivier Vause and independent reporter Eve DeBa in early 2013. According to Reporters without borders, since the beginning of the conflict, killing 53 of the journalist (the majority of them Syrians) and 145 of the civil journalists.

If you add the murder of RFI correspondent Ghislain DuPont and Claude Verlon in November 2013 in Mali, the position of the Paris editions are easy to understand: no more deaths. No more journalists in the conflict zone. Since mid-2013, they resigned to the fact that for lack of anything better to send journalists was possible only on the territory of the regime.

But it still need a visa. The regime gave them in the hour of a teaspoon until the beginning of 2015. I won't bore you with a story about the hardships of visa application, formalities and months of waiting without any guidance on when you finally deliver the long-awaited print. Some of those who waited for months, eventually denied without any explanation. All depends on the personality of the journalist, his experience in Syria, ties in Damascus... and positions towards the Syrian regime.

The issuance of visas to Western journalists from the information Ministry of Syria, is guided by a political logic. So, in the summer of 2014, when the U.S. began strikes in Syria, American journalists no longer received any visa.

The same logic, but in the opposite direction: after the attacks in January 2015 in Paris to French journalists were given visas more often. A similar situation was observed during the first few weeks after the incident in November 2015. Mode interested to showcase their fight against the Islamic state. For that French journalists are waiting with open arms.

So, if from 2012 to 2014 France 2 managed to take all four report to the government of Syria, from February 2015 to April 2016, the journalists of the channel have agreed to 13 of the controlled zone regime. At the same time, the last report on France 2 from the territory of the opposition (not counting the Kurds) was filmed in may 2013. Since then, the editors were able to prepare 16 scenes in government areas and five from the territory of the Kurds.

"I want to be clear that this situation absolutely does not suit us," says Etienne Lehnhardt Department of investigations and reports edition of France 2. — We almost every day there are discussions about how to go somewhere besides government areas. Experienced journalists periodically offering me plans of how to get to the territory of the opposition. We assess the risks, but you need to understand that the death of our reporter Gilles zhake in Syria, left us a deep impression. So Yes, we can't offer full coverage of the situation, and probably not until the end do our task of providing information, but I'm not eager to expose our journalists to such risks".

When we ask about an exclusive interview with Bashar al-Assad that the channel managed to obtain in April 2015 after a year and seven months of waiting and negotiations (this time it was filmed five scenes with the Syrian army and one from the "rebel of the French parliamentarians who went to the meeting with the President of Syria), answering the following:

"If we went to self-censorship to get an interview? You wanted to ask? Know we until the very last moment thought that all won't get it. We would not want to plug his mouth a year and a half. No, blame the circumstances. The period had extremely intense battles, but our brothers were hostages of the Islamic state."

When we note the controversy that erupted in February this year after airing on Syria program "world View" (there were accusations of PR in favor of Damascus), Etienne Lehnhardt welcomes "serious work" leading Patrick Buat and Samaha Sula, but acknowledges that he understands the cause of the reproach: "it was Necessary more uniformly to give the floor to both camps."

There was no balance in the air TF1. Viewers of channel three and a half years have seen only reports taken from regime forces, Kurdish forces or the Russian army. The latest material from opposition areas were made in spring 2013.

If journalists follow the Syrian army, Russian or Kurdish forces, they assigned to them, are part and illuminate the conflict under their control and protection. Otherwise, journalists permanent representative of the Ministry of information, which affects (to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the personality of the journalist and his experience in Syria) where they can go, who to interview, etc.

Some all this does not stop

CNN crew led by reporter Clarissa ward still went to the opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo and Idlib (city and province) in March last year, during a truce between the regime and some opposition groups. Only there were three of them: herself a journalist and two assistants, who also were filming. Six months of training before the five-day trip to belong to the rebel areas in Aleppo.

"To convince the management of CNN was not easy," says Clarissa ward. — Especially CNN, which pays great attention to security. We had to take a great many precautions to hold a bunch of meetings, travel arrangements... we had a "good plan"... Except to go there like many other journalists".

"We were undercover that we two women were sitting veiled on the back of the car to attract as little attention as possible. We came out only when Bilal gave the go-ahead that everything is in order and that can be removed".

Extreme working conditions under the bombing and with episodes, when the journalist does not have time to remove the veil, not to lose time, and removes the veil from the face: "men do not Have such opportunity to work under cover, hide under the veil... that we, women, have an advantage!".

Anyway, the biggest threat, according to her, are not possible kidnappings and air strikes: "there's nothing You can do. If you will be covered, it does not turn away". And the problems don't end even after your departure. After August Clarissa ward told the UN security Council about the humanitarian catastrophe in the East of Aleppo, it rained thousands of messages with threats and insults from supporters of the Syrian regime.

Bullets and microphone

But Clarissa was able to do what I thought impossible all media is: to go to the territory of the opposition, to remove five stories in urban and rural areas, to interview soldiers and civilians, not parting with freedom and life?

"Without him it wouldn't work. When you go to such places, you need to work with someone I can fully trust. Your life is in his hands."

Bilal is Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American journalist, a new York accent which leaves no doubt about its origin. When I manage to contact him via WhatsApp, in spite of constant interruptions in the network and falling to the East of Aleppo bomb, he says that for more than a year working with the territory to the opposition in Northern Syria. And still remains the only Western journalist present on the scene. He took over the logistics, contacts and interviews for the group, CNN. In addition, he makes documentaries for Channel 4, BBC, SkyNews...

How he manages to hold out that long?

"Allah wants me to live... you Know, I have the bullet wounds in hand and leg, my car fell under the blows, the office fired... I Think I'm still alive because of Savasana".

After watching the video on his YouTube channel, is willing to believe even a hardened atheist. Just look at the shooting on August 31 of the corridor Ramosaj, a two-kilometre breach in the siege of Aleppo, which managed to break through the rebels we are talking about one of the most dangerous if not the most dangerous area in the world.

Bilal Abdul Kareem, a lover of humor and the contractor standapol" on small new York stages, converted to Islam at the age of 27, having been in the mosque of his neighborhood in Brooklyn. He didn't want to depend on translators and interpreters of the Quran, and so went to Egypt to learn Arabic and religion. In 2012 he started to cover the Syrian conflict. Anyway, to create their own media On the Ground News pushed him quite pragmatic considerations:

"People are tired of the war in Syria. When they see the pictures on television about the bombing in Aleppo, do not pay attention to them and say "Pass the potatoes" or just switch the channel. I do not claim the ability to interest a large number of people, but I can offer a more in-depth coverage of the minority who actually shows interest in the Syrian conflict and wants to know what is happening on the side of the opposition".

His team consists of three reporters in the Eastern Aleppo and four outside it. "My main rule of safety — never and not tell anyone where I'm going." Where he gets the funding for their media? "We have a small expenses. Life here is inexpensive, and we do everything ourselves. I earn money working in "traditional" media. In any case, banks here are still there..."

Anyway, although "traditional" media are sent to correspondents in Aleppo, they manage to get the footage of the besieged areas. The BBC, for example, buys a video from the Syrian stringers. Thus, the British channel was able to record the arrival of the probable victims of a chemical attack with chlorine at a hospital in Eastern Aleppo, August 10.

While in the air force argue that taking all precautions before publishing frames from the stringers. "We have a whole group of journalists and experts on Syria, which validate the authenticity of the materials obtained and associated with local sources before you release something into the ether," explains middle East correspondent channel, Quentin Somerville. Often we refuse to buy materials for ethical reasons, even if they are genuine. Do not forget that there are no independent journalists, and there is only "media activists." And it already quite another matter.

Higher school of military journalism

That is why the AFP since the beginning of 2013 preparing Syrian journalists and explain to them the standards of objectivity and ethics. Now they work as correspondents of the Agency and send him information from all Syrian provinces, regardless of, whether they are controlled by the regime or the opposition. "It's not the civilian journalists can be activists, but a full-fledged correspondents, who receive a salary from the AFP, and sign their materials, — explains the head of the Beirut representative office of the Agency Sammi Katz. — This is a huge difference. For example, we're trying to find someone in Idlib, because it seems to us that this area will become increasingly important. There go those who will replace the other belonging to opposition areas. This person will need to provide full training."

Although the Syrian AFP correspondents not covered professional insurance Agency took over the medical expenses of those two that were injured. One was sent for treatment to Turkey and the other in Paris.

"The parents of our correspondent in Eastern Aleppo's Karam al-Masri was killed during the war. We maintain contact with him, asking how he's doing, say not to come out when the shelling is too intense... Still need to find a way to pay him [in the East of Aleppo left banks]. We want to feel part of a team, family, AFP".

We need to establish a network of trusted informants and constantly updated as population movement, fighting and the deaths of some of them. This requires a good focus on the scene. Hala Kodmani of Libération can be a great example: "I'm French of Syrian origin. The fact that I know the area and speak Arabic helps me everywhere to find sources and informants". In addition, it helps her to manage without the ubiquitous Syrian Observatory of human rights, on which she releases the pin to the side AFP: "If SCPC issues a publication, the AFP immediately puts the material. If no, AFP is silent. It's a pity they have become so dependent on a single organization."

Manages the centre of London, Rami Abdel Rahman, a Syrian Sunni, and a longtime enemy of the Assad regime. His organization regularly accused of double standards in its approach to its published data on human victims. "What better confirmation of objectivity than criticism at both the regime and rebels?— mind Sammi Katz. — We regularly check his figures with those of our informants in the country, and they are always the most true."

