With the notable exception of today’s Guardian focus on Syria and its refugee crisis, the UK media’s role in covering the Syrian crisis has been largely unhelpful, seeking out sensationalist but essentially peripheral aspects of the ongoing civil war. Their goal is evidently to sell more newspapers/get higher viewer/listener figures than their rivals, treating the war as a commodity for sale.
Particularly disturbing on this front was the recent coverage by Channel 4 News of British jihadi women in Syria. By showing these women, fully veiled in black except for eye slits, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, going to support the war against the Assad regime by marrying and looking after extremist foreign rebels, and then focusing on them as the first item in their hour-long news programme, Channel 4 gave prominence to a small group of women who are entirely insignificant on the ground in Syria. The main effect of this news item will have been to make most British people feel even more anti-Muslim than they already are, subconsciously or consciously associating veiled women on the streets of London with terrorism. Inside Syria these women are an irrelevance.
Another example is the ‘heart-eating cannibal’ story, pure sensationalism which has done great damage to the cause of the Free Syrian Army because of the way it has been covered. The BBC was culpable on this story, by giving prominence to such a one-off event, again irrelevant on the ground inside Syria. They even allowed it to run and run, with their further feature entitled ‘Meeting the heart-eating cannibal’ by Paul Wood.
Its main effect has been worldwide outside Syria to give the public an entirely misleading picture that all Syrian rebels must be barbaric savages, encouraging people like Boris Johnson to dismiss the idea of arming the rebels as tantamount to arming a bunch of lunatics and cannibals. On the strength of damaging labels such as these, the Free Syrian Army is in despair, feeling the world is against them, and that they are losing the PR war.
Sadly in today’s media dominated world, only perception matters, not reality. Meanwhile, while we enjoy our sensationalist stories and allow ourselves to be entertained by them, a country is being destroyed and thousands of lives are being lost. Is this entertainment?