From the Frontline

Hamas Rally in Damascus
Hamas Rally in Damascus

“Syrians have come to believe that the world knows what’s happening to them and just doesn’t care.”

Two leading journalists in the field of war corresponding and foreign affairs were in Dublin last night to speak about the conflict in Syria and the challenges of reporting it. The Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov and freelancer Rania Abouzeid were the guest speakers at a From the Frontline talk hosted by the Clinton Institute, UCD in partnership with the Irish Times.

The civil war in Syria is almost 3 years old and both journalists spoke eloquently of the way the story has failed to galvanise popular opinion and the role of journalism in combating this.

“It is getting harder to get stories published”, said Abouzeid, “there is this emotional fatigue people have. The rising doesn’t seem to invoke the same passion. We haven’t seen any popular mobilisation and I don’t know what as a journalist to do about it.” She went on to recount that Syrians have become more reluctant to talk to journalists as the conflict has worn on, “the Syrians have come to believe that the world knows what’s happening to them and just doesn’t care.”

As the war has dragged on so have the dangers in reporting it increased. Some 56 journalists have been killed and over 30 kidnapped. Both speakers recounted how their ability to report had been curtailed by the difficulty of gaining entry to Syria. Ramia Abouzaid told how, barred from getting a visa, she must smuggle herself across borders, substantially increasing the dangers she is exposed to.

“The issue of safety has become so vexed, especially in the last 6 months”, said Chulov.

Both guests had interesting and challenging things to say on the issue of social media and its role in journalism.

“Twitter can be useful…but it is also a bubble which some people tend to live in instead of the real world…there is no substitute to being there” said Abouzeid.

Martin Chulov sounded a similar note of caution,

“Twitter can be an echo chamber. It’s a value add but must be handled with care. It’s easy to get burnt if you rely on it.” In a succinct summing up he said “social media is information and journalism is what you do with that.”

Neither journalist had any optimism that there was any end in sight to the civil war or the suffering of the Syrian people. Martin Chulov was particularly downbeat in his analysis,

“There is a real danger of a potential Balkanisation of the region, with divisions along sectarian lines and that is the nightmare scenario…something simply must be done.”

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