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Monday, April 11, 2011

Why the Arab media is silent on Syria

The Arab media has largely been silent about what's been going on in Syria. And the Western media have followed their lead. Lee Smith explains why.
What’s peculiar is that given the size of the uprising—people are in the streets of every major Syrian city except Aleppo—and the bravery of the demonstrators, there’s been little attention paid to it. After all, these are not Egyptian security forces under the command of a U.S. ally like former president Hosni Mubarak. Any Syrian who steps out into the street understands that if security forces have a clear shot, they’ll take it, and no one is going to stop them, certainly not the regime, and not fear of repercussions from the international press either. The same Western and Arab media that covered the Egyptian uprising as it unfolded is all but absent from Syria.

The New York Times’s reporting is coming out of Cairo and New York; the Washington Post’s coverage is based in Beirut; Reuters has people in Damascus, but the regime keeps detaining them and throwing them out. That is to say, the Assad regime has done an excellent job of keeping the curtains closed on events, so that the main source of news coming directly out of Syria is almost exclusively from the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The social media galvanized Egyptian and Tunisian protestors, but for the Syrian opposition it is the main source of media they have to show the world what’s happening.

As Washington, D.C.-based Arab journalist Hussain Abdul Hussain notes:
Arab satellite channels dedicated more air time to Syria than in the previous weekdays. The first 30-minutes of Al-Jazeera's news coverage were dedicated to clashes in Syria. However, Al-Jazeera, which has been exceptionally silent on Syria, perhaps because of the good alliance between Assad and Al-Jazeera's owner the Sheikh of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, cherry-picked its coverage of Syrian rallies.
But the lack of coverage cannot be entirely blamed on al-Jazeera.
Young also faults Al Arabiya, the majority-Saudi-owned network, founded in 2003 for no other purpose than to deter its Qatari rival, Al Jazeera, which came to prominence through its attacks on Riyadh and other Arab rivals, including Cairo.
To toss Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya into the same basket is entirely justified here, because both Saudi Arabia and Qatar share a desire to avert a breakdown in Syria, fearing that chaos might ensue. Their views are echoed by a majority of Gulf states, whose leaders have called Assad lately to express their backing.
It’s true that the Saudis, who have been at loggerheads with Syria ever since they suspected Syrian involvement in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, don’t want to see Assad fall. They fear that the wave of Arab uprisings is likely to reach them next, and this is a good place to block a domino. However, other Saudi-owned media, like the pan-Arab London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, has been unsparing in its criticism of Damascus.

Perhaps that’s because the Saudis recognize that in a region with soaring illiteracy rates, video is a much more powerful medium than the printed press. Of course, it’s also possible to overstate the influence of Al Jazeera, especially compared to one of the region’s oldest and most powerful media, the sermon at Friday noon prayers. Last week in Beirut I heard rumors that the Saudis had instructed Sunni sheikhs and imams throughout Syria to calm things down and keep people out of the street. Apparently, the Saudis’ wishes were scattered by the winds of the Syrian uprising.
And Western media is just following the Arab lead rather than doing their job. What could go wrong?

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At 7:03 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

Same response to the Iranian election protests in 2009 and continuing. The US, UK, EU, UN do not give a damn.


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