So, what can be improved?

But how was it possible to improve the coverage of the very complex conflict that befell the journalists? We collected the opinions of French, Lebanese, Syrian, American and British reporters.

And that's what it came from. First of all, you need more money. Some revision has doubled the resources allocated to it. The New York Times gained in the middle East office on a full-time new professionals, tasked to support a network of reliable sources throughout the country. For example, the case with Hwídah Saad, which the newspaper described in February of this year: hundreds of sources through WhatsApp and Skype, from militants of the Islamic state to the soldiers of the Syrian army and even simple shepherds...

"When I was appointed to head middle East office, my predecessor before his death [Anthony Shadid died in Syria in February 2012] expanded state, thereby to cope with the increasing complexity of the conflict," says Ann Barner. — I managed to keep it despite the financial difficulties faced by all Newspapers. As a result, we have two reporters, three assistants and journalists in Syria. Thus, we is one of the most prepared media in terms of highlighting the conflict, as the regime and the opposition".

To allocate most of the budget on covering the events in Syria... It is much easier to do if you're CNN, not France Médias Monde, which has 400 million less (a budget of 248 million euros for the 2013-2014 year). Not all editors have equal opportunities.

"We need to be careful not to publish the stereotypes," — emphasizes the Hala Kodmani, noting the message is "Movement of the Eastern Christians" and his supporters, and the first phase of the French far right, American Protestant and Russian media. So, for example, was the case with "massacre" in Maalula at the end of 2013: some have recorded murder of Christians at the expense of the Islamic state, although it is in the moment is not yet formed. And this trend continues to this day, recently wrote Nicolas Henin on Twitter.

Syrian journalists, in turn, expressed indignation at the fact how much more attention the Western media give to the Islamic state compared to other groups and issues. It is surprising and experts in Syria is like Charles Lister of The Brookings Institute in Doha:

"The formation of the Islamic state took the primary role, and his excessive violence have had a major impact on international Affairs since mid-2014. Anyway, it seems to me that the international media is guilty of nothing less than the Islamic state. The media have a huge responsibility to educate and inform, but they honestly have become obsessed with this bloody party."

Thus, the expert does not understand the almost complete lack of media attention" to a gradual but decisive success "of Fatah al-sham" (the former Jabhat al-Nusra), which were the result of "secretive, methodical and long-term approach, "al-Qaeda" in Syria."

"Following the logic "controlled pragmatism" and integration into opposition and revolutionary dynamics, "Fatah al-sham and Jabhat al-Nusra before he was able to remain "below the radar". It is quite obvious for people like me, but not dramatic, attractive and aesthetically to show up in the news.

If you usually elusive audience drawn to the monster called ISIS, how can you refuse? "Articles about DAIS read more all so simple," sighs Anne Burner from The New York Times.

"Be sure to tell our readers how we have to work, — tells Sammi Katz. you can't just stumble upon a brigade of the Syrian army". In other words, the journalist attributed to her by order of the Ministry of information for the preparation of the report. Given the challenges facing journalists, restrictions for a permit for the shooting from the Syrian army or the rebels is always a political motive. "We need to tell the reader: "My material about it, I did it in such conditions. Draw your own conclusions".

If a journalist is assigned to any side, he does not necessarily have to promote her course. "The Russian army brought us here, so we made a well prepared and not spontaneous jubilation recently liberated village... all here are supporters of Bashar al-Assad," — said Dominic Durda in the report for France 2 from the province of Hama in may of this year.

In any case, travel to Syria today continues to be associated with great risk. "Don't talk about it, but journalists still fall into the hostages," says Bilal Abdul Kareem. Based on communication with the rebel groups, he offers himself as a mediator:

"Every three weeks I hear from people asking for help in the liberation is near. Now is heard no more about taken hostage and executed them, and so people think that everything was quiet, and the journalists decide to try their luck. But it's crazy."

In fact, violence against journalists continues. In late June, ISIS posted a video called "a deception of Satan", where executed five citizen journalists from Deir AZ-Zaur, and extremely sadistic and demonstrative way. The two killed their own working tool. Independent journalist Themselves Gudat Slaves spread the message through the group of activists in Facebook. He was chained to the table. Then we show another independent reporter Mustafa Hassi, who worked for Human Rights Watch and filmed from the balcony. A camera strapped to his body. Then the video shows how to lay explosives in the computer and the camera. The two young men killed in the explosion of his working tool. The killing of journalists because of their activities and use it: the message is very clear.

That is, to fully cover all the intricacies of the events in Syria impossible? "We are doomed to attempt to achieve the best results without sending journalists to the scene," says Bilal Abdul Kareem. This article was the fruit of irritation and fatigue quickly I can't get rid of.

Marin Pradel


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