This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 11/06/2011
Last week, in my article "The child who shook Syria" [2/6/2011] I wrote that "respected Arab news outlets in our region should not accept the emergence of this phenomenon [so-called Syrian "analysts" defending the regime in the media], and if the Syrian regime wants to defend itself, it should do so through an allocated official spokesperson, or through the regime's Minster of Information…rather than through these "analysts" who the media stations know, more than anyone else, are not credible."
Today we return once more to the same issue, and that is for one simple reason. Yesterday the British Sky News channel reported a story about the Syrian regime's suppression of civilians, however the Sky News presenter then said "and now, with us to comment on this issue is a spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry." This British news channel did not agree to host any Syrian "analysts" because it is a professional media outlet that respects its viewers and does not subject them to false propaganda, and so the Damascus regime acquiesced and sent a fair-haired spokeswoman [to comment]. This is something that our own [Arab] satellite channels have failed to do!
What is strange is that the Syrian regime attacks Arab satellite news channels rather than thanks them, for these are media outlets that give air-time to these so-called "analysts". Indeed one such Arab satellite news channel hosted one of these "analysts", who live on air invited European ministers to visit Syria, without the satellite news channel host asking "in what capacity are you [the Syrian analyst] extending this invitation?" Indeed if you were to Google the analyst in question you would find that he is not known to the press, but rather is described as being a real estate contractor, whereas this same Arab satellite news channel described him as a "media figure", which is a description that has no basis in reality. One is either a journalist or not; this so-called analyst does not even have a single article to his name, and cannot even be classified amongst those writers who I personally term "the writers who say 'invite me to write for you.'" These are the writers who say, send me an invitation and an [airplane] ticket, and I will extol your virtues, and such writers are in abundance.
What is even more serious is that this same Arab satellite news channel broadcast a tape of a call previously shown on official Syrian television, claiming that this was an armed group targeting the [Syrian] army. This is something that can only be described as ridiculous and abhorrent, and something that no respectable Arab satellite channel should re-broadcast, particularly following the scandal which saw a woman pretending to be the French ambassador to Syria contact a French television news channel and announce her resignation live on air, only for it to be revealed that this woman was an imposter. This is something that I previously described as "the return of the false witnesses" ["Syria…Have the false witnesses returned?" 9/6/2011], and this is an issue that is connected to this same issue [of the so-called Syrian analysts]. We also saw another Arab satellite channel host a guest it introduced as an "Arab intellectual", and who said that he feared Syria becoming a sectarian state such as Lebanon, where he said that sectarianism was 'institutional." However this so-called "intellectual" seems to have forgotten that it was the al-Assad regime – both the Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad regimes – in coordination with Iran that are responsible for institutionalizing sectarianism in Lebanon in the first place.
To return to the issue of the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman who spoke to Sky News, and because many of our Arab satellite news channels prefers "ready information", i.e. news already published by newspapers, let me say that the name of the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman is Reem Haddad, and it is now up to these Arab satellite news channels, of course, to try and contact her [to book her to appear on their shows].
In any case, the objective of this article is not to target the mistakes made by our satellite news channels so much as it is an attempt to protect our media as a whole from the deception of the Syrian regime, which does not hesitate to exploit the media, and has been doing so for decades. Patrick Seale, in his 1989 book "Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East", points out that the Hafez al-Assad regime provided Sadegh Ghotbzadeh – an Iranian Minister under Khomeini who was later executed – with a Syrian passport which allowed him to travel to work against the Shah [prior to the revolution]. This saw Ghotbzadeh disguising himself as a reporter for the Syrian "Al-Thawra" newspaper.
Is this enough, or do I need to go on?