“I feel like no one there is telling the truth now. We have to get the details.”
These were the words that Anthony Shadid wrote in an e-mail to editors at the New York Times before travelling to Syria, where he died from an asthma attack attempting to cross the border. This was not Shadid’s first journey to Syria; he had previously spent a number of days in Homs where he reported on the city’s besieged residents.
Why did Anthony Shadid risk his safety and the stability of his family in this manner, particularly as he had been detained in Libya last year, shot in Ramallah, and faced many other dangers throughout his career?
Syria that has become one of the most dangerous destinations for a journalist, particularly after the regime no longer allows members of the press freedom of movement, causing many journalists to seek to circumvent these restrictions and sneak into the country in order to cover the events there. Anthony Shadid would always mock the media’s reliance on indirect sources of information, viewing this as “remote control correspondence.” Therefore, he – along with other Western reporters – took the decision that prohibition and danger should not stop a journalist from travelling to where the news was happening.
Anthony Shadid was the second Western journalist to die in Syria after French journalist Gilles Jacquier. No sooner had Shadid passed away than the American journalist Marie Colvin and the French journalist Remi Ochlik were both killed as a result of shelling in Homs.
In the recent months of the revolution, we have seen how correspondents from the BBC, CNN, ABC, Al-Jazeera English, ARTE, as well as other international media outlets and newspapers have been able to sneak across the border into Syria and give a detailed account of events.
Whilst it is true that since the Syrian revolution erupted and after the al-Assad regime imposed a strict media blackout regarding the situation in the country, the people of Syria have spared no effort to post videos on YouTube documenting the violence that is taking place in Syria. However contenting ourselves with this is no longer acceptable, nor is it professional.
As we watch reports and documentaries produced by professional Western correspondents, we tend to neglect the fact that we are monitoring events and developments in Syria thanks solely to these Western correspondents. This is happening whilst the Arab media is content with screening interviews conducted with people inside Syria via Skype, or receiving unconfirmed reports sent by native Syrian journalists. This is no longer acceptable after the Western media has successfully reported the situation in Syria from within.
Why did Anthony Shadid feel it was his duty to risk his life to report what is happening in Syria? Why did his newspaper agree to his request?
In fact, this self-flagellation in blaming our media outlets for failing to go to Syria – in the same manner as Western correspondents – is entirely correct; however it is not even sufficient to justify our shortcomings in this regard.
Anthony Shadid, when deciding to travel to Syria, was not reacting to a demand made by the editors of the New York Times. Rather, he went to Syria for two reasons: Firstly, he felt that the story must be written from there; secondly, he was certain that his readers would not accept stories about Syria written from outside the country. Here, the New York Times, as an administration, served as a bridge between these two demands; helping its correspondent and publishing whatever he wrote without censorship.
In our Arab media, most of these elements seem to be lacking. For our media, the will of the media outlet administrations and their professional and moral demands, as well as the demands of the audience, are not as pronounced.
Doesn’t this require us to contemplate, more extensively, the story of Anthony Shadid, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik?