Media coverage of the Syrian Civil War

Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, all sides have used social media to try to discredit their opponents by using negative terms such as 'Syrian regime', 'armed gangs/terrorists’, ‘Syrian government/US State Department propaganda’, ‘biased’, ‘US/Western/foreign involvement’. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict, media bias in reporting remains a key challenge, plaguing the collection of useful data and misinforming researchers and policymakers regarding the actual events taking place.[1]

Internet activists


As in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Internet played a major role in the organization and coverage of the protests/armed-uprising. As of 2011 the largest Facebook page in support of the Syrian uprising was "The Syrian Revolution 2011", which claimed more than 383,000 followers. The page, co-founded by Fida al-Sayed, reports on news related to the uprising and provides general guidelines for protests.[2]

As of 2015 the largest Facebook page in support of the Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad has more than 2,958,595 followers.[3]


Since international news media was banned in Syria, the main source of second-hand information/dis-information was private videos usually taken by shaky mobile phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube. Such videos were difficult to verify independently, and several TV stations showed older footage from Iraq and Lebanon, which was claimed to have been filmed in Syria.[4][5]


As if to add badly needed credibility to the videos, protestors often explicitly mention the date and location of the scene. Sometimes current newspaper issues are also shown. The largest collection of these videos is found on OnSyria, which as of 2011 had more than 200,000 videos.[6]

Visual media

Between January 2012 and September 2013, over a million videos documenting the war have been uploaded, and they have received hundreds of millions of views.[7] The Wall Street Journal states that the "unprecedented confluence of two technologies—cellphone cams and social media—has produced, via the instant upload, a new phenomenon: the YouTube war." The New York Times states that online videos have "allowed a widening war to be documented like no other."[8]

Prominent videos include the rebel commander Abu Sakkar cutting organs from the dead body of a Syrian soldier and putting one of them in his mouth, "as if he is taking a bite out of it". He called rebels to follow his example and terrorize the Alawite sect, which mostly backs Assad.[9][10]

Both sides have been distributing on social media videos and photos of violence while falsely claiming that the presented atrocities had been committed by their opponent in this civil war: later it turned out to be footage from conflicts in other countries.[11][12]

Syrian Hero Boy

A viral video showing a Syrian boy rescuing a girl under gunfire, watched online by millions of viewers, was faked by a Norwegian film crew, according to its director. Posted on YouTube, the "Syrian Hero Boy" video[13] was shot on location in Malta in the summer of 2014 with professional actors directed by 34-year-old Norwegian Lars Klevberg who hoped to provoke debates about media distortion and context children in war zones.[14]

Censorship of events

Since demonstrations began in March 2011, according to many western media sources, the Syrian government has allegedly restricted independent news coverage, barring foreign free press outlets and arresting reporters who try to cover protests. However, these allegations were never confirmed.

Without always waiting for some of the information to be confirmed, international media have used footage shot by civilians, who would often upload the files on the internet and YouTube. Most of the footage used was actually footage of bombings in Iraq and Libya.

Jonathan Steele, a Guardian columnist, asserted that western media tend to suppress or not report on ‘inconvenient’ facts, such as a respectable opinion poll held in Syria late 2011, finding out that 55% of Syrians inside Syria wanted Assad to stay in office, which disharmonized with the then dominant view in western countries that Assad had to go.[15]

Propaganda and misinformation

Propaganda has been used by the Syrian government since the beginning of the conflict.[16] SANA, the Syrian government's official news agency, often refers to the FSA and ISIS as "armed gangs" or "terrorists" - while other media sources maintain that only part of the opposition is ‘extremists’.[17] President Assad has characterized the opposition as armed terrorist groups with Islamist "takfiri" extremist motives, portraying himself as the last guarantee for a secular government form.[18] Syrian public school instructors teach students that the ongoing conflict is a foreign conspiracy.[19]

The Syrian foreign ministry called the U.S. government's statements in 2012 concerning the danger of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against civilians a myth they invented to launch a campaign against Syria and “a joke”,[20] thus accusing the U.S. of propaganda on that subject; which accusation, and denial of above-mentioned danger, 'are in turn of course again examples of propaganda'.

Both Syrian public-owned and private-owned media has alleged that outlets like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, BBC and France 24 are conspiring against the Syrian government to disrupt its stability. Syria is ranked the 3rd most repressive country in the world in terms of press freedom by the Committee to Protect Journalists,[21] and the 4th most repressive by Reporters Without Borders.[22]

It has been said that SANA television interviews sometimes use government supporters 'disguised as locals' who stand near sites of destruction and claim that they were caused by rebel fighters.[16][23]

In 2016, it was revealed through emails of Hillary Clinton that the US government collaborated with Google and aj-Jazeera to encourage defections from the Syrian government through various Internet tools that disseminate information.[24]

Attacks on journalists

It has been maintained that, by October 2012, 'more than hundred professional or citizen journalists' had reportedly died in the Syrian Civil War. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists were killed in work-related incidents during the first eighteen months of the uprising.[25] During the same period, Reporters Without Borders said a total of 33 journalists were killed.[26] Examples are Marie Colvin who was killed by an explosion during the battle of Homs,[27] but at least one, French journalist Gilles Jacquier, was killed by rebel mortar fire.[28]

Except for those hand-picked by the government, journalists have been banned from reporting in Syria. Those who have entered the country regardless have been targeted. Within a month of the protests taking off, at least seven local and international journalists were detained, and at least one of them was beaten.[29] 'Citizen journalist' Mohammed Hairiri was arrested in April 2012, tortured in prison, and sentenced to death in May 2012 for giving an interview for Al Jazeera.[30] Jordanian Salameh Kaileh was tortured and detained in deplorable conditions before being deported.[31]

NBC News team kidnapping

On 13 December 2012, NBC News reporter Richard Engel and his five crew members, Aziz Akyavaş, Ghazi Balkiz, John Kooistra, Ian Rivers and Ammar Cheikh Omar, were abducted in Syria. Having escaped after five days in captivity, Engel said he believed that a Shabiha group loyal to al-Assad was behind the abduction, and that the crew was freed by the Ahrar ash-Sham group five days later.[32] Engel's account was however challenged from early on.[33] In April 2015, NBC had to revise the kidnapping account, following further investigations by the New York Times, which suggested that the NBC team "was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army," rather than by a loyalist Shia group.[34]

See also


  1. "I. Measuring conflict incidence in Syria". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  2. Revolution Media coverage of the Syrian Civil War on Facebook
  3. "قناة الميادين - Al Mayadeen Tv - Facebook". Facebook. Archived from the original on 13 July 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  4. "Media Watch: Beware the 'trusted' source". ABC. Australia. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  5. "Gigantisk DR-bommert uden konsekvenser –". 18 May 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  6. "OnSyria". OnSyria. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  7. "Syria's War Viewed Almost in Real Time". The Wall Street Journal. 27 September 2013.
  8. "Watching Syria's War". NYT. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  9. "Syria: Brigade Fighting in Homs Implicated in Atrocities". Human Rights Watch. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  10. "Outrage at Syrian rebel shown 'eating soldier's heart'". BBC. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  11. Military & Defense Contributors (13 November 2012). "Disturbing Fake Videos Are Making The Rounds in Syria". Business Insider. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  12. Tracey Shelton. "The most disturbing fake videos making the rounds in Syria". GlobalPost. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  13. "SYRIA! SYRIAN HERO BOY rescue girl in shootout. SEE THIS!! الصبي السوري البطل". YouTube. alaa hassen. 2014-11-04. Retrieved 2016-08-17. from 00m00s to 1m06s
  14. "#BBCTrending: Syrian 'hero boy' video faked by Norwegian director - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  15. "Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media". The Guardian. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  16. 1 2 "Defecting Syrian propagandist says his job was 'to fabricate'". CNN. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  17. "State TV reports 6 dead in Damascus 'terrorist' blast". CNN. 8 September 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  18. "Opposition: 127 dead as Syrian forces target civilians". CNN. 7 April 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  19. "Damascus School Struggles to Carry On". Voice of America. 1 October 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  20. Syria accuses U.S. of chemical weapons propaganda. The Daily Star (Lebanon), 1 October 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  21. "10 Most Censored Countries". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  22. "Press Freedom Index 2011-2012". Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  23. Chulov, Martin (3 July 2012). "Syrian regime TV reporter defects". The Guardian. London.
  25. "Journalists Killed in Syria since 1992". Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved 19 July 2012. N.B. According to the organisation, no journalists were killed in Syria between 1992 and the start of the uprising.
  26. "Thirty-Three Professional and Citizen Journalists Killed since March 2011". Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  27. Wardrop, Murray (22 February 2012). "Syria: Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin 'killed in Homs'". Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  28. Malbrunot, Georges (17 July 2012). "Jacquier: l'enquête française pointe les rebelles syriens" [Jacquier: French investigation points to Syrian rebels] (in French). Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  29. "Syria: Rampant Torture of Protesters". HRW. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  30. "Citizen journalist sentenced to death for Al-Jazeera interview - Reporters Without Borders". Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  31. "Syria: Deported Palestinian journalist speaks out about torture in custody". Amnesty International. 17 May 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  32. Brian Stelter; Sebnem Arsu (18 December 2012), "Richard Engel of NBC Is Freed in Syria", New York Times, retrieved 8 December 2015
  33. Jamie Dettmer (22 December 2012). "Richard Engel's Kidnapping: A Behind the Scenes Look". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  34. Ravi Somaiya; C. J. Chivers; Karam Shoumali (15 April 2015). "NBC News Alters Account of Correspondent's Kidnapping in Syria". Retrieved 8 December 2015.
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