In the opinion of our associated columnist Roland Hureaux, Western reporters in Syria allow themselves too often to be tempted by the trap laid by Manicheism in a context that is certainly more ambiguous than is present in the press.
It is not necessary to be a supporter of the Assad regime, but simply an observer who wants the truth not to be confused by the recent atrocities figures some fellow journalists linked to the civil war in Syria. The total number of victims is very uncertain, just like with any tragedy of this type.
The other question is to know who is responsible for these massacres. Especially as there are two camps with deathly weapons, we can only assume that as with all wars the blame is shared, possibly not equally shared but shared non-the less. But as soon as these atrocities are announced in the Western media, that is the media giants, responsibility is almost exclusively given to the regime.
This was the case with the recent Houla massacre (108 dead of which 49 were apparently children, but who has released these figures and have they been verified?). The western media immediately accused the regime's forces even though that town was, it seems, controlled by the opposition. Information received since re-enforces the theory that the responsibility could actually lie with the opposition. Similar doubts surround many of the prevalent media stories from the last couple of weeks.
The principle source for much of the Western press' casualty figures, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, is headed by one man long ago exiled to Coventry. The information about the number of deaths this June came from this man.
From these observations, we do not say that the Assad regime is innocent, nor that the regime does not carry the largest part of the responsibility. But that they exclusively carry the responsibility of every atrocity is simply untrue. The last 25 years we have seen manipulation on the humanitarian issue to manipulate the international opinion time and time again, East Timor, Kosovo, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Journalists always search in every complex situation the good and the evil. This approach has for them many advantages: it allows them to think they have quickly understood the complex situation, it creates in each journalist a leader of justice, not only reporters of facts but doing good. Of course presenting information in black and white, attracts the public’s attention, if all the complexities are included they could become annoyed.
The other issue is that journalists, as with all professions, will talk amongst themselves and those who do not know will ask those who seem to know and will thus adopt the general consensus on the topic. Thus it seems that Manicheism (the tendancy to view events in black and white) and gregariousness are the two sources of information in war.
If these information distortions are put in place, investigation is no longer necessary to discover who is responsible as it can only be the villains. Journalists can thus be contented with their predisposed judgements.
The distortion of the truth in this way has the potential to be criminal. In the case of Syria the opposition are aware of this and so can perpetrate the worst atrocities as they will automatically be blamed on their opponents.
Information has become a weapon of war and as such is manipulated by people who have the resources and can play on the naivety and idealism of young journalists. The irony is that most of these reporters when taken one by one would undoubtedly be opposed to the supremacy of the US, Guantanamo etc.