Thursday, 15 March 2012

Is Syria being misreported?

One-Sided Reporting is Facilitating Escalation

Six Ways the Media Has Misreported Syria

by AFSHIN MEHRPOUYA

As in the case of Libya, from NY Times to Fox News, from Guardian to National Post and from Le Monde to Le Figaro, the Western mainstream media’s coverage of the Syrian conflict has been mostly simplistic and black & white with a Hollywoodian good (opposition) and evil (Syrian government) story. The basic storyline reported is: “The dictatorial Syrian government is torturing and killing Syrian protestors and civilians including women and children and that the Western counties and the Arab League want to protect these Syrian civilians”. These outlets use any information that supports their stance regardless of its source and quality, and dismiss or ignore any information that brings it to question.

The bloody suppression of protestors by the Syrian government and also instability resulting from the armed insurgency aggravated by a complex set of foreign forces, each with its own set of vested interests, have resulted in significant suffering for the people of Syria. Western media’s unquestioning, consensual, biased and melodramatic coverage of the Syrian events risks moving this conflict to a full blown war with grave consequences for the Syrian people and the region.

Here are the six ways that the Western media, across the board, have been uncritical and misleading in their coverage of the Syrian conflict:

1. What do the majority of Syrians want?

In the mainstream Western media coverage, there is an implicit assumption rarely questioned that the majority of the Syrians support the armed insurgency and that they want immediate departure of Bashar Assad. However, the only opinion poll that has been carried out by the Qatar based YouGovSiraj, since the start of the conflict claims that about 55%[1] of Syrians do not want immediate departure of Assad. The methodology for this poll is not robust. In addition, this stance might be not due to support for Assad rather, because the Syrian people are afraid of instability and civil war or because some believe in the reform intentions of Assad and still others because they might be benefiting from the existing regime. The 89% backing of the new Syrian constitution in the recent referendum with a turnout of 57% was also dismissed because of the ongoing violence on the ground and lack of independent supervision on the referendum[2].

Nonetheless, given the West’s backing of the Syrian opposition is based on the “will of the Syrian people”, for the media it is essential to expose and debate such polls and try to establish what the majority of the Syrians want before adopting a position on behalf of the Syrian people.

2. Is the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the militarized insurgency representative of the Syrian opposition?

The opposition is primarily represented by Syrian National Council (SNC) headed by a Syrian expatriate professor, Burhan Ghalioun who is based in Paris[3]. This organization which is run mostly by expatriates has been demanding foreign intervention in Syria and it rejects any sort of dialog with the Syrian government. Several independent media outlets and other Syrian opposition groups[4] have questioned SNC’s lack of transparency about its members, funding and foreign links and whether it is a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition[5][6]. Another organization claiming to represent the opposition is the Syrian Opposition Coordination body operated from inside Syria which is against foreign intervention and is for a dialog-based solution after an end is put to the violence and the political prisoners are freed. In addition, several militarized groups operate inside Syria such as Free Syrian Army who have been engaged in an armed conflict with the Syrian army and also have been attacking government buildings and other assets. These militia are reported to be a mix of deserting soldiers, foreign mercenaries and armed civilians[7] and they are armed by cross border smuggled arms allegedly funded/provided by foreign governments including those of Saudi Arabia[8], Qatar[9].

All these organizations are non-transparent and little is known about who runs them and who they are accountable to. The media has an important unfulfilled role in exposing the governance of these organizations and their internal and foreign political sidings and ideological agenda. Currently there is no proof that such organizations represent the will of the majority or a significant part of the Syrian people or the opposition.

