Single cell-phone perception of Syrian unrest

The US and some EU countries are calling for an arms embargo against Syria following the crackdown there. But with reports from the country scarce and hard to verify, the way it is perceived from the outside is decidedly one-sided.

­The world has been watching the unrest in Syria through mobile phone cameras. Amateur footage from the war-stricken country has flooded international news, or rather, bloodied it.

Killings and executions – supposedly at the hands of President Assad's military – filmed on cell phones have become a trademark of the regime. Syrian officials, though, insist the scenes are staged.

“YouTube is not credible and eyewitness account is not credible. They can wear military outfits and start shouting ‘Look! Officers are killing us here!’ These are not credible ways to assess the situation,” Rim Haddad, head of the foreign media department from the Information Ministry told RT.

The UN has condemned Assad over the violence against his people. But Damascus emphasizes that the condemnation is from afar – until recently no UN mission has crossed the Syrian border.

Hanna, a correspondent with Saudi Arabia-based Al-Arabiya international news channel in Syria, says the government should blame itself for the country’s image.

“They ban foreign journalists and fact-finding missions from coming in, and they don’t allow us to work – I cannot just take a camera and go filming, even here in Damascus! A news channel would never wait till the government made a statement – there are 10 million reporters in the country, everybody has a phone! Why should they [wait]?” he stated.

With the lack of access to information, many people have used their cell phones to film what has been happening and to share it with the rest of the world. But this weapon against censorship is a double-edged sword. While mobile video can give everybody a voice, it can also be used to manipulate the truth, and that could come at the cost of people’s lives.

Mazen (not his real name), is the man behind the camera. He is a freelance journalist currently working for a Western media outlet. He cannot tell more and he does not want his face to appear on screen. Hiding the truth about himself, he tries to reveal the truth of another kind.

“Official media are always spreading wrong information that there are armed forces on the ground, while the truth is that in most cities security and police are shooting unarmed civilians calling for democracy and freedom,” maintained Mazen.

Mazen is not afraid of being thrown in jail – he has been there three times already. He is afraid of being killed.

“My friend was killed when he tried to film with his cell phone, a sniper killed him. Another one was arrested,” he said.

Syrian State TV brings their evidence to support their leader.

“Look, that was Al Arabia, they show the picture of a mother crying over her boy, apparently dead. They said that was in Homs, but here it is – same picture and date – that was made in Iraq in 2009! They condemn Assad, but they just lie!” explained Basel Darwish, an editor for Syrian state TV.

One of the most suppressive regimes in the world, freedom of the press has never been Syria’s strong point.

“This is all we ask for – the truth to come out, both sides of the story to be told. The fact that we are not allowing all of foreign journalists in doesn’t mean the Western world can grab a story and put it as truth,” said Rim Haddad.

But that does not look to be among the media’s goals. In this conflict, the press is not just about coverage. It is a war and, as in every war, the goal is to win.