The standard of journalism – and why it matters

by on September 23, 2016 in Media Comment

Here is a typical example of how the Guardian reports on Syria. Read article.

The basic theme is that the Assad regime and their accomplices the Russians are committing atrocities in Syria. They are solely responsible for the terrible humanitarian situation in the country. They are solely responsible for the break-down of the latest ceasefire.

This message is 100% in line with the message put out by the US State Department. No surprises there.

From a journalistic point of view the article is a travesty. There are lurid claims about Russian planes using phosphorus bombs and cluster munitions in civilian areas. (The claims about phosphorus bombs are not even articulated; are they allegedly using them for illumination, which is legal, or as a weapon, which is not? That this point is not even raised shows the level of gutter journalism we are at). The article focuses entirely on alleged civilian casualties. It is as if there were simply no anti-regime militants in the area at all. (In reality there is a fierce battle going on between anti-regime militants and the Syrian army for control of Aleppo). All of the information in the article comes from sources which are described simply as ‘activists’. (Apart from one reference to the UK based ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ which is a pro-opposition news desk run by a single individual – who, himself, says that he gets his information from ‘activists’ on the ground). [1] Possibly the article was put together simply by ‘journalists’ browsing the Twitter accounts of these ‘activists’. Naturally in a war each side emphasizes the civilian casualties they are suffering. It would be the role of an objective reporter to consider these accounts and balance them with other ones. You’d learn this on an entry level journalism course. But in this article nothing of the sort happens.

On the subject of balance; there is no attempt at all to mention the Russian point of view. For example; the Russians have repeatedly said that the problem on the ground is that the US backed ‘moderate opposition’ is mingling with the Al-Nusra jihadist group making it impossible not to hit the ‘moderate opposition’. The US acknowledges that this is a problem; it was a key part of the latest ceasefire deal. [2] At the same time the Russians have claimed that they have military intelligence which shows  that the ‘moderate opposition’ committed multiple violations of the ceasefire. [3]

The article is based on wild and untested claims by ‘activists’ and a sound-bite from US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Syrian government and Russian point of view is omitted. This is a kind of genocide. The Guardian trots out articles like this on a weekly basis. In a democracy it would be the role of journalism to provide a balanced picture and enable readers to make up their own minds. An informed democratic debate could, (so goes the theory), influence the politicians to take a different course. However; the Guardian, for one, has long since given up doing anything which could be called journalism. And in taking this course they align themselves with power rather than democracy. This creates a gap where a non-aligned media is desperately required.

Update

On the subject of phosphorus bombs. This is an article on RT about the US using phosphorus in Iraq. In contrast to the Guardian piece the claim is well-sourced, attributable and indeed credible – US army spokesmen. The distinction between using white phosphorus as a weapon (illegal) and for laying down a smokescreen (legal) is clearly explained. The article references other attributed sources of opinion. So; the Guardian produces an article trying to associate Russia with the use of phosphorus bombs in Syria – unattributed, vague, without explaining the actual legal situation. RT writes an article about the US using white phosphorous in Iraq – sources attributed and the legal position clearly explained. Who is producing propaganda and who is doing journalism?

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Observatory_for_Human_Rights

2. https://www.rt.com/news/358855-syria-ceasefire-plan-kerry-lavrov/ ; https://www.rt.com/news/359424-syria-deal-details-dispute/

3. https://www.rt.com/news/359424-syria-deal-details-dispute/

Add to Favorites Print article