#Syria Special: An Attack in Khan Shaykhoun —- Getting the Story Wrong for “Neutrality”
News in Syria comes fast and furious. The regime makes claims, the opposition makes claims, Russia makes claims, Iran makes claims, the Saudis make claims, and the media tries to sort it out. It is a challenging, often uncomfortable task.
But “uncomfortable” or “challenging” are not synonymous with “impossible” and, frankly, sometimes the coverage falls far short of an adequate mark.
Today is a notable. example. The morning was filled with confusion over a series of reports from activist, that suggested a United Nations convoy, and the protesters around it, were shelled by the Syrian military in the town of Khan Shaykhoun in Idlib Province. Initial reports suggested that at least one UN monitor was wounded.
When video emerged showing the moment the convoy was hit, the narrative was not so clear. We speculated that it could have been some sort of explosive device, and not a shell at all, responsible for the damage. However, Reuters, having spoken with one of the monitors, said that shooting broke out before the explosion. Eyewitnesses reported that a funeral procession was fired upon by regime forces. The videos show the Free Syrian Army soldiers running toward the UN vehicle to help the observers, and many civilians were killed.
But Al Jazeera’s report is not just murkier, it obscures what can be established.
"Whoever started the violence"? Even before the reports about the strike on the UN vehicles, all the eyewitnesses said the regime did. After the attack, the UN observers sought shelter with members of the Free Syrian Army until reinforcements arrived. I’m pretty sure they know who is to blame for the confronation. There is no need for Al Jazeera to insert the question for doubt.
The broadcaster does not stop there. Al Jazeera sees more evidence that the ceasefire is broken,and then seems to lay equal blame on the regime and opposition by saying “both sides” ignore the ceasefire “when it suits their purpose.”
When it suits their purpose? The regime has never abided by the ceasefire, and now the Free Syrian Army is finally getting around to fighting back. Nor is Al Jazeera’s surprise warranted —- last week the leader of the FSA said that, after weeks of inaction and continued bloodshed, they would be renewing attacks. Al Jazeera’s reference to a ceasefire in place before this assault, and its neutrality slapped on top of how it was fractured, is sloppy reporting.
"Neutrality" can lead to a faux objectivity that simply perpetuates myths, especially when it is a forced neutrality. Al Jazeera English is in the difficult position of facing accusations that it is anti-Assad. Its Arabic channel have had even more serious allegations leveled against it. The suspicion here is they are defending by airing on the side of caution, giving undue credence to the Syrian regime’s claims.
The Syrian opposition has some serious credibility issues, even if there are many sources inside that opposition that have proven trustworthy. But the Assad regime has no credibility. When the evidence is considered, not just used as a prop for superficial balance, the story in Syria is a lot less hazy than some in the media portray it. CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who just visited the Syrian border, says it best: