The widespread protests and popular uprisings that have taken place in the Arab republics have forced numerous media outlets to be less strict with regards to ascertaining the authenticity of footage and video clips they receive. This is because of the magnitude of events and the restrictions imposed on the media to the point that media outlets are actively prevented from covering events and even expelled from the country as a whole. What is happening in Syria is a flagrant example of this, as the terrible killing machine there is relentless and the death toll is rising day after day, whilst the majority of media outlets are denied access to the country. The Syrian people have developed their own mechanisms to cover what is happening, namely by providing footage and videos to the media accompanied by written notes confirming the location and date of the recorded incident.
Major conflict and unrest is taking place across the region, such as Iran’s Cold War against the Arabs. This is a prolonged and widespread conflict in terms of both history and geography. The Syrian regime’s war against its own people can be considered part of this wide-spread conflict, indeed there can be no doubt that this is the fiercest war in this over-reaching conflict. Just like in many other wars, there is a strong correlation between the presence of procrastination, uncertainly and indecisiveness on the scene, and that of leaked documents and news.
Before the eruption of major popular uprisings almost two years ago, the Arab public dealt with a huge and effective incident that served to create a new awareness regarding the importance and significance of political documents, and the impact that leaks can have on world politics. This occurred after WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of documents in 2010 about the war in Afghanistan, and following this hundreds of thousands of documents about the war in Iraq. These leaks were followed by the leaking of US State Department cables. Regardless of the considerable political and media controversy surrounded these leaks; they served to raise public awareness of the importance of documents in all struggles, not just wars. Whilst keen interpretative analysts found such leaks to serve as a font of information to support their views – regardless of their own particular trends – some researchers found important answers to once unanswerable questions regarding these particular conflicts or indeed a better understanding of international politics in general. The most notable point here is that some laymen, amongst the new pioneers on the internet, not to mention tabloid newspapers, began to tempt readers and observers into utilizing news selected from these leaked documents. This serves to demonstrate the new awareness regarding the importance of such documents and leaks.
During the widespread unrest experienced by Arab states, organized groups attacked some security headquarters and police stations, as occurred in Egypt where official documents were looted, burned and thrown in the air. In fact, some of these documents even ended up in the hands of Tahrir Square vendors, according to the media.
Meanwhile, last week, a leaked video of the Tunisian Ennahda party leader, Rashid Ghannouchi, appeared on the scene, showing him issuing a number of provocative statements regarding important Tunisian issues. Ghannouchi claimed that secularists are still ruling the country in spite of the Ennahda movement’s victory at the elections and that they are in control of the army, police and administration. He also called on Salafist youths – who he was addressing – to spread and proliferate throughout Tunisia’s mosques, and even bring in other Salafists from outside the country. When an Ennahda movement spokesman came out to comment on this, he did not deny that the interview had taken place, but rather cast doubt on the authenticity of certain statements, saying they had been manipulated and taken out of context.
Ghannouchi sent several messages of reassurance to Western states, not to mention the Tunisian elites and secular trends, stressing that he and his Muslim Brotherhood-adherent movement will not monopolize rule or marginalize other dissidents. However Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki came out to complain that the Ennahda party is doing precisely the opposite of this, which makes it clear that Ghannouchi’s statements were nothing more than an attempt to throw dust in our eyes.
In this leaked video, Ghannouchi is seen inciting the Salafists – many of whom make up the Ennahda party’s popular base – into unrestricted proliferation following the collapse of the former regime. He was seen inciting them against the liberals in the country by issuing over-exaggerated warnings and recalling the scarecrow of the former regime. However, it did not take long until Ghannouchi gave free reign to the state security forces to kill, injure and detain the Salafists when he sensed they had become a threat to his political project and his reputation in the eyes of the West.
Ghannouchi and his movement’s disavowal of the recent leaked video did not constitute a categorical denial, and they were content with talking about statements being taken out of context. However, anybody who is observing the situation in Tunisia can easily recall Ghannouchi’s statements to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on 30 November, during which he stated that “revolutions mean that Arab monarchies must take difficult decisions; they must acknowledge that the time for change has come, and they should not expect the wave to stop at their borders because they are monarchies. Saudi Arabian youth are no less deserving of freedom than the Tunisian or Syrian youth.” Due to the threat that such statements represent to his own relations, and that of his movement, with the Gulf region, whose economic support he needs, Ghannouchi came out to categorically deny these remarks. Following this, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy broadcast Ghannouchi’s full address on the internet.
The idea that was being put forward by Ghannouchi and promoted by some Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, as well as Arab intellectuals, namely that 2011 would be the year of uprisings against Arab republics and 2012 the year for uprisings against Arab monarchies, has been disproven, particularly as this idea seemed realistically and politically naïve in the first place.
Recently, some media outlets published a number of private messages from internet hackers who claimed to have gained access to Bashar al-Assad’s personal email. The emails shed light on Bashar’s character as well as that of his inner circle, whereas other emails highlighted specific domestic and international incidents that showed how he is managing the crisis.
The war of leaked documents and information represents a significant part of the media’s role in political and military conflicts. This is because the impact of such information and news leaks during times of war or unrest does not depend solely on reliability, particularly as it is the role of specialized researchers who can use their investigative acumen to ascertain the truth. Rather, the role that such leaks play is decided by their political impact and to what extent they can steer and mobilize public opinion.
In the world of the media, there is a huge difference between “propaganda” and “professionalism”. The former element opts to mobilize and promote a certain stance, even if this is by means of lies and deception. As for professionalism, this is committed to objectivity – if not necessarily neutrality – however there can be no doubt that this must be based on credibility. Yet, during times of war and unrest, there are shifts in this regard that are worthy of monitoring.