Syrian Regime Continues to Obstruct Coverage Amidst Protests

6 Sep

I am always surprised by the power social media can have on developing countries.

I recently read an article in The New York Times that highlighted the most recent protests in Syria this Friday. To bring you up-to-date, Syria has been under political unrest since March because of anti-regime and pro-democracy protests, particularly against President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian security forces in anticipation of protests on the last day of Ramadan.

But what I found interesting about the article was how the reporter obtained the news. The Syrian government has heavy restrictions on independent reporting, which makes it difficult for foreign news organizations to report on what’s really going on. Syria’s own state-run television channel reported that there were no demonstrations at all on Friday. According to one activist, Shakeeb Al-Jabri’s, Twitter, the channels were actually broadcasting old footage and scenes filmed on Hollywood sets. Syria is labeled an “Internet enemy” by Reporters Without Borders for their control over the growth of the Internet, content filtering, watching over internet users, and jailing citizens who use the internet to “weaken national sentiment”.

This type of old-school propaganda journalism, although common in non-democratic societies, still surprises me. The great thing about today’s global communication though is that activists are taking  full advantage of social media to share with the rest of the world what’s really going on in Syria.

For example, although Syrian news insisted no protests occurred Friday, activists said that 11 protesters were killed by the country’s security forces.  They spread the word through Twitter and by posting this video, as well as many other, more violent videos showing police firing at protesters. Thousands have died from Syria’s crackdown. According to Reporters Without Borders , the regime has been arresting, kidnapping and beating foreign reporters trying to provide information on what’s been happening these past few months. From what we’ve read in our textbook, Syria seems to fall under the Authoritarian Concept, which is when the media are controlled by the state or sovereign.

Despite all the violence, another video (provided by regime sympathizers) said to have been filmed that same Friday in Homs, where activists have been under attack for months, show protesters singing and swaying peacefully. A drastic difference from what activists have been reporting.

Thanks the various forms of non-traditional news coverage however, the world is listening to Syrian citizens.

According to BBC News, the Arab Leauge “called for political and social reforms as well as an ‘end to the spilling of blood and (for Syria) to follow the way of reason before it is too late’.” The EU banned oil imports from Syria and “The US had already banned the import of Syrian oil and called called on Mr Assad to step down.”

I’d like to note the similarities between the Syrian activists and the Indian activists in the Hazare hunger strike post I made last week. Both overcame government’s efforts to suppress their protests through this powerfully connected global information world we live in. Without the power of the internet, more reporters would have to resort to the more-dangerous tactics of on-the-scene reporting.


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