3. How many casualties and killed by whom?

There have been casualties due to government suppression of civilian protests, due to armed conflict between government soldiers and armed militia and also due to reprisals and bombings by the armed militias. The number of total victims reported by the UN Human Rights Council which is now at 7,500, is regularly used by the Western media to refer to the extent of the repression in Syria. However, no breakdown is provided as to what percentage of this number represents civilians, what part opposition armed forces and what percentage soldiers. The UN has estimated that as of Feb 15, 2012, 1,345 Syrian soldiers have been so far killed in the conflict[10]. This is a strong indication that what is happening in Syria is an armed insurgency verging on civil war and not only a government “killing and torturing its people”. The violence perpetrated by both sides was exposed in the report prepared by Arab League monitors, which is the only existing first-hand account of what is happening on the ground [11]. However this report was mostly ignored because it did not back the black and white account of the Arab League and the Western media. The Western media should show more responsibility in its use of casualty numbers, because such numbers are highly influential in driving international public opinion about the conflict.

4. Are the information sources unbiased and credible?

Operation of foreign journalists in Syria is limited by safety concerns. Consequently the Western media has been using other sources, mainly the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights and other opposition sources. Sometimes the media simply cites “activists” or a new largely unknown entity named “Local Coordination Councils” as the source for information without further detailing its sources. Syrian Observatory on for Human Rights (SOHR), which is the most common source, was originally run by a single person (Rami Abdulrahman) from Coventry, UK. SOHR has been recently contested by a competing organization with the same name. There is an ongoing bitter fight between the two SOHRs over who is the “authentic” SOHR [12]. The latter SOHR blames the former of links with the Syrian regime and of over-reporting of soldiers’ and security officers’ death. The former SOHR states that it wants the “bloodshed to stop” and that it is against foreign intervention, while the latter states that it supports a no-fly-zone in Syria. Obviously all such opaque organizations, which are openly against the Syrian regime, have an interest in biased and inflated reporting of the casualties in the conflict. High quality journalism necessitates thorough verification of sources and including the account of both sides of the conflict to ensure a balanced coverage. However, so far the Western media has unquestioningly used the numbers and coverage of these organizations in a one-sided manner without sufficient questioning.

5. What are the interests of countries pushing for regime change and foreign intervention?

The current conflict in Syria is smeared and complicated by the interference of a long list of foreign stakeholders each with its own political agenda. Some of these interests are[13][14]:

Saudi Arabia and other GCC countriesUS and Europe: Replacing a Alaawite (Shiite) run government allied with Iran with a Sunni government more aligned with the GCC – On December 2, 2011, head of SNC, Ghalioun, said that if his party takes over Syria it would end the military relationship to Iran and cut off arms supplies to Hezbollah and Hamas, and establish ties with Israel; Distracting the international media from repression of peaceful opposition in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia[15]; Removing a government allied with Iran which will help decrease the Iranian influence in the region; Removing a government with a mostly independent or anti-Western / Israel line of politics

Israel: Removing a government allied with Iran and Hezbollah. Syria is a key country bordering with Israel with an open pro-Palestinian agenda – Ghalioun announced that his future government will cut its military ties with Iran and Hizbollah[16]; and Distracting the Middle Eastern media coverage from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Russia: Stopping the fast expansion of US allied governments in the Middle East (after Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya) and loss of one of the last of its allied Middle Eastern governments where it also has its last offshore military based

Iran: Protecting one of the last of its allied countries in the region. If the Syrian government falls, Iran would face increased isolation and pressure and risk of foreign intervention backed by the GCC, Israel and the West.

Turkey: Maintaining its influence in the post Assad regime which has geopolitical importance for Turkey

The media has so far been shallow in its coverage of the goals of the nations that are playing an active role in this conflict. The simple story is that all these governments want to “protect Syrian civilians”. However the complex mesh of vested interests is mostly left unexposed.

6. What are the “democratic credentials of the countries who want to take democracy to Syria?

One key block of countries pushing for military intervention and regime change in Syria has been the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It is important to remember that most GCC countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are run by totalitarian regimes[17] facing local protests. Saudi Arabia recently sent troops to Bahrain to suppress peaceful protests [18]. The Western media should do a better job in debating the legitimacy of such actors in pushing for democratic change and for protecting civilians in Syria.

As in the case of Libya, this one-sided coverage of the Syrian conflict is facilitating the escalation of the conflict towards a civil war and foreign military intervention which might serve the short-term interests of many foreign countries and forces but would be disastrous for the people of Syria. The Western media has a significant and grave moral responsibility to move from the current one-sided and biased media lynching of the Syrian government to a more balanced, nuanced and comprehensive approach.

Afshin Mehrpouya is an independent writer on Middle East politics and social issues. He is a university professor in Paris, France. He can be reached at mehrpouya_pl@gmail.com
Notes.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17155349
[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57385423/west-calls-syrian-referendum-a-sham/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burhan_Ghalioun
[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/01/us-syria-opposition-idUSTRE8200SA20120301
[5] http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=767&Itemid=74&jumival=8027
[6] The Real News Network – The Syrian Opposition and the External Players; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEQeWU7Gm8c
[7] http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/assads-troops-close-in-on-foreign-mercenaries
[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/24/saudi-arabia-backs-arming-syrian-opposition
[9] http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/
[10] http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-69.pdf
[11] http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/Report_of_Arab_League_Observer_Mission.pdf
[12] http://www.globalresearch.ca/PrintArticle.php?articleId=29518
[13] http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NB04Ak01.html
[14] http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=767&Itemid=74&jumival=8027
[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011%E2%80%932012_Saudi_Arabian_protests
[16] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204397704577070850124861954.html
[17] http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2010
[18] http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3164933.htm

Monday, 12 March 2012

We should ask ourselves, are we sheep?

I came across this and thought to share it here.


Are you a sheep?

By ProJusticio


In my book[1] I relate how, as young lads at boarding school, we all claimed to be having sex during which process the girl would faint at the moment of penetration, whilst emitting a huge sigh of unbearable pleasure and surrender. These claims were shared with general enthusiasm, contributing to social bonding, comradieship and friendship. Some even paid others a fag or two for their "secret" as to how to make a girl succumb more spectacularly!

The reality was very different. No one was having sex. The claims about penetration and girls fainting were fatuous rubbish!

However, no one placed these claims in dispute. They were accepted as truth. Acceptance was as natural and easy as breathing.

Why? Why was fatuous rubbish and monstrous lies accepted without dispute in our group? The answer is very simple. Human beings are "social animals". It is by bonding, cooperation and pulling together that we have achieved dominance over all other creatures on the planet. Psychologically we need to feel loved and accepted. We love the feeling of "belonging". To disagree with others is to risk rejection. To disagree with a dominant group is to invite being marginalized, even ostracized. So we are "hot wired" to have a "herd mentality".

At school the older boys, at 17 years+ age, were of sexual maturity. It was natural for them to have a need for sex. Since sex was simply not available at a Roman Catholic school they simply invented a false reality. Having no experience of sex fertile imaginations filled in the gaps in a way that flattered their egos. Since they were the dominant group, what they put out was accepted as truth and promulgated by the rest of us --- unthinkingly --- because a herd mentality and the need to belong are natural to human beings.

In his classic work “Animal Farm”, George Orwell quite spectacularly portrayed how the views of a dominant group become the norm for the rest. Because the rest accept and propagate these views “unthinkingly”, he rightly portrayed them as sheep. Sheep do not think for themselves. They simply follow whoever is leading. They are concerned only to be part of the herd. They have a herd mentality. Just one sheep dog can drive a whole herd of a hundred sheep in whatever direction it chooses.

How right George Orwell was!! Really! We see this phenomenon repeat itself amongst humans with incredible regularity. Consider how the 3rd Reich used it with the German people resulting in the Holocaust. White folk in Zimbabwe individually were the very best I have encountered. In my book I relate as to how some of them gave up time with their own families to come and give us an incredibly happy first Xmas party at the children’s Home I was in. However, as a group, they supported and followed Ian Smith on a course of sheer madness. The apartheid system, a most extreme form of social injustice, was perpetrated on account of otherwise very intelligent White people acting as sheep.

