Reporting the news from Syria: can the international media be honest?

From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Reporting the news from Syria: can the international media be honest?

Recent reporting of news of the civil war in Syria shows that we have forgotten the lessons from Iraq, says Stefan Simanowitz.

A year after the Iraq war and for the first time the New York Times said it was sorry for some of its news reporting of the days before the invasion. It said the reports were not careful enough about the information they gave. This may be the only example of a newspaper saying it is sorry. But many journalists say privately that they have not been careful enough about the news and information coming from Washington and London. And sometimes they say that they did not report the opinions of those who disagreed with the war in Iraq in 2003. But as the world thinks about military action in Syria, it seems that we have forgotten some of the lessons from Iraq.


A different war but journalists are making the same mistakes when they are reporting it. (Patrick Feller)

The German magazine, Der Spiegel reported on secret information given at a meeting for a few lawmakers by Gerhard Schindler, the head of BND, Germany’s intelligence agency. At the meeting Schindler gave information about a phone call they listened to between an important member of Hezbollah and an Iranian Embassy. Der Spiegel reports that during the phone call the Hezbollah member ‘seems’ to have said that poison gas was used in the attack in Damascus.

The report used the word ‘seems’ and says Schindler gave no idea of how important he thought the telephone call was. But the international media saw this report as important in showing that the Assad government was responsible for the terrible chemical weapons attack in Damascus. One headline in the International Business Times said that phone calls prove Assad was responsible for the attack. Most Western newspapers and TV and radio reporters did not report the information with so much certainty but like the article in Der Spiegel not many included the word ‘seems’. No reporters asked how and why details of a ‘secret’ meeting were given to a national newspaper.

We all know that our governments do not always tell us the full truth. TV Channel 4 News journalist Alex Thompson said after the invasion of Iraq that governments always tell the biggest lies during a time of war. After a war begins, the media are less critical of government information. Theorist Scott Althaus thinks that in a time of war journalists often believe what they hear without thinking about it. They want to be patriotic and they then find it difficult to report the facts clearly. He says that after journalists have accepted government policy in this way, they no longer discuss if a foreign policy is right but only if the foreign policy can be achieved.

‘I didn’t really do my job properly’ BBC reporter Rageh Omaar said after the Iraq war. He says that the reporters were not critical enough. CBS presenter, Dan Rather, even said that if the media had done its job, ‘we could have avoided war.’

In 2010 there was a study of the British media’s reporting of the Iraq war in the three days before the start of the invasion. The study found that the television and newspapers agreed with the two government reasons for war. The study found positive reports of the battles even by newspapers that were against the war. Only 5 per cent of press reports and 3.5 per cent of television reports disagreed with government policies. Embedded journalists – journalists reporting from the war zone - were less objective than other reporters. 82 per cent of reports from Sky News’ embedded journalists were supportive, compared with 72 per cent from other reporters.

The situation in Syria may be more like Libya than Iraq. The fact that action in Syria is unlikely to get UN Security Council support is like 2003. After the invasion of Iraq our media has more responsibility than before to be careful and objective about the stories from Syria. Our media must be sure that they are not used to encourage the public to support war.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: