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The difficulty of reporting from inside Syria

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:24 UK time, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

There are few more frustrating experiences for a journalist than knowing a huge story is happening, but being unable to cover it.

Protesters in a square in Deraa 21, April 2011

The country's protests started in Deraa

Since 16 March, the Syrian authorities have been facing an uprising - first in the southern city of Deraa, then in Homs, Latakia and then Hama - the scene of a massacre by troops loyal to President Assad's father in 1982.

Last week, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon suggested more than 1,000 people had died in Syria since the start of the violence. Yesterday came perhaps the most serious attack yet. The Syrian authorities claimed 120 security personnel were killed in battles with gunmen in the north-west of the country. The town of Jisr al-Shughour sits on the Turkish border - and was itself the scene of an Islamist uprising in 1980, also brutally crushed with scores of deaths.

All the time the BBC - and other news organisations - been forced to watch and report from outside the country. The Syrian authorities have refused to issue visas for international journalists. So it was good to hear Reem Haddad, the head of Syrian state television and a spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry, tell Radio 4's Today programme she thought the time had come for international reporters to be allowed into the country "to put Syria's point of view".

I couldn't agree more. We're committed to telling all sides of the story. So far, the only pictures we've been able to gather have been those posted by protestors on YouTube.

Reem Haddad also suggested that BBC Arabic's reporter in Syria could report what's going on. Up to a point: his movements are heavily restricted and local journalists are subjected to constant intimidation.

It's not the first time a Syrian official has made promises on air. In March, President Assad's media advisor Buthaina Shabban promised the Today programme that the BBC could travel to Deraa - the seat of the uprising - to report from the city.

Two local journalists working for the BBC were stopped and prevented from reaching Deraa. Two days later they were arrested and questioned for a number of days. Other news organisations have suffered far worse: an al-Jazeera journalist, Dorothy Parvaz, went missing in Syria and turned up in Iran.

Eyewitness reporting is the only way we can really know what is going on - it's vital in providing a balanced picture of the story on the ground. I hope the Syrian government listens to Reem Haddad when she says the time has come to allow international reporters in - we couldn't agree more.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I salute the courage of local journalists, not just in Syria, who really do risk their lives attempting to report the truth. Remember the execution of Farzad Bazoft before the first Gulf War in Iraq?

    What a contrast to those that dishonour many thousands of dead Japanese Tsunami-victims by flying round the world to ignorantly and gleefully concentrate on reporting the difficulties of damaged nuclear power stations that killed nobody.

  • Comment number 2.

    The difficulty of living in Syria is probably at least as difficult.

  • Comment number 3.

    Rulers who shoot children are hardly likely to care about freedom of the press. The BBC should always be prepared for this eventuality

  • Comment number 4.

    Listening to the BBC commentaries from Beirut I am reminded that in the past BBC conflict journalists were in the forefront of front line news in countries far more dangerous than Syria.
    The comments now coming from Beirut (and Tripoli) have little credibility and basis, and I am sure are severely edited at Bush House.
    The Syrians are adept in learning and using the weaknesses of others, such as the BBC; and showed this in the "second interview" this morning by drowning in "buts" and half promises. Give the Syrian Baa'th Party a few more "interviews" and the BBC will discover they are not in control.
    BBC should forget its Elf and Safety regime as well as its political correctness and get professional contacts into the country. Not easy but hell we pay £3.5 billion to this service.

  • Comment number 5.

    Two days ago the Syrian government sponsored protestors to attack the Israeli border, resulting in the shooting to death of 10 of them and 8 others being blown up when they walked into a minefield. The Syrian authoritiesm whose state television was on had to record proceedings claimed 35 dead.

    If Israeli civilians where caught up in a similar situation our army would be there in tanks, APC, with artillary firing at the enemy to rescue our people - that is not what is the Syrian army dead. Their spokesman, who is not as even handed as the BBC conveniently forgot to mention that Syrian security forces killed 17 of their own people at the same time for their henious crime of wanting democracy.

    If the BBC is interested in providing propaganda for the butcher then go ahead - but if you actually want to do something for the people of Syria then you could take the less risky apporach of repeatedly questioning DC as to why he thinks Libyans are worth rescuing (well partially) and the Syrians are no - once again he UK goes into he wrong country.

  • Comment number 6.

    Little surprise that visa formalities should be so insurmountable a barrier to reporting the brutalities of a mass homocidal regime since the present BBC is more a place of domestic, and these others, obedient political apprachiks, rather than anything of decent mention in the tradition of conflict journalism at its humane best.

  • Comment number 7.

    Adding my commemt.

    Little surprise that visa formalities should be so insurmountable a barrier to reporting the brutalities of a mass homocidal regime since the present BBC is more a place of domestic, and these others, obedient political apprachiks, rather than anything of decent mention in the tradition of conflict journalism at its humane best.

  • Comment number 8.

    No wealth for Britain and America to plunder so the BBC dont go where the tories dont want them. After all its far easier to not go to war when teh tories PR department play down everything for them.
    Dont forget when the BBC lie about it being hard to get into Syria it was even harder to get into Libiya a country which saw the BBC for what it really is a political pr department with no morals above those of its masters wishes.

  • Comment number 9.

    Here we go again- the usual suspects warming up for another invasion, with the BBC leading the charge. We have seen it all before, just how gullible can people be? I do not now believe a word I read on the BBC- once a liar, always a liar.

  • Comment number 10.

    4. At 20:14 7th Jun 2011, cassandrina wrote:
    Listening to the BBC commentaries from Beirut I am reminded that in the past BBC conflict journalists were in the forefront of front line news in countries far more dangerous than Syria.
    The comments now coming from Beirut (and Tripoli) have little credibility and basis, and I am sure are severely edited at Bush House.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Yup , what we need is brave right wing commentators to go out there and report the unadulterated truth - I vote for Kelvin McKenzie, Melanie Phillips and Richard - the more dangerous the location the better.

  • Comment number 11.

    rulers who shoot children arnt you talking about britain and America or is it double standards that it ok for them to deliberatly do it but no one else?
    The BBC is a joke all it wants to do is push the tory pr line without any journolistic integrity at all.
    time to stop paying your TV licence and get rid of these morons who dont do what their mandates says neutral impartial fair words never used about the BBC tory PR department, who hate freedom of speach unless you are saying what the tories want to hear

  • Comment number 12.

    May I remind thefrogstar of the following nuclear accidents

    Some serious nuclear and radiation accidents have occurred. Nuclear power plant accidents include the Chernobyl disaster (1986), Fukushima I nuclear accidents (2011), and the Three Mile Island accident (1979).[10] Nuclear-powered submarine mishaps include the K-19 reactor accident (1961),[11] the K-27 reactor accident (1968),[12] and the K-431 reactor accident (1985).

    Source Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_industry

  • Comment number 13.

    Darren Shepperd you got it spot on.
    Beeb, will see you all at Bush House tomorrow to tell you all in person what we think of your fairy tales and we will not be saying Ahlan was Sahlan
    We have not forgotten that Ben Brown called the Palestinians in Gaza "animals" when reporting from Al Quds when Islrael massacred the Palestinians [women and children] but of course that was OK with you lot wan't it?!

  • Comment number 14.

    Barack insists that U.S. Forces attack Assad's Syrian Military. But, there is no money for this war. Obama threatens to assassinate Assad, instead. Obama will not solve this situation by the killings of Assad and Karzai. Syria and Afghanistan need democratic reform, but Barack's blood thirsty plots resulted in murders of thousands of innocent Arabs throughout the Middle East.

  • Comment number 15.

    The courage shown by journalists should be admired. I doubt I could do it.

  • Comment number 16.

    How can we get a clear view of the story unfolding in Syria. The people of Syria deserve democracy but will they get it. At this point it is unlikely that any help will come from the West. Their resources are depleted and their peoples are weary of war. Like many other countries that received little or no help from outside their borders, the Syrians may have to find a way to throw off their oppressors on their own. Unfortunately this will probably not be done by peaceful protests but by armed rebellion leading to civil war.
    http://politicsdisgust.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 17.

    Following the death of South African photographic journalist Anton Hammerl in Libya recently, there has certainly been much coverage about the very real risks and challenges journalists face when covering the Middle East. Syria is clearly no different and it would do the public well to remember these harsh conditions journalists need to endure to bring them the news.

    This is one area where the BBC has excelled (both locally and internationally for that matter) - I do believe the coverage is fair and current given the operating conditions in these regions.. keep up the good work!

    @Davey111 - I have friends that have worked out in Tunisia and Egypt covering the African revolts and having heard some their stories, I know I would never be able to do it!

  • Comment number 18.

    10.At 22:38 8th Jun 2011, Billythefirst wrote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Yup , what we need is brave right wing commentators to go out there and report the unadulterated truth - I vote for Kelvin McKenzie, Melanie Phillips and Richard - the more dangerous the location the better.
    -----------------------------------------------------------

    Replace 'right-wing' with 'centrist', and you might just have a point.

  • Comment number 19.

    The BBC had reporters in Burma a few months ago. Syria has been closed to journalists for three months, Burma for fifty years. What is the real problem.

  • Comment number 20.

    Sky?

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    I believe we should see all sides of the story, like all countries there are those who are with and those who are against and unfortunately media sometimes doesn't relay the whole pictures emphasizing on what brings audience and get higher ratings
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 23.

    We all know what is happening in Syria from the many graphic horrific photos/videos coming out of there for the past couple of months, so what I'd like to know most is... what the world is going to do about it? And when?


    For too long, we as the free world (in general) have kowtowed too much to the whims of China & Russia...let's throw another J.F. Kennedy dice & call their bluff.


    PS. The Iranian government not people...are in the thick of it in Syria.

  • Comment number 24.

    Oh & another thing re; how Syria & Bahrain are getting away with this terror & slaughter; so is it any wonder that Egypt's military government is going back on it's word? I tell you this for sure, there will be an awful price paid by the people in Egypt because of our (the UN/the world's) cowardice.

 

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