We have had some spectacular examples in our recent history in South Africa. Not one ANC Member of Parliament voted against the banning of the Scorpions even though 84% of ordinary South Africans were against it! We saw the same phenomenon recently when all the Black ANC members voted to support the now internationally infamous Protection of State Information Bill. There are countless examples here and in other parts of the World.

What amazes me about these folk is that surely they know that this is the age of information and that their children and successors will come to know of the grotesquely unprincipled way in which they have acted? Do they feel no shame? Do they feel no compunction about bringing shame and disgrace on their pedigree?

So each of us needs to ask ourselves a question, and ask it repeatedly. “Am I now acting as a sheep? Have I consciously, or even subconsciously, stopped thinking for myself and simply following the herd? Have I conveniently suppressed my ability to distinguish right from wrong in order not to lose my place in the herd? Am I now a sheep?”

A very good example is the issue of gay and lesbian rights. People in the anti gay/lesbian camp simply refuse to accept the reality that gays and lesbians are the way they are on account of the same natural phenomenon that made them “straight”, or White, or Ndebele, or Tswana …. over which no one has any control! What you are at the moment of birth is not in your hands. Typically they start off by putting themselves in the “traditional” or “African culture” camp and postulate all arguments in terms of the camp beliefs – not in terms of reason --- just as we believed the rubbish on sex as na├»ve school boys. I even had a friend in Namibia who candidly admitted that he and others routinely had sex with sheep and goats during puberty. However he was totally against gay and lesbian rights. He based his opposition on "African culture".

So too as regards politics. Most folk simply support the actions of the leaders of whatever political party they are in, or have decided to support, regardless of how wrong those actions may be. They consciously decide to abandon truth, and what is right, so as to ensure that they remain in their favourite herd. It gets worse. They will even set upon those who disagree, hound and persecute them just as dogs were set upon anyone seen as dissenting on Animal Farm. How many times has Archbishop Desmond Tutu been set upon and insulted for daring to simply disagree with the ANC herd and say - “on this occasion, you are wrong”.

Politicians, of course, take full advantage of this, just as the pigs did on Animal Farm. They rely heavily on the fact that their supporters will act as sheep and simply bleat “baaa … baaa … baaa … “ whatever they do or say. They demand that people should not think for themselves but simply accept whatever “the leadership” has cooked up. An extreme example is North Korea where the leader is institutionalized as a living God and the populace is denied the right to think at all! To a lesser extent Gadaffi, who so many of us sheep revered, was also trying this on a huge scale in Lybia with his "Green Book".

If we perfom an analyses of failed states we find that, in most cases, the failure became guaranteed once the populace behaved like sheep and put all its faith in leadership. We do not have to look far on this one! I also think that it is a sin to volontarilly forego your intellect, the most precious of gifts we have, that distinguishes us from other creatures. Hence my motto - "cogito, ergo sum".

At the time of the World Cup in South Africa I lamented the fact that this country was doing no more, in effect, than very irresposibly indulging itself in a "bling party" which it simply could not afford. See - http://coginito.blogspot.com/2010/10/my-world-cup-moment.html. The media were singurely disinterested in this point of view, as a whole nation (of sheep) appeared united to have its fun. To-day there is no disagreement whatsover that the World Cup has conferred no discernable benefits, only horrendous costs, in a country where millions are living is the most desperate circumstances.

So, with respect, you need to always ask yourself – “am I a sheep.? Am I unknowingly following a herd? Worse still, am I knowingly doing what is wrong just so that I can stay in the herd? Am I accepting fatuous rubbish and monstrous lies?

Am I a sheep?”

Postscipt ----

There’s an annual contest at the University of Arkansas calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term. This year’s term was: “Political Correctness.”

The winning student wrote:“Political correctness is a doctrine — fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rapidly promoted by mainstream media — which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.”