The Azaz refugee camp is pictured near the Bab Al-Salama border crossing between Turkey and Syria in Azaz, Syria, 02 April 2013. Thomas Rassloff/DPA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Some Syrian journalists working in opposition or pro-regime media platforms do not hesitate to publish news that violates the privacy of other individuals and groups.
Some of these media outlets shouldn’t even be classified as ‘yellow journalism’ or tabloids as they clearly publish news to undermine political or military adversaries, rather than to gain as many readers as possible; as is the case with tabloids.
The question here is why do journalists insist on publishing such news, if not to gain a large audience? By doing so, they make a huge professional mistake, where they work to please the owners or funders of their media organisations without the least concern or consideration of their readers’ feelings.
Some may say that the absence of a free and independent media during the rule of both Assads, father and son, has greatly affected the work of journalists and public affairs professionals today; and I believe this is true.
Nonetheless, journalists should not be replicating the same work ethics and tactics of pro-regime media in alternative Syrian media outlets that appeared after the popular protests of mid-March 2011.
For example, a reader or viewer may not find much importance or relevance to a news correspondent’s deliberate leaking of an audio recording of a Syrian opposition figure; it is certainly not clear how such a leak would serve the public interest.
Shouldn’t the journalist have asked himself what good could come of this leak, or what the purpose was, especially since he recorded the opposition figure without his knowledge, and edited the recording out of context?
Some journalists justify their unprofessional leaks, but they forget that they can only publish such material when the material is part of an inquiry and when they have all the legal evidence and documentation to prove the authenticity of the material, should they have to defend themselves in court if legal action is taken against them.
It’s worth noting that publishing slander against specific groups and individuals in an audio recording is condemned, but journalists who contribute to the leaking of such material should also be held accountable.
A journalist should think carefully about the purpose of publishing his material while taking into account his readers’ intellect as well as his sources’ privacy.
Additionally, another important issue is the journalist’s emotional bias while reporting on the ground; this emotionality subconsciously affects his work. It is natural for a journalist to be affected and biased about the humanitarian situation he/she is reporting to the world, but one should nonetheless consider the sensitivity and privacy of the subjects and avoid becoming too emotional, which in itself often leads to inadvertently violating the subjects’ privacy.
Take, for example, a photo of a poverty-stricken Syrian child wearing an old shoe. The journalist’s intention is to convey the child’s suffering to the world, and yet this photo will certainly hurt the child psychologically if he sees it online years later.
I remember that I once accompanied a Dutch journalist to a Syrian refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where we worked together on recording short documentaries about some refugees. I watched the children laughing at our camera lenses, and some of the refugee women asked us to help them, thinking that we had the power or ability to do so.
These interactions left a huge impression on me, while the Dutch journalist was too busy drinking his juice to pay attention or be affected by their problems.
I would say that a journalist could remain neutral if he does not have any relationship with the subjects of his report, whereas any kind connection with them would lead to deliberate or unintentional mistakes.
Given the last few years’ of conflict in Syria, I would say that while it is impossible to control the editorial tone and ethics of all pro-regime and opposition media outlets; but their employees should contribute to respecting the privacy of the individuals or groups who are the subjects of their news articles, especially when it comes to children and their privacy.
Politicians may one day be able to solve their issues with each other, but how will that Syrian child be able to delete the photo of his poverty from search engines if he finds it one day?
This piece was first published on NAWA in Arabic on 14 January 2018.
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