Welcome to Syria Media Roundup, a new Syrian Emergency Task Force blog that will attempt to provide some context to coverage of the civil-conflict in the Levant. We will examine the important Syrian-related events of the week, whether they happen on Capitol Hill, within the conflict zone, or in the NGO community. We hope this blog can function as a collaborative tool, both informing and starting a conversation with our readership.
The timing of this inaugural post may appear strange, as media interest in the Syrian conflict seems to be at its lowest point since the beginning of the revolution in 2011. When historians write about this period from some future perch, they may note that the convergence of the month of Ramadan, the coup in Egypt, and the congressional recess in the late summer of 2013 amounted to a deadly momentum killer for both the humanitarian and diplomatic missions to Syria, sapping both of vital funding, political will, and public attention.
It would be easier to accept the low volume of coverage if it was of high quality. Unfortunately, far too much of the coverage of the crisis in Syria circles around the edges, talking about Syria only in its relation to other domestic or regional crises. When Congress is in session and Obama is at the White House, numerous journalists and bloggers pour over the various implications of every word on Syria. If only it were true that when lawmakers are out of town, the conflict actually stands still.
Further deepening the scarcity of coverage, many Middle East correspondents have left Beirut or Jordan for Cairo, shifting the focus of regional correspondents to the (admittedly very important) crisis in Egypt.
Are we incapable of covering two Middle-Eastern crises? Some thought so as early as July, before the depth of Egypt’s problems were manifest. Exacerbating the problem, many of those covering Syria are bloggers, who generally lack the institutional resources to go overseas and are therefore in most cases only equipped to analyze other people’s analysis. (It is not lost on this blog that this is also precisely what we aim to do.) The result is that for every story describing events on the ground in Syria, we can expect at least ten that attempt to tell us what those events mean. At times, it’s easier to find headlines about how we’ve forgotten about Syria,than it is to find headlines about Syria, and the Syrian rebels can now take cold comfort in the fact that their conflict has become an oft used metaphor for the worst-case-scenario in Egypt.
With our remaining space in this inaugural post, let’s shift from lamenting the intractable challenges limiting the coverage of Syria, and actually give some oxygen to those who are still spilling ink on this conflict.
The new blog Notes On Error has proved itself an important player, mixing analysis of US policy with social media content and YouTube videos coming out of Syria. In particular, the discussion of individual brigades and military maneuvers are as good here as anywhere in the mainstream media. NOE also deserves a great deal of credit for producing new content on Syria while also writing about other developments throughout the Middle East.
Online video production company Journeyman.tv has been steadily posting content related to the crisis in Syria, and its short films on child refugees and neighborhood battles in Aleppo represent the most compelling footage of Syria since Matthew Van Dyke released Not Anymore, earlier in 2013.
Though many aspects of the conflict suffer neglect during these slow summer months, the horrific bombing in south Beirut has led to a spike in coverage of the Lebanon-Syria nexus. Qifa Nabki has an interview with a Lebanese Hezbollah supporter, giving voice to the Shi’ite militias’ realpolitik view of the conflict. Foreign Affairs also ran a piece on the implications of Syria’s war for political parties in its smaller neighbor.
Thanks for reading the initial “Syria Media Roundup” blog post. In future weeks, there will be a renewed flow of articles with reliable premises about how Obama is hemmed in, and Congress is too busy with immigration and the budget to do anything about Syria. That, at least, will make our job of media criticism easier.
*Author’s note: This post was finalized in the hours before a vicious Chemical Weapons attack by the regime struck the outskirts of Damascus. In the hours since the attack, there has been a perceptible uptick in Syria chatter online. This renewed attention is welcome and understandable, as both the horror of the videos released and Obama’s redline statement make such attacks particularly striking. However, the implacable grind of deaths from small arms and bombings must not become routine, and are worthy of coverage in their own right.
Syria Media Roundup is a weekly blog aimed at providing context to the coverage of the ongoing conflict.
Evan Barrett is a Policy Fellow with the Syrian Emergency Task Force. You can reach him at [email protected] or @EvanMBarrett. Like Syrian Emergency Task Force on Facebook and follow @Syrianetf.