Wednesday, 3. August 2011 15:08
Mark Twain once wrote that rumours of his death had been an exaggeration. It’s become fashionable to herald the imminent death of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but I wonder if we’re not jumping the gun. Media reporting about a situation like the Syrian protest movement and the Damascus’ government efforts to crush and coopt it can have a kind of snowball effect. International outlets are mostly shut out of Syria, they rely on information from residents who may or may not be linked to rights or opposition groups and footage that some of these organisations and individual activists manage to get outside the country and propagate. Without the ability to make judgements from inside the country about what’s going on, media are really hamstrung.
Assessing how many have died is a case in point. Media like facts and statistics, the better to judge and describe a situation. This week, reports from the rights, opposition, activists and ordinary people said on Sunday that the army’s assault on Hama had killed up to 140 people. With some news outlets that figure had been scaled back to around 80 the next day. One group being cited is Avaaz, a U.S.-based online advocacy group for democracy. Avaaz said, as of 2 August, that since 15 March 1,634 have died, 2,918 people have disappeared, and of 26,000 arrested 12,617 remained in detention in Syria, but how they could know with such accuracy I do not know. [...]