Syria: The Dangers Of One-Sided Reporting
The news out of Syria gets more and more appalling. But so does the quality of the journalism. Here’s an example, from the BBC dated May 26:
At least 90 people, including many children, have been killed in Syria’s restive Homs province, opposition activists say, calling it a “massacre”.
They said scores were wounded in the violence in Houla, as government forces shelled and attacked the town.
Shocking footage has emerged of the bodies of children killed as part of one the bloodiest attacks in one area since a nominal truce began in April.
The UN said international monitors were heading to the area.
BBC then quotes the wire service AP:
An activist in Houla told the Associated Press news agency that troops began the assault on Houla after an anti-regime demonstration following Muslim prayers on Friday.
The assault began with artillery shelling which killed 12, he said – but scores more were butchered when pro-regime thugs known as “shabiha” then stormed the area.
And here’s UPI:
DAMASCUS, Syria, May 26 (UPI) — At least 88 people, many of them children, were killed in a town in the restive province of Homs in Syria in an attack by government forces, activists said.
All these reports were based almost entirely on the word from activists on one side in the conflict, not from journalists or neutral observers. That is not journalism. Why are there not more journalists actually in these places reporting? In the past, reporters always managed to get into conflict zones. And, notwithstanding Syrian government controls on access to these areas and the obvious physical dangers attendant to work in such places, news organizations should be able to hire Syrians who will be diligent, careful and precise.
This fast-moving story has already led to a follow-up from BBC herethat raises questions about the earlier assertion of culpability :
The village of Taldou, near the town of Houla in Syria’s Homs province was the scene of one of the worst massacres in the country’s 14-month-long uprising on Friday.
United Nations observers on the ground have confirmed that at least 108 people were killed, including 49 children and 34 women. Some were killed by shell fire, others appear to have been shot or stabbed at close range.
But at whose hands they died remains a matter of contention. Anti-government activists and eyewitnesses interviewed by a limited number of journalists and human rights groups at the scene point the finger at the Syrian army and the shabiha, a sectarian civilian militia that supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The government however denies all responsibility, saying its soldiers were attacked and armed terrorists went on to shoot and stab civilians.
The picture being pieced together by activists, survivors and the limited number of international journalists and human rights organisations in Syria is of an attack that began with the army shelling the town and ended with militiamen killing people house-by-house late into the night.
Reports suggest that at about 13:00 local time (11:00 GMT) on Friday, just after midday prayers, soldiers fired on a protest in Taldou in the Houla area to disperse the crowds.
Some accounts say that opposition fighters then attacked the Syrian army position where the firing was coming from.
According to Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi, “hundreds of gunmen” armed with machine guns, mortars and anti-tank missiles attacked soldiers, killing three.
Alexei Pushkov, chair of the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament, the Duma, was more explicit: “We have very strong doubts that those people who were shot at point blank [range] and were stabbed, that this was the action of forces loyal to President Assad,” he told the BBC.